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'We still have work to do' | Local vaccine coverage for Hispanics improving

WENATCHEE — Vaccine coverage among Latinos in Chelan and Douglas counties is improving as more people get vaccinated, a priority for local health officials, community organizations and health providers.

The gaps in equitable vaccine coverage vary across the state county to county, in some places it is very close and in others very far apart, according to a state Department of Health report released on April 21.

Data from the Department of Health on county-level vaccinations has since been updated on their COVID-19 dashboard up to May 12.

In Chelan County, Hispanics represent 25% of the population 16 and older and 22% of first-dose vaccinations. Hispanics in Douglas County represent 28% of people 16 and older in the county and account for 30% of vaccinations.

Provided photo 

Luke Davies

Chelan-Douglas Health District administrator

Vaccination coverage in the two-county region has been going well, especially when compared to counties around us, according to Chelan-Douglas Health District Administrator Luke Davies.

Hispanics in Grant County represent a larger proportion — 38% of the population 16 and older — than in either Chelan or Douglas counties, according to the Department of Health. There, just 32% of initiated vaccinations in the county have gone to Hispanics.

“When I see different numbers across the state like we’re seeing, what that tells me is that those populations are still underserved and that resources need to go towards it,” Davies said.

As a part of their COVID-19 vaccination campaign, the health district has reduced barriers people might encounter at the Wenatchee mass vaccination site.

Walk-in appointments are available at the site, and people can call to schedule vaccination appointments through the health district or other community organizations if they are encountering technological or language barriers.

The health district also has an outreach team that has been going out into the community to educate Latinos about the vaccine and schedule appointments.

The state Department of Health attributes the gap across the state partially to the vaccine prioritization schedule that dominated the first half of the year when vaccine allocation was limited.

The first groups to get vaccinated — doctors, nurses and other frontline medical staff, for example — do not demographically match the makeup of the larger population that is now eligible for the vaccine, according to the report.

Local health officials or health administrators were not consulted as the state Department of Health designed its COVID-19 rollout, according to Davies.

“The system works as well as it was designed to work,” Davies said. “And so, for me, if we’re seeing issues, that means we’ve got to fix the structures. That’s a big part of why I’m here at Chelan-Douglas Health District — to try to support our community providers and others to do that.”

Data collected by the Washington State Immunization System, the state’s immunization registry, does report that a portion of all COVID-19 vaccinations have an unknown race and ethnicity.

Around 4% of first-dose COVID-19 vaccinations in Chelan County, 1,416 vaccinations, have an unknown race and ethnicity. In Douglas County, the number of unknown first-dose vaccinations is 456, or 3%.

Provided photo 

Dr. Bindu Nayak

Confluence Health

Unknown race and ethnicity data is a common problem in healthcare, according to Dr. Bindu Nayak, member of the Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Council at Confluence Health.

The health district is in the midst of analyzing more detailed data from the state Department of Health to develop strategies to improve vaccine outreach, Davies said.

And among people vaccinated in Chelan County with unknown ethnicity and race data, many of them were listed as Spanish-speaking in Chelan County, Davies said. So, it is likely that Hispanics represent a larger proportion of vaccinations than reported by the Department of Health, he said.

Nayak also said that in Confluence Health’s own efforts to improve data collection, it has found that “unknown” or “other race” categories were often Hispanic but had no way of proving it definitively.

Davies said he gives credit to the local providers and the various organizations in the valley that have helped Chelan and Douglas counties reach the vaccine coverage that it has.

The collaboration between organizations like CAFÉ, Parque Padrinos, Confluence Health, the health district, Columbia Valley Community Health, and others is something likely unique to the Chelan and Douglas counties, Nayak said.

“We still got work to do,” Davies said. “The biggest thing is that we need to keep making sure we have access points. There’s not like a shut-off switch where we’re like, ‘Hey we’re done, we did it.’ We don’t claim victory. We continue working with the population.”

Photo: Diving in paws first

Former Washington State Patrol sergeant stripped of right to carry a badge over allegations of having sex on duty

OLYMPIA — A former sergeant in the Washington State Patrol was stripped of his state peace officer certification on Wednesday over allegations he carried out a sexual affair with a woman while on duty, including two encounters a state hearings panel deemed nonconsensual.

The state Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC)’s decision on Wednesday in the case of Sean M. Carr, who resigned from the Patrol last July, effectively bars him from again serving as a police officer in Washington.

Carr’s case represented a test of Washington’s narrow criteria to take away an officer’s badge and gun. Since Carr’s case was heard last month, the state Legislature passed a bill to significantly broaden the circumstances for decertification. It was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee, and takes effect in July.

In its final order, the CJTC said Carr’s conduct constituted the crimes of failure of duty and official misconduct by, among other things, “intentionally choosing to pursue his own sexual gratification rather than use his on-duty time to perform his lawful responsibilities as a peace officer.”

Carr, who is the son-in-law of WSP Chief John Batiste, denied having any nonconsensual sex.

The state’s system for decertification, in place since 2003, has served as an anemic check on officer misconduct. Washington has about 11,000 certified officers at any given time, and the state has only decertified about 230 officers in nearly two decades. At least six officers have lost their licenses due to on-duty sex, including Carr. One had his case overturned on appeal.

Under the new law, the CJTC will be able to revoke an officer’s certification for a broad swath of behavior including conduct that “fails to meet the ethical and professional standards of a peace officer.”

But Carr’s case was heard under the current rules, which required the commission to find that his on-the-job behavior rose to the level of “official misconduct” and constituted a crime “committed under color of authority as a peace officer.”

Carr’s attorneys argued that the state failed to meet that high bar. In pleadings, attorneys Ted Buck and Nick Gross cited the narrowness of the existing law and said there was no “legal basis to decertify” Carr.

“The Hearings Panel appears to have adopted an interpretation of Official Misconduct and Failure of Duty that is so broad it would apply to any officer who engages in any kind of personal activity while on duty,” Gross said in an email Wednesday, after the order was released.

In their decision to decertify Carr, the five-member panel noted that Carr admitted to the majority of sexual misconduct allegations, including sending sexually explicit videos while in uniform and having sex while on duty. He also admitted to leaving his assigned patrol area in anticipation of meeting the woman for sex, the panel found. She was unnamed in official proceedings.

“While the Panel would revoke Mr. Carr’s peace officer certification based solely upon the misconduct that he has admitted to, this case is particularly disturbing due to the nonconsensual nature of two of Mr. Carr’s sexual interactions” with the woman, the decision reads. “Certified peace officers are entrusted with a position of power and responsibility in society.”

The decision was signed by the panel’s presiding member, Kitsap County Sheriff Gary Simpson. Besides Simpson, the panel included three other law enforcement officers and a criminal justice professor from Seattle University.

The charges against Carr stemmed from an off-and-on affair he had with a former civilian employee of the State Patrol that lasted from 2012 to 2017.

“This was not an isolated incident, but showed a pattern of repeated dishonesty, deceit, and untruthful activity committed in his official capacity as a certified peace officer,” the panel wrote.

Carr denied the woman’s allegations that he had coerced her to have sex or ever used physical force against her. She claimed that on one occasion he grabbed and bruised her arm while trying to persuade her to perform a sex act. The woman told investigators she was raped.

In 2019, the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office investigated the allegations and recommended Carr be charged for rape. But the woman was unwilling to testify and prosecutors decided not to pursue the case.

Carr’s case was particularly sensitive for the State Patrol because of his relationship to Batiste, the longtime chief of the Patrol. Carr is married to Batiste’s daughter, who is also a state trooper. To avoid a conflict of interest, the WSP “walled-off” the chief from the investigation.

Following the criminal investigation, the State Patrol conducted its own internal review of Carr’s conduct and found that he had violated internal policies. Before the Patrol could decide whether to fire him, Carr resigned.

Stripped of his badge and gun, but still armed with his state peace officer certification, there was nothing to prevent Carr from seeking employment with another police agency. In fact, during the CJTC hearing, a Thurston County detective said that Carr had applied to become an officer with the Fife Police Department. Ultimately, he wasn’t hired.

Carr testified during the hearing that his goal was to return to law enforcement.

But now that his certification has been revoked, Carr can no longer serve as an officer with any department in the state. He does, however, have the right to appeal the ruling to a judge. Gross, his attorney, said, “We will evaluate all options going forward.”

State law also allows officers to petition the CJTC for reinstatement after five years.

Traditional Yakama name-giving ceremony especially precious during pandemic

WHITE SWAN — Treyvin John’s special day started early, with a breakfast for family and friends. Then it was time to arrange the gifts inside the White Swan Indian Shaker Church on the Yakama Reservation.

With guidance from great-grandmother Ne’Sha Jackson, whose Indian name is Yowshta, the 8-year-old watched as his three older siblings placed household items and toys on four blue tarps placed on the plain wooden floor.

He would get many gifts on this day, April 24, when he received his Indian name in a nearly three-hour-long ceremony his family had planned for about two years.

His name — Hawlaak Kussi — is Ichiskíin for Spirit Horse. Also known as Sahaptin, Ichiskíin is the language spoken by the Yakama people in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

“A good name is better to receive than anything else,” said Stan Brown. It’s important to have that Indian name, others said, because that’s how you get into heaven and reunite with your family. The Creator will ask for that name.

Treyvin’s family wanted to hold the ceremony in the spring of 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed it. Traditional gatherings like this haven’t happened in the usual way for many months as tribal citizens have done what they can to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

COVID-19 has severely limited such important tribal gatherings and ceremonies as many families have struggled with the loss of beloved relatives, illness and the long-term effects of the coronavirus. At least 51 tribal citizens had died due to the coronavirus, among them numerous elders.

“We’re losing our culture. We’re losing our language,” Jackson said. She worked as a traditional court myuux’ (judge) for many years and speaks Ichiskíin fluently. “I’m very happy to see all the children here today.”

Attendance at the name-giving ceremony wasn’t as large as it might have been, and guests took precautions. Most of the women in the pews on one side of the church wore masks, as did most of the men on the other side. Many sitting on benches against the two long outer walls did the same.

“My heart is really glad to get this finally done,” said Jackson, who had already given Treyvin’s three older siblings their Indian names, with Treyvin’s the last she planned to give.

“A couple of years ago, my daughter came and asked if it would be OK if we brought back my older son’s name,” Jackson said. His name was Morris Steven Stahi, but relatives and friends called him Kussi — Horse or Horsey. Stahi died in 2011.

“The most important thing about him was that he loved and cherished everything he got. Use it, keep it close. He would like you to do that,” Jackson told Treyvin early in the ceremony, which began with prayers and songs. She sat next to Treyvin as he sat on the chair covered with blankets. Treyvin wore moccasins, chaps, a breech cloth and a ribbon shirt, a beaded medallion and other regalia and a scarf on his head. Kussi often wore a scarf like that.

His grandmother, Leona John, has raised Treyvin since he was 18 months old. Her Indian name is Tun’pum.

It’s very hard to lose a child, Jackson said. But it was good to see her son’s name come back and for others to share that joy.

“You that are here today, I am very thankful,” Jackson said. She encouraged everyone to stay for lunch after the ceremony.

It takes time to prepare adequately for a name-giving ceremony by gathering gifts, saving money and arranging for meals. It’s a lot of work and must be done with the right mindset. “When we’re getting this ready, we can’t have bad words,” Jackson said.

His great-grandmother called every guest to where she and Treyvin sat. Early in the exchange of gifts, Treyvin presented each of three elder women with a large wa’paas, which is a traditional cylindrical basket, and a kupen — a long root-digging tool.

Guests introduced themselves, many sharing their own traditional names, and showed what they brought for Treyvin. Each shook his hand. Many gave him cash and said a few words about him. The four cooks were introduced and also received gifts.

Jackson called some elders to speak, including Ted Strong, a cousin who is more like a brother.

“We do the best we can to support each other, especially on a day like this. It’s once in a lifetime,” Strong said. “From this day on, he will grow in dignity. He will become stronger.

“This young man’s got a long road to walk. We want to help encourage him to walk that right road.”

Strong mentioned the scourges of drugs and alcohol. “All around us there is violence. There are gangs,” Strong said. But he is proud of what Jackson does to continue traditions and was happy to attend the ceremony and join others in showing his support for Treyvin.

“On this day, Treyvin has a brand new time in life. ... Perhaps someday he’ll have that horse that is talked about in his name,” he said.

After distributing all the items around him, Treyvin watched as guests surrounded the household items and toys on the tarps, then quickly took what they could, including the tarps. Once the floor was clear, children gathered in a circle around a scattering of dollar bills, rushing in to grab what bills they could.

At the end of the ceremony, Treyvin presented another boy with his leggings, ribbon shirt, beaded medallion and other regalia. He and his family thanked everybody for coming.

He sat solemnly through most of the ceremony, saying little. That briefly changed when Treyvin received a gift from his great-grandma, who had gotten it after a raffle. Treyvin and his siblings all wanted it. They argued so much about it that she put it away with a challenge that all the kids needed to be good and she would choose who had done the most to earn it.

Treyvin had perfect attendance in school. That decided it for his great-grandma, and he held up the gift for all to see.

”I got the drone!” he shouted.

Brace for busy Memorial Day travel weekend across Washington — here's your guide to navigating it

SEATTLE — We’re still in a pandemic, but with roughly half of all Washington adults (16+) fully vaccinated against COVID-19, things are approaching some sense of ordinariness — and that includes lots of rubber tires on roads and feet standing in TSA security lines this Memorial Day weekend.

Airports and highways are expected to be brimming with people, but not quite at prepandemic levels.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport projects more than 100,000 passengers per day on Thursday and Friday before the holiday, including 40,000 outbound passengers.

That’s roughly 40% fewer passengers than Memorial Day weekend 2019 (which saw 60,000 outbound travelers, and 163,000 passengers overall, per day), but still busier than the busiest day since the coronavirus pandemic began. That was Friday, April 9, with 35,746 outbound passengers screened at security checkpoints and 89,000 travelers overall.

Roads will see a similar story.

AAA projects that around 787,000 people in Washington will travel 50 miles or further from home by car this weekend — a 54% increase from Memorial Day 2020, but still one of the lowest rates on record since AAA began recording that data in 2000.

Where’s everybody going?

We don’t know precisely, but SEA spokesperson Kate Hudson said recent popular destinations for outbound Seattle passengers have included Mexico; Hawaii; Las Vegas; and Palm Springs, California. Closer to home, the Washington Travel Alliance reports that rural destinations, especially in western Washington — near national parks, along the Pacific Coast — have soared in popularity during the pandemic.

Tiffany Turner, CEO of Adrift Hospitality, which runs six hotels along the Washington and Oregon coast, says people are continuing to flock to the seaside and that her hotels were quickly selling out for Memorial Day weekend.

Travel by train and bus is also expected to climb from last year (by 28%), but remain significantly lower than 2019 numbers. (On Tuesday, Amtrak announced it had restored full service to all trains traveling through Oregon, including the Coast Starlight, the Empire Builder and the Cascades.) Those driving onto ferries should expect longer-than-usual delays.

Using data from INRIX, a Kirkland-based transportation-analytics firm, AAA predicts that Thursday (May 27) will be the toughest day on the road, particularly for those traveling north- and southbound on I-5 and I-405.

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) projects the heaviest traffic on I-90 (over Snoqualmie pass) and Highway 2 (over Stevens Pass) on Friday heading east over the passes, then Monday heading west.

Consider following WSDOT’s central Twitter feed for up-to-date traffic information and its traffic charts and forecasts for U.S. 2 (between Skykomish and Stevens Pass), I-90 (between North Bend and Cle Elum), and I-5 (between Lacey and Tacoma).

Drivers should also prepare themselves to pay more than last year for gas. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, prices are around $1 per gallon higher than this time last year, but roughly on par with what gas cost in May 2019.