EVERETT — Snohomish County’s COVID infections are as low as they’ve been since 2021’s “hot vax summer.”
“Everything’s going in the right direction,” Snohomish Health District health officer Dr. Chris Spitters said Tuesday.
Last week, 290 new confirmed infections brought the county’s two-week case rate down to double digits: 79 per 100,000. Fourteen people were hospitalized for the virus as of Tuesday afternoon, compared to this winter’s peak of more than 200.
Test positivity, school outbreaks and cases in longterm care facilities are all trending downward, too, Spitters said.
As the virus recedes, more and more locals are venturing into unmasked territory.
It’s week two without the state’s broad mask mandate. That’s too soon, Spitters said, to determine if the relaxed rules are impacting the spread of the virus.
It’s also too early to know if subvariant BA.2 will throw a wrench in recent optimistic trends.
On Tuesday, the University of Washington said BA.2 made up nearly 25% of samples analyzed in its virology lab. Last week, state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist said the subvariant was “not becoming the dominant force.”
But Spitters said local health officials changed their mind since then.
“We anticipate that BA.2 will become the dominant strain, replacing the parent Omicron strain over the next few weeks,” he said. “What that holds over our future remains uncertain.”
BA.2 is already causing surges in Europe and China. But experts aren’t on the same page as to what’s on the horizon in the Pacific Northwest.
“I don’t know if it’s really a mixed message as much as complex information with a lot of uncertainty,” Spitters told reporters.
Even with BA.2 making up a larger percentage of Washington’s caseload, he said, overall cases are decreasing.
Plus, there’s evidence that immunity from vaccines and prior infection is effective against BA.2, and that the strain isn’t deadlier than the normal Omicron virus.
State officials emphasized those points last week in unveiling their new ForWArd plan. Since then, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moved all Washington counties into a low-risk category, based on the agency’s assessment of case counts and hospital capacity.
Snohomish County is marching on with its plan for a more hands-off approach to the pandemic. Its drive-thru testing centers are permanently closing after this Sunday.
Spitters noted the local health district can still impose its own mask mandate if necessary. Officials will be monitoring caseloads and information on BA.2 to see if another wave of infection is on its way.
“We’ll stay tuned,” he said, “and let you know as time passes.”
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