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Increase in testing, holiday weekend results in more confirmed COVID-19 cases

UPDATED: Fri., Sept. 11, 2020

Faculty members from Washington State University Health Sciences Spokane administer COVID-19 tests to students at a mobile testing site during the coronavirus pandemic on campus, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, in Pullman. Pullman has seen a large increase in COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks.  (Associated Press)
Faculty members from Washington State University Health Sciences Spokane administer COVID-19 tests to students at a mobile testing site during the coronavirus pandemic on campus, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, in Pullman. Pullman has seen a large increase in COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks. (Associated Press)

Gonzaga and Whitworth universities have reported 18 combined cases of COVID-19 since students returned to in-person classes.

Both campuses have implemented masking policies and are having staff and students track their symptoms regularly.

Gonzaga is reporting 15 current COVID-19 infections, including 14 cases in students living off-campus.

These cases are not due to parties or gatherings outside of current phase limits, according to a Gonzaga spokeswoman.

The students with COVID-19 live in just a few houses together, and the cases are from one roommate bringing home the virus to others, then other close contacts testing positive.

Gonzaga began surveillance testing this week, randomly sampling students living on- and off-campus. University health officials may find more cases in asymptomatic students from this random testing.

At Whitworth, there are three confirmed cases in two students living on campus and one employee. The two students are in a quarantine site on campus, where the university has set aside 80 beds for that purpose. The cases appear to be isolated and not connected to larger outbreaks, a Whitworth spokeswoman said.

On Friday, the Spokane Regional Health District reported 55 new cases of COVID-19, another high daily count, following several weeks when the rolling average of daily cases reported was 37.

Spokane Regional Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz said the increase Thursday and Friday is likely in part due to a backlog in cases after statewide technical reporting problems earlier this week, as well as an indicator that providers are beginning to test more.

“We will see more cases as a function of the holiday,” Lutz said, adding that those numbers might show up in the coming days.

In August, the number of tests conducted for COVID-19 locally plummeted, but it appears to be slowly rising again. The county’s positivity rate is up to 8%, according to state data, increasing from earlier in August.

The incidence rate in Spokane County has fallen in recent weeks but not as rapidly as in the Puget Sound area. There are 98 cases per 100,000 residents in Spokane County. Other parts of central and Eastern Washington have much higher incidence rates, but King County has an incidence rate of 68 cases per 100,000 residents.

Statewide, COVID-19 activity continues to decrease, with the exception of Whitman County, where college students have driven up the county’s incidence rate significantly.

As of Friday morning, there are 975 confirmed cases in Whitman County, an increase of more than 800 cases in just three weeks.

The effective virus reproductive number in Eastern and western Washington is hovering around 1. Some counties have instead plateaued.

“While we see some encouraging trends in case counts, the risk remains extremely high throughout the state,” Secretary of Health John Wiesman said in a news release.

“The situation in Whitman County illustrates just how quickly an outbreak can wipe out our progress toward keeping case counts low. It is still critical that we limit the size and frequency of our in-person gatherings, wear face coverings and stay home when we are sick.”


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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