A county in Washington state has run out of hospital beds because of a recent spike in coronavirus cases — and now, Washington Governor Jay Inslee says the entire state is going to take a more aggressive approach to handling the pandemic. Everyone in the state, minus a few exceptions, will now have to wear a face mask, and will be charged with a misdemeanor crime if they fail to do so.
In a Tuesday press conference, Inslee said the state is experiencing an "uptick" in COVID-19 activity, and that to stop it, the state needs to "remain vigilant and diligent and resourceful."
"The number of people that one person infects is now going up," Inslee said, adding that every coronavirus-infected individual in the state is potentially infecting around three other people.
As of Tuesday evening, there are 28,870 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Washington, and more than 4,000 hospitalizations, according to the state's Department of Health. Yakima County, which sits just southeast of Seattle, has the second highest numbers in the state — and said it has run out of hospital beds to help battle the virus.
On June 19, the Yakima Health District said in a release that Virginia Mason Memorial "had no intensive care or non-intensive care beds available."
"There were multiple patients waiting for hospital bed space overnight," the district added. "This was after at least 17 patients had already been transferred out of the county. Several individuals are still currently waiting for available bed space."
Yakima is now the epicenter of the virus in the state, Inslee said.
"The health care system, because of COVID-19 infections, is so stressed, that there is no room at the hospital in Yakima County. There are no rooms available to people for this treatment in Yakima County," he said. "That means that patients are having to be shipped by ambulance outside of Yakima County to Seattle and other places. ... We do not want to see that condition spread across the state of Washington."
Hospitals in Yakima County also said they have seen "critical staffing shortages" this week because of the virus. In the press release, the Yakima Health District said staff members have called out because they're getting the virus, exhibiting symptoms, or have been in close contact with people who have tested positive.
"Nearby, the Benton and Franklin Counties health care system is also reaching capacity," the statement said.
"Benton and Franklin Counties are seeing a steady, rapid increase in hospitalizations due to COVID-19, with the number of patients nearly doubling the past two weeks. While hospitals are not overwhelmed yet, if the rate continues, we will exceed capacity quickly," said Malvina Goodwin of the Benton-Franklin Health District.
Because of the uptick, Inslee and the state's secretary of health have issued a public health order mandating the use of face coverings. The order, which goes into effect on Friday, requires most people in the state to wear something that covers their nose and mouth. Coverings will be required in public indoor areas, and public outdoor areas that don't maintain six feet of social distancing.
The only individuals not required to adhere to the policy are those who are deaf or hard of hearing, children under the age of five, people who are eating, and those in other "common sense" situations.
Those who willfully violate the mandate will face a misdemeanor charge, Inslee said.
"It is imperative that we adopt further measures to protect us all," he added. "This is the way we need to look at this, we just cannot wish this virus to go away. We have to use tools that are available to us that we know work."
Inslee also announced his plans to sign a proclamation on Wednesday ordering businesses in Yakima County to enforce the face covering rule. Businesses that allow customers who are not wearing coverings will not be allowed to continue operations, Inslee said.
Last weekend, about 60% of people in Yakima County wore face masks, Inslee said. "When we wear a face mask, it is a statement that we care about other people enough to protect them from that potential virus," he added. "Until a vaccine or a cure is developed, this really is going to be our best defense."