Yakima County will remain in Phase 3 of the state’s coronavirus reopening plan for at least the next three weeks.
All 39 counties entered Phase 3 on March 22. Under Phase 3, businesses, and venues including restaurants, gyms, churches, museums and movie theaters, have been able to have indoor capacity of 50%. Indoor gatherings of up to 10 people and outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people are permitted in Phase 3.
Monday’s evaluation was the first to determine which counties would remain in Phase 3. Whitman, Pierce and Cowlitz counties didn’t make the cut and will step back to Phase 2. Counties will be evaluated every three weeks, with the next evaluation on May 3.
To remain in Phase 3, all counties of 50,000 or more people, which includes Yakima County, must meet at least one of two metrics: new COVID-19 cases below 200 per 100,000 residents over two weeks, or a seven-day average of new COVID-19 hospitalizations below five per 100,000.
Previously, counties had to meet both metrics to stay in Phase 3, but Gov. Jay Inslee changed things Friday so counties only have to meet one of the two metrics.
Yakima County’s rate of new COVID-19 cases for the 14-day period ending April 2 was 250.2 per 100,000, above the required rate.
The county met the metric for COVID-19 hospitalizations with a rate of 3.9 per 100,000 for the seven-day period ending March 30, according to Monday’s state Department of Health report.
The hospitalization rate for Yakima County listed in the state Department of Health report differs from data for the county on the state’s data dashboard, which had last been updated last week using information from mid- and late March. According to the dashboard, Yakima County had a hospitalization rate of 5.5 per 100,000 for the seven-day period ending March 30, which is above the required benchmark and would have put Yakima County back in Phase 2.
More information about the difference between numbers in Monday’s state report and the dashboard data wasn’t immediately available Monday. Local health and business officials had expected Yakima County to be moved down to Phase 2 based on the data available as of last week.
Yakima County Commissioner Amanda McKinney said in an interview Monday that the numbers on the Department of Health’s report Monday were in line with the data that the county’s three hospitals provided to her.
She is relieved that the data used ultimately enabled Yakima County to stay in Phase 3, but was still frustrated at the lack of clarity regarding which data the state was using to determine whether counties were meeting certain metrics.
“We still do not have what we advocated for — the ability to review the data ahead of time before the announcement so our hospital or hospitals, who are the ones sending the data — can say, ‘Yes that is correct, that is what we meant to sent to you.’”
Three counties moving back
Whitman, Pierce and Cowlitz counties will be moved down to Phase 2 on Friday. That will decrease capacity for indoor dining at restaurants, retail stores and gyms from 50% to 25%.
In a written statement Monday, Umair A. Shah, the state’s secretary of health, said moving some counties back was a “tough decision” that was necessary to slow rising cases and hospitalizations. He said while the state is increasing immunity through vaccines, it still needs to limit transmission through other measures.
“There is still time to turn the tide and slow the spread of COVID-19 before it turns into a fourth wave,” Shah said in his statement. “We need to take these preventative measures over the next few months at least to get numbers going in the right direction again.”
Starting Thursday, all state residents age 16 and older will be eligible for a coronavirus vaccination.