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Why Yakima is seeing one of the worst outbreaks in Washington

(File photo)

Yakima is seeing one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Washington state. Dr. Scott Lindquist is with the Washington State Department of Health, a specialist in spreading viruses, and joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss.

“The big concern for us was they have 11 long-term care facilities, of which nine of them were having outbreaks … we went through all these facilities, made recommendations, made sure they had enough PPE, so masks and gowns and gloves and day shields, and testing kits.”

“But when we were there, we were clearly shown that there’s outbreaks occurring in non-health care associated facilities, things like meat packing plants, the jail, fruit packing plants or farms … that has become the big driver of Yakima’s case counts is workers and farms and factories.”

How did Yakima get this out of control? Because by May, everybody must have known this was serious.

“I think it’s this perfect storm. There’s lots of disease still in the county and these work settings are ideal places to transmit. In some cases, people were working shoulder to shoulder, and so we quickly realized that there’s a need for this guidance around the state as this goes on through the summer.”

Has lockdown been more ‘wasted time’ than waste of time?

“This is going to affect other counties also, and it already is. We’re already starting to see outbreaks in vegetable processing plants and in fish processing plants, etc.”

Were these facilities operating in compliance with guidelines or were there no guidelines?

“So it wasn’t that there was a lack of guidance, and there wasn’t a lack of the employers doing things about this … I think it’s a combination of folks that work in these factories or farms also have a life outside of work, and there’s a lot of transmission that occurs in their home settings.”

“I think there is a lot of community transmission that occurs that isn’t just handled by social distancing … distancing yourself from people, wearing a face covering or a mask, washing your hands — any time we violate any of those principles, there’s transmission that occurs either in the workplace or in the community.”

What can we expect from COVID-19 outbreak with summer looming?

As Dave noted, it’s prudent to figure out what we can learn from this. People are itching to get back to work and there may plenty of bending of the rules or at least people figuring out how they can get back to a normal economy, while still protecting themselves short of being isolated.

Has Dr. Lindquist learned anything from his time in Yakima that could assist us in trying to thread this needle?

“Here’s the number one principle that I’ve really been aware of: When I am at home — I live on Bainbridge Island — and I go to the grocery store, if I am not wearing a mask, I am clearly the odd person out.”

“When I go to Yakima, it’s pretty much the other way, most people are not wearing face coverings in public, and I think we need to really address that. So that means that if farmer or factory workers don’t have access to masks, then we need to get them to them. … And the cultural norm needs to change.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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