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State doubles down on contact tracing efforts; 418 new cases reported Wednesday

UPDATED: Wed., Nov. 25, 2020

This electron microscope image made available and color-enhanced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Md., shows Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, orange, isolated from a patient. (HOGP)
This electron microscope image made available and color-enhanced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Md., shows Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, orange, isolated from a patient. (HOGP)

The Washington Department of Health is hiring 350 more contact investigators and contact tracers to help in the statewide efforts to contain the virus.

The workers should begin in mid-December and can support local health jurisdictions overwhelmed by the surge in cases the entire state has seen this month.

Locally, case investigation and contact tracing efforts have been slowed by the high volume of cases reported by the Spokane Regional Health District in recent days. The district confirmed 418 new cases Wednesday. In the last three days alone, the district has confirmed more than 1,200 new cases.

So far during the pandemic, Spokane County has had 15,745 people test positive for the coronavirus. About 61.5% have recovered from their infection.

There was one new death, bringing the number of local residents who have succumbed to COVID-19 to 251.

Hospitalizations continue to escalate in Eastern Washington as well. There are currently 133 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Eastern Washington, according to state hospital data.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new prioritization standards for case investigations and contact tracing which both state and local health departments are working to implement.

The guidance asks health departments to prioritize investigations of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in health care workers, first responders, hospitalized patients, residents of large households or congregate settings and critical infrastructure workers.

In November alone, statewide hospitalizations in Washington have nearly doubled and are projected to increase in the coming weeks.

“If this trend does not reverse, hospitals will need to postpone more elective surgeries and will have reduced ability to care for patients with and without COVID-19,” State Health Officer Kathy Lofy told reporters Wednesday.

State health officials said Washington should receive 62,400 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in mid-December, if the Food and Drug Administration grants it emergency use authorization. The vaccine, which requires two doses to be effective and must be kept ultra-cold, will first be targeted to high-risk health care workers in the state.

Michele Roberts, assistant secretary at the Department of Health, said they will not know until early December which hospitals will receive the initial doses, but Washington state should receive about 200,000 doses by the end of 2020.

The Pfizer vaccine is going to be shipped in palettes of 975 doses, and Roberts said they are working on policies and plans to ensure that the vaccine can make its way to facilities in rural settings that cannot accommodate 975 doses at a time.


Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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