YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) — Residents of Yakima County must do more to prevent the spread of the COVID-19, which has hit the area in central Washington particularly hard, Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday.
Yakima County has 250,000 residents, but has recorded more than 5,700 cases of COVID-19, the second-highest total in the state after much more populous King County.
“This virus is on a rampage in this beautiful valley,″ Inslee, a former long-time resident of Yakima County, said during a news conference at Yakima Valley College.
The Democratic governor called the virus a sort of “earthquake″ that was devastating the economy here. A big reason the valley has so many cases is that too many people are refusing to wear masks, Inslee said.
He cited a recent finding that only about 35% of Yakima County residents would wear masks when patronizing a business.
“We need to get that up,″ said Inslee, a former lawyer who lived in the Yakima suburb of Selah and once represented central Washington in the U.S. House.
Inslee said Yakima County also needed more testing for the coronavirus and more contact tracing of infected people to bring down the number of cases.
“Our current game is not in the winning column,″ Inslee said.
Projections show a dramatic increase in cases as the summer progresses if changes are not made, Inslee said. Officials have blamed a large number of cases in nursing homes, a larger than normal supply of essential workers who remained on the job, and the challenges posed by the county’s massive agriculture industry for the rise in COVID-19 cases.
About 45% of the county’s cases are found among the tens of thousands of Hispanic farm workers who toil in the farms and food processing plants.
Inslee has issued a series of statewide proclamations to change how farm workers travel to fields, sleep and work, in order to slow the spread of the virus.
“We are trying to reduce the risk for agricultural workers,″ Inslee said.
In Washington state, there are also high COVID-19 numbers for Benton, Franklin and Chelan counties, which also have large numbers of farm workers.
Inslee noted there were more than 340 new cases of the coronavirus in the past four days in Yakima County, and the high case numbers were preventing the reopening of businesses.
“Can we get enough people in the Yakima Valley to commit to wearing masks?″ Inslee said, as he spent the day meeting with local political and business leaders who are anxious to restart the economy.
Inslee noted that local leaders had launched a public relations campaign to increase the use of masks.
For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.