BRIDGEPORT — In the middle of a quiet city park, a group of people set up green and red tents. Residents of the town passed the tents and eyed them with wary expressions.
The tents were meant to give people a sense of privacy during the voluntary testing for COVID-19, said Rachel Noll, Incident Command Team spokesperson. The Chelan-Douglas Health District asked for the incident command team, because they needed the assistance, Noll said.
It was all a part of an effort to test the entire town of Bridgeport, population about 2,500, for the virus, said Charlotte Headley, Incident Management Team commander. People could refuse to get tested, but the Incident Management Team along with the Chelan-Douglas Health District provided free tests Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at Firemen Park. The organizers, along with volunteers, also went door-to-door in Bridgeport offering testing. The testing was all self-administered.
The reason for the mass testing is because earlier testing efforts — that included 32 people — indicated an infection rate of about 30% in the community, Noll said.
“Out of care and concern for the community, an effort is being made to ensure that any community member who wishes to be tested for COVID-19 will have the opportunity to do so,” Noll said.
Chelan-Douglas Health District staff are looking at providing this type of testing for other communities with similar infection rates in the future, she said.
The testing is appreciated, because it may give people an opportunity to get back to work, said Carlos E. Herniquez. Herniquez is the owner of Heavenly Coffee and the pastor of the Wellspring of Life Church. The biggest impact to people in Bridgeport has been financial as people with symptoms will decide to stay home, unsure of whether they are sick.
“Many people are scared to take the test and many people haven’t had the finances to pay for (a test),” Herniquez said. “They don’t have insurance and so they decide to just stay home.”
It’s also impacted him financially as he purchased the coffee shop he is running only five months ago at the beginning of the pandemic, he said.
He is recommending that people get tested in his community, whether they feel sick or not, Henriquez said. He’ll also be getting tested.
“Because I don’t want to be like, ‘No I’m fine,’ and things like,” he said. “Some people, they don’t feel the symptoms.”
Devin Worsham was one of the Bridgeport residents who helped the health district and incident command team provide the testing. Worsham lives mostly in Eugene, Oregon, but grew up in the area and has been back to help her dad.
Her father manages a farm and an orchard, but fractured his femur three months ago, Worsham said. He wasn’t able to get surgery, because of the COVID-19 restrictions hospitals instituted.
“They wouldn’t do surgery because of that, not until it moved into like phase three,” she said. “And then here we are three months later and he had a heart attack in between that so he’s lucky to be alive.”
Her father’s medical challenges on top of a disappointing cherry crop this year convinced the family it was time to sell the farm, Worsham said.
She decided that since she’s in Bridgeport helping her father, she might as well take the opportunity to volunteer as well, she said.
“Even though I’m helping my dad there was still something missing here and I wasn’t feeling effective,” Worsham said. “So I thought (volunteering) at least I’d get out, learn something, meet people and also you learn something from people.”
At the end of the day, the purpose of this testing is to show people of the Bridgeport community that people are concerned about their well-being and want to help, Commander Heady said.
“There’s been an immense effort and an immense level of care and concern for the Chelan and Douglas counties’ residents,” Headley said. “And we want to put something in place that would protect and help resolve some of the positive cases.”
WENATCHEE — How do you build relationships with students who are learning from home, who are attending class remotely in a group video chat?
That’s the question seven Wenatchee Valley teachers said is chief among their concerns entering the 2020-2021 school year. The teachers spoke to The Wenatchee World on Monday and Tuesday.
“A lot of what we do is we build relationships with kids and we use those relationships to leverage learning. We get to know a kid and what works for them,” said Tina Holm, a science and leadership teacher at Eastmont Junior High School. “And I know that that’s going to be more challenging over the virtual classroom.”
Classes started Wednesday in the Eastmont and Wenatchee school districts. The Wenatchee district is using Zoom chats and Canvas, a learning management platform, while the Eastmont district is teaching with Google Classroom.
“It’s easy to lean over a kid’s shoulder and say, ‘Hey, let’s get back to work,’” Holm said. “It’s harder to do that when they’re not there. That little tap on the shoulder is harder to do over a computer.”
Rather than attempt to teach a class of 20-plus at once, John Brossoit, another science teacher at Eastmont Junior High School, wants to split his classes into smaller groups to allow for more direct interaction with individual students.
“Kids tend to — when they’re talking to the whole class, especially online when they see their faces, when they hear their voice back — it tends to really intimidate a lot of them,” Brossoit said. “So by breaking into smaller groups I’m really able to get to know them … in a less intimidating place and really get to know them.”
He estimates that he’ll be meeting 75% of his students for the first time through a screen.
“And that presents a challenge,” Brossoit said. “So if I don’t have relationships, I don’t have learning going on.”
Teachers and students had a sample of remote learning in the spring when large gatherings were barred due to COVID-19 concerns. However, teachers say fall classes won’t have much resemblance to the first go-round.
“We did the best we could with what we had,” said Erica Wilson, a science teacher at Pioneer Middle School in Wenatchee. “I feel like this approach that we started with at the start of the school year, I feel a lot more prepared. I feel like I can hold those kids to the higher standard and make sure they’re going to get stuff done and they’re going to be able to do it.”
Eastmont students were supplied with Google Chromebooks and the Wenatchee School District is working to get every student a Chromebook or iPad. In many cases, lessons will be recorded and available for students and parents to re-watch later.
Tracy Krous, a second-grade teacher at Lee Elementary School in Eastmont, has some worries about video lessons.
“I am nervous about the technology not working, because that’s just an inherent fact with technology that one minute it could be fine and next it won’t be,” Krous said.
She added, “I think the biggest thing is I hope kids can try to stay engaged, which in the classroom I can walk around, I can touch a shoulder and say, ‘Remember, we’re working on something.’”
Karen Kneadler with Sterling Intermediate School in Eastmont is entering her 38th year of teaching.
“This is probably as challenging for me as it was my first couple years of teaching,” Kneadler said. “I’m worried about whether the technology is going to work, I’m worried about whether all the kids are going to be able to get on, I’m worried about being able to hold their attention and keep them engaged when I’m not physically in the space with them.”
And while technical hiccups are expected and a worry for some, teachers say they’ll hold students to high academic standards.
“We’re hitting the ground running,” said Allisen Ellis, a fourth-grade teacher at Cascade Elementary School in Wenatchee “We’re not watering anything down, we are following our state standards and we are going to be pushing them.”
Said middle school teacher Wilson, “I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot of those ‘well that didn’t work’ (moments).”
She added that trial and error is part of teaching. “This is teaching. The classroom, the students change things, the curriculum changes things, sometimes the administration changes things, you just have to roll with it and that’s part of being a good teacher, being able to look at a situation and figure out how to make it work for people.”
Griffyn Paine, a kindergarten teacher at Cascade, said her lessons will combine live video and at-home work. She’s sending students home with two weeks of work at a time. Not knowing how effective remote learning will be, she said it’s a difficult task.
“So there’s definitely a lot more prep work into it,” Paine said. “And then know that we’re not going to be able to see their faces in person that just makes it a little sadder, but we are excited for the new challenge, for sure.”
Eastmont Junior High School’s Brossoit said the unusual circumstances have prompted teachers to work together more than ever.
“All of this has really facilitated an opportunity for us as teachers and staff to collaborate and lean on one another — really at an unprecedented level,” Brossoit said.
He serves on a science and a health team at the junior high and they’ve grown into a tight-knit group.
“We are closer now than we’ve ever been,” Brossoit said. “These aren’t just people I work with, they’re friends and I think a lot of that came about through this process and I don’t know that it would’ve happened any other way.”
WENATCHEE — Wenatchee Valley residents are playing a role in the global development of a potential vaccine for the coronavirus.
Confluence Health is one of more than 100 organizations participating in a Phase 3 trial for a vaccine jointly developed by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech.
This is one of four COVID-19 research projects that Confluence Health has participated in since the pandemic began, said Dr. Steven Kaster, medical director of clinical research. Among the others is the use of a newly approved medication to treat hospitalized patients, which was the organization’s first-ever in-patient study.
The largest so far is the vaccine trial. Confluence’s goal is to enroll at least 150 people — or even up to 200. It started enrolling local participants on Aug. 14 and had 74 people committed as of Wednesday.
In total, the worldwide study will include up to 30,000 participants in the U.S. and countries including Argentina, Brazil and Germany, according to a July news release from Pfizer.
The study is placebo-controlled, meaning half of the participants will receive the trial vaccine and half will be administered a placebo. It’s also randomized and double-blind, so neither the participants or direct researchers know who receives which injection.
But this isn’t a “live” vaccine that would cause participants to become sick with COVID-19, Kaster said.
Instead this vaccine candidate delivers a genetically modified version of messenger RNA, or mRNA, into cells. The body then develops antibodies and immune cells called T cells that would fight off the actual virus, according to The New York Times.
“So the mRNA what it does is it translates into the development of a protein that very much resembles the spike protein of the virus,” Kaster said. “That in turn will elicit the immune response and the antibodies are directed to the spike proteins.”
A Phase 3 study is used to test whether the vaccine is successful in preventing a significant number of participants from being infected by the actual virus. It also helps researchers identify potential side effects.
To qualify, people can’t have been diagnosed with COVID-19 before. They also must be between the ages of 18 and 85, Kaster said.
“There have not been as many people on the younger end of the spectrum that have been as interested compared to the middle or upper,” he said. “And we’d like to enroll with an ethnic diversity that hopefully mirrors the population, so that would be desirable also.”
Anyone with a compromised immune system or who takes medication that suppresses immune response would be disqualified.
“They have to be in relatively good health. Chronic problems are totally acceptable, for instance diabetes or asthma or cardiac disease, as long as those chronic conditions are well controlled and they’re stable,” he said.
Those who meet the criteria are brought in for an initial visit to have a baseline blood sample drawn, Kaster said. Then the first of two doses of the trial vaccine or placebo will be administered, followed by the second dose three weeks later.
“Then, there are several follow-up visits after that, at one month, six months, 12 months, 24 months after the second vaccine,” he said. “Those are mainly to get updates on their overall health and also to draw antibody levels as well to look for their vaccine response.”
While the study will carry on for two years, Pfizer hopes to seek regulatory review as early as October, The New York Times reported. The United States in July entered into a nearly $2 billion contract with Pfizer to produce 100 million doses of the vaccine by December if it’s proven safe and effective.
The U.S. has invested in several candidates, part of an effort to significantly speed up the development timeline for COVID-19 vaccines.
There are currently 23 vaccines in Phase 1 trials, 14 in Phase 2, eight in Phase 3 and two approved for limited use — both of which are outside of the U.S., according to The New York Times.
But it’s unknown when a vaccine will be approved and available for general public use, Kaster said.
“Because things are moving so quickly I would really have a hard time predicting when there will be enough data, both safety-wise and effectiveness-wise, to project when a vaccine will become available,” he said.
But the data from the earlier phases of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine looks promising, Kaster said.
“From an effectiveness standpoint from the earlier phase study, there was a good immune response — both levels of antibodies that were directed against the COVID-19 virus and a white cell response as well,” he said. “That data is what prompted the FDA to authorize the phase two and phase three study, the one which we’re participating in.”