EVERETT — As many as half of Snohomish County residents could contract the omicron variant in the most recent surge of coronavirus infections, health officials said Tuesday.
The county’s most recent data showed about 2% of residents have tested positive in the past two weeks. But with testing demand outstripping supply, Snohomish County health officer Dr. Chris Spitters said more like 8% to 10% of residents have likely contracted the virus over that period. And cases are still on the rise.
On Tuesday, Spitters and Dr. Jay Cook, chief medical officer of Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, said it’s reasonable to expect the omicron surge to push that number to 33% to 50%.
“I’m hearing more people say that we’re all going to get omicron,” county Executive Dave Somers told reporters Tuesday. “I think everyone should assume that they’re going to be exposed … so the best course of action for a good outcome is to get vaccinated.”
“That’s the outcome we’d like to see,” he said. “Mild cases. Not a burden on the health care system.”
Cook also noted the vast majority of COVID patients ending up in his hospital’s intensive care unit — about 90% — are unvaccinated. The number of COVID-positive hospital patients countywide continues to break records, soaring to 176 this week. Fifteen were intubated.
Providence stood up an emergency command center about a week ago to coordinate supplies and staffing for its Everett hospital. It’s a strategy used in previous waves of the infection, though Cook said this may be the longest and most fully staffed stint.
Amid dire staff shortages, California this week allowed some health care employees to continue working if they tested positive for COVID-19. But here, exposures and infections are forcing nurses and staff into isolation.
“At no time has the health care system status been more precarious and … access to acute care been in greater peril,” Spitters said.
Meanwhile, the county is working to order hundreds of thousands of at-home test kits to ease demand on testing sites seeing hours-long lines and fully booked appointments.
But those are likely three to four weeks out, Spitters said. Officials are still figuring out how they’ll be distributed.
Snohomish County has also been chosen by the state to host a new mass vaccination site. Details about where and when it will operate were to come. It could be up and running by the end of January, Spitters said.
“Although this paints a picture that’s rather bleak and overwhelming,” he said, “it’s conceivable that although the worst is ahead, it’s not too far off.”
Spitters pointed to updated modeling by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation that suggests the state’s surging cases could crest and begin falling in a week or so.
“But we do all need to kind of hold it together,” he said. “Exercise restraint and discipline.”