During Tuesday’s Snohomish County COVID-19 briefing, Chief Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters told reporters that while the state’s three Omicron cases are in Thurston, Pierce and King counties, “it’s likely that it’s already here (Snohomish County).
Spitters echoed what other COVID experts have said: that that the Omicron variant is transmitted more rapidly than the Delta strain; that repeat infections are more likely; and that because of that, there may be more Omicron breakthrough cases even in those who have been fully vaccinated. He also suggested that the new variant will probably become the most prevalent strain in the U.S.
He warned people to be wary of ads they may get or see that promise a COVID test for the Omicron variant. “There is no Omicron test to pursue,” Spitters told reporters, adding that any claim of such a test is false. He pointed to a subtle message in a flyer that he got, warning him that since Omicron was becoming prevalent, he should get a COVID test, calling it a “subtle misdirection.”
Spitters said coronavirus cases in the county are a little higher – up 170 from the week before. He believes that increase suggests a connection to more people gathering during Thanksgiving. On the positive side, vaccine demand remains high for teens and adults, and now for children 5-11 years old. Of that younger age group, 22% have now received a first shot; another 6% are fully vaccinated.
Though doctors are seeing more cases in children, Spitters said school outbreaks are holding steady. The high point, he told reporters, was in September when classes started. Most school outbreaks now are confined to fewer than half a dozen in any school building, according to county data.
When a reporter asked if the onset of winter and the quick spread of Omicron variant cases should trigger a return to remote learning, Spitters deferred to the school districts. He said school leaders must balance coronavirus concerns and closing classrooms with the impact on kids’ education, the social and emotional effects, and the impact on families. “We have much different information on COVID now that we did in March of 2020,” Spitters said, adding that schools and the county are working to keep children as safe as possible, and that vaccination is key.
New York City is now limiting access to a number of public places to those who can prove they have been vaccinated. Asked about creating similar local limits, both Spitters and County Executive Dave Somers said no. “We haven’t seen anything to warrant further restrictions on local business,” added Somers.
Somers also took time to honor Spitters, who has announced that he is retiring from the Snohomish County Health District next June. Somers called Spitters “our doctor,” adding how grateful he was for Spitters’ leadership, and how strong the partnership has been between the county and the health district. “I’ve watched you, with great admiration, balance the science and medicine and the human needs and concerns that our public has felt,” Somers said.
Spitters is leaving after 24 years with the Snohomish Health District. He said he’s not looking for another role, but to spend more time with family who, he has said, waited “patiently for me on the sidelines of my life for so long.”
— By Bob Throndsen