Officials announced a record number of new COVID-19 cases in Spokane County on Monday – 79 – as the coronavirus continues spreading at a faster pace in the Inland Northwest.
Across the state border, the Panhandle Health District reported 65 new cases on Monday, a record high for the region, with an uptick in cases reported in Kootenai and Bonner counties.
Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz encouraged people who are gathering this weekend for the Fourth of July to follow public health guidance, wearing cloth face coverings whenever they cannot keep six feet of distance, and gathering in small groups rather than having large parties. He said outdoor activities, like swimming, camping or water sports, are lower-risk for transmission versus gathering in large groups or being indoors.
He encouraged county residents to keep a mask handy, so that they can quickly put it on if they encounter someone and need to pass within six feet of them. Wearing face coverings is required in public in Washington where maintaining six feet of distance is not possible.
Previous to Monday, the highest number of new cases announced in Spokane County was 55 on June 5.
Spokane County has 1,302 confirmed cases of the virus, with residents in their 20s and 30s accounting for 40% of the case total. Over the weekend, two more residents died from the virus, county data show. Health officials did not have further details on the characteristics of the residents who died from the virus. State health data show that as of June 22, 24 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County are connected to long-term care facilities.
Local hospital officials are concerned about the growing number of cases and hospitalizations due to COVID-19. There are currently 37 patients receiving treatment at Spokane hospitals for COVID-19, and 17 of them are county residents. Being hospitalized for COVID-19 can mean a two-week stay or longer, Lutz said, depending on whether a person needs to go to the intensive care unit . Hospitals locally, which have reopened their systems to offer all surgeries, including elective surgeries, could have to scale back these types of services if there is a surge in hospitalizations locally.
“If we see a significant increase in cases that require hospitalizations, that will require them to do things differently, they might have to reallocate floors and staff,” Lutz said Monday.
Since June 1, the Spokane Regional Health District is using an undisclosed location for isolation if people need a place to go when they are experiencing symptoms and do not want to infect the people they live with. To date, 37 residents have used the isolation facility, either while they are waiting for test results or while they are still contagious with COVID-19.
Locally, the recent surge in cases is partially due to continued contact tracing efforts, with cases found that are connected to other known outbreaks or clusters, as well as some community spread. In North Idaho, three counties have evidence of community spread, and public health officials there urged residents to wear a mask despite the governor of Idaho not requiring masks to be worn statewide.
The Panhandle Health District has 285 total confirmed cases of COVID-19. Less than half of those people are no longer being monitored by the health district for symptoms.
“We are seeing a sharp increase in cases with lifted restrictions, more in the first three weeks of June than we had in March through May combined,” Karen Cabell, chief physician executive at Kootenai Health, said in a news release. “We all want to keep our businesses open, safely go back to work, and have adequate hospital capacity for a surge of COVID–19 patients needing care.”
Since Spokane County entered Phase 2, case counts locally have more than doubled, and similarly in North Idaho, as the state entered its latest stage of reopening, including bars and large gatherings, case counts have jumped. Nationwide, several states have seen similar scenarios. Public health officials encouraged residents to take necessary precautions: wearing cloth face coverings in public, maintaining six feet of space between others and seeking testing if you experience symptoms of COVID-19.
Arielle Dreher can be reached at (509) 459-5467 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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