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Pharmacy technicians Gia Rodriguez, left, and Anna Urrutia wear face coverings as they leave Virginia Mason Memorial hospital in Yakima, Wash., Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020.

For months now, Yakima Valley medical experts have pleaded with people to slow the spread of COVID-19 by wearing masks, maintaining social distance, washing their hands frequently and avoiding gatherings.

Those efforts brought down the number of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, intubations and deaths. Experts also know the pandemic has endured longer than many expected, well into the holiday season. And the numbers aren’t looking good these days.

“We understand that there is a lot of COVID fatigue. It’s been a frustrating marathon here, but we are grateful for all the hard work that people do to follow the guidelines,” said Dr. Robert Williams, chief of hospital medicine at Virginia Mason Memorial hospital in Yakima.

“We are at a point where we do need more help.”

Williams and others in the medical community are alarmed to see hospitalizations due to COVID-19 increasing throughout Washington.

On Wednesday, 19 people were hospitalized in Yakima County due to COVID-19, with two intubated. Any time the numbers increase is cause for concern, and seeing Yakima County’s daily hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in double digits again is concerning.

“We had a low point of four patients in the hospital” with COVID-19, Williams said. For much of September and October, Memorial had four or five COVID-19 patients a day, he noted.

“In the month of November we have seen that increase up to 15 patients in the hospital with COVID,” Williams said. “We are definitely seeing a creeping up of those numbers over the past two to three weeks.

“We did have several days when we had no patients on a ventilator, and we currently have two patients on a ventilator. We are very concerned about the COVID activity.”

Case counts and hospitalizations have increased in Western and Eastern Washington, according to the state Department of Health. Although some of the increase in cases through early October is related to increased testing volumes, more recent case counts throughout the state have risen despite flat testing volumes.

“I think they’re a little bit ahead of us in terms of hospitals filling up, but we’re not far behind,” Williams said of Western Washington. “Our positivity rate has gone from a low point of 4% up to 16% to 18%.”

When cases of COVID-19 peaked in Yakima County in June, the number of hospital patients per day due to COVID-19 also hit its peak of approximately 50, Williams said. That sounded the alarm for more preventative action, including a facial covering mandate.

“As we became more diligent with the mask mandate in late June — people started masking, people were outdoors more, we saw a decrease in our COVID-19 activity. Gathering outside is safer, but the holiday season brings colder weather

“We’re all wanting to have social connections,” Williams said. But if people aren’t careful, he continued, even gathering with relatives beyond one’s household could be dangerous.

That is what experts are blaming for the recent rise in hospitalizations due to COVID-19. People are gathering socially but aren’t wearing facial coverings or practicing social distancing. They’re having close contact with others, inside because of the cooler weather and without masks, for prolonged periods.

But people do have the ability to impact this pandemic, Williams stressed.

“I do think that if people are diligent — and this can be hard for some people — if we are diligent about masking, washing our hands, sanitizing our hands, social distancing, we can impact the curve in the next four weeks,” Williams said.

People should also get a flu shot, he said. That can help flatten the curve and keep the hospital from becoming overwhelmed with cases of COVID-19.

“We really believe that our community can come together and they’re intelligent people who care for each other,” he added. “Out of concern for our family, our loved ones, our friends, we need to follow these guidelines.”

Reach Tammy Ayer at tayer@yakimaherald.com or on Facebook.