There is some good news from Tuesday’s weekly Snohomish County COVID-19 briefing.
Coronavirus transmission rates continue to decline. During the two weeks ending Aug. 29, the rate dropped to 54 new cases per 100,000 residents. That is four declines in a row.
Corn mazes, pumpkin patches, wagon rides and farm animal visits will be allowed this fall. The county’s agro-tourism groups and the state worked out rules to allow for some traditional fall fun.
The county also said it is working with the state and regional partners to find additional resources to provide child care for parents as schools reopen, noting that the demand far exceeds the availability,
This Friday, the county will launch its grant program for Snohomish county-based non-profits that need financial help. A total of $2 million in federal money is available to assist the non-profit groups. Application details are on the county website.
A county survey shows that encouraging numbers of people are wearing masks. Local ham radio operators volunteered to work with the Snohomish Health District and the Emergency Management Department to see how well residents are following the rules to ‘mask up’.
The team surveyed 23 business sites (restaurants, shops, grocery stores) and 15 outdoor sites (parks, street corners, the Everett Transit Center). In the South County, they made observations in Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mukilteo and Mill Creek.
They found 90% of people wore masks in restaurants, shops, grocery stores, pharmacies and chain stores. At the Everett Transit Center, mask compliance was rated “very good” (73% wore masks during the morning commute, 90% in the evening rush). In parks and at busy intersections, mask wearing was “moderately good,” averaging 70%.
Steve Davis, with the county Emergency Management Department, coordinated the survey. One story from the survey teams highlights the problem of enforcing mask wearing in large outdoor settings. Observers noticed hundreds of people in the water at Lake Stevens Beach Park and saw only one person wearing a mask.
But, observers reported low compliance in outlying county parks, and the need to improve mask wearing in heavily used outdoor spaces and at busy parkintersections.
Asked whether the county intends to crack down in large outdoor settings, County Executive Dave Somers said, “We have no plans in the county to up enforcement,” adding that it is beyond the county’s abilities to do that.
Dr. Chris Spitters, the county’s chief health officer, said the county has “made tremendous strides over the past months to bend the curve and bring things back down with a really good outlook for the fall,” but he warned it’s important to not lose that momentum in the weeks ahead.
Spitters also said he wanted to clarify several recent reports on COVID death data from the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC). He said that one CDC news release recently stated that in 94% of all COVID deaths nationwide, victims had one or more chronic health conditions listed as contributing causes on their death certificates.
“That does not mean that these deaths were not caused by COVID,” said Spitters. “It means that COVID may have caused a condition that led to their untimely death, such as shock or sepsis or that other conditions, like diabetes, high blood pressure or chronic lung disease, made the person more vulnerable.”
It may be, said Spitters, that the “first cause of death may be respiratory disease, which then led to COVID.” He clarified that people with COVID who were shot or accidentally killed are not considered coronavirus deaths.
One question noted that South American countries, which are just ending their winter season, had almost no regular flu outbreaks this year. Could that be the case here as well? Spitters said the hope is that “we have a light flu season, but hope is not a plan” — adding it’s important to stay on track and continue the precautions already taken.
Officials also said that though infection rates are declining, it is not yet time to think about face-to-face classroom learning. They cautioned that the new case rate would have to fall to less than 25 per 100,000 residents to make in-person learning safe. Neither Somers nor Spitters would make a prediction on when and how schools might reopen their classrooms. County employees will continue to telecommute through the end of this year.
–– By Bob Throndsen