Cowlitz County’s COVID-19 rates are dropping, but cases and hospitalizations likely will remain too high for the county to move out of Phase 2 when the state re-evaluates counties Monday.
The state will announce changes Tuesday, with the rules taking effect Friday. The state will next re-evaluate counties May 24.
Cowlitz, Pierce and Whitman counties were moved back to Phase 2 on April 16, the first change after the entire state moved to Phase 3 on March 22. The three counties are likely to remain in Phase 2, and be joined by several of the state’s larger counties based on data available Friday.
Larger counties with more than 50,000 people will move to Phase 2 if they have more than 200 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per 14 days and more than five hospitalizations per 100,000 per seven days.
The state’s 17 counties with fewer than 50,000 people will move back to Phase 2 if the have more than 100 new COVID-19 cases in 14 days and more than 3 COVID-19 hospitalizations in seven days.
The counties have to rise above or fall below both thresholds to move backward or forward but need to meet only one to remain in the current phase.
The move to Phase 2 decreased indoor capacity from 50 percent to 25 percent for all currently permitted industries and activities, including restaurants, gyms and movie theaters.
Cowlitz County’s COVID-19 cases have flattened and begun to decrease over the past two weeks, but levels remain high and likely are not falling fast enough to meet the thresholds to move to Phase 3.
Cowlitz County reported 18 new cases Friday, bringing its total to 5,308. The county recorded its 69th COVID-19 death Thursday, a man in his 80s with underlying conditions who was not hospitalized and was connected to a long-term care facility, according to the health department.
“Cowlitz already is hopefully seeing a turnaround in cases and is starting to head in the right direction. I hope that continues,” said County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Steve Krager. “Other parts of the state like Clark are a little bit behind where Cowlitz was at a couple weeks ago.”
Cowlitz County recorded 343 new cases per 100,000 people from April 8-21, the most recent complete data available. That’s down from 381 cases per 100,000 recorded April 1-14.
The county recorded 13.6 new hospitalizations per 100,000 people from April 12-18.
Residents can focus on preventative measures, including wearing face masks and not gathering with people outside their households, as well as getting the COVID-19 vaccine to help bring cases and hospitalizations down to move to Phase 3, Krager said.
“It’s very much a race in getting people vaccinated and infections spreading,” he said. “The more people we vaccinate, the lower number of infections we’ll have.”
Counties at risk
COVID-19 cases are increasing statewide, and Clark, King, Snohomish, Skagit, Benton, Franklin, Grant and Spokane counties were above the thresholds for both case and hospitalization metrics as of Friday.
Several other counties are above the threshold in one metric and close in the second. Officials said it’s difficult to predict whether they will move back to Phase 2.
State officials said Wednesday they don’t want to move the whole state back to Phase 2 because COVID-19 levels differ among the 39 counties.
“The state is not just one unit. There is so much variability across the state; we’re trying to respect that,” acting state health officer Scott Lindquist said during a press briefing. “This whole fourth-wave business looks to be, and this is a bit premature, but it looks like it’s starting to plateau a little bit. The data isn’t complete, but that gives me hope that a lot of these counties can turn the data around in the next week.”