It seems the voices of concern are getting louder and heard more frequently -"Hey Yakima elected leaders, what are you doing to help get the county opened back up for business???"

The County Commissioners have been working on it and now they have responded and you may not like the answer -- because the answer is "It's COMPLICATED."

In a county press release the Commissioners say they have "received guidance from Washington State for the local approval process to request Yakima County move to Phase Two of Washington State Governor Jay Inslee’s Phased Reopening Plan."

There are a number of steps to be followed in the Inlsee approved plan.  Those steps must be followed in sequence and of most significance is the fact that the first step is completely out of the Commissioners' hands.

Commissioner Vicki Baker says “The County Commissioners would initiate an application now to move to Phase 1.5 or Phase Two "with modifications",  if we could. I have great faith in our community members and businesses to be able to reopen safely, however the process put in place by the state does not allow the elected officials of Yakima County to initiate an application." 

So who has the authority to start the process and what criteria must be met to even lurch ahead to a Phase 1-point-5 opening?

 The Governor's directive says: The process to move to Phase Two (or modified Phase One) begins with Dr. Teresa Everson, the Health Officer at the Yakima Health District. Dr. Everson would need to submit a signed recommendation, along with the Yakima County’s performance relative to the metrics table and recommended modifications, if any, to the local Board of Health to initiate the application process.

So Dr. Everson computes the cases, the deaths, the risks and whatever data required beyond that and ultimately decides when the time is right.

But that's not enough. Next, the local Board of Health must vote on the proposed application. The Yakima Health District Board of Health is comprised of seven members including Dr. Kay Funk representing the City of Yakima, all three Yakima County Commissioners, a small city delegate, and two citizen members.

Once that happens the County needs to assemble an inventory of available medical resources with each local hospital in Yakima County must submit a dated letter explicitly certifying:

  1. The percent of licensed beds occupied by patients (i.e., hospital census relative to licensed beds).
  2. The percent of licensed beds occupied by suspected and confirmed covid-19 cases (ideal target is <10%).
  3. That the hospital is reporting, and will continue to report daily, including on weekends, all data requested by the Washington State Department of Health into WA HEALTH, and for how many days in the last 2 weeks did they report into WA HEALTH.
  4. The hospital has at least a 14-day supply on-hand for all of the following PPE, including N95 respirators, surgical masks, face shields, gloves, and gowns.
  5. If or when they are using PPE conservation strategies, they must certify that no staff person is wearing any one N95 respirator or surgical mask for longer than one shift, and that they are following PPE guidance on reuse or extended use.

Then and ONLY THEN the  Board of Yakima County Commissioners can endorse the application. and send it on its way to the Washington State Department of Health for consideration.

Washington State Secretary of Health John Weisman approves or denies the County’s application.  How long can all that take?  Who know?!  But none of it happens- no matter how hard the County Commissioners or other local government elected leaders push- until Dr. Teresa Everson, the Health Officer at the Yakima Health District. Dr. Everson submits a signed recommendation.

“It is important to note the Board of Yakima County Commissioners does not have authority over the Yakima Health District or the Health Officer.” Commissioner Ron Anderson said. “But if King County’s Health District can make a modified Phase Two application, it seems like we should be able to do the same here in Yakima.”

That sounds reasonable but  "Seems like we should be able"  has to pass muster with the metrics and Dr. Everson.

KIT News hopes to have Dr. Everson on the Morning News as a guest in the very near future for an update on the latest considerations on testing, caseloads and requirements needed to reach the bar for a Phase 1-point-5 or Phase 2 opening.

Comments and questions regarding the continuation of Phase One restrictions, facial coverings, or other health-related advisories in Yakima County may be directed to the Yakima Health District: 1210 Ahtanum Ridge Drive Union Gap, WA 98903 509-575-4040 yhd@co.yakima.wa.us .