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Coronavirus In Seattle
caption: Andre Mattus, right, a nurse at the University of Washington Medical Center, gives the first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to Amar Gunderson, 6 1/2, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, in Seattle. Last week, U.S. health officials gave the final signoff to Pfizer's kid-size COVID-19 shot, a milestone that opened a major expansion of the nation's vaccination campaign to children as young as 5.
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Andre Mattus, right, a nurse at the University of Washington Medical Center, gives the first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to Amar Gunderson, 6 1/2, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, in Seattle. Last week, U.S. health officials gave the final signoff to Pfizer's kid-size COVID-19 shot, a milestone that opened a major expansion of the nation's vaccination campaign to children as young as 5.
Credit: (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Pandemic updates: Washington already ran out of free Covid tests

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 24, 2022:

  • +11,666 new cases since Friday in King County. That's -38% over the last seven days.
  • +208 new hospitalizations since Friday in King County. That's a 10% decrease over the past seven days.
  • +80% increase in deaths, with five people dying every day in King County.
  • 74.2% of King County residents are fully vaccinated.
  • 10,405 Covid-19 related deaths across Washington state; 1% death rate since the beginning of the pandemic.

Why rapid Covid tests aren't more accurate and how scientists hope to improve them

How much should you trust the results of a rapid antigen test? That's a question many people are asking these days, amid recent research and anecdotes suggesting these tests may be less sensitive to omicron.

Researchers are working fast to figure out what's going on and how to improve the tests.

That includes people like Dr. Wilbur Lam, a professor of pediatrics and biomedical engineering at Emory University and one of the lead investigators assessing Covid-19 diagnostic tests for the federal government.

His research team began evaluating rapid antigen tests against live samples of the omicron variant last December in the lab, and in early assessments, he says, some tests failed to detect the coronavirus "at a concentration that we would have expected them to catch it if it were another variant."

That finding prompted the Food and Drug Administration to update its online guidance in late December to note that, while rapid antigen tests do detect the omicron variant, "they may have reduced sensitivity."

A week later, a small preprint study found that in 30 people infected with the omicron variant, rapid antigen tests only detected a positive case two or three days after a PCR test caught it – and "sometimes even longer," says Anne Wyllie, a microbiologist at Yale School of Public Health and one of the authors of that study.

Rapid tests have always worked best when people are symptomatic and have high viral loads, and so far, real-world data suggests they're holding up well on that front. A recent study of 731 people found that the Abbott BinaxNOW rapid tests performed about as well against omicron as they did with other variants when people were symptomatic and had high viral loads.

Lam says that's also what he's finding when assessing rapid antigen tests with symptomatic patients who come into the clinic.

"These tests – they work," Lam says. "When patients come in and they have symptoms .... we test them against the gold-standard PCR test and then we test with [a rapid test]. And by and large, with omicron, we see that they're performing as expected."

What's different now is that with omicron, many people seem to be coming down with symptoms earlier on in an infection – before tests detect a positive case. Anecdotal reports abound of people showing symptoms of Covid-19, and testing negative at first, before eventually testing positive.

Read more here.

Maria Godoy, NPR

UW to resume in-person classes

The University of Washington will move to "largely in-person classes" on January 31.

The university cancelled many in-person classes and went remote at the start of the current winter quarter. The decision was prompted by the surge in Covid cases in Washington state, driven by the omicron variant. UW moved to "largely remote" instruction, with some classes still meeting on campus.

The university had initially targeted the end of January to bring students back to campus. According to a letter from UW President Ana Mari Cauce and Provost Mark A. Richards on Monday, UW is sticking with that plan. The decision to stay on track takes into account the current decline in Covid cases.

"As predicted, case counts in our region are now declining and are expected to continue to decline. The initial surge of cases at our University is also declining, and we continue to have no indication of classroom transmission in classes that have been meeting in the past three weeks during the peak of Omicron. And the limited number of workplace-related transmissions over this and autumn quarter have occurred in situations where masks were not consistently worn."

They further state that while the university cannot predict how the pandemic will unfold in the coming months, they do expect it to evolve into an endemic situation and have less of an effect on daily life.

UW is encouraging students to upgrade to N95, KN95, KN94 or surgical masks, and to also get a booster shot of a Covid vaccine. Instructors are asked to be flexible and understanding of students' situations; many will continue to require periods of quarantine and sick time.

Dyer Oxley, KUOW

Washington already has run out of free at-home Covid tests — for now

Washington's goal is to distribute 3 million free at-home Covid tests through its new website. But when it launched the effort on Friday, the state only had 650,000 tests on hand. If you didn't order already, it may be a while longer until you can get a free test from the state.

Washington's Department of Health launched its new website on Friday. There, Washington state residents can order free Covid tests to be mailed to them at home.

But as of Monday morning the websites states: "Thank you for your interest in Say Yes! COVID Test. We have had an overwhelming response to the initiative and have already exhausted the limited supply available for home delivery."

The state warned this could happen and plans to offer more tests once they are available. Washington officials are asking residents to hold off on ordering Covid tests through the state if they already have some at home.

Washington's effort to distribute free Covid tests is different than the federal program that also recently launched. People who ordered tests via USPS should be seeing those arrive in the mail over the next couple weeks.

The federal government also announced that it is shipping 400 million N95 masks to pharmacies and community health centers for free distribution in the coming weeks.

— Angela King

National Guard continues to arrive at Washington hospitals

More members of the Washington National Guard are now in place to help local hospitals deal with the latest Covid surge. Guard members began arriving to medical centers on Friday.

Gov. Jay Inslee recently ordered the activation of 100 guard members to help with non-clinical emergency room work to help relieve medical staff that has been overwhelmed with Covid cases. They've been sent to hospitals in Wenatchee, Richland, Yakima, Spokane, and Everett.

Members are also setting up testing sites in Seattle (Harborview Medical Center), Tacoma (MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital), Olympia (St. Peter Hospital), and Richland (Kadlec Regional Medical Center).

— Angela King

Non-U.S. citizens must be fully vaccinated to cross Mexico and Canada borders

Travelers who are not United States citizens, nationals, or permanent residents, who want to enter the U.S. via ferry or a land border from Mexico or Canada must now be fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

The change to border policy was announced by the Secretary of Homeland Security last week. It went into effect Saturday and will remain in place until at least April 21, barring any changes. DHS points to recent rising Covid case rates, driven by the omicron variant, in its decision.

In language similar in documents for both Mexico and Canada's border restrictions, DHS states:

"Under the temporary restrictions, DHS will allow processing for entry into the United States of only those noncitizen (non-lawful permanent residents) who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and can provide proof of being fully vaccinated against Covid-19 upon request. The restrictions provide for limited exceptions, largely consistent with the limited exceptions currently available with respect to Covid-19 vaccination in the international air travel context. Unlike past actions of this type, this Notification does not contain an exception for essential travel."

— Angela King

Washington lawmakers consider making it illegal to use/sell fake vax cards

The public will have a chance to weigh in Monday morning on a proposal to make it illegal to use or sell fake Covid-19 vaccine cards in Washington state.

The public hearing on the vaccine card bill is slated for the Senate Law and Justice Committee. It's modeled after a similar law in New York. Washington's proposal would make it a misdemeanor to flash a fraudulent vaccine card to get into a bar or restaurant or other venue. And it would make it a felony to buy and sell fake Covid vaccination cards.

The prime sponsor is Democratic State Senator Jesse Salomon of Shoreline. The part-time public defender says his goal isn’t to send a bunch of people to jail.

“The thinking is, if people know that there’s a sanction, it’s going to head off 80% or 90%, just make people think twice about it," Salomon said, adding that a law like this would also send a signal to prosecutors to take these cases seriously.

One Republican state senator said he thinks the state has bigger fish to fry, but added he’ll wait to pass judgment on the proposal until after the public hearing. Fake vaccine cards have led to arrests and even federal indictments in other parts of the country.

Read the full story here.

— Austin Jenkins

Washington state offers free at-home Covid tests

Starting Friday, Washingtonians can order free, at-home Covid tests online from the state Department of Health.

Each household in Washington is eligible to receive one kit of the rapid antigen tests, available in packs of four to five tests. Officials say residents who order them can expect to receive them within two weeks.

The tests, which can be ordered via the website, are currently in limited supply.

While state officials have articulated a commitment to distributing 3 million tests to Washingtonians for home use, they say they only have approximately 650,000 of them to ship at the moment. They're encouraging people to only order the tests if they don't already have some on hand.

"If you look at your medicine cabinet right now you've got five or 10 or... you feel you don't need them or you can buy them somewhere, you can go to the federal website, you can get it from your insurance, please be kind and do that," said Dr. Umair Shah, the state health secretary during a media briefing Friday morning.

People with positive home Covid test results can report them to the Washington State Department of Health using the state's smartphone-based WA Notify system.

Officials say an additional 1 million tests will go to community testing sites, while another 1 million tests are slated to go to schools around the state.

Read more here.

— Liz Brazile, KUOW

Vaccinated, breakthrough case, infection: Which has strongest immune response?

New research out of the University of Washington has found what produces the greatest immune response to Covid.

In short, the higher the number of exposures leads to enhanced "quality of antibody responses." Three situations produced the greatest defense against the coronavirus, including variants:

  • People who became ill with Covid and then were vaccinated.
  • Breakthrough infections (fully vaccinated and then became ill with Covid).
  • People who received two mRNA doses of vaccine and also a booster shot.

People who received just two doses of an mRNA vaccine (currently considered "fully vaccinated") or people who came down with Covid and were not later vaccinated did not hold up as well against the disease.

The UW study found: "Those who had completed a three-vaccination protocol, those who had been vaccinated after recovering from Covid-19, and those with a breakthrough infection after vaccination launched almost comparable neutralizing antibody responses, in terms of magnitude and breadth."

— Dyer Oxley, KUOW

CDC study: mRNA booster shots 90% effective keeping folks out of hospital

A study released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that people who have had a third dose of an mRNA Covid vaccine are far more likely to stay out of the hospital.

The study found that vaccine effectiveness stood up well to the delta and omicron variants when patients received a booster shot (third shot) of an mRNA vaccine, such as Pfizer or Moderna — about 90% effective.

Having just two shots of the mRNA vaccine was about 57% effective six months after the second dose.

Researchers looked into 88,000 patients in 10 states between December and January.

CNN further reports that additional studies indicate that the booster shots appear to be effective at preventing people from becoming ill with omicron, despite the variant's ability to evade immunity. People with booster shots were 66% less likely to become ill with omicron.

The CDC recommends all people 12 and older get an mRNA booster shot five months after a Pfizer or Moderna vaccination, or two months after a Johnson & Johnson shot.

— Dyer Oxley, KUOW

Inslee clashes with Congress member

It's been two years since the CDC confirmed the first coronavirus case in the United States, right here in Washington. Gov. Jay Inslee marked Thursday's anniversary by testifying before the U.S. Congress.

Inslee said that pandemic measures taken in Washington — public restrictions, widespread mask wearing — made a big difference.

"They worked big time," Inslee said. "We believe that we've saved perhaps 17,000 lives because of these policies."

But Inslee got pushback. Republican Congressmember Jim Jordan of Ohio doubted such restrictions and asked if masks and lockdowns really worked. He questioned why people were still dying despite the measures, and further implied people cannot trust the government.

More than 10,000 people have passed away from Covid in Washington state since the start of the pandemic in 2020. A total of 31,245 people have died in Ohio.

"And that’s what the Republican Party put up as their spokesperson," Inslee responded. "We need the Republican Party to take some responsibility here and not put their members, who are spreading this dangerous filth, to America."

Inslee is calling on the feds to provide more job training for nurses and make it easier for states to acquire personal protective equipment.

— Paige Browning, KUOW

National Guard arriving at Washington hospitals to help out

Some Washington National Guard members have now been deployed to hospitals around the state, ready to help with the current Covid surge.

RELATED: Starting with the pandemic, Washington National Guard face unprecedented year

Gov. Inslee recently called for 100 guard members to be sent in to help out as hospital capacity maxes out in many places. All members will be in place at hospitals by Monday. They will handle non-clinical duties.

They are being sent to: Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett; Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital in Yakima; Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee; and Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children’s Hospital in Spokane.

The troops will also set up Covid testing sites outside of Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital, St. Peter Hospital in Olympia, and the Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland.

— Angela King