Case count heat map shows Aug. 23 to Sept. 5. (Snohomish County Health District)

Case count heat map shows Aug. 23 to Sept. 5. (Snohomish County Health District)

Snohomish County sees another uptick in COVID-19 cases

It’s too early to call it a third wave, but the numbers are cause for concern, Dr. Chris Spitters said.

EVERETT — The number of new COVID cases in Snohomish County rose last week for the first time in two months, according to data from the Snohomish Health District.

The jump in new infections per 100,000 people over two weeks — from 41.9 to 46.4 — isn’t steep, but health experts fear it could be the first sign of another surge.

“It’s certainly concerning to me,” Dr. Chris Spitters, the county’s top health officer said Tuesday. “We’ve only been around the block a couple times with this and every time it goes up, it keeps going. Although, I’m hopeful that people see that and re-double their efforts to engage in the preventative measures.”

What caused the spike is also unknown, he said. It could’ve been Labor Day gatherings, or the smoky air that kept people indoors, or some kids going back to school, or something totally unrelated — or some combination of all of the above. No one recently infected with COVID has told contact tracers they attended a large gathering, including one in Snohomish hosted by an anti-mask pastor.

The health district will complete its analysis of the new data later this week.

To avoid another surge in cases, wear a mask, keep your distance from others in public and maintain a small social circle, Spitters said. You’re more likely to get COVID-19 from a roommate, family member, friend or co-worker than anyone else, according to a health district report.

Case count heat map shows Jan. to Sept. 5. (Snohomish County Health District)

Case count heat map shows Jan. to Sept. 5. (Snohomish County Health District)

Classrooms reopening

Many local school districts are preparing, or have started, to welcome their youngest students back to the classroom for in-person instruction.

The state Department of Health, Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and Snohomish Health District all recommend a phased approach to bringing students back to campuses on a hybrid schedule.

That means kindergartners first. Then, after three weeks, administrators evaluate bringing back first-, second- and third-graders. After three more weeks, middle schoolers and then high schoolers.

While the new numbers are cause for concern, Spitters said, administrators can continue prepping for a phased reopening.

“Let’s keep planning and moving in that direction and see what the next week or two shows,” he said. “The speed and trajectory and absolute level of where the graph goes will say a lot to the superintendents about their appetite for bringing back an additional layer (of students).”

After a change of plans, the Arlington School District will welcome back kindergartners and first graders on Oct. 12, the district announced Tuesday. Administrators previously planned to resume in-person instruction on Oct. 5. The new date gives teachers more time to prepare, district spokesperson Gary Sabol said in a statement.

In Monroe, the district will bring its youngest students back as early as Oct. 12, Superintendent Justin Blasko said in a letter to parents.

The Stanwood-Camano School District began its school year Sept. 10, with kindergartners in classrooms at each of the district’s five elementary schools. The next wave of students is set to return Oct. 5.

The Sultan School District resumed in-person learning for kindergartners last week. First- and second-graders could arrive back on campus Oct. 5.

Two steps forward …

Before the rise in cases, the county was seeing sustained improvements in nearly every COVID metric. Two weeks ago, the percent of tests coming back positive was 2.5% — the lowest since June.

Additionally, the rates of both hospitalizations and deaths from the virus have stayed about the same in recent weeks.

But people are still dying from the virus.

Snohomish County’s first wave of COVID cases peaked in late March and early April. By late May, the health district was reporting fewer than 25 new cases per 100,000 residents over a given two-week period. In early June, the county moved to Phase 2 of the governor’s “Safe Start” plan, allowing the reopening of restaurants, barber shops and retail stores long shuttered by the pandemic.

Then, cases spiked — fueled largely by people not wearing masks at social gatherings, both big and small. But far fewer people died from the virus during the second wave.

That’s in part because the majority of cases were concentrated among younger people, who are less likely to experience severe complications from COVID. The county’s first wave mostly affected older people, especially those in long-term care homes.

About 56 people in Snohomish County have died from COVID since June 1, according to health district data. In all, at least 209 people have died from the virus since the pandemic began.

One in four people 80 and older who contracted the virus in Snohomish County had died. For people 70 to 79, the fatality rate is 14%.

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

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