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The announcement by Gov. Jay Inslee Tuesday the state was changing its metric for determining lifting of COVID-19 restrictions at first sounded like great news for Kittitas County.

The primary metric would be COVID-19 patient hospitalizations. This makes sense because the goal has been to limit the spread of the virus to stop medical facilities from being overwhelmed — as we have seen in COVID hotspots around the nation and world.

COVID-19 hospitalizations has been one metric Kittitas County consistently has aced. Our active COVID-19 case numbers have spiked and our death total at 28 is high for a county our size, but Kittitas County has never exceeded the state standard of 10% of local hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.

There have been some local COVID hospitalizations but most of the time the county has been at zero.

But then the other shoes dropped. The first was that this would not be determined on a county-by-county basis but by region. The second shoe that landed with a resounding thud was that Kittitas County would be in the South Central Region with Yakima, Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla and Columbia counties.

Not to be disrespectful to our neighbors to the south, but in this instance there is no worse group for with Kittitas County to associate.

The metric is going to be measured once a week, but as of Monday according to the state Department of Health website, the South Central Region ranks high in the metric categories that will be used to determine whether a region advances in the opening phases. The South Central Region has the highest numbers across the board compared to other regions in the state.

Medical care is a regional service, particularly in smaller counties. Our medical care region includes Yakima — county residents make use of Yakima clinics and hospitals. But our health care region also includes King County. County residents, especially those in the Upper County, travel to make use of King County clinics and hospitals if the need arises.

Whether that’s a 50/50 split is hard to say, but it is enough to cloud the question of whether high hospitalization rates in Yakima County are detrimental to health outcomes in Kittitas County.

As frustrated as Kittitas County may be, take a moment to send some positive thoughts out to Columbia County. It has one of the lowest COVID case loads in the state.

If Inslee’s goal was to make the restrictions feel less arbitrary, this was a serious misstep at least on this side of the mountains.

Statewide policy is not driven by the needs of Kittitas County but in fairness if the metric is hospitalization we (Kittitas County) are doing very well, and exist independently of hospitalization spikes in Yakima and the Tri-Cities.

More importantly, this measure does not advance the goal of compliance with COVID-19 safety measures, in fact it almost takes away the incentive to comply knowing our efforts will be dwarfed by failures to do so in our neighboring counties.

It is good that Inslee revisited the metrics and the use of the hospitalization metric is appropriate, but he missed the mark severely in Kittitas County.


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