Tri-Cities, WA Leaders Issue Urgent Letter On COVID Crisis

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A medical staff prepares COVID-19 vaccine doses for administration at a vaccine clinic in Richland.

Tri-City Herald File

Tri-Cities area leaders are begging people to take steps to slow the spread of COVID-19, even if they oppose vaccination.

On Tuesday, 15 city, county and health authorities issued an urgent, open letter to residents saying, “Our counties are in crisis as COVID rages through our community.”

Of particular concern are the local hospitals, which are overwhelmed with record numbers of unvaccinated COVID patients.

“We have come to a point where we can no longer vaccinate ourselves from the steep slope we see in cases and hospitalizations,” they said. “While vaccination is one of the most important strategies to end the pandemic, it is time that everyone does everything possible to stop the spread. Anyone.”

Their message is: “Both of you will do it”.

The three most important ways to get the spread of the coronavirus under control are:

“If you can’t do all three, two will do,” they said.

The Tri-Cities region now has nearly 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents every two weeks, with the new case rate in Franklin County exceeding 1,000.

The increase in new cases cannot be quickly reversed by increasing the number of vaccinations. It takes two weeks after the last dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to be fully effective, and the two doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine must be given weeks apart.

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A screenshot from the Benton Franklin Health District website shows the recent surge in new COVID cases in the Tri-Cities area. Courtesy Benton Franklin Health District

The letter said the letter ran a record of 1,200 tests in one day at the free drive-through COVID-19 testing site near Argent Road in Kennewick. The site is open most of the five days a week and about 1,000 tests are performed.

With one in four positive test results, it is obvious that the test site only catches the sickest people, the letter says.

Vaccines effective

“The reality is that this is an increase in the unvaccinated,” the letter said.

“Breakthrough” cases in vaccinated subjects account for 5 to 10% of those tested, which is an expected rate.

“The vaccine is powerful in preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death,” the letter said.

As of July, according to the latest available data, only one vaccinated resident of Counties Benton or Franklin had died from complications from COVID.

That person was among 84 who have died since Jan 17, when the vaccine was in the initial stages of the vaccine’s spread in the Tri-Cities area. It has since put vaccine breakthrough deaths at just 1.2% of all deaths.

With 5 billion doses of the vaccine administered worldwide, the vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective, the letter said.

“Reactions are extremely rare, and reports show that many reactions are statistically consistent with what occurs in the general population not receiving a vaccine,” the letter said.

Masks worked before

But if people don’t want to be vaccinated, they should still obey Washington State’s mandates to wear masks. Both vaccinated and unvaccinated people must wear a mask indoors in public places and outdoors if the distance cannot be safely maintained.

When masks were first required in Washington state in July 2020, new cases fell, showing that masks could be effective in reducing the spread of the coronavirus.

People should also heed recommendations for large gatherings that are not currently recommended by the Benton Franklin Health District, the letter said.

When people participate, they should choose those who have vaccinations, tests, and / or mask requirements. Then they should be tested to see if they have any symptoms for the next 14 days.

“We recognize the polarizing nature of the ongoing state of the pandemic and people looking to return to normal,” the letter reads.

Everyone wants to socialize normally again and feel comfortable at community events and to busy companies, children playing sports and fully open schools, the letter says.

Taking at least two of the three steps to get COVID-19 under control is everyone’s responsibility, not just for themselves but for others, it said.

Who didn’t sign the letter?

The letter was signed by the Benton and Franklin Boroughs and the Mayors of Pasco, Richland, and West Richland along with the Pasco Borough.

Among the health care executives who signed the letter were the executives of the hospitals in Richland, Kennewick and Pasco, as well as the administrators of the Benton Franklin Health District, directors of the Benton-Franklin Community Health Alliance and the Greater Columbia Accountable Community of Health.

The letter was also written by Dr. Amy Person, Benton and Franklin Counties Health Officer, signed.

The letter was missing the signature of the Mayor of Kennewick, Don Britain.

He told the Tri-City Herald that he supported the points made in the letter but thought the letter was still under discussion.

He had wanted some of the top local anti-vaccination officials, such as Franklin County Commissioner Clint Didier, to sign the letter. That would help get the message across to people who are against vaccinations, he said.

The executive Annette Cary reports for the Tri-City Herald on Hanford, energy, environment, science and health. She has been a news reporter in the Pacific Northwest for more than 30 years.


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