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caption: Registered nurse Tina Nguyen uses a disinfectant wipe after administering a Covid-19 test on Friday, November 20, 2020, at the International Community Health Services drive thru testing site on 8th Avenue South in Seattle's International District.
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Registered nurse Tina Nguyen uses a disinfectant wipe after administering a Covid-19 test on Friday, November 20, 2020, at the International Community Health Services drive thru testing site on 8th Avenue South in Seattle's International District.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Updates on the Covid-19 pandemic in Washington (December 14-20)

This post is archived. Read the latest here.

As of Saturday, December 19, the Washington State Department of Health reports:

  • 3,104 Covid-19 related deaths; 214,466 confirmed cases; a 1.4% death rate among positive cases.
  • Compared to white people and Asian people, the rate of Covid cases is nearly three times higher for Black people, and nearly seven times higher for Latino/x people and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders.

MONDAY, DECEMBER 21

CVS to adminster Covid-19 vaccine at WA long-term care facilities next week

10:37 a.m. — Starting December 28, CVS Health is to begin vaccinating residents of 771 assisted living and nursing facilities across Washington state.

The nationwide vaccination program, using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, launches in 12 other states this week. CVS says it anticpates vaccinating up to 4 million residents and staff at more than 40,000 long-term care institutions through the roughly 12-week program.

The vaccinations at each facility are slated to take place over the course of three to four weeks, with each recipient getting an initial shoot and second booster shot.

CVS says it has an agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to expand its vaccination efforts to the general public in 2021, but has not yet shared details about a specific launch date.

Liz Brazile

ICU doctor at Swedish says with the vaccine, "it feels like the end is near."

7:00 a.m. — Swedish Health Services says it has used its entire first shipment of more than 5500 doses of the COVID vaccine and is now awaiting more.

One of lucky recipients was Dr. Preethi Balakrishnan. We first met her back in April when the pandemic was raging. She was rotating through six Swedish intensive care units and she was feeling stressed.

Balakrishnan received her first dose of the vaccine on Friday, and even though cases are surging again, she now feels a sense of relief.

"People are more tired, they are kind of more worn out from everything else that has happened this year, and having the vaccine has really given us a second burst of wind under our wings," she said. "It feels like the end is near."

Balakrishnan says some of her colleagues are eager to get the vaccine, others are hesitating. She has had a lot of conversations with them about the risks of the vaccine vs. the risk of getting COVID.

For the general population, she says it should be an easier decision. They get to watch how the vaccine is affecting those who are going first.

"There are so many of us who have gotten it and who have been frank about it, and it’s not like we feel like a million bucks, but we feel pretty good."

For her, the vaccine has meant a sore arm, grogginess and a slight headache the next day. But she says it feels about the same as getting a bad night’s sleep.

Deborah Wang

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 18

No bowl bid for UW huskies football

2:30 p.m. — The Huskies are taking themselves out of the running for a bowl game this season due to pandemic concerns.

UW athletic director Jen Cohen provided a statement to The Seattle Times noting that the team has been aggressively testing players and has taken every pandemic precaution they could. Still, they could not get ahead of the virus.

“We have made a medical decision to not pursue a bowl bid this year .... with the number of positive cases, specifically at the offensive line position, we will not have a team ready for competition due to our comprehensive return to play medical protocols. Since the start of practices this fall, we committed to returning to play only when we were able to do so in a healthy manner, and unfortunately, we aren’t at that point at this time."

— Dyer Oxley

Seattle schools bringing students back to class in March

10 a.m. — The Seattle school board has approved a plan to bring pre-k through first grade students back to the classroom by March 2021.

Many special education programs will also return to in-person learning. Families who chose can continue with remote learning.

The decision comes one day after Governor Jay Inslee issued new, less restrictive guidelines for schools to reopen.

— Angela King

Microsoft giving $110M for pandemic relief in Puget Sound region

9 a.m. — Microsoft has announced it's putting $110 million toward Covid-19 relief in the Puget Sound region.

The relief funds from Microsoft arrive on the heels of the latest state relief package worth $135 million.

Company leaders say they'll give more than half of it to local nonprofits, through donations, technology, and special discounts.

Microsoft will also keep paying staff who aren't working right now, including their café and shuttle workers.

As for schools, Microsoft says it’s going to provide technology that tracks Covid testing data, for free, to all school districts in Washington state.

They're running a similar program in Los Angeles.

And the Redmond-based company has a request for Governor Inslee: that teachers be in line for vaccines in January.

Microsoft has seen its profits and its stock price rise significantly over the past year.

— Paige Browning

UW researchers call for more transparency at Tacoma detention center

8 a.m. — University of Washington researchers are calling for greater transparency about Covid-19 at the immigrant detention center in Tacoma.

Researchers are highlighting holes in the data U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is sharing. They want to see more information about testing and hospitalization rates, for example.

They also raise concerns about detainees having enough soap and water and staff at the facility not wearing masks regularly.

This report from the UW Center for Human Rights points out that deportations and transfers are still happening -- which could lead to spreading the virus further.

So far, 22 immigrants have tested positive for Covid-19, plus a handful of staff.

The report also says Governor Jay Inslee’s office and the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department could and should do more to protect the health of those detained and working at the detention center.

The private contractor that runs the facility — for its part — said they’ve taken measures to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved.

— Esmy Jimenez

Western State Hospital outbreak

7 a.m. — The coronavirus outbreak at Washington's largest psychiatric hospital has now infected more than 200 people. At least 64 patients at Western State in Lakewood have tested positive and one has died.

More than 150 hospital workers have also been diagnosed with the coronavirus since March.

This is leading to staffing shortages and comes in addition to layoffs that are resulting from budget cuts.

— Angela King

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 17

Overlake postpones vaccinations

5:14 p.m. -- Vaccination plans are now on hold at Overlake Medical Center, which was expecting to receive 975 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine and begin vaccinating healthcare workers early next week.

That’s after Operation Warp Speed informed the state that its allocation would be cut by 40%.

“At this time, it is unclear of when the Department of Health will be delivering the vaccine to our facility,” Chief Operating Officer Tom DeBord was quoted as saying in a press release. “We are actively advocating for DOH to deliver this vaccine to Overlake Medical Center as soon as possible.”

Next week Washington state will receive 44,850 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, rather than the 74,100 doses originally expected.

If authorized by the FDA, the state expects to receive 128,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine early next week.

--Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

Washington state's Covid-19 vaccine allocation slashed by 40%

Updated at 3:32 p.m. — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention informed state officials that Washington's allocation for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be reduced by 40% next week, Gov. Jay Inslee wrote in a tweet this morning.

Inslee called the sudden change "disruptive and frustrating," adding that no explanation for the cut was provided.

Pfizer issued a statement Thursday, saying that the company is not having production issues and has all planned vaccines boxed and ready to go.

“Pfizer is not having any production issues with our COVID-19 vaccine, and no shipments containing the vaccine are on hold or delayed. This week, we successfully shipped all 2.9 million doses that we were asked to ship by the U.S. Government to the locations specified by them. We have millions more doses sitting in our warehouse but, as of now, we have not received any shipment instructions for additional doses," the statement reads.

Pfizer further states: "...Pfizer is manufacturing and readying for release millions of doses each day, and that volume will grow over the coming weeks. We remain confident in our ability to deliver up to 50 million doses globally this year and up to 1.3 billion next year, and we look forward to continuing to work with the US Government to deliver our vaccine to the American people.”

During a Thursday afternoon press conference, Inslee stressed that he didn't think the problem was due to a lack of supply.

"I do not have anything to indicate this a long term problem, because the manufacturer of the vaccine publicly said they have the vaccine ready to go, they just need to get the orders from the federal government where to send it. If that is true, this ought to be a remediable problem," Inslee said during a news conference about his budget proposal for the 2021 Legislative session.

The Washington State Secretary of Health said front-line health care workers and nursing home staff and residents remain the priority to vaccinate first.

Inslee said the expected imminent approval of the Moderna version of the COVID vaccine will result in some 128,000 additional doses coming to his state from that maker over the next week.

Other governors, including Oregon's Kate Brown, are also waiting for an explanation.

KUOW Staff

caption: Registered nurse Cindy Groff administers a Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for Dr. Kenta Nakamura during the first day of Harborview's vaccination clinic for employees on Thursday, December 17, 2020, at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. 
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PHOTOS: Vaccination clinic begins for Harborview Medical Center employees

11:00 a.m. - “For us it just seems like a long time coming,” said Elaine Huang, Director of Pharmacy at Harborview Medical Center. “This is very surreal. The fact that we have vaccines on hand now is really for us a moment of hope.”

The vaccination clinic for Harborview employees began on Thursday morning. Doctors, nurses and a security officer were among the first to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. “I know everyone is tired and exhausted but this just gives us a sense of relief that something good is on the horizon," said Huang.

-- Megan Farmer

The curve is flattening in Washington, again, but more work needed to bring it down

10:30 a.m. — It looks like we’re flattening the curve in Washington state yet again.

If you stayed away from others during Thanksgiving – great work – it seems to have made a difference. The Thanksgiving spike didn't strike as harshly as feared.

But you still have to do it again for the rest of the holiday season.

After skyrocketing for months, some key pandemic numbers are leveling off, but the state’s top health officials say we’re still in a dicey situation.

For example: every day around 100 people are still getting hospitalized for Covid-19. That number looks like it's staying consistent, instead of going up.

Hospital beds and ICUs are still full with Covid patients and now those numbers are holding steady.

We don’t need to just flatten the curve – we need to bend it back down and stop the virus from spreading any further.

So, health officials say get ready for the next six months. That’s how long it’s going to take – at least – before we can get back to normal.

— Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

Seattle pandemic protections extended

8 a.m. — Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has extended Covid-19 relief measures for the city. The eviction moratorium will now run through March 31, 2021.

It was made official through an executive order signed by Durkan on Wednesday. It also temporarily suspends late fees for utilities through June of next year, and lowers Seattle City Light bills by 60% as well as Seattle Public Utility bills by 50%.

— Angela King

Students heading back to class sooner than later

7 a.m. — The Seattle School Board is scheduled to vote Thursday on a plan to bring pre-K through first graders back to the classroom as early as March.

Also, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee says he wants K-12 schools, statewide, to reopen earlier than previously advised. Inslee did not give a specific timeline, but said schools that take the proper precautions can reopen in phases if community Covid-19 transmission rates are flat or decreasing.

“This is based on our new data that has given us high confidence and shows that schools can successfully limit the transmission of Covid-19 when they have strong safe health and safety protocols in place in their schools.”

But the head of the state’s largest teacher’s union is unconvinced. Larry Delaney questions how many schools will ensure that they have the PPE, ventilation, sanitation and screening to safely teach in-person.

“Quite frankly, in districts out there where there's not that trust, there's concern that there's going to be a push to bring back students and educators before those requirements are actually in place," Delaney said.

The new guidelines say before schools reopen on a large scale, community transmission should be at or below 350 cases per 100,000 residents for two weeks.

King County has been above that rate for the past month.

More details here.

— Ann Dornfeld


WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 16

caption: Acute care nurse, Elena Haugen injects Dr. Courtney Gilliam with her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19 at Seattle Children's,  December 16, 2020.
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Acute care nurse, Elena Haugen injects Dr. Courtney Gilliam with her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19 at Seattle Children's, December 16, 2020.
Credit: Courtesy of Seattle Children's

Hundreds vaccinated against Covid-19 in Washington so far

5:29 p.m. -- At Seattle Children’s, 130 healthcare workers were vaccinated today and the hospital anticipates vaccinating 1,170 by the end of the week.

Dr. Courtney Gilliam (above) was the first to receive the vaccine, which was given by acute care nurse, Elena Haugen, according to a spokesperson.

CHI Franciscan also began vaccinations today. Nurses and doctors from St. Joseph Medical Center and St. Anne Hospital were among those getting doses.

At least 410 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid were administered in the state as of Wednesday, said Michele Roberts who leads Covid-19 vaccination planning for the Washington Sate Department of Health.

Data on injections can lag up to three days behind as health care providers first record the vaccinations in their systems and then report the data to the state, she said.

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance received Covid vaccine doses on Tuesday, one of the first 17 sites in the state to do so. The cancer treatment center will begin vaccinating front-line medical workers and staff Thursday.

--Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

New report brings up human rights issues at Tacoma immigrant detention facility

4 p.m. — Researchers at the University of Washington Center for Human Rights published a new report outlining concerns at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA when it comes to how the facility is managing Covid-19.

They point to issues of transparency when it comes to how U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement gathers and shares data, as well as a number of health concerns like immigrants having adequate soap and water, "forcing detained people to either purchase soap at their own expense from the facility commissary or go without."

The report goes on to criticize both Gov. Jay Inslee's office and the Tacoma-Pierce County Department of Health stating both could bring greater oversight to the facility.

“What these findings show is that political will, not legal authority, is what’s lacking to make change,” said UWCHR Director Professor Angelina Snodgrass Godoy.

“The local health department claims they are impotent to do anything, when even ICE has repeatedly said in court that they are regular partners in decision-making regarding COVID management at the NWDC."

According to ICE's own public data, 22 people have tested positive for the virus and 1 is currently under monitoring for a positive test result.

—Esmy Jimenez

Finals week at WSU. Test question: What would you do differently next semester to avoid another COVID outbreak?

2 p.m. - It's finals week at Washington State University, marking the end of a difficult semester.

In September, WSU faced a significant coronavirus spike when students returned to campus from other places. Pullman, the home of WSU, was ranked as a top COVID-19 hotspot by the New York Times at that time.

WSU spokesperson Phil Weiler told us what the school is doing to avoid repeating that scenario when the spring semester starts in mid January.

Weiler said staff will test students as they arrive on campus, and encourage regular testing throughout the semester. They'll also cancel spring break to discourage traveling.

They're also trying something that might sound a little strange: testing sewage as it flows from buildings where students live, whether on or off campus.

"As the effluent leaves the building, we'll be testing several times a week for each particular location, so that helps us keep an eye on whether or not there's any infection in that building," Weiler said. And if they find the virus, they'll test all building occupants to figure out who needs to be isolated until they're no longer infectious.

- Joshua McNichols

How the coronavirus causes "Covid brain"

Noon — Researchers with UW Medicine have published a study that explains what medical officials have long suspected — that the coronavirus enters and affects the brain.

Many have called this "Covid brain" or "Covid dementia" to describe the brain fog many experience after coming down with Covid-19.

According to a statement from UW Medicine: "In science circles, the intense inflammation caused by the Covid-19 infection is called a cytokine storm. The immune system, upon seeing the virus and its proteins, overreacts in its attempt to kill the invading virus. The infected person is left with brain fog, fatigue, and other cognitive issues."

A study performed on mice was recently published in Nature Neuroscience. It indicates that the spike protein of the coronavirus is able to penetrate the brain. That suggest the virus itself is also present.

"Just the free protein getting in by itself is a significant finding...The viral proteins often detach themselves from the virus and circulate free, and many of the things that we blame on the virus are also due to or maybe even more so due to those free proteins circulating around," said Dr. William Banks, professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

“We know that when you have the Covid infection you have trouble breathing and that’s because there’s infection in your lung, but an additional explanation is that the virus enters the respiratory centers of the brain and causes problems there as well,” he said.

Banks further said that the effects of the virus on the brain "could last for a very long time.”

— Dyer Oxley

What about vaccine procrastinators?

11 a.m. — Lots of folks are excited now that the first Covid-19 vaccines are in Washington state. But not everyone.

Orcas Island, for example, has a history of vaccine hesitancy.

While many on the island are ready for their shot, others may not be so eager. There are no public opinion polls that show what people on Orcas think about the Covid-19 vaccines. But public schools here have extremely low vaccine compliance rates. A total of 93% of 6th grade students were out of compliance during the 2018-2019 school year. That means as far as the school knows, very few kids are fully vaccinated. And that is a concern for local public health officials.

Ellen Wilcox is the Covid Emergency Operations Section Chief in San Juan County. She says that folks likely aren't against the vaccine, rather, they're jsut procrastinators.

As the Covid vaccine gets rolled out, the county is planning to hold conversations over Zoom with health care workers and pharmacists to make sure people on the front lines are armed with the facts. And with that approach Wilcox expects most people will decide to get vaccinated.

More details here.

— David Hyde

Pierce County Council rejects proposal to dissolve health department

10 a.m. — The Pierce County Council has failed to pass a proposal aimed as dissolving the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

Some on the Council wanted the health department brought strictly under council control.

Tuesday night's vote was held, even though Governor Jay Inslee issued a proclamation this week banning the breakup of health departments during the pandemic.

Among those who voted against the proposal was Councilmember Pam Roach who sponsored the legislation. She told the Tacoma News Tribune that after hearing hours of public comment against the proposal "It was the right thing to do.”

Roach initially supported the plan to dissolve the city/county partnership that makes up the health department, saying a health department run by the county council rather than a board of elected and community leaders would better represent residents throughout the entire county.

— Angela King

JBLM begins giving vaccine

8 a.m. — Critical medical staff and first responders at JBLM will start getting vaccinated against Covid-19 Wednesday.

Madigan Army Medical center was one of the first military installations in the country to receive the vaccine.

According to a base health care website: "Getting the vaccine is voluntary, but all DoD personnel are encouraged to get it to protect their health, their families and their community. Early in the COVID-19 vaccination program, there will be a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine(s)..."

Base officials will fist distribute the vaccines to health care workers, vulnerable populations, personnel working on "national capabilities," and some deploying individuals.

— Angela King

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 15

First Seattle health care workers vaccinated against Covid-19

4:55 p.m. — On Tuesday, Seattle hit a historic milestone as around a dozen health care workers and first responders were vaccinated against Covid-19 at UW Medical Center in Montlake in what was a first run of vaccinations. Second in line was emergency room nurse Emily Agudo, who works at UW Medical Center – Northwest.

“There’s a lot of fear of, ‘Are we wearing the right [personal protective equipment]?” said Amy Fry, a Harborview Covid intensive care unit nurse. “People come in with abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting … Is it food poisoning, is it your appendix rupturing? Or is it Covid?”

Today, getting vaccinated was a relief, she said.

Giving her the injection was Allison Miller, who usually works on a floor that treats leukemia and lymphoma patients. Miller was one of several people administering the vaccine.

Miller’s voice waivered as she asked the vaccine recipients a set of standard screening questions.

For each vaccination, Miller removed the syringe and needle from their packaging, inserted in the needle into a vial of Pfizer-BioNtech Covid vaccine reconstituted with sodium-chloride, and drew a dose of 0.3 milliliters.

“The skills are the same but it holds a much greater weight because of what we’ve all been through,” she said. “I gave birth at the end of February, and it’s been a really isolating time for me — just keeping a newborn safe during all of these unknowns.

Read more here.

— Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

Inslee "pauses" Pierce County plans to switch up health department amid pandemic

11 a.m. — Governor Inslee has issued a proclamation that will "pause” any efforts to terminate a health district or city-county public health department right now.

The move comes in response to an attempt by the Pierce County Council to dissolve and replace the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department as the Covid-19 pandemic continues at its highest levels.

Inslee called the effort “reckless and dangerous."

"Because we need these public health folks totally focused on vaccine delivery efforts to prevent the spread of this pandemic," Inslee said. "They cannot be frustrated in that work by extraneous debates."

Inslee says he’s not taking a position on Pierce County's efforts. But he says he doesn’t want public health staff to get distracted or demoralized at such a crucial time.

— Amy Radil

Hospitals practicing vaccine distribution

9 a.m. — Local hospitals are getting ready to administer the first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. Now it comes down to the nitty-gritty.

June Altaras is Chief Nursing Officer for MultiCare Health. She says their hospital in Pierce County/Tacoma is doing multiple vaccination "run-throughs" this week.

"We’ll find where the glitches are that you think work on paper and we’ll check and adjust all those little glitches and practice again," Altaras said.

Altaras says Multicare expects to receive its vaccine doses Thursday and will start giving them to health care workers Friday.

After they get the shot, the health care workers will need to be monitored for 15 minutes in case they have any immediate reactions to the vaccine.

— Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

Western Washington nurses eager to get in line for a vaccine

8 a.m. — Nurses and front line workers in Washington are "excited, nervous, and hopeful."

Those were some of the reactions heard from nurses and other employees here at Evergreen Hospital in Kirkland, not far from where the first major Covid-19 outbreak happed in the state, at a long-term care facility.

This hospital had some of the first Covid patients in the country, and has been treating a surge of patients for months.

Employees weren't comfortable being recorded for radio, but said that they hope to be vaccinated soon. So far they haven't heard when that might be.

The state department of health says Evergreen could receive its doses and start vaccinating next week. High-risk health workers are expected to be at the front of the line to get a shot.

More than 400,000 doses are expected in Washington by the end of the year.

— Casey Martin

caption: University of Washington Medical Center Pharmacy Manager Christine Meyer puts a tray of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine into the deep freeze after the vaccine arrived at the University of Washington Medical Center's Montlake campus Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Seattle.
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University of Washington Medical Center Pharmacy Manager Christine Meyer puts a tray of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine into the deep freeze after the vaccine arrived at the University of Washington Medical Center's Montlake campus Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Seattle.
Credit: (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times via AP, Pool)

Vaccines are here

7 a.m. — Thousand of doses of Pfizer's new coronavirus vaccine arrived in Seattle Monday.

"So they're little vials, there's four pizza boxes like Domino trays. Each one of those boxes has 195 vials," said UW Medicine's Chief Pharmacy Officer Steve Fijalka.

UW Medicine received nearly 4,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and it will split them up between four UW hospitals.

We're set to receive between 200,000 - 400,000 doses by the end of the month, if Moderna's vaccine gets approved. The process to approve Moderna's vaccine is already underway.

More details here.

— Angela King

MONDAY, DECEMBER 14

Now it comes down to the nitty-gritty for Covid vaccine injections

3:22 p.m. Now that the first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine are in Washington state, hospitals are firming up the details of how they’ll vaccinate their first employees.

MultiCare in Pierce county plans to receive vaccines Thursday and give the injections to health care workers Friday, said Chief Nursing Officer June Altaras.

There are lot of logistics to smooth out, such as where people who get the vaccine can be observed for fifteen minutes afterward, as the CDC recommends.

“We’re trying to assure that the spaces we have allow for the six feet of social distancing for people to have that fifteen minute observation period while we’re trying to get as many people vaccinated as soon as possible,” she said.

The hospital is doing “table-top” exercises of the vaccination process today and Wednesday, Altaras said.

“We’ll find where the glitches are that you think work on paper, and we’ll check and adjust all those little glitches and practice again.”

Many hospitals are thinking of vaccinating workers at the end of their work schedule, so they would have a few days off in case they have side effects, said Washington State Hospital Association CEO Cassie Sauer.

Pierce county is getting just under 2,000 doses of the first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine, and King county is getting over ten-thousand doses.

Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

caption: University of Washington Medical Center Montlake campus pharmacy administration resident Derek Pohlmeyer, left, and UWMC pharmacy director Michael Alwan transport a box containing Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines toward a waiting vehicle headed to the UW Medical Center's other hospital campuses on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Seattle.
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University of Washington Medical Center Montlake campus pharmacy administration resident Derek Pohlmeyer, left, and UWMC pharmacy director Michael Alwan transport a box containing Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines toward a waiting vehicle headed to the UW Medical Center's other hospital campuses on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Seattle.
Credit: (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times via AP, Pool)

Covid-19 vaccine arrives in Washington

1 p.m. — The first doses of a Covid-19 vaccine authorized for public use have arrived in Washington state.

Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane and Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland are receiving vaccine shipments, said Elaine Couture Chief Executive of Washington-Montana for Providence Health & Services. Health care workers will get vaccinated starting next Monday.

Confluence Health in Wenatchee will receive vaccine doses tomorrow and plans to vaccinate staff on Thursday, according to CEO Dr. Peter Rutherford said. Staff in the ER and ICU will get doses, including nurses, respiratory therapists, nursing assistants and doctors.

On Thursday, MultiCare will receive the first vaccine doses for Pierce County and the hospital is getting ready to vaccinate on Friday.

Long-term care facilities are among the first in line to get priority for the vaccine, but will not begin vaccinating until next Monday, most likely.

The first shipment of vaccines are expected to be distributed to locations in the following counties at these amounts (exact locations are not provided):

  • King County: 3,900
  • King County: 3,900
  • Spokane County: 3,900
  • Clark County: 3,900
  • Yakima County: 1,950
  • Benton County: 1,950
  • Pierce County: 1,950
  • Grant County: 975
  • Chelan County: 975
  • Asotin County: 975
  • King County: 975
  • King County: 975
  • King County: 975
  • Island County: 975
  • Clallam County: 975
  • Jefferson County: 975
  • Okanogan County: 975

Read more about the state's plan for distributing the vaccine here.

—Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

Christmas quarantining should begin now

Noon — If you haven't started your quarantine already, do not gather with people outside your household this Christmas. That's the advice from King County health officials.

Covid rates are still at the highest they've been since the outbreak started. Hundreds of people in the county are currently hospitalized with Covid.

And officials says any uptick could put hospitals over the edge and force them to make hard decisions about rationing care.

That said, the governor's newest shutdown of indoor dining and other higher-risk activities does seem to be working. Officials also say we've helped slow the spread by canceling Thanksgiving plans and other gatherings.

The number of new cases per day isn't going up — currently — and neither are new hospitalizations.

For things to continue in the right direction, they say, people need to cancel their holiday plans unless they've already started their quarantine.

— Eilis O'Neil

Shorter timeline for booking Covid-19 tests in King County ahead of Christmas

11 a.m. — You can no longer book free Covid-19 tests several days ahead of time in King County. Public Health Seattle and King County wants people who have symptoms or who've been exposed to receive testing priority.

The county shortened the testing appointment schedule with the hope of discouraging people from traveling for Christmas.

"Even not taking into account travel we were inadvertently allowing people to think it was OK if they had symptoms or exposure to wait that long to be tested," said Dr. Mark Del Beccaro, who leads the county's testing strategy.

He says people can only make an appointment a couple days in advance.

The county has 11 free testing sites, and plans to open a new one in Bellevue this week.

For those who need to expand their household bubble, or travel, it's recommended you: quarantine for two weeks beforehand, or quarantine for seven full days then test negative for Covid-19.

— Paige Browning

Covid vaccine: The fine print

10:33 am. — With all the excitement surrounding the vaccine, states are required to share data with the feds.

The CDC had originally asked states to provide the name, birthdate and other personal information of people receiving the vaccine. The data would help monitor adverse reactions and pockets of undervaccination, and to determine vaccine allocation.

But that got some pushback from states like Washington.

Michele Roberts, Acting Assistant Secretary at the state Department of Health, says after some back and forth with the CDC, they've reached a revised agreement.

"One of the pieces is, we will not be sharing identifiers like names," she said.

The state will provide limited data like zip codes instead of addresses.

To address hesitancy or distrust, Roberts adds that they're reaching out to groups who've been hit hard by the virus, like communities of color, to ask what questions they might have and tailoring messages to address their concerns.

— Ruby de Luna

Rural hospitals unprepared for pandemic event

9 a.m. — Experts say the Northwest’s -- and nation’s -- rural healthcare system simply weren’t designed to handle a pandemic, or a once-in-50-year event.

Rural hospitals can give basic care anytime, but not the specialized care needed in this pandemic. That’s according to Bill Finerfrock, executive director of the National Association of Rural Health Clinics.

“So, while they can say 'Yes, we have a hospital,' the kinds of services that hospital in that rural community is going to provide are not what they would get if they got to Wentachee, or if they got to Seattle or the Tri-Cities area,” Finerfrock said.

Already, Northwest rural health providers say they are nearly overwhelmed by the late-in-the-year surge. And larger hospitals could become too overloaded to absorb rural patients.

— Anna King

Eastside's first free Covid-19 testing site opens Tuesday

8 a.m. — The Eastside will get its first free, high-capacity Covid-19 testing site on Tuesday.

It will be located at Bellevue College and will run Monday through Saturday.

Appointments are encouraged, but not required. The county already has 11 free testing sites.

— Angela King

Western states give Pfizer's vaccine a thumbs up

7 a.m. — Washington is ready to go, according to the governor's office. Officials are prepares to receive the first doses of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine today.

The first doses are expected to be administered on Tuesday.

The vaccine went through extra step of scrutiny over the weekend after it was approved for emergency use by federal officials. The Western States Scientific Review Workgroup signed off on Pfizer's vaccine on Sunday, saying it's safe and effective.

That unanimous finding clears the way for frontline healthcare workers, first responders, and those in long-term care facilities to start getting inoculated.

— Angela King

Read previous updates here.