Heather Thomas (top left), Snohomish Health District public and government affairs manager, introduces Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers (top right) and health officer Dr. Chris Spitters (bottom left) during Tuesday’s COVID-19 briefing. (Snohomish Health District)

Heather Thomas (top left), Snohomish Health District public and government affairs manager, introduces Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers (top right) and health officer Dr. Chris Spitters (bottom left) during Tuesday’s COVID-19 briefing. (Snohomish Health District)

Snohomish County COVID rate declines a bit; risk still high

The number of patients hospitalized is still almost 100, with 16 people on ventilators.

EVERETT — COVID-19 case rates are decreasing in Snohomish County but remain alarmingly high.

The county’s latest two-week case rate shows 447 new infections per 100,000 people. Last week’s adjusted total was 468 cases per 100,000. The week before the rate was the highest recorded during the pandemic: 475. The latest numbers are still higher than almost any other point during the past 18 months. In July, for example, those numbers dipped into the 60s per 100,000.

“While we’re seeing a slight decline of that rate off of the peak and maybe we’re coming down the other side of this, we are still at a very high level of transmission,” Snohomish Health District health officer Dr. Chris Spitters said during a Tuesday media briefing. “Although the change in direction is reassuring and hopeful, we are far from out of the woods, and this is not cause for celebration.”

In August, the case rate for unvaccinated Snohomish County residents was 800 per 100,000, Spitters said. For those vaccinated, it was 200 per 100,000.

The county is on the verge of passing a disheartening milestone this week as the number of COVID-19 deaths nears 700. There were 698, as of Monday afternoon, and in the last week 16 people have died.

Hospitalizations are down ever so slightly, with county hospitals treating 97 COVID-19 patients as of Monday. That is down from 106 last week. Of the 97, 16 required ventilators to breathe. That is down from 19 last week.

Gov. Jay Inslee asked the federal government Monday for help staffing hospitals and long-term care facilities strained by the pandemic. The Northwest Healthcare Response Network was not aware of any requests for staffing assistance from Snohomish County hospitals, spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross said Monday.

County Executive Dave Somers expects a vaccination mandate for all organizations of 100 employees to come soon from the state Department of Labor and Industries. That would be in line with a forthcoming federal rule covering more than 140,000 workers in the county. But while the federal mandate would allow employers to accept a negative COVID-19 test every week as an alternative to vaccination, the state requirement would likely include no such option, Somers said.

“The overall rules flow down from the federal government. The state can adopt or adopt something stronger. They cannot adopt something weaker,” he said. “We’re expecting they’re going to adopt something a little stronger and so that very soon we will be under a vaccination mandate for our organizations.”

Spitters said he is “very supportive of anything we can do to raise vaccination coverage in the county.” As of Sept. 14, 73% of those 12 and older in the county had initiated vaccination. And 67% of them were fully vaccinated.

Inslee has already announced strict vaccination mandates for various workers in the state. Those requirements don’t give all workers the option of getting tested in lieu of vaccination. The state’s deadline for workers to be fully vaccinated or provide proof to justify an exemption is Oct. 18.

That anticipated mandate would cover county government, where over 70% of workers are already vaccinated. Somers said he expects to lose a “significant number” of employees who aren’t willing to get vaccinated throughout the county.

“We do expect to lose some people due to this,” he said.

The county’s schools, child care centers and youth sports organizations saw 367 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 between Sept. 2 and Sept. 16, according to the Snohomish Health District. Those infections involved over 2,100 close contacts, many of whom have to quarantine for 14 days. That totals about 1% to 2% of Snohomish County K-12 students, Spitters noted.

Quarantine periods vary based on vaccination status. Close contacts who aren’t fully vaccinated must quarantine for 14 days. They should get tested immediately after exposure and tested again five to seven days later, according to county health officials.

Fully vaccinated students and staff members don’t need to quarantine as long as they don’t have symptoms, according to the health district. They should still seek testing a few days after exposure.

Several districts are tallying cases on their campuses on school websites. Everett schools had 43 students and 12 staff members test positive between Sept. 8 and Sept. 17. Another 260 people were close contacts. In Edmonds, 30 cases were reported last week, including four at Mountlake Terrace High School, where there were 238 close contacts. In the Snohomish School District, 28 students and two staff members have tested positive since Sept. 1.

“The best way for us to mitigate this is to get that curve down, and I regret the individual impact that will still remain for kids who are quarantined for 14 days,” Spitters said. “But our pathway out of this is for all eligible, older kids to get vaccinated, everybody to mask up. Let’s get transmission down in the community and then (the) number of school cases will also go down and the number of children being quarantined will go down.”

Spitters was encouraged by Pfizer saying Monday that its vaccine is effective in children ages 5 to 11 and will seek federal authorization for this group soon. But there are still many steps before local parents can vaccinate their young children, Spitters said.

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; jake.goldstein-street@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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