COVID-19 case rate quadruples in Yakima County

Nearly 2,000 new cases reported in the past week

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. — Yakima County is experiencing yet another COVID-19 surge in the aftermath of holiday gatherings and the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

“The case rate, in just two weeks, has more than quadrupled to a level that we have not seen before during the entire pandemic,” Yakima Health District officials said in a news release.

On the day before Christmas Eve, the county had a significantly low rate of 155 cases per 100,000 people, which had increased to 1,108 per 100,000 as of Friday.

Health officials believe much of the virus transmission for those cases took place during holiday gatherings or during winter travel, which was compounded by the emergence of the Omicron variant as the dominant strain in Washington state.

Despite cold weather, heavy snow and bad road conditions, people have been flooding the county’s community-based testing sites. Since Christmas, health officials have administered a total of more than 6,000 tests between the sites at Yakima Valley College, State Fair Park and the Sunnyside Community Center.

“Just a couple of weeks ago, the community positivity rate from our testing centers was way down around 5%, which is the lowest we’ve seen since last summer,” said Dr. Marty Brueggemann, chief medical officer at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital.

The positivity rate for COVID-19 tests in Yakima County is now up to more than 25%, which Brueggemann said is approaching one of the highest rates seen during the pandemic. The health district has reported nearly 2,000 new cases over the past week, with 522 reported on Friday alone.

Need to get a COVID-19 test in Yakima County? Learn more at yakimatesting.org.

Brueggemann said people who test positive for the new variant tend to experience milder symptoms, which are milder still for people who are fully vaccinated and have had their booster shot.

However, it’s also many times more infectious than previous variants of COVID-19 and has been leading to a spike in breakthrough cases.

“Even if most infections are mild, a highly transmissible variant could result in enough cases to impact staffing levels across all sectors of business and overwhelm the healthcare system,” health district officials said in the release.

Brueggemann said they’ve seen a substantial increase in the number of fully vaccinated employees who are out sick with COVID-related concerns.

RELATED: Omicron variant spreading in Yakima County

While a small percentage of Omicron variant cases will be severe enough to require hospitalization, doctors said even a small percent of a large number could be enough to impact operations.

“In Yakima County, prior waves of COVID-19 with less disease activity than anticipated with this surge, have already overwhelmed the healthcare system,” the release said.

Brueggemann is recommending anyone who isn’t vaccinated get the vaccine and for those who are fully vaccinated to receive their booster shot.

“The booster is particularly beneficial with this variant and adds as much as 30% protection over unboosted people,” Brueggemann said. “If you’re eligible to get the booster — which now does include kids over the age of 12 — we do highly recommend that.”

As of Monday, only 20% of Yakima residents had received a booster dose, 53.9%  were fully vaccinated and 60.2% had initiated vaccination.

Want to get vaccinated for COVID-19 in Yakima County? Learn more at yakimavaccines.org.

Brueggemann said regardless of vaccination status, people need to be careful about where they go in the community and how much exposure they might be risking.

“I can just guarantee if you go to eat and sit in a restaurant where people are taking their masks off or if you go into a grocery store where not everybody’s masking, given the community positivity rate we’re seeing, you are going to get exposed,” Brueggemann said.

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