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Spokane will follow state to take ‘phased approach’ to loosening social distancing

UPDATED: Wed., April 15, 2020

Many people walk through Duncan Gardens at Spokane’s Manito Park on April 4, 2020. Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday the state will likely lift social distancing measures gradually, and Spokane County officials said they would follow the state’s lead. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
Many people walk through Duncan Gardens at Spokane’s Manito Park on April 4, 2020. Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday the state will likely lift social distancing measures gradually, and Spokane County officials said they would follow the state’s lead. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
By Jim Camden and Arielle Dreher The Spokesman-Review

Washington has seen a leveling off in the rate of increases in COVID-19 infections, but Gov. Jay Inslee refused to say Wednesday whether his stay-home order will be lifted on May 4, when it is scheduled to expire.

“This rate is not going down at the moment,” he said. “It’s plateaued, and that’s not as good as we need.”

Data shows social distancing efforts have been successful, he said, but not to the point at which the state is close to removing them.

“If we do take off social distancing, we’re going to see a rebounding of this virus and even more fatalities than we see today,” Inslee said.

The state will likely remove its restrictions in phases, in reverse order of the way they were put on, he said. That would mean people in some nonessential jobs would return to work first, followed by a loosening of the stay-home order, opening of schools and permission for larger gatherings.

“The pace of that will depend largely on the data,” he said.

It will also depend on having adequate testing and the ability to do contact tracing that can determine who might have come in contact with a person who tests positive for the virus.

Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz said he would follow the state’s and governor’s guidance.

Spokane County added nine cases Wednesday but has seen a decrease in the number of new COVID-19 cases reported each day. Lutz said that trend is reassuring.

There are 286 cases county wide, less than other urban centers in Eastern Washington, such as Yakima and the Tri-Cities.

Eighteen people were hospitalized with the respiratory virus in Spokane County as of Wednesday, and 17 people have died.

The number of people tested for the virus locally has gone down at the drive-thru screening site and by local health care providers, Lutz said, although the county has greater access to tests than a week ago.

Lutz said the county is responding to requests from rural areas, where testing has not been as prominent.

The alternative care campus, which includes an isolation site, has been used by four people who need to isolate away from others but cannot do so at their own residences. County health officials and health care providers are working on plans for an alternative care facility, in the event that a surge at local hospitals requires it.

“Our hope is that we never get to the point of having to stand it up, but it takes time,” Lutz told reporters Wednesday.

Hoopfest organizers announced Wednesday the tournament has been moved to late August. Lutz said he appreciated organizers for doing that. When asked if August would be too soon for a large event, Lutz said he didn’t know.

“I think data will determine how quickly we open,” he said.

To comply with a Washington Supreme Court order, the state will soon release some inmates who are serving time for nonviolent crimes and are within months of their release dates.

The releases haven’t started because the state is trying to make sure it releases the right people, that they have places to go and proper plans, and that local law enforcement has a chance to give “as much notice as we can” to victims of their crimes, he said.

“There’s no question that a risk exists,” Inslee said. But the court has ordered him to produce a plan to provide for the health of inmates “and the only way to do that is to reduce the population in these facilities so that there’s more distance, to reduce the risks.”

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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