by Ashley Archibald
There is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, but Washingtonians should not get complacent, public health officials emphasized in an online press conference on Thursday, March 25.
The State has so far administered 3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines and fewer than 4,000 doses have gone to waste, officials said. The State confirmed yesterday to the Seattle Times that people ages 16 and older will be eligible for the vaccine by the May 1 deadline set by the Biden administration.
Still, it will be months before life approaches pre-pandemic “normal,” said Dr. Umair Shah, secretary of health for the State’s Department of Health.
“If any Washingtonian thinks we’re going to have everything smooth until we get everyone vaccinated, the answer is we’re not. It’s not going to be smooth,” Shah said.
New cases of the coronavirus are as high as they were in October 2020. The availability of the vaccine — where demand continues to far outstrip supply — is no reason to relax precautions such as social distancing, wearing masks, and regular handwashing, State officials emphasized.
Washington State has seen more than 5,200 deaths from the pandemic and, as of March 11, the state is now averaging 654 new cases per day. That’s concerning, Shah said.
“While it may feel that we’ve come off the surge and we’re making incredible progress — and we have been — that flattening or that plateauing is very concerning to all of us in public health,” Shah said.
Washington State is expected to receive 400,000 doses of vaccine in the coming week, a new high. That allocation will drop in the following weeks, said Michele Roberts, acting assistant secretary of the Department of Health. Even so, providers are requesting as many as half a million vaccine doses per week to meet demand.
Getting the population vaccinated is critical not only to fully reopening the state but to stalling dangerous new coronavirus variants that have appeared in Washington.
All current “variants of concern” and “variants of interest” have been seen in Washington State, said Acting State Health Officer Scott Lindquist. A new “variant report” is expected to come out on March 25.
State officials also noted that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will open a new mass vaccination site in Yakima Valley, which will be able to vaccinate between 1,000 and 1,200 people every day. Those vaccine doses will not come out of the State’s current allocation, meaning other vaccination efforts will continue without interruption.
Getting vaccinated is critical to ending the pandemic, Shah said.
“Vaccines absolutely work, they’re effective, they’re safe,” he noted.
In a separate online press conference Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced more relaxed standards for schools, cutting the number of feet needed between school children from 6 feet to 3 feet.
“Today i’m ordering that we make this new standard available for all schools that want to adopt this. They can do this immediately, there is no waiting period,” Inslee said.
Assuming schools can abide by the 3-foot requirement, they can begin operations immediately, Inslee said.
Editors’ Note: A word in the title of this article and the same word in the article itself was changed after publication — “adults”16+/16 and older was changed to “people.”
Ashley Archibald is a freelance journalist with previous work in Real Change, the Santa Monica Daily Press and the Union Democrat. Her work focuses on policy and economic development.
Featured Image: Seattle Fire Department employees administer COVID-19 vaccines at a pop-up site in South Seattle. (Photo: Alex Garland)
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