OLYMPIA — Last week contained a bundle of good news on the reopening front for Pacific County and the state as a whole, and a return to a pre-pandemic “normal” is closer to becoming a reality as each day goes by.
In a March 11 news conference, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that each of Washington’s 39 counties will move to the newly announced Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan next Monday, March 22. Notably, Phase 3 allows for up to 50% of a building’s maximum occupancy for all indoor spaces, including restaurants.
Phase 3 guidance also permits in-person spectators at sporting events for the first time since the pandemic began, for both high school and professional sports, as well as other outdoor spectator events. Fans will be allowed to attend outdoor venues that have permanent seating, capped at 25%, with social distancing and facial coverings still required. High-contact indoor sports, including basketball, wrestling and cheerleading, will also be able to compete again.
New reopening approach announced
Additionally, Inslee announced that the state would be returning to a county-by-county reopening approach going forward, after moving to a regional approach on Jan. 6. Counties will be individually evaluated once every three weeks once the new plan goes into effect next week.
To remain in Phase 3, smaller counties with a population of 50,000 or less must maintain a 14-day average of new cases at 30 or fewer, and have a new seven-day hospitalization average at three or fewer. If a county fails either or both of the two metrics, they will be moved down one phase of the reopening plan.
County health director Katie Lindstrom noted that Pacific County has not recorded more than three hospitalizations in a single week since the pandemic began, but said the county would not meet the first metric if evaluated right now. As of March 15, there had been 47 new cases in Pacific County in the preceding 14 days.
It’s critically important, Lindstrom said, that people continue to avoid large gatherings and keep wearing masks. It could be the difference between Pacific County staying in Phase 3 or going back to Phase 2.
“My worry is that people who are not following those guidelines, they’re going to probably be responsible for pushing the county back into Phase 2. I don’t want to see that — I want to see us stay in Phase 3,” Lindstrom said. “We want people to really realize that we’re on a county-by-county basis right now, and our metrics don’t look good. And if we don’t improve, we’re going to get pushed back.”
The only way that the county’s reopening destiny won’t be in its own hands is if the statewide ICU capacity soars to at least 90%. If it does, every county will move down one phase.
Long Beach Mayor Jerry Phillips joined in urging county residents to follow safety guidelines in order to continue on the path back toward normal life. He noted on March 16 that restaurants and retail businesses will most likely begin staffing up to meet spring and summer demand, but will have to backtrack if the county isn’t able to push cases rates back to the low levels we had before a recent outbreak.
County surpasses 800 cases
Another milestone that’s not worth bragging about has been reached in Pacific County’s fight against covid-19, as the county surpassed 800 total cases of the virus over the past week.
With 18 new cases reported over the past week, the county’s total case count stands at 816 since the pandemic began a year ago. There are 23 active cases in Pacific County, and the current case rate per 100,000 people over a two-week period is 217.2 — and peaked, for now, at 295.7 late last week.
The recent steep rise in cases, Lindstrom said, is largely due to social gatherings where people are either not staying socially distanced or not wearing masks — or both.
According to weekly zip code data disclosed by the health department on March 10, the vast majority of recently announced cases are of people residing in north county. Over the past two weeks, a combined 36 new cases were attributed to people with a Raymond or South Bend address, bringing their total count to 369 and 178 cases, respectively. There are 18 outstanding cases that have not been assigned a community, as of March 16.
Coronavirus deaths in the county stood at 10 as of March 10.
Wahkiakum County’s total case count sat at 104 as of March 15, with seven potentially active cases. Clatsop County reported 797 total cases as of March 16, an increase of 13 cases since March 5. Statewide confirmed covid-19 cases totaled 329,893 on March 15, with 19,891 patients hospitalized and 5,135 fatalities reported since the pandemic began.