Yakima County jail has 59 inmates, 14 staff with COVID-19

Jail staff, inmates not eligible for vaccination yet
Yakima County Jail
Credit: Emily Goodell, KAPP-KVEW

YAKIMA, Wash. — The Yakima Health District continues to investigate a COVID-19 outbreak at the Yakima County jail, where at least 59 inmates and 14 staff members have tested positive for the virus.

“COVID-19 can spread quickly in congregate settings like the Yakima County jail,” said Dr. Larry Jecha, Interim Health Officer at the Yakima Health District, in a news release.

The health district was notified Feb. 10 that several staff members and inmates had tested positive. As part of their investigation, health officials visited the site, identified close contacts and conducted additional testing.

RELATED: Yakima County Jail suffers COVID-19 outbreak amongst inmates, staff

“This outbreak serves as a reminder to continue following public health recommendations to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Jecha said. “By doing our part in preventing transmission within the community, it will decrease the chances of COVID-19 being introduced into congregate living facilities.”

After their visit, health district officials recommended the jail cohort — group together — inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19, as well as those who have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus. They also recommended inmates be tested every three days.

The health district asked the jail to increase N95 face mask usage for staff members and testing of employees.

“Additionally, the Yakima Health District recommended that the Yakima County Jail continue to implement infection prevention measures such as developing plans for grouping symptomatic inmates together, enforcing visitor limitations and communicating proactive sick leave policies for staff,” the news release said.

In the news release, Yakima County Department of Corrections Chief Jeremy Welch said the jail is working with the health district to prevent  further spread and will continue to follow all Washington State Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Additionally, Welch said the jail is in the process of adding electromagnetic disinfectant sprayers.

While inmates and jail staff members may qualify individually for the COVID-19 vaccine under the state’s vaccine distribution plan, they don’t yet qualify as groups.

Yakima County is still in Phase 1B Tier 1 of vaccine distribution. Jail staff will become eligible for the vaccine in the next tier, Phase 1B Tier 2, which officials anticipate will start March 22.

However, inmates will not be eligible — as a group — to receive the vaccine until Phase 1B Tier 4, which isn’t anticipated to begin until April 26. Health district officials said the dates are tentative and may change based on how much vaccine is available.

“The need to receive the opportunity to provide the vaccine to both staff and our inmate population is critical to help prevent further outbreaks at YCDOC,” Welch said.