The pandemic isn’t over just because you’re over it, or you got a vaccine, or both.
“We are close to turning the corner in the state of Washington, but we’re seeing the beginning of a fourth wave and that means people need to hang on longer,” Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah told reporters Wednesday.
Just 25% of the state’s residents are fully vaccinated, with 38% of residents receiving at least one dose thus far.
Despite vaccination efforts and progress, COVID-19 case rates continue to climb statewide, including in Spokane County, where the case rate is now 274 cases per 100,000 residents in the last two weeks. When Spokane County was last evaluated April 12, the case rate for the last two weeks of March was 181 cases per 100,000 people.
Residents statewide who are 70 and older are not experiencing the high case rates seen predominantly in adults in their 20s and 30s. Similarly, while older people are more likely to be hospitalized with the virus, hospitalization rates have dropped in residents over age 70 this month in Spokane County.
In the last month, 50% of Spokane County residents hospitalized for COVID-19 were in their 50s and 60s. Some younger adults are hospitalized with the virus as well, county data show.
And while vaccination efforts continue to escalate, including a new statewide goal Shah announced Wednesday of vaccinating 90,000 people each day, they are not enough to stem the tide of virus currently seen in the state.
“We cannot vaccinate our way out of increasing disease levels, we are going to have to use the tools available to all of us,” Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy health secretary, said Wednesday.
Washington state will receive 370,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines next week, and the state was not scheduled to receive any Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is still on pause after rare reports of blood clots, but health officials hope it will be available again soon after the FDA’s advisory committee meets this week.
Health officials asked that people who book multiple vaccine appointments to try to get one cancel the other appointments once they’ve found which one they are going to, so providers do not save doses for people who are not coming.
“Once you know where you’re set and scheduled, we ask you to cancel that other appointment and let the provider know you’ve already received your vaccine,” Shah said.
The Department of Health also plans to add county-level race data on its vaccine dashboard, which will help local counties identify equity gaps in vaccine distribution.
State and local health officials said that, while vaccines are vital to getting out of the pandemic, it is still important to wear face coverings and limit gatherings. Acting State Health Officer Dr. Scott Lindquist said variant activity has increased, and the U.K. variant has become the predominant variant in the state.
That variant is easier to transmit from person to person, which underscores the need for masking and distancing. Lindquist said case counts are not necessarily due to travel statewide, but instead due to relaxed behaviors.
This is true in Spokane County, which is still seeing the fallout from March Madness, Easter and spring break gatherings as case counts continue to climb.
Dr. Francisco Velázquez said while he will not move the county back to Phase 2 ahead of May 3, the data is not trending in the right direction. It’s possible the region could be moved back a phase in a week and a half.
“It’s still unclear whether we’ll be able to stay in Phase 3 or not,” he said.
A look at local numbers
The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 111 new cases on Wednesday and no additional deaths.
There are 58 patients with COVID-19 in Spokane hospitals.
The Panhandle Health District confirmed 49 new cases of the virus on Wednesday and one additional death.
There have been 298 deaths due to COVID-19 in Panhandle residents.
There are 32 Panhandle residents hospitalized with the virus.
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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