Inslee Touts Vaccine Progress and Defends Criticism From Democratic Lawmakers on His Reopening Plan


Washington has now administered 770,000 vaccine doses for the new coronavirus, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday, and the state is ready to give many more shots once the federal government can deliver more supplies, and the city of Seattle is making plans to do the same.

In a news conference, Inslee said Washington is now averaging about 28,000 vaccinations per day, nearly double the average of two weeks ago.

"We are capable of meeting our goal today, we can easily do 45,000 vaccinations today," said Inslee. "We have the vaccinators, we have the logistics, we have the pop-up tents, we have the hospitals ... it's just that we've got to have the vaccines."

The governor Thursday also defended his latest reopening plan after criticism — including from some Democratic officials — on the state's new regional approach, rather than county-by-county.

Under that plan, King, Snohomish and five other counties in two regions have been allowed to ease some restrictions, such as the adding back some indoor dining. But six of eight regions under the plan, which encompass most of Washington's 39 counties, remain under tighter restrictions.

A trio of Democratic lawmakers from the Olympic Peninsula on Friday blasted the governor, saying that his latest plan "has left Clallam and Jefferson counties at a standstill for no good reason."

In a statement, Democrats Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim, and Reps. Steve Tharinger of Port Townsend and Mike Chapman of Port Angeles said they had long stood behind Inslee's leadership during the pandemic and "supported the often-difficult decisions he has had to make."

"With these latest moves, however, we have lost faith that the governor is on a course to safely open Washington and beat COVID-19," the lawmakers added.

The lawmakers described Inslee's reopening plan as "senseless punishment of counties with low COVID-19 rates ..."

In response, Inslee said Thursday he respected the critiques.

"There are 10,000 legitimate criticisms of what we've done here," said Inslee. "Where we've drawn the lines, how fast we set the metrics."

"To those who've argued that a county approach would be better, I understand those arguments," he said. But officials chose the regional approached since the hospitals in different parts of the state share capacity among them in an interconnected system, he said.

The governor encouraged counties around the state to continue to bring down their numbers in order to reopen. And Inslee urged Washingtonians to limit their social gatherings during this weekend's NFL Super Bowl.

"We don't want the virus to win the Super Bowl," he said.

Demand for the vaccine in Washington, as throughout the country, continues to far outpace supply.

Health care providers submitted requests to the state Department of Health for more than 358,000 first doses of vaccine this week, officials said. The department had 107,000 first doses to give out, fulfilling less than a third of orders.

The state distributed about 59,000 doses meant to be the second dose a person receives, about 15,000 fewer than providers requested.

"The math doesn't work, we don't have enough vaccine," State Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shah said of people's frustration with the process.

Shah said the state was working to satisfy two priorities: getting vaccines distributed as quickly as possible and also distributing them fairly and equitably.

"Everybody is challenged by the same proposition," Shah said. "Yes, we want to get vaccine out to as many people as possible as quickly as possible, but we want to make sure all communities can share in that, the ability to get protected with this incredibly precious resource we have."

Last month, the state announced a new rule: Providers must use at least 95% of the doses they receive within a week of receiving them, or they will receive fewer doses next time.

This week, 39 providers, out of more than 1,100, had their orders reduced because they did not meet the 95% threshold, said Michele Roberts, acting assistant health secretary.

As vaccination has opened up to a broader population, the state has changed where it's sending its vaccine. Early on, when primarily health care workers were being vaccinated, more than 70% of doses went to hospitals, Roberts said. Now, hospitals are getting only about a quarter of all doses, with others going to community health centers, pharmacies and mass vaccination sites.

To help connect different communities with vaccines, the state is spending $1 million on messaging, Inslee said Thursday, which will be communicated in more than 40 languages.

Also on Thursday, Seattle unveiled a rough blueprint that the city hopes will allow for 70% of residents and workers to get vaccinated by the end of October.

The plan is entirely dependent on supply of vaccine from the federal government and is based on "current dose increases mapped out by the new federal administration," said Kelsey Nyland, a spokesperson for Mayor Jenny Durkan.

"With the systems we're building, should supply increase beyond current projections, we could speed up our operations even faster." Nyland said.

The current assumptions are that the federal government will have 200 million doses by March and 600 million by fall, according to the city. The city assumes 160,000 doses for King County in February, with 5% to 6% increases in supply each month.

The city is planning for mass vaccination sites spread throughout the city. That includes potential Seattle Fire Department-operated sites in West Seattle and South Seattle and sites in partnership with health care providers downtown and in North Seattle.

"The City is working closely with our health care providers to create a coordinated infrastructure to scale as the City and County receive more doses," the plan says.


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