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There’s ‘still time’ to slow the spread of COVID-19, prevent fourth wave

A notice outside Lumen Field's mass vaccination site in Seattle. (MyNorthwest photo)

Despite the state’s progress in vaccinations against COVID-19, health officials say we are on the brink of a fourth wave.

State Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shah said Wednesday that after coming down from the third wave, cases are now going back up again sharply.

“We’re starting to see, potentially, the beginning of a fourth wave. Whatever progress we had made from the third wave appears to have plateaued, and now we’re moving in a direction that is concerning,” Shah said.

“It’s a delicate time for all of us because we know the wave is starting to come back and we don’t want that to happen,” he added.

He explained that the vaccine alone is not enough to stop the spread because not enough people have been vaccinated yet to have herd immunity. At this point, we still have to rely on people changing their behaviors to help limit the spread of the virus. Officials say the virus is spreading fastest among young adults who are going to bars and traveling.

“Really measuring, ‘Do I really need to go on spring break to Mexico? Do I really need to travel unless it’s essential?’ All these are behaviors we can do right now,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist. “The vaccine is clearly a great strategy, but the behaviors have turned all these waves around previously, and so it can be done with this one also.”

Dr. Shah says “we are racing against the clock” when it comes to vaccines as a fourth wave looks likely.

“There is still time and there is hope: vaccines are safe, effective, and already working to protect communities,” Shah wrote on Twitter.

As of Thursday, all adults in Washington age 16 or older will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. Even with the pause in Johnson & Johnson vaccinations while it is being further investigated after six reports of rare blood clots, the state has expressed confidence that it will continue to have supply for appointments thanks to Moderna and Pfizer.

As of April 10, more than 4.2 million doses of vaccine have been given statewide, and almost 35% of the population has at least one dose.

“We ask for your patience as open eligibility starts, but when the vaccine is available — don’t hesitate, vaccinate,” Shah tweeted. “Getting vaccinated means protecting yourself and your loved ones, and taking a critical step to get back to your normal life before the pandemic.”

In their weekly briefing, state officials with the Department of Health said people not getting vaccinated isn’t just about low supply or vaccine hesitancy, but about lack of access. To help resolve that problem, all four of the state’s mass vaccination sites will be open in the evenings at least twice a week to accommodate more people who work during the day. The site in Yakima run by FEMA is open until 7 p.m. every day, and that will be extended to 8 p.m. starting April 25.

KIRO Radio’s Nicole Jennings contributed to this report.

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