READY FOR TESTING

READY FOR TESTING — A long line of COVID-19 testing kits were laid out for the Yakima Health District testing of 12 Sunnyside Police Department patrol and communications staff.

SUNNYSIDE — A total of nine Sunnyside Police Department staff have now tested positive for COVID-19 over the course of one week, city officials announced on Friday, May 15.

In a release last Monday, May 11, three police department staff were reported having positive test results and one inmate had received a positive test.

“We continue to be grateful that no one is showing any severe signs of this,” City Manager Martin Casey said Monday.

He reported none of the personnel who tested positive have been hospitalized and all are in self-isolation with mild or no symptoms.

“We are working with the Yakima Health District to test everyone, even if they are asymptotic, in an attempt to create a baseline of staff health,” Police Chief Al Escalera confirmed.

He restated they are taking steps to manage the outbreak at the city jail and identifying all those who have contact with the confirmed cases.

The entire Law and Justice Center as well as the jail underwent a deep clean Wednesday, May 13, Escalera noted. APM Janitorial Services oversaw disinfecting and sanitizing the facilities.

“We have to assume everyone is exposed and everyone can be a carrier,” Escalera said of the department’s efforts to protect staff and inmates.

On-going protective measures were again taken early Friday morning when half of the department and all inmates in custody were tested for the novel coronavirus.

The remaining staff and inmates were tested Monday during the 6 p.m. shift change by YHD staff.

“It’s an invasive test and not a pleasant experience,” said Commander Bailey, who was one of the officers to take the test. “It’s not one I would want to do ever do again but we have to stay out in front of this.”

Staffing challenges

Having nine staff members out on medical leave has cause some strain covering shifts as well as containing further spread of the virus,” Commander Scott Bailey said.

“Everyone is pitching in to cover the additional responsibilities,” he acknowledged.

“It has been difficult to manage, but Chief Escalera and Commander Bailey have been working to keep on top of it,” Casey declared.

Notably at the jail, the 97-bed facility went from 75 inmates to its current 23 inmate population, Escalera said in efforts to observe social distancing measures.

“Because of illness, the correction team is also stretched thin to provide coverage,” Chief noted.

To help relieve some of the staffing pressures, the department has a new patrol officer going on duty this week, Escalera reported.

“Because he is already trained, he can go right on duty,” Escalera was relieved to say. Returning to work this week are two individuals who were on non-COVID-19 related medical leave.

Julia Hart can be reached at 509-837-4500, ext. 123 or at jhart@sunnysidesun.com

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