COVID-19 case rates for Snohomish County reached record highs after more than quadrupling in the span of two weeks.
“This week’s case rate is nearly double the previous week which was already double the week before that,” said Snohomish Health District health officer Dr. Chris Spitters during a Jan. 5 press briefing.
The two-week average of the daily case rate reached 997 per 100,000 people in the week ending Jan. 1.
“Basically that is 1 percent of the total population who became new reported cases in the county,” said Spitters.
That daily case rate is a new record for the county which far exceeds any previous mark set locally. Previously, the high point was 496 cases per 100,000 people.
A total of 5,583 new cases were reported between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1.
Hospitalizations have typically lagged behind reported cases by a week or two, although the county is already seeing hospital use spike up.
A total of 101 hospitals beds in the county were used in the week of Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 for COVID-19 cases.
“A similar surge of hospitalizations is being seen throughout the region,” said Spitters. “There are long wait times in the emergency room."
The hospitalization peak for the county was 120 hospital beds being used in a week, which was set in 2021.
The healthcare system has spent the last two years working in stressful and busy conditions, which has taken a toll on their capacity.
“The local healthcare system now appears to me as running on fumes, especially in regards to limited staffing and progressive burnout. I think it is in as precarious a situation as it has been since the pandemic started,” said Spitters. “Their efforts continue to be heroic but they’re becoming tapped out."
Deaths due to COVID are about 10 to 15 weekly, which is less than the previous high of 40 to 50 weekly.
“Those are still substantial. Every one of those who go leave family and colleagues behind,” said Spitters.
“It’s really easy to get caught up in numbers and see it in abstract terms, but we really have to remember the human component. Each one of the numbers is a real person and it’s affecting businesses, schools, all of our lives,” said County Executive Dave Somers.
Somers said he has recently tested positive for COVID-19 for the first time during the pandemic as well, despite having two vaccine shots and a booster.
“My wife is immunocompromised because of critical medical treatment she is receiving and that really puts an emphasis on the importance of protecting ourselves as best we can to protect others who can be even more vulnerable,” said Somers.
“I encourage everyone to get vaccinated and to get your boosters,” he added.
Spitters said recent models show that the omicron variant of the virus is spreading so rapidly that the case rate and hospitalizations are likely to continue to rise until mid-February to mid-March.
Use of masks, social distancing measures and other precautions will likely continue to be necessary.
“We really want to try to continue all these efforts because the rational goal is not to eliminate COVID. That is not in our future. We’re not going to declare unmitigated victory over the virus,” said Spitters.
Somers said the case rate would only be worse without the effort of those wearing masks and staying safe.
“It’s bad now but imagine how bad it would be now if people just gave up on wearing masks or socially distancing,” he said.
“It’s clear to me we have to keep going with our protective measures as best we can,” he said.
Spitters said that now is the time to purchase higher quality masks instead of only relying on a cloth face coverings. Individuals can also use both a medical mask and a cloth face covering for additional protection.
The COVID-19 situation is changing rapidly now that the Omicron variant is so easy to spread.
“Unfortunately, as you’re all aware, the Omicron variant poses a significant challenge to our health and peace of mind,” said Spitters.
He said that guidance may change rapidly in the coming weeks as officials adapt to the new situation.
“The next month or two is going to be rough on everyone,” he said.