The Yakima County Board of Health plans to ask the state to change masking requirements for young people so that face coverings are not needed when they are outdoors and involved in extreme physical play.
The proposal was approved by the board last week instead of making its own recommendation after the health district director warned it could put the health district in a precarious legal position.
The motion was approved despite concerns by some at the meeting about the potential negative effects on community health that a change could cause.
During a board of health meeting on Wednesday morning, county commissioner Amanda McKinney proposed reducing requirements for young people under the age of 18 who were outdoors and engaged in “extreme physical games.”
The discussion took place the day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed their masking rules. He said people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer had to wear masks when walking, running, hiking or biking alone outdoors, or at small gatherings. Masking at crowded outdoor events is always necessary, he said.
McKinney said children “have not been particularly affected by COVID” and that parents should have the right to choose to send their children to sport without a mask. She pointed out relatively low transmission in schools in Yakima County.
There have been 524 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in schools in Yakima County since August, 16 of which are believed to be due to school-based transmission.
“Young children, who as we know are not affected by COVID and are not known to spread COVID, are required to run around the field wearing masks,” McKinney said.
Most do not wear their masks properly during these activities, she said, defeating the goal. At the same time, adults who are paid to play sports are allowed not to wear masks although the spread among adults is a concern, she said.
She recommended that the council remove its recommendation that children under the age of 18 in Yakima County wear masks “when participating in intense physical play” outdoors, such as in sports or recreation.
Board member Dr Sean Cleary took issue with some of McKinney’s arguments.
“Children are affected by COVID. There have been 3.7 million cases of children testing positive for COVID, ”he said, referring to national data. “More than 300,000 children have been hospitalized. There are 43 states that report their deaths by age. Forty of them killed children. The number of children infected with COVID has actually increased and it’s pretty obvious that they are now the reservoir for COVID, and in particular variants.
In Yakima County, he said more than 20% of positive COVID-19 tests were in children. He said they have the same ability to spread the disease as adults, and CDC guidelines stress that relaxed guidelines should not be implemented in communities with high transmission or low vaccination rates. , as in children. Cleary also said children are often better at wearing masks correctly and consistently than adults. He recommended that the board follow established guidelines rather than adopting their own.
Health council member Naila Duval also expressed concern about a change in the focus of local masks among youth activities and said it would deter people like her from allowing their children to participate in sports.
Others supported the proposal, and McKinney went on to say that adult members of the community who wish to be protected from the virus have already had ample opportunity to be vaccinated in Yakima County, and that the appointments remain available to you.
“We can’t save people from something they don’t want to be saved from,” she said.
Before a vote, Andre Fresco, executive director of the Yakima health district, warned that the proposal would put the health district and the board of directors in opposition to the state’s masking requirements, and the proposal was rejected.
But County Commissioner LaDon Linde brought forward a new motion for the Yakima County Board of Health to ask the state to change its guidelines as McKinney had suggested. Patricia Byers, board member, called the effort a chance for the community to use its voice and share its position with the state.
In a new vote, the motion to petition the state was approved by 5 votes to 2. Duval and Cleary voted against.