EVERETT — Snohomish County is expected to remain in Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan, local leaders said Tuesday.
With case rates stalling, they believe Gov. Jay Inslee will likely extend the two-week pause that prevents counties from sliding back phases in his “Healthy Washington” recovery plan.
“I cannot speak for the governor’s office, obviously, but I would expect at this point that hopefully the pause will continue as we continue on this flat trajectory and hopefully see the curve go down,” Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said during a Tuesday media briefing.
Last week, seven counties, including Snohomish, were on the cusp of falling back to Phase 2 restrictions because case rates and hospitalizations exceeded state guidelines for remaining in Phase 3.
But Inslee intervened with a two-week pause on rolling back counties, citing a possible plateau in COVID-19 case rates.
“I think the intent of the pause was to see if the slowing down of the momentum of this wave was going to pan out over time, and thus far, it has,” county health officer Dr. Chris Spitters said.
In the past two weeks, the county’s rolling virus case rate has stayed the same, at 227 new cases per 100,000 residents.
Countywide, the number of people hospitalized from COVID on a given day has hovered in the 40s. However, the virus’ death rate has yet to climb, and fewer COVID patients are requiring ventilators to breathe.
That’s likely because the average age of people hospitalized due to COVID has dropped, with more than 70% of the county’s 65-and-older population having received at least one dose of a vaccine.
Across Snohomish County, one in three people are fully vaccinated, and another 100,000 are awaiting a second dose.
Another 40,000 county residents will soon be eligible. Federal authorities announced that Pfizer’s COVID vaccine is safe for children ages 12 to 15.
Multiple federal panels need to approve the vaccine before it can be given to children, but that could occur by the end of the week.
Doctors’ offices will be the best place for children to get vaccinated, Spitters said, because it also allows them to catch up on other shots and check-ups that many have skipped during the pandemic.
However, vaccine clinics at schools and other public spaces could be another option, he said.
Earlier this month, Gov. Inslee said the state could get rid of the reopening phases altogether as soon as summer, as long as the number of Washingtonians who are fully vaccinated continues to grow.
However, fewer people are rushing to the county’s mass vaccination sites to get a shot.
Locally, the county’s Hispanic population is lagging other racial and ethnic groups in getting vaccinated, recent data show.
One reason is misinformation from social media, Snohomish County Latino Coalition Board President Karina Gasperin said during Tuesday’s media briefing.
Even if people want to be vaccinated, there are barriers to getting a shot, she added, including being asked to show proof of insurance, taking time off from work and finding transportation to a site.
“It is very exciting for me to let our community know it is safe, that it is free,” Gasperin said. “They don’t have to pay anything, they don’t have to have insurance, and they can be around their families, once more, when they get the vaccine.”
In recent weeks, the county’s vaccine task force has worked with community groups to set up mobile clinics.
So far, staff have administered 947 doses at the pop-up clinics, and there are plans for at least three more in the coming weeks, health district spokesperson Kari Bray said in an email.
Providence has partnered with community groups, including the Snohomish County Latino Coalition, to host pop-up clinics.
As of this week, Providence staff have administered more than 3,000 doses at the sites, Gasperin said.
Additionally, county crews have been making visits to homebound residents, vaccinating 220 people who otherwise couldn’t access appointments.
Mobile clinics have also worked to administer 652 shots for people experiencing homelessness.