FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 6, 2020
Heather Thomas, 425.508.4980
Cases Continuing to Increase in Snohomish County
SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. – The Snohomish Health District has seen two record-setting days of new confirmed cases received in a single day. On Wednesday, the Health District received 182 new cases. These high numbers mean that the rolling two-week case rate through November 7 will see another significant increase.
While the Health District is working to follow-up on the newest cases, a number of new reports and have been released this week:
New Modeling Report Focused on Schools
The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) released a new report by the Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM) that quantifies how various diagnostic screening scenarios could help mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission associated with reopening schools. The report, the third in a series by IDM, affirms that while returning to in-person instruction is not zero-risk, the risks could be significantly reduced through school-based preventive measures, cohorting, hybrid scheduling, and a phased-in approach that brings back K-5 grades first.
In the context of such preventive measures, the report did not find additional benefit from routine testing of asymptomatic individuals in the school setting. For more information on the report, see DOH’s press release.
The report continues to support the fall guidance and decision tree released by DOH and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). Given this, the Health District’s guidance issued October 20 have not changed:
- Continued distance learning is still strongly recommended, with limited in-person learning for younger learners (especially K-3) and high need students (e.g., disabilities, homelessness, farthest from educational justice)
- In-person learning for older students is discouraged, except high need students, particularly at the current level and trajectory of COVID-19 activity in the community.
- Strongly recommend canceling or postponing most in-person extracurricular activities, including sports, performances, clubs, events, and such, with the option to allow extracurricular activities in small groups of six or fewer students.
“Risk assessment and values vary widely across interested parties, with some wanting much more in-person learning and others much less,” said Dr. Chris Spitters, Health Officer for the Snohomish Health District. “As the local health officer, my role is to help local school leaders apply to Snohomish County the guidance provided by DOH and its subject matter experts.”
All pathways forward carry some risk and uncertainty in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The absence of a zero-risk pathway, the novelty of the situation, and the residual uncertainty in the evidence base are implicit factors affecting all of our respective roles in this.
These processes are also influenced by risk tolerance, values, and other factors that vary from family-to-family and community-to-community. The Health District’s role is to provide K-12 leadership with what we know about the COVID-19 risks and the means to mitigate them. It is then in the school leadership’s domain to take that guidance and incorporate it into their decision making and operations with respect to the students’ education.
Our guidance to schools focuses on elements that are well in accord with the DOH’s existing framework for K-12 learning:
- Focus in-person learning on those special needs and elementary school students least likely to be able to learn remotely.
- Implement rigorous programs of daily symptom screening, face coverings, distancing, hand hygiene, environmental disinfection, and optimizing ventilation (to exhaust indoor air and entrain outdoor air as much as feasible).
- Ensure follow-up testing of students and staff identified as suspected cases through daily screening.
- Follow through with contact investigations and quarantines of cases and contacts, respectively, in the school community.
- Follow DOH and OSPI guidelines, including those for when to close a classroom or school.
- Defer plans for in-person learning among older students (i.e., middle and high school).
- Maintain frequent communication and close collaboration between the Health District and school leadership.
- Reassess if school-based transmission exceeds control capacity, schools appear to be catalyzing or amplifying community transmission, or if a hospital surge threatens acute care capacity in the county.
The current, ongoing community-wide increase in COVID-19 transmission has not been linked to transmission in schools so far, but rather has been driven by transmission in private social gatherings where masks are not being worn and in some workplaces with social distancing or other prevention deficits. While sporadic cases and clusters of cases have been and will continue to be detected in school settings (both with and without in-person learning), mitigation and control efforts have been successful.
As shared by DOH in the IDM report briefing on November 5, school-based outbreaks (≥2 linked cases) have been reported in just 32 instances with 110 secondary cases statewide —a very small proportion of the community-wide transmission that is occurring. Here in Snohomish County, there have been 6 school-based outbreaks involving 18 total cases. There have been more cases involving students and staff, but the exposure was community-acquired or close contact in a setting other than the school.
These findings are consistent with findings in IDM’s study, suggesting that incorporating the full suite of mitigation efforts listed above will be highly effective in limiting school-based transmission and its impact on community transmission.
“The public health community’s interpretation of the COVID-19 literature is that the preponderance of empiric data suggests that while transmission from elementary school-aged children may occur, it is substantially lower in relative magnitude compared to older children and adults,” added Dr. Spitters. “Our current thinking is that schools conducting cohorted, hybrid in-person learning with the above prevention measures in place are unlikely to experience uncontrolled transmission, nor are they likely to exacerbate community based transmission.”
Changes to Drive-thru Testing Registration and Notification
The Snohomish Health District has been working to improve the speed for lab results and notification of results. Next week, there will be a transition between labs and registration portals. These moves will decrease the turnaround time from an average of 3-4 business days to 2-3 calendar days.
Registration is now open for appointments Monday through Wednesday. On Thursday, the Health District is scheduled to move to UW Labs for the processing of tests. Those tested Thursday moving forward will be able to access their results directly from a lab portal, with instructions provided at the time of testing. The new registration portal for appointments Thursday and beyond will be available no later than Wednesday, November 11. All information will still be accessed at www.snohd.org/testing.
Drive-thru testing will continue at the 3900 Broadway site in Everett next week, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday thru Friday. With daylight hours decreasing, and testing volumes seen earlier in the day, the Health District no longer offers evening testing appointments.
In addition to the Everett site, the Health District will also be offering testing at the Lynnwood Food Bank on Tuesday, November 10. Appointments will be available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 5320 176th St SW.
Once the transition to the new system is complete, the Health District will also be able to look at adding more locations and/or days for testing in the near future.
Testing is open to anyone, regardless of symptoms, but remains strongly encouraged for individuals that fit the following criteria:
- Anyone with any of the following COVID-19 symptoms (fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headaches, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea); or
- Close contact of a confirmed case; or
- Anyone who lives or works in a congregate setting; or
- Work in healthcare, EMS, law enforcement or other fields where work settings have a higher risk of catching or spreading COVID-19; or
- Part of a family or social network that has had a case.
New Call Center
With the increasing number of cases, the call volumes from individuals and businesses have also increased. The Health District opened a new call center to help answer questions related to testing, route calls for those businesses reporting a positive test result in their workforce, or to help those without internet access or needing language interpreter services. That number is 425.339.5278, and the call center will be staffed 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Callers after hours or on weekends can leave a message, which will be returned on the next business day.
What to Know About Cold, Flu and COVID Season
Fall and winter are a time when respiratory illnesses tend to be extra good at getting around. And this year, when we talk about respiratory illnesses, we have to focus on more than the flu or the common cold. Now it’s COVID season, too.
These illnesses generally spread in the same ways – a combination of people in close proximity and droplets from our mouths when we cough, sneeze, talk or just breathe. The droplets can carry a virus from one person to another.
Factors like colder weather and fewer daylight hours drive people indoors with the windows shut, and then there are holidays when groups of family and friends typically gather to celebrate. More people together in enclosed spaces make for opportune situations for illness to spread.
This isn’t anything new. A lot of us are used to preparing for flu and cold season, hoping it won’t be bad this year, or maybe we’ll dodge it. But hope without a plan is just a wish. Make a plan, and follow through with it. If you haven’t already gotten a flu shot, go get one. Visit https://vaccinefinder.org/find-vaccine to find the location closest to you. Doing this and following all the COVID-19 prevention guidance will protect you and the people around you from both the flu and COVID-19.
We have to approach things differently this year, though. To help, the Health District published a new blog this week: http://www.snohd.org/Blog.aspx?IID=47