Yakima County has the highest rate of COVID-19 cases on the West Coast.

A Yakima County health official said that is due to a combination of aggressive testing, outbreaks at nursing homes and a large number of workers deemed essential during the pandemic.

“Having more testing being done is allowing us to identify more cases, compared to other counties across the state,” said Lilián Bravo, director of public health partnerships with the Yakima Health District.

As of Saturday, the total number of positive cases in Yakima County was 1,351, an increase of 58 from Friday. The number of deaths remained at 48, according to the health department.

Health officials reported a total of 305 people have recovered as of Saturday, up from 280 Friday. People are considered recovered if it has been 28 days since they tested positive, they survived and aren’t in the hospital.

Looking at case numbers compiled by the New York Times and U.S. Census data, Yakima County has an infection rate of 519 per 100,000 people. That is the highest of any county along the West Coast, and the 201st highest in the nation, according to the data.

Bravo said the county has been aggressively testing for the disease, primarily among people who have experienced symptoms, as well as first responders, health care workers and people who work in critical infrastructure.

State Department of Health data show Yakima County has conducted 6,509 tests, working out to a rate of 2,588 per 100,000, with 19.5% positive.

By comparison, King County’ testing rate is 2,637 per 100,000 with 10.8% positive, while the statewide testing rate is 2,751 per 100,000, with 7.2% positive results.

Virginia Mason Memorial hospital also leads the state in tests performed per 100,000 among the testing facilities in the state, Bravo said.

She said Yakima County also faces other unique factors that likely contribute to a higher rate of infection than other places in the state.

First, the county is dealing with coronavirus outbreaks at seven long-term care facilities: Prestige Care and Rehabilitation-Parkside in Union Gap; Toppenish Nursing and Rehab Center-Prestige Care in Toppenish; Emerald Care in Wapato; Willow Springs Care, Good Samaritan, Garden Village and Landmark Care Center, all in Yakima.

The centers account for a fifth of all coronavirus cases in the county, Bravo said.

While the state is under a stay-home order, 63% of Yakima County’s workforce is deemed essential under Gov. Jay Inslee’s order and still have to go to work, Bravo said. Going out to work increases one’s chances of contracting the disease, Bravo said.

The county has seen coronavirus infections in the food production and agriculture industries, especially in warehouse facilities. The health district and industry groups have created a technical-assistance team to work with employers to reduce infections in their workplaces. The county had at least 240 cases in the agricultural and food production sector as of Friday, the health district said.

Are any local state parks reopening under the governor’s order?

According to the Washington State Parks website, Yakima Sportsman Park, Olmstead Place, Ginkgo Petrified Forest and Brooks Memorial State Park are scheduled to reopen for day use on Tuesday. Fort Simcoe State Park will remain closed, while only the boat launch at Maryhill State Park will open.

What steps is the Yakama Nation taking to enforce its stay-home order?

As reported in the Yakama Nation Review, tribal Chairman Delano J. Saluskin said Friday that tribal police will issue citations to those who violate the tribe’s social-distancing order, which mirrors Gov. Jay Inslee’s order to curb the spread of the disease.

“I am directing our tribal prosecutor to fully prosecute all violators who receive such citations,” Saluskin said. He also said he’s witnessed many tribal members taking precautions by social distancing, wearing masks and washing their hands.

His announcement comes after three coronavirus-related deaths on the Lower Valley reservation, the paper reported. One of those deaths was Bobby Begay, a Yakama citizen and Celilo Village leader, who died April 23, after attending a First Salmon Feast earlier in the month.

Saluskin, the article said, stated that the tribal order will remain in effect until the disease is under control on the reservation, regardless of what the state does.

Editor's note: This story has been revised. The Goldendale Observatory is not included on the list of Washington State Parks reopening on May 5.

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

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