EVERETT — An outdoor mask mandate and vaccine verification at businesses could be coming to Snohomish County, local leaders said Tuesday.
With COVID-19’s fifth wave continuing to squeeze capacity at hospitals, locally and statewide, leaders say they’re looking for safety measures to stem the tide while ensuring businesses can stay open.
As of Tuesday, there were 106 COVID patients in Snohomish County hospitals. Twenty-eight required ventilators to breathe.
And the number of intensive care unit patients has nearly doubled in the past week, with 95% of ICU isolation rooms full, Snohomish Health District health officer Dr. Chris Spitters said during a media briefing.
Meanwhile, the county’s latest two-week case rate recorded 464 infections per 100,000 people — the highest it’s ever been.
“We’re really in a tough spot here,” he said.
If the situation doesn’t improve, hospitals could soon need to adopt crisis standards of care — in which staff weigh which patients get access to scarce resources like beds or ventilators.
County Executive Dave Somers said he spoke last week with Providence Regional Medical Center Everett leaders and they expressed their highest level of concern since the beginning of the pandemic.
“They were essentially at capacity and had to add some temporary capacity at the ICU,” Somers said. “They are handling that, but we’re very worried about any surges and that an uptick would get them into that crisis level of care. I think we’re all concerned about it.”
In King and Pierce counties, health officials have issued outdoor mask mandates for events of 500 or more people, starting Tuesday.
Spitters and Somers said a similar order could be coming soon in Snohomish County.
“Stay tuned,” Spitters said. “Later in the week, we may have more to say about that.”
Also on Tuesday, King County officials announced plans for a vaccine verification system to be used to screen customers at some indoor businesses, mirroring policies in New York City and San Francisco, as well as Clallam and Jefferson counties.
“We’re at a critical point in the pandemic,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said in a news release. “In a county where more than 4 out of 5 eligible residents have taken advantage of the opportunity to be vaccinated against COVID, vaccine verification is the best way for businesses and gatherings to remain open, vibrant, and at full capacity.”
If all goes to plan, vaccine requirements at selected businesses would go into effect in October.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks, Mariners, Kraken, Sounders and University of Washington all announced they would adopt plans to require fans to show proof of vaccination.
In Snohomish County, Somers said, he and other leaders are considering a vaccine verification system of their own. He said he would prefer to see businesses require that customers be vaccinated, or check for a negative COVID test, without an order from the county.
“I would rather go that direction than the shutdowns we had early on in the pandemic,” Somers said. “I think it’s a reasonable thing to ask people and totally within the rights of businesses.”
Additionally, Somers said, he’d like any vaccination requirements to be uniform among counties statewide, to avoid confusing people.
Across Snohomish County, 56% of all residents are fully vaccinated.
About 200,000 eligible county residents have yet to receive a shot. And about 125,000 children under 12 are not eligible.
“While I’m sympathetic with a healthy skepticism, and understand some people’s hesitancy about pursuing vaccination, I think we’re far enough into the vaccination effort to really feel assured,” Spitters said. “These are safe, effective vaccines. While imperfect at preventing infection, they remain highly effective at that, and even more effective at preventing severe disease.”
Amid the push for more people to get vaccinated, many people skeptical of the shots are turning to ivermectin, a drug primarily given to de-worm pets and livestock.
Ivermectin is authorized for use to treat some parasitic infections in humans, and early data suggest it is ineffective in treating COVID-19. People buying the drug from livestock suppliers often take a dose too large, which can lead to serious illness.
“It would be funny if it wasn’t funny,” Spitters said. “Here we have an effective vaccine that we’re having a hard time getting people to take, but people are clamoring for a drug that’s ineffective and potentially dangerous to take for COVID.”
Doctors at Stanwood Integrative Medicine have gotten so many requests for ivermectin consultations that they are no longer offering them, the clinic website says.
“Don’t bother your doc about giving you ivermectin,” Spitters said. “It’s not going to help you. It’s only going to distract the health care system by dealing with your request.”