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Inslee warns of fourth Covid surge in Washington as variants spread, urges people to get vaccinated

Seattle Post-Intelligencer logo Seattle Post-Intelligencer 4/22/2021 By Becca Savransky, SeattlePI
a man wearing a suit and tie: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee approaches a podium outside of the governor's mansion on the Capitol campus Thursday, April 15, 2021, in Olympia, Wash. © Rachel La Corte, AP

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee approaches a podium outside of the governor's mansion on the Capitol campus Thursday, April 15, 2021, in Olympia, Wash.

Washington is continuing to see what looks like a fourth surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. 

The spread of new variants and the opening of more activities, combined with the fact that a significant portion of the state is not yet fully vaccinated, is creating a situation that is allowing the virus to spread more quickly. 

"This is the beginning of a fourth wave and we are starting unfortunately at a higher level than the other waves have started from," Gov. Jay Inslee said during a news conference Thursday. "We know that we're not as high as we have been in the third wave ... but we're heading in that direction and that is simply too dangerous to persist."

According to the most recent complete data from the Department of Health, the state has been seeing an average of more than 1,200 new cases per day over the previous seven days, up significantly from mid-March, when Washington was reporting fewer than 700 new cases per day. 

Incomplete data as of April 18 showed the state was seeing an average of 59 hospitalizations per day over the seven days prior, up from mid-March, when the state was seeing about 35 hospitalizations per day. 

Younger adults have also been seeing higher rates of cases, as a majority of older adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine. 

"One of the significant reasons is we have new mutations of this virus, variants. These variants are, some of them more transmittable, possibly more dangerous," Inslee said. "We believe that the presence and increase of the variants is one of the reasons we're seeing this spike." 

Most counties across the state are still in Phase 3, meaning indoor places including restaurants and gyms can be open at 50% capacity. More people gathering together, especially indoors, gives the virus more opportunities to spread. Inslee announced earlier this month three counties would be moving back to Phase 2 after exceeding both thresholds on case rates and hospitalizations needed to stay in the third phase of the state's reopening.

Now, many more counties could be in danger of having to move back a phase when the state reassesses in early May.

More people are getting vaccinated, and the state last week opened up eligibility to every adult 16 and older. But still, about three-quarters of Washington residents are not yet fully vaccinated, and the state is continuing to struggle with limited vaccine supply. 

Even though people in some areas are continuing to struggle to find open appointments, other vaccination sites — such as two in South King County — are reporting large numbers of available slots

"Obviously, having confidence in the vaccine is important for people to come in and get the vaccine," Inslee said. "All of us I think need to help one another build confidence in the vaccine. That's important for their lives. it's important for our lives."

Officials over the past four months have been working to eliminate challenges people have faced to getting the vaccine, including those stemming from technology, transportation or language barriers. Officials have also worked to spread accurate information about the vaccine, including that all of the vaccines are safe and effective.

But some people remain unsure.

"I'm sure you've heard people that have said, 'Well I'm kind of on the fence on this vaccine," Inslee said. "Being on the fence is too dangerous a position right now."

There are still hundreds of thousands of adults 60 and older who have not yet received the vaccine, Inslee said. Older adults face a higher risk of getting severely ill from the virus, which is why the state prioritized older adults initially in its rollout. 

Anyone feeling hesitant about getting the vaccine should talk to their medical providers or other experts to learn more about the vaccines, Inslee said.

Until more people are vaccinated, officials are urging people to do everything they can to slow the spread of the virus, including wearing masks, social distancing, avoiding large gatherings and — as the weather warms up — taking it outside. 

"The situation is we'd like to be done with the virus," Inslee said, "but the virus is not done with us."

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