By Snohomish Health District | Press Release
Snohomish County, Wash. – As COVID rates continue to rise, Snohomish County is seeing increased hospitalizations and stress on the health care system. During press briefings on Tuesday, the Snohomish Health District reported 44 residents being hospitalized due to COVID-19 complications, six of whom required ventilators. As of Friday morning, that number has increased to 53 residents currently hospitalized, nine needing ventilators.
The recent spike in cases suggests the beginning of a surge in demand for hospital care that may become overwhelming—and will become overwhelming unless Snohomish County residents change course immediately. Dr. Chris Spitters shared these urgent requests this week:
- Holding gatherings is a threat to all. Stop it. Plain and simple, just stop.
- Make a bubble of the same five-or-fewer social contacts outside of your household and stick to that. When is more ok? Not at all in the immediate future.
- Reduce socializing and other non-essential activity. If it’s not for work, school or medical purposes, the safest bet is to skip it. Don’t attend gatherings. Period.
- Avoid contact with people and businesses who don’t follow the guidance.
This means that—like much of 2020—holiday plans and get togethers will need to look very different from years past. The Health District has released guidance today on how to Give Thanks, Not COVID.
Indoors, masks off, and lots of talking—that’s the perfect environment for generating the clouds of airborne droplets that lead to transmission. Social gatherings with people outside the household is not only too risky for attendees but could cause unnecessary strains on the healthcare system.
SCHOOL RECOMMENDATIONS REMAIN UNCHANGED
Since September 1, there have been 44 cases of COVID-19 linked to K-12 facilities in Snohomish County. Of those:
- 28 cases stemmed from a staff member, 14 from students, and two from other visitors
- 36 were a single case with no further transmission in the school setting, and the remaining eight instances had a range of 2-9 subsequent cases that occurred.
- In no instance has uncontrolled or widespread transmission occurred.
The Washington State Department of Health reports similar findings from statewide monitoring of school outbreaks. Even in communities with more liberal implementation of in-person learning, transmission in the school setting has been rare and controlled. Large school-based outbreaks have not occurred locally or statewide to-date.
It may seem counterintuitive to have public health officials calling for people to stop social gatherings and limit their bubble to no more than five people, while still providing an option for limited in-person learning in the schools. However, the community-wide increase here in Snohomish County has not been linked to transmission in schools. It is being driven by the transmission in private social gatherings and some workplaces where masks are not being worn and social distancing is not being followed.
A gathering of students who have been screened, masked, and distanced is a much lower risk than a gathering of non-household family or friends for a meal and conversation. The public health community’s current consensus is that schools conducting limited in-person learning in small cohorts with necessary prevention measures in place are unlikely to experience uncontrolled transmission, nor are they likely to exacerbate community-based transmission. This is why, at the current time, there is no disease control basis for the Health District to discourage a school district’s careful and controlled return of young students to in-person learning.
“Some want much more in-person learning than is occurring, and others much less. I have no data or words to offer that can close that gap,” said Dr. Spitters. “What I can tell you is that current countermeasures in place in our K-12 schools here and elsewhere appear to be working to prevent transmission in those settings. The Washington State Department of Health and OSPI also continue to support the gradual, phasing in limited in-person learning for young students and children with special needs—even in the current environment of high transmission in communities.”
To bend the curve of this third wave, restricting gatherings in the home and the community is the pathway. Evidence to date suggests that keeping children–especially young children–out of school, will do little toward achieving that goal. That is why schools are managed through a separate COVID-19 guidance, and the gathering limit of 5 does not apply there.
Great care and effort has been put into a number of resources, including Employer Health & Safety Requirements for School Scenarios. This set of rules and guidance for school staff health and safety was developed by representatives from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), the Department of Health (DOH), the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I), local superintendents, and labor organizations. Questions related to personal protective equipment (PPE) or other employment-related requirements or safety concerns should be directed to L&I, questions about health requirements should be directed to DOH, and questions about K–12 education requirements should be directed to OSPI.
Nevertheless, some individuals or families may be uncomfortable with in-person learning at the present time, despite these reassurances. This may be especially true for those whose households include older adults or others with medical conditions that increase the likelihood of severe disease if infected. Those staff or family members are encouraged to talk with their schools about options available.
CHANGES TO DRIVE-THRU TESTING REGISTRATION AND NOTIFICATION
The Health District successfully transitioned to UW Labs for processing of tests and their platform for results notification. These moves have helped decrease the turnaround time from an average of 3-4 business days to 1-3 calendar days.
Registration is now open for appointments through the end of November. All information will still be accessed at www.snohd.org/testing.
Drive-thru testing will continue at the 3900 Broadway site in Everett from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday thru Friday. Given winds and dropping temperatures, the Health District will not be offering testing at the Lynnwood Food Bank for the time being. The Health District is in the process of evaluating additional locations, as well as adding weekends in the near future.
Testing is open to anyone, regardless of symptoms, but remains strongly encouraged for individuals that fit the following criteria:
- Anyone with any of the following COVID-19 symptoms (fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headaches, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea); or
- Close contact of a confirmed case; or
- Anyone who lives or works in a congregate setting; or
- Work in healthcare, EMS, law enforcement or other fields where work settings have a higher risk of catching or spreading COVID-19; or
- Part of a family or social network that has had a case.
REMINDER ABOUT CALL CENTER
With the increasing number of cases, the call volumes from individuals and businesses have also increased. The Health District opened a new call center to help answer questions related to testing, route calls for those businesses reporting a positive test result in their workforce, or to help those without internet access or needing language interpreter services. That number is 425.339.5278, and the call center will be staffed 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Callers after hours or on weekends can leave a message, which will be returned on the next business day.
INSLEE ISSUES TRAVEL ADVISORY FOR WASHINGTON
Gov. Jay Inslee issued a travel advisory for Washington on Friday, recommending a 14-day quarantine for interstate and international travel and asks residents to stay close to home. Inslee joined California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown in urging visitors entering their states or returning home from travel outside these states to self-quarantine to slow the spread of the virus.
In addition to urging individuals arriving from other states or countries to self-quarantine for 14 days after arrival, the states’ travel advisories recommend individuals limit their interactions to their immediate household. The advisories define essential travel as travel for work and study, critical infrastructure support, economic services and supply chains, health, immediate medical care, and safety and security. For more information, see the Washington state travel advisory.