With COVID case counts rising, county officials discourage trick-or-treating this year

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers and Chief Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters speak via Zoom Tuesday.

“I’m sick of it, you’re sick of it; we’re all sick of it.” That’s how Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers kicked off this week’s COVID-19 briefing.

Speaking to the media Tuesday, Somers offered some stark comparisons. The U.S., he said, is losing 700 or more people every day. Every three days in this country, more people die of COVID than those killed in the Titanic disaster. Every five days, he added, the U.S. loses more people than were lost in the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Covering topics ranging from soaring case rates, to Halloween worries, to some church groups resisting health guidelines, to more people relaxing their personal protections, Somers said the briefing included “a bit of unwelcome news today.”

Let’s start with Halloween. No “bones” about it, County Health Officer Chris Spitters was blunt: “I’m discouraging trick or treating,” said the doctor. “It would be irresponsible for me to say otherwise; I’d keep your kids at home.” Not what parents and kids want to hear, but both Spitters and Somers said giving up some fun now could help decrease new coronavirus cases.

The county’s rate of new cases has jumped. It now sits at 101 per 100,000 residents; more than twice as high as the rate just a month ago. In mid-September, that rate was 42 new cases per 100,000. The new case rate is higher than at any time since mid-March.

As the county heads into its third spike in coronavirus cases, Somers and Spitters said that two-thirds of all new cases have hit people between the ages of 20-49. Yet, for those age groups generally COVID is less serious and has a lower rate of death.

Both officials said that young and middle-age adults are key to stopping the spread; that they must focus on reducing exposure and transmission. But nationwide there has been pushback from the same groups; some arguing that they should be able to gather and attend social and sports events since they are less at risk of serious infection.

Somers had a reply to that: 20- to 49-year-olds may not be as sick or dying as often, but “none of us live in bubbles, we’re affected by others and we affect them.” Those age groups are still carriers, he added, and can infect the rest of us. Spitters said there is growing evidence that even two to three months after younger people recover, there are residual impacts on productivity and health. We should, he added, “think of ourselves as a community and focus on that.”

Here are the total coronavirus case numbers since January for our five-city region, according to the Snohomish Health District:

  • Lynnwood – 1,403
  • Edmonds – 676
  • Mountlake Terrace – 231
  • Brier – 38
  • Woodway – 18

This health district graph shows the county coronavirus ‘hot spots’, which cover most of the South County.

Snohomish County COVID-19 “hot spots” January-October 2020.

Somers said we all live in moderate- to high-risk areas; ”there’s no part of the county that is immune to this.” South County, with the highest population, accounts for the most deaths as well.

Hospitalization numbers continue to rise, from just under 20 to over 30 now. While health officials say the county has at least 800 critical care beds, they warn that the trajectory of new hospitalizations could put stress on those facilities within a few weeks. “If left unmitigated,” said Spitters, “we could end up where we were last March.”

Health workers are also having “… considerable difficulty with faith-based groups that are way outside the gathering numbers permitted,” said Spitters.

His staff, he said, is not seeing widespread resistance, but some faith groups are holding larger services than permitted and are making it hard for health staff to trace outbreak contacts. And, when those groups are warned to comply, the county “is not seeing too much change,” he adds.

Is it time to impose tougher regulations again? No, say both officials. “Family gatherings are extremely difficult if not impossible to control in our society,” said Somers. Spitters agreed but said people must redouble their masking, distancing and precautions “to try to bend the curve and not have to resort to blunt instruments to crack down. Let’s do what we can with what’s in our hands.”

You can watch the complete briefing here.

— By Bob Throndsen

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