COVID-19 related changes in Kittitas County

Bailey Tomlinson, News Editor

Several updates to changes related to COVID-19 in the county were announced via a series of press releases by the Kittitas County Public Health Department (KCPHD). 


Medical services available

Residents of Kittitas County can access emergency services, such as calling 911 and going to the emergency room, without worry that they may overwhelm the county’s healthcare system. 

“As we slowly move forward, we want to assure residents that they can access these services without fear of overwhelming our response at this time,” KCPHD Health Officer Dr. Mark Larson said.

Staff and resources these services rely on to function have been secured by the Incident Management Team (IMT) and local partners, according to the press release. Additionally, Kittitas Valley Hospital (KVH) will be expanding available services.

“KVH will be reaching out to patients for expired referrals for Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy and Home Health/Hospice,” the release states. “The hospital will resume scheduling routine mammograms and dexa scans as well as our cardiopulmonary services.”

Patients will be verbally evaluated for COVID-19 during the appointment scheduling process.


Cloth masks recommended

KCPHD recommended residents of Kittitas County wear cloth face masks any time they can’t remain 6 feet apart. This includes situations like going to stores or open businesses. 

The recommendation applies only to cloth masks, not medical grade masks. At this time, it is a recommendation, not an enforced mandate.

An April 13 document from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) specifies a cloth face covering can take many forms, as long as it is fabric that covers the nose and mouth. A sewn mask secured around the head or behind the ears, a piece of fabric tied around the head and factory-made masks or masks made from household items such as scarfs, T-shirts or towels all count as cloth masks. They can be made from a variety of household materials such as fleece, cotton, silk or linen. 

“People should prepare now, for wearing cloth masks in public until enough people have received a COVID-19 vaccination to stop the spread of this disease,” Larson said. 

KCPHD Public Information Officer Kasey Knutson said that an estimation of how long it may be before that level of immunity can be reached could not be made at this time. Wearing cloth masks is only one of many steps people are encouraged to take until it can be.

“Wearing cloth face coverings will not prevent spread of COVID-19 without … other protective measures,” the DOH document reads. These protective measures include social distancing and frequently washing or sanitizing hands.

People who do not have access to masks have resources available to them. The group Kittitas County Mask Makers is working to make masks available for those who may not be able to sew their own. They can be picked up free of charge at the Whole Health Pharmacy. 


Preparations to reopen

Efforts are being undertaken to help local businesses reopen soon. These efforts are largely outlining new guidelines for businesses to safely operate.

“Every business in our county should be preparing a safety plan now and be preparing for Governor Inslee to release some restrictions by May 4. Start taking action, now, with the intention of being open in the near future,” said Larson. “Kittitas County will continue to look different as these changes occur, and please remember that changes will be slow.”

Safety plans should include elements such as means of continuing social distancing, offering alternate services such as takeout or delivery, limiting customer capacity and increasing cleanliness practices.

Other industries, such as construction, will also be subject to new safety plans.

“The Stay Home, Stay Safe order was changed today by Governor Jay Inslee to allow for residential construction in the State of Washington,” the press release reads. “With that change … residential construction agencies will be required to have safety plans in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

The press release stated that the goal is to move from stricter interventions to less strict ones in a way that doesn’t sacrifice safety. In line with this, though businesses may begin to reopen,  large events still cannot take place. 

“In disease outbreaks, we always start with the least restrictive interventions and we will move back in that direction, but it will take time,” said Larson.

An updated version of the Kittitas County health order will be made available soon, following the changes made to the state health order by Gov. Inslee.