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Washington releases vaccine plan as statewide cases continue to escalate

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 23, 2020

 (Molly Quinn/The Spokesman-Review)
(Molly Quinn/The Spokesman-Review)

Washington is at a crucial point, with a fall surge of COVID-19 cases recorded on both sides of the state.

Rates in Eastern Washington per population are still higher than in Western Washington, and state health officials noted a slow increase in hospitalizations statewide on Wednesday.

“It’s not too late; by acting now, we can squash the curve again,” state Secretary of Health John Wiesman said.

State health officials still are encouraging people to meet outside if possible and adhere to the gathering limits in each county’s phase. Phase 2 counties have a gathering limit of five people outside one’s household per week. Phase 3 counties have a gathering limit of 10 people per week outside the household.

In Spokane County, case counts continue to rise. The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 74 new cases of the virus on Friday. Another resident succumbed to the virus for a total of 193 deaths in the county.

There are currently 43 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Spokane hospitals, and 31 of them are Spokane County residents.

Wiesman told reporters on Wednesday that state hospitals are reporting a tighter capacity when it comes to beds and staffing than earlier this fall.

Outbreaks continue to be in varied settings, including in religious ones.

“One of the common complaints we’ve heard in religious settings is around masks,” Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary of health, said. “We’re really calling on leaders in those faith communities to wear masks in their congregations.”

This week the Department of Health revealed the first draft of the state vaccine plan, which they sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week.

The plan outlines who is in charge of what at the department and what groups are forming around ensuring the vaccine is distributed equitably and widely in Washington.

Michele Roberts, assistant secretary at Department of Health, emphasized that the plan is just the first version and it will be updated and revised going forward

The Department of Health is seeking feedback on its vaccine plan through next Tuesday.

When a vaccine is ready in minimal amounts for the first phase, the plan outlines the first groups of people who could be vaccinated with those doses: High-risk workers in health care settings, first responders, people of all ages with multiple medical problems and older adults living in congregate settings. In Washington, these groups account for about 3.6 million residents, according to the state plan.

Priority, timing and availability of doses is still unknown and won’t be determined until vaccine candidates are approved and distributed at the federal level. Roberts said the Food and Drug Administration is discussing distributing vaccine candidates based on population, but how many vaccinations each state will get in the first phase has not been worked out yet.

Roberts said the state health department will closely watch the FDA and CDC advisory committees and their processes when they approve vaccines. Wiesman said the department is in conversation with Oregon and California health departments to look at independent review and oversight of the vaccine as well.

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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2020 has been a stressful year for myriad reasons.