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COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths expected to increase in coming weeks

UPDATED: Wed., July 29, 2020

Providence Sacred Heart Hospital is seen from the north side at street level on April 26, 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic in Spokane.  (Libby Kamrowski)
Providence Sacred Heart Hospital is seen from the north side at street level on April 26, 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic in Spokane. (Libby Kamrowski)

Residents of Spokane County can expect to see more hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 in the coming weeks, Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz said.

“When you see an increased case count, you will ultimately see more hospitalizations and more deaths associated with it,” Lutz told reporters Wednesday. “And it’s consistent with what we’ve predicted. I don’t think this is a peak. I think we will continue to see a rise in the coming weeks.”

As modelers predicted weeks ago, the region has seen a rise in hospitalizations and deaths this week, following a rapid increase in virus transmission earlier this month.

Lutz noted Wednesday hospitalizations often occur later in a person’s course of illness, not immediately after a case is identified. Lutz said the region still has yet to reach its peak in hospitalizations and deaths.

The county is beginning to see more cases in older age groups, although younger adults continue to drive case counts.

The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 82 new cases on Wednesday as well as two more deaths from the virus. There are now 3,589 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Spokane County, and 54 residents have died. So far this week, seven new deaths from the virus have been confirmed.

More than 90 people are now hospitalized for the virus across the Inland Northwest, including in North Idaho. That’s the highest number of people hospitalized for the virus since the pandemic started.

In Spokane County, 63 COVID-19 patients are in local hospitals, including 35 county residents. In the Idaho Panhandle, 35 people are hospitalized for the virus.

The Panhandle Health District reported 55 new cases and another death from the virus on Wednesday.

Spokane County has a current incidence rate of 192 cases per 100,000 over a two-week period, well above the state’s goal of 25 cases per 100,000 residents. High incidence rates can lead to more outbreaks, including in congregate settings such as long-term care facilities, state officials said.

“I do think that the incidence rate of a community – if it is high in a community regardless of whether it’s young people or middle-aged people – it puts everybody in the community at elevated risk because no one lives on their own island,” State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy said.

“We do think that the risk to any individual does increase as the incidence rate in the community increases, as long as it looks like the transmission in the community is widespread,” she added.

Virus transmission is widespread in the majority of Washington counties, Lofy said.

With 30-50% of people spreading the virus before they even have symptoms, State Secretary of Health John Wiesman emphasized the importance of face coverings.

His updated masking order applies to all public places. Wiesman said this means wearing masks not just in grocery or retail stores but also at small gatherings, in backyards, in parks and in apartment complex hallways.

Statewide COVID-19 data looks promising in some regards, with the percentage of those tested who have a positive reading dropping from 5.8% to 5.2% this week. Daily confirmed cases also appear to have plateaued, although the case rates have yet to decline. Lofy said these two factors are encouraging, although, she cautioned, what she is seeing with incidence rates and hospitalizations still does not look good.

“We’re continuing to see an increase in individuals hospitalized per day,” Lofy said. “That number has doubled to about 40 people hospitalized per day, and this is really concerning for me.”

In order to lift the prohibition on counties progressing through the state’s reopening phases, Wiesman said they need to see incidence rates trending downward.

“We really want to bring kids back to school in a month, and we know that will result in more close contact between individuals,” Lofy said. “So the lower we can keep transmission, the more successful we will likely be when we bring them back in person.”

GSI offering grant amounts to $10K

The Greater Spokane Incorporated is administering a $10 million grant for small businesses and nonprofits in Spokane County that have suffered financially due to the pandemic. The application for grants up to $10,000 is open through Aug. 10.

Cindy Wendle, with GSI, said businesses and nonprofits that have received no support from federal or state grants will be prioritized, although those that have received assistance will not be discounted for doing so.

Businesses and nonprofits must meet certain eligibility requirements to apply for the funds, which will be administered on Sept. 1. The application process is open for two weeks, and applications will be considered equally regardless of the date they are submitted.

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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