In the midst of major events in Washington, D.C., this week, state and local health officials made some big announcements about coronavirus reopening targets and vaccination distribution in Washington state. Those decisions will affect how things will play out over the next few months locally.
Here’s an update on where things stand in Yakima County with COVID-19 trends, vaccinations and reopening.
1. Let’s start with the big question: When can I get vaccinated for COVID-19?
Washington state and Yakima County are still in the first phase of COVID-19 vaccination distribution. If you’ll remember, the first round of vaccines is going to workers in health care settings, first responders and long-term care center staff and residents.
The state this week released guidance on the next round of vaccinations, which prioritizes people 70 and older and people 50 and over who live in multi-
generational households. The state’s timeline says that next phase likely will start in January. Assistant state health secretary Michele Roberts said the state will be announcing the exact date in the future.
“Although we are announcing Phase 1B today, we are not starting Phase 1B today,” she said Wednesday. “We need time for planning and all our on-the-ground health care providers to be ready. So we’re asking all the people in Phase 1B, though you are excited to get vaccine, and we’re excited to get vaccine to you, please hold off on calling for an appointment until Phase 1B goes into effect.”
The Yakima Health District said Thursday that Yakima County likely will not move into the B phase until mid- to late February, depending on how much vaccine is available locally.
“We are working with local and state partners every day to plan for broader vaccine distribution,” Yakima Health District Executive Director Andre Fresco said in a statement. “We hope we can quickly increase the amount of available vaccine to meet the demand.”
The state Department of Health is launching an online tool called PhaseFinder on Jan. 18, which people can use to find out where and when they can be vaccinated.
2. How many people have been vaccinated locally?
As of Thursday, Yakima County had received 7,700 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, including 5,750 initial doses and 1,950 second doses. Of those 5,750 initial doses, at least 3,000 have been administered. That doesn’t include doses given to staff and residents of long-term care centers through the federal pharmacy partnership.
Yakima County’s three hospitals, the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic, Neighborhood Health and Central Washington Community Health and a few local pharmacies have been giving vaccines.
Astria Health said Thursday it has administered 420 vaccines to its staff members and other Phase 1A community members. It encouraged Yakima Valley first responders and other 1A health care workers to contact Astria Toppenish or Sunnyside hospitals to schedule an appointment.
Yakima Valley Memorial had given just under 2,000 initial doses as of Wednesday, officials there said.
The health district has a list of providers on its website for anyone in Phase A1 or A2 who needs to schedule a vaccination. Again, that’s workers in health care settings, first responders and long-term care centers staff and residents.
3. New reopening plan
The governor’s office released a new plan for business reopening on Tuesday which splits the state into regions and sets new targets.
Each Friday, the state will evaluate regional case rates, hospital admission rates, ICU occupancy rates and test positivity rates. For a region to advance, it has to show a 10% decreasing trend in case rates over a two-week period; a 10% decrease in COVID hospital admission rates over a two week period; an ICU occupancy rate that’s less than 90%; and a test positivity rate of less than 10%.
Yakima County is in the south central region with Benton, Columbia, Franklin, Kittitas and Walla Walla counties. The regions are mostly based on existing Emergency Medical Service regions because concerns are focused on COVID-19’s impact on the health care system, the governor’s office said.
A report released Friday showed:
- The south central region’s COVID-19 case rate per 100,000 for Dec. 13-26 was down 4% compared to the prior two weeks, but did not meet the 10% benchmark.
- The COVID test positivity rate was 21% for Dec. 12-19.
- Hospitalizations per 100,000 for Dec. 20 to Jan. 2 increased by 12% compared to the prior two weeks. Staffed ICU beds in the southcentral region were 93% filled from Dec. 27-Jan. 2.
DOH uses the most complete data available for each metric.
The region, and the rest of the state, will remain in Phase 1 for the coming week, which means most current restrictions will remain in place. However, indoor fitness can reopen if the business restricts capacity to one customer per 500 square feet.
County commissioners in Yakima and Kittitas counties voiced objections to the new plan this week.
4. Local COVID trends and a quick school update
How are things looking in terms of COVID trends in Yakima County right now? In short, not good.
Yakima County had 1,076 cases per 100,000 people from Dec. 16-29. The test positivity rate was 45% from Dec. 22-28, according to the state Department of Health. Sixty-eight people were hospitalized as of Thursday, with 56 hospitalized on Friday. Those numbers are the highest or close to the highest they’ve been since the first COVID cases were reported here in March.
Yakima County’s per capita rate is much, much higher than the 200 per 100,000 over two weeks guideline recommended by the state to have in-person school. The Yakima School District continues to have virtual classes for most students. The West Valley School District said Thursday it will continue remote learning at West Valley High School in light of those numbers.
Staff writer Mai Hoang contributed to this report.