Local health officials encourage people to stay home and take precautions against the new coronavirus.

Yakima Health District spokeswoman Lilian Bravo said she wants to reassure the community that most people who get COVID-19 will have mild to moderate symptoms. It can cause more severe illness in some people, especially older adults and those with existing health problems. Symptoms include fever, cough and difficulty breathing. 

The best strategy is to avoid potential exposure in the community, practice social distancing and wash your hands frequently. Anyone who is sick should stay home. People with worsening symptoms should contact their primary care provider, Bravo said.

Here are some questions and answers about the coronavirus pandemic in Yakima County. Information is compiled from the health district, Virginia Mason Memorial, Astria Health and the state Department of Health. Several of these questions were submitted by readers. To send in a question, email news@yakimaherald.com.

How many cases do we have and what do we know about those cases? 

Yakima County had 20 confirmed/presumptive positive cases as of Saturday. One person is hospitalized and the rest are recovering at home.

Four of those cases were tied to a Moxee square dancing center, and one  traveled out of state. One is a worker at Children’s Village who had limited contact with patients (possible exposure from March 9 to 11), and one was an employee at Generations OB/Gyn clinic (possible exposure from March 8 through 12).

Two cases are among Good Samaritan Long-Term Care Facility staff. Good Samaritan has had visitor restrictions in place since March 2, and has not allowed any visitors in the past week, limiting exposure. Currently no residents are symptomatic, the health district said Friday night.

Information on the remaining cases hasn't been released. Kittitas and Klickitat counties each reported four cases as of Saturday.

Is there a drive-thru coronavirus testing plan?

Virginia Mason Memorial, Astria Health and some clinics have programs where people can call ahead for evaluation and screening. There’s no place people can just drive up and be tested — you need to call and speak with a provider first.

At Astria Health locations in Yakima, Sunnyside and Toppenish, for example, the patient must have an order from their provider. The location will then be notified, and staff will meet the patient at their car.

VMM’s COVID-19 Evaluation Clinic, at 3909 Creekside Loop, Suite 115, continues to see patients with cough, fever and shortness of breath. 

The clinic is for screening only. No COVID-19 tests are being given at the clinic. Those who meet criteria and may need testing are being referred to VMM for testing.

People experiencing a cough, fever and shortness of breath should call 509-225-4669. Patients who need to be seen should remain in their vehicles upon arrival and to again call 225-4669 to confirm that they are there. 

What’s the hospital capacity in the Yakima Valley?

Virginia Mason Memorial hospital in Yakima has 226 licensed beds with space to boost it to 257; Astria Toppenish Hospital has 63 beds and Astria Sunnyside Hospital has 25 beds.

Prosser Memorial Health has 25 beds and Kittitas Valley Healthcare has 25 beds. Astria Regional, which closed in January, had 214 beds. 

Which hospital is our "backup"? 

All three local hospitals plan to work together to ensure patients receive an appropriate level of care. All hospitals also have the ability to transfer patients out of county for additional care, if necessary, Bravo at the health district said.

Will the Astria Regional Medical Center be reopened to help with hospital capacity?

Discussions are taking place at the state level, but decisions have not been made, Bravo said Friday. The Yakima Valley Office of Emergency Management is involved with contingency planning.

Astria Health, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May, closed the Astria Regional Medical Center in January.

Have elective surgical procedures been canceled?

Yes. The governor halted all elective and non-urgent health care services, procedures and surgeries this week. Examples of procedures that will be delayed include joint replacements, most cataract and lens surgeries, cosmetic procedures and other non-urgent procedures, according to the governor’s office and the Washington State Medical Association.

The order does not apply to outpatient visits delivered in hospital-based clinics.

Also exempt are patients with emergency/urgent needs like heart attacks, strokes or injuries suffered in accidents, and surgeries that, if not performed, would worsen the patient’s condition.

The goal is to preserve a limited supply of personal protective equipment for emergency care and front-line staff responding to the pandemic.

Can my employees be tested for COVID-19 to be "cleared" to return to work?

No. Local health providers say there are a limited number of tests and they need to go people who are severely ill and to health care professionals. Such requests create unnecessary in-person contacts that increase the risk of transmission, said Dr. Tanny Davenport, chief of quality and safety at Virginia Mason Memorial.

Medical experts recommend employers use telecommuting when possible and follow the state recommendations for discontinuing home isolation:

  • At least three days (72 hours) have passed since recovery defined as resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath); AND,
  • At least seven days have passed since symptoms first appeared.

What about information in Spanish?

Bravo of the Yakima Health District said health officials are working with radio KDNA, Yakima Valley Community Foundation and El Sol to get out information in Spanish.

Television updates are conducted in English and Spanish and broadcast on Y-PAC public access television (channel 194) and online.