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Wenatchee’s private schools | Navigating the pandemic

WENATCHEE — The private schools in Wenatchee are right where the public schools want to be — teaching students in-person full time.

St. Joseph Catholic School moved to full-time instruction two weeks ago, while Cascade Christian Academy has been in full-time instruction since mid-October. St. Paul’s Lutheran School has been full-time since the beginning of the school year.

The schools, each with an enrollment of just over 100, have used the same strategies to move forward more swiftly than public schools.

St. Joseph Catholic School, 600 St. Joseph Place in Wenatchee, is a kindergarten to fifth-grade school with an enrollment of 120 students. According to Principal Deacon Robert Turner, 30 students dropped out since last March at the start of the pandemic.

When the pandemic started last spring, the school moved to remote instruction. This fall, the school year started remotely, but switched to hybrid learning on Oct. 1, with students split between the morning and afternoon.

The school remained on the hybrid schedule until two weeks ago when they got word they could go to full time.

“During COVID, we were a little bit frustrated, our Catholic schools were allowed to open in Ephrata, Yakima and Tri-Cities and only Chelan-Douglas was not permitting those things, talking about opening full time,” Turner said. “At that point, our pastor actually had our school director write a letter of appeal” to the Chelan-Douglas Health District.

They presented the case as to why they should be able to open full time, Turner said.

Although students are back, Turner said all the health and safety protocols remain. Students eat in their classrooms and stay in their cohort groups. Now it is double the number of cars in the morning, but each must do the temperature check.

It’s been great for morale to have the students back full-time. He said the excitement of the kids coming back is like the first day of school.

“They were so excited. In our school, fifth grade is the end of the line, so they have only seen half their group,” Turner said. “Now they are all together. It’s very joyful. We are a blessed group and we know it. We’re just celebrating being back together.”

The St. Paul’s Lutheran School and Childcare Center, 10 N. Buchanan Ave., in Wenatchee, is a preschool to fifth-grade school, with an enrollment of 104. Administrator Tara Breidert said some students left at the start of the pandemic but others enrolled.

St. Paul’s has been open for full-time school since the beginning of the school year, mainly because it had the extra space allowing 6 feet of social distancing space.

“We’ve been open as usual. We had to wait for a couple of our classes because we had to limit size in order to have the right spacing in the classroom, but we were able to still serve our returning students. We then had a few more enroll,” Breidert said.

Breidert said they have adopted everything in the health and safety plan, including handwashing, social distancing, masks. Students get their temperature checked every day along with daily attestation from the parent and students.

She said in the fall they worked more outside, but could not do that in winter. After spring break, Breidert said they plan to go back outside.

Moving forward, Breidert said they hope to open up more activities for students.

“We usually have P.E. once a week at the YMCA. We haven’t done that. We haven’t gone on our usual field trips or had a lot of our actives with parents involved. We would hope that stuff could start happening more,” she said.

Cascade Christian Academy, 600 N. Western Ave. in Wenatchee, is a kindergarten to 12th-grade school with an enrollment of 145 students. According to Principal Stephanie Gates, enrollment dipped at the start of the pandemic, but bounced back within a few weeks.

Gates said the school has been successful managing all the challenges of the pandemic.

“We’ve been able to continue to offer a very quality education and experience from the very beginning clear back from March,” Gates said. “Our students were still meeting standards. We didn’t compromise anything with our curriculum and just kept on moving through. We didn’t want to just survive things, we wanted to continue to thrive and have an education that is excellent.”

At the start of the pandemic last spring, Gates said students were issued Chromebooks as all students were remote at that time. She said they were able to run a student care camp, not with teachers overseeing but with volunteers and assistants for kindergarten through seventh-graders whose parents were working.

seabrook / World photo/Don Seabrook 

Penny Nebel eats lunch at her desk at St. Joseph Catholic School last Thursday. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, students remain in their classrooms for lunch instead of eating in the school cafeteria.

“We opened it up to those that needed it first. Then, we opened it up to K-7 families who would like to have their students on campus,” Gates said.

Starting about mid-October, Gates said they started bringing all students back to class for full-time instruction.

The decision to bring all the students full-time came after conversations with Dr. Malcolm Butler, health officer for the Chelan-Douglas Health District, who Gates meets with on a weekly basis.

“All year long, we’ve been able to meet all mitigation strategies from screening, hand washing, social distancing, masks, cleaning, disinfecting, and ventilation,” Gates said. “When I shared with Dr. Butler we were able to do all these things and keep every single strategy strong, he gave us the go-ahead to move forward.”

Gates said they’ve had no transmission of COVID on campus. She said they clean and disinfect the whole school every day after school.

Enrollment for next year is already up by 30 students, Gates said.

“We’re just continuing to have those conversations with Dr. Butler to make sure we’re continuing to follow the protocols and still increase our enrollment to meet the needs of our community for those that want a private school education,” she said.

Analysis: Can Joe Biden recreate the U.S. economy he grew up with?

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Joe Biden will almost certainly be the last U.S. president born as a member of the “silent generation” demographic group who were children during World War Two, came of age in an economic boom that built middle class wealth, and cemented the role of the United States as the world’s leading industrial power.

Over the latter half of his life, Biden, 78, saw the share of national wealth going to that middle class fall and the gains from U.S. growth concentrate in a handful of regions. Now, with a roughly $2 trillion investment package unveiled on Wednesday, Biden wants to reverse that half century trend and steer capital to neglected people and parts of the country.

Democrat Biden’s jobs and infrastructure plan and the corporate tax increase to help pay for it, contrasts with the deference to private markets begun by Republicans with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, and nursed through rounds of tax cuts and deregulation, by both parties.

Whether it was Bill Clinton’s moves to reduce social welfare and deregulate the financial sector, or Barack Obama’s hesitance to “go big” on spending in the last recession, there has been a reluctance by both parties to intervene too deeply for decades.

Rural and Rust Belt America faded and there was little progress on bridging the wealth gaps between Black and white.

Biden’s plan harkens to the Democratic leaders of his young adult years in the 1960s — President John Kennedy’s aspirational focus on public ventures such as the moon landing, or Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society push to strengthen the social safety net. It also echoes President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1956 act for the government to mostly pay for building Interstate Highways.

“I am struck by the scale, the structure,” MIT economics professor Simon Johnson said of Biden’s plan. “They seem to have taken on board the idea that you can boost productivity, boost growth, and spread it around the country,” with the right public investments.

Epic battle looms

The battle over the legislation in the U.S. Congress is expected to be epic.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, suggested on Wednesday that any bill Democrats propose may be a “Trojan horse for a massive tax increase.” Republicans have said they won’t support Democratic efforts to inject goals like stopping climate change or equality into a spending bill.

The proposal follows the more than $5 billion committed over the last year to fighting the coronavirus, much of it used for direct payments to families and the unemployed.

The scars from the pandemic may run deep, and the proposed pipeline of federal dollars into communities, technology research, and job generating building projects are a way to keep the healing underway, according to the administration.

Many ideas in the plan have been percolating in universities and other institutions for years.

Johnson, for example, argued in a 2019 book that private capital will never fully substitute for government investment in things like new utility networks or complicated basic research.

The Biden approach is arguably distinct in the breadth of what it wants to confront in one fell swoop — from deficiencies in child care services to electric vehicle charging stations — and in its diagnosis of what’s needed.

The demographic and economic decline of small towns and many mid-sized cities has been underway for decades under Democratic and Republican presidents even as the rhetoric of both promised to reverse it.

The share of U.S. GDP paid to wages and salaries has declined as well, which many economists believe contributes to rising inequality.

Biden wants to put the public purse behind that promise with both infrastructure programs and funding for research hubs to try to level the playing field between middle America and the San Franciscos and Bostons of the world.

Decades ago, the United States used to spend 2% of its GDP on research and development, Biden noted in a speech on Wednesday. That figure is now less than 1%, even as other countries have increased investment.

“We’ve fallen back,” he said. “The rest of the world is closing in and closing in fast. We can’t less this continue.”

The plan “represents a major effort to tackle the country’s widening geographic inequalities ... It shows an understanding of how infrastructure can create access and opportunity — or wall it off,” said Kenan Fikri, research director of the bipartisan Economic Innovation Group.

The gap in wealth between Blacks and whites has shown little progress over the past 30 years, regardless that 16 of them were with Democrats in the White House.

The Biden proposal aims investment at Black communities, including those affected by port pollution or other environmental blight, and industries with a large proportion of Black workers.

An unlikely radical

Biden, on the surface, is an unlikely figure to push such a radical shift in federal policy. He first took public office in 1970, the year that U.S. workers’ share of national income peaked. He had a long career working from the very Democratic center he is now looking to transform, supporting bank-friendly bills that drew criticism on the campaign trail.

But he became president in a year when the arguments against government intervention he heard as a senator and as a vice president under Obama seem to have run their course.

Some of Biden’s old colleagues, including Democratic economists such as Lawrence Summers, say Biden is off base.

In comments on the stimulus plan in February, Summers acknowledged there was “tremendous suffering” but said “this goes way beyond what is necessary.”

Others say it is time to give the more liberal wing of the party, dormant for decades, time to make their case once again — and are pushing Biden to go even farther.

“This is not nearly enough,” said Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democratic congresswoman from New York.

'We're in a race' — Vaccinations expand to 16 and older starting April 15

WENATCHEE — Everyone 16 and older will become eligible for COVID-19 vaccines on April 15, Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday.

The date was previously May 1. The expansion in eligibility is partially a response to the rise in COVID-19 cases across the state, the governor’s office said in a news release Wednesday.

“As the number of cases are rising across the state, there’s a good chance we’re looking at the beginning of a fourth wave,” Andrew Canning, Confluence Health spokesman, said in an email. “We’re in a race of trying to get more people immunity, and the last thing we want is a setback in North Central Washington. For our region, this makes sense.”

Luke Davies, health administrator for the Chelan-Douglas Health District, has been advocating for a change like this with the state Department of Health and governor’s office for two weeks, he said. The health district plans to develop mobile teams as more vaccine becomes available, Davies said.

David Olson, chief executive officer at Columbia Valley Community Health, said in an email that the sooner more people can be vaccinated, the more they will be able to get this pandemic under control.

“I also know that the more people who are trying to get vaccinated, the more it will push community members that have barriers to getting their vaccination ‘down the line,’ so to speak,” Olson said. “CVCH, as part of its mission statement, works to remove barriers to health care wherever possible and so we will do what we can to remove those barriers.”

CVCH will continue to use its CONNECT mobile clinic to vaccinate farmworkers in the area.

Everyone in Phase 1B tiers 3 and 4 became eligible for COVID-19 vaccines Wednesday. This includes:

  • Everyone age 60 years and older
  • Workers in restaurants, manufacturing and construction
  • People working or living in correctional facilities, group homes for people with disabilities and other congregate settings

People from previous tiers and phases are still eligible for the vaccine. People can go to vaccine locator.doh.wa.gov to find a vaccine appointment near you.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Goodbye Phase 3? Rising case numbers don't look good for Chelan, Douglas counties

EAST WENATCHEE — Chelan County has one week to bring its COVID-19 infection rate down or it will move back to Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Healthy Washington” plan.

Phase 2 imposes tighter restrictions than Phase 3 on businesses and activities.

Chelan County’s COVID-19 infection rate is at 226.7 cases per 100,000 people over a 14-day period as of Wednesday, according to Chelan-Douglas Health District data. It increased from 189.1 on March 24. The governor’s plan has two metrics to stay in Phase 3, including an infection rate below 200 cases.

Chelan-Douglas Health District Administrator Luke Davies said Chelan County cases need to drop by 25% to 50% by next week to avoid falling back to Phase 2.

“I think the biggest thing is for people to wear masks,” he said. “We know that masks interrupt transmission and that they’re really effective.”

The other metric, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19, remains low at two people hospitalized at Central Washington Hospital, according to the data. It must stay below five people per 100,000 over a seven-day average.

If any county in the state’s infection rate remains above 200 after April 12, it means that county is in Phase 2, according to a news release from Inslee’s office. Returning to Phase 2 would mean the following:

  • Indoor dining and retail stores reduced from 50% capacity to 25% capacity
  • Low- and moderate-risk sport competitions can occur, but no tournaments
  • Indoor entertainment centers, such as museums, can have either 200 people or 25% capacity, whichever is fewer
  • Outdoor entertainment centers, such as zoos, can have groups of 15 with a limit to two households and a maximum of 200 people at a time

As a county of less than 50,000 people, it appears Douglas County also would not qualify for Phase 3, according to a Washington State Coronavirus Response website. Counties with populations of 50,000 or less must have fewer than 100 cases over a 14-day period. As of Wednesday, Douglas County has had 106 positive cases in the last 14 days, according to the health district website.

The 100-case number is a change from the earlier metric requirement that required counties with fewer than 50,000 citizens to have fewer than 30 cases over a seven-day average to qualify for Phase 3. It is unclear when the state updated this metric.

Davies said the increase in cases is highest among 20- to 40-year-olds going to restaurants and visiting friends.

That age group will soon be able to receive a vaccine. Inslee on Wednesday announced anyone 16 and older is eligible for the vaccine on April 15, two weeks sooner than the previous date.

“So we just need to hold out a little bit longer to stop from moving our phases back,” Davies said.

He noted The New York Times recently reported the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are proving to be effective in stopping transmission of COVID.

Staff writer Pete O’Cain contributed to this report.