With the rate of new COVID-19 cases near an all-time high in Skagit County, the county will likely reopen its testing and vaccination site at the Skagit County Fairgrounds.
The Skagit County Board of Commissioners asked county staff Monday to find ways to boost capacities for both of these services.
The commissioners also tasked staff with writing rules that would instruct county employees to discontinue in-person meetings and gatherings unless absolutely necessary and to cancel indoor gatherings on county property.
The commissioners said they aren’t interested in applying restrictions on gatherings to the general public, saying they would rather lead by example.
The county is reporting 434.6 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over the prior two weeks, which is about as high as this metric has been, said Public Health Director Jennifer Johnson.
Hospitals are extremely busy as the highly contagious delta variant spreads throughout the community.
Severely sick unvaccinated people, as well as rare cases of seriously ill vaccinated patients, are filling intensive care units in all three county hospitals, Johnson said.
Public Health staff members are anticipating growing interest in the vaccine because of rising case numbers, Monday’s full U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for the Pfizer vaccine, state vaccine mandates on school and health care workers and the possibility of beginning the process of administering booster shots.
Johnson said health care providers won’t be able to meet demand on their own.
The county-run testing and vaccination site closed in June, and Public Health has been focusing on mobile clinics since then. However, Johnson said that strategy won’t meet the expected increase in demand.
Reopening the testing and vaccination site means other events at the fairgrounds will have to be canceled, but she said the benefits here will outweigh any inconvenience.
“My staff are really taxed,” Johnson said. “We would need help planning if we were going to go to a location we’re not familiar with.”
In addition to Public Health’s familiarity with the fairgrounds, the site has permanent structures that are resilient to poor weather, she said.
Johnson said the county has about $1.8 million left in government grants and relief funding that could be used for testing and vaccination.
The site cost about $2 million to run since it opened, and that was entirely covered by outside funding. The cost going forward is unknown and will be based on size and scope.
A Bike MS charity bike ride is scheduled to use the fairgrounds Sept. 8-12, and county Parks and Recreation Director Brian Adams said too much work has gone into the event to cancel its use of the fairgrounds now.
“I don’t think we can really pull the ... MS event with as much planning and process there is going into that,” he said at the meeting.
Johnson said her team could probably run a smaller, modified operation until the bike event is over, and the commissioners asked her to prepare to do so.
The restrictions on county gatherings will be presented to the public on Aug. 30, Commissioner Lisa Janicki said at the meeting.
Commissioner Peter Browning said he supports the restrictions. Any group gathering right now “doesn’t show good judgment,” he said.
However, he and Janicki said they wouldn’t feel comfortable applying these restrictions to the general public.
“We need to lead by example, show good judgment,” Browning said.
In-person school, for instance, is important enough for the mental and social health of children to outweigh the current COVID-19 risk, Johnson said.
The commissioners haven’t yet clarified whether activities such as outdoor recreational sports on county fields would be permitted under this new rule.
Deputy County Administrator Kayla Schott-Bresler said staff will prepare a draft of this rule and follow up with the commissioners for feedback.