Washington health officials will soon unveil the state’s newest long-term pandemic plan, detailing how they intend to bolster strategies on living with COVID-19 in the coming months, the state’s secretary of health announced Wednesday.
The plan, which health officials are calling “WA Forward,” aims to focus on engaging families and communities in continued COVID education; preventing further spread through vaccines, testing and masks; and preparing health and data systems to monitor disease trends and hospital capacity, state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah said during a Wednesday news briefing.
The plan will be released Thursday morning, he said.
“This is a long-term forward plan to keep people, families and communities safe, protected and healthy as we move to this next phase of the pandemic, while continuing to monitor COVID-19 across the country, the globe and certainly here in Washington,” Shah said. “… It will guide us to coexisting safely with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future.”
State health leaders have been working on longer-term strategies for months and decided to release the plan now partially because of Washington’s relatively high vaccination rates and newly acquired immunity from the recent wave of the omicron variant, Lacy Fehrenbach, the state’s deputy secretary for prevention and health, said Wednesday.
As of this month, 81% of Washingtonians ages 5 and up have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, while more than 73% have been fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Health’s COVID data dashboard. More than 2.7 million booster doses have also been administered, meaning nearly 60% of residents eligible for a booster dose have gotten the extra shot.
Statewide virus trends have also been improving for the past month, with infection and hospitalization rates nearing pre-delta variant and pre-omicron levels, state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist said in the briefing.
“This is all very promising information,” Lindquist said.
COVID deaths did see a spike in late December and early January, but have since consistently decreased, he said.
Continuing to monitor virus cases, hospitalizations and deaths will be a big part of the WA Forward plan, Fehrenbach said.
Health officials also acknowledged that booster rates have been lower among the state’s Black and Hispanic communities, and said part of the WA Forward plan will also attempt to close vaccine equity gaps through the state’s mobile Care-A-Van initiative, which sends vaccination vans into communities disproportionately affected by COVID.
The plan also details goals for using wastewater surveillance to track COVID spread; upping hospital and health care clinic access to antivirals and monoclonal antibodies; and readying the state’s supply of masks and at-home tests to be shipped out to schools, businesses and hospitals if needed.
Health officials declined to share further information about specific strategies, which they said would be available once the plan is released.
Shah noted that many of the state’s continued pandemic efforts rely on ongoing federal COVID funding, which could be up in the air as Congress holds off on approving new emergency aid.
“We’ve talked a lot about being ready for the next wave,” Fehrenbach said. “I think the other thing we really want people to focus on is this is about hope and seeing hope on the horizon and moving forward and healing from this really, really catastrophic time.”