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News >  Spokane

13 new cases confirmed in Spokane as health district awaits approval to move to next reopening phase

UPDATED: Thu., May 21, 2020

After a stretch of low daily COVID-19 numbers in Spokane County, the health district reported a spike in new cases on Thursday.

The county had seen no more than six new cases in a single day in May. On Thursday, the county confirmed 13 new cases.

Half of those confirmed cases are associated with an outbreak that is now under control, said Kelli Hawkins, public information officer at the health district.

“It’s mostly related to a single outbreak that our contact tracing team has contained, so it’s not community spread,” she said.

The health district is not releasing details about where or how the outbreak took place, because it was not deemed necessary for public health reasons.

Hawkins said the health district’s contact tracing team has reached out to all those involved with the outbreak.

In outbreak situations in which there is a public health concern or an inability to trace a large amount of people who could have been potentially exposed to the virus, the district will release information publicly, on a case-by-case basis, Hawkins said.

Hawkins said the controlled outbreak will not affect the county’s application for a variance that would allow it to move to Phase 2 of the state’s phased reopening plan, though the application does require the health district to report an outbreak within six hours of beginning an investigation.

Spokane is one of 25 counties eligible to apply to move to Phase 2.

Ten of those counties have been granted permission to do so.

The Spokane Regional Health District submitted its application to the Washington Department of Health late Wednesday and is awaiting the approval of State Secretary of Health John Wiesman’s decision.

As of press time on Thursday, the health district had not received a response from the Department of Health.

Hawkins said the county expects case counts to continue to grow as a result of expanded testing.

New protocols mean that even asymptomatic people who were in contact with a confirmed case or associated with an outbreak can be tested for COVID-19.

Data included in the health district’s application indicate that more residents have been tested in recent weeks and that few have tested positive.

Of 4,244 county residents tested in a four-week period, only 2.6% of that group – 109 people – were confirmed to have COVID-19.

The health district has support from local elected officials as well as Providence and MultiCare hospital systems to move to Phase 2. The second phase of reopening would allow restaurants, retail stores and salons to open, with restrictions and safety guidelines.

Through the Eastern Washington University volunteer program, the application says Spokane County will have 95 contact tracers by June 15. There are 16 health district staff members conducting contact investigations, with the support of a dozen other staff members and a dozen volunteers who have been trained.

Local contact efforts have been speedy, with the vast majority of confirmed cases contacted within 24 hours and 99.9% of close contacts of confirmed cases contacted within 48 hours.

The health district identified several options for sites where people diagnosed with COVID-19 could isolate if they are unable to do so at home, including local hotels, Eastern Washington University and Gonzaga University student housing, the fairgrounds and the Spokane Arena.

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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