A sign indicating where to wait at a West Seattle vaccination clinic. (Photo MonNord-Ouest)
Despite the full reopening of the state this week for the first time since the start of the pandemic, state health officials are warning that we have not seen the end of our COVID problems.
With vaccinations capped and new variants spreading, heads of state say it would be premature to consider the pandemic over as we celebrate the reopening.
As state epidemiologist Dr Scott Lindquist explained, even with 69% of people vaccinated – just a percentage point below the state’s 70% target – we can’t say Washington has collective immunity. This is because the distribution of vaccines is not distributed evenly.
“[Herd immunity] suppose there is universal [protection] across the state, if we say 70% vaccinated, that means universal statewide, and that’s just not what we’re seeing in Washington, ”he said . “We are seeing very large pockets of low vaccination rates. “
State officials worried about Gamma variant ahead of summer events
And the three main variants of the condition – Alpha, Gamma and Delta – are wreaking havoc among these unvaccinated groups.
Unlike other parts of the world, there don’t seem to be many variant cases in people vaccinated in our state, which shows that our vaccines seem to work against them.
King County public health official Dr Jeff Duchin said last month it was only a matter of time before unvaccinated people caught any of these variants.
Lindquist called efforts to prevent the spread of the variant as a “race against time” to get people vaccinated.
“It’s rolling the dice so you don’t get vaccinated,” Secretary of State for Health Dr Umair Shah said. “It’s a preventable disease and even hospitalization.”
While our overall cases are not skyrocketing like other countries hit hard by Delta, the percentages of our cases consisting of Delta and Gamma are increasing. This worries health officials because Gamma causes more hospitalizations than other COVID mutations.
The good news is that while Delta is causing more serious COVID infections around the world, in Washington it doesn’t appear to be the case.
“The big question that is on everyone’s mind is whether the Delta variant is becoming predominant and aggressive?” Says Lindquist.
State officials say it’s possible the masking – or even closures – will return if the variant situation gets much worse. However, now is not the time and the reopening is not stopped.
“We are not yet in a position to withdraw a mask warrant,” said Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary of the state’s COVID response team. “We are also very closely monitoring the emergence of these variants and the situation with them and our disease levels.”
Shah said it was impossible to predict what might happen down the road with this new virus, but the only thing that is certain is that the vaccine is our tool to come out of the pandemic.
“Variants are the evolution of a virus, when you have a mutation and that virus has evolved. So we’ll never say never because we just don’t know what’s to come, ”Shah said. “But I’ll tell you, the more we vaccinate people, the more we protect ourselves. “