FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 24, 2020
CONTACT: Heather Thomas, 425.339.8688
Health District updates on planning, testing and data
SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. – The Snohomish Health District is continuing to focus on what a safe, healthy path to establishing a new normal looks like. Opening businesses back up and reinvigorating the local economy is on the horizon, but it will happen in a gradual, phased approach.
The ultimate end to the COVID-19 saga is population-wide immunity, ideally through a vaccine. While there are a number of people working on this all around the world, it takes time to produce a safe, effective, and FDA-approved vaccine. This is at least 12-18 months away, possibly longer.
In the meantime, there are several key pieces that are needed in order to start down that path of reopening. They include adequate capacity for the healthcare system, personal protective equipment (PPE) for those who need it, increased testing capacity, and the resources to do investigations and contact tracing.
The “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” orders have helped stabilize the system here in Snohomish County. In fact, they are likely the chief responsible reason that we have flattened the curve. However, while the curve has flattened, it has not been eliminated. It could quickly go back in the wrong direction if we move too quickly or without adequate plans in plans to detect and control further transmission.
This is why the need to prioritize the acquisition and distribution of PPE for the healthcare system remains critical. They need to be able to continue caring for patients without undue risk of transmission. The PPE supply chain is still working to catch up to the incredible demand, and many businesses around the region have been adapting operations to help with the need.
More details can be heard in the recording of today’s media availability, or by reading the transcript available online.
That leaves more testing and contact identification capabilities.
The Health District is working to increase testing capacity, case investigations and contact tracing so that we can quickly respond now and into the future. Something of this magnitude takes time to scale up in a thoughtful, sustainable and equitable way. There will be short-, mid- and long-term strategies to accomplish this.
Staff are focused on this critical planning effort now, working hand-in-hand with local and state public health partners to have something in place within the next few weeks.
Again, even with all these pieces in place, it is reasonable to anticipate that COVID-19 transmission may increase following modification of social distancing measures. The community should be prepared for the need to re-escalate at one or more points in time in the next year or two as we wait for a vaccine to emerge.
Updates on testing operations
There are approximately 2,500 tests being performed in Snohomish County weekly. The goal moving forward isn’t necessary a number of tests, but rather that time to get tested and find out results.
As supply chains for testing kits increases, the goal is for someone to be seen either the same day or day after symptoms emerge. Then, the ideal state is that results are available within minutes or 1-2 days. From there, the Health District can ensure the initiation of isolation and begin contact investigation within one day.
For the week of April 27, the Health District will continue surveillance testing at several long-term care facilities around the County.
It will also be opening up some limited testing in the south county area. Appointments will be available from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday. Slots will be opened up on Monday for April 29, and on Wednesday for May 1.
More information will be released on Monday, including location details and updated registration links. Staff are also finalizing details for east and north county locations that will be available in early-May. Updates and information will be available at www.snohd.org/drive-thru-testing.
There has been increasing coverage on serology, or antibody testing. The recent emergence of assays for detection of antibodies to SARS-CoV2—the virus that causes COVID-19—has been met with high hopes among health care providers, patients, and the media.
There are nearly 2,500 cases of COVID-19 reported in Snohomish County as of today. Assuming that only 1-in-10 total cases are actually diagnosed and reported, there’s a rough estimate that 25,000 people countywide have some prevalence of antibodies to SARS-CoV2. This is just 3 percent of our total county population.
The chief benefits of an accurate test would be to:
- monitor the prevalence of prior infection and immunity in Snohomish County; and
- provide guidance for staff and patients in settings where transmission is occurring.
There is also a big caveat. It is still unclear what duration of immunity is afforded to someone previously infected.
Although some products have had limited review for emergency use authorization from FDA, most have had no review whatsoever. Furthermore, few of these assays have been independently assessed for accuracy.
Given this, the Health District is not recommending systematic serology testing at this time. Nor does the Health District have immediate plans to implement such testing. Instead, an alert was sent to clinicians today encouraging them to be aware of, and educate patients about, both the promises and the limitations of serologic testing.
The Health District will continue to monitor this emerging science with hope and caution.
Starting this weekend, the Health District will no longer be updating case counts on the website on Saturdays and Sundays.
In order to be able to look at dialing back some of our mitigation strategies, public health needs to have adequate case investigation and contract tracing capacity.
Great strides in a short-amount of time. On April 2, there were 659 cases left to investigate. Today’s case updates showed the number has been cut almost in half.
The Health District has added some temporary staff, coordinated with the state, and reassigned staff from other programs. However, it also needs to prioritize the work teams are doing. That includes the time spent downloading data and updating charts over the weekend.
Instead, the team’s limited resources be focused on case investigations. By getting those unknown cases down closer to zero, the team will stand ready to respond to slight increases in cases that will invariably happen when mitigation measures begin to ease.
The health and safety of Snohomish County remains the Health District’s top priority. The community is encouraged to help prevent the spread of illness and to support the response to this outbreak by staying informed and sharing reliable information. This is a very fluid situation and information will be updated at www.snohd.org/ncov2019 and the Health District’s social media channels.