Gov. Inslee says Yakima County is headed for disaster if no changes are made

Jun 16, 2020, 4:58 PM | Updated: Jun 17, 2020, 6:26 am

Gov. Jay Inslee visited Yakima on Tuesday to meet with local government, health care, and business leaders to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the county.

The Washington State Department of Health has recently expressed concern about growing infection rates in some counties in the state, including Yakima.

“The situation in Eastern Washington is of greatest concern, particularly in Benton, Franklin, Spokane, and Yakima counties,” the DOH said in its latest update. “If COVID-19 continues to spread at its current rate, we will soon see large increases in the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in these areas.”

The Institute for Disease Modeling also projects a continued increase in COVID-19 activity in some Washington counties, which may require expanded hospital capacity and testing to slow the spread.

Inslee described IDM’s curve for Yakima Valley if nothing changes as “terrifying.”

“The hospitalization rate in Yakima Valley per capita is eight times higher than it is in King County,” Inslee said. “And it is not totally subdued in King County by a long shot.”

“Something has to change,” he added.

The governor recognized that this can be difficult to understand as people across Washington have done difficult things that helped lead to early success. But at this point, the governor said Yakima County is headed for disaster if no changes are made and the infection rate does not drop.

“So the situation as we see it is we want to have a more positive outcome for everybody right now, both businesses and the people concerned about a healthy Yakima Valley,” Inslee said.

Local leaders have launched a mask campaign, which Inslee pointed to as a positive sign. He said it shows that local leadership recognizes the need for county residents to start wearing masks, and added that there has been broad acceptance from the business community as well.

“We have the nucleus of a new initiative in the valley to attack this pandemic,” Inslee said.

However, there is still room to improve.

In the last survey, 35% of people were wearing masks when they went to a business. This number has to rise dramatically if the area has any chance of restraining the spread of COVID-19.

Inslee also said there is a continued need for increased and more frequent testing, especially for those who work in congregate settings, like fruit packing plants. Contact tracing and isolation efforts in the state are running, and Inslee said it will need to be even more robust moving forward.

Gov. Inslee hopes to expand PPE stockpile, launches #WearAMaskWA

There is an intense desire to reopen, to beat the pandemic that Inslee has witnessed in Yakima County, and statewide. Gov. Inslee recognized that Washingtonians are doing a lot, but they need to do more, and do it better.

“We’ve just got to pull on that rope harder and more effectively,” he said.

The easiest step people can take is to wear masks or cloth face coverings in public settings or places where you may be unable to socially distance from others. Inslee said he believes habits can change over time.

In the case that the governor would issue an executive order requiring masks, he hopes it wouldn’t have to involve a punishment as most people tend to comply.

“We want to reopen Yakima Valley, we know how painful and difficult this is for so many people,” Inslee said.

Wearing a mask and following social distancing rules, Inslee says is the right thing to do, the healthy thing to do, and the moral thing to do to keep your friends, family, and neighbors safe.

“We need to do this starting today,” he said. “It’s going to go up dramatically in the next two weeks if we don’t get on top of this. Hours count here.”

Yakima County is the only county in Washington that is in a non-modified Phase 1, with no application to move forward. Benton and Franklin are in Phase 1, but have applications pending. On Tuesday afternoon, there are 5,597 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Yakima County, with 124 deaths.

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Gov. Inslee says Yakima County is headed for disaster if no changes are made