Yakima County coronavirus cases continue to decline, though they are trending upward in many other places in the state, according to a weekly situation report from the state Department of Health.
Yakima County had 67 new cases on Saturday, the seventh straight day with cases under 100. That’s an improvement from earlier this summer, when daily case totals were frequently in triple digits.
A total of 10,503 people have had COVID-19 in Yakima County since mid-March, according to the Yakima Health District. An estimated 7.893 people have recovered.
Deaths remained at 196 on Saturday. A total of 26 people are hospitalized, with five intubated.
Friday’s statewide coronavirus situation report estimates a transmission number of 1.19 in Western Washington and 1.08 in Eastern Washington. The transmission number is an estimate of how many people each person with COVID-19 will infect, and the goal is to have it be as close to zero as possible. Having a number above 1 means the COVID-19 burden will continue to grow, the report said.
“Transmission reduction efforts are still insufficient to limit the continued growth of COVID-19,” Secretary of Health John Wiseman said in a statement. “This is why fewer, shorter, and safer interactions are crucial. Staying home is still safest, but if you go out, keep it quick, keep your distance from others, and wear a face covering.”
The report points to declining trends in Yakima County. Okanogan County now has the most cases per capita in Washington. Daily new case counts in other counties, including Benton, Franklin, Spokane and Grant, have seen decreases or plateaus, “which hopefully reflects improved adherence to masking and physical distancing guidelines,” DOH said in a news release. Delays in testing could also be at play, the report said.
Test positivity in Eastern Washington has been slowly decreasing, though it remains high at 14.6% and is over three times as high as in Western Washington at 4.2%. Test positivity has declined from more than 30% at peak to 15% in Yakima County.
Hospital admission trends may be slowing among all age groups in Eastern Washington and increasing in Western Washington, the report said. Both Eastern and Western Washington have recently reached a new peak in cases.
The report, which is released weekly, comes from the state DOH, the Institute for Disease Modeling in Bellevue, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the University of Washington and the Microsoft AI for Health program.
A Yakima County Department of Corrections officer has died of COVID-19, the department said.
Officer Dan Oaks, a 15-year veteran of the department, died Saturday after being hospitalized with the disease, corrections department Director Ed Campbell said.
“He will be missed by his family, co-workers and friends,” Campbell wrote in a prepared statement. “He was an exemplary officer and public servant.”
The jail was the scene of an outbreak that, at its peak, saw 34 officers and 130 inmates infected. Jail officials said Thursday that seven inmates and 12 corrections officers were infected, and the others had recovered.
A memorial fund will be established for Oaks’ wife and two children, Campbell said.
Life for oenophiles took a step closer to normal Saturday at Kana Wines.
Patrons could again enjoy wine in the outdoor seating at the downtown Yakima wine shop, which had been limited to take-out sales due to coronavirus restrictions.
“As far as I’m concerned, we are open,” said Katherine Goodson, Kana Winery’s general manager.
But it’s not quite back to where it was before the pandemic. There’s no live music, customers have to wear masks and disinfect their shoes when they come in to order and drink their wine outside. Red markers on the floor indicate where people should stand when they order.
Yakima Health District and the state approved modifications to the Phase 1 rules to allow for outdoor seating at breweries, wineries and bars last week. Previously, only establishments that had restaurant-level food service could offer outdoor service, but that has been extended to all wineries and breweries, as long as other safety measures, such as social distancing and mask use, are observed. The changes took effect Saturday.
Winery owners say they are following the rules to keep their customers and their employees safe.
“As business owners, we want to make sure we are going to be open,” said Wes Teslo, owner of J Bell Cellars & Lavender near Zillah.
The businesses initially expected to reopen in July when some coronavirus restrictions were eased slightly in Yakima County. That was called off July 14 when the state clarified the rules for Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties, saying wineries and breweries needed to be a restaurant to open outdoor seating.
Yakima Health District Executive Director Andre Fresco announced earlier this week that the winery and brewery restrictions could be lifted slightly due to the slowing of the disease’s spread.
The change was met with cheers by local winemakers and winery owners, said Barbara Glover, executive director of the industry group Wine Yakima Valley. The spring-to-fall wine-tasting season, during which locals and tourists alike flock to the Valley’s dozens of wineries, never even started this year for many wineries.
“A lot of the wineries in this community only sell wine through their tasting rooms,” she said. “Their supporters really did support them, but you weren’t getting people coming through looking for things.”
Bonair Winery and J Bell, which were both able to remain open, said the news was good for the entire industry.
Teslo said the change in policy sends a clear message that the wine industry is open, and people are welcome to taste wines before they buy.
That doesn’t mean those wineries didn’t experience a loss of business. Teslo said spring and early summer are busy times for J Bell. He said the crowd Saturday afternoon was typical.
Sherry Puryear, Bonair’s self-proclaimed “wine goddess” said she started offering “crisis prices,” one-third to one-half discounts on their wines.
By lifting the restrictions, she said wine lovers will have more places to go and look for wines.
“We’re happy to have people and people like to sit calmly and look at something other than their own four walls,” Puryear said.
Customers also were happy as well to be sampling wines again.
“It’s a breath of fresh air,” said Susana Gonzalez, a Wapato resident enjoying wine with friends at J Bell.
Scott Moiser, a Yakima resident and long-time Kana wine club member, was also happy he could enjoy Grateful Dead-themed wine. But he said it will be a while before Kana truly returns to normal.
“It’s really not going to be the same for a while,” Moiser said.
Yakima Herald-Republic reporter Pat Muir contributed to this story.