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COVID-19 hospitalizations soar in the Inland Northwest

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 28, 2020

 (Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)
(Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)

There are nearly 100 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the Inland Northwest medical corridor, representing a second peak of hospitalizations reported from Spokane and Coeur d’Alene hospitals in the pandemic.

In late July and early August, hospitalizations peaked following ballooning case counts. History appears to be repeating itself this fall. While Spokane County had higher numbers of patients hospitalized with the virus, hospitalizations in the Panhandle Health District peaked at equal levels this summer.

There are 58 patients in Spokane hospitals receiving treatment for the virus, and 45 of them are Spokane County residents. There are 41 patients at Kootenai Health being treated for the virus.

As of Tuesday, only 3.5% of licensed hospital beds in Spokane County are taken by COVID-19 patients, and the number of beds occupied for all patients in Spokane has hovered around 60% in recent weeks. Of the 58 Spokane COVID patients, 16 require intensive care.

Staffing is important when it comes to hospital capacity, Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz said.

“If you don’t have the staff to support those beds, then that capacity metric is sort of moot,” he told reporters Wednesday. “That’s the great concern we have now.”

Given the county’s high incidence rate and flu season bringing the potential to impact hospitalization numbers, Lutz expressed unease about the future. Spokane County has an incidence rate of 224 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents, double the state average.

Still, hospitalizations also are rising statewide.

Cases are increasing in all age groups and that will translate to more hospitalizations and deaths, State Health Officer Kathy Lofy said.

Statewide and in Spokane County, the driving factor is not public outbreaks but residents letting their guard down at home, in social gatherings and break rooms, officials have said.

“We’re aware of a family-friend gathering watching football that led to six cases,” Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy health secretary, told reporters Wednesday.

She asked state residents to wear face coverings, even when gathering in small groups.

Statewide, schools have not been the source of large outbreaks thus far. Fehrenbach said there have been 26 outbreaks in schools since Sept. 1, noting an outbreak means two or more confirmed and connected cases. The outbreaks, however, have been relatively small in their reach with most of them only accounting for five or fewer cases, she said.

Locally, Lutz said Spokane County schools are not the source of outbreaks, but instead students or teachers coming into the schools are sometimes bringing the virus with them. Lutz said the health district confirmed 30 COVID-19 cases over the weekend in kids and teenagers 5 to 17, which he said is a concern.

“Families need to be doing the right thing outside of school environments,” he said.

Nevertheless, the data seems to support younger kids returning to schools for in-person learning, state health officials said.

“We are seeing promising and hopeful signs that we can open schools safely with good health and safety measures in place,” Fehrenbach said.

The spike in cases in the Inland Northwest this fall does not appear to be slowing down. Here’s a look at local numbers:

The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 131 new cases on Wednesday, as well as another death from the virus. There are now 9,616 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county, with an estimate of 75% of those cases recovered. There are 199 recorded deaths in Spokane County from the virus thus far in the pandemic.

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 141 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, and there are 74 recorded deaths in the five-county region. The Panhandle has a 12.3% positivity rate, despite the number of tests conducted in the region remaining constant, indicating that virus transmission is increasing. In the first week of October, the Panhandle Health District had a positivity rate of only 7.3%.

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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