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Spokane County far from Phase 3 reopening

Case count, testing capabilities cited among reasons for not moving forward in reopening process


Last updated 6/18/2020 at 10:32am

CHENEY – Spokane County is not going forward in its reopening from COVID-19 restrictions any time soon.

That was the verdict delivered to the City Council last Tuesday night by City Administrator Mark Schuller. It’s also the verdict presented at a Monday morning, June 15, press conference by Spokane Regional Health Department Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz — verdicts reinforced over the weekend by a state Department of Health report showing COVID-19 transmission on the rise in Eastern Washington.

Schuller told the council that county officials have decided not to apply for Phase 3 reopening guidelines as detailed under Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start Washington plan. The county was successful in advancing to Phase 2 of the plan prior to Memorial Day weekend, but since that time has seen a rapid rise in new confirmed cases.

Schuller said at the June 9 council meeting the county had recorded 173 positive cases of the disease since June 1. Since last Tuesday, according SRHD’s COVID-19 Dashboard, there have been 86 additional cases through Tuesday, June 16.

“That’s’ quite an increase,” Schuller said. “Right now, things don’t look great for us.”

Phase 3 allows gatherings of 50 people or less, restaurants and taverns to operate to 75 percent capacity, bars, theaters and recreation facilities to reopen at 25 percent for the former and 50 percent for the latter two. Libraries and museums would also be allowed to reopen.

Schuller said many of the state’s metrics used for decision making on reopening are not being met by the county. The only goals being met are requirements for health care providers — hospital beds, cases being seen in hospitals.

“The other measures, we’re not even that close on most of them,” Schuller added.

One of those is testing. State requirements recommend counties be able to test enough people to get a positive rate of 2 percent, or about 50 people per positive case. According to state Department of Health information for the time period May 31 – June 6, Spokane County was at 12.9 individuals per each positive new case.

Counties should also be at a rate of 25 new cases per every 100,000 people over a two-week period before moving forward in reopening. Spokane County’s rate from May 24 – June 6 was 48.5 new cases per 100,000.

With 22 total cases through June 16, Cheney’s rate is 106.5 while Airway Heights with 16 cases is at 221. The data is for cases in the 99004 (Cheney and surrounding) and 99001 (Airway Heights) zip codes, with both at 14 cases each near the beginning of the month.

At Monday’s press conference, Lutz also said hospitalizations in the county have increased, with eight of the nine currently hospitalized in ICU. Three more patients were hospitalized on Tuesday.

“That’s not a good sign for me,” he said.

Previous reports from the state have indicated a rise in transmission in Eastern Washington, with Saturday’s report focusing on four counties considered to be potential hotspots — Benton, Franklin, Spokane and Yakima. If spread continues in these counties at current levels, cases and deaths could also increase, putting them in a position comparable to King County at the disease’s peak there back in March.

“The trends we’re seeing point to the critical importance of actions we can all take, like staying six feet apart and wearing cloth face coverings whenever we’re in public, as well as a need for increased response in these harder-hit areas,” Dr. Kathy Lofy, state health officer at DOH, said in the release.

“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,” Lutz said.

As of June 16 there have been 860 total cases of COVID-19 in Spokane County, with 52.4 percent of patients recovering and 99 total hospitalizations. There have been 37 COVID-19-related deaths.

John McCallum can be reached at


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