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Health officer says Phase 3 ‘unlikely’ in June

by Charles H. Featherstone
Staff Writer | June 10, 2020 11:36 PM

MOSES LAKE — The increase in reported COVID-19 cases in Grant County in the last two weeks may affect whether the county will be able to move to Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan in June.

Speaking at a meeting of the Grant County Health District on Wednesday, county Health Officer Alexander Brzezny said that Grant County currently has seen 60-70 confirmed cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people for the last two weeks, which is more than the state’s earlier stated maximum of 25 cases to qualify for Phase 3.

“Phase 3 is unlikely this month,” Brzezny said. “It’s not looking like that, at least based on the last couple of weeks.”

Under the four-phase reopening plan put forth by Gov. Jay Inslee last month, counties in Phase 2 need to meet benchmarks — 25 or fewer new cases per 100,000 people for two weeks, adequate spare hospitalization capacity and reserve personal protective equipment — in order to be approved for Phase 3.

Grant County is meeting all the requirements except the case load, Brzezny said.

Under Phase 3, the size of public gatherings can increase, businesses like bars and movie theaters can open, and restaurants can increase capacity.

On Wednesday, the number of COVID-19 patients in Grant County being cared for in a hospital was five.

Brzezny said that around 40 percent of all the COVID-19 cases in Grant County since the outbreak started were reported in the last two weeks. While some of this is the result of increased testing, he said most of it was likely the result of the informal loosening of business closures and public gatherings beginning with Mother’s Day and extending through Memorial Day.

There are currently three COVID-19 outbreaks in Grant County — associated with a day care center, a long-term care facility and farmworker housing. However, Brzezny said most of the confirmed cases are fairly evenly scattered across the county.

“This is evidence of continued spread,” Brzezny said. “You have to be stable for two weeks before Phase 3, and we’re in unstable times right now.”

Yakima County has nearly 5,100 confirmed cases — a positive rate of 537 cases per 100,000 people.

“In spite of all the efforts, they aren’t stopping it,” Brzezny said of Yakima County.

Benton, Franklin, Adams and Douglas counties have all reported more than 75 cases per 100,000 people for the last two weeks. Until this week, Grant County was “an isolated island,” he said.

Brzezny said around half of the 50 states — especially California, Texas and Florida — are reporting significant increases in COVID-19 cases.

“There are very few states where cases are not growing,” he said.

Brzezny advised that anyone who participated in a demonstration, including law enforcement or National Guard soldiers, should get tested for COVID-19.

He said the health district is going to continue working to “maintain a high level of testing,” do what can be done to ”avoid exponential growth” and protect those most at risk from COVID-19. He also said it was important to “responsibly restart the economy.”

“Only so many things are possible and can be achieved,” he said.

Brzezny told health district board members that the best ways to limit the spread of the disease are “behavioral changes and physical distancing.”

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.