COVID-19 case rates in Snohomish County began dropping for the first time since September and the vaccine rollout has begun locally, local officials report.
The two-week average for the daily case rate per 100,000 people reached 330 as of the Dec. 26 report from the Snohomish Health District, down from a height of 444 just a couple of weeks ago.
"That coupled with the arrival of the first COVID vaccines in the county are definitely promising signs," said Dr. Chris Spitters, Health Officer with the Snohomish Health District during a Dec. 22 briefing.
"For that trend to continue moving in the right direction we need our businesses and residents to continue with those health measures through the holidays and beyond, as hard as it is to do," he said.
He advised people to continue avoiding indoor gatherings, to keep six feet apart from those you don't live with and to continue the social distancing measures recommended by the Health District.
For local towns, like Arlington and Tulalip, cases have continued to be high however.
Tulalip's Dec. 22 report showed 35 active cases and one new death, with six new positive cases and six recoveries since their last report.
Meanwhile, Arlington reached a new record number of active cases with 514 active cases for the city as of their Dec. 31 report.
Countywide, the most recent case rate of 330 cases per 100,000 people still represents a much higher rate than the spring peak that saw 129 cases per 100,000 people.
"We are still in a very precarious position," said Spitters.
As of Dec. 31, hospitalizations reached 116 confirmed COVID cases with 30 additional suspected cases.
That is a significant portion of hospital capacity taken with COVID-19 care.
"Although the trajectory is favorable, the absolute number of cases in the community, and the branching impacts on the healthcare system and on mortality remain fearsome and we need to all pull together to continue to reduce transmission," said Spitters.
Dr. George Diaz, the section chief for Infection Diseases at Providence Regional Medical Center, said that hospitalizations have increased rapidly over the last eight weeks.
"Since Thanksgiving we continued to see a rise in the number of hospitalizations," he said.
Most hospital employees have had heavy workloads all year, he said.
"Our staff has been dealing with the pandemic for nearly a year now so there is a lot of fatigue in our staff," said Diaz.
Over the last weeks of December the first vaccines were delivered to various healthcare agencies in the county.
Diaz said that himself and other hospital members have already begun receiving them.
"We definitely encourage all caregivers in the county to receive the vaccine," he said. "We have seen transmission occur in the hospital amongst caregivers and this vaccination will hopefully prevent that. It will also prevent transmission from caregivers to patients, which is something that has happened."
The vaccine rollout will continue with partnerships between healthcare organizations and government agencies.
The federal coronavirus relief bill passed in March (the CARES Act) had a deadline of Dec. 31, 2020, however that has now been extended due to federal legislation.
"We have read a little of the reports about what is included in the new federal package and we are encouraged by it," said Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers.
"Critically it will give the county and the Health District time to spend the current CARES Act funds until the end of 2021," he said.
Initially, funds from the act were meant to be spent in 2020.
"It was quite clear in the original CARES Act that it was to be for 2020 only," said Somers.
"If we had a longer time period for planning we would have taken that into account," during initial planning, said Somers.
The new relief package also includes funding for businesses, the vaccination effort and "some limited support for renters" said Somers.
"That is a relief for us all at the Health District," said Spitters, as the district and the county had been considering how to fund a vaccination effort without federal funds.