Clark County expected to remain in Phase 3 of phased reopening plan

Public Health Director Dr. Alan Melnick indicates Clark County still under the metric for new hospitalizations due to COVID-19

As area residents await an official announcement from Gov. Jay Inslee of which counties in Washington state will be forced to take a step back to Phase 2 of the governor’s reopening plan, Clark County Public Health Director Dr. Alan Melnick said Monday it appears that Clark County will be allowed to remain in Phase 3.

In a Zoom meeting with Clark County Today, Melnick said that Clark County appears to have exceeded just one of the governor’s two metrics outlined in his Healthy Washington: Roadmap to Recovery phased reopening plan. The governor’s announcement was originally expected today (May 3) but Melnick said it is now expected to be made Tuesday (May 4).

Counties must meet at least one of the county-based metric thresholds in a given phase in order to remain in that phase. Counties that no longer meet both metrics will move back one phase. Photo courtesy of Washington State Coronavirus Response
Counties must meet at least one of the county-based metric thresholds in a given phase in order to remain in that phase. Counties that no longer meet both metrics will move back one phase. Photo courtesy of Washington State Coronavirus Response

In Gov. Inslee’s reopening plan, counties are individually evaluated every three weeks. The evaluations usually take place on Mondays with any phase changes taking effect on Friday. Only three counties in Washington — Cowlitz, Pierce and Whitman — are in Phase 2. The rest of the state is currently in Phase 3 pending Inslee’s expected Tuesday announcement.

Each county is divided into a small county or large county category. A large county is defined as a county with a population of greater than 50,000. Clark County currently has a population of 488,000.

Counties must meet at least one of the county-based metric thresholds in a given phase in order to remain in that phase. Counties that no longer meet both metrics will move back one phase. Counties that meet both county-based metrics of a higher level phase can move forward one phase.

The metrics for large counties include:

• Less than 200 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population per 14 days.

• Less than five new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 population per 7 days.

“I’m pretty sure we will be above 200 cases per 100,000 population for the 14-day evaluation period,’’ Dr. Melnick said Monday. “But, I’m pretty sure we’re below five new hospitalizations per 100,000 population for the 7-day period. I will wait to see what the state comes up, but the last time I looked at it, I think we were at about 3.8. So, we will be OK on the hospitalization metric and we won’t move back.’’

Melnick said that there is a statewide metric that could come into play, but he is not concerned about it at this time.

“The only other thing I’m aware of, unless anything changes, is the statewide metric that if ICU occupancy is over 90 percent the entire state moves back,’’ he said. “The last I looked, it’s in the low 80s, so I don’t see that happening.’’

Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County Public Health Director
Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County Public Health Director

Melnick also reported that nearby Cowlitz County will likely not meet the metrics needed for it to return to Phase 3. He also said there is a “good chance’’ other counties around the state will be going back to Phase 2 from Phase 3.

Melnick also reported that over the weekend, Clark County had 342 new cases for an average of 114 a day, which shows the county is still in the midst of the fourth wave, or surge, of COVID-19 cases.

“You might remember a couple of months ago, when we were coming off the third wave, we were seeing about 40 cases per day,’’ Dr. Melnick said. “Now, we are seeing nearly three times that amount. I’m hoping we can get more people vaccinated.’’

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