OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee is moving to open several state-run COVID-19 vaccination sites as the rapid spread of the Omicron variant fuels a rise in cases and threatens to further strain Washington’s overtaxed health care system.
On Wednesday, Inslee said a mass vaccination site will be opened in Western Washington and the state Department of Health will stand up large and small sites across the state. The purpose is to increase access to both vaccines and boosters, he said.
“We know we can do things to protect ourselves,” Inslee said. “Thousands of Washingtonians have already got their booster shot. We know that boosters are the optimum protection we can provide for ourselves.”
Further details, including locations, are likely to be released soon, his spokeswoman said.
Meanwhile, hospitals across the state are nearing or at capacity, once again forcing the delay of important surgeries for patients.
Most hospital beds are not filled with COVID patients at the moment. But hospital officials said Thursday they are concerned that situation could change once the fast-moving Omicron variant becomes more firmly rooted in the state.
While vaccinated individuals appear protected against more severe consequences of the virus, there are people ending up in the hospital and dying from the new variant, hospital officials said in a news conference Thursday hosted by the Washington State Hospital Association.
“We do not have the capacity to handle a new surge like the last one with Delta,” said Mark Taylor, director of operations for the Washington Medical Coordinating Center.
Across the state, many beds are occupied by people who don’t need to be in the hospital. They require services in a long term care facility, but there is nowhere to send them, officials said.
Dr. George Diaz, division chief of medicine at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, said of the hospital’s 600 beds, about 120 are filled with such individuals. COVID patients account for about 40 to 50 patients, he said.
The Omicron variant is quickly becoming the dominant strain. Delta accounted for 100% of COVID cases in Washington in October and November. The first cases of Omicron in Washington were confirmed Dec. 4. By Dec. 18, it accounted for nearly 16% of new infections.
Over the past two weeks Washington averaged more than 1,500 new, likely cases of COVID-19 a day, according to state health officials.
Its rapid spread is stirring a renewed push for vaccinations from Inslee and health care experts.
As of Monday, 82.2% of Washington residents 12 and older had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 75.6% were fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Health website. Overall, 62.5% of the state’s entire population is fully vaccinated.
In Snohomish County, 79.9% of those 12 and older had started the vaccination process while 63.6% of all county residents were fully vaccinated.
The state Department of Health operated four mass vaccination sites between late January and June. Those were closed, or control had been handed off to local authorities, as the agency shifted its energy into mobile vaccine clinics.
In Snohomish County, there is a drive-thru mass vaccination site at the Ash Way Park & Ride lot, 16327 Ash Way, Lynnwood. It is run by the Snohomish Health District and is open from 9 a.m. to 4 pm. Wednesday through Friday. It will be closed Friday, Dec. 31.
First and second doses, third doses to eligible individuals, and booster doses are available for those 12 years and older. Pediatric doses for children under the age of 12 are not available at the drive-thru site, health district spokesperson Kari Bray said.
They are administering between 450 and 550 vaccinations each day of operation, she said. They hope to up that to 650 per day in the new year, and are looking at more incremental increases moving forward to help respond to demand, she said.
Appointments are required and they fill quickly. Information can be found online at snohd.org/drivethru, including info and registration links for vaccination as well as testing.