The month in public health: COVID hospitalizations near pandemic low

Meanwhile, the bad news: Opioid overdoses continue to increase in Snohomish County.

Dr. James Lewis

Dr. James Lewis

This story is the second of regular updates based on the latest data, programs and policies of the Snohomish County Health Department.

EVERETT — COVID hospitalizations continue to decline in Snohomish County, close to the lowest rate since the pandemic began, according to Dr. James Lewis, health officer for the Snohomish County Health Department.

“It’s been on a steady trajectory downward for weeks now,” Lewis said. The rate was 5.8 hospitalizations per 100,000 people the week ending March 4, down from a high of 14.9 in July 2022.

Despite plans to end the statewide mask mandate for health care, long-term care and adult correctional facilities on April 3, health care providers in the Puget Sound region agreed to continue requiring masks in their acute care and outpatient clinics, according to a recent statement. That includes large Snohomish providers like EvergreenHealth and Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.

Snohomish County joined other health departments supporting this regional approach to “prioritize the health and safety of both their patients and employees.”

Lewis thinks a countywide mask mandate is not the right approach right now.

In other news, January and February had the highest number of emergency medical responses to possible opioid overdoses in over a year — 156 and 143 — according to county data.

In addition to high fentanyl concentrations leading to accidental overdoses, xylazine, or “tranq,” is now being mixed in with fentanyl in some parts of the country. Last week the federal Drug Enforcement Administration issued a public safety alert about xylazine being found in about 23% of fentanyl powder and 7% of fentanyl pills it seized in 2022.

Lewis said the county has not yet had a known case of a xylazine overdose since he started last August. But the Olympic Peninsula has had cases. Xylazine is not an opioid, so naloxone does not work to reverse the effects of an overdose. The drug can also lead to complications like chronic wounds, bloodstream infections and loss of limbs.

“So I think that’s very scary,” Lewis said. “And then also, we just continue to see the potency of fentanyl increase as well. And so that is probably the most alarming thing to me right now.”

The county’s Multi-Agency Coordination group, known as MAC, is looking into using some opioid settlement funds for making drug testing supplies more readily available.

The department’s monthly meetings are open to the public — in person, by phone or by Zoom. For more information, visit

Joy Borkholder: 425-339-3430;; Twitter: @jlbinvestigates.

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