OLYMPIA — Another 2 million Washingtonians will soon be eligible for COVID-19 shots as vaccination rates improve and the supply surges, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday.
Starting March 31, restaurant and construction workers, and everyone over the age of 60, will be among those able to get a shot as the state extends eligibility into the third and fourth tiers of Phase 1B of its vaccination plan.
The move comes with the state expecting about 600,000 doses each week from the federal government in April, nearly doubling the current supply, the state Department of Health said.
“This timeline is much faster than we would have predicted a few months ago,” Inslee said. “And it’s thanks to the tremendous work of the Biden administration of dramatically increasing the production of these vaccines.”
The governor also eased rules for visitation at nursing homes and long-term care facilities as more vulnerable residents receive the potentially life-saving shots.
Outdoor visitation remains the safest, preferred option, but indoor visitation will be allowed for visitors or residents who are fully vaccinated. Compassionate care visits will continue to be allowed, regardless of vaccination status.
The governor also extended a moratorium on evictions through June 30 and a ban on utility shutoffs to the end of July. The eviction moratorium has been in place for a year and extended several times. It was scheduled to expire March 31.
It bans, with limited exceptions, residential evictions and late fees. It also requires landlords to offer residents a repayment plan for missed rent checks.
“If you can pay rent, pay it,” Inslee said. “It is the right thing to do.”
A continuing concern of landlords is whether they’ll ever receive the full amount of unpaid rent. Many have received some assistance through state-funded programs. More than $500 million has been earmarked to assist tenants and landlords thus far, Inslee said, and the sum will grow as a result of the latest federal aid package.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday the state expanded eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines to grocery store clerks, agricultural workers, food processors, bus drivers and other staff at congregate settings, as well as people who are pregnant, and anyone 16 or older with a disability that puts them at high risk.
On March 31, those newly eligible for vaccination in the third and fourth tiers of Phase 1B include:
• Anyone between the ages of 60 and 64;
• Restaurant staff, construction workers and others who work in congregate settings;
• Anyone living in a congregate setting, such as a group home for those with disabilities, a homeless shelter, a jail or a prison;
• Anyone with two or more comorbidities.
Statewide, more than 2.5 million vaccine doses have been administered since shipments first arrived in December, state data show.
In Snohomish County, about 70,000 people are fully vaccinated, while another 126,000 have received their first of two doses.
By the end of the month, roughly 5 million residents statewide will be eligible for vaccination, leaving a little more than a million adults awaiting a chance to get in line.
The state will likely make all adults eligible for vaccines by late April, Inslee said, meeting the May 1 deadline set by President Joe Biden.
Washington won’t open eligibility to everyone right away, as heads of other states have done, because it would drive demand beyond the current supply, he said.
“Governors look great when they just say everybody’s eligible for the vaccine,” Inslee said. “It’s one thing to be eligible for the vaccine and it’s another to get it. Just because a governor says, ‘I’ve opened it to everybody,’ it doesn’t mean he or she has delivered it to people. We want people to get vaccines, not just be eligible for them.”
As more people become eligible, the state Department of Health is trying to make it easier to secure an appointment.
The agency launched a new vaccine locator tool on its website, vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov, centralizing all available appointments in a given area.
“It’s as easy as typing in your zip code,” Inslee said. “We think this is going to be a substantial help to folks. It’s good to be leading the class, so to speak.”
In Snohomish County, the site showed open appointments across nearly a dozen pharmacies, clinics and other providers.
For those without access to the internet, Amazon is partnering with the Department of Health to boost capacity for the state’s vaccine hotline at 800-525-0127.
Jerry Cornfield: email@example.com; @dospueblos.