Fewer COVID restrictions, more vaccines

As of March 11, nearly 19 percent of Island County residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Despite a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in Island County, the pandemic-related news is relatively good for Whidbey Island residents this week.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday that the state’s phased “Roadmap to Recovery” plan will abandon the regional approach criticized by Island County leaders and return to a county-by-county evaluation process.

Inslee said the reestablishment of a Phase 3 will allow restaurants, retailers, fitness centers and other indoor spaces to open with up to 50 percent capacity; the limit in the current Phase 2 is 25 percent of capacity.

All counties will go to the third phase on March 22. And then beginning April 12, the counties will be evaluated by a couple of different metrics — the rates of new cases and new hospitalizations — to determine whether they remain in Phase 3.

For Island County to stay in the third phase, it must have fewer than 200 new cases per 100,000 people over the prior two-week period. Island County Public Health Director Keith Higman said the county hasn’t had a two-week rate of more than 200 new cases per 100,000 population, although it has gotten close in the past.

Higman said the two-week rate had been safely below 50 per 100,000 in February when a spike pushed it to 114 per 100,000 this month. The number of new cases increased by 25 from March 3 to March 5, which is a pretty big jump for Island County.

According to Higman, a single exposure accounted for 42 new cases in recent weeks. The outbreak does not involve a facility or business that is accessible to the public and therefore doesn’t represent an increased risk to the general public, he said.

Despite Island County’s history of below-average COVID rates, it had been held back earlier this year from advancing to Phase 2 because a regionalized phasing approach meant it was grouped with counties that weren’t doing as well.

Elected officials in Island County joined together and complained to the governor’s office about the unfairness of the approach, which resulted in counties like King and Snohomish — with steadily high COVID rates — being allowed to move to the second phase while Island County and the rest of the North Region remained in the first phase for a longer time.

In the meantime, Island County providers are making progress in vaccinating residents against COVID-19.

On March 11, the state reported that 16,004 primary doses have been administered in the county, which means nearly 19 percent of county residents have received at least one dose.

That’s slightly ahead of the statewide percentage.

Counting both first and second doses, nearly 25,000 vaccinations have been administered in the county. WhidbeyHealth Medical Center announced this week that it alone had surpassed 10,000 doses.

Inslee announced that a new category of people will be eligible for the vaccine a week earlier than previously planned. This second tier of Phase 1B includes people who work in grocery stores, agriculture and food processing.

President Joe Biden projected that there will be enough vaccines available in the nation to vaccinate all adults by the end of May, which is much faster than previous projections.

Yet Higman said the greater challenge will be distributing the vaccines to the far corners of the country in a timely manner.

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