The US has passed the first year in its battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, one marked by social distancing, mask-wearing, and endless sacrifices. The apprentices in WhoWhatWhy’s Mentor-Apprentice Program documented the changes that continue to shape life in their hometowns, offering a unique snapshot of the spread of the coronavirus to date and the efforts made to overcome it. Here are their stories:
Just days before King County — the most populous county hit by COVID-19 in Washington state — started to ease social restrictions, the Public Health department spotted the first case of the more contagious B117 variant among its residents. Public health professionals see the variant’s spread as a wake-up call and urge the public to “meet this new challenge by going all in on the steps that we know work, starting now.”
Over the past two weeks, King County recorded 90 cases per every 100,000 residents of the original COVID-19 strain, with a death rate of 2.2 per every 100,000 residents and a positivity rate of less than 10 percent. The county also saw hospital admission rates fall 14 percent over the last two weeks and a decrease in ICU bed occupancy, which is currently at 86 percent. These metrics caused the county to loosen COVID-19 restrictions at the beginning of February; indoor dining opened up to 25 percent capacity, extending their hours of operation to 11 p.m. At-home gatherings are allowed with a maximum of five visitors, and most sports and live entertainment venues are functioning at 25 percent capacity (or 200 people). The rest of the state has since followed suit.
Child care and early learning programs remain open as they were before. While most students began the year learning remotely, K-12 schools especially are gradually moving to in-person learning, with each district setting its own pace of reopening. The effort is supported by the $714 million in CARES Act funds that Gov. Jay Inslee (D) used to help Washington schools meet health and safety standards on the path to reopening. About 30 percent of students statewide are already receiving in-person instruction.
In terms of the county’s vaccine distribution, those 65 years or older, those over the age of 50 and living in multigenerational households, and health care workers are able to be vaccinated. As of March 5, 11.8 percent of King County residents were fully vaccinated. Weekly vaccine allocations remain behind demand but have increased over 53 percent since President Joe Biden took office. The most recent deliveries covered just over half the doses Washington public health officials requested. Washington also secured 60,900 doses of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine but won’t see any more arriving for another three weeks. As of last Monday, Washington has administered over 2 million vaccine shots.
Going forward, Inslee plans to expand vaccine distribution as early as March 22 to workers in congregate settings such as food processing, public transit, and law enforcement, as well as to people age 16 and older who are pregnant or have a disability that puts them at higher risk. Though the effects of the B117 strain on those who have been vaccinated remain to be seen, public health officials are confident in the vaccine’s effectiveness against new strains of the coronavirus.