200325-yh-news-healthupdate

FILE — Lilian Bravo, spokeswoman for the Yakima Health District, provides information regarding COVID-19 response efforts in Yakima County during a news conference Tuesday, March 24, 2020, at the Yakima Health District, 1210 Ahtanum Ridge Drive in Union Gap, Wash.

The numbers aren’t pretty. Of the 133 counties in Washington, Oregon and California, Yakima County has a comfortable margin atop the list — or at the bottom, if you prefer — with the highest COVID-19 infection rate.

The number of reported cases is up substantially from Saturday, when statistics from the New York Times and the Census Bureau showed 1,351 positive cases in Yakima County. This translated to an infection rate of 519 per 100,000 people. And that number has grown; as of this writing, according to the Times’ county-by-county map updated with Monday’s numbers, Yakima County’s infection rate had grown to 578 per 100,000 people based on 1,440 cases.

That astounding number still misses the mark: The Yakima Health District was reporting 1,506 cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday afternoon, including 52 deaths.

By comparison, the most recent New York Times county map showed an infection rate of 308 per 100,000 people in heavily populated King County; 408 per 100,000 in Franklin County, which includes Pasco (second-highest rate in the state); and a rate of 275 per 100,000 in Los Angeles County, Calif.

There are many reasons for this remarkable statistic, and many of those reasons are likely to remain constant in Yakima County in the weeks and months ahead as we slowly relax our statewide stay-at-home order.

For one thing, 63% of our workforce is considered essential, and many of those people don’t have the ability to work from home.

“We just haven’t been as much down as the rest of the state because our workforce is going to work,’’ Lilian Bravo, a Yakima Health District spokeswoman, said recently. “Physically going to work every day is going to put you at a higher risk than others.’’

Also, COVID-19 outbreaks at seven long-term care facilities have helped spike the numbers. Finally, workers in the food production and agriculture industries have shown susceptibility to the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

And while the scientific and medical communities across the globe continue to examine and amass data on COVID-19, there are a few things that also remain constant as to how we should continue to fight and try to stay healthy.

Weeks ago, health officials and other state leaders took unprecedented steps to limit residents’ movement and exposure to others in hopes of “flattening the curve.” In other words, we began staying home from work, school and recreation; practicing social distancing; and wearing masks and other personal protective gear because of concerns that hospitals and medical providers could become overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases if we didn’t make changes.

For much of the state, those strategies appear to be having a positive effect. New cases of COVID-19 have leveled off across much of Washington, according to Dr. Kathy Lofy, the state health officer, who spoke to the media Tuesday. But Yakima County was among the exceptions, she noted. “They’re certainly not seeing any sort of a decline at this point,” she said.

When these troubling numbers and disturbing trends are placed side by side, it points to one rather serious conclusion: This is not the time to relax and go back to “normal.” Yakima County denizens should, if anything, double down on their efforts to protect themselves and those with whom they come in contact. Our statistics aren’t great, but think how much worse they could be had we not embraced social distancing, protective masks and limited excursions to the lengths we did.

COVID-19 is still rabidly contagious. It’s still true that infected people might not show symptoms. It’s still advised that people stay home from work if they are sick. Health officials still recommend extensive hand-washing and wearing masks in public to reduce risk of infecting others. Costco has the right idea. In a policy change that took effect Monday, all shoppers over age 2 must wear a face mask while in the store, with exceptions for people who are unable to do so because of a medical condition.

And do not forget arguably the biggest constant of all: Vulnerable populations remain at serious risk. This includes senior citizens and anybody with underlying health issues.

You might feel healthy and yet be harboring the virus. Social distancing, masks and staying home aren’t just about you. They never have been.

Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are

Bob Crider and Bruce Drysdale.