State’s South Central Region OK’d to ease COVID rules

The Associated Press

KENNEWICK — Six counties in south-central Washington have been approved to move to Phase 2 of reopening and can immediately ease COVID restrictions.

The state Department of Health announced the change on Sunday.

Benton, Franklin, Yakima, Kittitas, Walla Walla and Columbia counties were the last of the state’s 39 counties to be moved into Phase 2.

That means restaurants and bars can serve food and drinks indoors, fitness centers can offer more services, and movie theaters and other indoor entertainment businesses can reopen. All will be limited to 25 percent capacity.

In addition, some small at-home indoor gatherings are allowed.

The change came after a data error was discovered. On Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee had said the South Central Region of Washington state had not met two of the four goals required to ease virus restrictions.

Regions must meet at least three of the requirements under the Road to Recovery reopening plan.

But a Walla Walla hospital had incorrectly reported its hospital data for new COVID-19 patients, instead reporting data for all new patients, according to the state Department of Health.

The problem was discovered after local health officials came together to discuss why the data did not match what they were experiencing at area hospitals.

The correction of the data means that the South Central Region now meets a requirement that hospital admissions for COVID-19 patients per 100,000 people decrease by 10 percent.

Last week’s incorrect data showed a 9 percent increase in the rate of COVID patient admissions in the South Central Region, while admissions for the state had dropped 16 percent.

When the percentage was recalculated with correct data, the number of COVID patient admissions in the region’s hospitals dropped 19 percent.

The South Central Region already had met state requirements for declining numbers of new COVID patients per 100,000 people and have less than 90 percent of its hospital intensive care unit beds in use by all patients.

The fourth metric, which it has not met, is dropping the percent of COVID tests that are positive to less than 10 percent.

Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Walla Walla said it made the error in reporting hospital data.

“The error was unintentional, and we acted as quickly as possible to provide corrected data to the state,” said Susan Blackburn, chief executive at the hospital.

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