EVERETT — Snohomish County likely won’t move to Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan to reopen the state, even if much of the rest of the state does on June 1, local officials say.
As in other large Western Washington counties, there are too many new COVID-19 cases each day to meet the required threshold. While hospitals are ready for a surge, contact tracing and testing aren’t where they need to be to control a major outbreak, the county’s top health officer, Dr. Chris Spitters, said during a Friday call with reporters. It’s possible the county could enter the next phase — which, among other things, would open restaurants to 50% capacity, barber shops and nail salons — at some point in June.
“Things continue to get better, but we’re still not there,” Spitters said. “I’d like to have better news than that. I do think it’s not far off, but it’s something that’s going to take efforts by us on the containment end and efforts by the community to do what they can to suppress transmission.”
King and other large counties are in the same boat, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said during the Friday briefing.
“We’re headed in the right direction, but we certainly will not meet those criteria by June 1,” he said.
To move to the next phase, Snohomish County would need 82 or fewer COVID-19 cases every two weeks — roughly six cases per day — according to the governor’s criteria. From May 8-21, the county reported more than 300 new cases.
However, the numbers are trending in the right direction, Spitters said. In the past week, the number of new cases per day has dropped to the high teens.
There is one area where the county is ready for Phase 2: hospital beds.
Hospitals must have a 20% surge capacity available in case of an uptick in severe infections. They must also have a 14-day supply of personal protective equipment for staff.
“We’re in good shape here,” Spitters said. “We have a relatively green light.”
Entering Phase 2 also requires that counties have 50 test kits for every positive case. Snohomish County is at half that, Spitters said.
To reach that goal, the health district is planning to add 1,000-1,500 tests every week at drive-thru testing sites.
The health district has shuffled testing sites, for two days at a time, around the county with stops in Lynnwood, Monroe, Marysville and Stanwood. Before that, Everett Memorial Stadium hosted a testing site for about three weeks.
“It’s all a work in progress,” Spitters said. “The plane is flying down the runway and we’re still putting it together. That’s just the way it is.”
The health district’s tests have always been reserved for people experiencing symptoms, like a fever or 100.4 degrees, sore throat, cough or trouble breathing. Soon, that could expand to anyone connected to a known case or outbreak.
Testing is limited to those groups because someone who doesn’t have symptoms or isn’t linked to a known case has a high probability of getting a false positive test result, Spitters said.
That would put an undue strain on the health district’s trackers, and patients who would have to isolate, he said.
When cases are confirmed, the county needs enough staff to reach out to 90% of new COVID-19 patients within 24 hours. On top of that, staff have to touch base with 80% of each patient’s close contacts.
For Snohomish County, that will require more than 100 full-time employees.
Previous health district plans called for 30.
To help, the federal CARES Act is giving $10 million to the health district for contact tracing and testing, Somers said.
“We didn’t have those (dollars) three weeks ago,” Somers said.