Snohomish County reported an all-time high in new COVID cases in the week leading up to Christmas — a total of 2,719 new cases from Dec. 19-25, more than at any other time in our two-year pandemic.
That’s 10 times more new cases than were reported in June this year. The chart below tells the story.
There appear to be three reasons for the spike. The Omicron variant spreads more quickly than any variant so far. The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) predicted that Omicron – which was just identified last month – would be the prevalent strain in the U.S. by Christmas. Added to that, Omicron also seems to be able to get past the immunity given by vaccines or past infection. Those issues, combined with more people indoors in bigger crowds, are spiking new cases, according to the Snohomish Health District.
The health district says Omicron’s impact on the case count is “not unexpected,” though Chief Health Officer Dr Chris Spitters says it appears it is spreading “maybe faster than we’d hoped.” The health district does not expect to see Omicron’s full impact for another week or more – after all the holiday gatherings.
But so far, Omicron infections do not seem to be making most patients severely ill. The spike has not meant more patients hospitalized or more deaths. Data from the county shows a continued decline in hospital admissions, a slight drop in the number of COVID hospital patients on ventilators, and weekly deaths ranging between four and 16, as they have since August.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), based at the University of Washington, has data that suggests a new peak in hospitalizations will not hit until mid-February and run through mid-March at a level slightly below the peak of the last wave.
This week, the Washington State Health Department again eased COVID restrictions following CDC changes.
CDC COVID recommendations:
- People who test positive but show no symptoms:
- can cut quarantine from 10 days to five days.
- After five days, they should still wear a mask around others.
- That includes those unvaccinated or those who have not had a booster shot.
- People vaccinated and had a booster shot:
- do not need to quarantine
- should wear masks for 10 days.
- People in doubt about their experience:
- should get tested five days after exposure
- continue to wear masks until test results are known.
This week, weather has put a crimp in the ability to get tested or vaccinated. Both of the county testing sites, Ash Way Park and Ride in Lynnwood and the Longfellow Building in Everett, are closed until after the first of the year. Ash Way will reopen Sunday, and Longfellow on Monday.
Another complication in getting a rapid COVID test comes Dec. 31 when the CDC will no longer approve one particular rapid test. It urges that providers switch to other rapid tests, which should give more accurate results.
Click here for the latest on testing, vaccinations and other test and vaccine providers.
Dr. Spitters repeated what he has said every week for almost two years: “We really need people to get vaccinated and boosted, and to focus on doing all of the prevention measures consistently and correctly.”
Despite that advice, after two years living in a pandemic, after 78,000 COVID cases and 841 coronavirus deaths in the county, and a year after vaccinations began, one in every four Snohomish County residents still has not started to get the vaccine.
— By Bob Throndsen