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State Outlook Improves for COVID-19, Urges Vaccination, Boosters, and Masking

by Sally James

Cases of COVID-19 are beginning to fall from their crest a few weeks ago, according to State Department of Health (DOH) leaders, but some areas of Eastern Washington may lag behind the trend. 

Umair Shah, M.D., M.P.H., secretary of health for the DOH, said Wednesday, Feb. 2, that the crisis in hospitals also appears to be leveling off, but he warned that an estimated 50–75 COVID-19 deaths happen each day in the state.

“There is hopeful news in the trajectory of cases,” Shah said. He asked the public to avoid going to emergency rooms for routine health care, in order to leave them with space for patients with more urgent needs. He also repeated that the tools of vaccination, boosters, and masking are the best ways to continue the positive trend. 

Other hopeful news included the national announcement that Pfizer has applied for approval of a vaccine aimed at children in the youngest group — 6 months up to 5 years — who have not had any vaccine available. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is scheduled to consider the vaccine for approval at a meeting on Feb. 15, according to a story from NPR. 

DOH data shows COVID-19 cases statewide appear to have peaked around Jan. 11, with a 7-day average of cases hitting 18,160. By Jan. 18, that average had declined to 16,880 and continued to fall. But the State’s own logging of data is delayed by the high demand, and some numbers displayed on its website are estimates until they can be finalized.

In January, concern over a potential wave of COVID-19 patients in Washington hospitals prompted doctors to ask Gov. Jay Inslee for a variety of measures. Inslee asked the National Guard to send personnel to some hospitals to help with mostly administrative tasks. It appears that the number of COVID-19 patients is leveling off. 

Deaths due to COVID-19 are increasing because of the delay between when a person may be hospitalized or seeking care and when they die. The state may see an increase in deaths for a few weeks after the surge of infections has ebbed. 

Not everyone in hospitals has COVID-19, of course. Some people are there for surgeries, accidents, or other care. A shortage of blood to give patients is hindering care both in the state and nationwide. Shah made a separate plea for people to volunteer to donate blood. You can get information about donating from the nonprofit Bloodworks Northwest. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I get an at-home test? 

Part of the State’s response to the surge is a website where families can ask for a free rapid at-home test kit that holds 4 or 5 tests. The tests are delivered to your home address. As of Wednesday, the site had run out of the kits, but officials said they will restock and soon offer tests again. 

Lacy Fehrenbach, M.P.H., of the DOH said the State had already given away 2.1 million tests. They did not offer any details when asked about where the majority of tests were delivered. Besides tests ordered by households, the State also gave tests to community centers and clinics for those nonprofits to give away.

A federal website also provides free test kits, one for each postal address. If you don’t have computer access, call 1-800-232-0233.

There should be tests for sale at local drugstores and other retail outlets. Some community clinics and centers also have tests to give away. 

Besides those rapid tests, there are testing centers around King County provided by the University of Washington and others that provide PCR testing, which is more accurate but requires a laboratory to process. Results sometimes take a few days to return. A guide can be found on the Public Health — Seattle & King County website. Earlier in January, these testing sites frequently had long lines. In the last few days, Shah said, he has heard that many are not as full. 

There are a variety of masks recommended as “high” quality and these include N95 and KN95. These masks block more virus particles than a cloth or surgical paper mask. 

A federal effort announced in January promised free KN95 masks to be available at pharmacies. In a Seattle Times story, the masks were supposed to be available within days at some of the following stores: Albertsons, Bartell Drugs, Costco, CVS, Fred Meyer, Rite Aid, Safeway, Walgreens, and Walmart, among others.

Of course, masks are also available to buy at many of those same stores.

What is happening with the safe-staffing legislation that health care worker unions are promoting?

Legislative committees in both the Senate and House of the Washington State Legislature are taking testimony on bills that would regulate how many patients each nurse could be assigned in the state’s hospitals. Unions for health care workers have been campaigning to get what they call “safe staffing” regulations.

An earlier story in the Emerald, described some of the issues that date from before COVID-19 and the pandemic. Nurses say they are covering too many patients and can’t provide safe care. In response, the Washington State Hospital Association has testified that the regulations would be too strict and might lead to hospitals unable to care for patients under the guidelines. More details about the bills are here.

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

📸 Featured image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Unsplash. Inside the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) which the CDC activated to work with public health partners at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak and is still in operation.

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