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FILE — Krista Handy, an employee of Medical Teams International, left, registers a patient at a walk-up COVID-19 testing site Thursday, July 16, 2020, in the parking lot of 2001 W. Lincoln Ave. in Yakima, Wash.

Yakima County reported 70 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday — its fourth straight day with 81 or fewer.

Earlier in the day, the Yakima Health District eased some restrictions for the county’s modified Phase 1.

But despite the good news, the county’s top health official cautioned that the community remains a national hot spot.

Wednesday’s new cases bring the total to 10,325 since mid-March. Hospitalizations dropped by seven overnight to 26, including four who are intubated.

The death toll grew by one to 194 and 68 more people had recovered from the virus, bring that total to 7,594.

The YHD reported 43 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, followed by 81 Monday and 60 Tuesday.

“I have great appreciation for the community as a whole, for our staff, for community partners, for getting us to a place where we are not just stabilizing our cases but bringing our cases down,” Dr. Teresa Everson, county health officer, said Wednesday during the health district’s weekly briefing. “The goal is less than 63 cases every two weeks.”

Meeting that benchmark, along with others, would allow Yakima County to potentially move to Phase 2 when the state ends the freeze on its “Safe Start” plan.

Everson emphasized that everyone needs to stay vigilant, especially since she doesn’t expect a widely available vaccine until late winter or early spring.

Health District spokesperson Lilian Bravo said new research led the district to modify its guidelines for people returning to work after recovering from COVID-19. The strategy remains symptom-based, meaning those patients should not seek a negative test after testing positive.

Employees seeking to return to work no longer need a note from their doctor, and other guidelines remain the same for those without symptoms.

Those who showed symptoms must wait at least 10 days after symptoms first appeared, but if symptoms persist for longer they can now return 24 hours after their fever has ended, rather than 72 as previously advised.

Mask efficacy

Everson said the better a mask fits, the less chance of its wearer spreading respiratory droplets carrying COVID-19.

That’s why the N95 masks provide the best protection for others as well as the wearer, since it also filters the air they breathe. The next step down would be a surgical mask, followed by a cloth mask.

“If you think about the effectiveness of a face shield compared to a cloth mask or a surgical mask or an N95 mask, it doesn’t do nearly as good as a job as preventing the person who’s wearing it from potentially getting other folks sick,” Everson said. “There’s no situation where I recommend a face shield over a cloth face mask or a different kind of mask.”

Coronavirus Coverage

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Reach Luke Thompson at luthompson@yakimaherald.com and on Twitter: @luketscribe