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Washington preparing for vaccine distribution, as CDC director warns mass availability will not be until spring or summer

State health officials are preparing their statewide vaccination plans to ensure that Washington is ready to receive vaccinations when they are approved.

While there might be limited doses available in November or December, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield told senators on Wednesday that the vaccine will not be widely available until spring or summer in 2021.

“I think there will be vaccine that is initially available between November and December and very limited supply and will have to be prioritized,” he told senators in a sub-committee hearing.

“… When will it be generally available to the American public so we can take advantage of a vaccine to get back to our regular life? I think we are probably looking at late second quarter, third quarter 2021,” he added.

State Health Officer Kathy Lofy said that the state plans to use the same system they use to distribute vaccines for the childhood vaccine program because the infrastructure is already in place. Providers must enroll in the COVID-19 vaccination program, however, and on Wednesday, state health officials received the draft agreement for providers to enroll. Ensuring that hospitals and clinics enroll will be vital to ensuring the vaccine is offered statewide.

“Making sure the distribution of the vaccine goes well and smoothly is one of the logistical issues we’re dealing with,” Lofy said.

Tracking the vaccines also will present a challenge because health officials expect that there could be more than one vaccine that comes to the market. Providers will need to track which kind of vaccine a patient receives in order to receive the correct second dose, for two-dose vaccinations.

“There are likely to be multiple vaccines, so some of them require different storage, some will be distributed differently, some will be held at cold temperatures, so there’s a lot of logistics that will have to be worked out and tracked,” State Secretary of Health John Wiesman told reporters Wednesday.

States must submit their vaccine distribution plans to the CDC by Oct. 16, Wiesman said.

Tracking COVID-19 in Washington has presented public health officials with mixed results, new data published by the Department of Health show.

Department of Health staff are conducting case and contact investigations for 16 counties statewide. In August, of the confirmed COVID-19 cases investigators reached out to, an average of 61% of people with COVID-19 were actually interviewed by staff members. This figure falls far below the state’s goal of 90% of the patients being reached within one day of the department receiving their cases.

Lofy said department staff are struggling to get in touch with people, despite being required to call a person four times, and even if they do get to interview someone with COVID-19, patients often are reluctant to reveal contact information for people they have been in contact with.

“We need help from the public: we need folks to answer their phones, call us back quickly and to share information about their contacts so we can reach out to their contacts, so they are aware of their potential exposure,” Lofy said.

The state plans to collect and publish case and contact investigation data in the coming weeks, as well as eventually incorporate the local health jurisdiction data that they are not collecting for tracing currently.

The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 62 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, and two more residents have died from the virus.

Case counts have appeared to bump up since Labor Day weekend, and Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz said case investigators are tracing cases primarily to workplaces, in various sectors, as well as some continued outbreaks in long-term care facilities.

“It can be as simple as going into the break room and people not wearing masks,” he said.

Spokane County surpassed the 6,000 case mark on Wednesday, with 6,040 total cases confirmed to date. The health district estimates that 80% of these cases are considered recovered. There are currently 34 patients being treated for COVID-19 in local hospitals, and 30 of them are county residents.

The incidence rate in Spokane County has appeared to plateau after dropping significantly in August. There are currently 100 cases per 100,000 residents, a rate still too high to consider hybrid models of school, according to the state health department standards.

Whitman County, home of Washington State University, announced only one new COVID-19 case on Wednesday, for a total number of cases of 1,066, Whitman County Public Health said in a news release.

The Panhandle Health District, which serves five counties in North Idaho, reported 40 new cases on Tuesday for a total of 3,053 total cases.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee lifted the ban on receptions for weddings and funerals, which had been in place since July, and replaced it with new restrictions that limit their size.

The receptions can be no larger than 30 people or 25% of the venue’s capacity, whichever is less. Seating at the tables must be done by household, and can’t have more than five per table. Facial covering and social distancing is required.

Inslee also issued an update for areas hit by wildfires to the exemption from the state’s requirements for government bodies to hold open public meetings. Under the emergency rules for COVID-19, those meetings occur remotely, not in person.

In areas where wildfires have interrupted or degraded telecommunications equipment, however, those meetings can take place in person, with a limit on the number of people present connected to rules for that particular county. Face coverings and social distancing is also required.

The exemption to the ban on public meetings is in place until October 1 or when power is restored to an area, whichever happens first.

S-R reporter Jim Camden contributed to this story.

Arielle Dreher’s reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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