WENATCHEE — With a phase evaluation coming on Tuesday, the North Central Region is a mixed bag when it comes to remaining in Phase 3 of the state’s “Healthy Washington” reopening plan.
Chelan and Douglas counties currently have low enough incidence rates and steady hospitalizations to remain in Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan. Grant County is likely to return to Phase 2, according to Grant County health officials. Counties that roll back to Phase 2 will see their businesses’ capacity drop to 25% from 50% among other prohibitions. (Find a chart of permitted activities in each phase here: wwrld.us/phases.)
At the last evaluation on April 12, when Chelan and Douglas counties qualified by the slimmest margin, many health officials and community leaders were unsure if the counties would make it. Three weeks later, the state will be evaluating counties again on Tuesday, but this time around the margin is a bit more sizeable.
It is not really a nail-biter this time around, according to Luke Davies, health administrator for the Chelan-Douglas Health District.
Counties are evaluated by the state Department of Health on an individual basis with two sets of COVID-19 metrics, cases and hospitalizations, depending on population size. Counties will be sent back a phase only if it fails both metrics.
To remain in Phase 3, counties with fewer than 50,000 people, like Douglas and Okanogan counties, need to abide by at least one of these metrics:
- Have less than 100 new COVID-19 cases over 14 days
- Less than three new COVID-19 hospitalizations over seven days.
Douglas County had 64 new COVID cases from April 14 through April 27, according to data from the Chelan-Douglas Health District. Okanogan County had 63 new cases from April 6 through April 19, according to data from the state Department of Health.
Counties with more than 50,000 people, including Chelan and Grant counties, need to:
- Have less than 200 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per 14 days
- Less than five new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 per 7 days
Chelan County had 164.5 new COVID cases per 100,000 from April 14 to April 27, according to data from the Chelan-Douglas Health District.
Grant County, unlike the rest of the region, had 317 new COVID cases per 100,000 from April 13 to April 26, according to Grant County Health District data. Grant County’s incidence rate almost hits the upper limit of cases allowed in Phase 2 counties, 350 per 100,000.
Grant County’s Phase 3 hopes rest on its hospitalization rate. The health district website reports 10 people currently hospitalized due to COVID-19. Based on these numbers, the Grant County Health District expects to roll back to Phase 2, said Dr. Alexander Brzezny, health officer for the Grant County Health District.
Brzezny said in an email that this rise in cases and hospitalizations can be accounted for by one of the lowest vaccination rates in the region, an increase in COVID-19 variants and an increase in community activities.
“[Around] 20% to 25% of our cases are among school-aged children, and the rest of the cases mostly in younger, mobile, working age and the most likely to not vaccinate,” Brzezny said in an email. “As their mobility picked up, so did the cases among them.”
In Chelan and Douglas counties, COVID-19 hospitalizations have remained relatively steady, seeing a slight increase this week at Central Washington Hospital.
Very few COVID-19 patients are in the Intensive Care Unit at Central Washington Hospital, two as of April 28.
Chelan and Douglas county’s ICU numbers have not spiked, even as other hospitals in the state begin to see hospitalizations rise, because vaccine coverage is protecting the population, according to Davies.
Around 36% of the population in Chelan County and 31% in Douglas County are fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Health.
But among those getting hospitalized due to severe cases of COVID-19, they have all been unvaccinated and younger, said Andrew Canning, spokesperson for Confluence Health.
The age range for these critical cases has been between 37 to 77 years old, with more than 40% of these hospitalizations being under the age of 55, all of them unvaccinated, Canning said in an email.