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State Secretary of Health: Must ‘act fast’ in counties with rising COVID cases

Volunteer worker Art Pasette checks in for his shift as a volunteer worker at a mass vaccination clinic at Seattle University on Feb. 26, 2021, in Seattle. Pasette has been vaccinated for COVID-19, but as states ramp up vaccination distribution, volunteers are needed to do everything from direct traffic to check people in to keep vaccination sites running smoothly. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Following Gov. Inslee’s announcement Monday that Cowlitz, Pierce, and Whitman counties have to roll back to Phase 2 of reopening, the state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said the state has to “act fast and do the right thing county-by-county” when there are increased cases and hospitalizations.

The fast action, Shah explains, is to prevent more serious consequences from COVID-19.

“That is why the tough decisions are being made and some counties are being moved back to Phase 2,” Shah said in a written release.

‘This is a gut-punch’: Local leaders react with three counties rolled back to Phase 2

In order to remain in Phase 3, large counties need to have 200 or fewer new cases per 100,000 residents over two weeks and five or fewer hospitalizations per 100,000 residents over the past week. Counties with a population under 50,000 need to have 100 or fewer total new cases over two weeks and three or fewer hospitalizations over the past week.

As of Monday, Cowlitz County has a rate of 332.1 new cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks, and 11.8 hospitalizations over the last seven days. Over those same periods, Pierce County has a rate of 267.9 new cases and 6.4 hospitalizations, while Whitman County has a rate of 416 new cases and 5.9 hospitalizations.

Anthony L-T Chen, director of health in Pierce County, says it’s disappointing to move backward, but adds that everyone knows what they have to do at this point in order to keep cases down.

“This rollback is disappointing, but we know what we must do to reduce disease spread and open up more of our economy,” Chen said. “We are seeing more cases in small and informal gatherings. I know everyone is eager to get back to doing what they love, but we cannot let our guard down and allow the pandemic to come roaring back.”

Dr. Shah notes that there is still time to take actions that limit the spread of the virus.

“There is still time to turn the tide and slow the spread of COVID-19 before it turns into a fourth wave. We need to take these preventative measures over the next few months at least to get numbers going in the right direction again,” Shah added.

Dr. Shah emphasized that Washington has made a lot of progress in the last year and has continued to rise to the challenges with a sense of community and teamwork.

“We need to focus on lowering disease transmission for the next several months, even though we have increased immunity across the state due to vaccination efforts,” he said.

While vaccination against COVID-19 is a “crucial tool,” Dr. Shah says it’s not the only tool, adding that there are still not enough doses to rely only on vaccinations to stop the spread of the virus.

In Washington so far, more than four million doses of vaccine have been administered, and more than 20% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated.

Gov. Inslee announces rollback to Phase 2 for Cowlitz, Pierce, and Whitman counties

The next evaluation under the Healthy Washington reopening plan is May 3. That’s when the state will determine if any other counties have to roll back as well, or if Cowlitz, Pierce, and Whitman can return to Phase 3. Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier did tell KIRO Radio that he plans to petition the governor to move back into Phase 3 the moment Pierce County dips under the requisite threshold.

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