EVERETT — Snohomish County will not be entering Phase 3 any time soon, local leaders say.
Three weeks into Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start” reopening of Washington, the county can now apply to advance to the next step, which would allow gatherings of up to 50 people and welcome back bars, public pools, gyms and movie theaters. However, increases in cases and a lack of social distancing is setting the county back, making a bid to proceed futile, officials said Friday.
Friday also marked the beginning of the statewide mandate to wear masks in public — which health experts say is critical to limiting the spread of the virus and getting back on track toward Phase 3.
“As we open up more, it sends a signal to our residents that things are getting better and there’s less cause for concern — this is not the case,” County Executive Dave Somers said during a Friday call with reporters. “I’m really hopeful folks will get much more serious about masks and distancing. If we see that trend turned around, I’m going to push as hard as I can to get us open as quickly as I can. But it really is up to each and every one of you to take those protective measures and help us be successful.”
On Monday, the Snohomish Health District reported 77 new COVID-19 cases, the highest single day total since early April. As of Friday, the county was no longer meeting three benchmarks — the rate of new cases every two weeks, the number of tests per new case and the percentage of positive tests each week.
Like most of the country, a growing number of infections are occurring among young people, Dr. Chris Spitters, the county’s top health official, said Friday. Transmission of the virus is happening through the community, not in specific clusters, he added.
However, hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have stayed flat. It will take a few weeks to understand if the recent numbers are “a blip or the beginning of a trend,” Spitters said.
The concern among some health officials is that young people aren’t taking the virus seriously because they are less likely to face severe outcomes. But by contracting COVID-19, they are possibly reigniting community spread and transmitting the virus to more vulnerable populations, even if they don’t experience symptoms.
It could take weeks to see that data, said Dr. Jeff Duchin, the top health official for Seattle and King County. But increased activity and less precaution will lead to more infections, he said.
“People need to understand that COVID is going to be with us for a long time — months, maybe years,” Duchin said.
In Snohomish County, the health district has received several reports of large gatherings in the county, Spitters said.
In Stanwood, at least one young adult tested positive after a house party last weekend with 40 to 70 attendees.
Due to the nature of the party, the health district won’t be able to reach everyone involved for contact tracing, Spitters said. If you attended, you’ve likely been exposed to the virus and should isolate at home until July 4 and seek testing.
So far, there is no known connection between new cases and protests against police brutality against Black people, Spitters said.
Across the state, not wearing a mask in public, whether indoors or outside, became a misdemeanor offense Friday under the governor’s mandate.
Law enforcement agencies have largely said they won’t enforce the order and will focus on educating people about the importance of masks.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is likely spread by droplets you exhale as you breathe, as well as when you talk, sing, cough or sneeze, according to the state Department of Health. Wearing a mask prevents exposing others to those droplets.
“When you wear a face covering, it shows you really care about the people you’re around,” Somers said. “It also shows that you care about our businesses that are suffering.”
Health experts across the country are saying masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“I don’t think we understood that at the beginning of this pandemic if you’re asymptomatic you could still be potentially spreading infection to other people,” said Dr. Chloe Bryson-Cahn, an infectious disease physician at UW Medicine. “So what I tell my family and my friends is that I’m wearing my mask to protect you when I see you, and to protect other people in the grocery store.”
During a Friday news conference in Washington, D.C., Vice President Mike Pence told Americans to follow all guidance set by state leaders for social distancing and masks.
In Washington, exceptions can be made for those with certain disabilities, like people who are deaf or hard of hearing, and children under 5.
On Friday, Spitters said numerous residents have been asking local hospitals for doctor’s notes saying they don’t have to wear masks. Generally, hospitals will not accommodate such requests, he said.
Prior to Inslee’s mandate and since June 8, all workers across the state were required to wear masks, with some exceptions. Employers must provide the face coverings and post signs strongly encouraging customers to wear them, too.
To gear up for the requirement, the state purchased more than 3.6 million masks for low-income residents. Nearly 300,000 have already gone to Snohomish County’s Department of Emergency Management, which will distribute them throughout the county.
On Monday, low-income Mountlake Terrace residents can grab a washable cloth mask at 57th Avenue W, north of 232nd Street and west of 23120 56th Avenue W, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
To qualify, residents must be at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. For a household of four, the annual income must be at or below $51,500. For a single person, it’s $24,980.
Those seeking a mask must verify their residence in the city with a piece of mail or photo ID. City staff will also ask if residents meet the income qualifications.
For more information, visit www.cityofmlt.com.