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Health district: Low COVID-19 numbers not the only requirement

by Emry Dinman
Staff Writer | May 21, 2020 12:06 AM

GRANT COUNTY — Though Grant County may be near a point of satisfying the state on the number of recent positive cases of COVID-19, Grant County Health District cautions that more steps will be necessary before beginning to reopen the local economy.

In a Tuesday press conference, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a broadening of criteria for counties to apply to move to Phase 2, allowing limited reopening of restaurants, retailers and more, before the rest of the state. The main criterion highlighted was that counties need to have fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 people in a two-week period. That would mean that Grant County, with a population estimated at 99,000, needs to have no more than nine cases in a two-week period, or an average of 0.71 cases per day, according to public health officials.

The state currently lists Grant County as having a daily rate of about 1.5, more than double the allowable number, according to the health district.

However, those numbers are for the two-week period between April 28 and May 12, said Theresa Adkinson, administrator for the health district, because the state’s data is delayed by about a week. More current numbers show the county is much closer to having lowered its daily numbers sufficiently, Adkinson said.

Beyond the week-long delay for the state to register the newest numbers, there’s another quirk between the numbers that the health district reports every day and the numbers the state looks at to determine if Grant County qualifies to move into Phase 2, Adkinson said. The numbers used for qualifying for a variance aren’t based on when test results were received, but rather when a test was taken. With turnaround times currently ranging from 24 to 72 hours, Adkinson said, a positive test on Friday may have been taken as far back as Tuesday or Wednesday.

What all of this means is that it may take some time for numbers to be sorted, analyzed, assigned to their proper timeline and reported to the state — all of which spells at least nominal delays in getting the county back up and running.

Even once the county does have low numbers of new daily COVID-19 cases, there are other criteria the county must meet. They include increased testing, not just availability but in the number of tests being conducted each day. This will be accomplished at least in part by involving workplaces and health care providers that have had COVID-19 cases and testing all hospital admissions, the health district wrote in a press release.

It also requires reducing the number of days between the onset of the illness and the date a test was performed. In order to meet this requirement, the health district is urging individuals to seek a test as soon as they suspect they may have COVID-19 symptoms or may have come into close contact with a COVID-19 patient.

Hospitals will also have to state in writing that they have the capacity to take in numerous patients in the case of a second wave of the virus, Adkinson said in a Wednesday conference call with Grant County Economic Development Council.

The county has to establish available housing and quarantine facilities for individuals who live in crowded conditions or who have no home, the health district wrote in its press release. A large part of this requirement may be satisfied by the homeless camp site laid out by the Moses Lake City Council, the health district wrote, but that plan has seen delays as a result of community backlash.

The health district also wrote that it has identified motel rooms and a possible quarantine facility to help meet this requirement.

The county will also need to demonstrate to the state that it has sufficient support services for those recovering or in quarantine, according to the health district, including with food delivery services and others.

Grant County Health District must also demonstrate that it can maintain the staffing levels needed to conduct contact tracing, or tracking close contacts of a person who has tested positive for the novel coronavirus. According to the health district, the state requires that all close contacts be contacted, and all individuals under isolation or quarantine must be contacted daily by health district staff.

The health district’s press release did not, in most cases, provide specifics regarding the criteria, including what number of tests conducted per day would satisfy state requirements. The Herald seeks to provide specific numbers in the near future, as well as the health district’s appraisal of the likelihood of the county meeting these requirements in the coming weeks.