Pullman officials start to see COVID-19 slowdown

Residents still need to maintain social distance, get their flu shot, public health director says

SYDNEY BROWN, Evergreen reporter

After spending weeks as one of the nation’s hot spots for positive COVID-19 cases, Pullman and Whitman County may finally begin to see a slowdown of viral activity, according to public health officials. 

The county now averages 25 positive tests per day; at the peak of the outbreak in mid- and late-August, that number was about 40 cases per day, said Troy Henderson, director of Whitman County Public Health. The most recorded in a single day was 67 cases. 

The Pullman Police Department also saw a significant drop in calls about social distancing violations, Police Chief Gary Jenkins said. 

Between Aug. 27 and Aug. 30, the police responded to 35 calls about social gatherings of more than 10 people who were also unmasked or not staying six feet apart, according to a report from the Evergreen. Officers gave out eight infractions that weekend. 

The following weekends saw a slowdown of these calls, Jenkins said. Last weekend, days after the Pullman City Council approved upping consequences for partygoers who get a nuisance party ordinance, Jenkins said they issued no tickets. 

“We understand there are probably still some parties … but we think we are having an impact,” Jenkins said. 

Henderson said college-aged students made up most of the positive cases, and because most recovered they have some immunity now built against the virus. 

Messaging efforts from student leadership at WSU and the police helped slow the infection rate, Henderson said. 

“I think the Pullman police taking a more rigid stance on gatherings of over 10 for people who aren’t wearing masks has helped,” Henderson said.

If the numbers continue to trend down, Henderson said, the public health department could start sending students under the age of 10 back to school. 

This is a priority for the health department because research suggests students in kindergarten through sixth grade have more trouble with distance learning, he said. There is also research suggesting children under the age of 10 do not infect others as often, he said. 

The virus is not gone, however, and Henderson said it is still important to continue to wear masks, wash hands and maintain distance from people. 

As flu season approaches, Henderson said even those who had COVID-19 need to get their flu vaccination so as not to overwhelm the county healthcare system. 

“We don’t need to be dealing with a flu outbreak and a COVID outbreak at the same time,” he said.