June 22 Masks

A mandatory face protection sign hangs on a window of the Dollar Tree as T.J. George, left, and Roberta George walk toward the front entrance Monday, June 22, 2020, in Yakima, Wash.

Yakima County’s coronavirus transmission rate is dropping, though it is picking up speed in other parts of the state, according to researchers.

Researchers found the seven-day statewide average of new cases exceeds the peak level in early March, with signs of increase in Eastern Washington, in a report released Friday by the state Department of Health.

One bright spot is Yakima County, which is seeing a decline in new cases each day and a lower transmission rate.

“While the resurgence in cases was originally limited to a few hot spots, upward trends are now prominent in most counties,” the report said. “One encouraging exception is Yakima County, where we have growing confidence that mitigation measures are working.”

As of June 21, the reproductive number — an estimate of how many people each COVID-19 patient will infect — was estimated at 1.59 in Western Washington and 1.20 in Eastern Washington.

In Yakima County, it was estimated at 0.93, the report said. In early June, it was around 2.

A reproductive number of one means that each infected person infects one other person. Health officials are pushing to have the number get as close to zero as possible.

With the transmission number, new cases and hospitalizations rising in June, Yakima County health officials and business leaders launched campaigns to encourage mask use in public. Yakima County was the first place where Gov. Jay Inslee first imposed a “no mask, no service” order on businesses on June 26. The order was expanded statewide this past week.

The report states that efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Yakima County need to continue, since the prevalence of the virus is still comparable to levels in late April.

“The county must continue to strictly follow the measures put in place to slow the spread of the disease to avoid another increase,” a news release from the state DOH said.

Inslee, in a Thursday news conference, said it was important for Washington residents to wear masks and maintain social distance to rein in the disease’s growth and enable the state to more fully open its economy.

The report also breaks down cases by age in six counties. Case data from the last two weeks of June shows that young adults, particularly those in the 20s, are experiencing a disproportionately high number of infections in those counties. Although younger people are less prone to hospitalization and death, “infections among the young inevitably spread to older and more vulnerable populations,” the report said, suggesting more effort was needed to address.

Researchers at the Institute of Disease Modeling in Bellevue, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Microsoft partnered with the DOH on the report.

Yakima County jail outbreak

As of Thursday, the Yakima County jail reported 96 total cases in its outbreak among inmates, said Chief of Security Operations Jeremy Welch. Of the 96, 47 are considered to have recovered, and there were 22 pending test results, Welch said.

Among the staff, nine have tested positive for the disease, with six recovered and back on duty.

Jail officials are requiring inmates and staff to wear masks, and inmates who have court hearings now appear via videoconferencing rather than come to the courtroom in the jail’s basement.

Reach Donald W. Meyers at dmeyers@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: donaldwmeyers, or https://www.facebook.com/donaldwmeyersjournalist.