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As fourth wave of COVID-19 hits Washington, Spokane County could move back to Phase 2

If Spokane County rolled back to Phase 2 of Washington's reopening plan, retail and restaurant capacity would drop from 50% to 25%.

SPOKANE, Wash. — A "fourth wave" of COVID-19 has hit Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee said on Thursday, potentially sending more counties back to Phase 2 of reopening — including Spokane County. 

Spokane County has exceeded both metrics it needs to stay under for remaining in Phase 3 of the "Healthy Washington" reopening plan, according to data provided by the Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD) on Tuesday, April 20.

Large counties, including Spokane, must have no more than 200 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents in two weeks and no more than five new hospitalizations per 100,000 people in one week in order to remain in Phase 3.

The data provided by SRHD on Tuesday shows that Spokane County saw an estimated 273 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people from April 4-17. That's up from 217 per 100,000.

Hospitalizations were also sitting at 5.2 per 100,000 people from April 11-17. That number was 3.6 during the last period, according to SRHD data.

During a press conference on Wednesday, Spokane Interim Health Officer Dr. Francisco Velazquez said the rise in COVID-19 cases is in part due to gatherings related to events such as spring break, Easter Sunday and the NCAA Tournament. 

The COVID-19 variants also appear to be contributing to the uptick statewide, Inslee said on Thursday. The B.1.1.7. variant, which was first identified in the United Kingdom, has become the most prevalent variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The variants also have spread more readily among younger populations than previous spikes of COVID-19, Inslee said. Vaccines have been shown to be effective against the variants so far.

A rollback into Phase 2 would reduce capacity for a handful of businesses in Spokane County, including restaurants and indoor entertainment venues. 

In Phase 2, restaurants and bars are capped at 25% capacity for indoor dining with no more than six people to a table. Bars also need to serve food to stay open. Retail is also limited to 25% capacity. 

Indoor entertainment venues are also limited to 25% capacity in Phase 2. Outdoor venues must cap group sizes at 15 people and can have a maximum of 200 people. 

Indoor gatherings are also limited to five people from two different households, while outdoor gatherings are limited to 15 people from two households. 

Whitman County was one of three counties in Washington that moved back to Phase 2 of reopening on Friday, April 16 due to rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The state's next evaluation of the Healthy Washington criteria will take place on May 3. 

KREM staff members contributed to this report.