Efforts to target key workers at vulnerable populations were made at the Rainier Beach Community Center as the state confirms the presence of a highly infectious UK strain of COVID-19 in Snohomish County.

by Alex Garland

Domestic worker Brittany Williams made sure she would be at the Rainier Beach Community Center on a bright, clear Saturday morning.

“We work personally with our customers and are unable to create social distance,” said Williams. “That’s why I came today, like so many others, to get my vaccine.

“I want to assure you that we have an opportunity to change the tide of COVID,” added Williams. “The nurses have struggled and continue to struggle to be seen as the essential workers that we are. After winning PPE and dangerous wages and being prioritized as a vital workforce by the City of Seattle today, that’s a big deal for us. “

The city of Seattle and union leaders representing domestic workers, SEIU 775, hosted a pop-up vaccination station to vaccinate about 400 workers against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 disease. Paramedics, rescue workers and firefighters from the Seattle Fire Department administered the vaccine while SEIU 775 volunteers organized the lines and provided information to workers, many of which showed up early.

Home health worker Brittany Williams speaks at a pop-up vaccination clinic in the Rainier Beach Community Center on Jan. 23. (Photo: Alex Garland)

According to official figures, it is a critical group of workers to be vaccinated as they can work in multiple locations with communities susceptible to COVID-19, including older adults and people with multiple chronic health problems. Home care workers are also typically black, colored people with limited English, a lack of health insurance, and easy to miss when vaccinated.

The vaccination popup also provided the opportunity for the first in-person press conference at a vaccination site, where Mayor Jenny Durkan confirmed she had received the first dose of the two-shot vaccine and urged people to get vaccinated.

“Vaccinations are our hope. That will bring us back together as a city. We can open again. Spend time with our families and friends. Open up our small businesses and support one another. “

But state health officials released worrying news on Saturday confirming that the highly contagious British variant of the COVID-19 strain was discovered in two residents of Snohomish County. A follow-up exam is ongoing to learn more about the cases and the people who tested positive.

“We thought that variant of the concern was here and now we know it is here,” said Dr. Alex Greninger, assistant professor of the clinical virology laboratory at UW Medicine, in a press release on Saturday. It was tremendous teamwork from the UW Medicine Virology Lab and required the development of several new rapid tests to detect and confirm this. “

The British strain is believed to be more contagious and scientists are investigating preliminary evidence that it may be more deadly than the first COVID-19 strain.

“Now that this variant is found, it underscores the absolute importance of doubling all preventive measures to protect Washingtoners from COVID-19,” said Health Secretary Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH.

Although Durkan spoke of the system used to vaccinate frontline workers, she admitted there were loopholes. “So the city of Seattle is trying to step in. The first loophole was family homes for adults. Our fire department was so efficient that they could get this job done ahead of time.”

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan speaks to a home health worker at a pop-up vaccination clinic in the Rainier Beach Community Center on Jan. 23. (Photo: Alex Garland)

Durkan also spoke about the importance of home care workers and acknowledged the SEIU’s ability to organize its members: “If 775 hadn’t organized the home health workers to care for the people who needed them, we wouldn’t have people like that . ”

This recognition required the work of SEIU representatives such as SEIU President Sterling Harders. “Home care workers are health professionals, and the state has recognized this by using care workers as the first stage of vaccination. As with other healthcare workers, the Nurses have been rated as 1A and this is recognition of the absolutely necessary work that Nurses are doing during this pandemic. ”

Dr. Michael Sayre, the medical director of the Seattle Fire Department, confirmed this.

“The willingness of the home health workers and SEIU 775 and how they care for vulnerable people on a daily basis. One of the most important things they do is vaccinate. They make sure that they don’t go into someone’s house and pass the disease on to that vulnerable person who may not be able to handle it and could die. ”

Durkan said the city wants to create more opportunities for vaccinations.

Home health workers gather at a pop-up vaccination clinic in the Rainier Beach Community Center on Jan. 23. (Photo: Alex Garland)

Washington state recommends following these guidelines to ensure safety:

  • Wear a mask even on people you see regularly and in your smallest social circles.
  • If possible, hold meetings outside;
  • Avoid indoor social gatherings. However, if you do attend, wear a mask and make sure windows and doors are open to maximize ventilation.
  • Wear a mask in the car with other people, including family members who do not live in your household.
  • Wash your hands frequently without touching your face and wear hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
  • Stay home if you are sick or exposed to COVID-19. and,
  • Get tested for COVID-19 if you have symptoms or have been exposed to someone who tests positive.

Visit the Ministry of Health website or coronavirus.wa.gov for more information.

Alex Garland is a Seattle-based photojournalist who lives in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.

Featured image by Alex Garland

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