But region still not moving to Phase 2
By Marcy Stamper
New COVID infections have been dropping in Okanogan County, with daily case counts in the single digits in the past week. The county recorded 25 cases in the week ending Feb. 1, two in Twisp.
The infection rate per 100,000 population is now about 215, down slightly from a week ago, according to Okanogan County Public Health. Thirty-three people in the county have died from COVID and the total cases reported are 2,035.
The lower infection rate is welcome, but it’s not enough to allow the county — part of the north-central region — to advance to the next phase in the state’s Roadmap to Recovery reopening plan. Phase 2 allows indoor gatherings with up to five people from outside a household, and indoor restaurant dining and fitness centers at 25% capacity.
After three weeks with all eight regions across the state stuck in Phase 1, Gov. Jay Inslee relaxed the requirements on Jan. 28. When the plan went into effect on Jan. 6, regions had to meet four metrics to advance, but now a region has to meet three of the four goals — at least a 10% decrease in the two-week rate of COVID cases per 100,000 population, at least a 10% decrease in new COVID hospital admissions per 100,000 population, ICU occupancy under 90%, and COVID test positivity rate under 10%.
The changes were made after conversations with public health partners and because of the state’s increasing vaccination rates, Inslee said. The metrics provide an overview of COVID-19 trends and health care system readiness to ensure that medical providers can respond to outbreaks.
In addition to Okanogan, the north-central region includes Chelan, Douglas and Grant counties, and all four counties must meet at least three of these goals before the entire region can move forward. New cases have fallen by 2% in the region (considered “flat”), but hospitalizations are the highest in the state, up by 41% in the past two weeks, according to the state Department of Health.
The other three counties also have higher rates of infections, from 260 in Douglas to 529 in Grant.
The relaxed metrics allowed two regions — the Puget Sound and West regions, which encompass the most populous areas of the state, including King, Pierce, Snohomish and Thurston counties — to move to Phase 2.
While new infections were still rising in those areas — 4% in the Puget Sound and 15% in the west region — all other metrics, including significantly falling hospitalizations, meet the goals. ICU occupancy is adequate everywhere in the state.
The metrics will now be evaluated every two weeks, instead of weekly. Those meeting three of the four metrics will advance. A region that fails to meet the metrics will regress to the earlier phase.