As some counties in Washington begin to slowly reopen following the state-mandated closures to keep the coronavirus from spreading, Eastern Washington has seen a spike in cases of COVID-19, the potentially deadly disease that results from the respiratory virus. Meanwhile, PROTEC17 members at Public Health Districts in Yakima, Chelan-Douglas, Benton-Franklin, and Spokane have been working to keep the virus at bay. 

Per Governor Jay Inslee’s phased reopening plan, cases of the virus need be below 25 per 100,000 people over a two week period before a County can be considered for ‘Phase 2’, which allows businesses like restaurants and retail stores to open at partial capacity. As of mid-June, Yakima, Benton, Franklin, Chelan, Douglas and King Counties all remained in phase one, or a modified phase one. 

In the Tri-Cities area, the infection rate hit a new daily record of 83 confirmed COVID-19 cases on June 8. At that time, Benton County’s infection rate was more than 500 cases per 100,000 over a 14-day period – well above the number to be considered for the Governor’s Phase 2 status. 

Benton-Franklin Health District (BFHD) officials have attributed the increased cases of COVID-19 to outbreaks at nursing homes, essential workplaces, and large gatherings. A beef processing plant in the Pasco area had been a hot spot previously, and was under intense scrutiny for its initial lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for its workers. 

Along with the Governor, BFHD issued a directive on June 8 to require protective masks in public where people cannot maintain a safe six feet of distance from others. Wearing a mask has been shown to slow the spread of the disease.

In Yakima County, the coronavirus is still ravaging the agricultural worker community. State rules put in place on June 4 require masks for these workers, however, health district officials have attributed the recent uptick in cases to gatherings outside of the workplace, where masks are not required or widely worn at stores and in the community. 

In Spokane, which has progressed to Phase 2, PROTEC17 member Kayla Myers was reassigned from her regular role as an Immunization Assessment and Promotion Coordinator to co-leader of the community-based screening and testing site at the Spokane County Fairgrounds. She’s been doing this since the start of the pandemic. 

“The initial effort was to preserve the urgent care and PPE usage,” she said. “When our healthcare partners were pulled back into their clinics at the peak, we collaborated with the National Guard to continue offering free drive-thru testing to ensure that the public had access to tests with limited barriers, and at no cost.”

With cases in Spokane slowly improving, Myers has been looped back into a mix of regular work and COVID-19 response.  

At Chelan-Douglas Health District (CDHD), all staff have been tasked with providing assistance with COVID-19 response since March. They will slowly be phasing back into their regular routines as the two counties start to reopen. 

“We will have to find a new way to do things as our counties reopen and staff will have to go back to their usual duties – inspecting restaurants, onsite inspections, etc,” said PROTEC17 CDHD Chapter President and Nurse Stephanie Snitily.