OLYMPIA – The “pause” in Washington’s economic reopening will be extended for at least two more weeks as the state tries to stem the rising number of COVID-19 cases, Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday.
Some areas face a “significant risk” that they could face more restrictions if current efforts to fight the pandemic aren’t successful, Inslee warned.
“This pandemic is still surging in the state of Washington,” Inslee said while announcing the pause that freezes counties in their current phase of reopening.
“We are not in as bad of shape as some other states. We are heading into big trouble if we don’t figure out a way to knock this virus down.”
The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 76 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the county total to 2,255.
The Panhandle Health District across the state border in Idaho reported 47 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the five-county region’s total to 900 confirmed cases of the virus.
The number of cases is rising, and that’s not simply because the state is doing more testing, he said. The percentage of people who test positive is also rising, as is the number of people to whom each new person with the virus spreads the disease.
The current keys to fighting the spread of the virus involve a “mask up” campaign for people while they are in public, limiting social interactions and keeping a safe distance in those interactions.
The state has seen a significant increase in people wearing masks, in part because of support from local officials in both political parties, Inslee said.
The main cause of the rising numbers is people coming into close contact with each other, Dr. Kathy Lofy, the state health officer, said.
“The gatherings are getting bigger and more frequent, she said.
State health data show a higher percentage of people age 20 to 29 are testing positive for COVID-19, which may explain why hospitalization numbers aren’t rising as fast as the case numbers, Lofy said.
Washington residents in their 20s and 30s make up 38% of the state’s confirmed COVID-19 cases.
In Spokane County, residents in their 20s and 30s make up 47% of confirmed cases.
“Those who are younger are less likely to be hospitalized and have less severe disease,” she said.
But hospitalizations are increasing in some areas, including Spokane County, have.
Forty-four COVID-19 patients are currently receiving care in Spokane hospitals, 29 of whom are county residents.
Hospitalizations for Spokane County residents have doubled in about a month.
.“I am concerned that our hospitalizations are going up,” she said. “It’s affecting people who are at risk for really severe disease,” Lofy said.
The increase in cases is happening throughout the state, in a wide variety of settings, including in businesses, manufacturing facilities, food production facilities, restaurants, child care centers and long-term care homes.
That makes it hard to target interventions, Lofy said.
“It is really just across the board, unfortunately,” Lofy said.
The percentage of positive results among those tested recently has risen from about 4% to at least 8%, Inslee said.
State officials want to reduce the spread of the virus before school starts at the end of the summer, but Inslee said there are no plans at this point to order schools to remain closed, as schools in Los Angeles and San Diego recently announced.
“The current plan is to have on-site instruction to the extent districts believe is safe,” he said.
Local school districts will be given the flexibility “to make those decisions.”
Earlier Tuesday, state health officials updated the reported number of deaths among Washington residents due to COVID-19, after eliminating people who died of other causes but had tested positive for the virus.
About 1,400 residents have died from the virus so far.
About 80 probable COVID-19 deaths currently have been reported, which are not included in the state’s official death count and which include people who have COVID-19 listed on their death certificate but never tested positive for the virus.
The younger average age of those contracting the virus has also resulted in fewer deaths due to COVID-19.
They typically require less medical care or hospitalization if they do not have underlying health conditions.
“The outbreak happening now isn’t the outbreak as it started, so predicting what will happen now versus what happened previously is harder to do,” Kate Hutchinson, a health statistics manager at the Department of Health, told reporters Tuesday.