Local leaders made their wishes clear to Spokane County residents Tuesday morning: Stay home, support local businesses responsibly and don’t panic.
Spokane County reported 33 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz anticipates the number will continue to climb.
Statewide, the number of cases rose to about 2,470 and deaths increased to more than 120 from just over 2,200 and 110 on Monday, according to the state health department. Fifteen counties east of the Cascades reported 163 confirmed cases, with 44 of them attributed to Yakima County and 27 to Grant County.
Yakima and Chelan counties reported their first deaths related to COVID-19. At least five people east of the Cascades have died from the disease.
At a news conference Monday morning, Lutz urged Spokane residents to heed Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-home order issued Monday night, emphasizing that this means no gatherings of any size.
People still are free to go on walks, to the park and to essential businesses, as long as social distancing is maintained. Restaurants can remain open for takeout or delivery.
Fairchild Air Force Base increased its health protection condition level Monday to be consistent with Inslee’s order and limited base access to Department of Defense identification cardholders and civilians required to work on base starting at 3 p.m. Tuesday. Department of Defense officials ordered service members, civilian employees and their families to halt domestic travel on March 14.
Since the base confirmed a case of COVID-19 in an active-duty airman March 16, Fairchild has reported no new cases. Ninety people have been tested and 44 have been negative, with 45 tests pending, according to base officials.
To reduce personal contact at entrance gates, Fairchild security forces began scanning identification cards while they remained in cardholders’ hands on March 17. The base child care center and commissary remained open as of Tuesday, but its theater, gym and teen center, along with several other facilities, were closed. More than a dozen other facilities were operating under reduced hours.
Airmen and their families were also asked to follow Inslee’s social distancing guidelines and stay home as much as possible.
“Team Fairchild’s care and support efforts have been simply outstanding and we will continue to stay lockstep with our community partners as we transition into a different sense of ‘normal’ in the days ahead so together we can ‘Flatten the Curve,’ ” 92nd Air Refueling Wing Commander Col. Derek Salmi said in a statement.
Washington joined several other states this week with its stay-home order, the most stringent of the efforts taken by political leaders and public health officials in the United States to attempt to slow the spread of the respiratory virus.
“If I were to look right now at our local numbers, we are not flattening the curve,” Lutz said. “And if you look at a state level, we are not flattening the curve yet, so we’ve incrementally had to increase what we call nonpharmaceutical interventions to the point where we are right now.”
Of the 33 cases of COVID-19 in Spokane County, five people are hospitalized with the illness, Kelli Hawkins, Spokane Regional Health District spokeswoman said.
It could take a week, two weeks or even a month to see the results of such interventions, like social distancing, working from home and the closure of certain businesses and gatherings, Lutz said.
“Having to go to this next step indicates that collectively we have not really followed through with what public health has been providing for recommendations,” he said.
The responsibility for flattening the curve relies heavily on the community to comply with the recommendations. Local law enforcement agencies say they will educate people and expect the community to voluntarily comply with the governor’s order.
“We are not going to take efforts that are going to be draconian on this, folks,” Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said. “We’re going to educate you.”
Knezovich and Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward encouraged the community to stop panic shopping to ensure stores have the necessary time to stock up their supplies.
All nonessential businesses are to close Wednesday, if they haven’t already, under Inslee’s order, although Woodward emphasized that volunteers for food programs, like Meals on Wheels, are considered essential during this time.
Shelters for people experiencing homelessness must comply with social distancing requirements, cutting providers’ capacity. Woodward said the first floor of the downtown Spokane Public Library will be used as a new shelter space and will open with up to 140 beds as soon as next week. The city also is assessing other spaces to provide community members a space to isolate or quarantine if they cannot do so in their own homes.
All of the Spokane-area leaders at the news conference urged residents to take the stay-home order and recommendations seriously in the coming weeks.
“My concern is that unless we really start to ratchet this up in a significant way, we will be one of those countries that doesn’t have a slow flattening of the curve, and we will be doing this for a while,” Lutz 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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