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'Individuals Need To Take Responsibility' For Wearing Masks, Says Tri-Cities Region Health Officer

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File photo. Perla Torres, a fruit packer at Jack Frost Fruit in the Yakima Valley, poses for a photograph wearing a mask she says she bought from a supervisor. Yakima and Tri-Cities region agricultural and food industry workers have been particularly hard hit by coronavirus infections. CREDIT: Enrique Pérez de la Rosa/NWPB

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Cases of COVID-19 are rising dramatically in Washington’s Yakima County and the Tri-Cities region of Benton and Franklin counties. That’s driving local health officials to urge residents to wear masks in public.

The Yakima Health District’s pleas for residents to wear masks in public – through broadcast and social media – is apparently not enough. Gov. Jay Inslee has promised to step in and make wearing a mask in public mandatory in Yakima County.

It’s to be seen if a similar order is needed in nearby Benton and Franklin counties, where cases are also mounting. Benton-Franklin Health District medical officer Dr. Amy Person says masking mandates have their place but the real solution is for residents to take personal responsibility.

“There’s not enough police, public health, government officials anywhere to ensure that 300,000 people are wearing masks,” Person said Monday in a n’ews media briefing. “Individuals need to take responsibility for the things they’re going to do to try to keep themselves safe and more importantly, the things they’re going to do to try to keep their community safe.”

Yakima County ran out of hospital bed capacity last week, largely due to staff shortages. Person says that for the moment Benton and Franklin counties have beds, but hospitalizations rates for COVID-19 are increasing.

“These are real people who have real illnesses requiring hospitalizations. So when we’re asking people to wear face coverings, this is not to protect you, this is primarily for you to be able to protect others,” Person said.

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Copyright 2020 Northwest Public Broadcasting

Enrique Pérez de la Rosa