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Health officials worry about spike in coronavirus cases as Thurston County applies for Phase 3

Thurston County Health Officer Dr. Diana Yu worries about the public letting its guard down to the coronavirus as more businesses and activities reopen.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Bars, gyms, and churches in Thurston county could open, with limits, if the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) approves the county’s application to move to Phase 3 of Governor Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start” reopening plan.

But Thurston County Health Officer Dr. Diana Yu, who approved the county's application to be submitted to the DOH, also expressed concern about the public letting its guard down to the coronavirus. 

“I’m tired of COVID, I’m so done with it, but unfortunately COVID is not done with me," said Yu. "People need to understand just because we moved from Phase 1 to Phase 2 or 2 to 3, it doesn’t mean the virus is gone."

Yu said the county has seen spikes and outbreaks of coronavirus after the county moved to Phase 2 in late May. The county saw an outbreak at a long-term care facility and another cluster of cases among a group of friends, according to a letter Yu wrote to the community earlier this week.

RELATED: Thurston County mandates masks as it moves to Phase 2 of reopening

"We have started seeing four to five cases a day," said Yu. "The majority are young people in their 20s and 30s."

Yu said health officials connected some of the cases to a party held around Memorial Day. 

She fears people will stop social distancing or wearing masks as more elements of the community open back up.

"What I cannot be confident about is our public’s ability to follow the guidance that we’ve been putting out," said Yu. 

Thurston County issued a directive in May when the county entered Phase 2 for everyone to wear face masks when in public, and according to Yu's letter this week, that directive while not easily enforced remains strongly encouraged. 

"I know you are eager to get back to seeing your friends and enjoying your activities but please keep that 6 feet of distance and use a face cover if you are within 6 feet of others," wrote Yu in the letter. 

Yu also said she will not hesitate to recommend that Thurston County return to a previous phase of reopening if prevention steps are not followed by the public.

RELATED: New report shows COVID-19 activity increasing in Washington state