A doctor runs a swab test on a patient. Featured image is attributed to Hospital Clinic under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

COVID-19 Numbers Show We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet

by Sally James

Nothing about COVID-19 follows a predictable path. This week is no exception. In the past few days, there was a mixed bag of encouraging news and news of concern, both nationally and locally.

Overall, the state case rate continues to drop. According to the Washington State Dept. of Health (DOH) there are 234 cases per 100,000 people, and of those, 11 per 100,000 are in the hospital. Both numbers are down from earlier this month. 

But that good news is tinged with the reality that these are still close to numbers during the peak of last winter’s surge. Taking care of COVID-19 patients has forced hospitals to delay treatment for other patients, especially in Spokane. 

“The system is still very stretched and stressed,” said Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy director for COVID-19 response for the DOH.  

In spite of the continued stress on hospitals, State and national officials agreed it would be safe for families to take children trick-or-treating outdoors for Halloween. They also expect that there will be a vaccine for children ages 5–11 before Thanksgiving, if approvals come in the next few weeks.

However, two recent announcements may be bad news for people living in parks or in cars because they don’t have homes. 

First, the City of Seattle will once again be enforcing a parking regulation that requires parked cars to move every 72 hours or else risk the vehicle being impounded. Enforcement of that policy was suspended during the pandemic. 

In addition, Public Health — Seattle-King County announced that proof of vaccination must be shown for any “public” place outdoors beginning Oct. 25.  While the language may seem aimed at soccer fans and others gathering in parks for recreation, it could be used as a weapon against those without shelter, said Tye Reed of House Our Neighbors. 

“Regardless of the intent, this kind of rule is always going to disproportionately affect the unhoused,” Reed said in a phone call with the Emerald.  She pointed out that many people can’t afford a cell phone and rarely are able to carry ordinary identification, much less a paper vaccination card.  She says she’s heard that some neighbors are calling the City to report cars that double as homes. And she predicts that parking enforcement will force those car owners to park somewhere else or move into tents outside.

This week, we answer questions about a new pill for COVID-19, new vaccine locations in Seattle, when children younger than 12 may get shots, and flu clinics from the Seattle Public Schools.

As the pandemic continues, we welcome your questions for this column. Please send questions to editor@seattleemerald.org.

When can my 5-year-old get a COVID-19 vaccine?

Last week, Pfizer submitted paperwork to ask the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve  emergency use of the vaccine for the 5–11 age group. The review will take a while, but many observers predict that if the approval is granted, children could be receiving the shots by November. Just to clarify, when a child receives a vaccine it takes some time for the body to create immunity. So it is unlikely that these shots will fully protect children from COVID-19 in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.

National Public Radio covered the latest on early childhood COVID-19 vaccination this week. Vaccines are already approved for children 12–17 and adults 18 and over. 

Is there a booster for the Moderna vaccine? 

The review process to approve a booster for the Moderna vaccine is continuing, but no decision has been made yet. Some studies show that people maintain immunity from COVID-19 longer with Moderna than with Pfizer. For that reason, health officials may decide not to recommend a booster. At least not yet. More meetings are scheduled in the next few days to continue the review. Reuters reported on the Moderna booster shot

I heard I could get a flu shot at Chief Sealth High School and other schools. Is that still happening?

Seattle Public Schools (SPS) is hosting flu and COVID-19 clinics until October  24. Not all sites have the COVID-19 vaccine. Get the details and make an appointment on the SPS website. This weekend, for example, there is a clinic at Chief Sealth on Sunday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.  You do not need to be a student or school staff member to get vaccinated at a SPS vaccination site.

Restaurants and bars are asking for proof of vaccination and I don’t have my card, what can I do?

The State has something called www.myIRmobile.com which is a way that you can register and be able to show your vaccine results on your phone. IR stands for immunization record. After you take a few minutes to register, this will allow you to show your record to anyone who needs to see it. 

Many businesses that will require proof of vaccination beginning Oct. 25 will also accept images of the front and back of your vaccination card so you don’t have to carry the paper card with you. You can store that on your phone. Some people even create a Vax album on the phone to access proof of vaccination easily.

My child’s bus to school has been late this week, and I’ve heard buses may be canceled next week. Why is that happening?

Bus drivers for Seattle Public Schools are required to show proof of vaccination or file paperwork to be exempt by Oct. 18. Not all drivers have submitted that paperwork, and that could result in fewer drivers next week. SPS sent an email to parents saying it may have to cancel some bus routes if the number of vaccinated drivers is too low, according to KIRO 7.  The shortage of drivers has caused delays of up to an hour on some routes. Follow bus delays on the SPS website.

I’ve heard there is a pill to treat COVID-19. How soon can I get that?

A new antiviral treatment — molnupiravir — from Merck shows it can reduce serious symptoms of COVID-19 by about half, according to the company. Merck has submitted paperwork asking for emergency authorization from the FDA to offer the pill widely but it’s unclear how long that authorization will take. Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center helped conduct studies on this pill but ended the study early because it was so effective. The pill works best if prescribed right after COVID-19 symptoms appear. 

Nature magazine has the details about the new COVID-19 pill

Why is Mayor Jenny Durkan opening new vaccine clinics?

Seattle is opening a vaccine clinic downtown at the Amazon Meeting Center on Oct. 23, and it plans to open two more — in South Seattle and West Seattle — shortly after that. The Mayor said opening additional vaccination sites is a matter of equity. Even though there is plenty of vaccine available, low-income residents in some neighborhoods still find it difficult to get to a place that requires vaccine appointments. The City will offer Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, as well as Pfizer boosters. 

Sally James is a science writer in Seattle. You can read more of her work at SeattleScienceWriter.com. She’s written about biotech, cancer research, and health literacy and volunteered as president of the nonprofit Northwest Science Writers Association.

📸 Featured image is attributed to Hospital Clinic under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

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