Yakima, Tri-Cities Eye Modified Phase 1, But ‘We Have To Remain Vigilant’ With Mask Use, Officials Say

The Governor's Office and state Department of Health are encouraging Washington residents to use facial coverings through a #MasUpWA campaign. CREDIT: Office of the Governor
The Governor's Office and state Department of Health are encouraging Washington residents to use facial coverings through a #MasUpWA campaign. CREDIT: Washington Governor's Office

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BY ENRIQUE PÉREZ DE LA ROSA & COURTNEY FLATT

County officials in eastern Washington rushed applications to the state Thursday evening to reopen their economies. It came the same day Gov. Jay Inslee announced the state would approve their plans to reopen and put others on pause for two weeks.

When counties began to open their economies in May, customers flooded into restaurants, hair salons and retail shops – including from other counties with rising COVID-19 cases.

To keep that from happening, state health officials are letting hotspot counties Yakima, Benton and Franklin open some businesses to a degree under a modified Phase 1 plan.

Andre Fresco, executive director of the Yakima Health District, says the pandemic is not over yet.

“We have to remain vigilant in the face of great odds here. We are a community that’s in peril,” Fresco said in a Thursday night media briefing. “If we were to have a major surge in counties, the Governor’s Office has made it clear that another alternative would be to shut down the entire county for an extended period of time to break the transmission.”

In recent weeks, new cases and hospitalizations of COVID-19 per day have fallen in Yakima. Health officials say that’s thanks to more people wearing masks in public.

The state Department of Health has already approved Benton and Franklin counties’ modified Phase 1 reopening, effective Friday.

Yakima County also applied for reopening and expects to hear back from the state very soon. County health officer Dr. Teresa Everson says residents still need to observe basic pandemic rules.

Farmworkers in Yakima’s fruit-packing industry walked off production lines in May and went on strike, demanding more protections against the coronavirus pandemic. Above, Emmanuel Anguiano-Mendoza (left) and Agustin López hold posters featuring David Cruz, a worker who died on May 30. CREDIT: Enrique Pérez de la Rosa/NWPB

Farmworkers in Yakima’s fruit-packing industry walked off production lines in May and went on strike, demanding more protections against the coronavirus pandemic. Above, Emmanuel Anguiano-Mendoza (left) and Agustin López hold posters featuring David Cruz, a worker who died on May 30. CREDIT: Enrique Pérez de la Rosa/NWPB

“While we are doing a small and measured amount of reopening, it is not the same as relaxing. This is not a time to relax,” Everson said Thursday evening. “It’s a time to double down on all of the safety measures that we know that work. So that’s wearing a mask. That’s staying home when you don’t need to be out.”

Tri-Cities Region Masks

With the modified Phase 1 allowing more businesses activity in the Tri-Cities region, those businesses will have to require customers wear masks. County health officials issued the mandate Wednesday evening in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

But on Thursday afternoon, Gov. Jay Inslee announced he would soon sign a proclamation to make the “No Mask, No Service” requirement a statewide mandate. That specific measure previously applied only to hard-hit Yakima County.

The “No Mask, No Service” requirement for Benton-Franklin counties will go into effect July 6, after the holiday weekend.

Regional leaders had