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Sam Wagner, 13, Wenatchee, jumps over an obstacle at Hale Park in Wenatchee Friday, July 2, 2021. He and his mother Tina hope to convince the city to turn the lights on the park and let people use the park later in the night. They were heading to a city meeting to discuss their suggestion early the next week and were successful. I met Sam and Tina at Hale Park near closing not really sure what I'd come up with but I knew I wanted to show darkness in the photograph. Sam's one of the few kids I know that can actually finish a skateboarding move and I followed him as he practiced jumping over one of the skate park features while the sun was setting.

Hotel use is up but there's a still a lot more rooms to fill in Wenatchee

WENATCHEE — Hotel use in the Wenatchee area is nearing pre-pandemic levels.

“We’re not quite thriving yet,” Jerri Barkley with the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce said Thursday.

Occupancy numbers shared by Wenatchee and East Wenatchee were at 46.1% in November, said Barkley.

Both sides of the Columbia River have a combined 1,668 rooms available, according to data from the chamber. Another 158 rooms are under construction.

The number of people booking hotels in the Wenatchee area has increased over the last year and now “we’re just trying to get back to the 2019 levels,” said Barkley.

Hotel occupancy rates in November 2019 were 47.3%, accounting for 1,400 rooms available then, according to the chamber.

People are traveling from Seattle to Wenatchee because it is close and safe, she said. Business travel and group travel is still down.

Barkley said the reopening of the Canadian border is exciting, though she is worried about the new COVID-19 variant, omicron, and hopes it will not affect tourism.

Next year is going to be better, she said. Business is improving, but a 46% occupancy rate is “nothing to be super proud of.”

One boost hotels have been getting is holiday traffic.

Changes to Leavenworth’s Christmas lighting have been good for hotels in Wenatchee, she said.

Right now, during the holiday season, hotels are doing well, she said.

The Residence Inn in Wenatchee is one of those hotels.

Charlotte Mayo, general manager of the Inn, said her rooms have been almost entirely full since Dec. 17.

The increase in business is a little bit better than expected given Residence Inn is a new hotel, she said.

The 127-room hotel, which opened Sept. 21, has kitchens in the rooms for visitors making extended stays, she said.

A lot of people are traveling and the snow means more will come to town to ski during their winter break, she said.

Mayo said it is surprising how fast business picked up.

Finding staff has been a little bit challenging but the hotel has struggled less with hiring than other neighboring businesses, she said. “We feel very fortunate.”

Barkley noted all hotels in the Wenatchee area are hiring.

“We’re starting the recovery, but we still have a lot of work to do,” she said.

United, Delta cancel hundreds of U.S. Christmas Eve flights amid COVID surge

United Airlines and Delta Air Lines have canceled hundreds of Christmas Eve flights, as the spreading COVID-19 omicron variant takes a toll on its flight crews and other workers.

Chicago-based United on Thursday canceled 120 flights for Friday, while Atlanta-based Delta said it had canceled about 90. Both said they were working to contact passengers so they would not be stranded at airports.

FlightAware on Friday said United has now canceled 169 flights on Christmas Eve and Delta has canceled 127, along with another 50 canceled flights for United on Christmas and 89 for Delta.

The flight tracking firm said the current number of Christmas Eve flights canceled globally is 2,029, with 448 canceled in the United States.

“The nationwide spike in omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation. As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport,” United said on Thursday.

Delta said Thursday it has “exhausted all options and resources — including rerouting and substitutions of aircraft and crews to cover scheduled flying — before canceling around 90 flights for Friday.”

Delta cited potential inclement weather and the impact of the omicron variant for the cancellations.

On Tuesday, Delta Chief Executive Ed Bastian asked the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to shrink quarantine guidelines for fully vaccinated individuals who experience breakthrough COVID-19 infections, citing the impact on the carrier’s workforce. Bastian asked that the isolation period be cut to five days from the current 10.

That request was echoed both by Airlines for America, a trade group representing major cargo and passenger carriers, which wrote to the CDC on Thursday, and by JetBlue on Wednesday.

The CDC released updated quarantine guidance for healthcare workers on Thursday, cutting the isolation time to seven days for workers who test positive for COVID-19 but are asymptomatic, providing they test negative.

Noe Mendoza takes his coat off and settles into his tent Wednesday night at the Wenatchee Valley cold-weather shelter, located this year inside Gospel House at 810 S. Wenatchee Ave. The shelter was delayed opening for about a month due to COVID-19 complications.

Norma Gallegos is the program director for Hand in Hand Immigration Services, which offers citizenship and civic education classes.

The Bubblery's Winter Cranberry bath fizzies look almost good enough to eat.

Jacob Chansley, holding a sign referencing QAnon, speaks as supporters of  President Donald Trump gather to protest about the early results of the 2020 presidential election, in Phoenix, Ariz., last November.

Man resentenced to time served in 2008 East Wenatchee murder

WATERVILLE — An East Wenatchee man sentenced to 27 years in prison for murder has been resentenced to time served.

Christopher Martin Owens in 2008 shot and killed 47-year-old Richard Lynn “Rick” Tyler, his mother’s ex-boyfriend, as he entered her home in East Wenatchee.

Owens successfully appealed his 2011 conviction for first-degree murder on the grounds that his attorney at the time ignored the role domestic violence may have played in the shooting. In 2018, the state Court of Appeals ordered a new trial in Douglas County Superior Court.

The Douglas County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office declined to pursue what would’ve been a third trial — the first ended in a hung jury — and instead offered Owens a plea agreement that would see him released from prison.

In April 2020, Owens entered an Alford plea that allowed him to plead guilty to second-degree murder without admitting wrongdoing, and was then released from custody.

After multiple delays due to COVID-19 issues, the 40-year-old Owens was resentenced Dec. 14 to 134 months in prison, or roughly 11 years, and ordered to spend three years under state Department of Corrections supervision.

In a 2008 interview with authorities, Owens said he shot Tyler to protect his mother, Kellie Brown, who’d recently ended a long-term relationship with Tyler. Brown and Owens alleged Tyler was physically and emotionally abusive, and in December 2008 Brown obtained a protection order against Tyler, according to court documents. At the time of his death, Tyler hadn’t been served the order because he was out of state.

Tyler entered Brown’s home Dec. 23, 2008 through a garage door to collect a vehicle registration.

As he was walking up a flight of stairs to a landing in the split-level house, Owens, 27 at the time, shot him in the face with the shotgun component of a .22-caliber rifle/.410 shotgun and then in the back of the head with the .22, documents said.

Owens told Douglas County detective Darin Darnell he felt threatened by Tyler’s presence at the home and didn’t know whether he’d harm his mother.

Omicron now dominant COVID variant in King County, predicted to soon overtake delta statewide

SEATTLE — Omicron has officially become the dominant coronavirus variant in King County and much of Western Washington — and will soon overtake the delta variant in the rest of the state, a Harborview Medical Center leader said Thursday.

The highly transmissible variant that’s been concerning health officials and scientists nationwide will likely outpace delta in a “matter of days to weeks,” Dr. John Lynch, Harborview’s medical director for infection prevention and control, said in a statement.

“I know this is hard for everyone,” Lynch said. “As someone who’s been dealing with this, as someone who sees patients with it, as someone who’s been working very hard for two years now to prevent new cases — if that happened to me, I would stay home if my antigen test was positive.”

Despite omicron’s quick spread, healthy people who are fully vaccinated and have received a booster shot “should mostly expect coldlike symptoms” if they get sick from the variant, Lynch said.

Still, some Washington state hospitals are already seeing signs that COVID-19 hospitalizations are again “in the midst of a surge.” But the crush they’re worried the variant could cause largely hasn’t hit yet, hospital leaders said in a Thursday news briefing.

As of Thursday, King County was averaging 778 daily infections, a 169% increase in the last seven days compared to the week before, according to the county’s COVID-19 dashboard. There’s also been a 2% increase in hospitalizations in the past week, the dashboard reported.

King County saw a single-day increase of 2,879 new coronavirus cases Thursday, and cases nearly doubled statewide from the previous day with 4,154 new cases reported Thursday by the state Department of Health.

Statewide COVID data remains incomplete for the past week, though the seven-day average hospitalization rate has remained fairly consistent since the beginning of December. The seven-day average infection rate increased slightly between Dec. 4 and Dec. 13, from 112.5 cases per 100,000 people to 116.8 cases per 100,000, according to DOH data.

The statewide epidemiological curve, however, doesn’t quite capture all of the most recent trends for specific areas of Washington, hospital leaders said Thursday.

South King and Pierce counties, for example, currently stand out for their recent rise in COVID hospitalizations, said Mark Taylor, a registered nurse and director of operations for the Washington Medical Coordinating Center — a center housed at Harborview Medical Center that balances placement of COVID patients requiring acute hospital care throughout the region.

Part of the recent increase there could be attributed to the delta surge or the result of Thanksgiving get-togethers, Taylor said.

He added, however, that the rise also “absolutely could be the beginning of the impact from the new variant.”

Early reports show the illness caused by omicron might be milder than the delta variant, and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, at the University of Washington, this week predicted the infection-hospitalization rate for omicron would be 90% to 96% lower than the rate for the delta variant.

The institute also projected that over the next two months, 60% of the U.S. population will “likely be infected with omicron” — meaning the sheer number of infections could still overwhelm already overburdened hospitals, Taya Briley, executive vice president of the Washington State Hospital Association, said Thursday.

The state’s hospital association and health care labor unions have been warning the public for months about long-term staffing and capacity issues. Briley echoed the same concerns Thursday in a plea for the public to be smart this winter. She also reminded residents that because the omicron variant is highly transmissible, hospital leaders are concerned how that might affect staffing.

“Even if staff don’t get super-sick from omicron, it’s still going to affect their ability to go to work because they need to isolate themselves,” Briley said.

In addition to wearing well-fitted, high-quality face masks, getting vaccinated and distancing, Briley also encouraged people to “appropriately seek care when they need it.”

”We continue to see people waiting until they’re having an emergency to seek care,” she said, advising people to reach out to primary-care physicians and nurse help lines early.

The primary strain on the state’s health care continues to be patients who don’t need acute care but are stuck in hospitals because of staffing shortages at long-term care facilities.

Unless these patients can be immediately moved to nonhospital settings, Briley said providers aren’t sure they can provide care to everyone who needs it during a big spike in COVID hospitalizations.

“Over these past months, we’ve shared our ability to successfully manage COVID-19 spikes and to care for everyone who needs it,” she said. “We’re feeling differently about that today.”

Two omicron cases confirmed in Chelan County

WENATCHEE — Two cases of the COVID-19 omicron variant have been confirmed in Chelan County.

Luke Davies, Chelan-Douglas Health District administrator, said the two cases occurred about a week ago. Davies said is working with the state Department of Health to learn more.

The omicron variant is likely more infectious than the original COVID-19 strain, but more data is required to determine whether the new variant causes more severe illness, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Earlier this week, Davies said that the omicron variant can make it through the entire two-county area in about 30 to 45 days, and it was only a matter of time before the variant reached the area.

Davies said he highly recommends that people get booster shots and wear their masks.

This is a developing story and will be updated.