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‘House on fire’: COVID-19 cases surge in Inland Northwest and statewide with Thanksgiving coming

UPDATED: Fri., Nov. 20, 2020

Since Monday, 1,026 more Spokane County residents have tested positive for COVID-19.

Novel coronavirus cases continue to surge in the Inland Northwest, as well as the rest of Washington. The surge comes before the Thanksgiving holiday, leading public health and elected officials to plead with residents to change their holiday plans and not gather with anyone outside their immediate household.

“We have to understand that the house is on fire right now,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a Friday news conference.

On Friday, the Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 227 new cases, bringing the total number of cases in the county to 14,060. The district estimates that 65% of those cases have recovered.

Two more Spokane County residents died from the virus, bringing the total to 238.

There are 114 patients hospitalized for the virus in Spokane hospitals, and 89 of them are county residents.

The Panhandle Health District, which instituted a five-county mask mandate this week, recorded more COVID-19 cases than Spokane County this week, with 1,186 more cases recorded since Monday.

Two more Panhandle residents have died from the virus, bringing the total deaths from the virus in the five-county region to 99.

There are more Panhandle residents hospitalized with the virus than ever before, with 67 residents receiving treatment for the virus. Kootenai Health is treating 54 of those 67 Panhandle residents.

Inslee continued to advise against indoor social gatherings, especially less than a week before Thanksgiving. He urged people to stay at home with members of their household and not to get a COVID-19 test simply to gather at Thanksgiving, which could cause strains on the number of tests available.

Secretary of Health Dr. John Wiesman also urged against testing before Thanksgiving unless required.

“Getting a test is not a guarantee that you’re not infected,” Wiesman said.

Inslee also asked for the public’s help with contact tracing as many counties already have limited resources. If someone thinks they may have been exposed, Inslee said, they should contact the people they have been around.

“But there’s not enough contact tracing in the world if everyone has a turkey dinner,” he said.

Hospitalizations have already risen locally and statewide, which does not reflect the possibility of any of the most recently confirmed 2,500 cases needing hospitalization for the virus.

Local universities are asking students to observe the governor’s guidance when it comes to Thanksgiving and not gather.

Gonzaga University is asking students who are going home for Thanksgiving to stay there for the remainder of the semester.

Whitworth University is implementing similar policies, asking students who choose to go home to stay home. Students that stay in Spokane County will be able to finish their fall semester in Spokane.

There are currently 36 COVID-19 cases associated with Gonzaga students and staff, and eight students are quarantining on campus.

Whitworth reported 25 COVID-19 cases in students and staff members on Friday.

Confirmed cases in Spokane County are not limited to college campuses, however. In November, 65% of confirmed COVID-19 cases have been in residents between the ages of 20-59.

S-R reporter Laurel Demkovich contributed to this story.

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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