Pandemic updates: More Covid tests arrive in Washington
Updated news about the coronavirus pandemic in Seattle and Washington state.
According to data from King County and Washington state departments of health, as of Monday, January 31, 2022:
- +10,701 new cases since Friday in King County. That's -27% over the last seven days.
- +310 new hospitalizations since Friday in King County. That's an 11% increase over the past seven days.
- 17% decrease in deaths over the past two weeks, with five people dying every day in King County.
- 78.1% of King County residents are fully vaccinated.
- 10,776 Covid-19 related deaths across Washington state; 1% death rate since the beginning of the pandemic.
Covid-19 vaccine for young kids could be ready this month
The last age group of the population unable to get a Covid-19 vaccine may soon be able to do so — and much earlier than anticipated.
Pfizer-BioNTech is expected to file a submission for emergency use to the Food and Drug Administration for a vaccine regimen designed for use in children aged six months to five years, according to a person familiar with the plan. The companies could file for the authorization as early as Tuesday.
Clinical trials last fall showed that the low doses of the vaccine generated protection in children up to 2 years old but failed to do so in kids aged 2-5. The companies announced in December they'd add a third dose to its trials, which would delay the submission to the FDA.
Emergency use authorization could allow children to begin a two-dose regimen, which would prepare children between 2-5 years old to receive a third shot when the data demonstrates its effective.
"By now they probably have more information on whether the two shots provided any protection at all," Dr. Bob Wachter, chair of the University of California San Francisco Department of Medicine, said .
"It seems likely the third shot will be necessary ... but you can't get shot #3 until you've [had] shots 1 and 2," he wrote in an email Monday night.
A spokesperson for Pfizer emailed a written statement that says "At this time, we have not filed a submission, and we're continuing to collect and analyze data from both two and three doses in our younger age cohort."
The FDA authorized the companies' vaccine for children aged 5 through 11 years old last October, but use among children remains significantly lower than the overall population. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 21.6% of children 5-11 are fully vaccinated.
Read more here.
—Peter Granitz & Rob Stein, NPR
Cuba has come up with 5 Covid vaccine candidates
In the early days of the Covid pandemic, Cuba decided it was going to make its own vaccine – even though vaccine development historically takes years, even decades, to bear fruit.
Why did the Communist island nation decide to go it alone?
It didn't want to rely on the whims of foreign governments or international pharmaceutical companies to immunize its people. Cuba didn't even sign up for the COVAX program, backed by the World Health Organization, that was promising to purchase vaccines in bulk and distribute them equitably around the globe.
Cuba was taking a gamble that it could develop a vaccine before the coronavirus swept across on the island.
"I don't like the word 'gamble'," says Cuban virologist Amilcar Pérez Riverol about his nation's strategy. "I prefer the word 'risky'."
Pérez Riverol left Cuba in 2013 and now works as researcher at the São Paulo Research Foundation at São Paulo State University in Brazil. But he writes regularly about the Covid situation in Cuba on his Facebook page and elsewhere. He used to work in the labs in Havana that were tasked with developing Cuba's home-grown vaccines.
And he was confident that Cuban scientists could win this race against the virus. "I was there, I worked there. I know the people who work there, the spirit they have, the institution they have," he says. It was a huge project, but when they launched it, he says he thought, "Yeah, they can do that."
Cuba's vaccine development effort wasn't just risky from health perspective. Politically if the rest of the world got vaccine far earlier than Cuba, it would be a huge blow to the government. Pérez Riverol says getting a Cuban-made vaccine became an all-consuming project for the country.
Read more here.
—Jason Beaubien, NPR
UW Medicine reopens Covid testing sites in Ballard and Lake Sammamish Park
The University of Washington has reopened a pair of Covid testing sites in Ballard and in Lake Sammamish State Park.
The two were temporarily closed last month because of the overwhelming crush of people trying to get tested amid the omicron surge.
Dr. Patrick Mathias UW Medicine says the sites will continue to prioritize those who are either showing symptoms or have been exposed to the infection.
"Even though we are on the down slope, hopefully, with omicron cases, there's still quite a bit of circulating infection in the community and we want to make sure that we can identify as many of those cases for those who are at highest risk," Dr. Mathias said.
"And at this point, we are doing very well with our turnaround times, our average turnaround times around 24 hours right now, and we foresee that that will continue."
Dr. Mathias also commented on the BA.2 version of omicron that has shown up in Washington. It is also called "stealth omicron" due to its ability to go undetected by many tests. But that's not an issue at UW's testing sites, according to Mathias.
"The BA.2 variant, we are able to pick that up with our regular diagnostic PCR testing without a problem. We don't have any concern about missing infections."
— Angela King, KUOW
Covid testing company sued by Washington AG over 'inaccurate and deceptive' test results
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson is suing the Center for Covid Control, accusing the company of knowingly providing invalid Covid test results to patients.
Employees of the company reported they were instructed to “lie to patients on a daily basis” about delayed test results, according to Ferguson's office.
The Illinois-based company operated roughly 300 testing sites across the country, 11 of them in Washington state.
Before closing all of its locations on or around January 13, the company purported to offer walk-up rapid antigen and PCR testing, free of charge to patients.
The new lawsuit, filed in the King County Superior Court, accuses the Center for Covid Control of causing “imminent and irrevocable harm to the welfare of the people of Washington” by failing to provide valid test results, possibly contributing to the spread of Covid-19, among a myriad of other alleged violations of the Consumer Protection Act.
The lawsuit states that the company operated without a proper license at nearly all of its Washington state locations and improperly collected patients’ insurance information.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson wrote that he believed the Center for Covid Control had billed the federal government $124 million for tests for supposedly uninsured patients. Employees of the company reported being directed to falsely document that patients were uninsured, if their insurer didn’t appear on a list of compatible insurers.
The company is also accused of knowingly submitting invalid samples to a laboratory for testing.
Read more here.
—Liz Brazile, KUOW
Washington just got more free Covid tests
The Washington State Department of Health just got its hands on some new Covid tests, free for residents to order through www.sayyescovidhometest.org.
The state launched the website on Jan. 21 with the goal of distributing 3 million free tests. But DOH only had about 650,000 tests available at that time, and supplies quickly ran out.
The latest shipment of Covid tests should cover another 120,000 Washington households, according to DOH. Residents can order a kit with five tests.
“We are thrilled to be able to open the portal for the second time this month to increase access to these tests statewide,” said state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah. “We thank our partners at Care Evolution and Amazon for their support in making this happen.”
DOH encourages people who take a home test and get a positive result to report it to the WA Notify app on their smartphones. People can also report their positive test result to the state hotline 1-800-525-0127 (then press #). The hotline is open Monday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Tuesday-Sunday (and observed holidays) from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Language assistance is available.
—Dyer Oxley, KUOW