WHITMAN COUNTY, Wash. — Whitman County is one of three counties in Washington that will move back to Phase 2 of the state's COVID-19 reopening plan on Friday, April 16 due to rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Monday.
The counties joining Whitman in Phase 2 are Cowlitz and Pierce, located in western Washington. All other counties, including Spokane, will remain in Phase 3 of reopening.
Indoor dining is reduced from 50% capacity in Phase 3 to 25% capacity in Phase 2. Fitness, training and indoor sports, along with indoor entertainment establishments, can also operate at a maximum of 25% capacity.
Inslee announced changes on Friday to the criteria for counties to stay in Phase 3 of the reopening plan. Under the governor's original plan that took effect March 22, counties would be evaluated every three weeks on two metrics – case rate over two weeks and hospitalization rate over one week – and needed to meet both to remain in their current phase. That means any county that failed one of the two metrics would have moved back one phase in reopening.
Now, a county must fail both of the metrics for case counts and hospitalizations to move down one phase, Inslee said.
Whitman County reported 210 COVID-19 cases and its case rate was sitting at 416 per 100,000 people from March 20 through April 2, according to Washington State Department of Health data provided by Inslee's office. The county's hospitalization rate was sitting at 5.9 from March 24-30.
“These metric trends are driven by the virus and we must continue to do everything we can to sharpen our focus and keep COVID-19 activity down. We are so close to the end of the tunnel here — we have made tremendous progress and we must keep our focus,” Inslee said. “It’s like a football game; we have done 95 yards on a 99 yard-drive. We can’t let up now. These are not punitive actions; they are to save lives and protect public health.”
In order to stay in Phase 3, larger counties with more than 50,000 residents have to have fewer than 200 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over 14 days and fewer than five new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 people over seven days.
Smaller counties with populations of 50,000 or fewer people must have fewer than 100 new COVID-19 case over 14 days and fewer than three hospitalizations over seven days.
Spokane County failed the state's metric for hospitalizations but met the goal for its COVID-19 case rate, according to the data provided by Inslee's office.
“Today’s assessment has allowed us to remain in Phase 3, giving us some time to increase vaccinations and refocus our efforts on following public health guidance in order to bring our case numbers down and decrease hospitalizations," Dr. Francisco Velazquez, Interim Health Officer for Spokane County, said.
“The whole community needs to work together in order to avoid a fourth surge of cases,” Velazquez added. “This means we need to wear our masks, distance ourselves from others in public, avoid large gatherings outside of our household and be smart when planning private gatherings.”
On Friday, April 2, the Whitman County Department of Public Health issued an emergency health order in the City of Pullman due to an uptick in COVID-19 cases and community spread of the virus.
The emergency order limits gatherings, imposes social distancing requirements and imposes a mask mandate. The orders will be in place until there is an announcement that they will be removed.
President and CEO of the Washington hospitality Association Anthony Anton released the following statement on Monday in response to the governor's announcement about the rollback into Phase 2:
“The Washington Hospitality Association is disappointed to see three counties roll back to Phase 2. It’s especially heartbreaking for the hundreds of businesses and thousands of workers who will pay the price for a surge they did not cause. Additionally, we do not believe this will be an effective cover containment strategy, as people can easily cross county lines. We will continue to keep our focus where we believe it is most important, which is on encouraging proven strategies, including wearing masks, practicing physical distancing, gathering safely in highly regulated areas. And, most importantly, we will continue to encourage as many people as possible to get the COVID vaccine so we can move as one state toward recovery.”
Dr. Umair A. Shah, Washington Secretary of Health, also provided the following statement following Inslee's announcement:
"When we see increased rates of cases and hospitalizations, we need to act fast and do the right thing county-by-county to prevent more serious consequences from COVID-19 in our state. That is why the tough decisions are being made and some counties are being moved back to Phase 2.
There is still time to turn the tide and slow the spread of COVID-19 before it turns into a fourth wave. We need to take these preventative measures over the next few months at least to get numbers going in the right direction again.
We are still in a hopeful time. We’ve made a lot of progress in the last year and we continue to rise to the challenges as a state – not just with life-saving solutions, but with a sense of community and teamwork that has made Washington’s response the best in the country.
We need to focus on lowering disease transmission for the next several months, even though we have increased immunity across the state due to vaccination efforts.
Vaccine is a crucial tool, but it isn’t the only tool, and we don’t have enough yet to rely on it to shore up the virus and keep the majority of us safe from the spread of disease. We’ve administered more than four million vaccines to people in Washington so far, and more than 20% of our state population is fully vaccinated. We’ll keep up this important work of getting people vaccinated, with the goal of reaching a more robust level of community immunity."
The next phase evaluation for all Washington counties will take place on Monday, May 3, according to Inslee's office.