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Chelan County creates short-term rental task force

WENATCHEE — The Chelan County Commission voted Tuesday to create a task force to look at the short-term rental draft code.

Chelan Community Development Director Jim Brown said the task force will include:

  • Three people in support of the short-term rental industry
  • Three people in support of new regulations to manage the number of rentals and nuisances
  • One member of the Chelan County Planning Commission.

They will have three months to try to find a middle road between issues, such as allowing existing short-term rentals to remain as non-conforming uses.

The commission also wanted to extend the decision on the code, because of the amount of testimony submitted, Brown said.

“We received approximately 470 additional written comments over the holiday weekend and holidays themselves and that created a significant amount of documentation to wade through,” he said.

The commission has not decided who will participate in the task force, but Chelan County Commissioner Bob Bugert is taking the lead. Bugert said his district, which includes Leavenworth, has been the most impacted by this issue.

The commission asked for one recommendation each from the Short Term Rental Alliance of Chelan County and Residents United for Neighbors. Two groups on opposite side of the regulation debate. But the commissioners are considering members among the people who submitted comments to the county.

The commission was not able to extend the moratorium on existing or expanded short-term rentals during the meeting on Tuesday, because a public hearing needed to occur, Brown said. The commission scheduled a public hearing on the moratorium for 10:30 a.m. Jan. 12. They plan to extend the moratorium by six months.

The resolution on Jan. 12 would also create an exception for the 45 lawfully permitted short-term rentals in the Manson Urban Growth Area, Brown said. Manson created a short-term rental permit process several years ago that the county manages.

Photo: Walking the curved and narrow path

U.S. detects first case of COVID-19 variant as Biden offers gloomy vaccine outlook

WILMINGTON, Del. — The first known U.S. case of a highly infectious coronavirus variant was detected in Colorado on Tuesday, and President-elect Joe Biden said that it could take years for most Americans to be vaccinated for the virus at current distribution rates.

Biden’s prediction of a grim winter appeared aimed at lowering public expectations that the pandemic will be over soon after he takes office on Jan. 20, while also sending a message to Congress that his administration will want to significantly increase spending to expedite vaccine distribution, expand testing and provide funding to states to help reopen schools.

Biden, a Democrat, said some 2 million people have been vaccinated, well short of the 20 million that outgoing Republican President Donald Trump had promised by the end of the year. Biden defeated Trump in a November election.

“As I long feared and warned, the effort to distribute and administer the vaccine is not progressing as it should,” Biden said in Wilmington, Delaware. At the current rate, “it’s going to take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people.”

Shortly after his remarks, Colorado’s Governor Jared Polis announced on Twitter that his state had discovered a case of a highly infectious coronavirus variant B.1.1.7 first detected in the United Kingdom.

Biden’s goal of ensuring that 100 million shots are administered by the end of his 100th day in office would mean “ramping up five to six times the current pace to 1 million shots a day,” Biden said, noting that it would require Congress to approve additional funding.

“Even with that improvement, even if we boost the speed of vaccinations to 1 million shots a day, it will still take months to have the majority of the United States’ population vaccinated,” he said. He predicted that the situation may not improve until “well into March.”

Biden also said he plans to invoke the Defense Production Act, which grants the president the power to expand industrial production of key materials or products for national security or other reasons, to “accelerate the making of materials needed for the vaccine.”

Trump himself has invoked the law during the pandemic.

To reopen schools safely, Biden said Congress will need to provide funding for such things as additional transportation so students can maintain social distancing and improved ventilation in school buildings.

Congress also needs to help make COVID-19 tests more easily available and help pay for protective equipment for healthcare workers, Biden added.

Harris gets the vaccine

Leah Millis/Reuters 

U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris receives a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday at United Medical Center in Washington, D.C. 

Earlier in the day, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris received a COVID-19 vaccination live on television in a bid to boost confidence in the inoculation even while warning it will be months before it is available to all.

Harris, who is Black and Asian American, received the Moderna Inc COVID-19 vaccine from a nurse wearing a mask and a face visor at a medical center in predominantly Black southeast Washington.

The Biden team has emphasized the importance of encouraging vaccine distribution and inoculation in non-white groups especially hard hit by the coronavirus.

Biden has vowed to make a top priority of fighting the coronavirus, which has infected more than 19 million people in the United States and killed over 334,000. He received his first injected dose of the vaccine live on television last week. Two doses are required for full protection.

Trump, who had COVID-19 in October, has often played down the severity of the pandemic and overseen a response many health experts say was disorganized and cavalier and sometimes ignored the science behind disease transmission.

Biden repeated his call that people wear masks and listen to the advice of medical experts to avoid spreading infection.

Dr. Atul Gawande, a member of Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board, told CBS News the transition team still did not have all the information it needed to understand the bottlenecks hampering vaccine distribution.

He said the Trump administration may have set unrealistic expectations that everyone who wanted to get vaccinated could do so by the end of June 2021.

Separately on Tuesday, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put off a vote on Trump’s call to boost COVID-19 relief checks for Americans to $2,000, in a rare challenge to his fellow Republican. Biden has said he favors the increase from an already approved $600.

McConnell rules out $2,000 checks as Republican tensions with Trump rise

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday ruled out a vote on a bill to raise coronavirus relief checks to $2,000 from $600, likely killing the effort pushed by President Donald Trump.

McConnell said on the Senate floor that a bill passed by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, which sought to meet Trump's demands for bigger checks, "has no realistic path to quickly pass the Senate."

Trump had ramped up pressure on fellow Republicans to back the bigger COVID-19 stimulus checks for struggling Americans in a series of tweets over recent days. "$2000 ASAP!" Trump tweeted early on Wednesday.

The intraparty tensions over the effort to increase the payments from the $600 already approved by Congress were exacerbated by a second showdown over an effort in Congress to override Trump's veto of a defense policy bill.

The Republican-controlled Senate was set to take a step closer to what would be the first veto override of Trump's nearly four years as president with a procedural vote on Wednesday.

With a new Congress due to be sworn into office on Sunday following November's election, McConnell's remark suggested the legislation that passed the House on Monday would simply expire.

McConnell said the $2,000 checks were not targeted and would go to some people who do not need them.

Late on Tuesday, McConnell introduced a bill that combined the $2,000 checks with provisions scrapping certain legal protections for social media companies and calling for a study of election security, a major issue for Trump, who claims without evidence that fraud helped Democrat Joe Biden defeat him in the November election.

Since most Democrats do not support the second two measures, the maneuver looked set to kill off prospects for all three.

On Tuesday the president attacked Republican leaders as "pathetic" and accused the party of having a "death wish" if it did not back raising the stimulus payments or scrap the legal protections for social media companies.

The cracks in Trump's relationship with Republican Party leaders come three weeks before Trump hands over power to Biden on Jan. 20.

Congressional Republicans have largely stuck with Trump through four turbulent years, but the president is angry that they have not fully backed his claims of election fraud.

The House of Representatives overturned Trump's defense bill veto on Monday. Once procedural hurdles in the Senate are cleared, a final vote could come later in the week or over the weekend. 

Local music teachers becoming music video producers during the pandemic

WENATCHEE — Sure, big-time professional companies can produce a virtual choir, but can a small-town music teacher do the same thing?

According to John Newbery Elementary School music teacher Brittany Stevens, since the pandemic, a lot of administrators have been telling music teachers, why don’t you create a virtual choir?

Like it’s no big deal.

“I never felt pressured by my principal to do that. I know across the country people have been forced into learning these tech skills. It’s a huge undertaking that a lot of people don’t realize,” Stevens said. “It’s just a 2-minute video, but there were dozens of hours that went into making that happen.”

A lot of teachers have been pressured into creating these things, she said.

Stevens produced a 2-minute virtual choir video of over 70 Newbery students singing a song called “May There Be Goodwill” which made its debut on Dec. 18. it can be viewed at wwrld.us/3nYIpZ9.

Producing the video was quite the technical and musical undertaking for Stevens. She meets virtually with students for music lessons once a week. The week before, she introduced the song and had students in all grades practice on their own. The next week, their assignment was to record themselves.

Courtesy WSD 

Brittany Stevens

Music teacher, John Newbery Elementary School

“I created a segment of the song with the voices singing along with it so the kids could keep track. When they record themselves, most of the kids are wearing headphones, so they are listening to the recording so they are singing in the same key and in time so everything lines up correctly,” Stevens said.

The kids send the videos to Stevens. She received about 90 videos, some were usable, some were not. Stevens used Garage Band to import the student voices and match them to the backing track. She used a program called Canva to put the student videos into a grid.

Then, she dropped everything into iMovie and prayed for the best.

“I thought it turned out really great. I was really proud of the kids. I thought it brought a big sense of community to them. When I posted it on Facebook, it was shared with different groups. Parents were excited to see their kids,” she said.

Stevens said even though the younger kids are meeting in person, they’re not getting the sense of community.

“We’re so stressed about making sure they’re caught up with reading and math and they’re healthy and safe, all the fun stuff of school is getting left behind,” she said. “Wenatchee music teachers have been doing a really good job of bringing people back together and doing what we can to keep some sense of normalcy with everybody.”

Stevens said she’s planning to use her new music video producing skills in the future. She’s thinking of doing something around Valentine’s Day — maybe not a whole-school video with a lot of students. Last year, there was a Valentine’s Day concert with just the second and third grade, so that may be the target group for something around late winter/early spring.

Also, she is thinking of doing something for the end of the year for the fifth graders. That might be an all-school video, but it is still in the planning stages.

American Airlines restarts U.S. commercial Boeing 737 MAX flights

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Boeing’s 737 MAX resumed passenger flights in the United States for the first time on Tuesday after a 20-month safety ban was lifted last month.

American Airlines Flight 718 landed at New York’s LaGuardia Airport Miami around 1:08 p.m. after departing Miami about two-and-a-half hours earlier. A CNBC reporter said the wife of the flight captain and the first officer’s mother were both onboard the almost 1,200-mile flight.

American and planemaker Boeing have sought to reassure the public over the plane’s safety after it was cleared by U.S. regulators in November to resume flights.

A Reuters/IPSOS poll shows that more than half of passengers are wary of taking the jet when reminded of two fatal crashes that led to the grounding.

“This aircraft is ready to go,” American President Robert Isom said at a media briefing in Miami before the flight. The airline is confident in the safety of the 737 MAX, he added.

The MAX was grounded in March 2019 for 20 months after two fatal crashes in five months killed 346 people. The grounding was lifted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last month after Boeing agreed to software upgrades and new safeguards on a key flight control system linked to both fatal crashes.

American’s first flight between Miami and LaGuardia follows flight control updates, maintenance work, fresh pilot training and town hall meetings with flight crews to walk them through Boeing’s changes and address concerns.

American is the third carrier globally to resume flights following Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes and Grupo Aeromexico earlier this month. Between those two airlines, the updated 737 MAX has flown about 250 commercial flights, according to Cirium, the aviation data firm.

American Airlines currently has 31 737 MAX aircraft after taking delivery of seven more jets since the FAA lifted its safety ban, including one on Monday and plans to gradually reintroduces the plane to its fleet.

The MAX’s return comes at a time when COVID-19 has thrust the industry into its worst crisis, with airlines parking hundreds of jets as demand hovers around 30% of 2019 levels.

When the 737 MAX was grounded, U.S. airlines canceled flights because they lacked aircraft to meet demand, adding to Boeing’s financial liability.

Now airlines are deferring jet deliveries and do not expect a robust rebound until COVID-19 vaccines are widely available.

Relatives of 737 MAX crash victims oppose its return.

“I call on anyone looking to book a flight in the future to understand when they buy their ticket what type of airplane will be used so they can make an informed decision for themselves and their loved ones,” said Yalena Lopez-Lewis, whose husband Antoine Lewis died on the Ethiopian Airlines crash.