A new daily high of COVID-19 cases in the eight counties that make up southeastern Washington and north central Idaho flashed warning signals Friday.
Health officials reported 31 cases Friday. Although the number is modest compared to other parts of Idaho and Washington that often see hundreds of new cases per day, it is part of a slowly climbing trend in the region.
The Nez Perce Tribe’s Nimiipuu Health Clinic reported 13 new cases with more test results pending and Public Health – Idaho North Central District reported eight new cases, for a combined total of 21. Whitman County reported nine new cases. Garfield County reported one new case.
In Whitman County, health officials warned the growing case load puts in-class instruction at public schools this fall in peril. Of the county’s 114 cases since the pandemic began, 42 have been detected in the past two weeks.
Troy Henderson, Whitman County Public Health administrator, said the new cases have pushed the county’s COVID-19 rate per 100,000 people to 84. Anything higher than 75 cases per 100,000 people is deemed to be in the state’s High Risk Category for classroom instruction, according to the Washington Department of Health.
“The health department is not going to recommend we have in-person classes if we are in the High Risk Category,” Henderson said.
He urged people to wear masks, practice social distancing, good hand hygiene and otherwise follow protocols designed to reduce spread of the viral illness, and noted the county only entered the High Risk Category over the past two days.
“The health department, hospital, doctors, Washington State University, businesses and everybody else can be doing the right thing, but if there is a big chunk of society deciding they’re not going to participate or take this seriously, it’s just not going to work,” Henderson said.
A news release from Nimiipuu Health said all of the 13 cases reported Friday were related to people who had recently traveled. The health service is prioritizing testing for those who have COVID-19 symptoms or those who have had known contact with a person who has the illness.
Tribal spokeswoman Kayeloni Scott said Nimiipuu Health has equipment that renders same-day results, but can only process a limited number of samples per day.
“The issue is capacity to run those tests,” she said. “Based on our capacity, we aren’t running more than 20 tests per day.”
Because of the capacity limits, the news releases asked people with known exposure to others with the illness to wait a minimum of five days before being tested. The five-day wait gives time for the body to mount an immune response, which leads to more accurate test results, according to the news release that also asked symptomatic people or those with known exposure to stay home.
Of the eight cases reported by Public Health – Idaho North Central District, five were in Nez Perce County, two in Latah County and one in Idaho County. They include four women and four men, with three people in their 20s; one each in their 30s, 40s and 70s; and two people in their 50s.
Whitman County’s cases include three people younger than 20, four between 20 and 39, one between 40 and 59 and one between 60 and 79. Seven of the Whitman County cases involve females and two involve males. The new Garfield County case is a man older than 50.
No age or gender breakdown was available Friday for the cases reported by Nimiipuu Health.
Pullman center to open Monday
The Pullman Aquatic and Fitness Center will open Monday for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic prompted its closure in March.
Patrons must now reserve times to swim and work out at the facility. Group swim lessons, classes and fitness programs will not be available.
The center will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. Face masks will be required, except during strenuous activity and while swimming.
All annual memberships for the facility will be extended by six months because of the COVID-19 closure. Patrons who had a monthly membership during that time will receive a one-month extension.
Reservations can be made by calling (509) 338-3290 or (509) 338-3227. Anyone who is more than 20 minutes late for their reserved time slot will lose the appointment.
Barker may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker. The Tribune’s William L. Spence contributed to this report.