The Yakima Health District issued a countywide stay-at-home order Sunday night.
County residents woke up to confusion Monday morning, with several employers unsure of whether their workers qualified as critical employees and could go to work or whether they needed to stay home.
The Yakima Health District did not return phone calls, post additional information on its website or respond to Yakima Herald-Republic questions during a “virtual update” Monday night on Facebook.
In a speech Monday evening, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a similar order for the entire state.
Inslee’s stay-at-home order became effective immediately. For at least two weeks, it prohibits all social, spiritual and recreational gatherings. It also requires nonessential businesses to close within 48 hours.
But for most of the day Monday, Yakima County lived under a stay-at-home order issued by the health district.
What the YHD order said
The Yakima Health District’s order required county residents to remain at home except for food and medicine runs and medical care.
It also allowed people to go outside to get exercise and walk their pets so long as they kept at least 6 feet away from anyone else.
The order allowed people to go to work if they were in fields that “maintain continuity of operations of critical infrastructure sectors.”
According to the health district, that includes health care, law enforcement, firefighting, public safety, public works, agriculture and food, energy (electricity and natural gas), water and wastewater, transport and shipping, communications and information technology, government and community operations (including child care), some manufacturing, financial and legal, and hazardous materials management.
Construction jobs are also included in that category, a health district spokeswoman said Monday night.
The order allowed gas stations, pharmacies, food suppliers, banks, laundromats and laundry services to remain open. Restaurants can only offer delivery, drive-thru or to-go orders.
Making the decision
Dr. Teresa Everson, health officer for the Yakima Health District, made the call to issue the local order.
“This order has been implemented in recognition that if we don’t take drastic action now, there will be a day in which our health care system is overwhelmed, and we will not be able to provide critical medical care to the most vulnerable in our community,” Everson said in a news release sent about 10:30 p.m. Sunday.
The health district did not respond to requests for information Monday, instead announcing a “virtual update” at 7 p.m.
Later, spokeswoman Lilian Bravo said the order resulted from conversations between the Board of Health, Everson and Yakima Valley Office of Emergency Management.
Bravo said the health district did not wait for a statewide order from Inslee because confirmed COVID-19 cases increased from 13 Friday to 32 Sunday. Bravo said about 30% of all confirmed cases are health care workers.
“For our community, we believed there was a need to announce an order immediately,” she said.
Horace Ward, operations manager for the Yakima Valley Office of Emergency Management, said his agency found out about the stay-at-home order about an hour before the release Sunday night.
“It was a surprise to some of the people at the office, same as with us,” he said. “Rolling it out in the middle of the night is not preferred. But with that being said, they were under orders.”
Yakima County Commissioner Norm Childress said he received word of the stay-at-home order around the same time the news release came out Sunday night.
Childress said he had spoken with the health district’s Andre Fresco earlier in the evening and Fresco had said the stay-at-home order could come out sometime Sunday night or possibly Monday.
“Due to the nature of this emergency environment, there will certainly be disruption of some services,” Childress said. “Public safety and our employees’ health are our top priorities right now. This health emergency is new territory to most of us.”
Yakima City Spokesman Randy Beehler said he learned about the stay-at-home order from the city’s interim city manager, Alex Meyerhoff, about an hour before the official news release was sent out Sunday night.
Yakima Mayor Patricia Byers encouraged people to follow the guidelines to stay at home except for necessities and to practice social distancing when out.
“We must comply with these stay-at-home orders for ourselves and our family members. We can also be mindful of the need to be kind to each other and to look out for each other,” she said. “This is a challenging time, but we are a community well able to meet that challenge.”
Casey Schilperoort, spokesman for the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office, said he was not aware of any conversations between the office and the Yakima Health District about the order.
“People need to recognize and follow the recommendations of our state, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, our local health district and medical professionals,” he said. “If staying at home is the current best practice and recommendation from medical professionals, then do it.”
Is anything changing?
Ward said his office was activating its emergency center to full operations Monday. A joint information center also is in the works to help streamline timely and accurate information for the public, he said.
Beehler said Yakima staff had not made changes based on the health district order, given that last week the city suspended city-sponsored activities, closed many city-owned facilities to the public, and began encouraging service requests through online forms on the city’s website. Residential services including garbage will continue, he said.
Beehler asked that residents bag their garbage as an added precaution for the city’s sanitation workers.
“If people could bag their garbage before they put it in their bins, that would be an extra precaution that would really help us out,” he said.
While city-owned facilities have been closed to public access, the city continues to provide all services. Community members are encouraged to look at the city’s website for phone numbers and online options, Beehler said.
Beehler said the city’s parks will remain open, but employees have placed caution tape around playgrounds to discourage children from congregating on the equipment, in alignment with recommended social distancing protocols from health officials.
“Children should not be on the playground equipment,” he said. “This is everyone’s responsibility.”
Meyerhoff, the interim city manager, said the city’s water supply is at full strength, the wastewater system is operating normally, and the fire and police departments are continuing to respond to incidents as usual.
“The city’s finances are stable,” Meyerhoff said. “The city is coordinating its efforts with those of other agencies to ensure city services continue to be provided uninterrupted.”
Bravo said the health district plans on partnering with the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce and local businesses to provide clarity on what is allowed and what isn’t allowed under Inslee’s order.
She said the health district will seek to ensure the local order complies with the statewide order.
This story was updated after Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statewide stay-at-home order.