Sometime in the next week, volunteers will be watching several Yakima County businesses to see how many customers are wearing face coverings as they head inside.
Dr. Teresa Everson, the county health officer, wouldn’t say when or where; she doesn’t want to skew the results. But they’ll be watching, just as they did during the first effort, Everson said during the Yakima Health District’s weekly televised briefing Wednesday.
“Everybody knows by now we did a masking survey,” she said. Only about 35% of people seen entering the businesses monitored over the Memorial Day weekend wore face coverings.
“Sometime in the next week we’re going to be repeating the survey. ... If we’ve been able to improve that number, perhaps we will be able to determine if there are certain Phase 2 activities” local health officials can work with the state on opening, she added.
Yakima County remains in Phase 1 of Safe Start Washington, the state’s four-stage reopening plan. One metric officials are tracking closely is mask wearing, Everson said.
Everson joined Verlynn Best, president and CEO of the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce, and health district spokeswoman Lilian Bravo on Wednesday in stressing again the importance of face coverings in slowing the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. They also highlighted the Mask Up to Open Up campaign, the most intense effort yet to share that message along with urging people to wash their hands and to stay home whenever possible.
Yakima County cannot move into Phase 2 until certain metrics change. That includes the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, which continues to increase at a rate that’s far too high. The county had 109 new cases Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases to 5,939. There were no new deaths, so that total remained at 113.
Fifty-one people are hospitalized, with nine intubated, according to the health district, which has been tracking COVID-19 cases since mid-March. A total of 2,493 people in Yakima County have recovered.
“Please think of them over the next few weeks as you’re going out to your daily routines,” Bravo said in mentioning those numbers, urging people to wear masks whenever they are out in public and stay 6 feet apart.
“Each and every one of us has the power to change the trajectory,” she said.
Wearing a mask keeps others at higher risk safe from potential carriers. Experts have said people should assume they’ve been exposed; many who have been exposed may show few or no signs of being infected, but they can still infect others. Staying home as much as possible also is important, Everson said.
“Please know that each of you doing your small part is what controls the spread of infection,” she said. “It’s not time to relax at all. It’s time to double down on our safety efforts.”
Businesses want to open, and so do their customers. That’s why such efforts, particularly wearing a mask, are so important.
“I hear a lot about freedoms and rights,” Best said. “It’s all of us together — our freedoms and rights are to look out for each other.”
“None of us want to lose a loved one. This is real and it can really hurt you,” added Best, who cares for two grandchildren, one of whom is at higher risk.
The health district is partnering with businesses and community groups to provide thousands of free masks. Chamber staffers are visiting businesses to help them prepare to open, Best said. Signs encouraging customers to wear masks are available, and chamber staff will bring them to businesses, she added.
People aren’t penalized for not wearing masks, and those with certain breathing conditions are excluded from wearing them, Everson said, mentioning that warmer weather is coming.
“Wear your mask when ... social distancing isn’t possible,” she said. “If you are by yourself walking down the street and it’s 100 degrees outside, you don’t need to be wearing your mask. Make sure that you’re not wearing it too long if you’re getting hot.”
While face coverings are a big focus of health and community leaders lately, the best way to not share an infection is to stay at home, Everson said. “If you don’t need to go out, don’t go out,” she said.
States are seeing surges in COVID-19 cases after holidays. Father’s Day is Sunday and the Fourth of July is coming. People should consider how they can celebrate in a way that doesn’t increase risk, Everson said.
“Please keep Father’s Day as safe as possible,” she said.