Snohomish County saw declining COVID-19 numbers and a bump in their vaccine supply as officials continue to respond to the pandemic.
The county’s case rate dropped to a two-week average daily case rate of 253 per 100,000 people
“That shows a decrease from last week of 376 to 253, a substantial decline,” said Dr. Chris Spitters, Health Officer with the Snohomish Health District, during a Jan. 26 press briefing. “That is a welcome reprieve from the last few months."
The case rate numbers are the lowest they have been since mid-November, although still higher than they were in spring and summer, where the two-week average for the case rate never got above 129 per 100,000 people.
“We’re far from being out of the woods and are still in a precarious position,” said Spitters. “We can’t celebrate too soon or let our guard down or this is going to come right back, as it has before."
New admissions and hospitalizations have also dropped. Currently there are 54 confirmed COVID-19 hospitalization cases in local hospitals.
“We were almost double that two weeks ago,” said Spitters. “Although substantial deaths are still occurring, those are declining as well."
The vaccination effort continues locally with about 20,000 vaccines administered Jan. 18 to Jan. 24.
There are 42,000 people who have received at least one dose and 70,000 in the county who are fully vaccinated.
The Health District now has four public vaccination sites up, including their newest one at Arlington Municipal Airport.
“We are hoping to get enough sites up to do 50,000 vaccinations per week,” said County Executive Dave Somers.
As of Jan. 26 he said they could vaccinate 30,000 per week.
“The bottleneck really still is supply,” said Somers. “We’ve have been steadily getting more vaccine and this week we expect to see about 17,000 doses, which is a major improvement."
The county ranked 28th in the state in terms of percent of population vaccinated on Jan. 26, which is due to the amount of vaccine the county was receiving, said Somers.
“When we saw the numbers compared to other counties, we definitely raised a concern. I had an old friend that suggested we needed to be a squeaky wheel,” Somers said.
The state is expected to see increasing supply soon.
“The Department of Health has been told that distribution of the Moderna vaccine to the state is expected to increase in early February,” said Spitters.
A couple of other vaccines may enter the market soon as well, which could help improve supply further.
The two currently available vaccines are both taken in two doses, administered either a minimum of 21 or 28 days apart depending on which vaccine is received.
Spitters said individuals do not need to be worried if they don’t get the second dose immediately at 21 or 28 days apart.
“People should not be concerned about the second dose efficacy if the second dose is delayed. We’re working to get people in as close to the 28 days apart as possible,” but sometimes flexibility is needed, he said.
The county and Health District are still working on improving buy-in to the vaccine.
“We don’t want anyone to avoid vaccination out of fear. We want to help people transparently understand what the benefits, risks and side effects are,” said Spitters. “We want people to have access to the information and if they elect not get it, well that’s the best we can do."
The Health District hopes to achieve 75 to 85 percent vaccination at least, as that is the amount estimated to achieve some amount of herd immunity.
“We are planning quite a number of outreach efforts, pop-up clinics, for people who either have access difficulties or are skeptical about the vaccines,” said Somers.
Spitters also discussed the new B117 variant of COVID-19 that was first identified in the London metropolitan area.
Current data suggests that infected individuals will spread it to 15 percent of their contacts, as opposed to 11 percent with other strains, said Spitters.
“It may be the predominant strain in the U.S. in the next few months,” he said. “There’s no need for us to get alarmed. It was only a matter of time before a variant emerged in Washington state."
The data about whether the variant is also more dangerous to infected individuals is still being worked out, said Spitters.
Two Snohomish County residents and a Pierce County resident have been identified with the variant.
“It is highly likely other cases exist and will be found through ongoing surveillance,” said Spitters. “There was no travel involved with these cases so we know they acquired the infection in Snohomish County,."
Spitters said social distancing measures, working from home and wearing masks become more crucial if a more-easily spread variant does become widespread.
“Don’t host gatherings and don’t attend gatherings,” he said. “These measures are particularly important with the emergence of the B117 variant.”