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News
Inslee announces new reopening plan, but state not moving forward just yet

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee announced a new region-by-region reopening plan Tuesday that includes metrics for when certain activities can resume, although much of the state will not be moving forward yet.

The plan goes into effect Jan. 11, the date that the current restrictions were set to expire. The entire state will begin in Phase 1, which has many of the same restrictions as previously but also allows for some limited fitness and entertainment activity.

“What we’re announcing today will not result in big, significant openings today,” Inslee said in a news conference Tuesday.

The new reopening plan allows regions to move forward in phases, not counties as in the state’s previous guidance. The state will have eight regions grouped together based on health system resources. Chelan County is in the North Central region, along with Douglas, Grant and Okanogan counties.

There are also currently only two phases, with more to be created when COVID activity is reduced. Every region will begin in Phase 1 based on current metrics.

“We know we’re not where we want to be today,” Inslee said.

Regions in the new Phase 1 will be able to have limited fitness and entertainment activity. Fitness centers in Phase 1 can provide appointment-based training with no more than one athlete within 500 square feet of another. New live entertainment guidance will do away with “blanket prohibition,” said Nick Streuli, the governor’s executive director of external affairs. It allows for outdoor entertainment events with no more than 10 people of no more than two households.

To advance to Phase 2, regions must have:

  • A 10% decreasing trend in case rates
  • A 10% decrease in COVID hospital admission rates
  • An ICU occupancy rate less than 90%
  • A test positivity rate of less than 10%

A region must meet all four criteria before moving to Phase 2. The second phase allows restaurants to open indoor dining and indoor fitness centers to open at 25% capacity. Sports competitions can resume with limited spectators, and wedding and funeral ceremonies can increase their capacities from current limits.

Regions could move backward if two or more of the metrics turn the other way. Each region’s metrics will be evaluated on Fridays, and any movement forward or backward in phases will take place the following Monday.

Inslee said the metrics, some of which are new for reopening, are designed to give the state a path forward.

“We are not there yet as a state,” Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said. “We are all committed to getting there, though, as a state.”

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward praised Inslee’s new guidance in a statement Tuesday. She called it the “next step and not the end.”

“This new plan gives people renewed hope and a goal certain to pursue every day,” Woodward said. “Our community, along with the rest of the state, has been paused in place for quite some time. New information and a clear path forward are welcomed and appreciated and help ease the frustration and fatigue that has begun setting in.”

The state is continuing its vaccination process. As of Monday, Confluence Health in Wenatchee has administered 96% of its doses, Yakima Memorial has administered 87% of its doses, CHI Franciscan has administered 70% of its doses and Swedish Health Services in Seattle has administered 67% of its doses.

The state is still in its first phase of vaccinations, which includes health care workers and residents and caretakers at long-term care facilities. The next priority group will be announced later this week by the Department of Health.

“This is not going to get done on the first day,” Inslee said.

Shah said vaccinations are a coordinated effort between local public health and health care providers with guidance from the state. The infrastructure for larger vaccination efforts and the next phase of roll outs are still being determined.

The COVID curve does not appear to be worsening right now, Inslee said, but the state is still trying to get a better idea of how the holidays have affected transmission.

“We do not want to fear COVID-19,” Shah said, “but we have to respect COVID-19. It’s been a formidable foe throughout this last year.”


Local
centerpiece
Photo: Knocked to the edge

Local
$1.7 Lotto ticket purchased in East Wenatchee will expire soon

EAST WENATCHEE — Time is about to run out on the person who bought a winning Lotto ticket worth $1.7 million.

The ticket, probably bought around July at Fred Meyer in East Wenatchee, will expire Jan. 11, according to the Washington Lottery.

It is rare to have a Lotto prize of this size go unclaimed, said Lottery spokesperson Belle Eliason. “Every month, we go through all the lottery tickets and see how many outstanding prizes there are. I would say almost 80% of the prizes are roughly around $10,000. It’s pretty rare to have a $1.7 million prize outstanding,” Eliason said.

Once the winning ticket is drawn, a player has 180 days from the drawing date to claim their prize. Going back 180 days from Jan. 11 means the drawing was in July of 2020, so the ticket was likely purchased around that time.

Each month, the Lottery sends out information to encourage winners to claim their prizes.

“We usually send out information at the start of each month. For prizes expiring in January, we put that out at the end of December. Every single month we try to get the information out so people will have enough time to claim their prize,” Eliason said.

In January, $6.8 million in unclaimed Lottery prizes will expire. Most are scratch tickets. Some are fairly valuable. There are two for $420,000 and one for $120,000.

If those prizes are not claimed before they expire, there is nothing to be done.

“A lot of times, people will forget or misplace their ticket or maybe they buy a bunch and don’t think about that one,” she said. “We definitely want people to redeem them. Once it’s gone, there is no way to redeem it.”


News
UPDATE 6-Georgia delivers U.S. Senate to Democrats with double win

(Updates with Ossoff win)

By Rich McKay and Nathan Layne

ATLANTA, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Democrats on Wednesday completed a sweep of the two U.S. Senate seats up for grabs in runoff elections in Georgia, giving the party control of the chamber and boosting the prospects for President-elect Joe Biden's legislative agenda.

Raphael Warnock, a Baptist preacher from Martin Luther King Jr.'s former church, beat Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler to become the first Black senator in the deep South state's history while Democrat Jon Ossoff, a documentary filmaker who at 33 will be the Senate's youngest member, beat Republican David Perdue.

The Georgia results are a last-minute repudiation of outgoing President Donald Trump, who stands to be the first U.S. president since 1932 to lose the White House and both chambers of Congress in a single term.

Democrats now have narrow control of both chambers of Congress, making it easier to appoint liberal-leaning judges and advance legislative priorities from coronavirus relief to climate change when Biden takes office on Jan. 20.

"Georgia's voters delivered a resounding message yesterday: they want action on the crises we face and they want it right now," Biden said in a statement. He said he would work with both parties to confirm key administration officials quickly.

Trump held rallies for both Republican candidates, but overshadowed the campaign with false accusations that his own loss in the November presidential election in Georgia was tainted by fraud, repeatedly attacking Republican officials in the state.

Hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Wednesday in a dramatic attempt to force Congress to undo Trump's election loss.

With 98% of the vote counted, Warnock led Loeffler by 1.5 percentage points and Ossoff led Perdue by 0.6 percentage points, according to Edison Research. Both are expected to win beyond the margin that would require a recount.

Winning both contests hands Democrats narrow control of the Senate by creating a 50-50 split and giving Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote from Jan. 20. The party already has a thin majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The campaign's final days were overshadowed by Trump's attempts to pressure Republican Georgia officials to "find" enough votes to overturn Biden's win in the state, as well as his unfounded fraud accusations. He has yet to admit defeat.

"We will never give up, we will never concede," Trump told thousands of supporters at a rally.

'NOT A GREAT WAY TO TURN OUT YOUR VOTERS'

Some Republicans blamed Trump for the Georgia losses.

"It turns out that telling the voters that the election is rigged is not a great way to turn out your voters," Senator Mitt Romney, one of Trump's few Republican critics in Congress, told reporters.

The election signaled a shift in the politics of Georgia. At least 4.5 million voters participated, smashing earlier turnout figures for runoff races. Democrats have worked hard to increase turnout among Black voters, their most reliable supporters in the region.

More than 129,000 voters in the runoffs did not vote in November, according to state data.

Most of them were Democrats, Gabriel Sterling, a Republican state election official, told a news conference: “While Republicans were busy attacking the governor and my boss, Democrats were knocking on doors and getting out the vote.”

In a video message, Warnock, whose Ebenezer Baptist Church is legendary in Georgia because of its role in the civil rights movement under King, recalled his humble upbringing as one of 12 children of a woman who worked in cotton fields.

"Because this is America, the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else's cotton went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States senator," he said.

Declaring victory, Ossoff said he looked forward "to serving you in the United States Senate with integrity, with humility, with honor."

Both Republican senators, following Trump's lead, vowed to fight on. "We will mobilize every available resource and exhaust every legal recourse to ensure all legally cast ballots are counted," Perdue said in a statement.

During the campaign, Republicans had painted Ossoff and Warnock as radicals who would pursue a hard-left agenda. That message failed to resonate with many white suburbanites who have increasingly abandoned the Republican party under Trump.

Trump pressed Vice President Mike Pence to throw out election results in states he narrowly lost when he presides over the counting of electoral votes to certify Biden's victory. Pence has no authority to do so.

The joint session of Congress was disrupted by Trump supporters and it is unclear when it will be completed. (Reporting by Nathan Layne and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Andy Sullivan and Steve Holland; Writing by Andy Sullivan, John Whitesides and Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)


Local
Chelan County begins to create short-term rental task force

WENATCHEE — The Chelan County Commission is looking at the week of Jan. 18 to start its short-term rental task force.

The commission and Community Development Director Jim Brown discussed where they are in the process of making a task force to look at short-term rental regulations during a public meeting on Tuesday. They also talked about extending the moratorium on short-term rentals.

The commission has not yet picked members for the task force, Chelan County Commissioner Bob Bugert said. It is still generating a list of potential candidates with recommendations from each commissioner, the two interested organizations and a few self nominations.

The two short-term rental organizations are:

  • The Short Term Rental Alliance of Chelan County: opposed to new regulations
  • Residents United for Neighbors: supports some regulations

They are working off of a list of at least 35 people at this point, Brown said during the meeting. They hope to have a decision by the end of the week.

“I’m hoping that we don’t have folks who will dig in their heels and aren’t open-minded and listen to the other folks’ perspective,” Brown said.

The county is also talking to potential facilitators, who can help manage the task force’s discussions, Bugert said. The county has already received some recommendations for how the task force should be run, such as:

  • Have alternates who can replace task force members if members need to step down

Give the facilitator the ability to remove task force members who aren’t operating in good faith

The facilitator should be an objective third-party person with no connection to either side of the short-term rental issue, Brown said.

The Chelan County commissioners will also discuss what specific issues the task force will be looking at, Bugert said. Some of the things the commissioners are considering for the task force’s deliberations are:

  • How to implement a percentage cap on the number of short-term rentals by zip code?
  • Should existing short-term rentals be allowed to remain?
  • If they are not allowed, how long of a grace period should the county give rental owners before they have to stop operating?

The commission does not need to follow any of the decisions made by the task force which will be expected to produce recommendations within three months.

Moratorium

The county will also need to extend a moratorium on new or expanded short-term rentals, Brown said during the meeting.

The commission plans on having a Jan. 12 public hearing on the moratorium, Brown said. A vote on whether to extend the moratorium would come later. The current moratorium expires Feb. 23.

Public comments will be accepted from Friday to Jan. 15 on the county’s website.

The moratorium extension leaves about 45 short-term rentals in the Manson Urban Growth Area (UGA) in limbo. Those rental owners needed to renew their permits at the beginning of this year, Brown said. The county sent letters to those short-term rental owners telling them they do not need to renew their permits and that the county will take no action against them.

If the moratorium extension goes through it will have language clarifying the situation for those short-term rental owners, he said.

The Manson UGA is the only area in the county where short-term rental owners need permits to operate.


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