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Salma Gonzalez, a certified medical assistant, prepares to test a patient during the COVID-19 outbreak Tuesday, April 28, 2020, at Central Washington Family Medicine's drive-up evaluation site in Yakima, Wash.

Yakima Health District prevalence studies show that at least 5% of the county has been infected with COVID-19, whether they have had symptoms or not, said Dr. Teresa Everson, health officer for the health district.

She said the county was fortunate not to have a higher death toll, but added that there is a misconception that COVID-19 was similar to the flu.

“For comparison, over the past 10 years we’ve lost roughly 30 people to the flu (in Yakima County), and so far in two months of COVID-19, we’ve lost almost 80. So this is quite a serious situation still,” Everson said during a health district briefing Wednesday.

Yakima County has 2,637 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday evening, with 39 new cases and no new deaths.

A total of 79 people have died from COVID-19 since mid-March. Thirty-four people were hospitalized in the county as of Wednesday, and 818 people had recovered.

Health district spokeswoman Lilian Bravo said while the majority of deaths were from long-term care facilities, these outbreaks did not account for all local deaths.

She said between 200-300 people are tested in the county each day for the virus, with a total of 10,995 tests given. She said the county testing rate was second only to King County.

The number of new positive cases is expected to continue going up as more testing is implemented, Everson said. But she said paying attention to the rate of positive cases among those was more indicative of the county’s situation. Among those tested, Yakima County maintains a high positive rate of around 20%, said Everson. She said the state goal was closer to 2%.

“We still have quite high infection rates,” Everson said.

She said wearing masks in public is the best way to prevent unknowingly spreading the virus, especially considering that people can be asymptomatic, meaning they do not know they are infected.

“When you do need to go out, one of the best things you can do to stop transmission in our county to get us closer to reopening as fast as possible is to keep that mask on,” she said.

Here are some questions and answers to other concerns around COVID-19:

What is the state of mental health in Yakima County?

The year-on-year deaths by suicide in the county have increased in recent months, according to Tori Tarter, marketing director for Comprehensive Healthcare in Yakima. At the same time, she said calls to the organization’s crisis line declined. She urged community members to reach out for mental and emotional support for themselves or loved ones if they experience anxiety, depression or other feelings of uncertainty. The local phone number is 509-575-4200.

What’s the latest on contact tracing?

With help from the state Department of Health, about 90% of those confirmed to have COVID-19 in Yakima County have been contacted within 24 hours of identification, bringing the county closer to a state goal of 100% of patients within a day, Everson said.

Health officials use contact tracing to interview people to find out how and when they may have become infected and who they have come into contact with so individuals can be quarantined. Contact tracers aim to communicate with those who have been in contact with COVID-19 confirmed individuals within 48 hours.

How are local testing efforts this week going?

The Yakima Health District, Washington National Guard and the Yakima County Office of Emergency Management are setting up COVID-19 testing sites in the community this week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or until supplies run out.

On Monday and Tuesday, 211 individuals were tested at the Yakama Nation Cultural Center for COVID-19, far exceeding a goal of 100, according to Yakama Indian Health Services. On Wednesday, testing was available for Columbia Reach employees in Yakima, according to the county health district.

On Thursday, sites will be at Highland High School, 17000 Summitview Road and the Grandview Community Center, 812 Wallace Way, Grandview. Friday’s site will be at Harrison Middle School, 810 S. 16th St., Sunnyside.

Anyone with symptoms can be tested and should call 211 for an appointment. Test results will be received by phone.

The Yakama Nation announced that community testing will be available on Thursday, May 28, at the White Swan Health Clinic.

Reach Janelle Retka at jretka@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @janelleretka