BFHD officials warn Tri-Cities of rising COVID-19 rates in the community


KENNEWICK, Wash. — For weeks, the Benton-Franklin Health District (BFHD) has been urging the Tri-Cities to remain vigilant regarding COVID-19. Now, the bi-county region is at risk of moving back to Phase 2 of re-opening, which would cut indoor capacity in half and force many businesses to temporarily close once more.

Though the light at the end of the tunnel is growing brighter, we’re far from the finish line in this COVID-19 pandemic. Here in the Tri-Cities, coronavirus case rates leveled out midway through January 2021 after a surge in coronavirus spread put a damper on many people’s holiday plays. After weeks of stopping the spread, coronavirus hospitalizations and outbreaks are rising once more in Benton and Franklin Counties.

During Thursday morning’s public health briefing, BFHD Health Officer Dr. Amy Person highlighted vaccine hesitancy in the Tri-Cities. According to the BFHD, 71 percent of people age 65+ are vaccinated in Benton County. That rate falls to 67 percent of people age 65+ in Franklin County.

RELATED: ‘Healthy Washington’ — Benton & Franklin Counties are in danger of moving back

However, much of the community spread that’s occurred in the Tri-Cities has been from younger people who haven’t been vaccinated. The virus isn’t just impacting adults either — It’s having a profound impact on the region’s schools.

Recently, it was announced that dozens of Hanford High School students are in quarantine after an outbreak at the school put over 80 students and school staff as close contacts with infected individuals. Considering only three feet of distance are required within school buildings, community spread becomes significantly more prevalent in those indoor settings.

Though schools aren’t likely to close if the bi-county region is moved back to Phase 2 of ‘Healthy Washington guidelines,’ metrics associated with school infections will impact the community case rate.

Dr. Person noted that the rise in coronavirus cases amongst younger people has been a major concern, leading to hospitalization in severe cases.

RELATED: Dozens of Hanford High School students in quarantine after COVID-19 exposure

“What we need to understand is that while the pandemic may reach its end soon, SARS CO-V2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19, will still remain,” Dr. Person said. “The more we continue to learn about it, the more it is appearing to be a virus that will cycle, as do many of our respiratory viruses, including influenza; which means that it will continue to be a risk, not just this year but in the coming years.

COVID-19 vaccination represents your best bet to have safe and effective protection.”

If you or a loved one are looking to be vaccinated in Benton or Franklin County, you can make an appointment by visiting the DOH’s Prep Mod tool here. Dr. Person noted that the BFHD is doing everything in its power to make vaccines more accessible for community members who haven’t received their first dose yet.

Unless something changes quickly, the Tri-Cities will be forced


RELATED: WSU will require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for Fall ’21 semester