There was more than a hopeful heart of confidence shared by local officials as they reviewed health district data from last week, which proved to be accurate and resulted in Yakima County and the other five counties in the South Central region to move into Phase 2 on Sunday, Feb. 14.

“The key statistic had to do with new COVID hospitalizations and our numbers in the county had actually gone down 36%,” Yakima County Commissioner LaDon Linde of Sunnyside explained in an interview on Monday. “So, the thought was, if we were that far down and everybody else’s numbers keep going down, why did we not qualify.”

Following the state Department of Health’s assessment about the increase in hospitalizations and a high positive test rate on Thursday, Feb. 11, the South Central region met only two of the four metrics, one short to move to Phase 2 with the rest of the state.

“We felt very confident that we were going to move to Phase 2. The hospitalization figure was not one that was remotely on our radar as something we would not meet,” Yakima County Com­missioner Amanda McKinney stated during an interview on Tuesday, Feb. 16.

That’s when questions immediately started to arise and the efforts to prove the DOH’s data was incorrect, commenced. The red flag warning initiated a coordinated response by the region’s elected officials and health department representatives to explore for discrepancies in hospitalization numbers.

Commissioners reviewed local hospital numbers and compared notes with fellow commissioners in nearby counties while working closely with Yakima Health Department representatives, who in turn spoke to their peers across the region.

They reached out to the DOH through the YHD and asked them for the data used in the reporting and were unable to provide it, McKinney expressed.

“We had to as health districts have everyone go back to their hospitals and ask them to reverify what information was actually sent from the hospitals because everyone confirmed they saw a decline. Something wasn’t right,” she said.

Through the process to corroborate the information, Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Walla Walla discovered they had made an error. The hospital had sent DOH all of their COVID-19 patient admittance records instead of just their new admissions.

“On Friday, Feb. 12, Providence St. Mary Medical Center discovered an error in its reporting of COVID-19 positive patients admitted to the hospital, and immediately provided corrected data to the Washington Department of Health. The error was unintentional, and we acted as quickly as possible to provide corrected data to the state,” Susan Blackburn, chief executive at Providence St. Mary Medical Center said in a statement provided to DOH Sunday.

Once the corrected data had been recalculated, the new documentation was ready to be distributed to the Governor’s Office and DOH, McKinney reached out to Senator Curtis King and Dan Newhouse for a “hail Mary assist,” Saturday.

The commission wanted to publicly pressure Inslee to make the right decision now, she said. McKinney provided Rep. Newhouse with the updated data and when his staff contacted the Governor’s office, they were aware of the discrepancy but had no idea how long it would take to review, she said.

That’s when Sen. Newhouse attempted to call the Governor directly but was unable to get through. As a result, he issued a press release about the inadequacy of the Governor’s plan and his flawed metrics and lack of clear plan for moving past phase 2.

“Due to a reporting error made by a hospital, the (South) Central region was the only one that didn’t move to Phase 2 this week,” Inslee tweeted. “I’m glad the hospital found the error, reported it and now the region can move ahead. This means our entire state is now in Phase 2,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a tweet Feb. 14.

“We would have been able to discover this if we had any communication from the Governor’s office before the press release. I find it to be completely inexcusable that we have to sit here and watch a press conference live and find out that we’re not moving forward because of what we later find out was a data error,” McKinney strongly voiced.

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