EVERETT — Without vaccines, the current wave of COVID-19 transmission would have completely overwhelmed the state’s health care system, according to a state Department of Health news release.
Still, with incomplete vaccine coverage, hospitals across Washington, including those in Snohomish County, are feeling pressure as beds and intensive care units fill up with COVID patients who are predominately unvaccinated.
“We need everyone’s help de-escalating the current situation by masking up and getting vaccinated, if eligible,” Snohomish Health District administrator Shawn Frederick said.
The county’s record for COVID hospitalizations — set last winter, before vaccines arrived — was about 120.
At the same time, Snohomish County continues to see many new COVID cases whose numbers also rival the peaks reached during the winter.
Two weeks ago, the county recorded more than 2,000 infections over a seven-day period — the second-highest weekly total of the pandemic.
Last week, that number dropped to about 1,700, though it is expected to grow as more labs send reports into the health district, Frederick said.
The number of weekly COVID deaths in the county has stayed relatively flat. Health experts say that’s partially thanks to vaccines, which have protected those most vulnerable to the virus.
Meanwhile, the number of “breakthrough” cases continues to rise in Snohomish County.
Fully vaccinated residents now account for about 20% to 25% of the county’s COVID cases and hospitalizations.
Weeks ago, virtually all hospitalizations involved the unvaccinated.
The breakdown in protection is partially due to the spread of the more infectious delta variant, waning efficacy months after people received doses and the fact that vaccinated people are more likely to be older and, therefore, at higher risk for severe disease.
“All of this is to say these vaccines are working,” Frederick said. “They are saving lives and reducing the strain on our hospital system. Even 75% efficacy is still very good, and the personal benefit to getting vaccinated certainly outweighs the low risk of vaccination.”
And if more people get vaccinated, the shots will become more effective.
Countywide, more than 209,000 eligible residents have yet to receive a shot. Another 124,000 children under 12 are not yet eligible.
“Plain and simple, we need to get more people vaccinated in our community to protect those who can’t get vaccinated,” Frederick said.
Last week, the Snohomish County Council approved a proposal from County Executive Dave Somers which gives county employees four extra hours of paid leave for vaccination appointments.
“We want to try every incentive we have available before we impose a mandate,” Somers said.
On Monday, the federal Food and Drug Administration gave Pfizer full approval for its vaccine, which was previously administered under emergency approval.
“We’re hoping those who had been waiting for that approval will get vaccinated as soon as possible, because the delta strain has unfortunately become very efficient at moving through communities at lightning speed,” Frederick said. “The vaccines and masks can help us add a protective barrier.”
Next week, federal health authorities are to discuss booster shots for people eight months after their last dose.
Eligible adults could start receiving booster shots by late September.
Also on Tuesday, the health district announced in a news release it was experiencing a small COVID outbreak of fewer than five cases in its Everett office
“The Health District notified all employees of the situation this afternoon,” the release said. “Any staff in the building who had been in the building since August 18 were advised to seek testing. As the confirmed cases were not in public-facing roles, there is no need for people who had visited the Rucker Building to seek testing.”
In-person services at the Rucker Building will be unavailable through Aug. 31, while the building is cleaned. The health district expects to reopen to the public Sept. 1.