Governor Says Washington Counties Now Must Fail In 2 Metrics To Be Moved Back A Phase
BY REBECCA WHITE / SPR & SCOTT LEADINGHAM / NWPB
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Friday that counties now must fail in two metrics to be moved back a phase in their reopening. The governor says the state won’t act unless counties have both a high hospitalization and case rate.
Previously, a county could be forced to regress to more restrictions if they had more than 200 cases per 100,000 people. Now they also must have more than five hospitalizations per 100,000 cases for the state to regress a county to a more restrictive phase.
“Given the incredible progress on vaccinations and our focus protecting people from severe illness, we believe analyzing and requiring both metrics together is the right approach to make sure we’re considering the connection between COVID cases and our medical system and hospitalizations,” Inslee said in his Friday release.
On Monday, Inslee will announce which counties have failed to meet the criteria to stay in Phase 3 of his re-opening plan.
Spokane County currently has 193 cases per 100,000 people and 4.7 hospitalizations per 100,000 people, according to the Spokane Regional Health District.
In the last week of March, the county’s hospitalization rate was 2.7 per 100,000 people.
Health district spokesperson Kelli Hawkins says the state Department of Health may be using slightly different metrics than the health district. She said their process could mean slightly different numbers will be used to make the decision on whether the county stays in this phase on Monday.
Earlier this week, Spokane Regional Health District interim health officer Francisco Velazquez raised concerns over the rising case rate in the county.
“The line is headed into the area that could potentially hit those 200,000, the 200 per 200,000 if we continue the trend that we are,” he told reporters Wednesday.
He urged community members to keep following public health restrictions and get vaccinated as soon as they can.
Whitman County, home to Washington State University’s main campus in Pullman, is in a similar situation. County Health Director Chris Skidmore previously told NWPB that the county was in danger of moving backward in reopening phases if case rates continued upward.
On Monday, March 29, the county announced 73 new COVID-19 cases from the recent weekend, the highest count at that point in 2021. All the cases were in the under-40 population. At that time, in the previous 14 days, the county had recorded 190 new COVID-19 cases, with 185 in Pullman, primarily in the college-age population.
Skidmore said on March 29, ahead of the Passover and Easter time where many people gather, that if the state were to evaluate the county on its current COVID case rates, it would be in Phase 1 – meaning no indoor dining at all.
“What I’m saying is that we need to get this under control and heading in the right direction, or it’s not just going to be encouraging folks not to go out. There’s going to be no possibility for them to go out because we’ll be back in Phase 1, or it’ll be much more reduced in Phase 2,” he said.
The county responded by issuing a health order on April 2, limited to the city of Pullman. The order required that outdoor gatherings not related to weddings, funerals or religious services must be limited to 10 people, and that masks were required. It did not limit indoor activities for businesses and was primarily targeted at keeping transmission rates down in the city’s student-age population.
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