Cowlitz County officials Thursday postponed their plan to apply for Phase 3 of the governor’s reopening plan this weekend to further investigate the jump in new cases this week.
Health officials reported five new COVID-19 cases Thursday morning, bringing the county total to 99. Cowlitz County has reported 22 new cases of the virus this week, a nearly 29% increase.
County officials were aiming to apply on Saturday, the first day the county would be eligible for Phase 3, but county health officer Steve Krager decided to temporarily postpone applying to learn the full scope of this week’s increase in cases, according to a press release from the Cowlitz COVID-19 Incident Management Team.
Health officials will evaluate the measures considered in the application process over the next several days, but no new date for applying has been set, according to the release.
Nine of the new cases reported this week now have been linked to an outbreak at Pacific Crest Building Supply in Ridgefield, said Ralph Herrera, IMT spokesman. Earlier this week only four had been linked to the Clark County firm.
Officials are urging more people to get tested for the virus, and as testing becomes more widely available, officials expect to find more cases, Herrera said.
The recent boost in cases comes nearly three weeks after the county entered Phase 2 of the Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan.
The COVID-19 patient previously hospitalized at PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center was discharged Thursday, according to the hospital. Two Cowlitz patients still are hospitalized outside the county, according to the Cowlitz COVID-19 Incident Management Team website.
County health officials reported Wednesday that about half of the new cases this week are close contacts of cases related to outbreaks in other counties.
The expansion of testing is taken into account in the state’s measures for moving between phases, Herrera said. For example, to initially move to Phase 2, counties needed 10 cases per 100,000 in the last 14 days. Now the target is 25 or fewer per 100,000, a number the county is now approaching.
Even if Cowlitz County’s rate hits 25 per 100,000, or about 27 cases in the last 14 days, the state may still approve its eventual application if the other measures are sufficient to offset that, Herrera said. The county has had 26 cases in the last 11 days. The county still has not had a death attributed to COVID, joining 14 other counties without a virus-related fatality.
Along with the rate of cases, the state will also consider the trend in hospitalizations, health care system readiness, testing capacity and availability, case and contact investigation capability and the ability to respond to outbreaks.
Ten of the state’s 39 counties have moved to Phase 3: Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Skamania, Wahkiakum and Whitman. Including Cowlitz, 24 counties are in Phase 2.
Phase 3 allows gatherings of up to 50 people, outdoor group sports activities with up to 50 people and recreational facilities such as gyms and public pools to reopen at 50% capacity. Restaurants can increase to 75% capacity, bars can open at 25% capacity and theaters can reopen at 50% capacity.
Phase 3 also allows libraries, museums and other customer-facing government services to reopen, but telework is encouraged. Non-essential travel can also resume.