The collective sigh of relief felt at the prospect of returning to some normalcy in October as Chelan and Douglas counties moved into Phase 2 of the state’s “Safe Restart” plan was short-lived.
A surge in COVID-19 case counts prompted a statewide rollback in mid-November — closing some businesses that had recently reopened and limiting others, like restaurants and bars, to outside service only.
The changes, outlined Nov. 15 by Gov. Jay Inslee and supported by state Department of Health officers as necessary to save lives and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed with new cases, also included restrictions on private gatherings, with recommendations for pre-Thanksgiving quarantines for those who insisted on moving ahead with the holiday.
Schools, which by then were well into implementing hybrid models for the youngest students and looking forward to bringing back more students, started rethinking their plans.
A look back at the news coverage and communication from state and local health officials show the latest restrictions weren’t entirely unpredictable.
Debate continues on what measures are needed to get the pandemic under control while doing the least damage to the economy. Some believe it should be left to individuals to make responsible decisions, or at least put restriction decisions in the hands of local jurisdictions. Others are urging for a tighter crackdown.
News that several vaccines are showing promise revived confidence on Wall Street, while local businesses continue to adapt to the latest regulations in the hopes of salvaging something from the traditionally lucrative holiday season.
Here are some of the COVID-19 developments of the past month:
Friday, Oct. 23
The Chelan-Douglas Health Officer advises families to keep ghouls, goblins and gremlins at home this year.
Dr. Malcolm Butler says trick-or-treating is not advised during the pandemic, as COVID-19 case counts are on the rise. The health district reports the latest two-week rate is 168 cases per 100,000 people, compared to 114 cases reported in late September.
"If I was an evil virus and I wanted to design the perfect holiday to make sure I could spread myself around the community, what I would do is encourage young people with a sweet tooth to go house to house, passing infection around," Butler said.
Vaccination plans discussed
The state Health Department seeks feedback on its newly released interim COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan. The anonymous survey is available in English, Spanish, Russian, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Tagalog, simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese. The goal is to create a plan that helps communities and businesses that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, the department said.
Wednesday, Oct. 28
Grant County reports 25th COVID-19 death
Grant County reports its 25th death from COVID-19, a man in his 50s from Quincy with underlying health conditions. It is the second Grant County death reported in October.
Health district changes policy on reporting outbreaks
The Chelan-Douglas Health District announces it is no longer reporting COVID-19 outbreaks in businesses to the public.
Health district officials said they are concerned businesses would stop reporting COVID-19 outbreaks and they did not want to breach privacy issues by inadvertently identifying individuals.
Local health districts do report outbreaks — defined as more than two cases — to the state Department of Health and the state typically reports outbreaks of nine or more to the public.
Thursday, Oct. 29
Contact tracing goes local
When someone tests positive for COVID-19 moving forward, it will be local health officials who track down their contacts to let them know they may have been exposed.
State Department of Health officials had been doing the contact tracing because the Chelan-Douglas Health District did not have the manpower. It will now be performed by staff at the Chelan-Douglas Health District, Confluence Health, Columbia Valley Community Health and Cascade Medical, according to a health district news release.
The change will mean quicker phone calls to people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus. It will also reduce the number of calls people get, and the phone calls will come from local sources in the community.
Friday, Oct. 30
Community organizations help immigrants apply for grants
Community organizations have begun a push to get people signed up for a $40 million COVID-19 relief fund for immigrants.
"This is one way to show our support, said Alma Chacón, co-founder of CAFÉ, who is reaching out to immigrants. "After all, they're the ones that put food on our tables."
The Washington COVID-19 Immigrant Relief Fund is meant for people who did not receive previous COVID-19 financial relief or unemployment benefits. Immigrants that qualify can receive $1,000 per individual and $3,000 per household.
The application deadline is Dec. 6. For details, go to wwrld.us/3jIzZCm.
Saturday, Oct. 31
State sees highest daily COVID-19 increase in almost four months
The state Department of Health reports 1,047 people statewide tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 30, the highest single-day positive count for COVID-19 since mid-July.
The positive count shows that a fall surge of the virus is here and the upward trend could be a setback for the state. One of the biggest concerns is that hospitals could become overwhelmed.
Chelan-Douglas Health District officials say the number of positive cases in both counties also is on the rise.
The counties are now at 178 positive cases per a 100,000 population over a two-week period as of Oct. 28. The counties were at 168 cases on Oct. 21 and at a low of close to 110 on Sept. 30.
Monday, Nov. 2
Students return to classrooms
School buses get back in action around the Wenatchee and Eastmont school districts as elementary students return to in-person school, at least on a part-time schedule.
Eastmont brings back preschool to fourth-grade students while Wenatchee brings back preschool to second-grade students.
Both districts have a hybrid morning-afternoon schedule: some students attend school in person in the morning while another group does school online from home in the afternoon, and vice versa the next day.
Eastmont started transporting a small number of students on Sept. 14.
Tuesday, Nov. 3
Three Chelan County residents die from COVID-19
The Chelan-Douglas Health District reports three new deaths from COVID-19 in Chelan County.
One of the residents was a female in her 70s, one was a female in her 80s and the other was a male in his 80s, according to a news release from the health district.
The health district does not report the date of death or whether the deceased had underlying health issues.
The three new deaths bring the county's total to 21. Douglas County has had a total of seven deaths.
Wednesday, Nov. 4
Chelan County woman dies from COVID-19
The Chelan-Douglas Health District reports a 22nd death attributed to COVID-19 in Chelan County.
The resident was a woman in her 70s, the health district said in a news release.
The death brings Chelan County's total to 22, the release said. Douglas County has had seven residents die from the coronavirus.
As of Nov. 4, a total of 2,494 Chelan County residents and 1,457 Douglas County residents have contracted the virus since the pandemic began in March.
Thursday, Nov. 5
'Rising up into our third wave'
Chelan and Douglas counties see a jump in positive COVID-19 cases, mirroring one occurring across the state.
The two counties went from 178 positive cases per 100,000 people over two weeks on Oct. 28 to 240 on Nov. 4. In the last two weeks, both counties combined have had 290 new cases. In addition, the health district has reported four new deaths in the last two weeks.
"It is pretty clear now that here in Chelan and Douglas counties, we are rising up into our third wave," Chelan-Douglas Health Officer Dr. Malcolm Butler said. "From our data, we also can see that locally the 20 to 39 age group is the main group spreading the main group spreading the virus in our community."
Friday, Nov. 6
Grant County reports 2 more deaths
The Grant County Health District reports two additional COVID-19 deaths, bringing the county total to 27.
Two women from Moses Lake, one in her 70s and another in her 80s, both had underlying conditions that put them at a high risk for complications due to COVID-19 infection.
Grant County has seen a decrease in its incidence rate in the last two weeks from a high of 277 cases per 100,000 people over two weeks on about Oct. 18 to 165 cases on Nov. 2. The state as a whole is seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases.
Wenatchee theaters reopen after 8-month closure
Gateway Cinema reopens for the first time since statewide COVID-19 regulations closed it March 16, a move that came with Chelan and Douglas counties advancing to Phase 2 in the state’s “Safe Restart” schedule.
Saturday, Nov. 7
18 test positive at adult-care center
COVID-19 testing at Christopher House, an adult-care center at 100 S. Cleveland Ave., identifies 18 staff members and residents with the virus.
Staff members with the virus are isolating at home and COVID-19 positive residents are being isolated and quarantined.
Monday, Nov. 9
Iglesia Emanuel Bautista church members asked to quarantine
Members of Iglesia Emanuel Bautista who attended Nov. 1 services are asked to quarantine for two weeks and get tested after two members of the Wenatchee church, 503 Walker St., test positive for COVID-19.
Lifeline Ambulance employees reach about 20 church members in a drive-thru testing event. Iglesia Emanuel Bautista staff members work with the health district to contact the other members.
Tuesday, Nov. 10
State health officials ask residents to reduce social activity
Washington residents are asked to stop socializing for several weeks as a record-high number of cases is reported, a number expected to increase.
State Health Officer Kathy Lofy said the virus is spreading in both Western and Eastern Washington.
If people can, they should stop socializing with people outside of their immediate households for the next several weeks, Lofy said. If that isn't possible, people should limit it to no more than five people per week and keep social interactions short.
David Postman, Gov. Jay Inslee's chief of staff, cautions that the next step would be reimplementing statewide restrictions.
"If people still push back on masks and social distancing and crowd size and parties in your house and frat parties and everything, then we're going to have to go and find something else to do," Postman said. "That comes at a cost greater than just the economy. The disruption in a family when we do that is real and it is lasting."
A vaccine is on the horizon, though, that should start being available by the end of the year, said Michele Roberts, state Department of Health acting assistant secretary. Health officials are still learning more about how effective the vaccine is and how long it will provide protection.
Local COVID-19 positives continue to rise
The number of COVID-19 cases reported in Chelan and Douglas counties over the past two weeks is 371.4 per 100,000 people, reports the Chelan-Douglas Health District.
That’s up from 240.4 as of Nov. 4. The rate was 110 near the end of September.
At the peak of infection in mid-July, the rate was just over 700 cases per 100,000.
Overall, the state is at about 145.2 cases per 100,000, according to the state Department of Health.
In the last 14 days, Chelan County has had 309 new positive cases and Douglas County 139 cases, according to Chelan-Douglas Health District data. Nine people are currently hospitalized locally.
Thursday, Nov. 12
Sheriff's office closes as precaution
Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett says some of the department's employees have been exposed to people who've tested positive for COVID and need to quarantine. With office staffing reduced, Burnett opted to close the office for the remainder of the week.
Grant County cases climb
The Grant County Health District receives reports of 84 new COVID-19 cases in a span of two days. It also adds two coronavirus-related deaths to the list and is reviewing seven others to see whether they also should be attributed to the pandemic. The new numbers bring the incidence rate to 279 positive cases per 100,000 population over a two-week period as of Nov. 9.
Friday, Nov. 13
Inslee issues travel advisory, recommends 14-day quarantine
Gov. Jay Inslee issues a statewide travel advisory, urging residents and visitors to reduce non-essential travel to limit the spread of COVID-19.
A 14-day quarantine is recommended after arriving from interstate or international travel. California and Oregon issued similar advisories.
"COVID-19 cases have doubled in Washington over the past two weeks. This puts our state in as dangerous a position today as we were in March," Inslee said. "Limiting and reducing travel is one way to reduce further spread of the disease. I am happy to partner with California and Oregon in this effort to help protect lives up and down the West Coast."
In a televised address, Inslee urged Washingtonians to cancel gatherings over the holidays.
Mental health concerns on the rise
Local and state mental health experts express concern about increased incidents of depression and anxiety linked to COVID-19.
The holidays and winter months tend to be a difficult time for people, but COVID-19 has complicated things even more, said Chris DeVilleneuve, Catholic Charities division director of behavioral health and integrated care.
Saturday, Nov. 14
Case counts break records
Chelan County breaks its own COVID-19 case count record, with 68 new cases reported in a single day.
In the last month, four people have died from COVID-19 locally, with five more deaths under investigation.
Sunday, Nov. 15
Statewide rollbacks arrive
Gov. Jay Inslee orders new restrictions to quell the surge in coronavirus numbers. The new rules close indoor restaurant and bar service, but still allow outside service for limited groups. It closes gyms, museums, bowling alleys and movie theaters, just weeks, and, in some cases, days, after they had been allowed to reopen following spring shutdowns connected to the pandemic’s arrival. It also reduces indoor capacity at retail and grocery stores to 25%, along with reduced capacity for religious services and weddings.
Indoor gatherings with people outside individual households also are prohibited unless participants quarantine for a week and test negative.
The new regulations are ordered through Dec. 14.
"A pandemic is raging in our state. Left unchecked, it will assuredly result in grossly overburdened hospitals and morgues; and keep people from obtaining routine but necessary medical treatment for non-COVID conditions,” Inslee said.
He also commits $50 million in CARES Act funds to help businesses deal with the fallout, with promises of more details — and possibly more funding — to come.
Monday, Nov. 16
Closing businesses is no solution, industry leaders say
Businesses are getting a bad rap for the current surge of COVID-19 cases, say industry leaders in response to new restrictions announced by Gov. Jay Inslee.
"The chamber is concerned about the message this is sending to the greater community," Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce Director Shiloh Burgess said. "It encourages the idea that gathering in businesses is not safe. That is simply not the case. Businesses have been supportive and instrumental in lowering the curve."
Social gatherings in private homes have been identified as the biggest source of the spread, which Inslee discussed during a news conference last week and which has been a recent topic discussed by Chelan-Douglas Health District officials.
Restrictions on private gatherings are included in the new statewide rules, but the state has no way to enforce private behavior, Burgess said. Instead, businesses, which can be regulated, are paying the price.
"I don't think the right move is to limit businesses that have provided structure, that are operating with safety protocols," she said. "(The state) needs to encourage us to gather responsibly and show what that looks like, provide testing resources and help everyone understand. I think businesses have done a good job locally. They are not the cause."
Some ask Health Board for stronger action
Members of the public ask the Chelan Douglas Board of Health to provide stronger leadership in the face of rising COVID-19 numbers.
The board of health discusses a proposal for a COVID-19 emergency declaration similar to one issued during the beginning of the pandemic. Karina Vega-Villa asks for the declaration so the Chelan-Douglas Health Officer would have a greater ability to prohibit gatherings in the community.
Board of health members express skepticism that an emergency declaration is needed.
"I would urge caution in declaring a state of emergency following the day after a shutdown as looking heavy handed and a threatening posture to the community that we were shut down and now the Board of Health is going to declare a state of emergency," Board of Health Chair Dan Sutton said.
The board of health does not bring up the emergency declaration for a vote and moves on to new business.
Wednesday, Nov. 18
School districts delay returning more students to classrooms
Wenatchee and Eastmont school district officials say they will delay bringing more students back to classroom as COVID-19 case counts in the community continue to climb. The decision is made after school officials consult with the Chelan-Douglas Health District.
The health district's basic recommendation is to stay the course but don't add more students to increase the potential risk of exposure to those currently in school.
COVID-19 positives break records in NCW
COVID-19 cases hit record numbers in Chelan and Douglas counties, which local health officials are calling a "disaster."
Data pulled from county health districts across the state show Chelan and Douglas counties have the third highest COVID-19 rate in the state behind Spokane and Asotin counties. The percentage of tests coming back positive has also increased to 11%.
Health officials in mid-October said the region had a consistent 1.7% positive case rate for the previous month and a half.
Thursday, Nov. 19
Health district hosts town hall
The Chelan-Douglas Health District hosts a town hall to provide information directly to the public about the unprecedented increase in COVID-19 cases and the threat it poses to the community.
Chelan and Douglas counties shared a combined 105 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday alone, with 827 cases reported in the past 14 days, says Dr. Malcolm Butler, Chelan-Douglas health officer.
One of the concerns, says Confluence Health CEO Peter Rutherford, is health facilities, including Central Washington Hospital, the only hospital locally capable of treating patients sickest with COVID-19, are short on staff.
Six more COVID-19 deaths reported in Chelan County
The Chelan-Douglas Health District reports six more COVID-19-related deaths this week in Chelan County.
The deaths include four women — three in their 70s and one in her 80s, and two men, one in his 60s and one in his 70s.
It brings the total number of deaths in Chelan County from COVID-19 to 28.
Central Washington Hospital is also seeing more people hospitalized with COVID-19, said Andrew Canning, a Confluence Health spokesperson.
The hospital has 12 people, three of whom are in the intensive care unit and two who are being ventilated. That is up from five people on Nov. 3 when none were in the intensive care unit or being ventilated.
The hospital has 42 beds for COVID-19 patients with 20 of them in the intensive care unit (ICU), but those beds in the ICU are also needed for non-COVID-19 patients, Canning said.
The limiting factor for COVID-19 patient care, though, is staff and not beds, he said.
County commissioners criticize new rules, others push for individuals to step up
In a published opinion piece, Chelan and Douglas county commissioners say Gov. Jay Inslee’s statewide restrictions are misguided and counterproductive. They push for local control on how to address community-specific problems.
In a separate letter to the community, Wenatchee and East Wenatchee mayors, as members of the Wenatchee Valley COVID-19 Recovery Council, call for residents to rethink Thanksgiving holiday plans and adhere to safety guidelines.