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World photo/Don Seabrook Bonnie Grant moves pieces of her fairy garden along a rock retaining wall in her East Wenatchee back yard Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020. She has added to the garden since COVID-19 hit the area in March.

Inslee presses message in Brewster, where nearly a quarter of residents have COVID-19

BREWSTER — Gov. Jay Inslee flew to Brewster Thursday, an Okanogan County town of 2,300 people, 518 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19.

There, Inslee met with community leaders and pressed his message that residents should adhere to masking and distancing directives to help bring the high infection rate down.

“The thing we need most is the use of masks and social distancing in the social settings,” Inslee said.

While Brewster is the epicenter of the rural county’s COVID-19 problem, Okanogon County as a whole has struggled with the virus, which has infected 885 people, including the more than 500 in Brewster, according to the Okanogan County Public Health.

Six of the nine county residents who have died from the virus were from Brewster.

Inslee, who said his meetings were productive, also mobilized the National Guard to conduct testing in Okanogan County at various sites, free of charge for residents, over the next few days.

Okanogan, Chelan and Douglas counties now have the highest incidence rates of the virus in the state.

There are 519 cases per 100,000 residents in Okanogan County, which is down from the peak of more than 1,000 cases per 100,000 residents in late July.

Inslee acknowledged that agricultural work settings in these counties, including orchards and fruit-packing plants, present easy environments for the virus to spread. He signed a proclamation on Thursday that will enable all agricultural workers to access paid sick leave, should they develop symptoms of COVID-19 or get the virus, regardless of their eligibility for state unemployment insurance or immigration status.

The governor used federal funds to create a $3 million fund to provide paid leave to food production workers who have to stay home while they isolate.

The state Department of Commerce will distribute the money and reimburse employers for the sick leave they pay.

Using federal coronavirus aid money, the governor also established a $40 million fund earlier this week for those not eligible for unemployment insurance.

State changes negative test counting method

The Washington Department of Health announced this week that it is are changing the way it counts negative tests in the state.

The system currently weeds out duplicates of both positive and negative test results to ensure that someone who tests positive or negative multiple times is only counted once.

Going forward, however, all negative tests will be recorded, even if they involve the same person testing negative multiple times.

“We believe the new approach will help us better understand trends and new results,” Secretary of Health John Wiesman told reporters Wednesday.

The governor said that changing how the state counts negative test results will not affect the ongoing efforts to combat the virus.

“We are confident that we know the general nature of the positivity rate, which has been relatively stable, and the delta between getting the exact number is not really large enough to affect our decision-making,” Inslee said Thursday.

Wiesman said the new approach will give the state the most accurate picture of how many COVID-19 tests are being conducted in the state.

The department estimates it will take about a week to update its data reporting system.

Case counts level off

The number of new COVID-19 cases in the Inland Northwest continued to plateau on Thursday, when the Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 56 new cases and the five-county Panhandle Health District reported 55 new cases.

Spokane County now has seen 4,721 cases. The health district estimates that 59% of those cases are recovered.

Five more county residents died from the virus as of Thursday, for a total of 92 deaths. Seventy-one patients are receiving treatment for COVID-19 in local hospitals, including 41 county residents.

The Panhandle Health District has identified 2,385 confirmed cases. About 1,500 of those cases are considered “closed” by the health district.

Twenty-five Panhandle residents are hospitalized with the virus, and 24 residents have died from COVID-19.

S-R Reporter Jim Camden contributed to this story.

Photo: It's going Wells

Police warn against Fentanyl pills

WENATCHEE — After one man died of overdose and a law enforcement officer was hospitalized from exposure last week, authorities are warning of the dangers of Fentanyl disguised as a prescription pill.

The Columbia River Drug Task Force has seen an increase in Fentanyl in the Wenatchee Valley over the last three months, specifically in pill form, the task force said Thursday in a news release.

Fentanyl is a powerful opioid similar to morphine, though 50 to 100 times more potent, according to A sugar packet-size quantity of Fentanyl has the potential for more than 500 lethal doses, the task force news release said.

Officers are now seeing an influx of Fentanyl disguised as prescription medication in the form of small, bluish pills with “M” on one side and “30” on the other. These are being referred to as “Perc 30s” and are meant to appear as Percocet, the release said.

“Perc 30s” are being produced with a binding agent and Fentanyl in makeshift labs that don’t have the ability to control the amount of Fentanyl in each pill, the release said.

Last week, a man overdosed in East Wenatchee and died on the same day a local officer was hospitalized after he was exposed to the drug.

East Wenatchee Police Chief Rick Johnson, whose department first raised awareness of the Fentanyl pills Thursday on social media, said the officer didn’t ingest the pill but was exposed to it. That caused undisclosed health problems that prompted medical treatment.

The officer’s agency was not released, but Johnson said the officer clarified the officer wasn’t from his department.

Tips on these pills or other drug activity can be submitted to the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office at

An artist's rendering shows the proposed exterior remodel of Wenatchee City Hall, 301 Yakima St.

While water from the Pilchuck River is diverted through the old fish ladder at left, crews from The Tulalip Tribes work to remove the old Pilchuck dam, built in 1912, that once supplied water to the town of Snohomish.

NCW virus infection rate highest in state

NCW virus infection rate highest in state

{child_byline}By Tony Buhr{br}World staff writer{/child_byline}

NCW — COVID-19 infection rates in Douglas, Chelan and Okanogan counties are the highest in the state. Grant County has the sixth-highest rate.

The high rates will likely delay the reopening of in-person teaching at schools until they decline to 75 infections per 100,000 residents.

Rates in the four counties range from about 295 and 550 per 100,000 in the last two weeks, according to state Health Department data collected from July 26 to Aug. 9.

Schools districts are planning to do remote learning this fall, though some are ready to reopen classes once infection rates decline. But health officials reiterated in a news release this week that current infection rates in Chelan, Douglas, Okanogan, Grant and Kittitas counties are too high to allow teachers and students to return to the classroom.

Once the rate gets down to 75 people per 100,000 schools can consider hybridization of school learning, said Chelan-Douglas Health Officer Dr. Malcolm Butler. Hybridization is where schools offer both online and in-person education based on student’s needs.

“The big picture concept is that some students will not learn well outside the classroom,” Butler said. “These are the students at highest risk of educational failure if classrooms are closed.”

Schools and educators should also be considered essential businesses and essential workers, according to the news release. The status would provide teachers with access to personal protective equipment, funding for reorganizing classrooms, and other resources.

When schools do reopen, districts should monitor schools closely and be ready to close their doorsand revert to remote learning again again if outbreaks in the community or schools occur, according to guidance from health officers.

In schools, an outbreak is when two or more laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 are detected among staff and or students who:

  • Have had contact with more than one person and transmission is possible
  • Do not share a household
  • Were not in close contact with one another

In the case of an outbreak, schools should send students classrooms home to quarantine for 14 days if students are learning in groups or cohorts, according to the guidance.

But schools should be closed and teaching should go remote if:

  • Two or more classrooms are dismissed due to an outbreak
  • More than 10% of the classrooms are dismissed due to an outbreak
  • Schools can no longer function with current staffing levels

If schools aren’t grouping students together, they should evaluate to determine whether transmission is occurring and close the school when:

  • There is a rapid increase in cases
  • A prolonged chain of transmission occurs in the school
  • Schools can no longer function with current staffing levels

Schools should also check students for COVID-19 symptoms and follow recommendations for quarantining when students are ill, according to the guidance.

All students, volunteers and guests in schools must wear a cloth mask when indoors. Also school districts must collect information for the local health district including:

  • Total number of staff and students
  • Number of staff and students with a COVID-like illness
  • Positive cases of COVID-19
  • Outbreaks
  • School closures and why



Grant would help with researching low-barrier homeless shelter

WENATCHEE — Plans for a regional low-barrier homeless shelter are moving forward.

Low-barrier housing programs accept homeless people without the fees and restrictions of other shelters, and also connect them with service providers and resources. The Chelan-Douglas Homeless Housing Task Force began researching options in 2018.

Chelan and Douglas counties and the cities of Wenatchee and East Wenatchee are now applying jointly for a $642,636 grant from the state Department of Commerce for the design, development and operation of a shelter.

Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz said the grant could be used to look at possible locations for a shelter, the costs of remodeling or building, and the costs of operation.

Community Development Director Glen DeVries told the Wenatchee City Council on Thursday that such a shelter would not only help people in crisis, but also allow the city to enforce its codes. In 2018, a federal court of appeals ruled homeless people cannot be punished for sleeping outside if there are no adequate alternatives.

DeVries said the grant wouldn’t cover the entire cost of a low-barrier shelter, but would help the region move forward with establishing one.

“There are a lot of different moving parts that would be necessary in order to make a successful partnership,” he told the council. “Other funding sources are definitely required.”

Based on a report from a Seattle-based consultant, the city has projected it would cost about $1.2 million annually to staff such a shelter. However, Housing Programs Coordinator Sandra Van Osten said in January that it would likely cost less than that to run a shelter in a smaller, more rural area like Chelan and Douglas counties.

Kuntz told the council Thursday that his concern is finding a location but not having the money to build or operate a shelter.

“That all needs to come from probably the one-tenth two-county-wide sales tax increase that the county commissioners haven’t, at least at this point, been willing to do,” he said.

The council could also vote on a sales tax increase within the city, Kuntz said, but he’d prefer for the counties to help finance it so the city doesn’t use up its general fund.

“I need some sort of commitment from them that basically says, ‘Yeah, we’re willing to look at or at least do an advisory vote to figure out how to pay for some of this stuff,’” he said.

The council approved entering into a new grant agreement with the state Department of Commerce for the shelter planning.

It also approved entering into a separate, amended agreement with the department to increase funding for the CARES Act Emergency Solutions Grant. Commerce is allocating additional funding through the existing grant, which helps mitigate the effects of the coronavirus on people experiencing homelessness.

The exact amount is not yet known, but the city estimates it will receive an additional $1.18 million. Based on that estimate, the money would be allocated as such:

Chelan-Douglas Community Action Council

  • $665,658 for rapid rehousing rent assistance
  • $180,000 for emergency hotel vouchers
  • $146,141 for rent assistance to prevent eviction

Severe-weather emergency shelters

  • The People’s Foundation, $92,400
  • Women’s Resource Center, $39,600

Last winter, the People’s Foundation ran a severe-weather shelter for men out of Holy Apostles Catholic Church in East Wenatchee and the WRC ran one for women out of First United Methodist Church in Wenatchee.