The rate of new COVID-19 cases reported in Snohomish County amid the ongoing spread of the highly infectious delta variant continue to remain near peak levels seen since the pandemic began last year. Last week, 2,042 new cases were reported through Saturday, Aug. 28.
“Together with the 1,700 cases from the prior week, that corresponds to a rolling two-week case rate of approximately 446 cases per 100,000 residents,” Dr. Chris Spitters, the county’s chief health officer, said during a media briefing Tuesday. That represents “the second highest two-week rolling case rate we’ve ever had, the highest one being back around the new year during the third wave of COVID.”
Another indicator of the high level of COVID-19 activity? Roughly 12-15% of the approximately 15,000 tests administered in Snohomish County last week came back positive. “That’s the highest positivity rate we’ve seen since April 2020,” Spitters said.
He reported that approximately 100 residents in Snohomish County were hospitalized due to COVID-19 last week. As of Aug. 31 there are currently 96 such hospital patients, with 9 of those people requiring mechanical ventilation to breathe. Spitters also noted that the cases reported in long-term care facilities has seen a notable increase during the latest wave of infections.
“This COVID hospital census has not been seen since the pre-vaccine era in December/January of this past new year and March 2020,” Spitters said. “Without the benefits of vaccination afforded to the community by the roughly half-million Snohomish County residents who have lent their arm to the effort, our currently stressed health care system would be completely overwhelmed – so thanks to all of you who have gotten vaccinated.”
“We are seeing an increase in deaths in parallel with this wave, but it’s not of the magnitude that we saw in previous heavy waves,” Spitters said, attributing that to the vaccines and their effectiveness.
Spitters also noted there have been some delays in the county’s published case rates and weekly charts recently “due to the large number of cases being reported in recent weeks,” which increases the length of time needed for staff to process that data and then generate information which can be shared with the community. “As long as we continue to have such a high volume of cases it may take us a few days longer each week” — than has been normal of late — in order “to get the most recent numbers out onto the websites,” he added.
Following-up on last week’s announcement that people who attended the Arlington 3on3X Basketball Tournament Aug. 14-15 should consider getting tested for COVID-19, Spitters said, “we have identified at least six cases associated with the event and further investigation is pending.”
The Snohomish Health District’s drive-thru testing location in Everett will be temporarily closed over the weekend of Sept. 3-6, and then reopen Tuesday, Sept. 7. Its testing location at the Lynnwood Food Bank will cease operations after Saturday, Sept. 4. “We are finalizing details for two more new testing locations, one in the south and one in the north end of the county, that will provide additional capacity and flexibility as we move forward,” Spitters noted. “Testing is still a critical part of disease control and we encourage people who have symptoms to first stay home and also get tested.” Those who have been exposed to COVID-19 and are quarantined were urged to then seek testing 5-7 days after their last exposure.
A list of testing site locations throughout Snohomish County and additional resources can be viewed here. The Snohomish Health District can also be reached by phone at 425-339-5278.
Chief Medical Officer for Providence Regional Medical Center Dr. James Cook said that during the current surge of COVID cases, which represents the fifth wave of infections locally since the pandemic began in January 2020, a vast majority of those have been people who are unvaccinated. “In the month of August, we admitted over 300 patients with a diagnosis of COVID-19,” he added, and “about three-fourths of those were unvaccinated.”
In addition to being more likely to get infected, people who haven’t been vaccinated are also more likely to experience severe illness from COVID-19. “Even more telling,” he added, is that during that same time period of August, “we admitted about 76 patients to our intensive care unit – they were sick enough to require intensive care – and about 96% of those were unvaccinated.”
Cook said that disparity in numbers helps to illustrate the point that the vaccines developed “are just incredibly important not only in preventing infection but probably more importantly in preventing severe infection that could require intensive care unit, mechanical ventilation or even death.”
He also noted that in approximately the last two months amid the surge of the delta variant locally, the Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett “has been operating really very close to our state hospital capacity, our census has been incredibly high both with COVID patients and also with non-COVID patients.” Cook added that it is believed some of that is due to “sort of a catch-up of the care that was deferred during the earlier parts of the pandemic,” and “we know the census of hospitals around Snohomish County and indeed around the whole Puget Sound area are also at capacity.”
As a result, Cook said that Providence, along with hospitals throughout the region and Washington state, have been coordinating “to prevent any single hospital from being just completely overtaken with COVID patients and the resources that it takes to care for them and frankly other non-COVID patients who are acutely ill and need care.”
At Providence, some “non-urgent procedures both in the operating room and in other procedural areas like heart catheterizations” have had to be cancelled due to those patient capacity issues he added. That can place a further physical and mental strain on patients and their families who are facing needed surgeries and medical treatments but have to defer those because of shortages in available beds and/or staff.
“Even though these procedures are considered to be elective, what that really means is non-urgent, some of them have been in patients who have a diagnosis of cancer who need surgeries, we’ve cancelled a number of heart procedures and other things that everyone would agree are medically compelling but could safely be deferred for a few days or sometimes a few weeks,” Cook said.
“I want to again plead with the 200,000 eligible yet still unvaccinated individuals in Snohomish County to go get your vaccination series started as soon as possible, if not today,” Spitters said. “The vast majority of the bad news you’re hearing about COVID and the delta strain is affecting unvaccinated people. At this point many community pharmacies are accepting same day or even walk-in appointments.”
Cook said what stands out to him about the current surge of cases amid the fifth wave of infections, “is that most healthcare providers feel like this one could have been prevented, or at least could have been much decreased if more people were vaccinated and followed the very simple basic public health guidance that we’ve been given for the past 19 months – masking, distancing and avoiding large gatherings, particularly indoors.”
“The strain that caring for this fifth wave of patients now, which is in many ways more challenging than the others, is really palpable,” he added, particularly among staff. It has led to people feeling increasingly being burned out and even prompted some to quit their jobs.
Both health officials urged residents to take preventative measures and not let their guard down.
“We need much more complete vaccination coverage plus other prevention measures,” Spitters added. “Please respect the masking requirement in public indoor spaces,” he said, adding that people should also wear masks in outdoor spaces when social distancing from those living outside of their household can’t be maintained.
— By Nathan Blackwell