Health Director: Lewis County at Risk of Demotion to Phase 2 as COVID-19 Cases Continue to Increase


Lewis County is at risk of tighter COVID-19 restrictions, with case and hospitalization rates higher than those required to stay in Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan.

The state isn’t slated to re-evaluate counties until May 3, but Lewis County Public Health Director JP Anderson is warning that if the county doesn’t stamp down transmission in the next two weeks, it could join Pierce, Cowlitz and Whitman counties, which were demoted to Phase 2 earlier this month.

Currently, Lewis County is seeing 220.6 new cases and 8.7 hospitalizations per 100,000, both above the state’s averages, which stand at 207.7 and 4.4, respectively, according to state Department of Health data. To stay in Phase 3, a county needs to be below a case rate of 200 per 100,000 or hospitalization rate of 5 per 100,000.

In the last full week reported out by local officials — April 11 to 17 — Lewis County reported 103 cases, in contrast to 87 the week prior. Lewis County is now counting PCR and antigen tests together, since the state uses both to gauge things like risk.

In a meeting Wednesday, Anderson said he didn’t share the statistics to alarm the public, “but I need to provide some straight-talk.”

By contrast, Thurston County to the north appears safely below the Phase 3 threshold, with 141.9 new cases per 100,000 and 3.4 new hospitalizations per 100,000.

Anderson warned county commissioners of other bad news, saying demand for COVID-19 vaccines could potentially stall as capacity and supply increases. He cited reports from other communities that vaccine appointments are not filling up. At the fairgrounds, appointments have similarly been left unclaimed, although extra doses are not being thrown out, Anderson said.

In Lewis County, 26.83% of residents have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 37.47% statewide. And Anderson said the amount of seniors getting vaccinated county-wide continues to fall below the nation’s average.

He added that, in spite of what officials expected, the state saw a decrease in vaccine allocations this week. And no Pfizer vaccines — the only version safe for 16 and 17-year-olds — are slated to come into the county next week. Local officials are working to ensure that Lewis County gets its “fair share” of Pfizer doses, Anderson said.

Infection rates are still highest among individuals in their 20s and 30s — the group that’s also among the least likely to be vaccinated.

County Commissioners Sean Swope and Gary Stamper expressed frustration with the prospect of tighter restrictions on local businesses, both citing other states that have lifted restrictions.

Swope pointed to his recent vacation out of state, where he was “on a full airplane, sitting next to strangers for three hours.”

“I’m hoping that people will continue to do what they need to do, but I do worry about the fatigue factor,” Stamper said.