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Yakima County in ‘desperate situation’ as COVID-19 outbreak escalates

Medics at a coronavirus test site in Yakima County. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Yakima County, described by Gov. Jay Inslee as the “epicenter” of Washington state’s outbreak.

DOH concerned over recent increase in COVID-19 cases

“We know that this is frankly a desperate situation,” Gov. Inslee said of Yakima County during a virtual news conference on Saturday. Earlier in the week, he had labeled the region’s continued increase in new cases as “terrifying.”

He listed off statistics on Saturday: Yakima County has almost the entire case count of Oregon, its hospitalization rate for the virus per capita is eight times higher than it is in King County, 26% of the tests last week in Yakima County were positive, and 19% of hospital beds in the Yakima Valley are occupied by patients with COVID-19.

Seattle Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez — whose mother lives in Yakima County — commented on the region’s outbreak on Saturday as well, saying that it is “in part, due to ag/factory/farm workers being deemed ‘essential’ without employers providing or requiring PPE.”

Gonzalez also blamed a lack of access to health care for Yakima’s sizable Latin-American population.

“Conservative politics in Yakima County have had a direct impact on public health agencies across the County, leaving a void in necessary culturally and linguistically appropriate public education,” she noted. “Essential workers and their families in Yakima County are often of mixed immigration status meaning that many are left out of healthcare insurance systems. And, when they do qualify, the premiums are too expensive and give way to other basic financial needs.”

Inslee said ICU patients are now being transferred to Seattle hospitals — including Harborview Medical Center — due to a lack of capacity. Health officials say they expect hospitalizations to double, and that they’ll have to continue transferring patients across the state.

“Without us doing something quite dramatic, cases in Yakima County could double in the next couple of weeks,” the governor warned.

In the next few days, Inslee plans to issue a proclamation mandating facial coverings in public, which will be “a legal requirement, not a suggestion.”

Under the proclamation, businesses will not be allowed to sell products or services to those that aren’t complying.

“That essentially means no masks, no service,” Inslee warned.

Report: COVID-19 infections in Eastern Washington ‘slowly increasing’

In a recent survey, 35% of people in Yakima County were wearing masks when they went to a business. This number will need to rise dramatically if the area has any chance of quelling the spread of COVID-19.

The governor said they’re considering other measures, as well as including other counties in the proclamation.

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. As of early Monday morning, there are 6,283 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Yakima County, with 138 deaths.

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