Walla Walla hospital corrects data error, Kittitas County moves into phase 2

RachelAnn Degnan, Senior Reporter

On Feb. 12, an error was discovered in a Walla Walla hospital, revealing there had been an incorrect number of reported new COVID-19 patients. This data, which was previously keeping Kittitas County and the South Central Region in phase 1, was corrected and allowed the South Central Region to move into phase 2 on Feb. 14. 

Susan Blackburn, chief executive at the Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Walla Walla, said in a DOH news release that the error was unintentional and fixed as quickly as possible.

“We hope this corrected information will be helpful in assessing whether our communities are ready to move to Phase 2 of the Governor’s reopening plan, and we appreciate our partnership with the state that has allowed us to correct this error,” Blackburn said.

The Secretary of Health, Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, confirmed in a DOH news release that the change in data allowed the final region to move into phase 2.

“When errors like this happen, our DOH team is committed to getting things corrected as quickly as possible. We are pleased that partners in the South Central region brought this issue to our attention and we were able to resolve the matter quickly,” Shah said.

Kittitas County Public Health Department Director Tristen Lamb said she was grateful for Ellensburg and Kittitas County representatives who spoke up and helped move the region into phase 2.

“I would like to thank everyone in Kittitas County, our partners in the South-Central Region, and other agencies and personnel who worked to advocate for our county,” Lamb wrote in a press release. “I believe everyone in our county continues to work at the highest level for our residents and it shows.”

Prior to the data error being discovered, Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Feb. 12 that Kittitas County, included in the South Central Region, would stay in phase 1 of his reopening plan while all other Washington State regions would move into phase 2.

Kittitas County Sheriff Clay Myers responded with a press release that questioned Inslee’s initial choice. 

“Who benefits from keeping Kittitas County in Phase 1? Not the state, not the region, and not Yakima, Benton, Franklin, Columbia or Walla Walla Counties,” Myers wrote. “Certainly not the businesses or members of Kittitas County. We know who it harms, so who does it benefit? If it benefits no one and harms many, why are we doing it?”

Sheriff Myers continued his statement, “We have achieved lower [COVID-19] rates than the state average as well as lower rates than some counties already in [phase 2].” 

On Feb. 13, Representative Kim Schrier sent a letter to Inslee, also asking him and the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) to reconsider.

“I write to you today disappointed to see Kittitas County not among the many counties that will be moving to Phase 2 on Sunday. As we discussed today, the region-based reopening plan that you and the Department of Health put forth was created in the best interest of Washingtonians,” Schrier wrote. “But now, a year into this pandemic, the data makes it clear that including Kittitas County in the South Central region is unnecessarily harming Kittitas, which by all metrics is succeeding and should not be held back any longer.”