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Some counties could move to Phase 2 next week, but it’s unclear which ones - yet

By Arielle Dreher and Laurel Demkovich The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA – Some counties could move backward in the state’s reopening phase as early as next week, as COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations have plateaued and are starting to increase in some regions.

The Department of Health will reevaluate counties’ COVID-19 data metrics on Monday – three weeks after the entire state moved to Phase 3, which allows for relaxed rules such as 50% restaurant capacity and increased occupancy at sporting events.

With case rates on the rise in many parts of the state, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday there are concerns with “a number of counties” which have “let their guard down.”

“This letting our guard down is really, really dangerous,” he said.

Moving back to Phase 2 would mean limiting capacity at restaurants, gyms and entertainment establishments to 25%.

To remain in Phase 3, large counties must have fewer than 200 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people every two weeks and fewer than five hospitalizations per 100,000 people every week.

Counties of less than 50,000 people must have fewer than 30 new cases every two weeks and under three hospitalizations every week to stay in Phase 3.

If a county fails at least one of the metrics, it will move back a phase.

The Department of Health will use “the most recent complete data” on Monday to make the decision of who moves, and Inslee said it will be solely based on the numbers.

It is difficult to assess how great a risk Spokane County has of moving back to Phase 2 on Monday, due to limited and unclear data.

It’s not clear what dates the Department of Health is going to use to evaluate case rates in counties on Monday.

Currently, the two-week case rate in Spokane County is 193 cases per 100,000 but the state might evaluate counties based on previous weeks’ data.

The risk assessment dashboard lists Spokane County as having a case rate of 168 cases per 100,000 from March 16 through March 29, which means the region could meet the case rate metric. This rate does not extract the number of inmates in the county, which the department will do on Monday to make its determination, however.

Hospitalizations could also bump the county back a phase, depending on what trends look like on Monday.

As of Wednesday, Spokane County has a reported 4.7 new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 in the last week, according to the health district. If that number gets above five, Spokane County will be moved back to Phase 2 anyway.

Even the Spokane Regional Health District is not completely clear on which data the state is using to evaluate hospitalizations, however.

With trends headed in the wrong direction, it appears as though Spokane County is right on the edge of moving backward to Phase 2 .

“The score is the score,” Inslee said. “I won’t be making any judgments on Monday. The numbers will be the numbers.”

A county that moves back would do so next Friday and won’t be reevaluated for three more weeks, deputy secretary for COVID-19 response Lacy Fehrenbach said.

State and local health officials do have the ability to move a county back at any point, however.

Spokane County case counts have been increasing in recent weeks, especially in young adults.

The California variant, B.1.429, the most common variant statewide, is the most common variant in Spokane County.

So far this variant is thought to increase in transmission as well as render some therapeutics used to treat COVID less effective.

Here’s a look at local numbersThe Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 104 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday.

There are 37 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Spokane .

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 29 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday and one additional death.

There have been 288 Panhandle residents who have died from the virus.

There are 31 Panhandle residents hospitalized with COVID-19.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories 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.

Laurel Demkovich'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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