Yakima County school-age kids make up 27% of new COVID cases

YAKIMA, Wash. — New data from health officials shows that school-age children now account for at least one in four COVID-19 cases in Yakima County.

“We’re seeing a lot of transmission within the schools and athletics,” said Ryan Ibach, Chief Operating Officer with the Yakima Health District.

Most schools in the Yakima School District returned to in-person learning Tuesday after a week-long period of remote learning brought on by staff shortages due to the spread of the Omicron variant.

However, a total of eight schools did not have enough staff to reopen this week and will continue operating virtually at least through Friday.

“In the last 14 days, there’s been 10,713 cases in Yakima County,” Ibach said. “Of those, 2,852 were school-age kids or 27%.”

Ibach and other health officials provided the latest local updates on COVID-19 during a virtual meeting Wednesday morning of the Yakima County Board of Health. Officials said while other places across the country are starting to see COVID cases decline, that’s not the case locally.

“We’re not yet through this,” YHD Executive Director Andre Fresco said. “My hope is that within the next few weeks or a month, we see a dramatic slowdown, but we’re not there yet.”

On Dec. 20, 2021 there were 48 new cases reported in the county over the weekend. A month later, on Jan. 20, the county reported more than a thousand new cases in just one day and five times as many COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Combined, the three local community-based testing sites — State Fair Park, Yakima Valley College and Sunnyside Community Center — are administering upwards of 1,000 tests per day and are getting positive results for at least half of them.

“We are really in the thick of Omicron,” Fresco said. “We have many, many people who are ill with Omicron in our community.”

The number of breakthrough cases has also increased with the emergence of the new variant, from 613 cases among fully vaccinated people in December to 2,684 cases this month. However, the latest report from the health district shows no significant increase in hospitalization for vaccinated people.

Health officials said while the vaccine doesn’t seem to be as effective at preventing people from becoming infected with the Omicron variant, it’s still just as effective in preventing serious illness or death due to COVID-19.

Additionally, health officials said as the Omicron variant often presents with milder symptoms, they’re seeing fewer deaths due to COVID-19 in Yakima County.

“We’re not losing members of our community dramatically to Omicron, but nonetheless, we have children who are ill, we have family members who are impacted,” Fresco said. “We have people who can’t go to work because they’re sick and we certainly have employers who don’t have enough staff to operate, so it has a dramatic impact on our community.”

The next regular meeting of the Yakima County Board of Health is scheduled for Feb. 23 and will be livestreamed on the Yakima Health District page on Facebook.