COVID-19 cases up in Washington, vaccinations to be expanded

The Washington state Department of Health said Wednesday that COVID-19 cases appear to be increasing sharply in the most recent data.

The flat and declining case count trends in mid-to-late December may be due to fewer people seeking care or getting tested over the holidays, officials said in a news release.

Officials say many counties have had post-Christmas spikes in cases and that the number of people becoming infected is increasing.

"We are continuing to see flat trends at a high level of disease activity, with signs of a concerning uptick in the most recent data," Dr. Scott Lindquist, the state epidemiologist for communicable diseases, said. "If we want to maintain the progress we made in the fall and move forward with reopening, we must redouble our efforts to control the virus."

Officials also said Wednesday the state will move into its next phase of COVID-19 vaccination sooner than expected and will begin inoculating people aged 70 years and older, among others, The Seattle Times reported. Health secretary Dr. Umair Shah acknowledged the state’s rollout had been uneven and that the department needed to hasten the pace of vaccination.

"While we are making progress every single day … I recognize it has not been enough," Shah said in a news briefing Wednesday, adding that he had directed changes at the department. "One of those changes is an accelerated timeline to move to our next grouping — Phase 1B — which we expect to do in the next coming days."

Shah did not give an exact date for when the state would move to Phase B1, which includes people 70 years and older and people 50 years and older in multi-generational households.

The state Department of Health on Wednesday reported 2,892 new COVID-19 cases and 49 new deaths, bringing the state’s totals to 281,202 cases and 3,838 deaths. The agency said new cases may include up to 520 duplicates.