Despite Board of Health recommendation, Yakima won’t remove mask rules for children

Yakima
Jessica Christian
FILE - In this March 30, 2021, file photo, second grader Ernesto Beltran Pastrana puts on his face mask while attending class during the first day of partial in-person instruction at Garfield Elementary School.

YAKIMA, Wash. — During its Wednesday meeting, Yakima Health District’s Board of Health officially recommended that the region’s children should not wear masks. However, local health officials do not have the jurisdiction to override the rules and orders of Washington State. Therefore, Yakima’s children will still be required to wear masks.

This recommendation put the district’s Interim Health Officer, Dr. Larry Jecha, in a difficult position. The Order of the Secretary of Health 20-03 states the following: “Face covering requirements lawfully imposed by another public agency or official are to be followed if they are more protective than the requirements in this order. If they are less protective, then this order must be followed.”

According to state guidelines, all unvaccinated individuals must wear masks while at schools and public spaces. Vaccination eligibility begins at age 12 in Washington state, meaning that every child between the ages of 2 and 11 must wear a mask when in public and at schools.

RELATED: Clarifying Washington state’s updated masking rules and vaccination guidelines

While local health leaders like Dr. Jecha have the authority to impose stricter restrictions than state guidance, they don’t possess the authority to loosen state-imposed restrictions.

“I am disappointed that the Board would ask me to do an action that is inconsistent with State Orders and Rules,” Dr. Jecha said. “We understand that many are eager to have the opportunity to no longer wear a mask. However, our state and federal guidelines are advising that masking must continue in specific situations. The best thing we all can do as members of this community to get to the point where we no longer must mask is get vaccinated.”

Andre Fresco, Executive Director of the Yakima Health District, is using this as an opportunity to highlight resources for Yakima community members who haven’t been vaccinated.

“In Yakima County, there are still a lot of opportunities to get vaccinated every day. We encourage individuals to take advantage of these resources and to visit YakimaVaccines.org for more information,” Fresco said.

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RELATED: Yakima Health District rescinds masking order, will follow state’s lead