It’s impossible not to miss the backdrop of Omicron and the pandemic this session. Both House and Senate have prioritized pandemic recovery as a top priority, and that can be seen in several bills around access to care, behavioral health, and improving childhood development and educational outcomes.

HB 1676 was heard in House Finance this week. WSALPHO is closely monitoring this bill to ensure that the Foundational Public Health Services account that was established in 2019 remains protected and that the funding distributions proposed, ensure that gains in funding FPHS work remain whole. As a tax bill, it will be an uphill battle to move this bill and as the revenue forecast remains very positive, the legislative appetite to pass tax bills is low.

Unlike session in 2021, the focus on public health has shifted to more behind the scenes. This has allowed agencies to shift activities to again meet the need for increased testing and treatment as cases and hospitalizations surge again. In response to the health system’s calls for support, on Thursday, Governor Inslee announced the deployment of the National Guard to assist several hospital systems and testing sites throughout the state.

The State Board of Health (SBOH) met Wednesday to discuss a couple of key public health measures. Stepping more into the public spotlight in recent years, the SBOH consists of Governor-appointed members representing health and sanitation, local elected officials, medical and public health experts, and the public. Wednesday’s meeting provided an update to the rule-making around the local board of health expansion. Staff provided an overview of public comments and revisions made to the proposed draft. The rule-making timeline remains on schedule and will likely be presented to the SBOH for approval in March or April.

Another agenda topic received a lot of public and media attention. A Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) was convened in late 2021 to research, study, and make recommendations for school vaccination requirements on the COVID vaccine. This group provided an update to the board on their progress and will likely convene several more times before giving the SBOH a recommendation for action. This isn’t the first time a TAC has been convened on a similar issue – in recent years, other TACs met to consider the HPV and meningococcal vaccines. Ultimately, the SBOH voted to not add these to the required vaccine list for school-aged children. For the COVID vaccine TAC, there will likely be additional updates to the SBOH in the coming months, as well as an additional public comment period on the TAC’s recommendation when it’s finalized.