by Elizabeth Turnbull
As almost 80% of eligible Seattle residents are fully vaccinated, City officials announced on Wednesday that the University of Washington Medicine and other public health partners will take over COVID-19 testing and vaccinations efforts from the Seattle Fire Department (SFD).
“The mission of the Seattle Fire Department is to save lives and protect property and the environment,” Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins told the press Wednesday. “We never really know what that means from day to day, but I think the last 16 or 18 months has shown us that we’re capable of standing in the gap in many different places.”
Since June 2020, SFD has administered roughly 800,000 COVID-19 tests, and one in three Seattleites have used the free testing provided by the department, according to the City.
While SFD will no longer provide testing and vaccinations, the remaining vaccine will be transferred to the City’s partners at Swedish, and UW Medicine will take over the testing sites on Aurora Avenue North and in the SODO district, ensuring there will be no gap in service.
Even though the transition in responsibility marks a milestone in combatting the pandemic, Mayor Jenny Durkan emphasized that the change does not mean that the threat of the virus has gone away or that residents should take vaccinations and testing less seriously.
“The testings and vaccinations are still really important,” Durkan said at the press conference Wednesday. “We have to know if people contract the virus so that we can isolate and quarantine and take the steps we need to do as a community.”
Earlier this week, health officials in Pierce, King, and Snohomish counties and others issued a statement urging their residents to wear masks when indoors, as cases of the Delta variant of the virus are increasing, as are hospitalizations among people in the state who are not yet vaccinated.
More than 700,000 King County residents are unvaccinated. This number includes the 308,000 children younger than 12 who are particularly vulnerable and have not yet had access to the vaccine.
Over the past week, cases and hospitalization rates in King County have started to increase following a two-month period of decreasing cases. Compared to the last three weeks, daily case rates have doubled, and South Seattle has been disproportionately affected.
Overall, Durkan is urging that people get vaccinated and continue to take precautions.
“I want everyone who sees this to know the best defense against this virus is to get vaccinated,” Durkan said. “If we really focus on that, we will be keeping our community safer.”
Elizabeth Turnbull is a journalist with reporting experience in the U.S. and the Middle East. She has a passion for covering human-centric issues and doing so consistently.
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