EVERETT — Snohomish County recorded 281 new COVID cases per 100,000 residents in the latest two-week tally, which ended Saturday, according to Snohomish Health District data. A week ago, it was 187. In September, it was 42.
County health officer Dr. Chris Spitters called the rise “explosive.” At the same time, hospitalizations due to the virus are rising quickly, and deaths are steadily increasing, according to a health district report.
That has local and state leaders worried the health care system could soon be pushed beyond its limits, forcing hospitals to abandon some services and leading to more deaths from the virus.
On Tuesday, officials pleaded with the public to follow Gov. Jay Inslee’s renewed restrictions on businesses and social gatherings, which take effect Wednesday, and celebrate Thanksgiving with immediate household only.
“It should be clear we’ve really reached a critical moment in the pandemic,” Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers told reporters Tuesday. “The next few weeks are really going to determine if we face some severe hardships here locally, and across the state — or whether we, for a third time, flatten the curve.”
Indoor, mask-less gatherings with lots of talking are the “perfect environment” for transmission, Spitters said during the Tuesday call with reporters.
In Olympia, Inslee called on Washingtonians to hunker down to stop the spread of the virus, which is surging across the state.
“Everyone, at every age, in every part of this state, has something at stake in this controversy,” Inslee said. “One of the things we can do is stick to our old shopping habits. This is no time for hoarding.”
If that doesn’t work, the state could take more action, the governor said.
It will take a few weeks to see any progress, if it occurs, Spitters said.
“Even if we stop now, there’s going to be some increase in hospitalizations because the cases that are happening today won’t be hospitalized for a couple weeks,” he said.
In Snohomish County, the spike in cases is already straining local hospitals, Spitters said.
As of Tuesday, there were 52 confirmed COVID patients in hospitals. Two weeks ago, that number was in the mid-20s.
“And if we don’t turn this around beginning immediately, then that 50 will become 100 and then that’s definitely where the hospital system is going to be in big trouble, and that means we’re all in big trouble, too,” Spitters said.
Statewide, about 44% of people who’ve been hospitalized due to the virus are under 60.
“We know that people of all ages can get really sick from this infection,” state health officer Kathy Lofy said during Tuesday’s news conference in Olympia.
If the current trends continue, hospitals will have to cut services, as they did in the spring, she said.
Meanwhile, cases are rising at long-term care facilities.
Josephine Caring Community in Stanwood is in the middle of the largest COVID outbreak the county has seen.
Since Oct. 26, 99 people, including staff and residents, have tested positive.
Seven have been hospitalized and five have died.
“The cause is the widespread COVID activity in the surrounding community making its way into the facility through staff and visitors, just like it happens in all other long-term care facility outbreaks,” Spitters said.
Elsewhere in the county, the number of cases at Regency Care Monroe continues to grow.
In total, the facility is linked to at least 74 cases since mid-October.
Countywide, cases are rising among every age group, with big spikes in people 20 to 39.
The surge in cases is not caused by an increase in testing.
While testing has nearly doubled in the past two months, the percentage of tests coming back positive has tripled.
The spike has already overwhelmed contact tracers.
Prior to the third wave, the health district was reaching about 80% of new COVID patients within 24 hours of a positive test result.
Now it’s about 40%.
Tracers are making the same number of calls each day, Spitters said, but there are too many cases to keep up.
At the same time, tracers across the state continue to have their calls or messages ignored by some people who test positive for the virus. In Snohomish County, the health district fails to reach about one in five new cases.
“We need cooperation from the public,” Inslee said.