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Health officials warn of ‘delicate time’ for potential virus spread as vaccination rollout continues

UPDATED: Thu., April 1, 2021

Recent models indicate COVID-19 transmission is increasing in the Washington, state health officials said Thursday, prompting pleas to younger adults to continue to follow safety measures like wearing masks and distancing.

Young adults ages 20 to 39 are driving increasing case counts, State Secretary of Health Umair Shah said, and they are the least vaccinated group to date.

That could change in the coming weeks as more and more young adults who work in restaurants, congregate settings or who have underlying health conditions are now eligible to be vaccinated, however.

Shah said case counts are increasing again in the Puget Sound, and data locally in Spokane shows that the region could be headed in a similar direction. In the past two weeks, 46% of cases confirmed in Spokane County have been in residents 29 and younger.

“It’s critical that we stay the course and do everything we can to fight this pandemic,” Shah said. “We don’t want to see (cases) plateauing or starting to increase and then we’re back in a fourth wave.”

Health officials asked residents to limit gatherings and travel for upcoming events, such as the Final Four and spring breaks, as well as several religious holidays.

Cases increasing means more opportunities for variants to circulate statewide, which could weaken the effectiveness of COVID-19 treatments and vaccines.

The California variant, B.1.429, is the most common one circulating statewide, with confirmed cases in Spokane County. That variant is thought to be about 20% more transmissible and could weaken the effectiveness of COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines; it could become the dominant strain in the state in the coming weeks.

Vaccination efforts continue accelerating statewide, with added supplies coming to Washington each week. Next week, providers will receive 460,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, the highest allocation to date, which includes more than 100,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

More than 1.2 million Washington residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and more than 2.1 million people have gotten at least one dose. About 73% of residents 65 and older have been vaccinated so far, and that means about 330,000 who are eligible and most vulnerable still need to be vaccinated.

State health officials said there are several factors that impact vaccination rates among the state’s older residents, including hesitancy and access issues.

About 17% of Washington residents are fully vaccinated, highlighting the long road ahead on getting the state to even a majority vaccinated.

“Please remember we’re in this real delicate time,” Shah said, urging caution and asking residents to keep up with safety precautions while vaccination efforts continue.

If you’re eligible to get vaccinated, you can find a vaccine appointment by using the state locator tool or calling (800) 525-0127, then press the pound sign (#).

A look at local numbersThe Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 100 new cases on Thursday and no new deaths.

Due to adjustments in death data and reconciliation of data with the Department of Health, the district expects death data to fluctuate in the coming weeks.

There are 47 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Spokane hospitals.

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 47 new virus cases on Thursday and no new deaths.

There are 21 Panhandle residents hospitalized with COVID-19.

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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