Dr. Spitters: We’re still in the middle of the pandemic

COVID metrics continue a positive trend, but masks and social distancing are here to stay, officials say.

Dr Chris Spitters, the chief health officer of the Snohomish Health District. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Dr Chris Spitters, the chief health officer of the Snohomish Health District. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

EVERETT — The numbers of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, as well as the percentage of tests coming back positive, are still on the decline, according to a report from the Snohomish Health District.

But local leaders are urging people to keep wearing masks and socially distancing as they hope for more sustained success than what was seen after the first wave of cases in the spring.

“I think that the second wave showed us that we really can’t let our guard down with this virus and that even when things are looking good, as they have been lately, we’ve really got to keep doing all the preventive measures,” Dr. Chris Spitters, the county’s top health officer, told reporters Tuesday. “We’re still in the middle of this.”

In the latest two week period, the health district reported 42.7 new cases per 100,000 residents in Snohomish County — the lowest recorded in months. In mid-July, that number was nearly 100.

The rate of new cases is starting to level off, Spitters said. It will be weeks, or maybe months, before the case rate is at the goal of 25 per 100,000.

Labor Day celebrations could be the cause of the case rate to plateau and not continue its decline, he said.

“Only time will tell,” Spitters said. “The hope is that if we really commit ourselves to these prevention measures going forward and aiming to get that line going back down, whatever that flattening is will be followed by a resumption by a more downward decline.”

The health district is also looking at whether an event in Snohomish featuring an anti-mask pastor has led to new infections. But people infected with the virus have been more reticent to tell contact tracers they’ve been to a large gathering, Spitters said.

Snohomish County’s first wave of COVID cases peaked in late March and early April. By late May, the health district was reporting fewer than 25 new cases per 100,000 residents over a given two-week period. In early June, the county moved to Phase 2 of the governor’s “Safe Start” plan, allowing the reopening of restaurants, barber shops and retail stores long shuttered by the pandemic.

“I think a lot of people thought it was over, that we’d gotten past it,” Executive Dave Somers said Tuesday.

Then, cases spiked — fueled largely by people not wearing masks at social gatherings, both big and small.

“When we were in the heat of it, most of our cases that reported meeting with other folks, it wasn’t 500 or 250, it was 10, 20 (people) at a house party or a barbecue,” Spitters said. “This virus is really teaching us that we have a limited margin of error.”

For much of the second wave, you were more likely to get COVID from a friend, family member or roommate than anyone else. In recent weeks, fewer people have been contracting the virus from a close contact.

Meanwhile, far fewer people died from the virus during the second wave.

That’s in part because the majority of cases were concentrated among younger people, who are less likely to experience severe complications from COVID. The county’s first wave mostly affected older people, especially those in long-term-care homes.

Throughout the summer, health officials worried that infections would spread to older groups. Luckily, there was no sustained shift, the data show.

But people are still dying from the virus.

About 50 people in Snohomish County have died from COVID since June 1, according to health district data. In all, more than 200 people have died from the virus since the pandemic began.

One in four people 80 and older who contracted the virus in Snohomish County have died.

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; jthompson@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

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