Snohomish County leaders said during a May 11 briefing that due to stable COVID-19 case rates they are hopeful the county will be able to remain in Phase 3 of the Healthy Washington: Roadmap to Recovery reopening plan when Gov. Jay Inslee’s statewide two-week pause on counties’ phase movement is expected to end next week.
“Given that our numbers appear to be flat and not increasing I think that’s good news,” Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said. “I can’t speak for the governor’s office obviously, but I would expect that at this point hopefully the pause will continue and we can continue on this flat trajectory and hopefully start seeing the curve go down.”
The county’s Chief Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters said he thought that the intent of the pause was to see if a surge in case counts this spring would slow down, “and thus far it has.” Noting he also couldn’t speak for decision-makers at the state level, “What’s happening I think reflects what they were hoping the pause would yield. (It’s) more positive feedback for everyone in the community who is doing what they can to get vaccinated, to wear masks and to keep doing so – so that we can stay in Phase 3 and move beyond this ultimately.”
Somers said he was encouraged after reading a recent article that noted the county has the lowest per capita infection rate to date among three counties in the Seattle metropolitan area. “Our rate’s about 4600 infections per 100,000 residents and that’s less than half of the national average,” he said, which illustrated to him, “that all the hard work and sacrifices that everybody has been making have really been worth it. We’ve kept our infection rates low even though we’ve been at it longer than anyone else in the United States.”
The county’s case counts have been maintaining a flat trajectory as of late. Somers added, “We just need to keep up the progress and everybody knows what to do at this point, mask up and get your vaccine.” Snohomish County’s COVID-19 case rate has remained stable over the last two weeks at 227 cases per 100,000 people, which is similar to the rate reported prior to that. Hospitalization rates have increased slightly over that same amount of time and there are currently 43 people hospitalized for COVID-19 in the county, four of whom are on ventilators.
Through May 9, approximately 380,000 county residents have initiated vaccination which is 45% of the total population and almost 60% of those who are currently eligible for the shots. Roughly one out of every three people in Snohomish County have now been completely vaccinated.
Somers said, “I deeply appreciate everything our residents have done to the common sense guidelines that we’ve been talking about for over a year now and keep themselves and their families and communities safe.” He also thanked those whose efforts have helped to facilitate quarantine and testing sites, immunization vaccine sites, provided support to businesses, rental assistance programs including healthcare workers, first responders, public health professionals and others assisting with emergency coordination throughout the pandemic.
“We have people that are healthy and alive today because of the hard work of all those folks,” he added. “We know there’s one way to keep everyone healthy and move us beyond this it’s get vaccinated. The vaccine task force has done really incredible work and we have significant capacity to move even more people through than we are.”
Somers noted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday expanded its emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to now include adolescents ages 12-15 years old. That is the first of five review decisions by federal and state public health regulators required before the vaccine could then become available to Washington residents of those ages. No vaccination appointments are being scheduled at Snohomish County Vaccine Taskforce vaccination sites or clinics for patients 12-15 years old until those further reviews are completed.
Spitters said that if the vaccine is approved, it would add about 40,000 more individuals who would then be eligible for vaccination in Snohomish County. He added that not all health care providers are set up to vaccinate adolescents and even if approved, it would most likely take a week or two for those who are to order the shots and then get them on site.
“Parents and guardians of adolescents who will become eligible for vaccination should contact their provider for eligibility and consent requirements prior to making an appointment or showing up for a vaccine,” Spitters said. “The preferred route for pediatric vaccination is through primary care.” That’s so that young people can also get any other regular health care and maintenance needs that may not have been attended to during the pandemic addressed at the same time. County health leaders are also looking at helping to provide alternatives for families and individuals who may not have that option.
Somers urged people who are already eligible for the vaccine to try to get appointments for the shots scheduled early this week because he expected final approvals for the expanded age group of adolescents will be announced later this week. That could, in turn, lead to “a significant block on our residents that are able to get the vaccine,” he said.
The older someone is, the more likely they are to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 and/or transmit it, “So still our priorities are those unvaccinated young and middle-aged adults as well as the remaining 30% of adults over age 65 who have not initiated vaccination,” Spitters said.
He acknowledged that getting vaccinated is a personal decision that can be nuanced and complex. But from a public health perspective, county health leaders continue to recommend all who are eligible “to pursue and complete vaccination as soon as possible as our exit from the grip that COVID has had on our society,” he said.
Snohomish County health officials continue to partner with community organizations for outreach efforts to people and groups that have traditionally been underserved medically or may be hesitant about getting vaccinated.
“Within our local BIPOC community it looks like the over-65 group is getting vaccinated at a high rate which is great,” said Simone Tarver, young adults committee chair with NAACP Snohomish County, who attended Tuesday’s briefing. “But people 18-49 aren’t getting vaccinated at the same rate. which is going to make it harder for us to get this contained.”
She said that she understood why some may be hesitant due to traditional inequalities in medical care and health outcomes, but felt the benefits outweigh the risks and impacts faced due to the pandemic. “To me it is clear that the best thing we can do is continue to abide by the rules in place like wearing masks when necessary, social distancing, extra handwashing and also getting vaccinated as soon as we can,” Tarver said.
The NAACP Snohomish County, in partnership with other organizations, has been helping to schedule BIPOC community members with vaccine appointments and is also working to address any hesitancies people may have.
Karina Gasperin, president of the Snohomish County Latino Coalition, said the first priorities on her mind when considering vaccination were protecting her family and continuing to serve the community. “And the only way that I can do that is getting the vaccine,” she said, adding that getting vaccinated is “a safe way to be around those people we love.”
She was happy for her organization to be working with the Snohomish Health District to help address health care deficiencies in BIPOC and immigrant communities and provide them with vaccines. “It is very exciting for me to let our community know that it is safe, that it is free – they don’t have to pay anything, they don’t have to have insurance and also that they can be around their families once more when they get the vaccine,” Gasperin said. She also cautioned that false information about the vaccine, particularly on social media, remains a big issue hampering those efforts and said educational outreach is crucial.
The Snohomish Health District’s COVID-19 case count information is available here.
— By Nathan Blackwell