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Changes to state vaccine plan makes everyone 65 and older eligible now

OLYMPIA — Acknowledging lagging coronavirus vaccine distribution, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a public-private partnership Monday he said would speed up the process by creating new vaccination sites, mobilizing thousands of workers and making everyone 65 and over immediately eligible.

“This is designed to bring to bear all of our resources in the state of Washington to get the job done,” Inslee said during a Monday news conference. “This is a massive effort.”

With help from the National Guard, the state is setting up four new vaccination sites: the Town Toyota Center in Wenatchee, the Spokane Arena, the Benton County Fairgrounds in Kennewick and the Clark County Fairgrounds in Ridgefield. Vaccines also will be administered at pharmacies and local clinics, as well as at existing sites in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties.

The state is ready to begin the next phase of vaccination, known as 1B, and it will be more flexible by including those 65 and older in the first tier. Previously, that tier was to include people 70 and older, as well as those 50 and older in multigenerational households (including people caring for a grandchild but not a partner, friend or child). But the federal government has called for states to lower the eligibility age to 65 right away, and some have already done so. About 80% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths are among those 65 and older, Inslee noted.

State officials say people can also find out where vaccinations are happening in their area on the DOH website and call those providers.

Washington’s vaccination rollout, as around the country, has been slow and confusing, with a big gap between the number of vaccines distributed to vaccination sites and the number reported administered.

And even as Inslee, other state officials and members of the new partnership announced what they said would bring dramatic progress, glitches were apparent. A new online Phase Finder launched Monday by the state to let people know when and where they can be vaccinated was not working.

“I’m trying everything I can,” said Robert Lux, an 81-year-old Seattleite who went to the site after trying for weeks to figure out how to get vaccinated. “Everything seems to lead to a dead end.”

A state Department of Health (DOH) spokesperson said thousands of people tried to access the site within hours of it going up, and the department was working on expanding its bandwidth. Still, said DOH’s Franji Mayes, who urged people to try again shortly, “we’re heartened by the sheer number of people in Washington who have logged on,” which she said indicates “overwhelming interest” in vaccination.

Washingtonians will have to steel themselves in the face of other frustrations, and be patient, said Inslee. The partnership he is creating, the Washington State Vaccine Command and Coordination Center, has a goal of administering 45,000 vaccinations a day. That’s the current number.

Yet, that will require a bigger allotment that the state is currently getting from the federal government, which is 100,000 doses a week. Inslee said he is counting on the feds increasing their allotment, but he had no concrete details. With the new rules, more than 1.5 million people are now eligible to be vaccinated.

“We want people to recognize this is going to take time,” the governor said.

Inslee said the state is shifting its strategy to create the infrastructure for mass vaccination without waiting for the volume of doses to match.

The governor was joined at the news conference by Microsoft President Brad Smith, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson and representatives of SeaMar Community Health Centers, SEIU Healthcare 1199 NW and Kaiser Permanente of Washington — all members of the new partnership.

Most were not specific about what they would be doing. But Smith said Microsoft is providing technical help, including with DOH’s online data dashboards, bringing in volunteers and paid staffers to help with all sorts of logistics, and planning for a vaccination site on its campus that would be open to the community.

Inslee said the state will send volunteers to help vaccinate at sites where dosages have been “underutilized,” though Michele Roberts, acting DOH assistant secretary of prevention and community health, said there has been “minimal wastage.”

The state has not given clear answers about why it has been slow to use the vaccines it has, although it has said the discrepancy between the amount received and given may not be as large as it appears because of delays in reporting and compiling data. As of Jan. 16, the state has received 696,000 doses and has put almost 295,000 into people’s arms, according to Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah.

Inslee said he will now require vaccination sites to administer doses within a week of getting them, to report that data to the state within 24 hours and, beginning Tuesday, to provide daily reports on doses administered and plans for using any that remain.

“We need them to hustle up,” Inslee said.

The 1B phase has four tiers. So they won’t have to wait as long, those in the second through fourth tiers — including residents and workers in congregate facilities and those 16 years or older with underlying health conditions — will now be able to get vaccinated once half of those in the first tier are vaccinated.

Inslee, who is 69, said he and his wife, Trudi, plan to be vaccinated in a few days.

Wenatchee WinCo store to open Feb. 1

WENATCHEE — Time to sharpen those grocery-bagging skills.

WinCo Foods will open at 9 a.m. Feb. 1 in the 84,000-square-foot former Shopko building at 1340 N. Wenatchee Ave., at the north end of the Valley North Shopping Center.

The new store brings with it jobs for 150 to 180 full- and part-time employees, along with customer access to what the company calls “Low Prices — Every Aisle, Every Department, Every Day.” Operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the store features a full produce section along with deli, bakery, meat and bulk foods departments, according to a news release from the employee-owned Boise-based company.

“Wenatchee and the surrounding area have asked for a WinCo Foods for a long time and we can’t wait to start serving the good people who live there,” company spokesperson Noah Fleisher said.

The store will comply with COVID-19 precautions, including social distancing, mask-wearing and hygiene protocols, Fleisher said.

As at WinCo’s 129 other locations, customers in Wenatchee will have to bag their groceries, “though we certainly help folks who may need help,” Fleisher said.

It’s part of the company’s cost-saving strategy. The store also does not accept credit cards, but does take cash, checks, debit, WIC and EBT cards.

“We do not accept credit cards, because that is an expense we would have to pass on to our customers in some way. We do not want to do that,” Fleisher said.

The transformation project

Wenatchee WinCo’s construction and remodel project, estimated on city building permits to cost about $6 million in labor and materials, officially got started about three months after Shopko closed here after filing for bankruptcy.

WinCo, which is leasing the Wenatchee property from Kellogg Shopco Properties, has adapted several former Shopko stores for its own use, including locations in Eugene and Bend, Oregon, and Missoula, Montana.

Store representatives met Wenatchee city officials for a pre-application meeting in August 2019. The building permit application was submitted in November.

The preliminary review determined the new store has plenty of parking, with 400 spaces on the total 7-acre parcel. Traffic and access, though, required a closer look, with concerns focused on Maple Street, which is also the access point to the busy U.S. post office, and the already congested intersection at Maple Street and North Wenatchee Avenue.

As part of the permitting process, WinCo dedicated right of way on the northeast corner of the property for future widening of Maple Street’s eastbound right-turn lane and made traffic signal upgrades and modifications.

“Basically, they added a green turn arrow for a protected eastbound left turn off Maple so people don’t have to worry about the cars across the street,” City Engineer Gary Owen said of the signal modifications. The light timing also was adjusted to accommodate traffic models that show twice as many trips are expected for WinCo compared to what had been made to ShopKo when it was open.

“WinCo does generate more traffic than Shopko. They did what they needed to do to our satisfaction to keep things moving there,” he said. “People will notice more turning traffic than there was before. There’s no getting around that. But we got some things done that should keep it from backing up to the entrance of the post office. That is the key. And we want to keep traffic flowing on the avenue, with not so much time on side streets getting on and off.”

One of the challenges of conducting a traffic study in 2020 was getting comparable traffic counts.

“Volumes are definitely down because of the pandemic,” Owen said. “We are seeing that. There’s not near the congestion and problems we had prior to the pandemic. But they will come back,” he said.

The intersection improvements, which were completed in December, are based on the return-to-normal traffic flows, he said.

“This will keep (the intersection) going for a while,” he said. “And the additional right of way will make it easier to go after grants to help pay for widening the turn lane, which will take more pressure off the intersection.”

The company also reworked the property’s Maple Street entrances, eliminating the right-turn-only exit from the parking lot onto Maple, while leaving the two entrances (toward Princeton) in place, one accessing the back of the store that will be used for truck deliveries and the other near the front of the store to access the parking lot. The right-in, right-out entrance off North Wenatchee Avenue remains, and the property also can be accessed from the other part of the Valley North Shopping Center, near RiteAid and Red Robin.

The traffic signal upgrades complement future traffic improvements for North Wenatchee Avenue that are currently in planning and being completed as funding becomes available, Owen said.

“The new signal controller — the electronic brain — can handle future upgrades planned to all the signals up and down the avenue,” he said.

The city plans to install a signal at the McKittrick intersection with Wenatchee Avenue this summer and the state Department of Transportation is working on an $18 million project to improve the Maiden Lane/Duncan Road area. That project is in the early stages with right-of-way work and is expected to be completed in 2024, he said.

Sauer's Mountain loses its namesake

PESHASTIN When people hike Sauer’s Mountain, Leonard Sauer won’t be there to greet them anymore.

Sauer died Jan. 1 at the age of 90. Sauer was well known for building the popular hiking trail, Sauer’s Mountain, near Peshastin and up Anderson Canyon Road.

Sauer’s Mountain is a beautiful early spring hike that is clear of snow before some of the higher elevation trails. The trail is a mosaic of gorgeous wildflowers in April and May including balsamroot, lupine and many more.

The entrance to the trail was also dotted with totem poles and other artwork made by Sauer, said Welcome Sauer, Leonard’s son. He also planted native trees and shrubs.

Leonard Sauer could often be seen sitting at the parking lot to his trail with his dog Blue, a blue heeler, greeting hikers. Blue is still alive and living with another of Leonard’s son, Joe Sauer. Leonard Sauer would sometimes grumble that he was doing parking enforcement, but people could tell he loved to chat.

His family knew there were dangers to having Leonard Sauer out there talking to people during the COVID-19 pandemic, but he wanted to have his independence for as long as possible, said Welcome Sauer. They called it, “trail therapy,” he said.

“As his mind started to fade on him, we found that what were his worst days were when he was penned up in his house being lonely,” Welcome said. “His absolute best days were the days when he would be sitting out at the trailhead talking with people.”

The family is still getting phone calls from people who remembered him, Welcome said Monday.

Hikers would leave offerings of wine and other treats for Leonard Sauer when going for a hike. And he would show them his pine cone collection and explain the difference between a ponderosa pine cone and a lodgepole pine cone.

One time when an off-duty reporter was hiking Sauer’s Mountain, a neighbor stopped by to chat with Sauer and teased him about naming a mountain after himself.

“Should I just start naming random hills after me?” his neighbor asked.

Sauer grinned and traded good-natured jabs back at his neighbor.

In a 2007 Wenatchee World article, Leonard Sauer said he built the trail because he believed people should have access to the woods. He wasn’t a fan of “no trespassing” signs.

The trail extends onto U.S. Forest Service land, and he said in the 2007 article that Forest Service personnel chose not to fine him. They just told him not to do it again and that the agency doesn’t technically recognize the trail.

Leonard Sauer built the trail over two summers during his retirement, using hand tools, according to the family’s obituary that published in The Wenatchee World. He believed in the principles of work, outdoor adventure and climbing onward.

Leonard had climbed every mountain in Leavenworth, planted the first fish in some of the Alpine Lakes and his hunting traps can still be found in woods, according to the obituary. A lake by French Creek, which is at the end of Icicle Road, bears his name. The view of the lake was inscribed on his tombstone.

Sauer in his life set state hunting records, worked as a teacher and football coach, ran cross country for Washington State College and much more, according to the obituary.

He had eight children, 19 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

Leonard Sauer made it clear to his family and in his will that he wanted the hiking trail to be maintained, Welcome Sauer said.

Steve Sauer, another of Leonard’s sons, will maintain the property and plans to move there. The trail will remain on the property at least during Steve Sauer’s lifetime, Joe Sauer said.

Washington's inauguration is normally a ball — now it's a 'ghost town with soldiers'

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Central Washington, D.C., is an armed fortress, fenced off with razor wire and surrounded by 25,000 National Guard troops ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday, a stark contrast to previous inaugurations, when the United States capital erupted in days of celebration.

The COVID-19 pandemic had already canceled the inaugural balls. Now the National Mall is closed to the public due to threats of violence from groups who attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Almost none of the public will witness firsthand the transition of power, souring the mood of Washingtonians.

“It’s like a ghost town but with soldiers,” said Dana O’Connor, who walked with her husband past concrete barriers near the White House on Sunday. “It’s eerie. It feels super unnatural.”

Previous inaugurations sometimes drew over a million spectators to the National Mall, to watch the ceremony from giant television screens and the new president parading on foot from the Capitol to the White House. Balls and parties in hotel ballrooms and convention halls across the city feted guests with champagne and music from A-list stars.

Presidential inaugurations are normally high-security events, with metal detectors at key entry points, restricted ID-only zones and National Guard supplementing local and federal law enforcement. But the level of precautions this year is unprecedented.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said on Sunday that law enforcement officials had no choice but to ramp up security after the deadly Capitol attack, where “so-called patriots would attempt to overthrow their government and kill police officers.”

“We don’t want to see fences. We definitely don’t want to see armed troops on our streets. But we do have to take a different posture,” Bowser said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The city will see little of the $107 million increase in tax revenue that an inauguration week normally brings, the Downtown DC Business Improvement District estimates.

For a nation that has prided itself as a beacon for democracy around the world, the peaceful transition of power looks anything but, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

“The world will see Biden sworn in, in the middle of a military camp that’s indistinguishable from the Green Zone,” Sabato said, referring to the fortress-like area of central Baghdad set up after the Iraq War.

Sabato has attended every inauguration since Richard Nixon’s second one in 1973, and Ronald Reagan’s 1985 swearing-in that was held indoors because of the bitter cold. But he won’t attend this one.

The Secret Service has incorporated the term “Green Zone” into its inauguration security maps, and District of Columbia residents have started using the moniker for the vast restricted area running from two blocks east of the Capitol to the Potomac River west of the Lincoln Memorial.

The district, one of the most Democratic jurisdictions in the United States, voted 92% for Biden, making the current situation even more painful for many residents.

Amy Littleton, a 30-year-old political consultant who lives about 10 blocks north of the White House, said “it just feels really unfair” to be excluded from Biden’s inauguration.

“How dare these people try to steal our joy. We never did this — as much as we disagreed with the last (presidential) election, no one ever threatened people’s security and safety.”