Inslee extends restrictions, first vaccine shipments available mid-December

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Governor Jay Inslee announced Tuesday a three-week extension to the current Covid-19 restrictions that have closed indoor dining at bars and restaurants, limited occupancy at retail stores and closed gyms.

“This is because we remain concerned about Covid activity and we still do not have a clear picture of the situation following the Thanksgiving weekend,” the governor said during a December 8 press conference.

Inslee introduced the restrictions, which were set to expire Monday, December 14, in mid-November after a surge in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations. The restrictions are now set to expire January 4, but could end earlier if there is significant improvement before then, the governor said.

“And, unfortunately, people know it could end up longer if there’s a deterioration,” he said. “But at this moment, we wanted to strike the right balance of allowing business owners to plan their next several weeks and deal with this uncertainty of the data.”

Inslee also announced an additional $50 million in grants on top of the $135 million package he announced two weeks ago for businesses that have been hit hardest by restrictions. The additional funding, which is part of the state’s CARES Act funds that expire at the end of the year, allows the state to double the number of businesses that will be receiving grants, state department of commerce director Lisa Brown said.

“We are emphasizing that we would like businesses to complete the application by December 11 so we can go through the process to get the grants awarded by the end of the year and get those checks out by December 31,” Brown said.

More information on business grants and applications can be found at bit.ly/33TX-rrd.

Vaccine

Last week, Inslee and the Washington State Department of Health announced that they plan to begin administering a vaccine by mid-December. According to a December 3 press release, the federal government promised to provide the department of health with an initial allocation of about 62,400 doses of the Pfizer
vaccine.

The department of health says it will have 200,000 doses of the vaccine by the end of December.

“This is great news,” Inslee said. “We are very appreciative of the brilliant people who have developed what appears to be an effective vaccine.”

But the governor said the state department of health needs help providing the vaccine. He urged all clinics, pharmacies, hospitals and physicians to enroll with the department of health as
providers.

The first vaccinations will go to health care workers serving patients who either have confirmed or suspected Covid-19, along with staff and residents of long-term care facilities, according to the department.

While the number of doses has not been specified, the department of health expects to receive weekly vaccine shipments from the federal government starting in January, Inslee said. The decision on who will be vaccinated in later phases will rely on input from the state department of health’s community engagement and decisions made by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

To see where you may be in the vaccine line, check out The New York Times’ interactive tool here:  nyti.ms/3nb4wuM. By plugging in your age, county, profession and Covid-related health risks, you can see how many people are likely to receive the vaccine before you.

County

In a Whatcom County Health Department media briefing December 8, health department director Erika Lautenbach said the county has a case rate of 250 cases per 100,000 people tested. To put into context, the county’s highest surge during the summer was 80 cases per 100,000 people tested, Lautenbach said.

No known positive cases are believed to have been contracted in a school setting, she said.

Lautenbach said the state and county health departments are asking residents to stay home for the holidays and avoid travel. She encouraged individuals to find creative and loving ways to celebrate virtually with loved ones.

The health department and Whatcom Unified Command (WUC) consolidated the county’s mobile Covid-19 testing sites into one last week, moving all testing to the Northwest Washington Fair and Event Center in Lynden. The move to the fairgrounds, located at 1775 Front Street, allows for the health department and WUC to perform tests indoors so they can continue testing through winter weather conditions.

“We know that COVID-19 will be with us for some time – and ongoing testing will be needed even once a vaccine is available in our community,” said Erika Lautenbach, health department director, in a November 23 news release. “That’s why it is so important to have this new testing location established for the seasons to come, as it will be safe and accessible regardless of the variations in weather we can expect to experience from late fall through early spring.”

Testing is available Monday, Tuesday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1-4 p.m. and Wednesday and Friday 12-3 p.m. and 4-7 p.m. by appointment. Schedule an appointment online via TestDirectly.com/whatcom or by calling the test access scheduling line, 360/778-6075 between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays.

For updates to the testing schedule or locations, visit the health department’s website, whatcomcounty.us/covidtesting, or the department’s social media at Facebook.com/WhatcomCountyHealth.

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