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Cashmere hosts 9/11 ceremony

CASHMERE — It was a bright and sunny Saturday morning at the 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony in Cashmere.

About 300 people — including veterans, police officers, firefighters and other service members — came to the annual gathering to honor and remember those who died and those who fought to save lives 20 years ago on 9/11.

“We’ve been working on this for a year,” said Gene Sharratt, a member of the 9/11 Spirit of America Memorial board of directors. “We were going to have it last year but because of COVID-19 we did not. Nothing is more important than this today. So, thank you very much on this 20th anniversary.”

Speakers included Chelan County Commissioner Bob Bugert and Mercer Island Covenant Church Rev. Greg Asimakoupoulos.

Asimakoupoulos gave a prayer during the ceremony.

“For those who lost their lives in an ongoing fight for freedom, we give you thanks,” he said. “For those families who were robbed of sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, we pray that they would find the capacity to forgive as they continue to heal from what they could not keep from happening. And those who risked their lives sifting through the rubble of broken buildings and broken hearts in search of survivors, victims, and answers, we sing their praises.”

bonnicksen / World photo/Mike Bonnicksen 

Before the ceremony begins, Michael McClure, 8, looks around the memorial with his parents Travis and Danielle, as he learns about 9/11. The twin granite towers they are standing next to have the names of each person who died in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. The 20th annual 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony was held Saturday morning at the 9/11 Spirit of America Memorial at Riverside Park in Cashmere. 

The event culminated with words from keynote speaker, David Beamer. Beamer is the father of Todd Beamer, a passenger on United Airlines Flight 93 who led the effort to take back control of the plane from hijackers.

Beamer shared Todd Beamer’s story leading up to 9/11, about how the people on Flight 93 seized the opportunity they were given, and the united country he saw following the events that took place on 9/11.

“In our heart of hearts, we knew right away when that plane crashed in a quiet meadow outside of Shanksville, with no other people killed on the ground, that the free people on the plane had done something,” Beamer said. “We knew in our heart of hearts that our little boy would have done something.”

Both Beamer and his wife, Peggy, were awarded the Spirit of America Award, given each year to individuals who were important in the creation of the Cashmere memorial or have a connection to the events of 9/11.

His speech was followed with a fly-over by the Miss Veedol.

bonnicksen / World photo/Mike Bonnicksen 

People listen to David Beamer speak during the 20th annual 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony Saturday at the 9/11 Spirit of America Memorial at Riverside Park in Cashmere.

Ken Kormo, a member of Cashmere American Legion Post 64 who served in the Army from 1969 to 1972, said at the event that Cashmere is a community that cares.

David Aguigui, a Cashmere resident in his junior year of high school, attended the event while carrying a large American flag attached to a pole on his back.

“I feel like everybody should know that people risking their lives to save others is a big deal,” Aguigui said.

Washington's COVID hospitalizations could be plateauing, but hospital leaders say it's too early to say for sure

SEATTLE — While the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Washington may be showing early signs of a plateau, infection numbers are still high and scenes inside health care facilities remain “really bad,” some state hospital leaders said Monday.

Hospital officials counted 1,673 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the state as of Monday, compared with last week’s count of 1,674, Taya Briley, executive vice president of the Washington State Hospital Association, said at a news conference.

“While these numbers are steady, they are still very sobering,” Briley said. “We’re in the midst of the worst peak of COVID cases we’ve experienced since the beginning of the pandemic.”

The stable number of hospitalizations also doesn’t yet take into consideration the effects of recent summer mass gatherings, including fairs, large concerts and school activities, she said.

The recent hospitalizations include a growing number of younger patients, with patients 60 years old or younger making up 20% to 25% of hospitalizations in this most recent surge, Briley said. In addition, hospitals are counting more and more pediatric cases.

“At any one time, the state has counted about 10 children hospitalized,” she said. “And while that’s an overall low number, if that child is your child, it is a terrible experience.”

Virus infections and the number of patients intubated continue on an upward swing.

The state was averaging about 350 new cases per day in late June and early July, Briley said. As of early September, Washington was seeing a seven-day average of more than 3,000 new infections per day, according to the state Department of Health’s coronavirus dashboard.

On Monday, Briley said there were about 260 Washington COVID-19 patients on ventilators, compared with 251 last week, meaning the number of very sick patients also continues to trend upward.

“All these hospitalizations and the misery of the patients and hospital staff caring for them could have been prevented,” she said. “More than 95% of those that are hospitalized are unvaccinated.”

There are vaccinated patients in the hospital as well, though they usually have an underlying health condition or are immunocompromised, she said.

Other hospital leaders and health experts on Monday morning said they’re starting to see hospital admissions begin to level off.

Dr. Christopher Baliga, an infectious disease physician at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, said his hospital is just below its record hospitalization numbers, with last week being the peak.

Providence hospitals in Olympia and Centralia have also come off their hospitalization peak last week “just a little bit” and are now caring for 82 patients, said Darin Goss, chief executive of Providence St. Peter Hospital and Providence Centralia Hospital.

Of those, 14 patients are fully vaccinated and 68 are not, he said.

”We continue to watch our staff struggle,” Goss added.

Although worker shortages remain one of hospitals’ main concerns, some smaller rural hospitals are also running into patient transportation issues, said Diane Blake, CEO of Cascade Medical Center in Leavenworth, a critical-access hospital with a rural health clinic.

Because Cascade is a smaller facility, it usually transports sicker patients to larger regional medical facilities, Blake said. Twice in the last week, Cascade had to transport patients by air because ground transport wasn’t available, she added.

“(Air transport) is, of course, really expensive and not what it’s meant for,” she said. “Any time we have to transport patients across the state and take an ambulance out of service, we’re taking away close care to home, as well.”

Blake said it’s important Washingtonians know “in any moment, how close we are to crisis at any individual facility.”

Briley later reiterated the sentiment, saying that while Washington hospitals are not yet technically at “crisis standards of care” — meaning hospitals aren’t yet having to deny lifesaving treatment to one patient in order to give it to another — health care workers are in “an extremely challenging situation.”

“We are not there,” she said, renewing a plea for unvaccinated residents to get shots. “We are doing all we possibly can to avoid that.”

Baliga added, “We are keeping our head above water, but barely.”

Challenge to state's capital gains tax can move forward, judge rules

WATERVILLE — A Douglas County judge ruled Friday that a legal challenge to Washington’s new tax on capital gains can move forward.

The ruling by Douglas County Superior Court Judge Brian Huber sets the stage for a debate that ultimately could be settled at the state Supreme Court: Is the new capital gains tax constitutional?

The legal challenge takes aim at Senate Bill 5096, which passed this spring through the Democratic-controlled House and Senate and was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee. It creates a 7% tax on the capital gains of sales of assets — like bonds and stocks — above $250,000. The law — a long-sought priority for Democrats who chafe at Washington’s regressive tax system — takes effect January 2022, with the first state tax returns coming due in 2023.

The law exempts a range of assets, like retirement accounts, sales of real estate, livestock, timber and some agricultural properties, and some auto dealerships. It also exempts the sales of sole proprietor businesses with gross revenues of up to $6 million.

If it takes effect in fiscal year 2023, the tax would raise about $445 million per year. That money would go into the state’s Education Legacy Trust Account, intended for child care and early learning programs.

The legal challenge is a consolidated case that started with different lawsuits against the state by several plaintiffs — including the owners of farmland and the Washington Farm Bureau — that contends the new law, among other things, imposes an income tax. In that scenario, it could violate the Washington Constitution, which states that taxes are to be applied uniformly across the same classes of property.

Democratic lawmakers have said they structured the new law as an excise tax, and that the policy is constitutionally sound. The state Attorney General’s Office, which is tasked with defending the state in court, sought to dismiss the challenges in part because there’s no certainty the plaintiffs would ever actually pay the tax themselves.

But in his order, Huber rejected that argument. He cited, among other things, an allegation by plaintiffs that the new tax has already “lowered the market value of their property and forced them to make tax planning decisions that impact their financial interests in a way that is concrete and non-speculative.”

The judge also denied a request by the Attorney General’s Office that the case be moved to Thurston County if it were to proceed.

In a statement, Solicitor General Noah Purcell said the Attorney General’s Office disagreed with Friday’s ruling, but “we have every confidence that this law will ultimately be upheld.”

“Less than one-tenth of 1% of Washingtonians will owe this tax, and it’s impossible for the plaintiffs to know if they will be part of that small group,” Purcell said in prepared remarks.

In a statement, former state Attorney General Rob McKenna, who is representing plaintiffs, praised the decision.

“This tax is illegal because it is unconstitutional,” McKenna said. “Voters have rejected proposed income taxes ten times, and the courts have rejected the Washington legislature’s past efforts to enact an income tax by labeling it an ‘excise tax.’ We are confident the courts will reach the same conclusion in this case.”

A statement by the conservative group Freedom Foundation, which is also representing plaintiffs, praised Huber’s decision to keep the case in Douglas County, rather than move it to Olympia.

Freedom Foundation CEO Aaron Withe in prepared remarks described the state’s motion to move the case an attempt to “hand them a home-court advantage by hearing the case in Olympia rather than rural Waterville.”