The Whitman County Public Health director said Thursday that Pullman Regional Hospital, Whitman Hospital & Medical Clinics in Colfax and Palouse Medical in Pullman are among the local health care providers who have enrolled to receive a COVID-19 vaccine when it is distributed.

Chris Skidmore said his department should know more information about when a vaccine will be distributed next week.

The Washington Department of Health in a Thursday news release said it is hopeful to have a vaccine to begin administering by mid-December.

The federal government has given the state an estimate of 62,400 doses of the Pfizer vaccine for its initial allocation. The state has also been told it should receive an estimated total of 200,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of December. Regular shipments should begin in January.

The vaccine, which is administered in two doses, has to be stored at -80 degrees Fahrenheit, Skidmore said. That’s substantially colder than most commercial coolers. As a result, hospitals and pharmacies around the country have been scrambling to purchase expensive, ultra-cold freezer units.

WSU, however, already has some ultra-cold storage capacity. Skidmore said the university has agreed to make four freezers available, which is enough space to securely store about 60,000 doses of the vaccine.

When local providers enroll with the state to administer the vaccine, he said, they list WSU as their storage facility.

“They’ll receive an allocation of the vaccine, which will be sent to WSU and stored there,” Skidmore said. The providers will then go to WSU periodically, pick up a portion of their allocation and take it back to their facility in smaller containers filled with dry ice.

The first phase of vaccinations will focus on workers in health care settings along with staff and residents of long-term facilities. The Department of Health will know more about who will be vaccinated in later phases based on input from its community engagement and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

Skidmore also said Thursday that Whitman County is waiting to see if there will be CARES Act funding to continue paying for hotel rooms in Pullman and Colfax where those exposed to COVID-19 can isolate.

He said there are 22 hotel rooms in Pullman and four in Colfax that are used to house patients that need to be isolated, and the county may be unable to keep them if funding is unavailable.

While the new Washington restrictions on gatherings and businesses that began Nov. 16 seemed to slow down the transmission rate of COVID-19 in the county, Skidmore said he anticipates upcoming test results will show a spike in cases.

That is because of people likely gathering, traveling or shopping during the week of Thanksgiving, he said.

Skidmore said it is still too early to tell how the number of local cases will be affected by Washington State University students leaving Pullman after Thanksgiving.

Whitman County received 23 new positive COVID-19 test results Thursday, bringing the county’s total this year to 2,400. Five cases are currently hospitalized and there were no new deaths.

The newest patients include four people younger than 20, 11 people between ages 20-39, five people between ages 40-59 and three people between ages 60-79.

There were 38 new confirmed or probable cases reported Thursday in Latah County, which brings the year’s total to 1,694.

The latest patients include two between ages 5-12, five between ages 13-17, 10 patients between 18-29, five in their 30s, nine in their 40s, three in their 50s, three in their 60s and one in their 70s.

Gritman Medical Center in Moscow announced one more COVID-19 patient was admitted to the hospital since last week. There have been 23 total patients with COVID-19 admitted to the hospital this year.

In the past seven days, 69 of 647 COVID-19 tests administered by Gritman were positive. That is a rate of 10.66 percent.

Anthony Kuipers can be reached at The Lewiston Tribune’s Bill Spence contributed to this story.

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