Snohomish County saw a second consecutive week of increasing COVID-19 cases while officials continue to plan for vaccine rollout.
About 14,000 people have now received at least one dose of the vaccine in the county, and health officials estimate another 8,000 to 10,000 vaccine shots will be provided during the week of Jan. 11.
“As we get more vaccine sites to approve the vaccine and providers able to administer it, the majority of our vaccine should be gone by the middle of next week,” said Katie Curtis, director of prevention services for the Snohomish Health District during a Jan. 12 briefing.
The county assisted in opening two sites for vaccine distribution, one at Paine Field on Jan. 6 and one at Edmonds Community College on Jan. 11.
Those sites are still only serving Phase 1A of the vaccine distribution, which is mostly healthcare workers and some first responders.
“We’re planning to run these sites as long as we are receiving vaccines,” said Jason Biermann, director of the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management.
The county does hope to open more sites as well.
“It’s a significant challenge to find a site that is suitable, find vaccinators, find support in terms of traffic control and security and then to do the messaging to the right folks,” said Biermann.
Many healthcare providers will also be providing the vaccines, however Biermann said most healthcare staff has a lot of responsibility right now.
“We understand that they are under a lot of pressure with just COVID cases, and now they have to provide COVID vaccines as well,” he said.
“We need additional capacity beyond the existing system and we must do it in an orderly fashion,” said County Executive Dave Somers.
While the Snohomish Health District has experience running flu shot clinics and COVID testing sites, vaccination sites have many more logistical challenges.
“There is specific storage and handling required for all of the COVID vaccines,” said Curtis.
Biermann said the county is working on being flexible with plans if either more or fewer vaccines come than anticipated.
Health officials said the biggest limiting factor to vaccine delivery was the supply and number of providers.
“While there are pros and cons to simplifying who receives the vaccine, there are problems with the supply,” said Curtis.
“It sometimes appears it’s not happening quickly, but it’s a very targeted group,” said Biermann.
While vaccine planning continues the county is seeing increasing COVID-19 numbers again. Two weeks of decreasing case rates were followed with two weeks of increasing rates to bring the average case rate to 428 cases per 100,000 people.
“Unfortunately for the second week we have seen an increase in our case rates,” said Curtis.
The county also broke their record for single day cases with 370 cases reported on Jan. 7, she said.
For the county to move to the next phase in Gov. Inslee’s reopening plan, Snohomish, King and Pierce counties must show two weeks of decreasing cases.
They must also have under 10 percent test positivity rate. The most recent Jan. 5 report for the county showed a 6.2 percent positivity rate.
“Our hospitals and long-term facilities are still running really high,” said Curtis, and the county is averaging a little more than 100 people in the hospital with COVID each day.
For the reopening plan Snohomish County was recently grouped with King and Pierce counties.
“In the public health world it is a natural flow for us to work with King and Pierce, as a lot of our health systems are spanning across those borders anyway,” said Curtis.
Somers said they do coordinate a lot with both counties.
“We understand we are connected by businesses and transportation networks,” he said.
However, he said he would push back against the grouping if Snohomish County’s numbers were improving while the other counties weren’t.
“We’ve seen times when we’ve been doing better than other counties and times when we’ve been doing worse. If we got to the point where Snohomish County was meeting all the criteria, we would be asking the Governor to let us go,” he said.