Latest virus wave largest yet as officials act
In related news:
EVERETT — A mass vaccination site for free COVID-19 vaccines is open in the Everett Mall.
This site is open 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday at 1402 SE Everett Mall Way, Everett. Government health authorities run the site.
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SNOHOMISH COUNTY — In just the first week of January, more than 10,000 people in Snohomish County tested positive for the coronavirus, a figure never seen before during the pandemic. Past waves maxed out at 2,000 people in a week.
The fast-spreading Omicron variant is behind this wave, and prediction models say we’re not clear of it yet. Infections could continue into late January or early February before subsidizing. Upward of one-third to one-half of the county could end up infected, the county’s health officer Dr. Chris Spitters said last week during a weekly media briefing.
So far, some 15 percent of the county have become infected in the past two weeks.
The Omicron variant causes a milder illness in most people but spreads faster because, scientists believe, it hangs in the upper airways of the nose and throat versus attacking the lungs. Omicron has overtaken all other mutations of the COVID-19 virus in terms of infections.
New this week, the federal government will begin shipping at-home COVID tests for free to whoever requests it. People can order online at www.COVIDTests.gov starting Jan. 19 to receive a packet of four tests.
The government says the tests will typically ship within 7-12 days of ordering.
Local authorities are acting to head off the surge, too.
A mass vaccination site is now operating at the Everett Mall.
The county also is ordering thousands of at-home tests which may arrive in early February: The county’s Department of Emergency Management is buying 150,000 tests, and the county’s health district is buying 100,000 tests.
Gov. Jay Inslee set a one-month statewide pause on all non-urgent medical procedures and surgeries in hospitals until Feb. 17. Providence Regional Medical Center Everett halted these earlier this month because of the crunch.
The emergency room is for people with major needs,
authorities emphasize. People who have mild symptoms should stay home to isolate until being tested, and to not go to the emergency room to confirm a COVID-19 test. People who don’t need an emergency room should seek care at a clinic or doctor’s office instead, county and state health authorities are saying.
The more severe cases happen to unvaccinated people.
At Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, “90% of patients in the ICU are not vaccinated, that has been consistent,” the hospital’s chief medical officer Dr. Jay Cook said last week. Typically, transferring to the ICU means being put on a ventilator.
About 35% of the county’s ICU hospital beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients as of Wednesday, Jan. 12, and about 21% of all county hospital beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients, according to tracking data from the Centers for Disease Control. There were 74 new COVID-19 hospital admissions between Jan. 5 and Jan. 12.
The sixth wave has stretched hospitals to their limits, both in capacity and staffing. Hospital workers, too, are being sent home to isolate after becoming infected, Cook said last week.
Inslee will be sending National Guard troops to assist inside Providence Everett and other major hospitals.
The hospital is also working to open bed space by trying to transfer out patients who no longer need acute care but cannot be discharged to transfer to lower levels of care such as rehabilitatory homes because of problems including lack of finances or behaviorial issues, Cook said.
Providence Everett halted visitations a while ago. “We believe visitation has contributed to bringing cases in,” Cook said.
As of Jan. 12, about 533,400 county residents — three-quarters of everyone age 12 and up — are considered fully vaccinated, and of those, 232,400 have had their third booster shot on top. About 50,000 county residents got a booster shot between Dec. 20 and Jan. 11.
People can get a booster shot five months after receiving the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, or two months after receiving the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.
People can mix brand types for their booster.
Drug companies are concocting Omicron-specific vaccines. Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said not to wait for these to arrive.
Supreme Court decision
Inslee said Jan. 13 that Washington state won’t be affected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that blocks President Joe Biden’s workplace vaccination mandate on large businesses. The split court majority said Biden’s mandate pre-empted state rules on vaccination.
Inslee set local rules requiring all Washington state government employees and contractors, as well as all health care workers and all public and private K–12 school employees, to be vaccinated or gain an exemption.
“Nothing in (the Supreme Court) decision narrows our ability for Washington state law,” Inslee said.
If you test positive, state health authorities say to:
• Isolate at home;
• Wear a mask at home and ask others at home to do the same;
• Stay hydrated; and
• Ventilate the space as much as possible.
Only go to the hospital for severe illness.
Recent and relevant past Tribune coverage
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — If you are housebound, or care for someone who is, you may contact the county’s vaccine call center at 425-339-5278 Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to discuss. Here's how it works.
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SNOHOMISH COUNTY — COVID-19 cases are spiking. Meanwhile, federal efforts are ongoing to increase access to COVID-19 tests and vaccines.
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SNOHOMISH COUNTY — The highly mutated variant of COVID-19 still has a number of questions surrounding it. There are clues about available vaccines available today, and indications booster shots can protect effectively.
Meanwhile, millions of free at-home COVID-19 rapid antigen tests will be distributed. The state is working to obtain these.
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