COVID is quickly releasing its grip in Snohomish County, as it is across the nation. The comments that came from county leaders In the weekly coronavirus briefing included: “amazing,” “proud” and “the trajectory is fantastic and hopeful.”
As fast as the Omicron variant swept through this area, it is in an equally fast retreat. That is what virus experts had expected and the numbers now show the dramatic drop in weekly cases — from a high of 15,387 cases per week just over a month ago, to 3,500 cases reported countywide in the last week. Hospitals were “right on the edge of being overwhelmed,” said County Executive Dave Somers and now, “it’s still very close, but we got through it OK.”
Hospitalizations still number about 100, but that represents a 50% drop in the need for COVID patient beds. “It’s amazing over the last two months to keep up the preventive measures,” said Somers, who added “this is kind of how we expect COVID to look in the future.”
County Chief Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters reinforced the welcome news, adding the numbers show cases declining again by about a third from what they were just the previous week. The county, Spitters said, has “an open eye to the future, to keep common sense and the various protection measures.”
Gov. Jay Inslee announced last week an end to wearing masks outdoors in large settings such as concerts and sports events, effective Feb. 18, and he is considering relaxing indoor masking.
State Schools Superintendent Chris Reykdal wants the governor to drop masking indoor for students, saying in a statement that “the time is now to rebalance the health and educational benefits of masking in our schools.” Oregon will drop its indoor mask requirements by the end of March.
Asked his feeling about ending outdoor masking for groups, Spitters said, “never say never, but it seems highly unlikely (that will spike cases) to me… that’s a very low-risk situation.” Both county leaders expect those who are medically vulnerable will continue to mask up, and Spitters added that “we should (all) be ready to put them back on, whether we have another wave in six weeks or six months from now”.
Spitters did say that though the disease “trajectory is fantastic and hopeful, and we’re headed to a good place, I don’t think we’re there yet” (for ending indoor masking). Somers, who just lost a family member this week to COVID and has another still very ill, agreed. “We’re watchful and hopeful,” he said. “It seems a little premature to end masking indoors.” Both officials urge that we do what some other countries do and wear masks “as a new normal” when we have colds, the flu or other illness to protect others.
All Snohomish County libraries will now distribute free KN90 masks to anyone who wants one. KN90 is similar to the KN94 or N95 masks which experts say are most effective against COVID. That’s all Sno-Isle branches as well as the Everett library system.
The county is keeping its drive-thru testing and vaccine site open at Lynnwood’s Ash Way transit center, offering testing on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; for vaccines, the days will be Fridays and Saturdays. Click here to make testing appointments, For vaccine appointments, click here.
Spitters said the county will keep the mass vaccine and testing sites open as long as there is a need, but he expects that the health care system will take over that function for the future.
The question came up: When will we be considered fully vaccinated? “We don’t know yet,” Spitters admitted. “That will depend on the science.” Latest numbers show 68% of people over 5 years old are now fully vaccinated in the county. Statewide, that number is almost 73%.
Though COVID is in retreat here and across the nation, Spitters warned we still have to be “logical, prudent and protective” in facing any future coronavirus threat. He acknowledged that there is some concern about trying to continue to chase each new strain; it would, he said, be better to develop a vaccine that could address all the possible variants. Both Spitters and Somers stressed that vaccines still are the best protection to reduce the serious effects of COVID and keep more people alive.
— By Bob Throndsen