All veterans and active-duty service members will be eligible to enter a separate lottery for getting a COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday.
The move comes after the military, the National Guard and Veterans Affairs clinics struggled to upload vaccine recipient data into the state’s lottery system.
“We hope this will save lives,” Inslee said on Thursday.
The Heroes Thanks lottery will begin on July 20. Veterans who got a vaccine at a VA location or clinic will be automatically entered. Due to ongoing data challenges with the Department of Defense, active-duty service members will have to register for the lottery independently.
The lottery will have a smaller pool of potential winners vying for two drawings of $100,000 and one grand prize of $250,000. There will be a drawing each week starting the week of July 20 for additional prizes like Amazon and state park gift cards too.
The governor also announced that the lottery has worked to incentivize some Washington residents to get vaccinated.
In mid-May, vaccination rates had “fallen off a cliff,” the governor said, but since then, an average of 10,000 to 15,000 residents each day has initiated vaccination. At that rate, the state will likely meet the 70% threshold necessary to reopen by June 30.
The state could reopen sooner if more people sign up to get vaccinated. About 130,000 more residents need to initiate vaccination to reach the 70% statewide goal.
Currently, there are 67.8% of Washington residents 16 and over who have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. This figure includes aggregate numbers from the Department of Defense and the VA.
Inslee said he does not foresee the June 30th reopening being pushed to a later date, based on declining case counts and hospitalizations.
The governor is wary of the more than one million Washington residents who have yet to get at least one vaccine dose, however. A little more than a third of the state’s population who are eligible have yet to get one dose.
“They are as much or at more risk than before,” he said.
This is due to the variants gaining significant traction statewide, including in counties with low vaccination rates.
The B.1.1.7 variant, now called the Alpha variant, which makes up more than half of all variant cases detected statewide, is more transmissible than the original COVID strain.
The P.1 variant, now called the Gamma variant, is also of concern due to its increased transmissibility. State health officials expressed concern about its rapid increase in recent weeks.
“A quick rising variant is the Gamma variant, which of all the variants, has a higher hospitalization rate than the other variants,” Acting State Health Officer Dr. Scott Lindquist said this week. “So I am very concerned about the P.1, and where we’ve seen it is in areas with low vaccination rates, and we’re seeing it in outbreaks in eastern Washington and in counties with lower vaccination rates.”
In Spokane County there are nearly as many Alpha-confirmed cases as there are Gamma-confirmed cases. As of Wednesday, there are 67 Alpha and 59 Gamma variant cases confirmed in Spokane County.
Additionally, new cases of the Delta variant, which originated in India, have been confirmed in Washington state. Health officials have warned that people who are unvaccinated are taking a risk with these variants, including those who have had COVID-19.
“They are totally exposed, and one of our concerns is that people would have a false sense of security that we have so many people vaccinated that they’re protected,” Inslee said.
State data show that the risk of hospitalization due to COVID-19 is 21 times higher in people ages 45 to 64 who have not been vaccinated versus those who have.
On Thursday, the governor also signed an emergency order that allows health care providers to bill insurance companies for time they spend calling patients and counseling them about the vaccine and the advantages of being vaccinated.
Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said the order should help patients be more comfortable in understanding the benefits of being vaccinated directly from their health care providers. Many primary care providers and clinics now have access to the COVID-19 vaccines and can offer them during regular appointments and check-ups.
Here’s a look at local numbers:
The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 73 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday and one additional death.
There are 659 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County residents.
There are 51 COVID-19 patients in Spokane with the virus.
The Panhandle Health District confirmed 14 new cases and no additional deaths on Thursday.
There are 27 Panhandle residents hospitalized with the virus.
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