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George Ruddell, East Wenatchee, receives an inoculation of COVID-19 vaccine on the first day of the drive-thru event at Town Toyota Center on Tuesday. His wife Donna gets ready for her shot in the passenger seat of their car. The couple are two of the 100 people scheduled for vaccination at the site on the opening day. The Washington State National Guard is in charge of administering the shots.

‘We will be back’ | Numerica PAC stage could reopen in September, pandemic permitting

WENATCHEE — Printed programs for “Disenchanted!” sit boxed and waiting for distribution in the Numerica Performing Arts Center’s back office.

The musical comedy — in which fairy tale princesses set the story straight on living happily ever after — was one of the early casualties of the pandemic. The decision to postpone the show came just hours before the curtains were to open March 12, 2020.

“They were practically ready to walk in the door,” Numerica PAC Board President Dave Gellatly said earlier this month of the touring theater production group. “It was canceled, I think the day before.”

Now, a year later, it’s still uncertain when the stage curtains will rise again on a regular basis.

Gellatly is certain, though, that the time will come.

“There is no question, we will be back,” he said, maybe in early September.

“We’ve been talking quite a bit with Music Theatre of Wenatchee about trying to do ‘Mamma Mia’ in September,” he said. Plans for the 2020’s Apple Blossom Festival Musical, a partnership production of the Numerica PAC and Music Theatre, were well underway when the pandemic hit.

“We’re in the early stages of gearing up for what is needed to do ahead of that show,” Gellatly said, which, if the pandemic had not hit, would have run April 29 to May 9 last year. “We’re walking parallel lines trying to figure it out. We’re all hoping that come Sept. 3 or 4 we’re opening a show and there’s a crowd.”

The state’s move last month into Phase 2 of the Healthy Washington reopening plan allowed entertainment venues to operate at 25% capacity, but it isn’t enough to do much good, he said, though it did get a few people inside the venue.

“The Apple Blossom pageant was in there. They were able to invite parents and relatives of the Top 10 and have them actually in the auditorium. That couldn’t have been done until (Gov. Jay Inslee) opened it up. But as far as shows, it’s not going to make a difference. Financially, we can’t do a show with only 100 people in the audience,” he said.

Thursday’s announcement of the move to Phase 3, allowing 50% capacity didn’t change that assessment, Gellatly said.

Even if restrictions lifted now to allow full operation, he isn’t sure people want to sit close together in a confined space just yet.

“It’s unknown how people would react — if they think it’s OK to sit in a closed room with 500 other people. Some will be OK with it, but maybe some won’t,” he said.

The third logistical challenge to reopening the venue is finding entertainment. Putting theater productions together takes time and money that impacts ticket prices and bottom lines.

“It’s dependent on what kind of a show we put in there. How many tickets do we need to sell to a show to break even? That varies,” he said.

The PAC’s executive board members talk about all that and more during their monthly meetings.

“We keep trying to take the temperature of what’s going on and what we can do about it,” he said.

Conversations have shifted over the past year.

“In the middle of March (2020), when the thing first hit, we thought it would be temporary. We thought maybe we’d close, but we could keep staff on and in three months go back to what we were doing,” Gellatly said.

Hopes dimmed as spring turned to summer. Postponements became cancellations.

“We did the Apple Awards on June 1,” recognizing the theatrical performances and productions of local high school students, he said. It was held virtually and live-streamed.

That was the last hurrah.

The staff was furloughed the next week.

“We laid people off when we realized (the pandemic) was going to go on,” he said. “We realized we were going to run out of money too quickly if we didn’t cinch our belts and cut costs.”

Even with those measures, the nonprofit organization continued to pay about $8,000 a month in long-term agreements for equipment, storage and utilities.

Gellatly said one of the conversations was what would happen if they couldn’t continue to cover those costs.

“I think at that point, there might be a danger that we couldn’t reopen,” he said.

The board received a $10,000 CARES Act grant to help cover some of the gap and, last fall, reached out to the community.

“We had a fundraiser. We sent letters and contacted people. We have a decent-size list of people who are exceedingly loyal to us,” he said. “Financially, we’re going to be OK.”

When the doors reopen, though, operations are likely to look a little different.

“I think we’re going to be more careful about how we incur liabilities and how we spend our money. That’s not a bad thing,” he said. “Allowing everything to come to a halt and sit there for a while allowed us to regroup in terms of how and what shows we do, how many employees we have and that kind of thing. We are going to reboot from the top to the bottom.”

The initial restart plan at the moment is likely to include rescheduling some of the touring shows that were cancelled, including “Disenchanted!” and “One Night in Memphis,” a tribute to Presley, Perkins, Lewis and Cash.

“We’re confident that groups in town will continue to use the PAC,” Gellatly said, including Music Theatre and the Wenatchee Valley Symphony. “We’re in the initial stages of putting together a reopening plan. We don’t have all the details yet, but we’re going to do that.” Gellatly said that when the pandemic restrictions lift, “We want to make sure ... that our curtain is also ready to lift to an audience.”

When there are extra doses of vaccine, who should get the call?

WENATCHEE The Town Toyota Center mass vaccination site had 900 doses ready Wednesday for Wenatchee and Eastmont school district employees. About 600 showed up.

In order to use the remaining 300 doses of COVID-19 vaccine before they expired, state officials reached out to the Chelan County PUD and Wenatchee Valley College, said Luke Davies, Chelan-Douglas Health District administrator.

Higher education employees are not scheduled to get vaccinated until the next phase, but Wenatchee Valley College has Running Start high school students, Davies said. The prioritized PUD employees were those responding to outages and working on the dams.

“You have an operations room (in dams) of individuals who have to be there 24/7 for the dams to be managed up and down the river,” he said. “If you have any shortages in those operations rooms, you risk compromising the entire river system.”

The Immigrant and Latinx Solidary Group, a Wenatchee civic group, believes agricultural workers and grocery store workers should have been included with the PUD and college, said Krista Herling, solidarity group co-chair. Those groups are scheduled to receive the vaccine in the next phase starting March 17.

The group understands the need to use vaccines before they expire, but it feels like Latino community members continue to receive unequal treatment, she said. “It’s just frustrating when we continue to see groups that are disproportionately affected not being prioritized,” Herling said.

State and local officials have known for a while which groups are in which phases, she said. They could have reached out at least a month ago to try and organize those populations to get ready for vaccination efforts, she added.

“I’m a teacher so I qualified last week, but I continue to have friends message me saying, ‘Oh, you can get on the waitlist here,’” Herling said. “So it just seems like if you have the right connections you can get a vaccine when you’re not eligible and that’s completely inequitable.”

Davies said it is never easy doing a mass vaccination program like this one, and wherever health officials can find efficiencies and reduce waste, that’s the goal. Officials are also working on reducing barriers to at-risk populations, including Latinos, by providing vaccination clinics through specific organizations including:

  • Community for the Advancement of Family Education (CAFÉ)
  • Confluence Health
  • Parque Padrinos

“The fair perception is always an issue when you’re doing something with a limited resource,” Davies said. “There comes a point where you try to make everybody happy, then nobody is happy.”

The health district wants to start vaccinating farmworkers and has been reaching out to the state, asking to start the process, he said. Workers in congregate housing face some of the biggest risks when it comes to COVID-19.

“We didn’t really have much input in what the phases were going to be,” Davies said. “That was, I think, decided partially with federal guidance and with the governor’s office as well.”

Inslee relaxes COVID-19 restrictions; all counties moving to Phase 3

NCW — Gov. Jay Inslee’s Phase 3 of Washington’s “Healthy Washington” recovery plan will lift restrictions on spectators at outdoor sporting events and increase capacity in indoor public spaces.

Phase 3 will allow 25% fan attendance at outdoor sporting events, including high school sports, motorsports, rodeos and other similar activities, according to a Thursday news release from the governor’s office. It will also allow restaurants, fitness centers, places of worship and other indoor spaces to increase capacity to 50%.

The new rules take effect March 22, with all counties advancing to the third phase of the recovery plan. For youth sports and high school sports, the new provisions will kick in even earlier, on March 18.

The announcement arrives as cases of the coronavirus have been declining in Washington state and COVID-19 vaccinations continue to be distributed.

“The reason we’re able to make this progress today is because we have been safe, we have been diligent, we have been intentional, we have cared about our loved ones and ourselves,” Inslee said during a Thursday news conference.

“But we’ve got to understand, we’re still in a fight,” the governor continued. “We have these variants out there, and this thing could spring back on us again.”

Under Phase 3, up to 400 people can attend indoor and outdoor activities, as long as it does not exceed 50% capacity. Larger venues, mainly sporting arenas in the Seattle area, can have up to 9,000 people or 25% capacity, whichever is less.

The Healthy Washington plan took effect in January and broke Washington into eight regions.

Under that plan, some regions advanced to the second phase in late January and started reopening, resuming indoor dining and fitness centers at 25% capacity. Since then, the other regions have advanced, and every county has moved to that phase and those capacity restrictions.

Groups like the Washington Hospitality Association have urged the governor to allow restaurants to allow 50% capacity.

“We celebrate today’s announcement by the governor that restaurants can open to 50% indoor capacity — this will benefit both the health of our state and of our industry,” said association president and CEO Anthony Anton in a statement Thursday. “Since restaurants have been opened in our state, cases have continued to drop. This is a testament to our rigorous safety standards and practices, which are among the most strict in the nation.”

Inslee’s announcement also includes changes to the overall structure of the plan.

Gone are the regions, and the new shift brings back a county-by-county approach to lifting or reapplying restrictions, with counties being evaluated every three weeks. The first evaluation is set for April 12.

Phase 3 will have different metrics and criteria than Phase 2 and Phase 1. All counties will start in Phase 3 and be measured individually every three weeks against two metrics. If a county fail one of the metrics, it will move back to Phase 2; the same is true for counties in Phase 2 — they will move back to Phase 1.

The metrics to remain in Phase 3 are:

  • A COVID-19 rate of less than 200 per 100,000 population over 14 days;
  • Fewer than five people hospitalized with COVID-19 per 100,000 person population over seven days.

The metrics to remain in Phase 2 are:

  • A COVID-19 rate between 200 and 350 per 100,000 person population over 14 days;
  • Between 5 and 9.9 people hospitalized with COVID-19 per 100,000 people over seven days.

If at any point the statewide intensive care unit capacity is more than 90% full, all counties will revert to Phase 1, the release states. The state Department of Health maintains the ability to move any county forward or backward depending on disease activity.

Both Douglas and Chelan counties would qualify for Phase 3 based on data measured Thursday. Chelan County has a COVID-19 rate of 104.9 per 100,000 people over a two-week period and Douglas County’s rate is 154.3, according to Chelan-Douglas Health District data.

Both counties together have three people hospitalized at Central Washington Hospital, according to the data. Both counties together could have as many as six people at the hospital and continue to meet state criteria.

Reporting by The Seattle Times is included in this story.