Restaurants, movie theaters and spectator events in Okanogan County can continue to welcome the public at 50% capacity, with the state’s decision on Tuesday (May 4) to pause any changes in its COVID reopening phases.
The pause — preserving the status quo for at least two more weeks — will allow the state’s economy to build on recent “early signs of growth” and give more people the chance to be vaccinated, increasing the ability for the state to reopen even further, Gov. Jay Inslee said.
“This pause will allow our partners to advance their efforts to vaccinate individuals, families, and work with businesses to continue to reopen safely,” state Secretary of Health Umair Shah said.
The governor and Department of Health (DOH) made the decision after evaluating COVID infections across the state. Health officials had been concerned that the state’s fourth COVID wave could overwhelm the health care system, since case counts were already high when the wave started. But new infections have leveled off in the past several weeks and the fourth wave has proven less severe, with shorter hospital stays and fewer deaths, according to DOH.
“Our best path out of the painful cycle of COVID-19 resurgences and restrictions – and for a return to normalcy as quickly as possible – is by getting vaccinated as soon as possible,” said Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health–Seattle & King County.
Ferry County back to Phase 2
The pause keeps all counties where they were three weeks ago, with the majority of the state in Phase 3. Last month, Pierce, Whitman and Cowlitz counties were demoted to Phase 2 because of high infection and hospitalization rates.
Last week, Ferry County joined those three counties in moving back to Phase 2 by order of the Northeast Tri County Health District, which oversees Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties.
“Such action is necessary now to reduce transmission and keep within the capacity of the local medical system to provide care,” the health district said.
In two weeks, Ferry County experienced a sharp increase in new COVID cases and hospitalizations, with 106 cases reported since April 12, the majority connected with a gathering in Republic.
A dozen people have been hospitalized – some had to be sent to other counties – and there had been at least one COVID-related death as of April 30, according to the health district.
The outbreak gave Ferry County the highest case rate in Washington, and among the highest rates nationally. Businesses and government offices in Republic have had to close to the public and have modified their practices to reduce disease transmission.
Okanogan County recorded 41 new COVID cases in the week ending May 2. One of the cases was in Methow. The county expects to report two more COVID-related deaths, pending issuance of death certificates, according to Okanogan County Public Health. The vaccination rate increased by 2 percentage points in the past week, with 34.5% of the population fully vaccinated.