What a Regional, Phased Reopening Means for Lewis County

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Editor's Note: After the publication of this story, the Department of Health confirmed that all regions will remain in Phase 1 until at least Jan. 18.

Per the state’s new phased “Healthy Washington” reopening plan, Lewis County’s phase and corresponding restrictions will — for the first time — directly depend on its neighbors. 

The new plan lumps Lewis County into the “west” region with Thurston, Pacific and Grays Harbor counties, whose COVID-19 metrics will be analyzed collectively by the state. 

“Nobody wants to be the person bringing down the group project, so to speak,” Lewis County Public Health Director J.P. Anderson said. “I don’t feel that between us (public health officials), we would have that kind of conflict or frustration with each other. I would hope our communities wouldn’t either. And I hope it would never be a situation where communities are pitted against each other.”

The rationale, articulated by Gov. Jay Inslee Tuesday, is that COVID-19 doesn’t respect county lines. But several local officials are frustrated that the plan shifts control away from local jurisdictions — something they fear may become permanent through Inslee’s plan to regionalize health jurisdictions. 

But the new plan offers one “improvement” from the state’s county-by-county phased reopening plan earlier this year, Anderson said: the automatic advancement of regions by the state. The shift — likely the result of feedback from counties — will allow public health officials to focus their efforts on addressing the pandemic. 

“Unlike the last phased reopening where we were developing, drafting, submitting, petitioning for phase advancement, this is different in that our best effort at supporting it is around helping bring our numbers down,” Anderson said, noting that the county is now in a critical phase of vaccine distribution.

To move forward to Phase 2, which would allow indoor dining at 25 percent capacity, some indoor gatherings, and limited-capacity indoor gym operation, regions have to meet the following criteria:

• A 10 percent decline in new cases per 100,000 in the last two weeks compared to two weeks prior

• A 10 percent decline in hospital admissions per 100,000 in the last two weeks compared to two weeks prior

• Less than 90 percent ICU capacity

• Less than 10 percent COVID-19 test positivity 

If Lewis County’s region does progress into Phase 2, business owners will likely have the weekend to prepare before restrictions are eased. Anderson expects a new state dashboard to be created, where residents can track their region’s progress. But he said it will likely take several weeks for the west region to move to Phase 2. 

Here’s a look at how Lewis, Thurston, Pacific and Grays Harbor Counties are fairing that may offer insight into where the region needs to improve before moving forward. 

 

New Cases Per 100,000

This analysis uses the most recently confirmed data on the state’s dashboard, which is from Dec. 26. “Incomplete” data included on the dashboard is also used to predict how trendlines will play out through more recent dates.

While Lewis County is far beyond the state’s high-risk threshold, with the virus still not under control, it’s fair to say that Grays Harbor County is struggling the most in the west region, and may provide a high barrier for all four counties to move to the next phase. 

Out of the four counties, Grays Harbor has the highest case rate per 100,000 — 964.1. That’s compared to Lewis County’s 519.6, and Thurston and Pacific counties’ rates, both around 220. Grays Harbor County’s new case rate peaked on Dec. 23, and is likely to continue to decline, according to incomplete data. 

Lewis County has seen a steady decline since Dec. 11. Two weeks prior to the most recently validated data, the numbers have declined by over 20 percent — a good sign. And incomplete data forecasts a similar decline to come. 

Thurston County, in terms of raw numbers, is doing much better than Lewis or Grays Harbor counties. Its new case rate is 220 per 100,000, although the trendline is less clear. Since an all-time high Nov. 23 (at 278.9 new cases per 100,000), the county has since seen several smaller peaks. 

To the west, Pacific County saw a major jump in their new case rate back in November, but numbers have since declined. The county now sits at 221.8, and the rate is projected to continue falling. 

 

Hospital Admissions

The metric set by Inslee around hospital admissions may be the most difficult one to meet. None of the west region’s four counties have a steady trend line of hospitalization rates. Graphs have instead zig-zagged through several peaks, making it difficult to clear the state’s new hurdle. 

In this metric, Lewis County pulls in last at 16.4 new admissions per 100,000 in the last two weeks. 

That’s an increase from weeks prior. And incomplete data past Dec. 26 shows a trend line that moves through several small peaks in more recent dates. A similarly bumpy road is projected for Grays Harbor, which currently sits at 12.1 per 100,000, an increase from weeks prior.

Pacific County jumped from 0 to 9.2 per 100,000 in the most recent two weeks of validated data, although incomplete data shows their hospital admission rate rapidly falling again in January. With a population of only 22,000, Pacific County’s metrics are less likely to hold steady, with just a few hospitalizations marking a major increase, percentage-wise. 

Thurston County currently boasts the best hospital admissions rate, at 5.6 per 100,000. But incomplete data past Dec. 26 shows several small peaks, with the county landing back at 5.6 on Jan. 5.

 

ICU Capacity

ICU capacity is more difficult to gauge for the west region created by the new phased reopening plan. On the state’s current dashboard, ICU capacity is reported by regions — but those regions are different than the eight regions created by “Healthy Washington.” The state’s average, however, provides some insight. Currently, all counties average out to an 81.2 percent ICU capacity, falling below the state’s new 90 percent benchmark. 

The region Lewis County is lumped into on the dashboard currently sits at 87.9 percent capacity, and all neighboring regions also fall below 90 percent. 

 

Test Positivity

Again, Grays Harbor County’s numbers exceed the rest of the west region set up by “Healthy Washington.” At 20.5 percent, the county is seeing twice as many tests coming back positive than is required to meet the statewide benchmark. Pacific County is at 14.2 percent, while Lewis County is at 12.1 percent. The only county below 10 percent is Thurston County, at 7.2 percent. 

 

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