PUYALLUP, WA — Pierce County will not be moving ahead to the next phase of the Safe Start plan any time soon— an announcement that comes just days after the county's top health official had proposed it go forward into a "modified Phase 2."
On Friday, June 26, Pierce County's Director of Health announced his intention to officially introduce a modified Phase 2 application, which would allow the county to reopen more businesses, though not as many as would be allowed in a full Phase 3. At the time, Director of Health Dr. Anthony L-T Chen's reasoning was that, while the county had seen has seen its coronavirus cases nearly double over the past few weeks and would likely see any Phase 3 application denied, it could see some restrictions lifted by splitting the difference between Phases 2 and 3.
But Tuesday, after a continued rise in case counts over the weekend, Chen says even a modified Phase 2 is just not possible, so Pierce will remain in Phase 2 for the foreseeable future.
"I am no longer in a hopeful place," writes Chen. "Because the health of our community is my top priority, I am withdrawing my recommendation for Pierce County to apply for an expanded Phase 2."
Chen says he has spoken with both the Board of Health Chair and Vice-Chair and that all three are in agreement that the county cannot move forward. That's enough to halt any advance: applications to move on to the next phase require the unanimous support of health officials first, then lawmakers like county council members and the executive get to weigh in.
Chen cites several "worrisome" statistics as the reason for the change:
- Over the past two weeks, the number of new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents has ballooned from 16 to 44. Ideally, a county should have fewer than 25 cases per 100,000 residents over two-weeks, according to state guidelines.
- Tuesday, Pierce County reported 47 new coronavirus cases and is averaging 28 cases each day.
- The percentage of positive coronavirus tests is increasing. Currently, 3.6 percent of coronavirus tests come back positive. State guidance says that number should be less than 2 percent.
The rising coronavirus case counts cannot be tied to any specific outbreak, though Chen does note that like King County, Pierce County has seen more young adults test positive for the virus over the past few weeks.
To prevent the spread from continuing and to hopefully get the county back on track, health officials are offering the following safety tips:
- Wear a facial covering or mask while in public. The governor has issued a mandate ordering residents to wear facial coverings, but Chen says everyone should wear masks regardless of the law, as a common courtesy to others.
- Stay at home as much as possible.
- Make sure your gatherings are small. Under Phase 2 groups should be limited to five or fewer and should only include a small circle of friends or family members.
- Get tested for the coronavirus if you have any symptoms or have been in a larger gathering.
- Wash your hands, cover coughs, and practice good hygiene.
Health leaders across Washington are also asking that everyone follow safety guidelines for the Fourth of July weekend. For Pierce County, that means keeping gatherings to five or fewer people from outside your household, and not traveling long distances.
As for the county's future, Chen says he will only recommend it move forward when it can stabilize or shrink case counts.
"We all worked hard together to flatten the curve," said Chen. "We have lost ground and cannot afford to lose more."