Beginning this Thursday, everyone in Snohomish County, age 5 and up, “must wear masks in indoor public places.” County leaders say new COVID-19 cases are surging, hospital intensive care units are now 90% full and positive test rates jumped from 2-3% of people tested to more than 10% now.
The mask directive issued by the Snohomish Health District’s Chief Officer, Dr. Chris Spitters, means wearing masks in grocery stores, shops, child care, schools, transit, health care offices – anywhere inside where people gather. Spitters put it this way: “We need your help to get it (COVID) back under control.”
The mask directive does not apply to outdoor gatherings, although Spitters strongly encourages people to mask up outside. State regulations already require that everyone who is unvaccinated must already wear masks. The numbers help tell the story.
- New COVID cases have doubled to 1,300 in three weeks.
- We now average 280 new cases a week for each 100,000 residents. That means the CDC considers us a “high transmission county.“
- One of every 10 people tested last week was positive for the virus.
- Hospitalizations are triple what they were three weeks ago.
- ICU beds are at 90% capacity – with 62 COVID patients – four of those on ventilators.
County Executive Dave Somers told reporters that “if you want to live you should get vaccinated.”
He cited his three takeaways in the surge of the Delta variant, which is much more contagious than previous strains. “The consensus”, said Somers, “is that if you haven’t had COVID yet and are not vaccinated, you will likely get it.” He added if you haven’t been vaccinated, you face “much more risk of serious illness or death.” And third – Somers added – the vaccine is “very effective at keeping people out of hospitals and healthier. It is safe, it’s effective and it’s our path out of this.”
Spitters said the virus surge is “no coincident.” He sees is as a convergence of three things – the much more contagious Delta variant, an incomplete vaccine effort, and reduced prevention efforts over the past month. Spitters added that only 54% of county residents are fully vaccinated. That means, he said, that nearly 250,000 people over the age of 12 have not even started a vaccine regimen. That’s on top of 125,000 children under the age of 12 who are not yet eligible for a vaccine. Both leaders noted that vaccination increased in the first week of August, but Spitters said, “we need to go faster than that.”
Asked if the new surge would lead to an order to vaccinate all public employees in the county, similar to the one Gov. Jay Inslee issued for state workers, Somers said: “We just got the details (of the governors’ plan) yesterday; we’re looking at those requirements to see how they might apply to the county.”
Could the county go backward and impose business restrictions again? “That possibility is always out there,” Spitters told reporters. “We have to protect and preserve the community and prevent death and suffering – anything is potentially on the table.” He said officials will evaluate the case numbers week by week.
What worries Spitter most is “our collective exhaustion with this pandemic.”
“I’m tired of it,” Spitters added, “my family is tired of it; it’s exhausting. We all want it to be over but it’s not.” History, he added, teaches us that is not the way this virus goes.
— By Bob Throndsen