Dave Somers (left) and Dr. Chris Spitters.

Dave Somers (left) and Dr. Chris Spitters.

COVID cases decline but local hospitals remain ‘under siege’

Coronavirus patients fill 62 hospital beds in Snohomish County. Expanded eligibility for vaccines could help.

EVERETT — COVID-19 cases continue to decline in Snohomish County, although hospitals are still “under siege,” health officer Dr. Chris Spitters reported Tuesday.

Sixty-two hospital beds in the county are still occupied by coronavirus patients, about a one-third drop from the most recent peak a few weeks ago.

But most of the current hospitalization surge is not due to COVID, Spitters said. “COVID was an add-on” to staffing shortages in acute and long-term care.

He said the health care system is “really struggling.”

Health officials are still worried about a winter surge but hope expanded vaccine eligibility and a new therapeutic drug could help stymie the spread. Spitters pointed to upcoming federal reviews of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson booster shots and a promising new antiviral pill, as well as the likelihood of young kids receiving Pfizer doses in the coming month. The Food and Drug Administration could soon allow kids as young as 5 to get vaccinated.

“We’ve just got to stay tuned and see what comes out of that process,” Spitters told reporters Tuesday.

Phase 2 trials of a new antiviral pill showed reductions in the rate of people being hospitalized, Spitters said. The manufacturer, Merck, is asking the FDA for emergency approval.

All of that could help continue a downward trend in Snohomish County.

As of Oct. 9, the Snohomish Health District reported a two-week case rate of 357 per 100,000 people, a modest drop from the previous rate of 403 per 100,000.

The county is still faring better than the state as a whole.

On Monday, the Washington State Hospital Association reported about 88% of hospital staff have been vaccinated statewide. An estimated 2% to 5% of that workforce could leave their posts over Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccine requirement.

Snohomish County hospitals have reported higher vaccination rates among staff. Spitters pointed to a recent bump in overall jabs in the county.

Over the past two months, health care workers vaccinated 10,000 people per week. That number jumped to 13,000 last week.

“So not a huge bump, but a bump nonetheless with a lot of new first doses,” Spitters said.

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers also pointed to American Rescue Plan Act funds, $80 million of which were approved by county leaders to address the “most critical needs” in recovering from the pandemic.

About $10 million of that will help boost vaccination, contact tracing and testing efforts. A new testing and vaccination center is set to open to the public Wednesday afternoon at the Ash Way Park & Ride in Lynnwood. Another site will likely be announced in the coming week.

That federal money — matched by an equal amount next year — will also help expand child care programs, as well as the county’s 700-bed shelter network.

Other funds will go to programs for food security, behavioral health and economic recovery.

“A lot of businesses, families, individuals suffered through this,” Somers said, “and we’ve to a lot of work to do to recover and gain stability in our community.”

Claudia Yaw: 425-339-3449; claudia.yaw@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @yawclaudia

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