Spokane Co. Health Officer: ‘Some degree of community spread is occurring’

SPOKANE, Wash. — Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz on Monday expressed concern about community spread of COVID-19 in Spokane County.

The latest data from the Spokane Regional Health District show the county has seen 841 confirmed cases of COVID-19, a rise from the 802 reported on Friday. Nine people are currently hospitalized, with eight of those people being treated in the ICU.

Lutz said the majority of new cases can be attributed to smaller outbreaks at work facilities, but not all.

“There are however, some concerning notes out there, that suggest to me that some degree of community spread is occurring,” Lutz said.

Lutz said the data show more than 300 of the county’s cases are linked to people between the ages of 20 and 39.

“These are young people. These are young people who may not have a lot of symptoms, young people who may be working because they’ve been deemed essential,” Lutz said. “They’re in a younger demographic and maybe they’re getting COVID-19 because they’re feeling as if ‘Well, we don’t see it. I’m not having significant symptoms,’ and therefore may be not following all of the recommendations.”

Spokane County has been in phase 2 since May 22. In order to move to phase 3, certain metrics need to be met.

First, the county needs to have a low infection rate over two weeks, per 100,000 people.

“We are looking at a total of 25 per 100,000, which therefore we want to be seeing less than 130 cases, give or take over two weeks,” Lutz said.

In the past two weeks, the county had 241 new cases. Lutz said Spokane County has seen an increase of 350 confirmed cases in the last three weeks; something he said is “not a good note.”

“We’ve had a significant increase, as you know, since Memorial Day and so as a function of that, we’re not seeing being able to meet that metric incidence rate,” Lutz said.

A portion of the increase, Lutz said, can be attributed to an increase in testing across the county; there have been about 6,000 tests completed in the past three weeks, which is about 2,000 more tests than were completed in the three weeks prior to Memorial Day.

Another factor — the number of people tested per new case needs to increase. Spokane County needs to have 50 tests per positive case. According to the Washington state Department of Health, the county is at 12.9.

Lutz said that while testing has increased, it is important to look at the hospitalization rate, which has also increased since Memorial Day.

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

However, Spokane County has ample hospital bed space and currently meets that metric requirement. Lutz said inmates moved from Coyote Ridge to Airways Heights Correctional Center could impact the healthcare system if they need to be hospitalized.

“These are metrics that we’re having to meet and or if not, meeting them exactly, getting close to them before we can move into phase 3,” Lutz said.

When asked if the recent protests and gatherings in downtown Spokane could be linked to the increase in cases, Lutz said no.

“Encouragingly, however, at least locally, we’ve not seen any cases that we can relate to those protests.”

Another factor Lutz is looking at is contact tracing. He said the county has more than 80 people to do tracing.

“So from our standpoint, we have a good number of investigators but again, for me, I will share with you the caveat is that it is very time consuming,” Lutz said.

They’re required to get in touch with someone who has the virus within 24 hours. For those who may have been a close contact, tracers need to make contact with them in 48 hours. Tracers must contact them every day and make sure they’re in quarantine.

“We’re not in front of this pandemic yet. We have to be vigilant,” Lutz said. “We have to be — continued to do what I have been, what all of us in public health have been encouraging you to do for months.”

Lutz said the county will not be ready to move into phase 3 until the metrics and data show that it is safe to do so.

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