Yakima County Businesses Review Safety Precautions As COVID Cases Rise Again | Local

Earlier this year, Marina Meza gathered staff from Carnicería Guadalajara at Union Gap to discuss COVID-19 vaccinations. The butcher’s manager contacted the Yakima health district for information on vaccines and wanted to make it easily available to her staff and customers. She posted the information in the store and had a conversation with her employees.

“We suggested that… we would feel better if they were all vaccinated,” Meza said of his staff. “We told them anyway it’s not mandatory, we’re not going to fire you if you don’t have it. But they all decided to go get it.

For Meza, this was a relief as her staff members interact with customers in the community on a daily basis. The vaccinations would prevent its staff from contracting a serious case of COVID-19 or ending up in the hospital.

They also allow her staff to work legally without a mask, she said. But they still wear masks when they are at the front of the store interacting with customers.

More and more businesses in Yakima County may soon start taking extra precautions, such as Meza staff. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have increased in Yakima County and across the country. Data on the spread of the highly contagious delta variant begs the question of what local business owners will now ask – or demand – from their operations.

Transmission of covid-19

Yakima County has seen a rapid increase in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations after a drop earlier this summer.

Hospitalizations have more than doubled since early June. The number of new cases per 100,000 population over a two-week period was 229 on Wednesday, up from 90 as of June 30, Yakima Health District Acting Health Officer Dr Larry Jecha said on Wednesday.

This “fifth wave” of the pandemic came as a surprise, he said, especially in the summer when people were spending time outdoors where the virus did not spread as easily. He said this was likely due to the more contagious, faster-spreading delta variant, which is believed to account for 90% or perhaps more of new cases in the state. Jecha said that unlike earlier variants of the virus, which caused two to three new infections for each person, the delta variant infects seven or eight people per case.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control indicates that those who are vaccinated can contract the delta variant through breakthrough infections and would be just as likely as unvaccinated people to spread it if they do.

Experts say vaccines are still the best answer. Last week’s CDC paper on the delta variant said the rate of new infections was eight times lower among those who were vaccinated than among those who were not. The incidence of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 was 25 times lower for those vaccinated.

Local health officials are also strongly encouraging vaccinations, pointing out that 96% of new cases and hospitalizations in Yakima County are among the unvaccinated.

New CDC guidelines this week recommend that everyone wear masks indoors in high transmission communities, like Yakima County, regardless of immunization status. Those who are not vaccinated are required to wear masks in public places in Washington state.

For businesses, this new information could mark a new change in practices.

Different approaches in the valley

At Hometown Ace Hardware near Tieton Drive, owner Brad Christianson said he cares about ensuring the safety of his staff and customers, but vaccination is an individual choice.

“I can’t force anyone to do this,” he said of his employees. “What I’m doing is requiring everyone who is not vaccinated to wear masks, in accordance with L&I requirements.”

It’s a continuing requirement of the state’s Department of Labor and Industry, and not enforcing the use of masks among unvaccinated staff would put his business at risk, Christianson said. It’s not an easy place, however, and some staff have left Ace in response to his strict compliance with the law, he said.

“When the law of the state changes, we will have to change. But we try to stay in touch and try to protect our employees and try to protect both employees and customers, ”he said.

Christianson is not asking customers to verify they are vaccinated to be unmasked, as he has said this could create volatile interactions – another thing he wants to protect his employees from.

The Selah Tree Top Cooperative’s fruit processor is also demanding masking among staff who have not presented proof of vaccination, and as an added precaution, staff must sign daily health certificates. They are asked to stay home when they are sick.

Others are more discreet. At Valley Lanes bowling alley in Sunnyside, manager Charles Jacobs said they were keeping the policies simple.

“We do not vaccinate our employees. Some are, some are not, ”he said, adding that the masking approach is similar to what employees deem appropriate. “We have employees who wear masks, yes. But it is not obligatory.

Encourage, rethink

At Yakima Chief Hops, a company with around 340 full-time employees worldwide, vaccines have been promoted through incentives, said Cait Schut, head of global communications. Staff who provide proof of vaccination receive $ 100 in “YCH dollars” which can be used for things like gift cards or corporate clothing.

“It’s something that encourages some of our young employees to get vaccinated and make it a priority,” she said.

The company had several vaccination clinics on site to facilitate staff vaccination. Those with proof of vaccination on file are no longer required to mask themselves on campus. The building was quiet in the first months of the pandemic as staff worked from home, although the business was deemed essential as a farming business.

But Schut said that while society encourages vaccination, it leaves room for individual choice. Since last week, 56% of company staff have provided proof of vaccination. If staff members aren’t comfortable with other people who aren’t vaccinated, she said the business is flexible in allowing people to work from home. The human resources department of Yakima Chief Hops also regularly monitors the rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the Yakima region.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we tightened the mandate of the mask in our own office if it started to reach the point where it was risky, or operated at half capacity in offices again,” Schut said.

While some companies are poised to rethink their COVID-19 practices if the situation turns dire again, others are completely rethinking the way they do business.

Sunnyside Meat Packers opened in September months ahead of schedule in light of the meat processor shortage in an attempt to “ease stress for farmers,” co-owner Jennifer Southwick said. Some ranchers were feeding the animals six months longer than ideal because they couldn’t find a butcher to process their meat, she said.

Upon opening, the store has a system in place to minimize potential exposure to COVID-19. The meats are cut to order. When they’re ready, customers come in to pay and then wait in their car, where the meat is brought to them. Staff sanitize the butcher shop throughout the day and clean up after each customer leaves, Southwick said.

She said some of her staff chose to vaccinate and others wore masks to work. She has gates in place to keep customers separate from areas with food. Employees are asked to stay home when sick.

“It’s just a matter of keeping everyone clean and safe,” she said.

All of these health precautions, aside from the masking, are likely to survive the pandemic, Southwick said.

“It made us see things a little differently,” she said. Prior to opening, Sunnyside Meat Processors envisioned customers being able to watch the meat-cutting process while they made their selection or waited for an order. Now they plan to have meat cutting in a separate building from the retail and meat counter in the future as an additional sanitary measure.

“With COVID, it kind of changed the way we settle down,” Southwick said. “We really need to plan for something like this in the future and make sure we’re ready for it.”

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Susan W. Lloyd

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