Whitman County Public Health on Friday issued an emergency order restricting certain gatherings in response to a recent rise in COVID-19 infections in Pullman, an increase tied to college-age residents.
According to the order, outdoor social gatherings within Pullman that are not associated with weddings, funerals or religious services shall be limited to no more than 10 people.
Masks are required to be worn unless the person is physically unable or younger than 2 years old. People must maintain 6-foot social distancing.
All other requirements in Phase 3 of Washington’s recovery plan will remain unchanged. Phase 3 restricts indoor social gatherings to 10 people from outside one’s household.
According to the county, there have been 140 COVID-19 cases since March 26.
The 34 new cases reported Friday brought Whitman County’s total cases to 3,919. Deaths and hospitalizations because of the virus remained unchanged at 46 and 96, respectively.
Whitman County Public Health Director Chris Skidmore told the Daily News that if the state evaluated the virus activity in the county Friday, Whitman County would not meet the required metrics to move to the next phase.
He said Whitman County would probably move back to Phase 2 or 1 because it is experiencing between 400 and 500 cases per a population of 100,000. This would exceed the limit for Phase 1 requirements.
Skidmore said most of the cases are contained to Pullman, particularly among the college-age population. Skidmore said contact tracing shows the increase is tied to students returning from spring break with symptoms and from St. Patrick’s Day gatherings. That’s in addition to ongoing private social gatherings.
Skidmore said he is concerned about people gathering during Easter on Sunday.
Data from Washington State University shows that there are 103 active COVID-19 cases among WSU students.
WSU leaders this week urged students to avoid gatherings and to wear masks in response to the latest wave of COVID-19 cases that could send Whitman County back to Phase 1.
WSU spokesperson Phil Weiler told the Daily News on Friday that it is still too early to tell if this messaging will affect the number of cases going forward. He did say this is the wrong time for the WSU community to get complacent with their behavior.
He said WSU is pleased with Whitman County officials for issuing Friday’s emergency order.
“I think that is a smart move,” he said. “It’s a move we support.”
Weiler said most private gatherings take place in private residences where the university has no authority. This emergency order, he said, will give local police another tool to address people who are not following COVID-19 restrictions.
Weiler said WSU is currently in the process of vaccinating 400 eligible students. These include students who have underlying health conditions or work in aggregate settings such as food services.
Starting April 15, all Washington residents age 16 and up will be eligible to receive a vaccination.
Those who are eligible can use the Vaccine Locator at vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov to find an appointment.
Weiler urged everyone to get a vaccine as soon as they are eligible.
“No one should wait, particularly as Whitman County is going through this fourth wave,” he said.