Local and state health officials are raising the alarm as COVID-19 cases skyrocket across the region.
“These are some grim numbers we’re looking at,” Dr. Chris Spitters, Snohomish County’s top health officer, said in an online news conference Tuesday morning.
In Snohomish County, the COVID-19 infection rate shot up to 187.7 per 100,000 residents from Oct. 25-Nov. 7 — topping the previous highest rate of 129.1 cases per 100,000 in April. The infection rate in Island County has increased to 51.9 cases per 100,000 people, according to the state Department of Health.
“We may well be facing a hospital surge that’s starting now that could continue for weeks or months,” Spitters said. “I think we really have to accept that we could be in for a very long and difficult winter.”
In a statewide news conference Tuesday afternoon, health officials pleaded with Washingtonians to take action against the spread of the virus.
"We think the most serious consequences are yet to come," Secretary of Health John Wiesman said. "If we don't act swiftly the repercussions could be severe."
The accelerated growth in the past two weeks — which is at record-high levels throughout the state — is the most concerning, State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy said.
“Immediate action is needed from all of us to avoid new restrictions and prevent our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed,” Lofy said. “This situation is extraordinarily urgent, and we’re running out of time to change direction. We need everyone in Washington state to take action now to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
Spitters echoed those sentiments.
“It’s time to commit to protecting our hospitals, shrinking down our social circles, hunkering down at home for the winter and signing up for delayed gratification to enjoy holidays with loved ones next winter,” he said. “Meanwhile, our hospitals, schools and businesses are counting on all of us to help them stay open and serve the people they’re there to serve. Think of others, and choose and act responsibly.”
Currently, COVID-19 hospitalization rates in Snohomish County remain below the state’s goal of less than 10% but are climbing, according to state Department of Health data.
“The hospital surge has arrived,” Spitters said. “It’s not been as high as it was before. Hopefully we can bend this curve and get things back down before it does exceed capacity.”
Nationally, hospitalizations reached an all-time high of nearly 62,000 on Tuesday. The trend follows days of record-high cases across America in the past few weeks.
Capacity isn’t the sole worry at area hospitals. Staffing is a major problem, Spitters said.
“There’s a nursing shortage,” he said. “So sometimes even though hospitals have beds, they don’t have the people to put next to the bed to take care of the patient.”
In the past two weeks, there have been 1,821 new confirmed cases in Snohomish County, including 74 in Stanwood, according to Snohomish Health District data updated Nov. 9.
In the past two weeks, Island County has recorded 64 new cases, including 25 on Camano, according to the Island County Public Health data as of Nov. 6.
Josephine Caring Community in Stanwood — which had been COVID-free since an outbreak in the spring that reached 33 people — recently had nine new cases between staff and residents in the skilled nursing part of the facility.
The facility increased restrictions, including ceasing communal activities, non-essential visitation and new admissions, according to a statement on the organization’s website.
“We recognize these restrictions are difficult for residents, staff and their families. It is our hope that cases can be contained and do not spread,” the statement read. “As a collective group, it is important that we have 14 consecutive days without any active cases at which point we will go back to less-restrictive operating procedures.”
To combat the increasing cases regionwide, Spitters and other health officials continue to urge people to wear face coverings, stay home whenever possible and avoid even small gatherings.
“Holding gatherings is a threat to all,” Spitters warned. “We should stop it for the time being. Plain and simple, just stop the gatherings. Reduce your social activity and other non-essential travel and activity.
“If it’s not for work, school or medical purposes, I think the safest bet for us all is to just skip it,” he continued. “Don’t attend gatherings. Avoid businesses and people who don’t follow the guidance.”