EVERETT — A steady rise in new COVID-19 cases, largely led by young people, and rising hospitalizations could soon push Snohomish County back to Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan, local leaders warned Tuesday.
The latest case count shows 205 new infections per 100,000 residents over two weeks. The benchmark to stay in Phase 3 is fewer than 200 per 100,000. Meanwhile, hospitalizations from the virus are also expected to exceed the Phase 3 limit. And for the first time, people under 60 make up the majority of COVID-19 patients in county hospitals.
“For those who are wondering why the numbers are going up despite the vaccine rollout having such success, I think a quick scan of social media feeds is a good qualitative indicator,” county health officer Dr. Chris Spitters said during a Tuesday media briefing. “We’ve just got too many people getting together in gatherings with friends or family members who aren’t fully vaccinated, aren’t wearing masks and aren’t keeping their distance, often doing it indoors to boot.”
To make matters worse, more-contagious, and possibly more dangerous, virus variants have become the predominant strains locally and statewide, health officials have said.
Earlier this month, the state Department of Health moved three counties back to Phase 2. The next evaluation is set for May 3.
Sliding back would bring reduced indoor capacity for restaurants, gyms, retail stores and other businesses, as well as limited spectators at sporting events.
“Going back a phase is painful, and carries a heavy toll for many,” Spitters said. “Going back two phases, that’s even worse, but that’s where we’re headed within the next few weeks if these numbers don’t turn around. It’s happened before and it will happen again if we don’t change course.”
During a Tuesday tour of the drive-thru vaccine clinic at Arlington Municipal Airport, Gov. Jay Inslee called on Washingtonians to stop the spread of the virus by getting vaccinated, wearing masks and taking more activities outside.
Statewide, more than 300,000 people 65 and older have yet to get their first dose.
“We need people to make the decision to get vaccinated,” he said. “I’m encouraging people to talk to your parents, your uncles and your aunts. Get them to get vaccinated. We can’t have these people in the danger zone.”
So far, nearly half of Snohomish County adults have received at least one shot, while about 30% are fully vaccinated.
This week, another 55,000 doses are expected to land in Snohomish County.
On Wednesday, the Snohomish County Vaccine Taskforce is set to open a seventh mass vaccination clinic.
The site, at the Ash Way Park & Ride in Lynnwood near I-5, will offer drive-thru shots and walk-up vaccination for transit riders.
All vaccines are by appointment only.
At full capacity, the county’s seven sites could administer more than 100,000 doses each week.
However, one clinic, at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, hasn’t operated in more than a week while public health experts study a rare blood clot issue connected to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was offered there.
“This appears to be extremely rare, less than one in a million,” Inslee said. “You’re more likely to be hit by lightning than to experience a problem with this vaccine. I think, the odds are, this will be back in business fairly shortly.”
When Johnson & Johnson is cleared for use, it won’t take long to get the Everett arena site up and running, county Department of Emergency Management Director Jason Biermann said.