COVID-19 cases declining in Tri-Cities but not enough to reopen further

Cases still too high to move forward in WA reopening plan

Case numbers are declining in the Tri-Cities but health officials say until the area sees zero cases, there are still too many.

The statewide mask mandate to stop the spread of COVID-19 has been in effect for more than a month but the Benton-Franklin Health District has only noticed a decline in cases for the past 2-3 weeks. Kathleen Clary-Cooke, a spokesperson for the Benton-Franklin Health District, said until recently people were still celebrating holidays and the area was experiencing a continuously high-rate of cases.

“With holiday weekends, our case counts have gone up,” Clary-Cooke said, “It really started with Mother’s Day weekend. People wanted to have family get-togethers and we watched those case counts start to go up. Then we had Memorial Day weekend and again, you know, traditionally people like to get together for holidays, like Memorial day and Fourth of July. With every single one of those, we watched our case counts go up, up, up. Even though the face coverings went into effect just after July Fourth, it took a few weeks before we actually saw those case counts start to drop there at the end of July, beginning of August.”

Online graphs show how cases have declined but Benton and Franklin counties are still not meeting state metrics to continue going forward in the reopening process. The counties must only have 25 cases per 100,000 people in a two week period. Benton County has seen 184 new cases in the past two weeks, Franklin County has seen 400. Although the daily case count is decreasing, Clary-Cooke said until the district sees no new cases, there is still work to be done.

“We want our community to continue wearing the masks, the face coverings,” she said, “But like we’ve said all along face coverings and masks are only one weapon in the war against COVID and we need to pull out all the weapons we have, including limiting outings, staying home as much as possible, say no to those gatherings, because that’s what it’s going to take for us to be able to safely let our community open up. We really want to be able to have more activities, to have more businesses open and to get those kids back into school safely.”

Other weapons against the virus include contact tracing and testing. BFHD holds several pop-up testing sites throughout the area with the help of the National Guard. The team running the drive-thru testing site at the Toyota Center in Kennewick was reassigned to another part of Washington state, but the testing site at the Hapo Center in Pasco was expanded to serve the community.

“We added a lane at the Hapo Center in Pasco and that means that our capacity is going to be and is the same or possibly even a little higher than it was just with the Toyota Center,” Clary-Cooke said.

The testing site is open from 7 am to 1 pm, Tuesday through Saturday, and no appointment is required. Clary-Cooke said due to the heat the site could close earlier than 1 pm on some days so people should get in line to be tested as early as possible in the day. The site can only accommodate individuals in vehicles.

“Keep in mind, the Hapo Center cannot accommodate buses, large groups or walk-ups,” Clary-Cooke said, “If people need to test a group, perhaps a business and employer wants to test a group of their employees, they are welcome to reach out to us here at the health district and we’ll do everything we do can to facilitate that.”