An abandoned face mask rests on the sidewalk along Hewitt Avenue in downtown Everett on April 15. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

An abandoned face mask rests on the sidewalk along Hewitt Avenue in downtown Everett on April 15. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Snohomish County on verge of slipping back to Phase 2

Meanwhile, the county is altering its vaccination effort as demand for shots begins to slow.

EVERETT — Snohomish County, like much of Washington, has less than a week to get its COVID metrics down, or else it could move back to Phase 2, local leaders warn.

That would bring less indoor capacity for local businesses like restaurants, bowling alleys, gyms and movie theaters, as well as limited spectator capacity for sports.

On Friday, the state will let counties know if they’re staying put, or sliding back in the state’s Healthy Washington plan. And on Monday, the governor’s office will announce the moves.

In Snohomish County, chances of remaining in Phase 3 are slim, as case counts and hospitalization rates are above both the state’s benchmarks.

“Everyone knows, at this stage, what we need to do,” Executive Dave Somers said during a Tuesday media briefing. “So if you don’t like wearing masks, and if you don’t like seeing businesses restricted, and if you like being able to go into a restaurant with your friends, get vaccinated.”

In the latest two-week case count, Snohomish County reported 223 new COVID infections per 100,000 residents.

That’s a slight increase from last week’s report of 206 per 100,000, which could show a plateau in new cases.

The health district is also reporting a weekly hospitalization rate of more than 5 new COVID patients per 100,000 people.

To stay in Phase 3, counties must report fewer than 200 cases per 100,000 people and fewer than 5 hospitalizations per 100,000 people.

That’s unless Gov. Jay Inslee changes the rules for sliding backward, like he did in March, when the majority of the state was on pace to revert phases.

Previously, counties would revert a phase if they exceeded rates for one of the two metrics. Now, they must fail to meet both to be moved back.

Inslee could prevent a massive slide by including benchmarks for vaccination rates or deaths from the virus.

But Executive Somers doesn’t expect any more rule changes, he said Tuesday.

Additionally, this week’s report likely undercounts the county’s case rate, due to issues with the health district’s fax machine.

Each week, health care providers send testing reports to the county, which compiles the 14-day totals.

Some clinics send them via fax.

On Wednesday, the health district’s system crashed, and faxes between then and Monday may be missing, officials said. That caused staff to reach back out to providers and ask them to resend their case counts.

So the 223 per 100,000 figure represents all reports submitted to the health district, as of Wednesday, and will likely grow.

Meanwhile, demand for vaccinations is slowing in Snohomish County as case counts continue to climb.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were thousands of same-day appointments available across two of the county’s seven mass vaccination sites.

Now, public health officials are shifting their focus to reaching those on-the-fence about vaccines, making it easier than ever to get a dose.

Cars line up as their occupants await Covid-19 vaccinations at the Arlington Airport on April 23. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Cars line up as their occupants await Covid-19 vaccinations at the Arlington Airport on April 23. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

In Snohomish County, the vaccine taskforce is now opening appointments at its mass vaccination sites a week in advance, instead of a day or two.

“We know that, for our residents, getting a vaccination takes planning,” county Department of Emergency Management Director Jason Biermann said Tuesday. “For some folks it means having to take off work, getting childcare, a carpool or transportation, so, we feel like releasing the sign-ups a week in advance will give our residents more time to do that planning.”

The county’s Ash Way Park & Ride site is offering evening and weekend appointments, for those busy during weekday business hours.

Outside of mass vaccination sites, the county is partnering with nonprofits and other community organizations to host pop-up clinics, targeting under-served populations.

At the same time, South County Fire and Everett Fire Department staff are going across the county to vaccinate homebound residents.

Homebound residents can sign up for a visit by reaching the county’s COVID call center at 425-339-5278.

This week, another 45,000 doses are coming to Snohomish County, evenly split between first and second shots.

Those don’t include doses heading directly from the federal government to local pharmacies.

Also on Tuesday, the federal Centers for Disease Control updated its guidelines to say it’s safe for fully vaccinated Americans to be outdoors in public without masks, as long as they avoid crowds.

“This is another great reason to go get vaccinated,” President Joe Biden said during a press conference. “It’s never been easier.”

So far, providers have adminsitered more than 500,000 vaccine doses across Snohomish County, and more than one in three adults are fully vaccinated, local data shows.

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

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