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Counties face possible rollback to Phase 2

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | April 29, 2021 1:05 AM

OLYMPIA — Concern over rising COVID-19 cases in Washington could mean a number of counties — including Grant County — could find themselves set back to Phase 2 in an attempt to limit the spread of the disease.

In an online press conference Tuesday, newly confirmed Secretary of Health Umair Shah said officials at the State Department of Health were taking a county-by-county approach as they prepare to review the last three weeks of COVID-19 data.

“Transmission is still increasing, and the majority of counties are seeing rising case counts,” Shah said. “It’s slowed down, but we’re concerned about a fourth wave.”

Counties that fail to meet the state guidelines for Phase 3 — fewer than 200 cases per 100,000 residents over the previous 14 days, and five or fewer hospitalizations per 100,000 people during the previous 7 days — could be knocked back to Phase 2, which would send restaurants back to 25% of capacity and limit group activities both indoors and outdoors.

According to the Department of Health’s Healthy Washington: Roadmap to Recovery website, Grant County reported 242 cases per 100,000 residents for the two weeks prior to April 26, the day the data was reported. Most counties in Washington are reporting case rates above 200 per 100,000, with Ferry County — population 7,910 — reporting a 14-day COVID-19 case rate of 720.6.

The statewide rate is currently 238.5. However, Shah said state health officials would still make their decisions on a county-by-county basis, and the entire state would not pull back into Phase 2.

“Counties will be moved based on the metrics for the time period,” added Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy health secretary in charge of the state’s COVID-19 response. “It’s never too late to turn it around. The goal is to keep the entire state moving forward on a path to recovery.”

While state officials will review the data on Monday, a formal announcement of any phase changes will wait until Tuesday morning, Shah said.

Matt Moore, one of the owners of Moore Furniture in Ephrata and a member of the Ephrata City Council, said moving Grant County back to Phase 2 just as the weather is getting warmer and influenza season is coming to an end would leave a lot of people “very frustrated” at what is normally a very safe time.

“I’m losing faith that there’s an exit strategy here,” Moore said, noting lockdowns were supposed to be an emergency, short-term strategy, and not a long-term approach. “There’s a growing level of dissatisfaction with maintaining lockdowns as a baseline strategy.”

Cari Matthews, executive director of the Quincy Valley Chamber of Commerce, said any phase rollback would hurt local businesses and put a damper on event planning just as communities across the state were starting to organize spring and summer events.

“We’ll know more next week,” she said.

Shah said the best way to fight the disease and get back to normal as quickly as possible was to get everyone vaccinated. With the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine now approved again for use, Shah said there are three safe vaccines approved for use in the state.

Around five million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been given out in Washington since they were first made available, Shah said, and roughly 30% of people who have received the vaccine have been fully immunized.

“Vaccinations are working, and they really do provide a pathway to getting back to normal,” he said.

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