EAST WENATCHEE — Douglas County employees are removing homeless camps along the Columbia River in an operation that began early last week and is to continue Monday.
Workers on Thursday collected dozens of large plastic bags filled with the contents and debris of several homeless encampments that the employees were clearing away, said Becci Piepel, Douglas County Solid Waste director.
The agency spent Tuesday and Thursday cleaning up the encampments and removed about 1,000 pounds of material on Thursday. The agency leaves notices 72 hours before they start removing belongings from the encampments. They will go back again on Monday.
There are about 15 known camps between George Sellar and Kirby Billingsley Hydro Park, Piepel said. The number of encampments does appear to be on the rise.
During the middle of a pandemic is bad timing to be doing this type of work, said Laurel Turner, Women’s Resource Center executive director. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends government agencies not remove homeless encampments right now to prevent those groups from moving into the general population.
“And we have no idea if they are COVID-positive,” Turner said. “They are less likely to have been diagnosed or treated.”
In addition, the number of shelters and shelter resources at this time is reduced, she said. Powerhouse Ministries, which operates a day shelter in East Wenatchee, is closed. The Bruce Transitional Housing is at about half capacity, about 30 people, and isn’t accepting new applicants at this time.
“But again, at the end of the day, where do they go?” Turner asked. “Shelters are closed down, the ones that are open are just taking on everyone in the system, so they are overwhelmed.”
She understands that the encampments are an eyesore and some occupants leave dangerous items behind that the public can encounter, she said. But it doesn’t make sense to remove people without a solution of where they will go.
“I think we have a moral obligation to make sure they’re okay,” Turner said. “Just because someone is not willing to come in or get help getting housed doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do things to help them.”
The encampments, however, are illegal and Douglas County can’t give the residents there permission to remain, Douglas County Commissioner Dan Sutton said. Homeless people should use the resources and shelters in Wenatchee, which are also safer for them.
“What is safer: Camping in an unauthorized camp along the river where there are not sanitary facilities or using the various shelters and venues that we have here that are considerably safer, have healthy food supplies, have the ability to keep themselves hygienically clean?” Sutton asked.
As for where in Douglas County it would be legal for those individuals to camp, the commissioners have not considered that situation, he said.
He is aware that the shelter resources in Chelan and Douglas are limited, Sutton said. It is an ongoing issue that both counties have continued to try and fix.
“These topics are always there but it comes down to resources,” he said. “Do we have the property, do we have the buildings, do we have the funding? Whether we like that answer or not it is real.”
He realizes that right now more people may become homeless due to the economic decline from COVID-19, Sutton said. The Douglas County Commission in the near future may need to make a change to its policies based on that reality.
“Will there come a point when our philosophy changes?” Sutton asked. “It is very possible.”
Photo Editor Don Seabrook contributed to this report.
WENATCHEE — Inocencio Valverde’s family dropped him off at Central Washington Hospital on a Monday afternoon in March.
An hour later his daughter-in-law, Alondra Ramirez, called the hospital to check on him.
“When I called the emergency room, he had already been put on a ventilator and he was already admitted to ICU. It happened pretty quickly,” she said.
Valverde, 65, had tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, two days earlier.
He’s one of 30 people with confirmed cases of the virus who have been admitted to Central Washington Hospital since the pandemic began. Two are still being treated in the hospital, 21 have recovered and six have passed away.
Many people who contract the illness will experience mild or no symptoms, said Mark Johnson, an infectious disease doctor with Confluence Health, which operates the hospital.
Those who require hospitalization and some kind of oxygen therapy have typically stayed for seven to 10 days. People with critical infections, which often require mechanical ventilation, have stayed in the ICU for around two weeks.
Valverde’s case was severe. He was intubated for 32 days — the longest of any patient who’s been treated at the hospital since the pandemic began, Johnson said.
“He is not one of the more severe cases, he is one of the more severe cases that survived,” he said. “The other people who died were like him, he just survived.”
In mid-April Valverde’s family was told he faced a less-than-10% chance of survival, Ramirez said.
“I had even called the funeral home to ask ‘What’s your protocol for taking someone in that’s positive? Can you even take someone that’s positive?’ We were already kind of preparing,” she said. “Then by the grace of God something changed.”
‘We saw him go into the emergency room just fine’
Before contracting coronavirus, Valverde’s only noteworthy health condition was a slightly elevated blood pressure. He worked in an orchard with his two oldest sons and lived in Quincy with his wife, Eva, who worked in a restaurant.
As early signs of the virus spread to Washington state, he and his family began taking precautions.
“Even though he kept going to work, he distanced himself from his coworkers and he tried his best,” Ramirez said. “Me and my husband took over my mother-in-law and father-in-law’s essential shopping so they wouldn’t go out. For groceries or anything they needed, my husband and I would always go out and get it for them.”
Eva caught the virus first. The family suspects it may have come from someone at her restaurant, before it was shut down by the state’s mandate. Her symptoms started with a fever and loss of appetite.
“He actually started caring for her, making sure she was eating and stuff. Then his symptoms started,” Ramirez said. “It started with a dry cough and then he started with the fever. At this point he had been laid off also with everything going on.”
At that point the pair hadn’t been tested and weren’t sure if it was COVID-19. The family at first suspected Valverde had typical pneumonia, since he’d contracted it a few times before.
They took him to the Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee where he was tested for the virus and a positive result was returned the next day. His symptoms were still moderate at that time, so he was released from the hospital to isolate at home.
A few days later his fever rose sharply, his breathing became strained and the family decided to take him back to the hospital.
“When his fever hit 105, me and my husband rushed over to take him,” Ramirez said. “They live in like a 30-foot little fifth wheel and he walked from the living room to the bathroom and back, and it sounded like he had run a marathon.”
He was admitted and placed on a ventilator within an hour, Ramirez said. What was expected to be a short stay became a two-month battle against COVID-19.
“We left him at the hospital with the intention of being back at the hospital like three days later to pick him up,” she said. “We saw him go into the emergency room just fine and an hour later he was on the ventilator.”
His condition remained unchanged for weeks.
“He was in ICU for quite some time and his progress definitely put his family through — he showed no progress for quite a few weeks,” she said. “Then he showed a little bit, then it stalled. While he was in ICU he actually had a lung collapse.”
After awhile he was taken off sedatives but remained unresponsive, Ramirez said.
“He was without sedatives for a few days and he just was not responding,” she said. “That’s when we really, really started to get concerned. When I spoke to the doctors, they were like his chances of survival were a single-digit number.”
Unable to visit, the family was only able to see Valverde over video calls set up by the hospital staff. Ramirez’s husband wondered if it would be wise for his mother to see her husband intubated and sedated.
“He didn’t think it was a good idea for his mother to see him like that, but I told him ‘If he passes … she may not get closure of how bad he really was,’” she said.
Then, at last, he showed signs of progress.
Through a screen, the family watched Valverde’s eyes move for the first time. Eventually he was able to move a hand, then his arm.
“It just gave us a taste of hope,” she said. As quickly as Valverde’s health deteriorated, he began to recover.
“Every time I called the nurses or the doctors, they were always so surprised that he’s recovering as fast as he is,” she said. “Now his progress is going pretty quickly and pretty smoothly.”
Valverde was discharged from Central Washington Hospital May 21.
“He had a very severe disease and the fact that he survived is a testament to his family’s support, the care he got in the hospital and perseverance,” Johnson said. “Some of the other patients were just as sick as he was, but the likelihood of survival during the disease course for several of these individuals was very low. And he was able to survive through it.”
He’s now been moved to one of Confluence Health’s in-patient rehab facilities, where he’s working to regain his strength, Ramirez said.
“He’s in rehab now and he’s able to take a few steps, but it’s still a long road to recovery,” she said.
The family has been told he’ll be able to come home to Quincy on June 8. Valverde and his wife will move in with one of their sons while he continues his recovery. Both have been laid off due to the shutdown, so the family set up a GoFundMe account to help pay for the medical bills. It’s so far raised more than $6,700.
“I hate sounding so cheesy, but this is really a miracle. There’s just no other way to explain this,” Ramirez said. “Going from having a single-digit chance of survival to him being fine and taking little steps on his own. It’s really a miracle.”
OLYMPIA — Counties in Phase 1 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start plan can on Monday apply to move to a modified version of that phase, which could allow more businesses and activities to reopen.
It could be called Phase 1.5, Inslee said in a Friday news conference. That name has already been suggested by the Chelan-Douglas Health District, which earlier this month drafted a proposal to partially reopen the two counties.
The same option will be available for counties in Phase 2.
Secretary of Health John Wiesman said it will take the state at least a few days to review applications.
“We’re anticipating a number of these probably coming in about the same time,” he said. “We want to thoroughly evaluate those. We want to have conversations with the local health department. Again, we may have questions about the application, but we also want to make sure that we fully understand their capabilities and capacities and that of the community to effectively control and continue to suppress this virus.”
The Chelan-Douglas Health District submitted its proposal May 13, but Wiesman denied it the next day.
Health District Administrator Barry Kling said the Board of Health will discuss resubmitting the proposal Monday afternoon. He expressed hopefulness at hearing the governor use the same phrasing as the district did in referring to Phase 1.5.
“I think it’s about 95% certain that we are going to apply,” he said. “I have some hopes that they’re closer to the position that we had proposed to them.”
Inslee on Friday announced modified requirements for counties to be eligible to move to Phase 2, including requiring them to have an average of less than 25 new cases per 100,000 residents over 14 days. Previously the requirement was less than 10 new cases.
So far, 26 counties have moved to Phase 2, including Grant County. Inslee said the earliest counties could move to Phase 3 would be June 3.
Starting June 8, workers will be required to wear face coverings unless they have no in-person interactions, the governor said. Employers must provide face coverings, though workers can also wear their own if they meet minimum standards.
Businesses will be required to post signs encouraging customers to wear face coverings, but they won’t have to refuse service to those not wearing them.
The governor’s stay home order expires at the end of Sunday but will be replaced with a new proclamation implementing these other ways of fighting COVID-19, he said.
“What we’ve learned is that we can prevent this from coming back and increasing dramatically again, but only if we replace what we were doing — which was having some considerable success — and as we remove that tool, to replace it with another approach,” Inslee said.
“You might think of it as if we were on kind of a lifeboat for a couple months of social distancing. We’re now getting out of that lifeboat, but we’ve got to get another lifeboat to get in and that’s going to be called contact tracing and wearing masks and the like. We’ve got to make sure that boat doesn’t have holes in it.”
However, he still encouraged people to stay home if possible, especially if they are vulnerable, and practice social distancing and good hygiene.