Third wave of COVID-19 is 'explosive'
Officials issue a call to action, so hospitals are not overwhelmed
Last updated 11/27/2020 at 5:31am
Infection rates for COVID-19 are creating a crushing need to double down on prevention efforts to avoid overwhelming hospital resources, as the holiday season arrives.
The two-week rolling average of positive cases in the county is 10 times higher than the goal. Officials say that pace is dangerous because if hospital resources are overwhelmed, the safety for both COVID-19 patients and other emergency patients is in jeopardy.
"We're increasing 50% per week. So when you hear the term exponential growth, that's what's occurring," said Snohomish County Health Officer Chris Spitters in a weekly public briefing on the state of COVID-19.
He described the uptick in cases as "explosive."
"It's really just taken off, and we're starting to see some of the effects in the healthcare system."
Executive Dave Somers described the state of healthcare in other areas as a way of issuing a warning of what could happen locally if action is not taken now. In El Paso, Texas, hospitals are becoming so full that patients infected with COVID-19 are in a place doctors call "the pit." No doctors would enter the room to avoid being infected, he said. Standing orders for staff there are to "resuscitate patients three times before they're allowed to die.
El Paso is also using inmates to help move dead bodies, and they have had to bring in refrigerated trucks to help store all their dead because the morgues are filled to capacity."
Hospitals in Wisconsin and various locations nationwide are feeling the surge as well.
"In rural hospitals across the country, many are pleading with larger hospitals to take their COVID-19 patients. Here, locally, hospitals in Idaho bring patients into Washington state, because they cannot care for them," Somers said. "Many of those rural hospitals weren't designed for a pandemic, and it only takes a few infections among workers to have them close," he said, adding that six rural clinics there have shut in the past week because of staffing constraints.
He called on people to see what other states are experiencing as a warning sign, because the same crisis requires the same preventative actions to slow the pace of viral spread.
"We don't live in a different world with different rules where the virus acts differently. We're all in the same boat," Somers said. "We don't want anyone to have to experience that here. We want to make sure we can take care of our COVID-19 patients and other urgent cases. We can only do that if our medical systems do not get overwhelmed and our frontline healthcare workers stay healthy."
The last count for Snohomish County's COVID-19 infections was 281 per 100,000 residents, for the period ending Nov. 14. The county's goal is "ideally, zero," Spitters said, but less than 25 is the stated goal. Turning around the overly rapid spread of COVID-19 means stopping the exponential growth – a mathematical term referring to how infectious illness spreads.
It moves from one person to all the people that person comes in contact with, and from them to all the people they come in contact with, and so on. Indoor activity, unmasked, with talking is the key culprit for viral spread, according to contact tracing data, officials say.
That includes family gatherings, social interactions, unmasked carpools on the way to work, and other small groups joining and not taking precautions, officials say.
As state restrictions go into place to turn around a third wave, communities are preparing for an indoor dining ban, closed gyms, and other limitations on personal activity. Gatherings are banned unless there is a 14-day quarantine prior, and officials advise that people only interact with other people in your "bubble" – the people in the home, and five or less outside the home.
Officials say social distance is an urgent need to reduce spread of the virus.
"Even if we stop (the spread) now, there's going to be some increase in hospitalizations because the cases that are happening today won't be hospitalized for a couple weeks," Spitters said.
The people who have been exposed and do not yet know it have "already been infected," he said. "So we will only begin to see benefits from this change in requirements two to three weeks down the line. So we both need you to act quickly and be patient. It's going to take a while to reap benefits."
Dr. Tom Tocher of the Community Health Center of Snohomish County added that "about 40% of cases are asymptomatic, so people all need to act as though they have COVID-19 themselves."
The Centers for Disease Control recently released data saying masks protect the wearer and the people around that person. All available data say they work to reduce viral spread.
"I don't wear a mask because I'm afraid. I wear one because I care. I care for my family and friends. I care for the people I don't know at the grocery store. I care for the businesses that are now shuttered because we didn't take strong enough personal action," Somers said.
"And our country is facing the most serious public health threat in the past century, and I care about our health."
With the holiday season approaching, officials are concerned about people choosing to disregard health orders and join in groups anyway.
"We don't have badges and handcuffs. It's one thing to, if there's a single, uncooperative tuberculosis case in the county, we can take legal action to control that. But if there's widespread disregard for basic public health measures, the health district can't overcome that failure of will," Spitters said.
He said the public needs to pay attention to the restrictions, and simply choose to comply.
"The only way for us to get out of all of that is to respect the restrictions, demonstrate enlightened self-interest and benefit of the general community," he said.
A recording of the briefing is available here: https://bit.ly/3fcoS3E.