WENATCHEE — Chelan and Douglas counties were approved to move to Phase 1.5 of the state’s reopening plan on June 10. Just 16 new cases of the virus were reported that week, the lowest rate since weekly tracking began in April.
In the weeks since, COVID-19’s prevalence in North Central Washington has risen by every available measure.
Last week 168 people in the two counties tested positive for the virus, twice the count of the week before and 10 times what it was when reopening began.
But the trend isn’t just due to increased testing, the rate of positive results has also risen. For Confluence Health, which operates the hospital, that increase has been significant, Chief Medical Officer-elect Dr. Jason Lake said.
“More importantly than the number of tests we’re doing is the percentage of those tests we’re doing that are returning positive,” he said. “At the lull of COVID, we were getting about a 2% return rate on those tests and now we’ve hit 10% or more, even up to 15% or 16% percent positive on many of the days over the past three weeks or so. Obviously, that’s a concerning trend.”
The rate of positive results, widely considered a key indicator of the virus’ presence in a community, has gone up across the two counties, said Joyous Van Meter, epidemiologist for the Chelan-Douglas Health District.
“It’s everywhere, we’re seeing the rising cases in the smaller communities and Wenatchee and East Wenatchee, of course. And across different jobs and different ages, I think there’s just a lot out there and people need to be aware of that,” she said.
Grant County’s cases also ballooned following its move to Phase 2 of the reopening plan. It had 198 cases when it was approved on May 23 and was up to 755 on Thursday.
Thirty new cases were reported in Chelan County Thursday, its highest daily rate to date. Its seven highest daily counts have all been in July.
WENATCHEE — Central Washington Hospital had 19 coronavirus patients Wednesday, its highest daily count since the pandemic began. The previous peak was 14 patients on April 14.
Just over 11.1% of the 1,508 tests conducted in Chelan and Douglas counties between June 29 and July 5 were positive, according to health district data. That rate is just shy of the record 11.3% in the third week of May. In mid-June the rate was 3.18%.
Some wide-scale testing has been conducted in the past few weeks. Columbia Fruit Packers tested 93 employees last Thursday and 16 positive results returned. Cashmere Care Center tested 151 staff and residents last Friday with seven positive results.
Confluence Health and other area hospitals have begun testing people before surgeries or some in-patient procedures, which has also increased the testing counts.
“But over the past few weeks, our pre-procedure and pre-surgical volume have remained pretty steady. It’s not like we’re doing a lot more surgeries today than we were two or three weeks ago,” Lake said.
The majority of cases are coming from people who are symptomatic or have been in contact with a person with the virus, the health officials said.
“We just have to assume that the increase in positives we’re finding in our testing represents an increased level of COVID in our communities,” Lake said. “More people are catching this virus now, we can all speculate why that is, but it does seem to correlate with us relaxing our restrictions on the community and people getting out and about. That, just by its nature, can result in more human-to-human interaction which can spread this virus if precautions aren’t taken.”
This page will be regularly updated as new COVID-19 cases in North Central Washington are reported by health officials.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct that Chelan and Douglas counties moved to Phase 1.5 of the state’s reopening plan in June, not Phase 2.
WENATCHEE — The Cut Truck, a mobile barber shop operated in a cargo trailer, started in Seattle as a way to get around the cost of renting a traditional space.
Owner R’shelle Therriault decided to bring the business back to her hometown of Wenatchee last September. It just so happened that was right before the pandemic put a premium on the idea of an isolated haircut experience.
“It’s pretty cool because obviously there’s no way we could have predicted this whole COVID thing, but now that we have all these restrictions on personal services, my setup is kind of perfect,” she said. “It’s just one-on-one, me and my client in a station. It’s also super easy to sanitize between each person.”
As soon as Chelan and Douglas counties were approved to move to Phase 1.5 of the state’s reopening plan in June, Therriault opened the Cut Truck. It’s now operating every weekend in the Pybus Public Market parking lot.
Therriault was born and raised in Wenatchee but moved to Seattle shortly after graduating. She worked in a few different barber shops and salons there but the idea of starting her own operation proved too cost prohibitive.
“It just was not really feasible to go somewhere to rent a place or rent a chair because it’s so expensive I would have to raise my prices to a price that I didn’t feel comfortable charging people for a haircut,” she said.
Looking for a creative way to branch out on her own, she came across someone offering mobile cuts out of an Airstream trailer.
“It was a big, long trailer and there were like two people in there working as barbers,” she said. “I thought ‘It’s super cool, but Airstream trailers are expensive but they’re also super big and heavy.’”
Then the idea of a cargo trailer — much cheaper and more nimble — came up. She purchased a 10-foot trailer and began renovations.
“It was brand new, just bare bones,” Therriault said. “We spent about a year and half outfitting it and getting it ready to do everything we need it to. Now I’ve got water, electricity, heat and air conditioning.”
The Cut Truck opened in Seattle in October 2018 and moved to Wenatchee last September. Therriault was waiting for spring to begin operation in the valley.
“The plan was to get everything up and running toward the first of the year but obviously nobody did that. So we’re doing it six months later,” she said.
Therriault now offers appointments and walk-ups on Saturdays, Sundays and most Fridays at Pybus. Even passersby who hadn’t previously been familiar with the concept have enjoyed the more private setting of the Cut Truck, she said.
“Even before safety and sanitization were a big concern for people, I think a lot of people liked that it was just kind of quiet and intimate,” she said. “Sometimes when you go to a salon or barber shop there’s just so much going on, so many people and it can be kind of overwhelming.”
Now that her weekends are booked up, Therriault is looking for regular weekday locations to set up shop. In Seattle she found success partnering with business parks or office buildings.
“Even a smaller business that might only have 10 people would be worth me coming and parking and setting up for the day. All I really need is a place to park where I’m out of the way and it’s a flat surface,” she said. “... Now that people won’t be returning to the office for, who knows, maybe six months, a lot of the places I’ve talked to said ‘We’ll get back to you in a few months when we have more people here.’”
She’s also open to visiting neighborhoods where a few families could all get a cut.
“I originally wasn’t planning on offering to go to people’s neighborhoods. But now with COVID and more people being home and all the kids home from school, I’ll definitely offer that to people,” she said. “I just have to be able to pull into a driveway because I’m not legally permitted to be on the street.”
Since reopening in June, the response from clients new and old has been strong, Therriault said.
“For me, this pandemic has just brought home how important it is to support small local businesses to keep our valley as vibrant and developing as it is,” she said. “So I’ve been trying to do that as much as possible and I so appreciate my clients that I already have and anyone who’s willing to give me a shot.”
WENATCHEE — City noise restrictions will continue to apply to churches, at least for now.
The City Council on Thursday considered an exemption for public events held by religious organizations but decided to not take action.
The council voted in January to renew for six months, starting Feb. 28, an ordinance that includes a ban in residential areas on outdoor sound amplification by auditoriums, places of public assembly and places of worship.
That rule will now expire Aug. 28, and councilmembers said they want the Planning Commission or city staff to work on a new noise ordinance. There’s no set date to bring the matter back to the council.
After Aug. 28, the city will revert back to its previous noise code, which city attorney Steve Smith said “basically prohibits any loud, repetitive, raucous noise that’s offensive to a reasonable person 50 feet away.”
Current exemptions focus on events held on property owned by governments or school districts, but not places of worship.
Smith said Wenatchee is potentially not treating religious organizations the same as non-religious organizations. He cited the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which protects religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and land-marking laws.
The council could have made an exception for places of worship in January but voted against it.
Ten people addressed the council in January, with half supporting an exception and half opposing it. A major complaint dealt with Grace City Church’s 2017 outdoor Easter celebration in Sunnyslope, which nearby residents said was too loud and violated their right to privacy.
Grace City is building a campus on that property to include a chapel, event center and courtyard. According to the church website, the first phase is expected to cost $11.5 million.
Three Sunnyslope residents addressed the council Thursday with similar concerns, while one church member expressed support for the exemption.
“What I don’t feel the new ordinance does is find a good balance between what we have now and what we need,” Councilman Keith Huffaker said.
“It doesn’t find a good balance for the residents around a facility like a church, and it doesn’t allow the churches to function. What I’m hoping we can do is find a balance between the two. I want the churches to be able to function and do things, but I also want to respect the rights of the neighbors. They deserve the right to be able to have peace in their home, to be able to enjoy their backyard if they want.”
Huffaker said the proposed ordinance would be too vague and needed measurable guidelines for determining noise violations. He also believes the same rules should apply to schools and public venues.
Councilman Jim Bailey said he’d like clear definitions in the ordinance, such as for “regularly scheduled community events.”
“What does ‘regularly scheduled’ mean? Does that mean that if I say I’m going to do it every day, then it’s OK? I have a problem with that one,” he said, adding, “There needs to be some edges out here that we can work within and everybody knows where the edges are.”
CHELAN — Two families, total strangers before Tuesday, are now inextricably linked after a Jet Ski accident and subsequent rescue on Lake Chelan.
The Cofflers of Bellevue and the Vandels of Leavenworth are hoping for the best as staff at Central Washington Hospital works to preserve the life of Jeff Coffler, a 59-year-old senior software engineer with Microsoft.
Lake Chelan was Plan B for the Cofflers. Prior to COVID-19, they were going to visit Disneyland and then Hawaii, Kathleen Coffler said Thursday. When pandemic restrictions hit, they opted for the familiar Lake Chelan.
“It was just supposed to be ‘get out of the house,’” Kathleen Coffler said. “We haven’t been out of the house in forever.”
They rented Jet Skis Tuesday from Jet Skis Ahoy, as they’ve done on many of their trips to the lake. Jeff and Kathleen rode an older model and their 18-year-old twins, Jacob and Noah, rode newer, faster models.
“It started out just fine,” Kathleen Coffler said with a heavy sigh in a telephone interview. “I just keep second-guessing myself, wishing I’d said ‘I don’t really want to go out’ because I wasn’t thrilled about it anyways. I’m not much of a water person.”
Jeff and Kathleen married in 1995 but joke that they wed in 1997 thanks to a typo on their wedding photos. They met in New Hampshire while working for Digital Equipment Corporation. The company had a hiking club that they both joined. That’s how they got to know each other. Now a shared love of theater is their top interest.
The twins went off on their own Tuesday. Kathleen and Jeff weren’t on the water for too long before Kathleen suggested heading in. But it was still early, around 2:15 p.m. or so, and they decided to stay on the lake a little longer.
“‘How about we go to that house?’ That’s what I believe he said,” Kathleen Coffler said. Jeff steered the Jet Ski sharply to the right.
“On that turn, it was so abrupt that we both toppled right off and into the water,” Kathleen Coffler said.
Jeff was still awake but his life jacket wasn’t on tight and wasn’t doing much to keep his head above water. She got to the Jet Ski first but they weren’t able to get Jeff back onto the boat.
“At that point it was very clear that we needed some help,” Kathleen Coffler said.
She waived for a boat. One zipped by, but didn’t stop. This created more wake and made it more difficult to keep Jeff Coffler above water.
Kathleen Coffler grew tired but held on as Jeff went unconscious. She eventually got the attention of a woman riding a Jet Ski, who helped keep Jeff above water.
The three soon caught the eye of a nearby family on a boat.
“We realized something was wrong so we all — my husband, my step-son, my step-daughter and I — all jumped in the water,” Shelley Vandel said Wednesday in a telephone interview.
The Vandels are a blended family of six from Leavenworth: dad Jon Vandel, mom Shelley Vandel, Blake Vandel, 23, Maddie Vandel, 20, Julia Vandel, 17, and Landon Davies, 17.
Shelley Vandel connected Kathleen Coffler with a World reporter Wednesday.
The Vandels were on the lake because they wanted to find an activity that was social-distancing friendly. A rental boat on Lake Chelan fit the bill.
Rather than pull Jeff Coffler onto the Jet Ski or their boat, Jon Vandel waived down passing pontoon boat for its space. Jon and Blake pulled Jeff Coffler aboard.
“He was blue,” Shelley Vandel said. “I mean he was gone.”
Maddie began chest compressions and then Shelley gave mouth-to-mouth. Landon called 911 and Julia, who’d never ridden a Jet ski, rode the Coffler’s Jet ski to a dock.
Shelley said she and Maddie performed CPR for at least 7 or 8 minutes, maybe longer, until medics with Chelan EMS arrived. Shelley formerly worked as a lifeguard in Leavenworth and Maddie is studying to become a nurse.
Kathleen Coffler held hands with people on the dock and prayed while she watched as medics worked to get her husband breathing. After about 30 minutes, they’d gotten a pulse strong enough to take him to Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee.
“They were amazing,” Kathleen Coffler said of the medics.
Jeff Coffler on Thursday evening was in critical condition at Central Washington Hospital. At this point, it’s too early to say whether he will be OK, Kathleen said. She explained doctors believe Jeff suffered an arrhythmia, a problem with the heart’s rate or rhythm. He’s heavily sedated and doctors are testing his brain function. They expect results Saturday.
“He’s a wonderful man,” Kathleen Coffler said of Jeff. “He’s so bright and capable.”
Looking back at the incident, Shelley Vandel was struck by the number of fortunate coincidences that likely prevented a terrible situation from being worse.
The Vandels debated going to the lake a different day. Blake Vandel arrived at the lake separate from the rest of the family, putting them in position to help. And of all the people to come upon someone in Jeff Coffler’s position, Shelley and Maddie are both trained in CPR.
“I like to think that it was meant to be that way,” Shelley Vandel said.