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Coming soon: Catch an Uber or Lyft to get vaccinated in Washington

UPDATED: Wed., May 5, 2021

For those with smartphones, transportation to get a COVID-19 vaccine should not be a barrier any longer starting next week.

Starting May 10, if you need a ride to get to your vaccine appointment, you can get a code for a free or discounted ride from Uber or Lyft by calling 1-833-VAX-HELP, the new statewide hotline to assist residents in finding vaccines.

Both ride-sharing apps are available on smartphones to download. Drivers are also eligible to get vaccinated through the program.

“We’re trying to reduce the barriers and make it a level playing field,” Dan Laster, director of the statewide vaccine coordination system, told reporters Wednesday.

Public health officials have encouraged people to get their COVID-19 vaccines as a way to get the state on the path to reopening the economy faster.

Whether vaccines will be factored into metrics used to judge a county’s ability to reopen is still up for debate. Case rates and hospitalizations have been used to evaluate counties for moving forward or backward in the governor’s reopening plan, although this week, he paused all movement for two weeks.

State Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said the department is having discussions about potentially including a vaccine metric to the reopening plan, which could put many counties in eastern Washington in a bind due to low vaccination rates.

“We haven’t landed anywhere about whether it makes sense or not,” Shah told reporters Wednesday, noting that some states have tied vaccination rates to reopening counties.

Currently, more than half of eligible Washington residents who are 16 and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but to reduce transmission, that figure must be much higher. Additionally, some counties are falling far behind.

In Spokane County, nearly 45% of eligible residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine, putting the region solidly in the middle of the pack among counties statewide. Providers are starting to order less vaccine doses as demand has waned in many parts of the state.

“This is the first week where we’re seeing providers ordering less,” Michele Roberts, assistant secretary of health, said on Wednesday.

The state’s allocations have also plateaued and are projected to remain flat in May. Next week, the state is expecting to receive 396,260 total doses, including 204,580 first doses and 191,680 second doses.

Cases and hospitalizations in Spokane County are spiking up and down. Interim Health Officer Dr. Francisco Velázquez says this is a sign of potentially plateauing or decreasing COVID activity. He hopes the two-week pause will result in the trend playing out in the region’s favor.

“It’s important to have these two weeks to really allow us to see if we’re trending down towards a plateau over the next couple weeks,” he said.

He added that it is important for community members to continue seeking vaccination and following public health guidance.

Here’s a look at local numbers:The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 66 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday and one additional death.

There have been 615 deaths in Spokane County residents due to the virus.

There are 74 patients being treated in local hospitals for COVID-19.

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 46 new cases on Wednesday and no additional deaths.

There are 21 Panhandle residents currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories 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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