SPOKANE, Wash. — Many residents in Spokane County are anxiously awaiting the go-ahead for more businesses to reopen and activities to resume. But health officer Dr. Bob Lutz says we are still not prepared to move ahead in the state's "Safe Start Plan."
When Spokane County eventually moves to Phase 3 of reopening, gatherings of 50 people or less will be allowed, restaurants and taverns can operate at 75% capacity, bars can reopen at 25% capacity, theaters and recreation facilities can reopen at 50% capacity, and libraries and museums will reopen.
The amount of coronavirus cases has increased significantly since Memorial Day weekend, when Spokane County entered into Phase 2 of reopening, Lutz said.
As of Wednesday morning, the Spokane Regional Health District is reporting 877 coronavirus cases of coronavirus and no new deaths. This is an increase of 18 cases from the day before.
Lutz says he will not support Spokane County moving into Phase 3 of reopening until numbers related to the coronavirus outbreak begin to improve. He wants to see several weeks of lower case counts and hospitalizations before he will consider it.
“We’re definitely not going into Phase 3 in the foreseeable future," he added during a press conference on Monday.
There are several metrics that are concerning for Lutz. One of those is COVID-19 activity in Spokane County.
Guidelines from Washington state leaders say that a county should have 25 new cases per 100,000 people in a two-week period before moving ahead in reopening. That would mean less than 130 cases over two weeks for Spokane County.
The numbers in Spokane County do not fall within that metric right now, Lutz said. In the last three weeks alone, the county has 360-plus coronavirus cases.
Hospitalizations have also increased in Spokane County. There have been at least 14 over the last three weeks, with eight out of 12 people currently hospitalized who are in the ICU, according to Lutz.
"That's not a good sign for me," he added.
Local health officials also remain focused on testing capacity, Lutz added. The state recommends that counties should testing a significant number of people to ideally get a positive rate of 2% or 50 tests per positive case.
While Lutz acknowledged that this is a difficult metric to meet, he said Spokane County is not there yet.
Lutz also expressed concerns about the large amount of coronavirus cases in young adults.
“Right now, about 300 of our cases have occurred in the 20-39 year age group. These are young people who may not have a lot of symptoms," Lutz said.
“My concern still exists that people are taking the opening into Phase 2 a little bit too liberally, and I think that reflects in our case counts," he added.
There is also some evidence that suggests community spread is occurring in Spokane County, Lutz said.
“The concern is that we have primarily been seeing those in worksites, but there is some suggestion that we’re not seeing those solely in worksites," Lutz added.
In the early days of the outbreak, 90% of what health officials saw in terms of coronavirus activity was community spread. Lutz said that number later decreased significantly.
New data from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) shows COVID-19 infections are increasing in the state, particularly in eastern Washington.
The latest statewide situation report released Saturday says there is a concern for Benton, Franklin, Spokane, and Yakima counties. According to the report, experts estimate COVID-19 could spread dramatically in those areas.
Lutz said he shared some data with health officials that contributed to the report, but he also has some questions about the data.
Despite the uptick in cases, Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward is hopeful that the county could move to Phase 3 soon.
"I would say that if we continue to social distance, wear our masks, and keep the community spread from happening, we are in a position where we can get to Phase 3," she said.
She also hopes to speak with Gov. Jay Inslee about loosening up requirements for entering Phase 3.