Gov. Jay Inslee is warning of “a more powerful and dangerous threat” in the ongoing pandemic that he called “COVID 2.0” while urging more vaccinations in an effort to stop an increase in transmissions as the state continues experiencing a fourth surge of the virus.
During a Thursday, April 29, press conference, the governor spoke about the implications of a fourth wave of COVID-19 on the state’s efforts to fight back the disease. He said mutant strains of the virus that causes COVID-19 are more transmissible than the original iteration, adding there is “considerable evidence” the variants are more dangerous to younger individuals.
“We’re finding young people have long-term, chronic problems associated with this disease, even if it doesn’t take their life,” Inslee said.
The virus variants now make up the vast majority of overall cases of COVID-19 turning up in Washington state, according to a graph Inslee displayed during the press conference. He warned an increasing prevalence of the more virulent variants could lead to the state’s hospitals becoming “jammed.”
“Our ICU units will become strained. We will lose the ability in hospitals to get elective surgery. We will not have the ability to get common, ordinary care if our hospitals get overwhelmed,” Inslee said.
As those mutant strains take over the COVID-19 activity, Inslee also turned attention to an apparent slowdown of demand for vaccinations. Though he said the percentage of vaccines on hand that are being administered were holding in the 80s, Washington State Secretary of Health Umair Shah said there is concern over a decline in demand.
“It is a terrible thing to think that we would have vaccine to save people’s lives and not see it in people’s arms,” Inslee said.
Shah said 30 percent of Washingtonians are fully vaccinated, with more than 5.2 million doses administered.
“Vaccines are the pathway out of this pandemic,” Shah said.
Inslee said there would be a change in vaccine distribution from one primarily based on county populations to one based more on what demand each county is seeing.
“We can’t send vaccines to counties and have them just sit on a shelf,” Inslee said.
Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary for COVID-19 response for the Washington Department of Health, said the allocation change would shift to being primarily based on provider-based ordering.
“We still will be making sure that there is access to vaccines all across the geography of Washington,” Fehrenbach said, adding that the strategy would be moving resources toward where the demand is.
Inslee said new guidelines for cruise ships, sports, performing arts, graduations and religious ceremonies are coming for those who become vaccinated. The governor applauded Washington State University’s announcement that it will require students to be vaccinated in the fall, saying the university has “led the way” in their decision for other colleges to join.
Each county’s standing in the metrics for shifting of phases in the state’s “Healthy Washington” reopening plan will be looked at Tuesday, May 4, a day later than previously announced. Shah said the move was made to be able to use the latest data available while making decisions on which counties will potentially be rolled back.
“Communities are relying on this, and so we want to be as accurate as well as timely with the information,” Shah said.
Fehrenbach said there are about a dozen counties close to the threshold of moving back into Phase 2.
While case rates drop nationwide, Washington is one of a number of states seeing its proportion of cases on the rise. Inslee said Washington might be a victim of its own success, given the efforts to stop the disease from spreading during previous months of the pandemic.
“We have been very, very successful keeping our numbers down, saving people’s lives, reducing transmission rates, doing the responsible things that have prevented people from getting sick,” Inslee said. “But as a result we have a way lesser percentage of our population that is already immune.”
“We have done the right thing by saving lives,” Shah said. “Unfortunately that means we have to rely more on vaccinations.”
While the state waits to have a greater proportion of its population fully vaccinated, Inslee stressed the importance of adhering to state restrictions to prevent COVID-19’s spread. He referenced super-spreader events in Ferry County that resulted in dozens of COVID-19 infections in a county with a population of about 7,500.
“They flouted public health guidelines, they ignored clear science, and it ended up turning into a super-spreader event. As a result, there was an outbreak,” Inslee said, adding that the more than 80 infections have taken a toll on the county’s businesses and health care system.
Inslee pleaded with those unhappy with restrictions and mask mandates to take up vaccination as their way to get back to a life prior to shutdowns.
“(A) way to have more liberty in our lives … is to become vaccinated, and to rely on the vaccination to drive this pandemic down, which we know it can if we continue this effort,” Inslee said.