The Yakima Health District’s Board of Health on Wednesday recommended that the district’s health officer remove the county’s mandate to wear masks, saying that it should be a matter of personal choice at this point.
The recommendation won’t have any impact on the state’s mandate to mask up, and businesses and organizations are still required to follow the state’s rules.
Initially, health board member Amanda McKinney, also a county commissioner, moved to have the board rescind the mandate issued last year by then-Health Officer Dr. Teresa Everson.
That sparked much debate during Wednesday night’s special health board meeting about the county’s COVID-19 transmission rate, the availability of vaccines and the number of vaccines administered.
McKinney said the county has reached vaccine saturation. Health district officials and some health board members disagreed.
Health board member Naila Duval, a Toppenish City Council member, questioned the legality of such a move, arguing that the health officer by state law makes such recommendations and mandates independently.
“Unacceptable, the county cannot supersede state law,” Duval said.
McKinney said the state order is merely a mandate. She also said businesses would still be required to enforce masking requirements issued by the state and that the county board is simply lifting the recommendation.
McKinney’s motion failed 4-3. Yakima Mayor Patricia Byers and Dr. David Atteberry also voted in favor of the motion.
Health board members LaDon Linde, Dr. Sean Cleary, Duval and Ron Anderson voted against it.
After more discussion, Linde moved to have the health board recommend that the health officer remove the mandate. Cleary had already left the meeting but the motion was approved 5-1 with Duval the only dissenting vote.
Interim Health Officer Dr. Larry Jecha earlier in the meeting spoke in favor of continued use of masks but didn’t comment on the motion after its approval.
The federal government’s top COVID-19 expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, hinted on Sunday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention might relax indoor mask guidance as more people are vaccinated.
The CDC updated its science brief last week to emphasize COVID-19’s airborne transmissibility. The agency has said vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks outside, except in crowded settings.