Here are some questions and answers about the coronavirus outbreak in Yakima County as of Tuesday morning. Information is from the Yakima Health District, the governor's office and state health officials. To submit a question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s the latest on cases in Yakima County?
Yakima County had 44 confirmed and presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday. The Yakima Health District also reported the first death related to COVID-19 on Monday in Yakima County was an elderly resident of an unnamed long-term care facility.
From Friday to Sunday, the case count in Yakima County increased by approximately 150%, with about one-quarter of these cases among health care workers, the health district said. The local health district and the Washington State Department of Health are now investigating COVID-19 in two local long-term care facilities.
Cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed across the entire county and there is evidence of continued community spread, the health district said. All individuals with cough and fever symptoms should assume they have COVID-19 and stay at home.
Testing in Yakima County has been focused on health care workers and those who are severely ill.
What about the stay-at-home orders?
The Yakima Health District issued a stay-at-home order Sunday night. Gov. Jay Inslee followed with a statewide order on Monday.
The orders require that every Yakima County resident stay at home at all times except to obtain groceries, food and/or other necessities, to go to medical appointments, to pick up medical prescriptions or to go outside for exercise. Any time people go into public, they must ensure 6 feet of space between themselves and another person.
State health officials say the crisis has impacted every county in the state. People need to heed the precautions for the next two weeks, and the order could be extended beyond that if needed.
Yakima Health District spokeswoman Lilian Bravo said the main distinction between the two orders is that the statewide order is for two weeks, while the county order is indefinite due to the vulnerability of the local health care system and recent closure of Astria Regional, leaving the city of Yakima with only one hospital.
What authority does the Yakima Health District have?
RCW 70.05.070 says the local health officer has the authority to “control and prevent the spread of any dangerous, contagious or infectious diseases that may occur within his or her jurisdiction.”
Dr. Teresa Everson said the order is aimed at saving lives.
“COVID-19 has the potential to overwhelm our health care system,” she said in a statement. “This is a system that was already stressed with a recent hospital closure. Ultimately, the intent of this health order is simple: save lives by slowing the spread of disease.”
Can I go outside? Can my kids play outside?
Yes and yes. You can go outside for exercise, but you should maintain a social distance of 6 feet from others. It’s OK to go for a walk or hike, walk a dog or ride bicycles.
State officials said it’s fine if a family living together decides to go for a walk or take their children to play outside. However, people should not meet up with another group at a park or somewhere else. The city of Yakima and many area school districts are closing playgrounds to public access.
What can stay open?
Grocery stores, food banks, convenience stores, gas stations, pharmacies, banks, laundromats and laundry services. Restaurants are open for take-out, drive-thru and delivery only. Essential state and government functions will remain open.
The order also allows jobs that are part of the critical infrastructure sector to continue. That includes health care, emergency services, agriculture/food, energy, water, wastewater, transportation/shipping, communications/IT, child care, manufacturing that supports critical functions, financial and legal services, hazardous material management and construction jobs, according to the health district.
The state put out a 14-page list of businesses and organizations considered critical infrastructure. Non-essential businesses must close by Wednesday evening. Many businesses can continue operations using telework. For more on the governor's order, click here.
How will the stay-at-home order be enforced locally?
The Yakima Health District is relying on all community members and businesses to move forward with the orders as fast as they are able. They are prioritizing education first, enforcement second. The health officer has the authority to partner with local law enforcement and implement municipal fines at the health officer’s discretion. Non-compliance can be reported to 509-249-6508.
State officials said that police initially do not intend to go out and make arrests. They will disperse crowds. However, a violation of the state order is a gross misdemeanor. Authorities could get to a point where arrests could occur.
Yakima County Sheriff Bob Udell said Tuesday deputies do not plan to arrest, cite or detain people who are not in compliance. Law enforcement will instead aim to engage and educate those not following the rules.
"Law enforcement is here to help the community," he said, adding that there were no plans to mobilize the National Guard, except to potentially help with hauling supplies.
Staff reporters Phil Ferolito and Janelle Retka contributed to this article.