What a difference a week makes. We have the “opportunity to continue to turn the tide,” Snohomish County Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters told the weekly COVID briefing Tuesday. Spitters’ comments were the first of a string of positive data from the county.
- 16,000 – two weeks ago
- 9,000 – last week
- 230 – mid-January
- 165 – now
- 100,000 – new January vaccinations
- More people are using higher quality masks
These are, said Spitters, “hard-fought achievements.” He told reporters that the health care system is still stressed but continues to rally. He expects “the infection wave will decline pretty rapidly, and the hospital wave will tail that by two to three weeks.”
A University of Washington expert in tracking viruses, Christopher Warren, has said research shows that vaccines and the rapid spread of omicron have combined “to end the emergency crisis.” He said COVID is not gone but will be easier to manage. Spitters wasn’t willing to go that far. “It’s an informed, heart-felt and bold prediction, Spitters said, but added, “I’m more cautious; I certainly hope that’s the case but, so far, I’m reluctant to make that assertion.”
Asked whether the spread of at-home tests might skew the numbers of infections downward, Spitters told reporters that though a larger proportion of cases will be diagnosed at home, major outbreaks and hospitalizations will still be on the county’s radar. He called the home tests “a great gain in containment efforts.”
The state has just reopened its home test website: www.sayyescovidhometest.org. You can get up to five free tests per household. It takes less than two minutes to fill out the form online, and you can also order for other households in your family.
Free N95 COVID masks from the federal government are also available through most local pharmacies and supermarkets.
The county is focusing on resilience and recovery, and the person in charge of that effort — Kara Main-Hester — joined the briefing. The county hired Main-Hester four months ago from the City of Seattle. She will help direct how the county spends up to $160 million in federal COVID recovery funds.
That pot of money, she said, is designed as a “massive, but one time influx… to help make for a consistent recovery across the entire community.” Money has been designated for community support, housing help, child care coverage, job support, public health programs and to replace lost tax income and help pay government workers. So far, the county has received $80 million; the feds, said Main-Hester, “have to make the decision to provide the second half.” Her office will announce new investments in child care and senior services, coming very soon.
For those who still need rental assistance, she suggested calling 2-1-1 or going online to wa211.org to find out if they qualify and how to apply.
The COVID briefing ended with some words of caution. Spitters acknowledged that several other variant strains have begun to emerge in some countries but added that early signals show they are not much different from the omicron strain. World health care experts, he said, are “interested but not concerned at this time.”
“We don’t really know what the future holds,” Spitters said. “We haven’t experienced any period of stability during the pandemic. We don’t have a lot of experience of getting out of the woods with this virus.” County Executive Dave Somers put it this way: “I’m very hopeful.” But, he added, we “have been fooled before and are just maintaining our vigilance so that if there is a new wave, we can focus on recovery and resilience.”
— By Bob Throndsen