Participating in Tuesday’s COVID-19 briefing were chief recovery and resilience officer for Snohomish County Kara Main-Hester (top left), Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers (top right) and Snohomish County Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters. (Snohomish Health District)

Participating in Tuesday’s COVID-19 briefing were chief recovery and resilience officer for Snohomish County Kara Main-Hester (top left), Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers (top right) and Snohomish County Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters. (Snohomish Health District)

Snohomish County turns a corner on omicron, but it’s not over

Officials expect COVID-19 cases to rapidly decline in the next few weeks. Hospitalizations are also decreasing.

EVERETT — Local health officials say Snohomish County has turned the corner on the current wave of COVID-19 infections. On Tuesday, Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters said infections will likely rapidly decline in coming weeks.

It’s welcome news after a tough January.

“It felt like an entire year crammed into those 31 days, with COVID infection rates climbing 10-fold from their baseline in December,” Spitters said at a news conference, adding later: “Nature kind of won on this one … the transmissibility of this strain really outstripped the ability of many proven measures to interrupt transmission.”

Preliminary data from the Snohomish Health District show there were 9,123 new cases reported last week. That’s about a one-third decline from peak infections, bringing the county’s two-week case rate down to 2,975 per 100,000 people. Hospitalizations are down to 165 after January’s record high of 230.

So far, a massive wave of infections driven by the omicron variant has been confirmed to have infected over 50,000 Snohomish County residents. Spitters said that likely translates to 100,000 or 200,000 people forced into isolation or quarantine after getting sick or becoming a close contact.

“That means thousands of employers, schools, sports teams, child care centers and other organizations had to scramble to cover missed shifts or jump into action to identify close contacts and otherwise prioritize and triage their service delivery,” Spitters said.

Whether another wave of infections is on the horizon, Spitters and county Executive Dave Somers said it’s too soon to say.

One University of Washington researcher, Dr. Christopher Murray, made headlines in recent weeks for his prediction that omicron effectively marks the end of the pandemic. Murray leads the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, a disease-modeling tool used by officials in Snohomish County and across the globe.

While enticing, Spitters called Murray’s prediction “bold,” especially after instances where “we prematurely declared victory over COVID.”

He said the pandemic will likely evolve into a less-intense endemic, but cautioned that the road to that reality is uncertain, urging residents to continue wearing masks.

“Hopefully it’s the last big wave,” Somers told reporters. “But we’ve been fooled before, so we’re just maintaining our vigilance and preparations if there is a new wave. We’re also turning an eye toward recovery and long term resilience. But I think all bets are off in terms of whether there could be another wave or a new variant.”

Claudia Yaw: 425-339-3449; claudia.yaw@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @yawclaudia.

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