COVID-19 transmission is increasing statewide and has been since the end of May, particularly in the most populous parts of Eastern Washington, including Spokane County.
The new data analysis comes from a situation report released by the Washington Department of Health Saturday, which shows that several parts of Eastern Washington have yet to reach their peak number of cases.
The models also forecast that without additional interventions, Yakima, Spokane, Benton and Franklin counties will see more COVID-19 cases and deaths in the coming summer months.
“Left unchecked, we expect COVID-19 burden to increase substantially,” the report says.
The reproduction rate of the virus, or how many people a person with a confirmed case will infect, is more than one in Eastern Washington and might also be above one in Western Washington.
“The trends we’re seeing point to the critical importance of actions we can all take, like staying 6 feet apart and wearing cloth face coverings whenever we’re in public, as well as a need for increased response in these harder-hit areas,” Dr. Kathy Lofy, state health officer, said in a news release.
“We’re working closely with the Governor’s Office, local officials and partners to identify additional ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in these regions,” Lofy said. “Every single person in our state can and must do their part to help by following public health recommendations.”
The governor put particular emphasis on cases in Benton, Franklin and Yakima counties in a news release.
“This data will force us to look for some creative solutions and strengthen our strong local-state partnerships to address the disease activity,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a news release Saturday.
The new report includes case counts through Memorial Day but excludes possible increased case counts due to recent protests statewide.
Spokane County moved to Phase 2 of the governor’s reopening plan on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend. Since then, there have been 352 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the county in just three weeks.
The new models show that Spokane County has not reached its projected peak level of cases. In late May, new cases of COVID-19 exceeded the county’s previous peak in late March, the situation report shows, and positive testing rates are trending upward.
On Saturday, the Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 15 new cases of the virus in the county with no new deaths reported. There are 817 COVID-19 cases in the county with eight people hospitalized as of Friday.
All businesses and workplaces should be requiring all employees to wear some kind of mask, depending on the type of work being done and employees’ contact with others. Spokane County is under a countywide mask directive that mandates residents to wear face coverings when they are in public and in enclosed settings and cannot keep at least 6 feet of distance from one another. The directive applies to grocery and retail stores as well as restaurants and any indoor or confined public setting where a person will be within 6 feet of another person who is not in their household.
In Phase 2, residents are allowed to gather with up to five people outside their household. While more businesses are open, strong precautions to keep the virus at bay should be in place, like masking, distancing in lines and limited capacity.
Several states, including Arizona, Texas and Florida, are seeing increased case counts after reopening quickly, Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz said.
“There was this big push to move to Phase 2, and people believed it allowed them to go about their business as they were previously, and with that approach has come increased cases,” he said.
Locally, he said Phase 2 is likely to be extended until more in the community are following guidance to wear face coverings and socially distance to reduce case counts.
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