WENATCHEE — Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Department of Health will announce today what counties will stay in Phase 3 or revert back to Phase 2.
A recent change in how counties are being evaluated for COVID-19 gives Chelan and Douglas counties a better shot at staying in Phase 3 of the “Healthy Washington” reopening plan.
Until Friday, counties needed to pass two state measurements. And it was likely that the two counties would fall back to Phase 2 under those parameters, according to Luke Davies, health administrator for the Chelan-Douglas Health District.
Now, counties would have to fail both metrics in order to get sent back a phase, according to Gov. Jay Inslee’s office.
The change comes as a result of the incredible progress vaccinations have made in protecting people, the governor said. The state Department of Health and the governor’s office believe that this new approach allows them to better consider the connection between COVID cases and hospitalizations, according to a governor’s news release.
The change was a relief, said Dan Sutton, a Douglas County commissioner and chair of the Chelan-Douglas Board of Health. And Davies said this gives the counties a chance.
Inslee and the state Department of Health will evaluate COVID-19 cases in each county on April 12, using different metrics for smaller versus larger counties. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are being measured differently between counties with a population of more or less than 50,000.
COVID-19 metrics for smaller counties were also changed a couple of days after the governor’s original announcement on March 11, according to Ginny Streeter, a Department of Health spokesperson.
The change was meant to make evaluations more equitable as a couple of cases in small counties might have prevented them from advancing or caused them to fall back, Streeter said.
Any phase rollback or advancement will not take effect until next Friday. After that, the next evaluation will occur on May 3.
Falling back to Phase 2 would have a real impact. Businesses, sporting events and social gatherings would see their allowed capacity cut by half. Indoor capacity for most businesses would drop down to 25%, for example. (Find a chart of permitted activities in each phase here: wwrld.us/phases.)
A county like Douglas, with a population under 50,000, would fall out of Phase 3 if the county has:
Douglas County had 101 new COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days as of April 8, according to data from the Chelan-Douglas Health District.
COVID-19 hospitalizations at Central Washington, on the other hand, are at six as of April 9, down from 11 earlier this week, according to data from Confluence Health.
Chelan County, a larger county, will fall out of Phase 3 if there are:
Chelan County had 209.8 per 100,000 in the last 14 days as of April 8. Both counties have the weekend to see COVID-19 case numbers drop to improve their chances of remaining in Phase 3 before Monday. Current hospitalizations for the area show good signs in this direction, according to Davies.
“As our cases have come up, spiked and plateaued, our hospitalizations have stayed relatively low,” said Davies. “That bodes really well for us.”
Okanogan County, which also has fewer than 50,000 people, had 52 new COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days as of April 7.
Grant County, measured using the same metrics as Chelan, had a 184 COVID-19 rate per 100,000 as of April 8, below the maximum 200 allowed to stay in Phase 3, according to data from the Grant County Health District.
Ultimately, the decision will come down to the “most recent complete data” available on Monday that the governor’s office and the state Department of Health use, the governor said at a Thursday press conference.
The health district is awaiting clarification on what data the governor’s office and state Department of Health will be looking at on Monday. Sometimes, the data the state analyzes is a week or two behind, but Davies said he remains cautiously optimistic about the counties’ chances.
The various COVID-19 variants becoming more and more prevalent remain a concern, according to Davies. The B.1.1.7. variant, which is 50% more transmissible than the original strain, now amounts to 35% to 50% of COVID-19 cases in the state, Davies said.
While COVID-19 cases are on the start of a downward trend, vaccines have been helping limit transmission, and mask-wearing needs to improve to about 95% mask coverage, according to Davies.
How many people end up showing up to get vaccinated when vaccine eligibility opens up to everyone ages 16 and older on April 15 will also play a role in dropping the area’s COVID cases, Davies said.
“If people want to see these numbers continue to drop, come in to get vaccinated, Davies said. “That protection will help individuals from getting severe COVID if they contract it after the vaccine, and it’ll interrupt transmission for individuals who are immunosuppressed and/or who can’t get the vaccine due to allergies. It’s really important that even if you’re young, healthy and strong, that you get vaccinated to protect the people around you.”
Vaccination appointments at the Town Toyota Center mass vaccination site will open up on prepmod.doh.wa.gov at around noon on Sunday. Everyone 16 and older is encouraged to sign up for appointments on or after April 15, according to the vaccination site’s lead, Connor Lockwood.
WENATCHEE — There has been a common theme among trails across the Wenatchee Valley since last year: Growing popularity.
The surge in trail use could mean even larger crowds at popular spots, such as Saddlerock or Colchuck Lake trailheads, according to local outdoor organizations.
“I think everyone’s looking for something to do,” said Wenatchee resident Stacey Hill, who was taking her first hike of the season on Sage Hills this week.
Hill was one of a few hikers out Thursday morning, soaking in the sun while catching first glimpses of wildflowers.
A lot of people have been hiking in the foothills, she said. The parking lots have been full at Saddlerock, “I don’t remember them always being that full.”
Anne Gibbons had just finished mountain biking nearby and agreed with Hill. Saddlerock has just been packed since the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
“It’s good that people have somewhere to go,” she said. Hopefully everyone can spread out, she said.
Trails across the Wenatchee foothills area started opening April 1.
Accessible and open trails include Balsamroot, Sage Hills, Saddle Rock, Castle Rock, Horse Lake Reserve and the Jacobson area. Trail conditions and which ones are open can be checked at cdlandtrust.org.
More people than usual started using local trails around this time last year, said Hanne Beener, Chelan-Douglas Land Trust trails program manager.
People were wanting to get outside, close to home, without traveling far to do something safely, she said. That trend seems to have continued over to this year, though it is too early to tell.
The increase in popularity could be due to a number of reasons, she said. Possibly new trail users last year discovered something they really like.
Beener said she is seeing “more users than ever before, and new and different users.”
Typically this time of the year, Saddlerock is popular with people from across the Wenatchee Valley, she said. The same diverse group has been dispersed to all the other foothills trails in the past year.
More people on the trails, especially those new to hiking, often means more management issues for landowners or anyone managing recreation, she said.
New folks might be unfamiliar with recreation etiquette or stewardship — taking care of the area one is in, she said. This can lead to people walking off of the main trail, potentially hurting neighboring wildlife. More popular areas like Saddle Rock are seeing extra litter as well as people not picking up after their dogs.
Branching out of the Wenatchee foothills, trails across the Wenatchee Valley have also seen more use.
Mat Lyons, director of the Wenatchee-based TREAD Map app, is trying to solve potential overcrowding issues by helping people find “where else could you go.”
His answer? Check out the dozens of other great places that people new to town might not know about. Lyons is working on an in-app pop up window that will show people alternatives to crowded trails. The update will act as a “hey just so you know” window, he said.
A lot of garbage, resource damage and human waste, “which is gross,” has followed the trend of extreme trail use, he said.
The TREAD Map app was released last July and has seen 1,600 downloads since then. Most of the app’s users are from North Central Washington, but he also is seeing users from the west side.
His goal with TREAD — which stands for trails, recreation, education, advocacy and development — has been to teach people how to recreate responsibly while sharing a variety of local trails.
The app gives users a virtual map, listing trails, photos and reports from trails. Those interested in using the app can download it from their phone’s respective app store or by visiting tread-cw.com.
Everybody is scrambling to do the same thing, he said. Visitors to the area often only know about the popular hikes, like Colchuck Lake.
Lyons said he is hoping people will look for other places to go. That way “we don’t love one place to death,” he said.
Mountain bike traffic throughout the valley is expected to grow in and near the Wenatchee Valley as soon as more snow melts off and extra trails open.
Central Washington’s Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance president Tony Hickok said trails in the valley have probably never seen more use than they did last summer.
Maintenance will be the main focus, right out of the gate, when trails open up again, he said.
“Trails are kind of like a living thing” and change over time. The more use there is to a trail, the more damage there can be.
The biggest thing that needs to be communicated is not to hurt trails, he said. If a user can see their footprint or tire track, then it is too wet. A lot of harm can be done if people ride on trails that are not ready.
Hickok said he wants to see mountain bikers out riding. “People really just need to be cognizant of the impact they’re leaving on the trails.”
He said hopes the high level of trail use continues this summer and people will keep being active and getting out.
“That’s why they’re there and (why) this area is so amazing,” he said.
EAST WENATCHEE — Ed Sand was a choral director in the Eastmont School District for 30 years. During that time, his nickname was “Coach,” because he would make the choir come together like a team to make beautiful music.
So it was fitting when a group of his former team members came together with the idea to honor Sand by creating an endowment in his name to benefit the Eastmont choral program. The name of the endowment was fitting too, the Edward J. Sand “Spirit of the Choir” Endowment Fund.
Richard Edwards got to know Sand as the director of the Apollo Club, which Sand directed for more than 40 years. Edwards was a member of the club for 20 years and later the quartet Ed founded called the Rusty Barbed Wire Boys.
The idea of the endowment fund started last year as a conversation last year between some of the original members of the Rusty Barbed Wire Boys: Edwards, Jerry Michael and Bruce Brown.
“We keyed on the idea that a scholarship would be good but an endowment fund to help the choir would be better,” Edwards said. He added: “Then the pandemic hit and everything went out the window.”
The idea sat on the shelf until mid-February this year when he reached out to Tara Abbott, the current Eastmont choral director, about funding a scholarship or fund for the choir.
During that conversation, Abbott rattled out the phrase, spirit of the choir. At that point, Edwards thought, “That was it.”
“Tara indicated there were existing choral scholarships out there but no fund set up to benefit all the kids in the choir,” Edwards said. “That’s where we came up with we were going to do an endowment fund to benefit all the kids in the choir program.”
Ed Sand moved to East Wenatchee in 1957 and spent 30 years as a music educator in the Eastmont School District. After retiring from Eastmont in 1987, he taught music for another 12 years at St. Joseph Catholic School in Wenatchee. During his time as an educator, he was also the director of the Apollo Club men’s chorus for over 40 years.
He was the Eastmont Teacher of the Year and East Wenatchee Citizen of the Year in 1962 and 1963, inducted into the Washington Music Educators Association Hall of Fame at Central Washington University in 2000, and in 2003 received the Wenatchee region’s highest level of recognition for support of the arts, The Stanley Lifetime Achievement Award.
Sand is currently living at Highgate Senior Living facility in Wenatchee. Prior to the pandemic, he was still directing his quartet, The Rusty Barbed Wire Boys. He and his late wife Mary have four children, Brian, Cary, Penny and Mandy.
“That was the neatest idea, to create a Spirit of the Choir Award that goes to the choral program because dad was all about making sure the choir was serving the community,” said Ed Sand’s daughter, Mandy Bush.
“They would sing at rest homes and clubs throughout town, Rotary. They sang at the mall. They sang to bring joy to people. It wasn’t just about the concerts at the high school. It was going to the grade school, going to the middle schools, going to all these places, showing that spirit.”
Abbott said the endowment would really benefit the students in the program and give them more opportunities to go to extracurricular-type extension programs, festivals, competitions, choral exchanges and things like that.
“Things that our normal budget doesn’t cover and to help with that,” Abbott said.” In East Wenatchee, we don’t have a band booster or any kind of music booster. We have ASB to do fundraising, but it’s become really difficult to do any fundraising through ASB. It’s so limited. All the laws and regulations are hard to work through.”
The Edward J. Sand “Spirit of the Choir” Endowment Fund was established at the Community Foundation of North Central Washington with $5,500. Each October, there will be a disbursement of 5% of the funds.
“Now, the push is to advertise the fund and have those people inspired by Ed, and there are a lot of them out there, donate to the fund,” Edwards said.
Edwards said every time the Rusty Barbed Wire Boys play, all proceeds go to fund. Whenever the Apollo Club can perform again, there will be a benefit concert for the fund.