At 68%, Washington’s COVID-19 vaccination rate remains below the 70% threshold required for early reopening, but the state’s new cases, deaths and hospitalizations continue to decrease, health department officials said Wednesday.

That doesn’t mean the pandemic is over, however, or that people should let their guard down, or ignore mask and social distancing guidelines, said Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah at the state Department of Health’s weekly update.

“Every time you take your eye off this virus it does something super-squirrelly,” said Shah. It’s a virus that has “broken every rule in the playbook.”

“Do not forget, the pandemic is not over until it’s truly over,” he said.

As of June 20, the state had vaccinated 68% of those age 16 and above, with 3.7 million people fully vaccinated and 7.6 million doses administered, DOH reported.

Health officials continued to press for vaccination, saying it remains the best defense against the virus and its variants.


Among these variants, the delta strain is responsible for driving up cases nationally and globally. But in Washington, where the state runs genotype tests on 17% of its cases, the gamma strain is cause for concern, said state epidemiologist Scott Lindquist.

The variant, first identified in Brazil and also known as P.1., is linked to higher rates of hospitalization and death. Lindquist said it’s the fastest-rising variant in Washington, responsible for 24% of the state’s cases, up from 16% last week. “It is very effectively outcompeting alpha and delta,” he said.

Health officials also announced that due to decreasing COVID-19 numbers, the department would no longer update its data dashboard on weekends starting July 1, and media briefings will no longer be held weekly.