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Striking workers and a strike team: Yakima Valley's rise in coronavirus cases garners attention

The DOH will release guidelines for the agriculture industry using lessons learned in Yakima. Meanwhile, workers strike, hoping their concerns will be heard.

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. —

Yakima has been getting a lot of attention lately, and not for good reasons. 

The county has the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in the state: 3,008 with 91 deaths.

"It is certainly one of highest in Washington and certainly on the west coast," said Dr. Scott Lindquist, the state epidemiologist for communicable diseases. 

Lindquist was on a strike team of 10, made up of Department of Health and CDC infection specialists that went to Yakima County on May 11. Originally, their mission was to help out with coronavirus outbreaks at all the county's 11 long term care facilities.

Then they found out there's a bigger concern. 

"There was really a big need in farm and agriculture facilities," said Lindquist.

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He says the amount of critical food infrastructure at farms, factories, and processing plants, requires a lot of people working closely to get the job done, and most likely that's why there are so many coronavirus outbreaks there. 

"That puts workers at greater risk," he said.

On Wednesday, the DOH will be releasing guidelines for the agriculture industry on how to keep workers on farms and in factories and processing plants safe. These guidelines are passed on the strike team’s two weeks in Yakima. 

The county is also getting a lot of attention because of workers going on strike, saying they don't feel like enough is being done to protect them. 

"What really forced the workers to go on strike was the fear of getting sick, but then also just the indignation, of not being listened to," said Rosalinda Guillen.

Guillen is the executive director of Community to Community Development and has been advocating for striking workers. She says in other essential industries, safety is being put in front of profits, theirs shouldn't be different.

“This is not and should not be about business as usual,” she said. “It should be about what it is with every other industry, keeping the number of cases down, keeping people safe.”

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