EVERETT — COVID’s fifth wave, led by the delta variant, is stretching Snohomish County hospitals thin.
With intensive care unit beds filling up, local leaders are pleading with everyone to wear a mask while indoors and with the unvaccinated to get their shots.
“We need to do everything we can to slow down transmission and prevent the need for more painful restrictions that would be needed to curb the hospital surge, if it continues,” Snohomish County health officer Dr. Chris Spitters told reporters Tuesday. “That’s something none of us want to see.”
As of Tuesday, 75 people were hospitalized due to COVID across Snohomish County. Leading up to the fifth wave, countywide hospitalizations hovered around 20 at any one time.
Local intensive care units are operating at 90% capacity, Spitters said, putting them on the brink of not having enough beds.
And the county’s two-week case rate hit 366 new virus infections per 100,000 people — the highest it’s been since January.
The fifth wave, Spitters said, is the result of not enough people getting vaccinated, along with the arrival of the delta variant, which is at least twice as contagious as previous strains.
To combat the high levels of disease, last week Spitters issued a directive requiring everyone, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask in public indoor spaces.
“Vaccines are our best defense but they can’t be our only defense right now,” he said Tuesday.
That’s partially because the delta variant is causing more breakthrough cases in Snohomish County.
In July, about 20% of the county’s COVID infections were among people who were fully vaccinated — up from less than 5% in previous months.
That doesn’t mean vaccines are failing, Spitters said.
Being fully vaccinated reduces your risk of disease and hospitalization by 75% to 80%.
“That’s still a dramatic improvement in protection,” he said. “It’s not as stellar as it used to be, but it’s still really good. And one of the best ways to overcome imperfect vaccine effectiveness, like we’re dealing with now, is to get as many people vaccinated as possible. You can overcome deficits in efficacy with widespread high coverage. That’s motivation for us all to not only protect ourselves, but to protect the community.”
Across Snohomish County, nearly 250,000 eligible adults have yet to receive a dose of a COVID vaccine.
Another 125,000 children are not yet cleared to get shots.
On Tuesday, county Executive Dave Somers said he’s still considering a vaccine mandate for county employees, similar to the one Gov. Jay Inslee issued for state workers.
Somers added that he has daily conversations with the governor’s office, and stricter COVID measures “are still out there” if the situation continues to get worse.
“I think we think the priority at this point is getting people vaccinated and adding some protective measures with masking,” he said. “Stay tuned. Who knows?”