The effort to target key workers to vulnerable populations was held at Rainier Beach Community Center as the state confirms presence of highly infectious U.K. COVID-19 strain in Snohomish County.
by Alex Garland
Home health care worker Brittany Williams made sure she was going to be at the Rainier Beach Community Center on a bright, crisp Saturday morning.
“We work face-to-face with our clients, unable to social distance,” Williams said. “That’s why today, I, like so many others have come to receive my vaccine.
“I want to reassure you guys, that we have an opportunity to change the tide of COVID,” Williams added. “Caregivers have been fighting and continue to fight to be seen as the essential workers that we are. After winning PPE and hazardous pay and being prioritized today as essential workers by the City of Seattle, it’s a big deal to us.”
The City of Seattle and union leaders representing home care workers, SEIU 775, held a pop-up vaccination site aimed at vaccinating about 400 workers against the coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 disease. Seattle Fire Department paramedics, EMTs, and firefighters administered the vaccine while SEIU 775 volunteers organized the lines and provided information to the workers, many who showed up early.
It’s a critical group of workers to be vaccinated, officials said, because they can work at multiple sites with communities vulnerable to COVID-19, including older adults and those with multiple chronic health issues. Home care workers also tend to be Black, people of color, with limited English, lacking health insurance and easy to overlook for getting vaccinated, officials said.
The vaccination pop-up also provided an opportunity for the first in-person press conference at a vaccination site where Mayor Jenny Durkan confirmed she has received the first dose of the two-shot vaccine and urged people to get a vaccination.
“Vaccinations are our hope. That’s what’s going to get us back together as a city. We will be able to reopen. Spend time with our families and friends. Open our small businesses back up and support each other.”
But state health officials released disturbing news Saturday confirming that the highly-contagious U.K. variant of the COVID-19 strain was detected in two Snohomish County residents. A follow-up investigation is underway to learn more about the cases and the people who tested positive.
“We thought this variant of concern was here and now we know it’s here,” Dr. Alex Greninger, Assistant Professor of the Clinical Virology Lab at UW Medicine said in a press release Saturday. It was a huge team effort by the UW Medicine Virology Lab and required development of several new rapid tests to detect and confirm it.”
The UK strain is thought to be more infectious and scientists are researching preliminary evidence that it may be more deadly than the first COVID-19 strain.
“Now that this variant has been found, it underscores the absolute importance of doubling down on all the prevention measures to protect Washingtonians against COVID-19,” said Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH.
Although Durkan spoke of the system to get frontline workers vaccinated, she admitted there were gaps. “That’s why the City of Seattle is trying to step in. The first gap was adult family homes, our fire department has been so efficient, that they’ve been able to complete that task ahead of schedule.”
Durkan also spoke of the importance of home health care workers and recognized SEIU’s ability to organize their members, “if 775 had not organized the home healthcare workers, so they could provide care for the people who needed it, we also wouldn’t have people turn out like this.”
That recognition took the work of SEIU representatives like SEIU President Sterling Harders. “Home care workers are healthcare professionals and the state recognized this by putting caregivers in as the first tier to get the vaccine. Like other health care workers, caregivers have been prioritized as 1A and that is recognition of the absolutely essential work that caregivers are doing during this pandemic.”
Dr. Michael Sayre, the Medical Director for Seattle Fire Department acknowledged.
“The willingness of home healthcare workers and SEIU 775 and how they’re going in to take care of vulnerable people everyday. One of the key things they’re doing is getting vaccinated.They’re making sure they don’t go into somebody’s home and spread the disease to this vulnerable person, who might not be able to deal with it and could die.”
Durkan said that the city is looking to set up more opportunities for vaccinations.
The State of Washington recommends following these guidelines to stay safe:
- Wear a mask, even with people you see regularly and in your smallest social circles;
- Keep gatherings outside whenever possible;
- Avoid any social gatherings indoors, but if participating, wearing a mask and ensuring windows and doors are open to maximize ventilation;
- Wear a mask while in the car with other people, including with family who do not live in your household;
- Wash hands often, not touching your face, and carrying hand sanitizer for use when water and soap are not available;
- Stay home if you are sick or if you have been exposed to COVID-19; and,
- Get tested for COVID-19 if you have symptoms or were exposed to someone who tested positive.
Alex Garland is a Seattle-based photojournalist who lives in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.
Featured image by Alex Garland
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