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Skagit County's rising COVID-19 cases a 'recipe for disaster'

Skagit County doctors and health officials are concerned for a potential sixth wave of the pandemic as COVID-19 cases steadily climb.

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — COVID-19 cases are steadily rising again in Skagit County with just 58% of the population fully vaccinated against the virus. 

Skagit Regional Health is experiencing full ICUs and having to resort to treating patients in waiting rooms and hallways. 

"It's just a recipe for disaster," said Dr. Howard Leibrand, Skagit County's health officer.

Data from the Health Department show COVID-19 cases are consistently climbing in Skagit County. The latest numbers show 553 people have tested positive for the virus out of every 100,000 people in the population, an indication of a potential sixth wave.

That news prompted health officials to issue a warning to the public: "For our children's sake we are pleading with people to get vaccinated today."

COVID-19 cases have been dropping in King County where proof of vaccination is now required to enter most businesses. So, why is there no mandate in Skagit County? 

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"I don't think that's the reason for our continued elevated numbers right now," Leibrand said. "We have the capability to test more and our demographics are a little different."

Those demographics include large Hispanic and farmworker communities where the vaccination rate hovers at barely 50%.

"Those populations are sometimes living in crowded, inadequate housing. So once the disease gets in one or two people in that family group, or that housing group, everybody gets it," Leibrand said.

At Skagit Regional Health, which serves Skagit, Island and north Snohomish counties, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Connie Davis said just 30 of the 2,200 staffers lost their jobs for refusing to be vaccinated. 

She conceded, however, that workers are tired and frustrated. She said she's worried what a sixth wave could bring.

"I am concerned that it could climb. There's no question about that," Davis said. "I'm also concerned about another variant that could develop that will change the paradigm."

As winter approaches, Leibrand said it shouldn't take more people dying to bring the case rates in Skagit County down. 

"That's herd immunity and herd immunity comes at a huge cost. Vaccination, however comes at almost no cost," Leibrand said.

As far as Halloween goes, health officials said trick-or-treating is safe, but indoor parties should be avoided.