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Interim health district administrator ready for 'hellish' virus

NCW — Bruce Buckles has stepped into the interim role as the Chelan-Douglas Health District administrator in the middle of a pandemic.

Buckles, 66, has been the director of Aging and Adult Care of Central Washington for 17 years. He’s managing the health district after Barry Kling announced his retirement last month.

The health district is responsible for coordinating both counties’ handling of the pandemic. It is helping track the number of positive COVID-19 tests in both counties and submitting the applications to move to the next phases with Gov. Jay Inslee’s office.

It is a tough time to be taking the reigns of this organization, Buckles said. The country hasn’t experienced an outbreak of this magnitude in 100 years.

Submitted photo 

Bruce Buckles

“This is indeed the worst thing that’s affected us since the great Spanish flu epidemic since 1918 and that was no small experience and this really is worse in some ways,” he said.

Buckles has been a registered nurse since 1982, he said. He was the chairman of the board for Evergreen Healthcare, a hospital district in Kirkland. He’s also worked with other hospitals and health care facilities, mostly consulting on long-term care.

Aging and Adult Care provides health care services to people over 65 years old under the Older Americans Act, particularly for those on Medicaid and Medicare, Buckles said. It does receive some state and federal funding, but it is also a non-profit organization.

It was a natural fit for Buckles to take over as the interim administrator of the health district, he said. His agency works closely with the health district and he’s worked with Kling for years.

Buckles said he believes most people are on the same page about the community response to the virus. He doesn’t describe the current situation as controversial, instead he thinks people are exhausted.

“I would prefer to categorize it as fatigue,” he said. “Many people are very tired and I think many people are very fearful of this horrible, hellish, virus that has come upon us.”

People may have criticisms about his decisions going forward and they may be quite valid, Buckles said. It will not be the first time he’s faced criticism and he is always willing to listen to any critiques.

“There are always folks who are going to be outside the understanding of what is acceptable, what is right and what a lot of people are doing,” he said. “And the very nature of our society and our government allows for criticism.”

He knows that there is much concern about the economy and said the welfare of both counties’ economies needs to be taken into consideration when decisions are made. The focus of the health district, though, will be on educating people and businesses about what they need to do to minimize risks between people.

“I’m not sure everyone understands fully the dangers that we’re dealing with and also the tools that can be used for their benefit,” he said. “And it’s got to ultimately be the choice of everyone to protect themselves and everyone else.”

Buckles wasn’t willing to say whether the health district would go back phases if there was a spike in the virus cases. He did say that he looks at reopening as if it were a car in idle. It isn’t moving, but it’s ready to start creeping forward.

“I think we’re prepared for all different types of contingencies,” he said. “We have to address everything at the point of it being necessary to do something differently.”

Photos: Deep cleaning the Town Toyota Center

US coronavirus cases top 3 million as multiple states face alarming resurgence

The United States has reached another grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic, with the number of confirmed infections surging past 3 million on Wednesday.

The official tally, compiled by Johns Hopkins University, is almost twice as high as the second hardest-hit country, Brazil, and represents nearly one-quarter of the world’s confirmed cases. The death toll also continues to rise, with nearly 132,000 fatalities reported nationwide.

The latest milestone comes five months after the first infection was confirmed in the U.S. and only a month after the country recorded 2 million cases, a sign that this crisis is not just far from over, it’s actually accelerating across the nation.

At least 35 states — including Arizona, California, Georgia and Texas — are seeing a daily increase of new cases this week, with many of them also dealing with a rise in hospitalizations and a shortage of testing supplies.

“It’s a hot mess,” 47-year-old Jennifer Hudson, who had to wait five days to get tested in Tucson, Arizona, told The Associated Press.

“The fact that we’re relying on companies and we don’t have a national response to this, it’s ridiculous,” she said. “It’s keeping people who need tests from getting tests.”

About half a year since the virus first emerged in China and began spreading into the world, the U.S. faces a grim reality that no other developed country in the world has seen. On Tuesday, for instance, the U.S. recorded an additional 60,021 confirmed infections, marking at least the third time in a week that the country set a new single-day record in new cases.

The latest daily record is about as high as the combined number of infections confirmed in Australia, Portugal and Venezuela since the pandemic began.

Health experts have blamed the surge on Americans’ refusal to wear masks in public or follow social distancing guidelines when states began to lift lockdown restrictions in recent weeks. In Florida, one of the first states to allow beaches and nonessential businesses to reopen, health officials recorded more than 10,000 new cases in a single day for the first time last week.

The Sunshine State — like Texas, California and others — has since rolled back reopening plans and ordered many businesses to shut down or stop serving customers indoors.

But the Trump administration, which has refused calls to mandate the use of masks, has long criticized science-based COVID-19 guidelines and the president is now threatening to cut off federal aid if schools don’t reopen in the fall.

COVID-19: Seven residents test positive at Cashmere Care Center

CASHMERE — Seven residents and one staff member have tested positive for COVID-19 at Cashmere Care Center.

All affected residents are in isolation, the Chelan-Douglas Health District said in a news release Wednesday.

The staff member is quarantined at home, Cashmere Care Center Administrator Paul Foltz said in an interview.

Foltz said the staff member tested positive July 2, and that a facility-wide testing of residents and staff was conducted Friday through the health district. About 152 people were tested.

No other staff members or residents have tested positive for the virus so far, Foltz said.

“In March, when COVID reared its ugly head, we created a quarantine wing that was vacant for this sole purpose,” he said. “As soon as a resident tested positive, we activated that quarantine wing, so all positive residents and their corresponding roommates are on that wing in separate rooms.”

Cashmere Care Center posted on its website and mailed letters Monday to let people know of the test results, which were received that day. Families of the affected residents had been called, and the center was in the process of making families of other residents aware of the situation.

“The safety of our residents and families continues to be our top priority and we are doing all we can to protect those we serve,” read a statement from Foltz on the website. “The aggressive infection control measures implemented continue to be our top priority and we appreciate everyone’s support during this difficult time.”

New U.S. CDC school reopening guidelines promised after Trump complains

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to issue new guidelines for reopening schools, Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday, after President Donald Trump criticized the agency’s recommendations as too expensive and impractical.

Trump, a Republican who is seeking re-election in November, accused Democrats of wanting to keep schools shut for political reasons and threatened to cut off federal funding to schools that do not reopen, despite a surge in coronavirus cases.

“I disagree with @CDCgov on their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools. While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!” Trump said on Twitter.

Flanked by top administration health and education officials, Pence said the CDC next week will issue a “new set of tools ... to give more clarity on the guidance going forward.

“The president said today we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough,” Pence said at a White House coronavirus task force briefing at the Department of Education.

CDC Director Robert Redfield stressed that agency guidelines were not requirements.

“It would be personally very disappointing to me, and I know my agency, if we saw that individuals were using these guidelines as a rationale for not reopening our schools,” Redfield said.

The CDC has made a number of recommendations for schools, including testing for COVID-19, dividing students into small groups, serving packaged lunches in classrooms instead of cafeterias, and minimizing sharing of school supplies.

It has advised that seats be spaced at least six feet apart and that sneeze guards and partitions be put in place when social distancing is not possible.

Administration officials said local leaders would tailor their decisions on how schools reopen.

“Ultimately it’s not a matter of if schools should reopen, it’s simply a matter of how. They must fully open,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said.

States are responsible for primary and secondary education under the U.S. Constitution, but some have been holding off on deciding when and how to open schools, concerned about the resurgence of coronavirus across the country.

The U.S. outbreak has crossed the 3 million mark in confirmed cases, with a death toll of 131,336, according to a Reuters tally.

“The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!” Trump said on Twitter.

Acknowledging that the lion’s share of school funding comes from states, Pence said that the administration would work with Congress to look for ways “to give states a strong incentive and encouragement to get kids back to school.”

“It’s time for us to get our kids back to school,” he said.

The federal government provides some supplementary funding for schools, including through congressional appropriations. With Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, any effort to curtail funding is sure to face roadblocks.

Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said school reopenings were necessary for the U.S. economic recovery. Business and conservative groups have said parents need to get back to work.

On Tuesday, Trump said he would pressure state governors to open schools in the fall.

However, the surge in U.S. cases has raised concerns about the increased risk of children spreading the virus to vulnerable adults at home as well as to older teachers and school staff.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the federal government has no authority on schools and his state will announce its reopening plans in the first week of August.

In neighboring New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy said he planned to reopen state schools in the fall, but reserved the right to “tweak that if it means saving lives.”