Tuesday COVID briefing: County leaders warn we are on threshhold of sliding back to Phase 2

County Executive Dave Somers, above, and Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters speak during the COVID-19 briefing Tuesday.

We are 14 months into the COVID pandemic, and yes, we think we have “heard it all.”

We are numb to the charts that show yo-yoing new case rates; tired of being told again and again and again what we should or should not do. Exasperated by restaurants and shops that are open today, closed tomorrow; allow 50% of customers in… no wait, this week, only 25% of customers can dine inside. When does it all end?

Well, this week’s Snohomish County COVID briefing is not going to make anyone happy.  “We are,” says County Chief Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters, “on the threshold and in serious jeopardy of sliding back into Phase 2; and if it is not stemmed, could drive us back into Phase 1.”

No matter how much COVID fatigue we suffer, the reality is this: Coronavirus and its variants are “fighting back” at every inch of progress we make, says Spitters. The number of new COVID cases per week is up 250% – from 85 just a month ago to 205 for the week ending April 7.

COVID-19 snapshot:

  • 250% increase in new cases in a month
  • 1,700 new cases in last two weeks
  • Hospitalizations hit 39 last week, double what they were in mid-March
  • Cases increase for those aged 20-59.

It looks, says Spitters, “like we’re on our way up a fourth wave of COVID.”  We remain “precariously in Phase 3,” says Spitters, who adds that what’s leading the charge are increasing cases among those in their early 20’ through their late 50s. The doctor says too many people are getting together in gatherings with friends or family members who are not fully vaccinated, not wearing their masks and not social distancing.

But wait: The county is about to administer its 500,000th vaccine dose, 47% of all adults have had a first shot and 30% are completely vaccinated. The county is getting 55,000 vaccine doses this week, triple what the state gave us just a few weeks ago. Surely, that is making a difference.

It is, says Spitters, “already making a dent, but just not enough yet to eliminate sustained transmission.” He admits the virus is attacking fewer people than it did a few months ago. But he cautions that the number of COVID variants are expanding and that some can be transmitted far more easily than previous strains. “It’s an amazing, impressive and alarming reminder of how the virus can unravel all our best efforts,” Spitters says.

If you are going to gather with people, do it outside, say Somers and Spitters. Keep indoor get-togethers small; limit them to family or just a friend or two. Wear the masks when you go shopping or into restaurants. Get vaccinated.  The county quotes a survey that shows 88% of Snohomish County residents “want to get vaccinated.”

The threshold to a herd immunity is still out of reach. Spitters told reporters estimates are that 80% of the population would have to be vaccinated before the community could expect herd immunity, and we are only a little over halfway there.

On Wednesday, the county opens its seventh mass vaccination site, at Ash Way Park & Ride (16327 Ash Way) in Lynnwood.

As at all county vaccine sites, this one requires a reservation. You can make one here  or call the County COVID Call Center: 425-339-5278.

The Ash Way site will be either drive-through or walk-up. Take a Community Transit bus to Ash Way and walk over to the vaccine site. Seventeen CT bus routes directly serve Ash Way. Other buses are available with just a one-stop transfer. Ash Way will provide shots (with a pre-reservation) Wednesday-Sunday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., depending on vaccine availability.

Snohomish County is also launching what it calls the ‘Emergency Rental Assistance’ (ERA) program. County Executive Dave Somers told reporters that across the county there are families in danger of losing their housing when the state eviction moratorium ends on June 30.  The ERA program will provide $25 million in federal money to assist. The program is in partnership with Volunteers of America, Western Washington.

To qualify, a family’s income must be at or below 80% of the area median income and they must have experienced economic hardship because of COVID, and they are at risk of homelessness or housing instability.

To apply, call the County Service hotline at 211.

The Emergency Rental Assistance program will give priority to those who earn at or below 50% of area median income, and one or more members must have been unemployed for more than 90 days.

Despite the warnings that the county could slip back to the restrictions of Phase 2 on May 2, Somers says “we have time, several weeks to turn this around; more people are gathering out of doors; we can absolutely turn this around.”

Spitters cautions that “going back a phase is painful and carries a heavy toll for many; and going back two phases even further is worse, but that’s where we’re headed in the next two weeks if these numbers don’t turn around.” He does agree that we have a “reasonable chance” to avoid the decisions that “choked” the economy and our social lives when the pandemic broke out.

— By Bob Throndsen


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