An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Sick Prison Inmates Bring Uncertainty To Spokane Hospital Capacity

Washington Department of Corrections

Is Spokane County ready to move to the next phase of Washington’s coronavirus reopening protocol? County commissioners and Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward say yes. Health Officer Bob Lutz is skeptical. 

Lutz cites the doubling of the number of confirmed cases since the Memorial Day weekend. But he’s also worried about another factor.

Spokane County reported 16 new cases on Thursday, pushing the total to 893. The vast majority of those people have recovered at home. About 100 have needed hospitalization. As of Wednesday, a dozen Spokane County residents were still receiving care in hospitals. That’s up a few from earlier in the week.

Health Officer Bob Lutz says there are several others receiving care for Covid who aren’t Spokane County residents. In fact, Lutz says local officials have not regularly reported that number to the public, but may very soon. Some of those are inmates that are bused to the Airway Heights Correctional Center from another state prison, Coyote Ridge, north of the Tri-Cities.

“We have, since mid-May, the mid to latter part of May, seen 66 individuals transferred to the Airway Heights regional care facility from Coyote Ridge for care. Some of whom have ended up in the hospitals. To me, that’s sort of that joker, that wild card, that I don’t quite know what to expect," Lutz said.

What he worries about is what happens if the outbreak at Coyote Ridge gets worse.

“They have 1,900+ inmates down there plus staff. Earlier in the week they had more than 80+ residents or inmates and almost 40 staff test positive," he said.  "The Department of Health has been working closely with them and we have now initiated calls twice a week to coordinate what’s happening across the DOC system with our health care partners and public health so that we can prepare accordingly.”

The Spokane County health board will consider the question of whether to apply for level three when it meets next Thursday.