Washington state to surpass 5K coronavirus deaths

SEATTLE (AP) — Washington state is expected this week to surpass 5,000 deaths from the coronavirus this week, almost exactly a year after the first known virus death was recorded in the U.S.

The state reported 1,166 new confirmed cases and 14 more deaths Friday, which brought Washington’s totals to 338,822 total known infections and 4,956 deaths from the virus.

The first confirmed coronavirus death in Washington — and the U.S. — was announced on Feb. 29, 2020. The man was in his 50s and had an underlying health condition, the Seattle Times reported.

But state health officials are hopeful thanks to a recent consistent decline in deaths and the scaling up of vaccinations.

Near the end of January, the seven-day rolling average had dropped from about 38 deaths per day to roughly 15 a day, according to data provided by the state Department of Health.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re going to continue the trend that’s decreasing — and if we can stay ahead of the variants with vaccines and good measures, we’ll continue to improve,” said Peter Rabinowitz, a University of Washington professor of environmental and occupational health sciences.

Despite the encouraging data, Rabinowitz said there are still challenges. For example, public health officials nationwide still have not determined how best to keep the virus from disproportionately infecting certain groups, especially communities of color, he said.

In Washington, confirmed or probable case rates for Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and Hispanic populations are about four times higher than for white and Asian populations, according to a state health department report published last month.

The coronavirus death rates among Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities are nearly six times higher than for the white population, the state health department report said.

Recent state data also shows that vaccine shots have so far gone disproportionately to white Washington state residents.

A state health department spokesperson told The Seattle Times last month that officials are still investigating the race-related virus data and have not come to any conclusions.