A1 A1
Yakima County hospitals exceed capacity; report critical staffing shortages

Virginia Mason Memorial and other Yakima County hospitals have exceeded staffing capacity, prompting Yakima Health District officials to urge residents to forgo gatherings during the Father’s Day weekend to minimize spread of COVID-19.

Virginia Mason Memorial had no intensive care or non-intensive care beds available Thursday night, despite transferring more than 17 patients out of the county, the Yakima Health District said in a news release Friday. As a result, multiple patients were forced to wait for hospital bed space overnight, and several were still waiting for a bed Friday afternoon.

The health district said the county’s hospitals are struggling with staffing. Employees are out due to having COVID-19 or staying at home after showing COVID-19 symptoms or coming in close contact with an infected individual. The health district said all of the county’s hospitals have reported “critical staffing shortages” over the past week.

“We’ve been dealing with this for three months, we have beds, we’re not at (bed) capacity, but we have 47 COVID-19 patients that require extra care and resources,” said Virginia Mason Memorial CEO Carole Peet in a statement Friday. “It’s about manpower. It’s about making sure we can care for our sickest patients. We’ve made the decision to transfer patients when we’re at maximum capacity for staff and resources. {/div}

{div} {/div}

{div}”For the past two weeks, we’ve been working collaboratively with state officials, with Gov. Jay Inslee and the Washington State Hospital Association. We’re working collaboratively to identify resources for Yakima as COVID-19 cases increase.” {/div}

{div} {/div}

{div}Yakima County also has Astria Health hospitals in Sunnyside and Toppenish.{/div}

The lack of capacity comes as Yakima County saw 61 COVID-19 patient hospitalizations late Thursday, the highest to date, according to Yakima Health District figures. The county saw 208 new cases Friday, the second-highest daily count to date.

Hospital numbers fluctuate throughout the day, and the total was 51 on Thursday afternoon. The number of hospitalizations on Friday afternoon was 53 as people were discharged and transferred.

Yakima County now represents 22% of the 242 COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide, which is a higher percentage than King County, the state’s most populous county, the health district said. Yakima County COVID-19 patients also represented 24% — 11 of 46 — of all ventilated patients statewide.

Running out of hospital capacity was something Memorial officials warned about back in March when they urged residents to stay at home and do other social distancing and health measures to minimize community spread of COVID-19.

“This is the day we have been fighting to avoid for months, when our hospitals can no longer provide their highest level of care because they are overwhelmed caring for patients with severe COVID-19 infection,” Dr. Teresa Everson, health officer of the Yakima Health District, said in a statement.

The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized declined in April but started rising the following month after residents began to relax on prevention efforts, including staying home.

Earlier this month, Memorial officials said the pandemic had pushed the hospital to capacity, leading to transfers to other hospitals.

The Yakima Health District said in the news release that with COVID-19 cases rising in neighboring Benton and Franklin counties, it would grow increasingly difficult to transfer patients to hospitals in the Tri-Cities area.

With big spikes in new cases and hospitalizations coming after holidays, such as Mother’s Day, officials are concerned area hospitals will be overwhelmed if people ignore physical distancing measures for Father Day’s gatherings this weekend.

“As Father’s Day approaches, we urge community members to demonstrate their love and affection for their family by ensuring that they are safe,” said Andre Fresco, executive director of the Yakima Health District, in the agency’s news release. “Any close contact with people outside your immediate household is putting yourself and your loved ones at risk.”

Hospital capacity dropped earlier this year in Yakima County after Astria Health closed Astria Regional Medical Center in January, stating that it was no longer financially feasible to continue operating the 214-bed hospital. Astria filed for bankruptcy protection last year.

In late March, Astria Health received court approval to lease Astria Regional to the state as a care facility for non-COVID-19 patients in anticipation of a surge of patients. The state didn’t wind up needing the beds, opting instead to focus on outbreaks at long-term care centers.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to add comments from Virginia Mason Memorial, and to clarify hospitalization numbers on Thursday and Friday.

Yakima Freedom Ride celebrates end of slavery on Juneteenth

Yakima’s Juneteenth celebration on Friday gathered a crowd of about a hundred people, who cheered and applauded as community leaders shared messages of hope, unity, and accountability.

The word Juneteenth combines the day and month of June 19, 1865, a day that signifies the end of slavery in the United States. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed more than two years prior, but it wasn’t until about 1,800 federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, that all enslaved Black people became free.

To commemorate that event and celebrate that freedom, the Yakima County NAACP organized a Freedom Ride that started from the Central Lutheran church parking lot and then traveled by caravan to the Henry Beauchamp Community Center.

While speakers explained the day is one of celebration, this year’s celebration was undercut by the tragedy of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd’s death at the hands of a white police officer.

Signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace” interspersed those emblazoned with “Juneteenth — Freedom.”

Jasmine Garner, the 22-year-old president of the county NAACP’s Youth Council, opened the evening’s speeches.

“It’s a blessing to be able to come together as one and stand for what is right, to stand for what we believe in,” she said. “There was a time when we would get scrutinized, beat, hosed down. They would even send the dogs out. But that didn’t stop us then, and nothing will stop us now!”

Garner spoke about the need to hold officers who use inappropriate force accountable, to recognize the contributions of minorities to society’s success, and to include Black and Hispanic histories in school curriculum.

“They don’t even teach you in school about Black history or Hispanic history,” she said. “Here in America, that history is taught at home at the dinner table by our parents and grandparents. We the people who helped shape America demand we be treated equal!”

Garner’s message resonated with Daeshjia Watley, 13, who held a sign she had made that said “Was born Black, will stay Black.” Watley said she wanted to attend the event both to raise awareness about the Black Lives Matter movement and to show her pride in her people.

“I am proud to be Black,” she said. “I would tell other people who are Black to be proud too. Be proud of who you are.”

The celebration included a reading of a proclamation from the Yakima County Commissioners declaring the week of June 15 as “Juneteenth Freedom Week,” an explanation of the date’s historical significance, and prayers and words from local faith leaders.

The real Emancipation

On Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that enslaved people in states rebelling against the Union would be “then, thenceforth, and forever free.”

It was not the end of slavery in the United States.

On April 9, 1865, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his troops to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, ending the American Civil War. In the two months that followed, slavery remained largely unaffected in Texas.

It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, when Union Major Gen. Gordon Granger landed with federal troops in Galveston, Texas, and read the country’s executive order, that slavery ended in the country. The celebrations that resulted from the announcement inspired yearly Juneteenth celebrations.

This year, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP hosted a virtual “Black Reunion” on Friday. Speakers emphasized the need for people to speak up about social justice, protest peacefully, and change “protests to power” by voting in the fall election.

Panel discussions with Black parents and families also focused on what they called “The Talk,” the uncomfortable conversations they have with their children about how to act around police officers so as not to get targeted or harmed.

NAACP Chairman Leon Russell introduced the hashtag #WeAreDoneDying, an initiative by the NAACP to expose inequities in America for people of color, including in health care, education, criminal justice and voting rights.

“We must be a nation that realizes we cannot accept one more George Floyd, we cannot accept one more Breonna Taylor,” Russell said. Taylor was fatally shot in her apartment by Louisville police officers in March.

NAACP President Derrick Johnson said the protests sparked by Floyd’s death felt different from past protests, in that people of all ages and ethnicities, from all states and in other countries, had joined.

“We are done dying is our rallying cry,” Johnson said. “We need to move from peaceful protests to power. We need to march toward a different future.”

‘We are moving forward’

David Olivas, a Hispanic attendee at Friday’s Juneteenth celebration in Yakima, said he and his wife, Isabel, are supporters of the social justice movements happening throughout the country.

“All minorities have been suppressed in this country,” he said. “But Yakima has a very strong community, and for us to be able to pull together like this, it could be a moment where there is change.”

Isabel Olivas said the gathering was emotional for her, in a good way.

“When you see people from all different backgrounds come out to support the people who need it the most, when they need the support, it’s empowering,” she said. “With the pandemic and everything else going on in the world, what has made it better is seeing this unity.”

Pastor W.F. Pride Jr., who helped close the evening’s ceremonies, told those gathered that the diverse turnout was a reason for hope.

“This is what America is supposed to look like,” Pride said. “In spite of all that’s going on, the gathering here on this day should give us the hope to carry on in our communities and for the days to come.”

Pastor Kenneth Johnson ended the evening with words of encouragement as well.

“Where there is unity, there is strength,” Johnson told those gathered. “Things can be done when we come together.”

James Parks, the former president of the local NAACP, said he was grateful for the turnout.

“It won’t be right unless we make it right,” Parks said. “When everyone pulls together, we can do anything.”

Editor's note: This story has been corrected. Yakima has had Juneteenth celebrations in the past.

Yakima Health District reports 208 new coronavirus cases Friday

For the second time in less than two weeks, Yakima County has exceeded 200 new COVID-19 cases on a single day.

The Yakima Health District reported that 208 people tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the total number in Yakima County to 6,270 since the pandemic began. That’s up from 6,062 Thursday.

The county’s largest single-day increase in cases was 215 on June 8.

Two deaths were reported, bringing the county’s death toll from the disease to 118, according to the health district. Of those who died, 109 had other health issues in addition to coronavirus, according to the health district.

There are 53 people hospitalized while the number of those who are intubated remains at 10. As of Friday, 2,581 people have recovered from the disease, meaning it has been at least 28 days since they tested positive and they are neither hospitalized nor dead.

As of Wednesday, Yakima County’s two-week rate of infection was 698 per 100,000, the highest rate in the state, according to the state Department of Health.

Health district officials said Thursday that there were outbreaks at 21 facilities in the county, with eight agriculture facilities reporting outbreaks. The next-largest groups were grocery and health care facilities, with three each, while two fast food and education facilities each reported outbreaks, which are defined as at least two coronavirus cases in a two-week period.

Yakima County jail officials also reported an outbreak after 19 inmates in a second-floor housing unit tested positive for coronavirus. The inmates are quarantined, jail officials said, and all inmates and staff are required to wear masks.

Lt. Col. Luke Wittmer.

Jason Clark holds Sadie, a dog his family adopted, in the backyard of his family's home on Wednesday, June 10, 2020 in Selah, Wash.

Trump suggests another attempt at rolling back DACA

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump indicated Friday that he would try again to end the Obama-era program protecting undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children, a day after the Supreme Court ruled that his administration erred in how it carried out the first attempt.

The president in a series of tweets said the administration “will be submitting enhanced papers shortly in order to properly fulfil the Supreme Court’s ruling & request of yesterday.”

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany did not offer more details during a news briefing several hours later, only saying that the administration “wants to find a compassionate way” to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled against the administration in a case challenging its termination of the program. Created by President Barack Obama by executive order, it has given nearly 700,000 so-called Dreamers the ability to live and work legally in the U.S.

The high court did not decide on the merits of the program, but found Trump’s attempt to end it “arbitrary and capricious.” The court left the door open for the administration to try again in a way that complies with procedural law.

On Friday, McEnany framed the ruling as favorable to Trump. She said the majority opinion didn’t dispute whether the Department of Homeland Security could rescind DACA. Instead, “all parties agree that it may be rescinded, the dispute is instead primarily about the procedure the agency followed in doing so,” she said.

The White House did not specify when a new attempt to end the program would come, but the timing would be key to when and how many newly eligible people might be able to apply. Any second attempt to terminate the program also would have to pass legal muster, as lawsuits challenging it would almost certainly arise.

The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute estimates that 66,000 young people have become eligible for DACA, but were barred from applying since the administration tried to end the program in September 2017. DACA applicants must meet specific age, education, criminal background and other criteria to be eligible for the program.

DHS did not respond to a request Friday for comment and elaboration on the president’s tweet, but Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary for the department, also took to Twitter, saying Trump had instructed DHS “to restart the DACA process in according with #scotus’s ruling.”

The Supreme Court in its ruling remanded the case to DHS to consider hardship to DACA recipients if they are deported, said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at MPI. The court said any second attempt to end DACA would need precise justifications for why the administration still wants to shut the program down. In other words, a rushed, poorly thought out attempt could be easily blocked, she said.

Pierce noted that last summer, after the Supreme Court ruled against the administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, Trump similarly tweeted that his administration would try again to insert the question. A few days later, the administration stood down.

According to a Pew Research Center poll released this week, more than 70% of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for DACA participants, who are seen sympathetically by Republicans and Democrats alike. But ending the program that grants them temporary protection against deportation was one of the first things Trump did after taking office. Existing recipients have since been able to apply for renewals while challenges wound through the courts.

DACA was intended as a stopgap, however. Advocates, Dreamers and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have been calling for a more permanent solution.

“We need to take action and pass legislation that will unequivocally allow these young men and women to stay in the only home, the only country, they’ve known,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a longtime supporter of DACA participants, said Thursday after the ruling.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., who in 2001 introduced the first Senate legislation to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, called upon Trump to give DACA beneficiaries until the end of the year — or at least until after the November election — before deciding whether to end the program in a way that is consistent with the law.

Last June, House passed legislation that would grant permanent citizenship to up to 2.5 million undocumented immigrants. The bill passed 237-187, mostly along party lines, although seven Republicans supported it. The measure has not been taken up in the Senate.