Costco

FILE — This March 20, 2020, file photo shows a Costco store in Tacoma, Wash. 

So far, 145 workers have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Union Gap Costco, but the store remains open while the Yakima Health District investigates.

Infected workers are in quarantine, the store is conducting sitewide testing and more cases are expected to be reported, the heath district said in a Tuesday news release.

The health district said it will continue to monitor the outbreak that is believed to have started before Christmas, when 68 workers tested positive for the virus.

Yakima County commissioners used the outbreak as an opportunity to again voice their dissatisfaction with Gov. Jay Inslee’s business restrictions aimed at slowing the virus’ spread.

Commissioners issued a statement Tuesday saying they agree with keeping the store open, but sharply criticized Inslee’s orders, which impact many small businesses, schools and churches.

They say those entities should be allowed the same opportunity to operate under the safety guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Washington Health Department.

“Governor Inslee’s continued nonsensical policy of labeling ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ businesses can today be judged definitively as an egregious and misguided policy, which it has been since its inception. Our local Costco store can remain safely open despite a known outbreak, and yet our schools, restaurants, gyms, theaters, and other businesses cannot,” commissioners said in their response.

Commissioners approved a proclamation Dec. 15 calling on Inslee to give local authorities more say in managing the COVID-19 pandemic.

As cases began to surge prior to Thanksgiving, Inslee ordered new shutdowns Nov. 15 for restaurants, theaters and gyms. He later extended the restrictions through Jan. 4.

Yakima County surpassed 20,000 total COVID-19 cases Monday. From Dec. 5 through 18, the county averaged about 879.5 new cases per 100,000 people. The death toll since mid-March is approaching 300.

Seventy people were hospitalized with COVID-19 infections Tuesday in Yakima County.

Ongoing investigation

Health district officials said evidence indicates the Costco outbreak resulted from a “super-spreader event,” in which multiple people were infected at the same time.

The store is conducting sitewide testing, meaning all workers are being tested regardless of whether they were exposed to an infected person. Anyone who tests positive will be required to quarantine.

The Health District’s COVID-19 outbreak response team is working with the store to monitor the outbreak.

Outbreak response

The Health District has yet to recommend shutting down any businesses due to an outbreak, though some have closed voluntarily, the release said.

When an outbreak is identified at a business, the Yakima Health District’s outbreak response team requests information for all employees who have tested positive, including the departments in which they work and when they tested positive.

After reviewing that information, the response team consults the director of disease control and the health officer to determine how the business is to respond.

Health officials consider several factors, including whether a business is following COVID-19 safety precautions, evidence of ongoing transmission, increased risk of community exposure and whether the business can follow recommended facility sanitization guidelines.

Businesses that experience outbreaks are provided information about employee testing, return-to-work guidance and cleaning and disinfecting practices.

“When there is an outbreak reported, it does not matter the type or the size of the businesses, our Outbreak Response Team will respond to each one in the same, systematic way. Identifying positive cases, protecting the public, and working to contain the outbreak are the health district’s top priorities,” Andre Fresco, the health district’s executive director, said in Tuesday’s news release.

County businesses that experienced outbreaks have followed safety recommendations and haven’t shown ongoing transmission of the virus, the release said.

Reach Phil Ferolito at pferolito@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @philipferolito

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