by Ashley Archibald
Health officials called on Washingtonians to remain vigilant against the coronavirus during an online press conference Wednesday, April 21, citing an increase in COVID-19 cases in most counties and age groups as new, more transmissible variants take hold in Washington state.
People between ages 10 and 59 have seen the sharpest jump in cases, said Dr. Umair Shah, secretary of the Washington State Department of Health (DOH). The state has now reported more than 361,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 5,400 deaths.
“We are close to turning the corner in the state of Washington, but we are seeing the beginning of a fourth wave. That means people need to hang on longer,” Shah said.
The spread of the B.1.1.7 and P1 variants — first documented in the United Kingdom and Brazil, respectively — concern health officials because they are easier to transmit. B.1.1.7 became the predominant strain this week, but the number of cases associated with P1 went from 34 last week to 116 this week, Shah said.
Only 25% of the state has been vaccinated, meaning the majority are still susceptible to the disease and its variants.
Overall, the number of cases in the state are where they were in November 2020, which is bad news, said Lacy Fehrenbach, DOH deputy secretary.
“We can’t vaccinate our way out of rising disease levels,” Fehrenbach said, emphasizing the need to continue wearing face masks, maintaining social distancing efforts, and minimizing contact with people outside your group.
However, public health officials also emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated as a critical component to slowing the spread and getting the virus under control.
The main impediment to Washington’s vaccination efforts is supply, Shah said. The State expects to get approximately 370,000 doses of vaccine next week, a mix of Pfizer and Moderna shots. The Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine is still under review by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices after reports of six cases of a rare blood-clotting disorder.
The pause hasn’t slowed Washington down, mainly because the state never had a large amount of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to begin with, said Michele Roberts, DOH acting assistant secretary.
More than 4.6 million doses have been administered so far between all vaccine types, with 84% of the allocation making it into people’s arms. As the vaccination programs continue to step up the pace of their operations, the state is doubling its daily vaccination goals from 45,000 per day to 90,000 per day, Shah said.
With the ambitious new goals comes a focus on vaccine equity. Gaps in vaccination persist in Black and Latino communities, and among men — roughly 57% of vaccines have gone to women and 42% to men, Roberts said.
Groups such as farmworkers who are at risk of the disease and who might otherwise be hesitant or not have access to a lot of information about the vaccines need to hear from people they trust, said Australia Tobon, the Whatcom County promotora coordinator with Community to Community Development, an organization that fights for protections and rights for farmworkers.
“We have to build trust in institutions that have not been listening,” Tobon said. “And they must be welcoming with faces and voices they recognize, trusted community members that look like them and that care.”
Getting farmworkers vaccinated also requires employers to make accommodations for daytime appointments and recovery time from potential side effects. Both time for appointments and sick time shouldn’t result in loss of pay, Tobon said.
The State will be rolling out new, more detailed dashboards by the end of the week or early next to track vaccination gaps broken down by race and ethnicity to increase transparency.
According to the Public Health — Seattle & King County, 55.4% of residents aged 16 and above have received at least one dose of vaccine and 34.6% are fully vaccinated, but the county’s heatmap shows that the southernmost zip codes lag behind.
Broken down by ethnicity and adjusted for age, white residents continue to have the lowest rate of COVID cases — all other groups have higher rates, particularly the Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, Latino, and Black populations.
Overall, King County is reporting 207.4 cases per day, slightly above the 200 case-per-day target to stay in Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “roadmap to recovery.” The State will reevaluate phases on May 3.
In related news, the City of Seattle on Wednesday announced a new “Good Neighbor” walk-up vaccination program that now offers free, no-appointment walk-up vaccinations to anyone who lives or works in King County and is at least 60 years old. The walk-up vaccinations are available at two sites — one in Rainier Beach and one in West Seattle — and hours are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m.–4 p.m. The Rainier Beach site is at the Atlantic City Boat Ramp at 8702 Seward Park Ave South and the West Seattle site is at 2801 Southwest Thistle Street. People 60 and over may bring someone else to assist them, and this person will also qualify for the vaccine as long as they are at least 16 years old and have not already received the vaccine and do not otherwise have an existing appointment to receive the vaccine.
All people ages 16 and older in Washington state are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. To find out more about how to get your vaccine, read the Emerald’s guide to COVID-19 vaccinations in South Seattle and King County.
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.
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