• MLWA 7

COVID-19 virus taking a big toll in the farming community of Washington

Updated: Jun 25, 2020

- Yakima, WA

Fruit warehouse worker Armida Rivera says her days in Yakima County, Washington, are filled with the fear of getting the coronavirus.

Sean Gilbert worries about the threat to his family’s century-old orchard business in the county.

And Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is struggling to help the county at the heart of the state’s agricultural belt that he once called home.

The coronavirus pandemic is hitting Yakima County hard, with cases surging far faster in this region about 140 miles (225 kilometers) southeast of Seattle than the rest of the state. The virus has caused turmoil in the farm and food processing industry, where some fearful workers staged wildcat strikes recently to demand employers provide safer working conditions.

Hospitals in the county are filled to capacity and have started sending patients to neighboring counties, officials said. Efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 among the county’s 250,000 residents have so far failed, and Yakima County is one of only three in Washington that has remained in Phase One lockdown while most of the state is starting to reopen.

Inslee said a big reason is that many people in Yakima County are declining to wear masks.

Visits to fast-food restaurants and other essential businesses found lots of employees and customers not wearing masks. In Selah, youth league baseball games were being played with spectators — few wearing masks — in the stands.