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Health district prioritizes high-risk cases for investigations as cases surge

The Spokane Regional Health District has stopped contact tracing due to the overwhelming volume of new COVID-19 cases confirmed each day.

Contact tracing differs from case investigations, when an investigator calls a person who tests positive for the virus to do an interview.

Case investigations continue, and disease investigators will do some contact tracing when talking to a person who has tested positive, especially in high-risk settings where close contacts are quickly notified to begin isolating and get tested. Reaching out to additional contacts has fallen by the wayside with hundreds of cases confirmed each day for the last three weeks.

“It is a gold standard of practice to include the ability to do contact tracing, and what we need is the partnership with all the people who have tested positive,” said Susan Sjoberg, disease prevention program manager at the health district.

Health officials are asking residents to notify their own close contacts when they test positive for COVID-19, either through available contact tracing applications, like WA Notify, or on their own.

Health officials still cannot tell, based on current data, whether Thanksgiving has led to a bump in cases or if enough residents followed gathering guidance and limited interactions outside their households.

“We need to wait for another week of data to better understand what’s happening with case counts” and the percentage of tests that come back positive, State Health Officer Kathy Lofy told reporters Wednesday. “But we do know that hospitalizations and deaths are increasing.”

The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 275 cases Wednesday and confirmed three additional deaths. There have been 270 deaths from COVID-19 in Spokane County residents.

There are 127 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Spokane hospitals, including 94 county residents.

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 238 new cases Wednesday and reported more deaths due to the virus. There are now 122 Panhandle residents who have died from the virus. There are 67 Panhandle residents hospitalized with COVID-19 at Kootenai Health.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued revised rules for gatherings of religious and faith-based organizations which allows them to have as many as 200 people at outdoor gatherings that can be held anywhere, including in temporary or permanent outdoor structures. Previously they were limited to the organization’s property or adjacent property.

Indoor gatherings can have 200 people or 25% of the building’s capacity, whichever is less. In both outdoor and indoor settings, participants must wear masks and families must be separated by at least 6 feet. Everyone in attendance must wear a mask, including those who lead or speak at the service.

Choirs and bands aren’t allowed to perform at religious services, but a soloist wearing a mask can perform and be accompanied by a piano or other musical instrument.

Participants should take their temperature before the service and not attend if it is above 100.4 degrees. Any person in a household with a diagnosed case of COVID-19 or a member of the household who has a fever above 100.4 degrees also should not attend a religious or faith-based gathering.

In other action, Inslee extended for an additional month the waiver on requirements for seventh and eighth grade students to turn in signed pledges to be able to qualify for the College Bound Scholarship program when they graduate from high school. The number of pledges is down sharply with most students not attending classes in schools.

S-R reporter Jim Camden contributed to this story.

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.