A ‘good move’ for game days

August Frank/Daily NewsThe predominantly maskless student section is pictured at the Washington State University football game against Utah State on Saturday.

Whitman County Public Health fully supports Washington State University’s recent decision to require proof of vaccination from fans attending its home football games starting in October, its director said.

“I think it’s a good decision,” Chris Skidmore said. “It’s a good move for the university.”

WSU announced the decision Tuesday amid a spike in COVID-19 cases across the Northwest that is straining area hospitals. The university’s new game day protocols align with protocols put in place by the Seattle Seahawks and University of Washington. Fans will also be required to wear masks at games regardless of vaccination status.

These rules were not in place for the Cougars’ first home game Sept. 4. Skidmore said it is too early to tell whether that game will lead to a significant rise in local cases. He said it usually takes seven to 14 days after a large public event before his staff sees a jump in the number of positive COVID-19 tests.

Before the new rules take effect, WSU will play two more home games: Saturday against Portland State and Sept. 18 against USC.

Skidmore said large public events that take place in controlled environments, which is what WSU is trying to create with its new rules, do not usually lead to widespread transmission of COVID-19.

The spread happens when people let their guard down in an uncontrolled environment, including when they are just visiting with their friends.

He pointed to the recent Watershed Festival at the Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington as an example. The music festival that took place this summer was linked to more than 200 COVID-19 cases, but Skidmore said the spread did not just occur at the concert venue. Much of the transmission occurred where people were camping together in close proximity for multiple days.

As of Wednesday, the state has not announced any new restrictions that will affect the Palouse Empire Fair that starts today in Colfax, but Skidmore said his department is encouraging people to wear masks and practice social distancing at the event.

The delta variant wave has spread across Whitman County and is not centered solely in Pullman. Skidmore said it mainly occurs where there are pockets of unvaccinated people.

That is why the WSU student population, which has a high vaccination rate, is seeing a low percentage of positive tests.

“They are showing a very low transmission rate compared to last year,” he said.

Pullman Regional Hospital announced last week that nearly all of the COVID-19 patients it admitted in August were unvaccinated. Skidmore said Whitman County hospitals can still take patients, but their ability to divert or transfer patients to other hospitals is severely limited because of a lack of available rooms in the region.

Idaho Health and Welfare announced this week that North Idaho hospitals can activate crisis standards of care in response to a sharp rise in COVID-19 patients that are overwhelming hospitals. Gritman Medical Center in Moscow said it does not need to move to crisis standards of care at this time.

Another death in Whitman County

Whitman County Public Health reported one new COVID-19-related death Wednesday, raising the county’s death toll to 55 since the pandemic began.

The public health agency also reported 52 new cases of the disease Thursday, pushing that total to 4,995. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Whitman County remained unchanged at 154.

Public Health - Idaho North Central District reported 109 new cases in its five-county region Thursday, including 23 in Latah County, which brings its in-county total to 3,725.

New patients include four people younger than 18 three men and two women between the ages of 18 and 29, one man and five women in their 30s, two men and two women in their 40s, one woman in her 50s, a man and a woman in their 70s and another man in his 80s.

Total deaths related to the disease remained unchanged at 18.

Kuipers can be reached at kuipers@dnews.com.

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