Cordova’s mother, 54-year-old Bertha Cordova, is an essential worker at a fruit packaging plant in rural Yakima County, and she believes she brought the virus home.
“She would only go to work, come back, wash her clothes, wash her mask and take a shower just to be clean,” Robert, 17, said. “We took it serious from day one.”
While the rest of the family experienced mild symptoms, Bertha was hospitalized with Covid-19 for nearly a month. She spent several days in a coma.
The Cordova family accounts for five of the more than 50,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Washington, a threshold the state surpassed on Thursday as it witnesses a resurgence of the virus.
Agriculture and anxiety
Washington reported the first known case of coronavirus in the United States in January. Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statewide stay-at-home order on March 26, a week after California. Like other states, Washington saw progress and began reopening in late May.
The schedule meant little in the state’s lucrative agricultural centers. In Yakima County, home to a bulk of the nation’s apple and cherry crops, crowded factory work hardly slowed.
“You have a lot of people working pretty close together in a close, you know, indoor facility for many many hours, so their length of exposure time is definitely increased,” said Brandy Wiltermuth, a nurse practitioner who has spent two months providing care from a mobile medical unit outside a Yakima food processing plant.
She says plant workers are staggering their shifts and are given masks and gloves. Wiltermuth added: “It’s pretty tough to keep a positive attitude and come to work and not be afraid.”
Wiltermuth says there is a noticeable difference in mask-wearing between the liberal Seattle suburbs, close to where she lives, and the more conservative Yakima County.
Though the Yakima County Health District reported 95% compliance with mask mandates on Thursday, Wiltermuth says that is not reflective of what she has seen.
“There’s almost even an exact opposite defiance of those recommendations,” she said. “At the hotel I’m staying at there’s a sign that said ‘we know that wearing a mask is an infringement on your rights.’ From a healthcare standpoint, [it’s] very frustrating, but also from a personal standpoint pretty scary.”
This week Gov. Inslee reinstated several restrictions including limiting gatherings to no more than five people in some counties, banning indoor business at bars and banning all outdoor entertainment statewide.
“The biggest issue that we have up here right now is apathy and just the lack of morale,” said Grant Harrington, whose company, Snohomish Running, promotes marathons and 5K races. “So many of us are so tired of this moving target, we become disinterested.”
Harrington has canceled all of his business events this year, which he says has cost him as much as $400,000. The “yo-yo reopening” plans, he adds, are akin to crying wolf.
“The governor can be doing what he truly feels is right,” Harrington said. “But you can only go through this so many times before people just throw up their hands and they’re like, ‘what’s the use,’ you know?”
‘Losing the momentum’
On Thursday Gov. Inslee announced additional safety measures.
The statewide mask mandate will now extend beyond restaurants and stores to include common areas such as elevators and hallways. Bars, restaurants, indoor entertainment venues and gyms all face new capacity restrictions. Receptions for weddings and funerals are banned until further notice.
“We’re losing the momentum we had during the early months of the response….we must dig back in to gain control,” said State Health Secretary John Wiesman during a press conference on Thursday.
After coming out of her coma, Bertha Cordova is back home. But she still has a long way to go. She wears a heart monitor and has trouble breathing. She doesn’t know when — or if — she will return to work given her heart issues.
She’s always been a strong, hardworking woman, she says, and never imagined the virus would hit her so hard.
“She wants people to take this virus seriously,” her son Robert said, “and to put on a mask, not only for themselves and family but for somebody else.”