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Snohomish County likely not ready for Phase 2 by June 1

Snohomish County Campus (Snohomish County via Flickr)

While 14 counties in Washington state have met criteria to move on to Phase 2 of reopening, Snohomish County has a ways to go to meet the guidelines even by June 1.

What’s allowed as counties reopen under Gov. Inslee’s ‘Safe Start’ phases

“King County and other large counties are pretty much in the same situation we are,” said Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers. “We’re headed in the right direction, but we certainly will not meet those criteria by June 1.”

In a briefing on Friday, Dr. Chris Spitters, the county’s health officer, explained that if the county needs to be at 10 cases per hundred thousand in a 14-day period, 82 reported cases (or six per day) is the maximum. He then explained the math on 820,000 residents in the county.

Snohomish County reported 308 new cases in the last 14 days, according to Spitters. That’s about three and a half times more than the goal.

“In the past week or two, we’re down to maybe in the high teens, 15 to 20 cases per day over the course of the week, whereas we were at 25 to 30 two to three weeks ago. So things continue to get better, but we’re still not there,” Spitters said. “And consequently, I just, I don’t see us passing that line of 80 cases per 14-day period by the time we reach June 1.”

The June 1 date is the marker based on when Phase 1 of Gov. Inslee’s Safe Start reopening plan officially began, given at least three weeks between each phase. Counties reopening earlier have applied for and have been granted a variance on the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order based on a set of state guidelines.

On May 19, Inslee announced a new set of criteria that counties can use to apply for variance. Counties can now apply for a variance if they have fewer than 10 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week span. Those standards are consistent with the CDC’s guidelines.

A county must also show it has adequate local hospital capacity and enough PPE to outfit health care workers. Read more from the DOH.

On Friday, Spitters addressed the other criteria, which the county seems to be closer to meeting. Spitters said the county is in good shape regarding local hospitals’ ability to handle a 20% surge in hospitalizations and they have at least a 14-day supply of PPE.

Testing remains a challenge, but Spitters said the county will be increasing testing with 1,500 additional tests per week to add to the existing 2,500 tests that health care providers are doing weekly. The goal is to reach 50 tests performed for every positive case (a positivity rate to 2%).

When a case is confirmed, the county needs to be able to contact the patient within 24 hours so that they can isolate and inform at least 80 percent of their contacts within 48 hours. Contact tracing is aimed at reducing the rate of transmission. The county says it needs about 120 people to be able to conduct proper contact tracing. Currently, 30 people are doing the job.

Spitters said they can beef up contact tracing staff with help from the National Guard and by using CARES Act dollars to hire more people.

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