SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. — A "cluster outbreak" was responsible for Spokane County seeing more than 10 new cases of the novel coronavirus reported this week, according to the Spokane Regional Health District.

A spokesperson from SRHD says some of the new cases were related to the Philadelphia Macaroni Company factory outbreak in Spokane.

The Philadelphia Macaroni Company factory in Spokane announced on Friday night that 24 employees have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, leading the facility to be shut down for disinfecting and employee testing.

An additional 7 workers tested positive for the virus Saturday bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 31 at the factory, according to the spokesperson.

There are a total of 487 confirmed coronavirus cases in the county. That number increased by 68 just over the past 4 days, according to SRHD.

As of Sunday, Spokane County is seeing an increase of 18 new coronavirus cases to date.

Dr. Bob Lutz, Spokane County Health Officer said, “When we investigate positive cases, the result of reaching out to those who came in close contact is an increase in testing and possible discovery of more positive cases, many of whom may not have symptoms. They now know to self-quarantine to help keep others in our community healthy.”

Lutz further explained that the current outbreak is an example of how people, in a congregate setting, can easily spread the virus to one another, reiterating that the public must remain vigilant with the Stay Home Stay Healthy measures.

According to SRHD spokesperson Kelli Hawkins, the outbreak was among a specific group of people and health officials aren't worried about seeing community spread from the cluster.

 "We have seen a spike, but the most important thing is that's not community spread," Hawkins said. "We have a contained cluster that our contact tracers are investigating."

The number of cases in Spokane County jumped by 13 from Wednesday to Thursday and by 18 from Thursday to Friday, according to health district data.

A cluster outbreak, according to Hawkins, is when an illness is spread through a group that is known to have close contact with each other, making it easier to track.

Due to this cluster outbreak, the health district ramped up testing, Hawkins said.

"When you’re investigating an outbreak, then you’re going to have increased testing and you’re going to discover more positive cases, many of whom may be asymptomatic," Hawkins said.

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According to Hawkins, the district knows who may have been exposed and is carrying out testing and asking those testing positive to quarantine for 14 days, regardless of if they're showing symptoms. She also said that as contact tracing and testing increases due to a cluster outbreak investigation, it's likely that the number of positive tests will also increase.

While some have worried that this spike in numbers would jeopardize the county's move to Phase 2, which the district announced was approved on Friday morning, but Hawkins said this won't have a negative effect.

"No," Hawkins said, when asked if the spike could negative affect the move to Phase 2. "As long as we are showing how our contact tracing is robust and doing its job, we can show how the number are a part of that, then we report that to that state and keep them updated and they're comfortable with the actions we've taken and the results we are getting."

Hawkins confirmed that the outbreak was contained to one business or community, and that the district wasn't concerned that this would lead to spreading the disease among the greater Spokane community.

"It's one area that's contained enough that the community doesn't have to worry about it spreading out to others," Hawkins said.

The health district will work to ensure that everyone that possibly had close contact with someone in the cluster is contacted, according to Hawkins, who added that health officials were confident that contact tracers had already identified most of the people involved.

Hawkins also says that this is an example that shows an outbreak can still occur even if people follow guidelines.

"This is a great example of an organization that was following all the guidelines and you can still see that an outbreak can occur," she said.

It also looks like the recent rise in cases shouldn't necessarily be an alarm. It is likely due to increased testing in Spokane.

"This will increase the testing in our community and therefore increase possible positives," Hawkins said.

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