Seattle is getting out of the COVID-19 testing business after winding down city-run vaccination sites earlier this summer.
The city announced Wednesday it would hand off operations of its current large testing sites in SODO and along Aurora Avenue in North Seattle to UW Medicine, beginning Saturday evening.
The city’s sole remaining vaccination clinic, at the SODO site, and its mobile vaccination unit will also end operations. COVID-19 vaccinations are still available at pharmacies, hospitals and other clinical sites across the region.
Seattleites have been vaccination overachievers. Nearly 77% of city residents who are eligible to be vaccinated are fully inoculated, and 82% have received at least one dose. Statewide, 61% of those eligible are fully vaccinated and nearly 67% have had at least one dose.
A steady stream of cars pulled into the city’s SODO testing and vaccination site Wednesday afternoon as Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan credited the willingness of city residents to get tested and vaccinated for allowing the city to end its involvement in testing and vaccination.
“That’s why this week we’ll also be doing the next transition and stage where the city’s role in testing and vaccination efforts are going to be transferred to our partners,” she said.
Seattle, King County and UW Medicine worked together from the beginning of the pandemic and took “common-sense approaches” to combat the virus and disease, Dr. Geoff Baird, professor and chair of UW Medicine Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, wrote in an email.
“While a new [virus] surge is clearly occurring, we are well-situated to have ample community testing capacity to provide our citizens with the information they need to help stop the virus’ spread and get the care they need,” he wrote.
In June, Seattle began shutting down its vaccine clinics at Lumen Field Event Center, Rainier Beach, West Seattle and a clinic at North Seattle College run jointly with the Seattle Visiting Nurse Association. When the closures were announced 60% of eligible city residents were fully vaccinated.
Testing is still needed despite Seattle’s high vaccination rate.
“Testing gives individuals the information they need to make good choices and get the appropriate medical care they need, and it also gives our doctors, scientists and governments the information they need to assess the spread of the disease, the prevalence of new mutants, and the effectiveness of the public health countermeasures we employ,” Baird wrote.
The extremely contagious delta variant of the coronavirus is driving an increase in COVID-19 cases throughout Washington, including in King County. Since June 29 the average number of daily cases surged by 130% to 141. The trends were concerning enough for county public health officials to recommend that all people, despite their vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places.
Seattle doesn’t exist in a COVID-free vacuum and there are still many people not inoculated against COVID-19 around the city.
There are 700,000 people who haven’t been vaccinated in King County and 400,000 of them are eligible, said Dennis Worsham, interim director for Public Health – Seattle & King County.
“It’s a big number,” he said at the news conference. “And we need to do everything we can in order to be able to bring that number down.”
The Seattle Fire Department began testing first responders in mid-March of last year, expanding to test employees and residents in long-term care facilities, and in June of 2020 the fire department began testing the public.
Eventually, the Seattle firefighters were testing thousands of people at sites in West Seattle, Rainier Beach, North Seattle and SODO. When the COVID-19 vaccines rolled out many of the testing sites doubled as vaccine clinics.
“It has been a true honor and privilege for the Seattle Fire Department to play an integral role in vaccinating the community we serve over the past seven months…I am proud to work and live in a community where so many of our neighbors have chosen to get vaccinated to protect themselves, those around them and ultimately help us recover from this pandemic,” SFD Chief Harold Scoggins said in a news release.
According to the city, 134,000 people received a vaccine through a city-run clinic and 786,131 COVID-19 tests were performed. SFD will continue doing vaccinations through its mobile unit and the SODO location until 5:30 p.m. Saturday, when UW Medicine takes over.