Spokane County will have to do more to stop the spread of COVID-19 or health officials might tighten current guidelines in the county.
In the last three days, health officials have confirmed more than 300 local COVID-19 cases. On Friday, the Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 94 new cases.
“We have a false sense of being out of the woods or that the pandemic isn’t as prevalent in our county, and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz said in a press release.
Spokane County now has an incidence rate of more than 200 cases per 100,000 residents.
The health district is working with the state health department and governor’s office to see what can be done to prevent further outbreaks. And while kindergartners returned to classes this week in Spokane, more students might have to wait longer if the virus is not under better control soon. Lutz also could look to tighten newly loosened guidelines the governor released just this week.
“We need everyone’s help so that we can continue bringing children back to in-person school and opening the economy,” Lutz said. “We can do this by practicing physical distancing, limiting gatherings outside of our households, and wearing masks. I am very concerned, on the eve of a three-day weekend, that we will need to roll back recent easing of health measures in Spokane County, something I do not want to see happen.”
On Friday, 37 patients were being treated at local hospitals for COVID-19, and 34 of them are county residents. There have been 176 Spokane County resident deaths due to COVID-19, after the health district confirmed another death on Friday.
COVID-19 activity is increasing not only in Spokane County but also regionally. The Northeast Tri-County Health District has reported an uptick in cases, particularly in Pend Oreille County.
“We’re watching those numbers very closely, especially in Pend Oreille County, to see where this heads,” Matt Schanz, administrator of the North East Tri-County Health District said on Friday.
The district confirmed 87 cases in the last two weeks. Half of those cases were in Pend Oreille; half in Stevens County.
In Pend Oreille County, public health officials linked at least 25 COVID-19 cases to an outbreak at a church in Old Town, Idaho, which is right across the state line from Newport.
House of the Lord Church and Christian Academy reported cases in some church and school administrators in late September, and subsequently closed their school for two weeks to middle and high school students, as well as in-person services the weekend following the confirmed cases.
The outbreak has led to coordination and contact tracing between the North East Tri-County Health District and the Panhandle Health District, as members live on both sides of the state line. The outbreak also highlights the differences a state line can make.
“We’ve had 25 associated cases with that particular facility and have had some challenges because it’s out of our jurisdiction to communicate and come up with a safety plan that will be helpful in preventing further spread,” Dr. Sam Artzis, health officer at the Northeast Tri County Health District, told reporters Friday. “So that work is ongoing.”
District health officials are encouraging non-pharmaceutical interventions, from wearing masks to distancing, as well as not singing communally, as that is considered a high-risk activity. Old Town is in Bonner County, Idaho, however, where there is no mask mandate. Additionally, the Panhandle Health District does not have jurisdiction to mandate or enforce masking in a religious organization.
Virus activity does not adhere to state lines, and the Panhandle Health District has also seen an uptick in cases in recent weeks .
On Friday, the Panhandle Health District reported 46 new cases in county residents, and there are 18 residents hospitalized with the virus.
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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