Getting together to grab margaritas. Gathering for a new college graduate’s celebration. Celebrating Father’s Day with extended family.
All of these scenarios, sans face coverings and physical distancing, have played a role in Spokane County’s explosive COVID-19 case count in the last few weeks, which led to a visit from the governor and top state health officials on Thursday.
Spokane County added more than 200 new cases of the virus this week alone. On Friday, county health officials reported 45 new cases. There are now 1,167 confirmed cases total countywide.
Hospitalizations have nearly doubled this week, with 22 county residents currently receiving treatment locally. Thirteen patients from other counties are also in Spokane hospitals receiving treatment.
Despite the rise in cases and hospitalizations, though, no new deaths have been reported in recent weeks. That may have to do with who is contracting the virus.
In Spokane County, 53% of confirmed cases are in residents under the age of 40, and cases in people in their 20s and 30s have surged in recent weeks. The trend is national in nature. In a Friday news conference, Vice President Mike Pence said half of the new cases reported nationally are in people under the age of 35.
The latest local outbreak involving young people was at Barracho Tacos and Tequileria in downtown Spokane. One employee and 23 customers have confirmed cases of the virus, including people dining June 12-13 and June 19-20.
The bar and restaurant’s outbreak is a visible demonstration of what Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz has been hearing from staff members completing case investigations for at least two weeks, with more young people out gathering in groups larger than five people, which is the allowed limit in Phase 2 of the governor’s reopening plan.
The Barracho outbreak occurred, Lutz said in a news release, as a result of many individuals not social distancing or keeping their interactions to groups of five or less.
Barracho announced in a Friday Facebook post that they will temporarily close.
“After conversations with our staff and Spokane Regional Health Department, we have decided to voluntarily and temporarily close our doors to ensure the safety of our customers and team,” the post says. “We do not make this decision lightly as we have worked tirelessly to implement state and county guidelines to operate our business safely.
“However, we believe it is important to take every possible precaution especially during this recent increase in Covid-19 cases in Spokane.”
Restaurants and taverns must implement several safety precautions and following the outbreak at Barracho, the health district advised the restaurant to implement additional safety protocols, including posting physical distancing reminders, installing markers for customers waiting in line and requiring staff members to wear masks on their breaks and in common areas.
The health district encouraged all staff members to be tested for the virus.
While young adults who have contracted the virus have fared well physically, health officials are concerned they will bring the virus back to their parents or grandparents and other family members, who might have medical conditions that make them more at risk for developing complications with COVID-19.Lutz said the modeling suggests an increase in hospitalizations in the county in coming weeks, which could accelerate if people do not take necessary precautions.
He said the coming July Fourth holiday weekend scares him.
“If you think our cases are bad now, and you don’t do something different for July Fourth – just wait,” he said.
Spokane County will not be moving to Phase 3 any time soon, Lutz said, especially with the daily deluge of 20, 30 or 40 cases in recent days. These numbers indicate that there is still some level of community spread of the virus. In order to move ahead, Lutz said the community has a lot of work to do.
On Friday, the statewide masking order went into effect, which requires Washingtonians to wear masks in public, both indoors and outdoors, when they cannot maintain 6 feet of physical distance from others.
Lutz said he needs buy-in from high-risk settings where people spend a lot of time and space indoors, such as restaurants and taverns, to move ahead.
He said those venues need “to step up and say we need to practice physically distancing and enforcing masking requirements, or else we will be shut down.”
Across state lines, the Panhandle Health District has seen a large increase in cases, with 220 confirmed as of Friday. Boundary County reported its first case this week, and one person in the five-county health district is hospitalized with the virus.
Katherine Hoyer, public information officer at Panhandle Health, said there is more community spread of the virus as well as clusters popping up from social settings. Unlike in Washington, Idaho Gov. Brad Little has said he will not require residents to wear masks, although the health district encourages it.
“It will take everyone participating in order to keep our businesses open and the economy going,” Hoyer said.
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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