Health & Fitness

WA Coronavirus Trends Plateau, But Experts Urge Continued Caution

The last coronavirus briefing before Christmas included good news, but officials say staying the course will be vital beyond the holidays.

Colleen DAmico, a clinical pharmacist with Seattle Indian Health Board (SIHB), prepares to administer a shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the SIHB, on Dec. 21, 2020 in Seattle.
Colleen DAmico, a clinical pharmacist with Seattle Indian Health Board (SIHB), prepares to administer a shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the SIHB, on Dec. 21, 2020 in Seattle. (Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

OLYMPIA, WA — Washington's new Secretary of Health hosted his first coronavirus briefing Wednesday, joined by other state leaders to outline the public health situation in the final days of 2020.

Dr. Umair Shah officially took over from outdoing secretary John Wiesman on Monday, arriving in Washington from his former post as executive director of Harris County Public Health in Texas — the nation's third-largest county.

"It is a great privilege to begin as the Secretary of Health here in the state of Washington," Shah said. "This is now day three on the job, and I've hit the ground running."

Also departing this week was the state's health officer, Dr. Kathy Lofy, who announced her departure in October. Shah said he was still assessing the department's needs, including what roles need to be filled, and did not have a timeline for naming Lofy's replacement.

State finds improvement in Washington coronavirus trends

In place of Lofy, state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist joined the briefing to give an overview of Washington's coronavirus trends heading into the holidays. The latest data includes some good news for Washington, but officials caution there is still a long way to go in defeating the virus.

Lindquist said while plateaus and downward trends are evident across the board, including lower case counts, fewer positive tests and declining hospitalizations, Washington's coronavirus metrics largely remain above the spring peak.

(Washington State Department of Health)

"I don't want us to think, even with this downturn, that we're out of the woods," Lindquist said. "We remain at a very high and precarious situation in Washington state. Even though transmission is plateauing, it hasn't decreased enough."

With the winter holidays upon us, state health officials continue to urge Washingtonians to keep up the fight against COVID-19 well into 2021.

"Our efforts to avoid a post-Thanksgiving spike seemed to have worked," said Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary of health for COVID-19 response. "As difficult as it is, we need to keep that work up and do the same thing for the remaining holidays in order to protect our health care system and our communities as we move into the near year. Every choice we make, to wear masks, to watch our distance and to limit our gatherings matters."

(Washington State Department of Health)

Fehrenbach said the arrival of effective vaccines and the promise of warmer months ahead will herald long-awaited relief. But until then, staying true to proven public health measures is vital.

"Hope truly is on the horizon as more people get vaccinated over the coming months, as we get more daylight back into our lives up here in the northwest, and as the weather improves and we can spend more time outdoors," Fehrenbach said. "We will be able to gather with our friends, family and loved ones one day soon. Let's get to that day together. By staying apart and staying home for the holidays, we can save more lives and give our loved ones and communities the gift of togetherness in 2021."

Tips for safer holiday gatherings from the Washington State Department of Health

Washington vaccinates more than 33,000; Moderna shipments begin to arrive

On the vaccine front, Washington placed its first order for the second federally-approved vaccine earlier this week and expects more than 330,000 doses from Pfizer and Moderna to arrive by the end of the year.

Michele Roberts, the state's lead vaccine planner, said more than 30,000 doses were administered by Wednesday, and more than 100,000 doses should arrive next week.

The first group eligible for vaccines is limited to frontline workers in health care settings, high-risk first responders, and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. Roberts said vaccinations under the federal long-term care program are scheduled to begin on Dec. 28, and the state aims to complete the first phase by the end of January.

Health officials and the governor's office are still finalizing plans for who will be eligible for the vaccine next and expects to share details before the end of the year.

"It's a bright spot for all of us, and while we still have a long road ahead, vaccines give us hope for the future," Roberts said."

25% of Washington adults activate WA Notify app

The state also reached a new milestone with its coronavirus notification app, surpassing 1.5 million users, or 25 percent of adults in Washington, in just three weeks.

"That puts us in the top five states for use of this technology when compared to our adult population size," Fehrenbach said. "This is really extraordinary news because the more people who use exposure notification, the better it works."

The app uses Bluetooth technology to detect other phones equipped with the app and notifies users if they have come into contact with a person who later tests positive for the coronavirus. Fehrenbach said a new update allows older iPhones to equip the app and work is underway to speed up the process to provide verification codes that allow those with positive test results to share information more quickly.

Exposure notifications can be equipped on Apple phones via settings, or on Android phones by downloading the WA Notify app. Learn more about how it works on the WA Notify website.

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