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Spokane County 'very close' to surpassing Phase 3 reopening metrics, health officer warns

The increase in COVID-19 cases for Spokane County is mainly stemming from private gatherings and community spread, health officials said.

SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. — Spokane County is "very close" to surpassing the COVID-19 health metrics needed to stay in Phase 3 of Washington's reopening plan, Interim Health Officer Dr. Frank Velazquez warned on Tuesday.

“The trends we are seeing with COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations is [sic] concerning as we are very close to surpassing the necessary metrics that will allow us to remain in phase three of the Healthy Washington plan,” Velazquez said in a press release.  “As businesses open up more and as more people become eligible for the vaccine, it is easy to become relaxed with the public health measures, but we must remain vigilant if we want to continue to see progress.” 

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) "has not indicated the data set they will be using to evaluate counties and their movement forward or back in the Roadmap to Recovery Plan phases," the Spokane Regional Health District wrote in a press release. Kelli Hawkins, a spokesperson for SRHD, said the health district has not received word from the DOH or Gov. Jay Inslee's office that Spokane County is moving backward into Phase 2 of reopening.

Counties will be evaluated every three weeks after moving to Phase 3. The first announcement regarding any phase changes will be made on Monday, April 12, according to the DOH. Any county that fails one or more of the health metrics outlined by the state will move back one phase, Inslee previously announced.

A spokesperson for the DOH wrote in an email to KREM that it is "still in the process of looking at the data and cannot make any statement regarding who may be at risk for moving back to Phase 2." All Washington counties, including Spokane, have been in Phase 3 of reopening since March 22

The number of new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in Spokane County was 187 from March 21 to April 3, according to data provided by SRHD on Tuesday. Counties are supposed to keep that number below 200 in Phase 3. Spokane County was sitting below 150 cases per 100,000 people about six weeks ago, Velazquez said on Wednesday. 

"The more cases that you have, the more likely [it is] that you will have someone with disease severe enough that will require hospitalization, which then will impact our hospitalization rate," Velazquez said.

According to SRHD, the daily reported hospitalizations per 100,000 people during a one-week period from March 28 to April 3 was 4.7. That number is supposed to be less than five for counties in Phase 3. 

The increase in cases for Spokane County is mainly stemming from private gatherings and community spread, according to SRHD. Data from March 28 to April 3 also shows the majority of cases falling among people between the ages of 20 to 39 years old, with 27.6% of cases in the 20-29 age group and 16.4% in the 30-39 age group. 

SRHD reported 38 new COVID-19 cases and no new deaths on Tuesday, April 6. There are 39 COVID-19 patients who are currently hospitalized. 

Velazquez again emphasized the importance of wearing masks, keeping gatherings small, physical distancing in public and handwashing. He also encouraged everyone to sign up to receive a COVID-19 vaccine when eligible.

“By following the public health measures and vaccinating, our businesses can remain open, we can visit with friends and family, and we can begin to live a more normal life,” Velazquez said. “We have to work together with each of us doing our part to keep case counts down.”