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Return of mask orders borne by factors influencing COVID-19 spike

SNOHOMISH COUNTY — When county health officer Dr. Chris Spitters directed everyone — vaccinated or not — to wear masks inside public spaces again by issuing a local health order, it was in response to two trends: Hospital capacities being stretched by COVID-19 and a fifth wave of coronavirus searing through the community.
Between Aug. 4 and Aug. 11, the county logged 1,646 new cases, with the trajectory of cases rising, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data.
Hospital capacities are near their limits. Among local hospital patients taking beds were 62 people sickened by COVID-19 as of Aug. 10 ­­­­— triple the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients versus July 24* almost three weeks earlier.
Spitters characterized the escalating case rates as a convergence caused by three factors: The delta variant of the coronavirus being highly communicable, that vaccination is not completely widespread, and that people have enjoyed a few weeks of not being mandated to wear masks or socially distance. Every seven of 10 county adults today are fully vaccinated, CDC numbers state. Spitters notes that 250,000 county residents age 12 and up are not.
“I think it’s no coincidence things are what it is,” Spitters said during a media conference Aug. 10.
There have been quirks, too, in the current situation. For example, COVID-19 cases have pimpled within long-term care facilities for the first time in months. The health care industry worked hard to tamp down cases early in the pandemic. As of last week, 15 different long-term care facilities reported having an active case, Spitters said.
Spitters’ mask order is to everyone age 5 and up at indoor spaces: stores, restaurants, churches, gyms, or anywhere else indoors that’s open to the public. The directive does not impose any social distancing requirements or indoor capacity limits.
People with disabilities or other medical conditions where they cannot wear a mask will not be required to do so, the health district says in a Frequently Asked Questions document about the directive.

CDC doctors said last month that vaccinated people can unknowingly carry and spread the delta variant. Unvaccinated individuals sickened by COVID-19 have been more likely to land in the hospital, according to data tracked by state health authorities.
“This directive will remain in effect until we can confirm that our COVID-19 disease rates are within CDC’s definition of low levels of transmission, or until the directive is otherwise rescinded,”  Spitters said in a news release. “Other factors to be considered may also include testing positivity rates, health care system capacity, and hospitalization and death rates.”
The CDC has established four levels of transmission. The county, with 200 new cases per 100,000 people as of Aug. 11, is in the CDC’s riskiest “high transmission” category. Any county with more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people in a 7-day period is considered high.
“Low” is less than 10 new cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days. Few, mostly sparse, areas of the nation currently meet low-transmission levels, a CDC map shows.

Vaccine mandated for many state employees, K-12 head seeks same vax mandate order

On Aug. 9, Gov. Jay Inslee made a new state order to require all private health care workers and a majority of state employees be vaccinated, from those employed within the Department of Corrections to state social workers to road construction crews to more.
The vaccination deadline is Oct. 18 to keep employment.
Exemptions to getting a vaccine will not be automatic, and philosophical opposition to vaccines will be rejected, Inslee said. Applications for exemption because of medical or religious reasons will be considered, the governor said.
The state’s chief of public schools, Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) Chris Reykdal, is petitioning Inslee to issue an executive order to make vaccinations mandatory for all public school employees that mirrors the order for state employees, and fast.
“In consulting with several of our partners and stakeholders in K–12 education, I was told unequivocally that if you are going to make the decision to require the vaccine for school employees, it will make a significant difference if that decision is made as soon as possible,” Reykdal wrote in a letter he sent to Inslee Thursday, Aug. 12. Reykdal wrote that districts are in labor negotiations now, and making a swift decision will make the implementation “smoother.”
Roving protests against mandatory vaccinations for health care workers happened twice last week in Snohomish.
A series of rallies for health care workers opposed to vaccine mandates began earlier this month. Kaiser Permanente, for one, announced Aug. 2 that it is mandating all employees must be vaccinated by the end of the month as a condition of employment.
The order covers some 60,000 state employees, Inslee’s press secretary Mike Faulk said.
This includes those who telework, because “all workers need to be prepared to come to a worksite at any time necessary to meet business needs,” its office said.

Public COVID-19 testing

The Snohomish Health District’s COVID-19 testing sites are operating this week:
• Everett site at 3715 Oakes Ave.: Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
• Lynnwood Food Bank site at 5320 176th St. SW: open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Appointments for testing are required. Register at
The district is aiming to add more testing locations, Spitters said last week. 




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