COVID-19 vaccine is near as King County public health faces cuts
A COVID-19 vaccine is around the corner — but don’t let your guard down, cautioned Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, King County’s public health officer, in a briefing for the media Dec. 4. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are at “very concerning levels,” and while there has been a slight lull in cases, we might see an increase as more people get tested after Thanksgiving.
Overwhelmed hospitals are being forced to cancel elective surgeries, such as heart valve replacements, joint replacements and even cancer surgeries, to make room for COVID-19 patients, Duchin said. “I think it’s possible that we’re in the eye of the hurricane right now,” he said.
If people travel for the winter holidays, Duchin said, we will face “potentially a disaster of unprecedented magnitude with respect [to] our healthcare system.”
It’s possible that up to 150,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine will be available in Washington by the end of the month, Duchin said. That is enough to cover the first people it would be offered to: healthcare workers and residents and staff at long-term care facilities. The vaccine would next be available to other essential workers, older adults and people with medical conditions, before becoming available to the general population.
While Duchin is optimistic that the vaccine will be effective, he said it will take a while before it fully stops the spread of COVID-19, and in the meantime, people should take precautions against the virus. “It’s not going to disappear when the vaccine arrives.”
A complicating factor is that funding for COVID-19 response has dried up at Seattle & King County Public Health, and the agency is considering downsizing its COVID-19 response, according to Duchin. Tens of millions of dollars are needed to hire and retain staff to roll out the vaccine. The agency expected another stimulus bill from Congress that has not materialized.
While the vaccine would be administered through the existing healthcare system, King County will set up its own immunization program for those who rely on public health. This program could be jeopardized without more funding.
New COVID-19-compliant shelter in Pioneer Square
Compass Housing Alliance opened a new emergency shelter that complies with COVID-19 safety requirements in its Compass Center Building in Pioneer Square.
It is the first permanent emergency shelter in the city that complies with COVID-19 requirements from Seattle & King County Public Health and the CDC, according to the Compass Housing Alliance. The shelter, named Otto’s Place, contains 150 shelter spaces, separated by six feet and solid walls. Guests have their own lockers, and the showers and restrooms were upgraded.
The shelter’s first guests arrived Dec. 1 — former residents of the Compass First Presbyterian Shelter. They were relocated to Otto’s Place because the First Presbyterian Shelter’s lease ends in 2020.
Compass’ shelters offer case management services to help guests find permanent housing. The Compass Center building contains a day center where people can receive banking and mail services and help navigating housing.
Next, Compass will renovate its other 24/7 enhanced shelter programs, Jan & Peter’s Place and the Blaine Center, to comply with COVID-19 precautions.
Coming back to campus: A tent city
Tent City 3, Seattle’s oldest tent encampment community, is returning to the University of Washington (UW) campus for winter quarter in 2021. The encampment will host up to 70 people on campus.
The encampment, which is managed by SHARE/WHEEL, is democratically organized and has a code of conduct banning weapons, violence, alcohol and drugs. Tent City 3 is a “valued partner” for the UW because of this code of conduct and its “strong reputation for providing a safe and secure home for its residents,” according to an announcement from the UW.
The community — which moves every three months, usually staying on church properties — will stay in a parking lot by the Fishery Sciences building near Northeast Pacific Street. It’s the same place the encampment stayed when it came to the UW campus in 2017.
Outside of Seattle, it’s unusual for an encampment to stay at a university, but in recent years, Tent City 3 has stayed at Seattle University and several times at Seattle Pacific University. The UW stay in 2017 marked the first time the community was hosted at a public university.
The presence of Tent City 3 on campuses has allowed students and residents to connect, and the encampment has been incorporated into the curriculum of several courses.
Next year, though, “academic interactions with Tent City 3 are likely to be held virtually due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic,” according to the UW.
Read more in the Dec. 9-15, 2020 issue.