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News >  Spokane

Washington could reopen regionally, state health officials say

April 28, 2020 Updated Tue., April 28, 2020 at 9:58 p.m.

Dr. John Wiesman, secretary of the Washington State Department of Health, right, said Tuesday that some parts of the state may be able to open before others and that officials are seriously giving that consideration.” He is shown here on March 2 in Olympia, with Gov. Jay Inslee in the background. (Amanda Snyder / AP)
Dr. John Wiesman, secretary of the Washington State Department of Health, right, said Tuesday that some parts of the state may be able to open before others and that officials are seriously giving that consideration.” He is shown here on March 2 in Olympia, with Gov. Jay Inslee in the background. (Amanda Snyder / AP)

State health officials said Tuesday they want to see COVID-19 infections decreasing everywhere in the state before the governor eases mitigation strategies, although they also said they are exploring regional approaches to reopening parts of the state.

State Secretary of Health Dr. John Wiesman said health officials are in conversations with Gov. Jay Inslee about what that might look like.

“I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about that in the days to come as we make some further decisions about that,” Wiesman told reporters Tuesday, noting that health departments around the state with lower case counts feel like they have the ability to manage COVID-19 in their districts.

“Some communities feel they are good to handle what they have, so we are seriously giving that consideration,” Wiesman said.

While statewide COVID-19 numbers continue to trend downward and peaks in hospitalizations and new cases reported daily were in late March, the numbers are still not where health officials want.

“What still concerns me is the number of confirmed cases we continue to have reported every day,” State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy told reporters Tuesday.

Washington continues to see 200 to 250 new cases confirmed each day, still a fairly high burden of disease, Lofy said.

Statewide, there are 13,842 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 786 deaths due to the respiratory virus.

Those numbers indicate the cases detected at the state’s current testing levels, which must be ramped up dramatically in order to reopen according to Inslee’s plan.

This past week there was an uptick in state residents tested, but not nearly to the scale for which leaders are planning. Staff from Inslee’s office said the goal is to triple testing capacity.

About 5,000 tests are performed each weekday. The goal is to do between 20,000 and 30,000 per day.

More announcements regarding restrictions are on the horizon.

Lofy said health officials have been in conversations about letting hospitals and ambulatory centers perform elective surgeries. The inability to perform such procedures has put hospitals, especially rural ones, in financial binds.

“I’m hoping in the next couple of days that there will be an announcement regarding that,” Lofy said. “So we are making progress there.”

The current “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order expires on Monday, and staff members from Inslee’s office said that they hope to reveal the date for an extension by the end of the week. In the meantime, recreational activities like fishing and hunting will resume on May 5, with restrictions.

Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz warned that relaxed restrictions do not mean relaxing social distancing, respiratory etiquette and sanitizing surfaces. He also encouraged residents to continue wearing face masks.

“It’s allowing you to prevent others from getting ill, and it also sends a message that you care about your neighbors,” Lutz said.

Spokane County added two new cases to its count on Tuesday, with 351 confirmed county wide. Twenty residents have died from the virus, and a dozen people are hospitalized. The majority of those with confirmed cases have recovered at home or were hospitalized and have recovered.

Local health care providers will begin offering expanded testing at various sites throughout the county on Friday. The Spokane County Health District will publish a map of those testing sites in the coming days.

Residents will be able to access testing through their health care provider at Providence, MultiCare, Kaiser Permanente or CHAS sites designated for testing. The drive-thru testing site at the fairgrounds is set to close by Friday, but Lutz said the county is in conversations to keep it open.

“We’ve had some conversations about the fairgrounds testing site. It will stay in place, and we are looking at having the National Guard staff that site in the coming weeks,” Lutz said.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories 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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