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Clark County to submit Phase 3 application to state by Friday

By , Columbian staff writer
4 Photos
First-year bakery student Anna Ostapa, foreground, joins classmates as she learns to make turnovers and palmiers at Clark College on Wednesday morning, June 24, 2020. Students were making up a lab they were unable to complete in the spring because of COVID-19 concerns.
First-year bakery student Anna Ostapa, foreground, joins classmates as she learns to make turnovers and palmiers at Clark College on Wednesday morning, June 24, 2020. Students were making up a lab they were unable to complete in the spring because of COVID-19 concerns. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Clark County Public Health plans to submit a Phase 3 application to the state Department of Health by Friday so the county can enter the next phase of Washington’s COVID-19 recovery plan.

On Wednesday morning, Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick recommended to the Clark County Board of Health that the county is ready to move to Phase 3, which will allow more businesses to reopen and lessens physical distancing restrictions.

The board of health approved moving forward with submitting the application.

The county was approved for Phase 2 on June 5, and the earliest it can apply for Phase 3 is Friday. The department of health will likely decide on the application within a couple days.

“I’m optimistic, given the metrics that we are seeing … that we can be approved by early next week,” Melnick said.

Phase 3 would allow for outdoor group sports activities with 50 people or fewer. Gyms and pools can also open at less than 50 percent capacity. Public gatherings of up to 50 people are allowed, which includes spiritual or religious services.

Libraries and museums can reopen. Movie theaters can reopen at less than 50 percent capacity, and people can resume nonessential travel. Restaurants and taverns can increase from 50 to 75 percent capacity, and bar areas in restaurants and taverns can now hold 25 percent capacity.

So far, Clark County is hitting almost all of the necessary criteria to enter Phase 3, according to Melnick’s comments at Wednesday’s meeting.

Those criteria are centered around testing metrics, COVID-19 activity in the community, health care system readiness, case notification and contact investigation work and protecting high-risk populations.

On Wednesday, the county confirmed 13 new COVID-19 cases and no new deaths. Clark County has 732 cases and 29 deaths. At least 12,646 people have been tested for the virus in Clark County.

Over the last two weeks, the county has a rate of 17 newly diagnosed cases per 100,000 people, below the state’s threshold to enter Phase 3, which is 25 newly diagnosed cases per 100,000 people.

The county is also exceeding its testing goals — testing more than 50 times the amount of positive tests in a week, and recording a weekly positive testing rate below 2 percent.

For the week ending June 6, the county had 52 positive tests out of 3,044 total tests, for a 1.71 positive test rate. For the week ending June 13, the county had 40 positive tests out of 3,159 total tests, for a 1.27 positive test rate.

Melnick said COVID-19 hospitalizations rose earlier this month, from one COVID-19 hospitalization on June 1 to 13 of those hospitalizations Wednesday.
Coronavirus hospitalizations have remained around a dozen patients since June 15.

Melnick explained that PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center in Longview has been sending patients to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver. Not every COVID-19 patient at PeaceHealth Southwest is a Clark County resident, Melnick said.

Clark County Councilor Gary Medvigy asked Melnick if this would impact Clark County’s Phase 3 application, and Melnick said he did not think so. Melnick said he would tell Washington Secretary of Health John Wiesman that he feels like only Clark County COVID-19 patients should count in this metric.

“We should be looking at hospitalizations for Clark County residents,” Melnick said.

Even with patients from other counties, Clark County remains about 15 percent below the state’s target of having 80 percent hospital bed capacity or lower.

Both PeaceHealth Southwest and Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center are submitting statements of support for Phase 3 as part of the application.

Clark County is falling short on an investigation and notification goal that asks that 90 percent of confirmed cases are reached by phone or in-person within 24 hours of a positive lab report. The county is at 61 percent in that area.

Melnick said Public Health is improving their capabilities after California nonprofit Public Health Institute recently bolstered the county’s contact notification staff.

“We’re continuing to ramp up there. We are a below the metric … but we are improving,” Melnick said.

Clark County is still in Phase 2, so Public Health urges residents to follow Phase 2 guidance as well as physical distancing and mask-wearing recommendations.

Beginning Friday, Washington will mandate face coverings in public spaces, where physical distancing guidelines can’t be followed. Research has proven that masks can dramatically reduce transmission of the novel coronavirus.

Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins said in a Wednesday news release that his office would focus on education around the importance of face coverings not enforcement of the mandate.

“The statewide face-covering order is a public health and safety measure, it is not a mandate for law enforcement to detain, cite or arrest violators but rather an evidence-based and safety focused directive meant to slow the spread of a potentially deadly disease,” Atkins said.

Columbian staff writer