A round-up of news and announcements we don’t want to get lost in the fast-churning news cycle!
Spike in COVID Cases, Testing, and the Latest in Vaccines
COVID Spike Prompts Update to Rainier Beach COVID Testing & Vaccine Hub— Mayor Jenny Durkan announced last week that the City’s Rainier Beach and West Seattle COVID testing hubs — which recently began offering vaccines in addition to testing — would transition to vaccine-only hubs in the middle of this week, but data from Public Health — Seattle & King County revealed a spike in COVID cases in the county over the last two weeks. As a result, COVID testing at these sites will now be extended, says the City.
Acquiring additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine is the main constraint for getting King County residents vaccinated, King County Public Health Director Patty Hayes said at a virtual Town Hall on the evening of March 3.
The virtual Town Hall event came less than a week after New York Times analysis showed that, of the top 100 most populous U.S. counties, King County has the second-lowest COVID-19 infection rate in the entire country, after Honolulu County in Hawai‘i. Snohomish County to the north has the third-lowest rate in the country while Pierce County to the south has the sixth-lowest rate. King County is seventh on the list for the lowest number of deaths from the virus. As a state, Washington has the fifth-lowest COVID-19 case rate despite being the country’s epicenter of the pandemic more than a year ago.
Every day, Lynda Greene and her fellow staffers at the SouthEast Seattle Senior Center field about 30–45 phone calls from community elders trying to schedule an appointment to get vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.
Most of these callers are crying. Most of them are Black.
The State of Washington released a report on Feb. 10 showing that white people are getting a higher proportion of the limited amount of COVID-19 vaccines than other races and ethnicities in the state.
For Trang Tu, a community activist who cares for her elderly mother — who has dementia and needs 24-hour care — getting a vaccine presented numerous hurdles. Tu eventually got a last-minute tip from a mass vaccination site in Snohomish county, a long drive from her home south of Rainier Beach, and her mother is now vaccinated. “It’s not just limited supply of vaccines itself,” Tu said. “Access is not equal. It favors people who have time, an internet connection, transportation, and a certain language.”
Tu’s mother was able to overcome systemic barriers because, Tu says, “I have some privilege: I have a computer, I have a car, I can do advocacy.” Many other BIPOC people aren’t as fortunate.
In an online press conference Friday, Jan. 29, Jeff Duchin, MD, the health officer for Public Health — Seattle & King County said that while COVID-19 cases have declined in King County for the past three weeks, the current level of transmission still represents a “serious health threat.” Duchin said he expects that the more contagious and potentially more lethal B 1.1.7. variant, already discovered in Snohomish County, will be “likely be found in King County any day now.” Reacting to Gov. Inslee’s announcement this week that King County will be allowed to return to Phase 2 of Washington’s Road to Recovery Plan, Duchin acknowledged, “The mixed messaging is very challenging. We’re currently in a decline. And people are feeling good. But I need to remind everyone that we’re still at a high level even though we’ve come down.”
Community members across Seattle are celebrating Ron Chew for a career totally dedicated to his community as a journalist, advocate, and fundraiser for Seattle’s International District. Since the mid-1970s, he has worked as editor of the International Examiner, director of the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific Experience, and currently as the executive director of the International Community Health Services Foundation (ICHS) for Seattle’s Chinatown International District (CID). Chew will retire from ICHS on Jan 1 after leading it the entirety of the past decade.
In a recent Emeraldarticle, Glenn Nelson aptly described Ron’s journalistic focus: “Chew practiced his craft largely on a concrete island isolated from the rest of Seattle by railroad tracks and the I-90 and I-5 freeways.”
An immigrant who came to the United States in 1969, Teresita Batayola remembers some of the confusion she felt arriving in Seattle at age 16. She’s now a president and CEO in charge of 11 health service sites that provide care to an estimated 32,000 people every year, many of whom don’t speak English and can’t afford health insurance. International Community Health Services (ICHS) has deep roots in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, where businesses have been hard hit by both the shut-down of retail and anti-Asian bias.
The Emerald caught up with Batayola and asked her to reflect on the pandemic and how both racism and the virus are hurting patients who come to ICHS. She shared some of her own history and experience with racism over many decades.
Despite Washington State being the original epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak in the United States, the state has not released detailed demographic data around infections and deaths from COVID-19, lagging behind several states and counties throughout the country. King County released detailed demographic data around infections and deaths from COVID-19 on April 10, but the data is only from 51 percent of confirmed cases.
The King County data available shows that cases of the disease are highest among non-Hispanic Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders, but that deaths are highest among white people. This available data is not consistent with what other areas of the U.S. are reporting –– that Black communities are at a disproportionately higher risk of death from the disease –– or with what some local critical care providers are seeing on the frontlines.