by Carolyn Bick
Homebound elders who have no way to access community or mass COVID-19 vaccination sites will be able to get vaccinated in their own homes in the coming weeks.
In a press conference on March 12, Public Health – Seattle & King County (PHSKC) Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said that plans are in the works to create mobile vaccination teams that will be able to visit homebound elders who live in King County.
“We are working with agencies that care for and support homebound elders with our community vaccination partners to be able to provide that service as well for that group,” Duchin said. He did not provide further details.
As the Emerald wrote about last week, elders who come from Communities of Color tend to face substantial hurdles in accessing the vaccine. These hurdles manifest themselves in various ways, and are reflected in vaccination data. For instance, Duchin said during the press conference, although vaccination rates in King County are increasing among older adults, the increase is not equal: just 60% of Latino people aged 65 and older and 54% of Black people 65 and older have been vaccinated, compared with 71% of white people aged 65 and older. As was reported last year, Black and Latino populations are at a higher risk of both developing and dying from COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also since tracked the higher case, hospitalization, and mortality rates in BIPOC populations.
Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic, there have been 83,006 cases of COVID-19 (the virus’s associated disease), and more than 5,100 hospitalizations and 1,435 deaths from the disease in King County. Cases have recently leveled off, Duchin said during the press conference, though he acknowledged they are still not where they were at the early days of the pandemic.
Duchin also warned that there are now three circulating variants of concern in King County. Yesterday, researchers at the UW Medicine Virology lab detected the P.1 viral variant in a King County resident’s COVID-19 test sample. This variant is of particular concern, due to its apparent ability to “dodge” antibodies that would otherwise fight a novel coronavirus infection.
The P.1 variant joins the two other variants of concern — B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 — already circulating in the County. The B.1.1.7 variant is significantly more contagious than the original novel coronavirus, and there is increasing evidence to show that it may cause a more severe infection. The B1.351 variant appears to have a higher resistance to vaccination, which has spurred vaccine manufacturers to look into creating booster shots, which are meant to be administered in addition to the regular two-dose vaccination. Vaccine manufacturer Moderna recently trialed its first booster shot.
As of this writing, the CDC’s web page that tracks the three variants of concern reports that there have been 99 cases of B.1.1.7, five cases of B.1.351, and one case of P.1 confirmed in the state of Washington.
Duchin also emphasized that even though Gov. Jay Inslee has decided to move all Washington State counties into Phase 3 of the State’s reopening plan on March 22 does not mean that the state is out of the woods. When the Emerald asked if he had concerns about the fact that this phase allows for large-scale spectator events where it could prove difficult to ensure proper masking and distancing, Duchin said he did have concerns and that “we all should.”
“I think those concerns should lead us to take precautions. Clearly, outdoor transmission is less likely, much less likely, than indoors” where ventilation is much more of a concern and where people may be in close contact, Duchin said. And while he noted that the risk for transmission outdoors is much less, Duchin also said, “it’s not zero.”
Phase 3 of the State’s reopening plan allows for up to 400 people to attend both outdoor and indoor events, as long as that figure of 400 people does not exceed 50% capacity of the location. Events at larger venues may have up to 25% occupancy of 9,000 people, whichever is less. The guidance states that physical distancing and masking protocols must be enforced, and lays out specific spectator guidelines. It is unclear how these venues will ensure hundreds or thousands of people are complying with these protocols.
Inslee and Department of Health officials also announced this week that people in Phase 1B Tier 2 will become eligible to be vaccinated on March 17. This tier includes agricultural workers, food processing workers, fishing crews, and grocery store workers, as well as workers in public transit, firefighters, law enforcement and incarceration staff, and any other first responders. It also includes pregnant people over the age of 16, as well as people over the age of 16 who have a disability that puts them at high risk of severe COVID-19 illness.
Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. As the Emerald’s Watchdragon reporter, they dive deep into local issues to keep the public informed and ensure those in positions of power are held accountable for their actions. You can reach them here and can check out their work here and here.
Featured Image: An elder receives a COVID-19 vaccination at a pop-up clinic organized by International Community Health Services. Photo courtesy of ICHS.
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