As Washington state is experiencing a dramatic rise in COVID cases due to the Omicron variant, Gov. Jay Inslee announced steps today to contain the spread. Inslee did not announce any rollbacks, restrictions or closures.
“We are seeing more COVID cases now than at any point during the entire pandemic and our hospitalizations are near the peak of Delta. Omicron is more contagious, and more people will likely get sick,” Inslee said. “We are providing additional tools and resources to help protect Washingtonians.”
The governor’s announcement had three main components:
The administration has been working tirelessly to acquire at-home tests to help individuals have better access. The Department of Health has orders out for 5.5 million more at-home tests.
The state has received 800 thousand at-home tests, with the rest coming in the next week or two.
To help with distribution, the state has partnered with CareEvolution and Amazon to expand our testing infrastructure and create a web portal so families can order tests directly to their home for no charge. More than 3.5 million of the tests the state has ordered goes toward this effort. The expectation is that the portal will open mid-January.
“Amazon is pleased to bring needed COVID tests to individuals and families across Washington state through this partnership with Governor Inslee’s office to leverage our warehousing, logistics, package tracking, and last-mile delivery network” said Gopal Pillai, Vice President of Amazon Distribution & Fulfillment Services.
To ensure equitable access, the state also plans to make these tests available in other ways. This will include sending 1 million to schools to help schools meet increased testing needs and 1 million to local health organizations in order reach priority populations in their communities, such as people in long term care facilities, homeless shelters, or through key community organizations who serve people at increased risk for COVID-19 or lack of access to the online portal.
Increasing vaccination availability
As the governor and Trudi Inslee mentioned in their holiday message a few weeks ago, WA State Department of Health is working to expand booster vaccine availability and access and create more high throughput locations. We increased the capacity of the Auburn FEMA mobile vaccination clinic in King County so they could accommodate thousands more appointments per day. That site has tripled its output — it did have the capacity to do 500 shots a day, now it is up to capacity for 1,500. In addition, we will be adding another high-throughput site in Northwest Washington the week of January 18. More details on that can be expected from DOH shortly.
More protective masks are one of the best and fastest tools to help us fight the spread in the very near term. For this reason, the state intends to release about 10 million masks of different varieties from our state supply for distribution into local communities, including K-12 schools, in the coming weeks. Local and state emergency management distribution channels will be used, as well as local health departments and our K-12 infrastructure to make these available quickly for those who wish to use them.
Intention to have schools remain open
The governor also talked about his strong desire to keep students in classroom learning.
“Students have lost too much already during this pandemic. Over the coming months, some classrooms may have to close. We will have to soldier through some frustrations, and I believe we will do that successfully,” Inslee said. “That is why we are focused heavily on making sure tests, masks, and vaccines are readily available for our school staff and students. I would also like to reiterate my gratitude for how educators have handled and are still managing the challenges created by the pandemic. You all have made it possible for students to successfully return safely and we want them to stay there.”
Watch the governor’s full press conference.