Walla Walla County faces spike in coronavirus cases

Alissa Antilla, Editor-in-Chief

While coronavirus cases in the state of Washington have been lowering, coronavirus cases in Walla Walla County are spiking. 

“Although the State of Washington has seen a ‘flattening of the curve’, Walla Walla County has not,” Meghan DeBolt, the director of the Walla Walla County Department of Community Health, said in an April 21 press release. “Now is not the time to rebel against the stay at home orders; we are on the brink of having broader community transmission and need to be diligent for a few more weeks.” 

As of April 23, there have been 51 cases of coronavirus in Walla Walla County. Three of those community members have been hospitalized, 15 have recovered and none have died, according to Walla Walla County health officials. 

According to the Walla Walla County Department of Community Health, nine of those cases have been tied to the Tyson Fresh Meats processing plant in Wallula. 

In response, the plant ceased all processing operations on Friday, April 24, and began testing employees for the virus. The Walla Walla County Department of Community Health is working with Tyson to test all employees at the plant, using test kits from the State of Washington Department of Health. 

In total, over 90 Tyson employees have tested positive for COVID-19. The majority of cases reside in Benton County – located just to the west of Walla Walla County and comprised of Richland and Kennewick, among other smaller cities – and Franklin County, which is located to the northwest of Walla Walla County and contains Pasco in addition to smaller cities. 

Five of the cases in Walla Walla County are linked to First Fruits in Prescott, according to the Walla Walla Department of Community Health. 

In response, the orchard has been reinforcing social distancing – meaning that employees must keep six feet apart from each other – requiring face coverings in areas where this distance is not possible, screening employees for symptoms before they enter the facility, cleaning surfaces per Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations and telling employees that they do not have to come into work. 

According to the Washington Department of Health, there have been 12,753 cases of coronavirus and 711 deaths total in the state of Washington.

The Walla Walla County Department of Community Health urges residents to follow Gov. Inslee’s stay at home order and practice social distancing – particularly in parks and other public spaces. 

“The critical point of information we want the greater Walla Walla Valley to understand is that we are NOT in the clear and we need to be diligent in staying home,” DeBolt said. “When or if you are in public spaces, keep 6-feet distance from others, wear a face covering if you cannot ensure this physical distancing, WASH YOUR HANDS, and please, please stop congregating at parks and other spaces – we need your help to keep our community safe.”