Yakima County and the other five counties in the south-central region are likely far from moving to the next phase of the state’s new plan to reopen, based on the latest data used by the Department of Health of the ‘State.
The south-central region was the only region that did not meet any of the four criteria. A large number of new cases per capita and a high positive test rate in Yakima County are contributing to the problem.
Unlike the previous reopening plan, which was county-based, the progress of the new plan will be region-based. The counties in the state have been divided into eight regions, which almost correspond to the existing regions of emergency medical services. The governor’s office said dividing regions in this way reflects the state’s focus on minimizing the impact of COVID-19 on the health system.
Yakima County is part of the South Central region with the counties of Benton, Columbia, Franklin, Kittitas and Walla Walla.
Most of the state’s numbers are from December and things didn’t improve much in January locally. With Yakima County continuing to see an increase in new COVID-19 cases and continuing to report the highest positive test rates statewide, the region as a whole will likely be prevented from progressing far into the country. new plan.
So, for now, Yakima County is in phase 1 of the state’s revised reopening plan, called the Roadmap to recovery.
Phase 1 of the plan continues with the restrictions implemented by Gov. Jay Inslee in mid-November, with a few exceptions: Gyms can have one client per 500 square feet. Outdoor entertainment facilities, such as open-air theaters and zoos, may also reopen.
Phase 2 of the plan allows for additional business and group activities including 25% catering capacity, restricted weddings and funerals, championship matches, and competitions for moderate risk indoor sports and all sports outdoor activities and indoor gatherings with people outside the home. The number of people who can meet at an outdoor gathering would also increase.
Whether a region can move to the next phase is based on several metrics: COVID-19 case activity, COVID-19 hospital admission rate, intensive care and testing occupancy rate.
To move to phase 2, regions must meet the following criteria: a 10% downward trend in case rates in the most recent two-week period; a 10% decrease in COVID hospital admission rates over the most recent two-week period; an intensive care occupancy rate of less than 90%; and a test positivity rate of less than 10%.
The health ministry released a report on Friday detailing how each region managed to meet each of the four metrics. While the eight regions are in phase 1, three regions have almost moved to phase 2, meeting the criteria for three of the four measures followed by the state.
Updates will be released on Fridays, with changes taking effect the following Monday.
• COVID-19 case activity. The first measure examines the evolution of COVID-19 cases. To move to phase 2, each region must show declining activity, which is defined as a decrease of at least 10% in the number of cases per 100,000 between two 14-day periods. The Department of Health’s report looked at the 14 days ending December 26 versus the one ending December 12.
Any decrease less than 10% would be defined as a flattening, and any decrease greater than 0% is considered an increase in activity.
The south-central region reported a 4% drop in the number of cases per 100,000 between the 14 days of December 12-26, meaning the infection was flattening but still below criteria.
The west, which saw a 1% decrease in the number of cases per 100,000, was the only other region not to see a decline in the activity of COVID-19 cases.
• COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 people. The state is evaluating hospitalizations to determine the impact of COVID-19 on health systems in each region.
To meet the required criteria for phase 2, each region must show a decrease in COVID-19 hospitalizations, which is defined as a decrease of at least 10% or more in COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 people between two periods of 14 days. For the most recent report, the state looks at hospitalizations between the 14-day period ending December 19 and the period ending January 2.
The south-central region fell far short of meeting those criteria as it had a 12% increase in COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000. No region reached the required benchmark. All but two regions experienced an increase in hospitalizations.
The North Central and Southwest regions had seen hospitalizations drop 1% and 2%, respectfully seen as a flattening of admissions.
• Occupation of intensive care. This measure measures a region’s ability to care for critically ill patients.
To meet the criteria for transition to phase 2, regions must have a low level of intensive care activity, defined as an adult intensive care bed occupancy rate of less than 90%.
The South Central region had an occupancy rate of 93% of staff beds and was the only region not to meet the threshold of 90% or less.
The intensive care bed capacity was as low as 49% in the northern region. In contrast, several regions were just below the 90% mark.
• Tests. The Department of Health is examining the positive COVID test rate to assess the extent of infections and whether enough tests are done.
For the most recent report, molecular tests from December 13-19 were used. Antigen and antibody tests are not taken into account.
To meet the criteria, a region’s tests must fall within the low threshold, defined as a rate below 10%. The south-central region fell far short of meeting this requirement with a positive test rate of 21% over seven days.
Local authorities express their concern
Last week, Kittitas County Commissioners and Kittitas County Public Health Officer Dr Mark Larson wrote an op-ed expressing their opposition to the regional plan. The piece was published in the Ellensburg Daily Record.
“By joining Kittitas County to counties more than six times our size, we can no longer expect local success to mean resuming classroom education, reopening struggling businesses and re-hiring employees. ‘dismissed employees,’ the officials wrote. “Instead, we will depend on remote counties with different demographics, industries, education systems, and government cooperation.”
With over 46,500 residents, Kittitas County is the second smallest of the six counties in the South Central region. Columbia is by far the smallest county with just 4,160 residents. In contrast, Yakima and Benton, the two largest counties in the region, have 255,950 and 201,800 inhabitants, respectively. The state uses the number of cases and hospitalizations per capita in its measures.
Kittitas County officials have urged Inslee to consider more local authority in its COVID-19 response. Officials argue that this would provide a way to better meet the unique needs of a community.
“At a critical time when local businesses and local leaders need more local authority and recognition of our local differences, the governor’s (plan) does the exact opposite.
Yakima County commissioners have also challenged Inslee’s guidelines and are also pushing for local control.
“Tying Yakima County to five other counties is not good for any of them,” Commissioner Ron Anderson said in an interview last week. “Counties need to work individually on their respective issues to manage the (pandemic) and the effects on businesses, schools and residents in general. “
Anderson also noted that a poor performing county would unfairly hurt every county in every region.
“Regionalization of the state, in my opinion, is a way to gain more control over counties and citizens in general,” he said.
Inslee said Monday that the main concern is the health and safety of all Washington residents, and the plan puts the state on the road to recovery.
“I am grateful that the people of our state have shown their compassion for others by socially distancing themselves, masquerading and avoiding gatherings,” he said in a statement. “Our efforts have saved lives, but we’re not done yet.
• Journalist Phil Ferolito contributed to this story.