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Washington officials see encouraging signs in virus data

December 17, 2020 GMT
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Maj. Jeffery Wittkopp, left, a Physician Assistant in the Emergency Department at Madigan Army Medical Center, receives one of the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 from nurse Jose Picart, right, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, south of Seattle. Vaccinations are scheduled to continue in the coming weeks for front-line medical workers and and others in high-priority positions at the base. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
1 of 6
Maj. Jeffery Wittkopp, left, a Physician Assistant in the Emergency Department at Madigan Army Medical Center, receives one of the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 from nurse Jose Picart, right, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, south of Seattle. Vaccinations are scheduled to continue in the coming weeks for front-line medical workers and and others in high-priority positions at the base. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Coronavirus infections remain rampant, but health officials in Washington state said Wednesday they’re seeing some encouraging signs in recent data, just as front-line workers begin receiving vaccinations.

Health Department Secretary Dr. John Wiesman and Dr. Kathy Lofy, the state health officer, said new cases and hospitalizations appear to be flattening a bit.

However, they warned people to remain vigilant and to remain home for the holidays, because another surge on top of current case levels could swamp hospital capacity. The state has not seen a jump in cases related to Thanksgiving gatherings.

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“We are pleased that we seem to be bending the curve, and yet we have not yet plateaued,” Wiesman said in an online news conference.

Lofy noted that hospital bed occupancy has even started falling in southwest Washington, but case numbers in the central part of the state have been more troubling. Overall, just under 13% of the state’s acute-care beds are occupied by COVID patients; officials would prefer to see that number below 10%.

Frontline hospital workers began receiving Pfizer’s COVID vaccine on Tuesday, and officials hope residents of long-term care facilities will begin receiving the shots Monday, though questions remain about which facilities will receive the first doses. Vaccinations for these groups are estimated to be complete by mid-to late January, and then the vaccine can start to be offered to the next eligible groups, according to state health officials.

Michele Roberts, one of the leaders of the Washington state Department of Health vaccine planning group, said about 31,000 doses have arrived in the state, and another 31,000 are expected this week. Those doses will be delivered to 39 sites covering 29 counties, state health officials said Wednesday evening in a news release. Additionally, the state said 1950 total doses will go to three tribes or Urban Indian Health Programs this week.

Officials expect to receive another 74,100 doses of the Pfizer vaccine next week and 85,800 the week of Dec. 29, the state Department of Health said.

If the Food and Drug Administration authorizes Moderna’s vaccine by Friday, officials expect nearly 184,000 doses of that version to arrive in Washington between next week and the end of the year.

Also Wednesday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan extended an eviction moratorium in the city, which now goes through March 31, 2021. The mayor’s executive order also temporarily suspended late fees for utilities through June 30, 2021.

The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States was in Washington in January. The state also saw the nation’s first deadly outbreak at a nursing home, at the LifeCare Center of Kirkland. Since the start of the pandemic there have been about 205,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Washington and nearly 3,000 deaths.