Report finds ‘growing epidemic’ in Yakima County, while COVID-19 cases decline in King County

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. — Research now shows that the prevalence of COVID-19 in Yakima County is at least as high as it was in King County at its peak — if not higher — and is continuing to rise.

As well as comparing COVID-19 numbers and trends in both counties, the new report by the Institute for Disease Modeling looked into why the virus seems to be slowing down in one county while ramping up in the other.

“For people who are not able to stay home and still maintain a living, people who have essential reasons that they’re out in the community, they need to do more and more needs to be done for them to protect them from getting transmitted in the places they have to be,” said Dr. Mike Famulare, a principal research scientist who worked on the report.

Below is a brief overview of the findings. However, to better understand the process through which these findings were obtained, the full report can be found here.

  • Transmission slowed in both counties between late March and early April as physical distancing policies went into effect, but the efforts to reduce transmission of the virus throughout March were more successful in King County than in Yakima County.
  • While King County is on a path toward containment, it’s estimated that, “transmission in Yakima County has at no time been contained.”
  • The transmission may be less in King County because more people are staying at home during weekdays and the weekend than in Yakima County.
  • Yakima County workers have a good reason for staying out more during the weekdays because they tend to have jobs that require traveling to a physical workspace, such as those in agriculture. King County has mostly professional, scientific and technical services jobs, where many people can work from home.
  • On average, people with higher median incomes in both counties tend to be out and about less than those with lower median incomes.
  • However, regardless of income, people in Yakima County tend to be out more on the weekends than those in King County. Researchers attribute this to “behavioral factors” that aren’t explained by differences in income or the makeup of the workforce.
  • The report estimates that as of May 18, up to 3.2% of people in Yakima County were actively infected with COVID-19 — as opposed to patients who had recovered from the virus —while the numbers in King County were much lower, up to 0.44%.
  • However, in both counties, the vast majority of the population has not yet been infected and so substantial transmission remains possible without effective control efforts.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that people with higher median incomes in both counties tend to be out and about less than those with lower median incomes. A previous version of the article erroneously stated they were out more, rather than less.