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Days of work, 17 minutes of glory

WENATCHEE — With fireworks exploding overhead, a large flock of geese was the only group of spectators to watch the annual show from a COVID-19-closed Walla Walla Point Park on Saturday night.

Photo gallery: Kylee Boggs and crew light up the skies

Wenatchee Valley residents watched from their homes, nearby parking lots, streets and boats as Kylee Boggs, Wenatchee, and volunteer workers launched fireworks from the park’s island.

Taking days to set up, the show was set to patriotic music played on a local radio station — and was over in 17 minutes. That added to the excitement for Boggs, a 17-year veteran of the pyrotechnical team, the last seven years as director.

“There’s just a feeling about fireworks,” she said. “The best part is right after you finish the show and just before you hear the crowd reaction.” At least most years.

With earplugs in, wearing firefighting clothes, and with no audience at the park, it was tougher to hear any reaction this year although passengers of a small flotilla of boats on the Columbia River supplied some oohs and aahs.

Because of the park’s closure, Boggs said she was able to buy and ignite two, eight-inch shells this year, one to begin the show and one to finish it. She said they were the largest to ever be fired in the Wenatchee Valley. The two fireworks each cost $300 and the launch tubes were set in sand inside 55-gallon drums.

Per regulations, it takes 70 feet of clearance of spectators for every inch of shell diameter. Most years, they would have had to push the crowd back 560 feet — to the park’s ball fields — for the eight-inchers she said.

For training, Boggs has a couple of volunteers to shoot off each shell from an electronic board about 20 feet from the nearest tube. She sat next to volunteer Julie Garza, Wenatchee, listening on a portable radio to the show’s music being played. When the time was right, she tapped Garza’s leg and Garza would press a button to fire the next shell.

She has to think ahead as the fireworks take a few seconds to reach the sky before they explode. She works days in advance on the timing, looking over the music score to figure out when to fire the shells.

But when it comes to the grand finale, the timing becomes simple: the board operator runs a finger across the buttons, igniting nearly 100 shells one right after the other.

Once the show ends, the crew waters down the small spot fires around the launch tubes then leaves to give everything time to cool down.

Taking off their fire gear, they gather together and talk about the show and celebrate their accomplishment — days of work and 17 minutes of glory.


News
Washington legislators of color lead police reform discussion ahead of session

OLYMPIA — If the Washington Legislature is forced into a special session to deal with the economic collapse sparked by COVID-19, some lawmakers are working to make sure they also debate police reform in the aftermath of nationwide protests following by the death of George Floyd.

Two groups leading the discussion in police reform are the House Black Member Caucus and the Senate Members of Color Caucus. Members have been working with the Law and Justice Committee and meeting with other legislators, members of the community, police organizations and other stakeholders to rethink policing in Washington.

It’s unclear whether there will be a special session or if proposals will have to wait until January, but the Black Member Caucus and the Members of Color Caucus are confident new policy will pass.

“I think the pressure is on the system so much that if these laws don’t get passed, there will be a lot of upset people,” said Rep. Jesse Johnson, D-Federal Way, vice chair of the House Black Caucus.

Some of the biggest proposals include banning chokeholds, creating an independent investigatory body to look into use-of-force incidents and ending qualified immunity for officers.

Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, pointed at numerous proposals that have so much support that they are no longer considered controversial. Dhingra is a part of the Senate Members of Color Caucus as well as the vice chair of the Law and Justice Committee and Senate deputy majority leader.

Banning chokeholds and tear gas, for example, would be easy to get done during a special session, she said.

Other proposals, such as creating an independent investigatory system, might take longer, so they will likely wait until January, Dhingra said.

“I don’t think anyone is unrealistic with what can be done during a special session,” said Rep. Debra Entenman, D-Kent, chair of the House Black Member Caucus. “But we can no longer wait, and I think that we will be successful.”

Other proposals Dhingra is working on include mandating peer intervention training among officers and creating a use-of-force incident audit process.

Entenman also stressed the importance of ensuring any new COVID-relief funds don’t leave behind communities that need it, such as communities of color.

“Our COVID response is disproportionately affecting people of color,” she added.

One of the biggest hurdles Johnson acknowledged, will be with police unions, who traditionally have a significant influence in crafting policing laws. He’s hoping that by including police organizations, such as the Washington State Fraternal Order of Police, early in the conversations, they will be more likely to succeed in passing reform.

Another hurdle will be the state budget deficit, but Dhingra said there is a lot of policy that can change without a large cost.

“If they do have a large fiscal note, there is enough momentum to say this is a priority,” she said.

If there isn’t a special session, legislators will continue to work on the ideas for the regular session, which starts in January. Dhingra said there is a lot that can be done at a city and county level to make changes to the criminal justice system before January.

Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, said he is confident police reform legislation will pass in the next session. It’s a priority, said Nguyen, who is a part of the Senate Members of Color Caucus.

“Things like this often don’t make it to the forefront because not enough people care about it,” he said. “That dynamic is very, very different now.”

The Black Member Caucus was only created two years ago and currently has five members. The Senate Members of Color caucus has eight members but does not have a Black member, because Washington has no Black senators.

Nguyen said not having any Black members of the Senate provides a huge blind spot in how they think about legislation, which is why it’s so important to include the Black Members Caucus of the House in the discussions they’re having.

“We’ve been talking with each other about how we can ensure the communities most affected are leading these conversations,” he said.

By bringing in the Black Members Caucus as well as outside groups such as the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, and other community organizers, Nguyen said it ensures the best legislation possible is proposed.

Entenman said the lack of Black legislators points to the institutionalized racism within larger systems in this country.

“It’s important for me to recognize, although I am part of this system, there are parts I am trying to change from the inside,” Entenman said.

Having the Black Member Caucus involved in the conversations allows Black legislators to bring in their own stakeholders and community advocates that might not otherwise be involved in the conversation, Johnson said.

“It gives us credibility for the community to see Black elected officials out front leading this,” Johnson said.

Entenman said the caucus is not simply focusing on what happens in the western part of the state.

She has talked with community leaders in Eastern Washington and is listening to their concerns as well.

People of color live in all different parts of the state, she said.

“We have to focus on what is happening in the African American community, but that is not to exclude other people,” Entenman said. “That is simply to say that we think it will benefit all people in our state.”


News
U.S. government awards Novavax $1.6 billion for coronavirus vaccine

CHICAGO — The U.S. government has awarded Novavax Inc. $1.6 billion to cover testing and manufacturing of a potential vaccine for the novel coronavirus in the United States, with the aim of delivering 100 million doses by January.

The award announced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is the biggest yet from “Operation Warp Speed,” the White House initiative aimed at accelerating access to vaccines and treatments to fight COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

Shares in Gaithersburg, Maryland-based Novavax rose 29% to $102 in morning trading.

“What this Warp Speed award does is it pays for production of 100 million doses, which would be delivered starting in the fourth quarter of this year, and may be completed by January or February of next year,” Novavax Chief Executive Stanley Erck told Reuters.

It will also cover the cost of running a large Phase III trial, the final stage of human testing.

Erck said Novavax expects results of its Phase I trial testing the vaccine’s safety within the next week or so. The company aims to start midstage trials in August or September, with Phase III testing starting in October, Erck added.

The HHS announcement follows a $456 million investment in Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine candidate in March, a $486 million award to Moderna Inc in April, and up to $1.2 billion in support in May for AstraZeneca PLC’s vaccine being developed with Oxford University. The U.S. government also awarded Emergent Biosolutions Inc $628 million to expand domestic manufacturing capacity for a potential coronavirus vaccine and drugs to treat COVID-19.

The addition of Novavax’s candidate to Operation Warp Speed’s portfolio “increases the odds that we will have at least one safe, effective vaccine as soon as the end of this year,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.

Besides the massive cash infusion for Novavax, the U.S. government inked a $450 million contract with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc to make and supply its antibody cocktail for COVID-19.

Novavax is somewhat of a dark horse in the race for a coronavirus vaccine. The company was not on the list of vaccine finalists for Warp Speed previously reported by the New York Times that included Moderna, AstraZeneca, Pfizer Inc, J&J and Merck & Co.

In May, Novavax received an additional $388 million in funding for COVID-19 vaccine development from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a private foundation, after a $4 million investment in March. In June, the U.S. Defense Department awarded the company $60 million to support manufacturing of 10 million doses of its vaccine in 2020.

‘A big scale up’

The company is in the process of transferring its vaccine technology to an unnamed contract manufacturer that has two large manufacturing facilities, its CEO said. That is in addition to the work being done by Emergent Biosolutions, which is making doses to supply the company’s smaller early and midstage clinical trials.

By early next year, Novavax expects to be able to make 50 million doses a month in the United States.

“It’s a big scale up in a few different manufacturing sites in the United States,” Erck said. “What it leaves us with is the capacity of making many more doses in the U.S. in 2021.”

Novavax did not start human safety trials until late May. One reason for the delay is that the vaccine is grown in insect cells, a process that can take 30 days before company scientists can start purifying it and making it in bulk.

“You lose a month or so there, but I don’t think we’re behind because of our data,” Erck said, referring to animal data showing a strong immune response and high levels of virus-killing antibodies.

Besides Moderna, the company trails two other candidates — one from AstraZeneca and Oxford University and one from Pfizer and BioNTech.

Jefferies analyst Jared Holz said the cash infusion “places Novavax in a very enviable position should its data look compelling later in the year.”

Although Novavax has not yet produced a licensed vaccine, Sanofi SA uses the same basic technology to make flu vaccine, “so the risk of us not succeeding is pretty low,” Dr. Gregory Glenn, president of research and development for Novavax, said in a telephone interview.

The Novavax vaccine works in conjunction with an adjuvant — a substance that boosts the immune response to help the body build a robust defense against the virus.

Currently, Novavax makes its adjuvant in Sweden. The company is building up U.S. manufacturing capacity for its adjuvant “so that we can make upwards of a billion doses of adjuvant in the United States,” Erck said.

Novavax also has a manufacturing plant in the Czech Republic and hopes to have two other plants in Europe and one in Asia, Erck said. The company is also working with a manufacturer in India. The aim there is to make more than 100 million doses a month, Erck said.


Coronavirus
Columbia Fruit: 31 packing facility workers test positive for COVID-19

EAST WENATCHEE — A total of 31 workers at Columbia Fruit’s packing facility in East Wenatchee recently tested positive for COVID-19.

Columbia Fruit became aware of the first three positive results between June 25 and 29, according to a company news release on Monday.

It notified employees of the potential exposure, shut down the production line for deep cleaning, reached out to the affected employees and began contact tracing.

The company then learned another 12 employees had tested positive, the release said. It had all remaining employees at the packing facility tested Thursday at Columbia Valley Community Health and received the results Sunday — 16 were positive and 77 were negative.

All employees who have tested positive are in isolation, according to the release.

“We have been following the guidelines established by the Washington State Department of Health and the Chelan-Douglas Health District to ensure the health and safety of our employees,” owner-manager Mike Wade said in the release. “We will monitor the well-being of those in isolation and will allow individuals to return to work after a 10-day isolation period and if they don’t have any further virus symptoms.”

According to the release, the company began taking many precautionary measures several months ago: social distancing, increased sanitation, mandatory face coverings, daily temperature and symptom checks, monitored hand washing, rotating breaks, break room reconfiguration and additional break room space, and use of physical barriers where social distancing is impossible.