REPUBLIC, Wash. — The Northeast Tri County Health District (NTCHD) announced Friday that Ferry County will be moving back to Phase 2 after a superspreader event in Republic led to a COVID-19 outbreak.
According to Washington's Roadmap to Recovery plan, counties with a population under 50,000 must have less than 100 new cases of COVID-19 over the course of 14 days. They can't have more than three people hospitalized over the course of seven days to remain in phase 3. In Ferry County, 106 people tested positive in the last 14 days. There have been numerous hospitalizations, including seven people being transported to different hospitals out of the region.
The Washington Department of Health tweeted that the rollback was necessary after the announcement.
The Northeast Tri-County Health District has reported 106 COVID-19 cases and one death since the three-day-long superspreader event.
The event was set up to recruit new Eagle’s Club members the weekend of April 9-11. Some said it was advertised as a protest against COVID-19 restrictions. Jeff King, the club president said it was simply a dinner and poker night to attract new members.
Health officials in Republic said patient zero was traced back to the event. Since then, infections have reached far into the community. The bank in town had to shut down early and brought in temporary workers. One of the only grocery stores also had limited capacity and county services have taken a hit with court cases being delayed because so many workers are either home sick or in quarantine.
“There's 95 people that have tested positive since that event,” Northeast Tri-County Health District Administrator Matt Schanz said. “And the vast majority have had some kind of exposure to that event, either by attendance, or by a secondary exposure. They're continuing to test…even today, they're continuing to be tested.”
Northeast Tri-County Health Officer Dr. Sam Artzis said he knew this was going to be a serious problem within the first five or six days.
“Just because the amount of people that were showing up symptomatic, to get tested had spiked significantly,” Artzis said. “And we were already seeing people showing up at the hospital within that first week, which we hadn't seen for several weeks to months prior to that."
Hospitalizations are also on a sharp incline. Some patients are being sent to Spokane or Wenatchee where capacity is also limited.
At Ferry County Memorial Hospital in Republic, the rate of COVID-19 positivity is extremely high at close to 25 percent. It's the only hospital for at least 50 miles in any direction.
"We've had our rooms full and patients waiting to get in to be seen and taken care of," said Dr. Richard Garcia, who works at the hospital.
Jeff King, who serves as president of the Eagle's Club, said a person who had contracted COVID-19 showed up to a poker table at their membership drive on Friday, April 9. King found out a few days later that everyone at the table was sick, he said.
"I feel we did all the right steps. We're not going to go out in our community and say, 'This is not our fault.' It's everybody's fault when something like this happens," King said. "And we gotta take our piece of this and try and work through it and reopen in a safer manner."
The group will not run any large events for the time being and is planning to work on a vaccination drive with help from the hospital and health department, King said.
Ferry County health officials agree that vaccinations will be key in the long run but finding room to take care of the sickest patients now is the priority.
"We've had a real problem getting beds," Artzis said. "Those ICU beds are very tight. And we've had to send over to Wenatchee, over to Yakima, so that's been a real challenge and that's going to continue to be a challenge for the next several weeks as we see more cases come out of this."
Health officials with the Northeast Tri-County Health Department told KREM 2 that they fully expect COVID-19 cases tied to the event to start showing up in outlying communities as well, as the virus continues to spread throughout the region.
As of Wednesday, the Tri-County Health District has reported a total of 3,061 cases in Ferry, Pend Oreille and Stevens Counties since the start of the pandemic. According to the health district, 39 people have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.