WENATCHEE — The last 12 months have probably brought more downs than ups for most people in the Wenatchee Valley. Some are optimistic as they look forward to the new year, others are just ready for 2020’s chaos to end.
“I have a hard time finding anything good in 2020, except that I’m still here,” said Pat Smith along the Apple Capital Recreation Loop Trail where a reporter chatted with her and others out for chilly walks on the first day of 2021..
The Wenatchee World asked for their thoughts on the last 12 months and what they hope to see in 2021. “It’s just been a bad year for everybody … all the people that are struggling,” Smith said. “all the people that we’ve lost with the virus.”
Hopefully, 2021 will be a better year, bringing an end to the virus and a restart to the economy, she said.
For John Brossoit, who lives in East Wenatchee, 2020 has opened up opportunities to serve others in the Wenatchee community. There are a lot of people in need right now, he said.
“The pandemic is awful and it’s terrible to see people suffering,” he said. But people have been “stepping up to the plate … that encourages me.”
Moving forward into the new year, “I really hope that people realize the fragility of life,” he said. “Our actions and our words matter.”
Brossoit said he hopes the new year will highlight the importance of thinking about people other than one’s self.
Many say they want things to get back to normal, but “what is normal? Sometimes normal is overrated,” he said. “I want to see people up their game when it comes to serving one another.”
Mya Brossoit, who is also from East Wenatchee, agreed with John.
This last year, through all of its challenges, has also brought blessings, she said. She was talking about Milo, a golden dog with curly hair and a lot of energy. He is the newest addition to her family.
“I hope that I myself and others too will take each day as it is and not worry about tomorrow,” she said. Focusing on loving others really helps and can become like a therapy.
This year could have been so much worse, it really depends on one’s perspective, she said.
Case Kwak, of East Wenatchee, said 2020 has come with an assortment of struggles. “It’s kind of unnerving to wear a mask all the time,” he said.
The hope is that, with the new vaccines, things will move forward again, he said. “I just hope it’s a better year.” Not being able to spend time with family, including grandchildren, has been discouraging.
Last year was been exhausting on every level, both financially and emotionally for Wenatchee resident Mary-Jo Eddy.
Eddy said she likes to be optimistic “but in all honesty, when we look at it realistically, it’s just another year and COVID isn’t over.”
Geoff Waterbury, of Wenatchee, said he is also optimistic for 2021, “with a little sprinkle of concern.”
When life gets back to normal, “it might not be the normal we remember,” he said. “There’s going to be some lasting changes that affect everybody in some way.”
“I’m still hopeful that we’re over the hump .. and that there’s going to be some positive things coming our way this year,” he said.
SEATTLE — Washington state will rely on an honor system to determine eligibility for COVID-19 vaccinations, so those administering vaccines do not have to police who qualifies.
The state plans to launch an online questionnaire — called PhaseFinder — soon where people can determine their own eligibility for vaccination.
When more vaccination sites are available, members of the public could present screenshots of their questionnaire results at vaccination sites, said Mary Huynh, a deputy director at the state Department of Health. The state also plans to provide a template letter for employers to vouch for workers’ eligibility.
“This tool will help with all the questions we’re getting from people about which phase I’m in, where can I get vaccine?” said Huynh, of PhaseFinder, during a Thursday meeting of the state’s vaccine advisory committee.
As Washington seeks to speed its vaccine rollout, these tools could be efficient means to clarify who is eligible for vaccination, but they’re reliant on Washington residents to faithfully represent themselves. And efficiency comes at a cost — health officials acknowledge people will likely take advantage of the system and attempt to jump their spot in the priority line.
“It’s all self-reported. It’s all trust-based,” Huynh told the committee. “We really wanted to relieve the burden of the vaccination site to have to assess phase eligibility. It’s just awkward conversation ...”
As hospitals vaccinate health care providers outside of their systems — nurses from small community clinics, dental hygienists and others — it is difficult to know who is eligible, said Darcy Jaffe, the vice president of safety and quality at the Washington State Hospital Association.
“The hospitals have been pretty clear that they don’t want to be the vaccine police,” she said.
Administrators don’t want to have to “interrogate someone” who shows up requesting a vaccine, Jaffe added.
Department of Health officials have told hospitals they wouldn’t face official repercussions if they happen to vaccinate someone ahead of their priority phase, Jaffe said.
The PhaseFinder tool, which the health department plans to make broadly available to the public, is designed to take care of any questioning.
It will include questions about someone’s age, ZIP code, preexisting conditions, their occupation and living situation, according to a DOH presentation for vaccine providers posted online. A pilot version of PhaseFinder, for people in the first vaccination phase, asks for age, and if the user works in a health care setting or lives in a long-term care facility, whether they plan to get the vaccine, and if they want to be notified by email or text when eligible.
The tool will come in multiple languages, according to the presentation, and will refer a user to a vaccination site through VaccineFinder.org, an existing national platform for seasonal flu vaccines, vaccines for travel and other routine vaccines.
Some people might not have internet access or the ability to use an online tool. Huynh said the health department wants to provide multiple routes for people to determine their eligibility, and suggested that providers could ask questions in person at vaccination sites, provide an iPad or other device for people to use Phasefinder on-site or rely on voucher letters.
Dr. Jeff Duchin, of Public Health — Seattle & King County, who said he had used a demo version of the PhaseFinder tool, noted that people could repeat the questionnaire to get the desired results about their eligibility.
“We recognize people can game the system. That’s going to happen. We really wanted to stick to principles of having this be trust-based,” Huynh said.
Duchin said he suspected it will soon become common knowledge how to manipulate the questionnaire and get vaccinated more quickly.
”We don’t have a good system set up to easily create verification, so we want to err on the side of vaccine getting into arms,” said Michele Roberts, the state Department of Health’s acting assistant secretary.
During the vaccine advisory meeting, Duchin said he was concerned about public perception if the system could be easily manipulated.
”I do worry about the perception that there’s no control over whose getting vaccinated before we get through the high risk adults,” Duchin said. “It just makes me wonder whether we should abandon the pretense of prioritization after a certain point.”
The honor system could face its first big test as soon as this month, when the state could open up its next priority phase.
While the state Department of Health hasn’t released its Phase 1b priority list, observers say it is likely to follow the recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a national group of doctors and health officials who counsel the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on priority.
That group recommends Phase 1b include people 75 and older, and people with “front line essential” jobs: food and agricultural workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers and others whose jobs are critical for society and require them to be on-site and in proximity to others.
A national grocery chain may have human resources personnel who could notify workers when it’s their turn, and provide a corporate voucher letter, but a small deli, for instance, may not have the same capacity and employees may have to vouch for themselves, said Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Preexisting medical conditions will pose another challenge. Medical records are generally not centralized. A pharmacy, for instance, wouldn’t have time to verify if someone has type 2 diabetes. Again, it will require trust.
”The majority of people would follow the honor system, I would hope,” Adalja said. He noted that during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, people generally adhered to their priority groups for vaccines.
”If you vaccinate somebody outside of their schedule, it’s not the end of the world,” he added. “Ideally we want to get everybody to be vaccinated.”
Much of the U.S. will rely on an honor system.
”We really don’t have a choice,” Tinglong Dai, an associate professor specializing in health care at Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School.
The CDC’s priority system is nuanced and harder to implement, Dai said, compared to an age-based priority scheme like the United Kingdom’s. “The reality is we have such a highly fragmented health care system that makes information sharing costly, time-consuming, and often impossible.”
Dai said finding ways to verify eligibility will be important.
”Nothing is more important than public trust for this mass vaccination to be successful.” Dai said. “Verifying priority eligibility is essential because nobody will trust a system that can be easily gamed.”
During the first phase of vaccination, vaccine providers could choose to ask for employee identification badges along with voucher letters, said Danielle Koenig, a health department spokesperson.
”We have not yet shared a system for verifying eligibility past phase 1a,” Koenig wrote in an email to The Seattle Times. “We hope everyone in Washington will be honest and get the vaccine in the phase they’re eligible for to make sure their friends, family members, and community members who are more impacted by the disease get protected first.”
Gordon Oakes, the director of clinical support services who is leading vaccinations at Bellevue’s Overlake Medical Center, said he was glad the state had created a way to screen vaccine eligibility. Oakes said Overlake had vaccinated about 1,500 people high-risk health workers so far, including some Bellevue firefighters.
As the vaccination effort expands, Oakes said he would “hope for the best in my fellow man” when it came to observing the priority line. He planned to concentrate on getting everyone through as efficiently as possible.
”If you have somebody maybe who misrepresents themselves, I’m not going to get worked up about that. I want people to get taken care of,” Oakes said. “We’re all in this together.”
CHELAN — After 12 years, Chelan County Commissioner Doug England will get to enjoy retirement.
England signed off as a commissioner on Tuesday after a meeting on short-term rentals, handing off the position of chair to Commissioner Bob Bugert. Bugert and Commissioner Kevin Overbay thanked England for his years of service.
“I have tremendous respect for you and how you’ve been a leader of the Chelan County Commission and your service over the last 12 years,” Bugert said. “I think you are a remarkably balanced, well-spoken, pragmatic individual.”
Overbay thanked England for showing him the ropes the last four years as a commissioner. England was gracious even in his disagreements with the other commissioners, he said.
“The way you have treated me the last four years has been exemplary,” Overbay said. “Allowing a kid who thought he knew everything coming in his first year to not only get some victories, but also get some humility throughout the course of this thing.”
England thanked the commissioners for their work and said all five commissioners he worked with showed honor and integrity. He said he didn’t think there should be a limit on how many times a commissioner could run for office, but politicians should leave when it is time.
“They say they change politicians and diapers for the same reason and I think three terms is enough and I think it is time for someone else to step in and take care of it,” England said.
With England’s retirement there are no more orchardists or agricultural industry employees on the Chelan County Commission. Overbay worked for the Washington State Patrol, Bugert for the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust and on the Salmon Recovery Funding Board and incoming Commissioner Tiffany Gering for the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce.
Overbay is now the longest serving commissioner with four years on the board that oversees Chelan County government, land planning and budgets.
State Representative Keith Goehner, R-Dryden, served with England for about 10 years as a commissioner. Goehner said he enjoyed working with England who he said brought a lot of experience from his years as an orchardist and from just looking at the bigger picture.
“He was very good at seeing the big picture and trying to incorporate everyone’s issues in making his decisions,” Goehner said. “I think Chelan County is going to miss a very even-handed, steady approach to leadership.”
Goehner said he was impressed by England’s work to get the Stehekin Road fixed that washed out several years ago. England went to Washington, D.C., several times and talked to many people in effort to resolve that problem.
The road is still damaged, but the environmental review process is underway for fixing it.
Chelan County’s reserve has also grown to about $13 million during England’s time, Goehner said. England also pushed for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to abandon efforts to transplant grizzly bears in the North Cascades.
Some other of England’s accomplishments include: