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Salmon science | Diving for the sake of fish at Rock Island Dam

ROCK ISLAND — Chelan County PUD diver Donnie Lane, wearing a diving suit and protected inside a metal cage, was lowered from a crane into the frigid Columbia River at Rock Island Dam Tuesday.

In what looked like part of a magic act, Lane stepped out of the cage, debris floating around him, and slipped beneath the murky water.

Lane is part of a PUD effort to install 25-foot aluminum I-beams to the upriver side of Rock Island dam, getting ready for new fish tag detection equipment.

In April, 1,000 yearling Chinook salmon will be tagged and released from both this dam and Rocky Reach dam to measure survival rates.

The fish study is required every 10 years at each of the Columbia River dams to assure at least a 91% survival rate through the dam system. PUD Senior Fisheries

Biologist Lance Keller said the new sensors that will be able to identify individual fish as they go through the dam — either over the spillway or through the turbines.

They will also be able to locate the fish using sensor arrays downriver from the dam.

In the 10 years since they last performed a survey like this, the tags inserted into the small fish are more than 50 percent lighter. A similar survey will be made in two years at Rocky Reach Dam.

The PUD has a crew of six certified divers who perform from 400 to 500 dives every year, according to diving supervisor Brent Thrapp. They also work in other departments in the PUD when not diving.

Even though the water is just above freezing, the divers’ suits are fed a supply of warm water that keeps them from getting too cold.

The generator unit and two spill gates near where Lane was diving had been tagged not to be operated nor opened while they are working in the water.

Looking on from a nearby trailer Justin Wilkinson kept tabs on monitoring equipment that supplied Lane with Nitrox — a mixture of nitrogen and oxygen. Part of Lane’s diving equipment is a video camera that other divers monitor inside the trailer.

On Tuesday, the crew was determining how to remove old pipes and brackets that had been attached to the dam about 20 years ago and that were covered in thick algae.

A two-way communication system allowed Lane to talk with the divers inside the trailer as they determined how to pull away the old metal. Another diver was on standby, his helmet and coiled air, water, and communication tubing sitting nearby on the deck of the dam.

The depth of the dive was only 20 feet, so protection from decompression sickness wasn’t needed although a decompression chamber was available at the west end of the dam.

Once the brackets are installed, the sensors will be slid down the I-beams, lowered into place in the river. From there, the fish will be monitored as they approach, go through, and leave the dam headed for the Pacific Ocean.

The results of the study should be completed by September of 2021. In 2010, the PUD showed a survival rate of 94 percent for spring chinook through the Rock Island Dam Project.

The Rock Island dam study was originally scheduled for 2020 but the PUD was granted a deferral because of planned maintenance on the Powerhouse 1 turbines.

The pandemic's silver lining: No flu deaths so far this year in Washington

SPOKANE — No one has died from influenza yet in Washington this year and during the current flu season.

This time last year, 70 Washington residents had died from the flu.

There is very little flu circulating in Washington and nationwide as of the seventh week of the flu season, and there are several potential reasons why.

Public health officials point to the precautions like masking, social distancing and better hand hygiene during the coronavirus pandemic as key reasons that flu rates are so low. Spokane County Interim Health Officer Dr. Francisco Velázquez said that while flu immunization rates were not as high as previous years, local case rates remain virtually nonexistent so far.

“We’ve not seen any serious illness, hospitalization or death from flu in the county,” he told reporters last week. “And the theory behind that is the precautions we’re taking for COVID are also functional against the flu, which has, in many ways, a similar transmission method. So the fact that we’ve been this diligent with public health measures is the main reason we have not seen any significant impact of the flu season.”

Last fall, public health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci and local health officers, begged the public to get their flu shots to prevent hospitals from dealing with a surge in both COVID-19 and flu cases this year. The flu surge has yet to materialize, however, and while health experts expected public health measures to help cut down on transmission, they didn’t expect the numbers to be as low as they are.

Dr. Janet Englund, who researches infectious diseases in children at Seattle Children’s Hospital, said looking to the Southern Hemisphere, she and her colleagues knew that the flu season would not be as bad this year.

“It’s not a surprise, but we didn’t think it would be down this low,” she said.

Washington’s data is reflected in nationwide data as well. While there have been some flu cases confirmed, those amount to well below the baseline percentages expected by this point in the flu season.

Hospital surveillance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 14 states found 183 flu hospitalizations since October, which amounts to a rate of 0.6 cases per 100,000 people. This rate is much lower than average for this time of year and is also lower than any rates recorded for flu seasons since 2005, according to the CDC.

While experts think public health measures have helped cut down transmission, Englund said there are several other factors at play too. First, she points to who usually spreads the flu: children.

“Flu is spread predominantly and very well by school-aged children,” Englund said. “It’s very contagious in younger children and more contagious than COVID, so if the children aren’t going to school, and if they’re staying home when they feel sick and wearing masks, we think that’s contributing to the lack of spread.”

COVID-19 is more contagious among certain populations and age groups than flu, according to the CDC, and the novel coronavirus is far more deadly.

Last flu season, 114 Washington residents died from the flu. In 2017-18, the worst season in the past decade, 296 Washington residents died from the flu.

Since the first COVID-19 deaths were recorded in Washington a year ago, 4,956 residents have died from the virus.

While the data look promising for a low or nonexistent flu season this year, a surge later is still possible.

“It’s highly unlikely we’ll be having a big surge of influenza at this time,” Englund said. “Having said that, back in 2009 when we had the H1N1 pandemic, we actually did have a summer surge of flu — it can happen.”

Public health and infectious disease experts are hopeful that continued masking, social distancing and the fact that kids will not be back in school this summer will help prevent a flu surge, Englund said.

Looking to countries like Australia and New Zealand, Englund said reopening will mean the return of several respiratory viruses, especially in the fall. She said getting the flu shot this coming year will be incredibly important, especially if kids are back in schools full time.

”As we open up and as school starts, it’s very likely there will be more flu, and it will spread,” she said. “It will be very difficult to distinguish flu from COVID disease.”

Englund, who studies pediatric infectious diseases, said that younger children going back to school who have not been exposed to the flu or other respiratory viruses, including respiratory syncytial virus, this year will be particularly vulnerable to those viruses in the coming year.

”Many of us think there’s a chance they will come back,” she said. “And the question is when?”

'Excited and happy' | Wenatchee Valley teachers welcome vaccinations as move toward safety, normalcy

WENATCHEE — Wenatchee Valley teachers and staff were glad to hear Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement Tuesday that all school staff and licensed childcare workers could immediately seek COVID-19 vaccines.

Submitted photo 

Angelica Vasquez

WestSide High School

Inslee made the announcement following President Joe Biden’s directive that all states prioritize vaccinations of teachers and childcare workers.

WestSide High School counselor secretary Angelica Vasquez, who is also a bilingual paraeducator, said she cried when she heard the news. They were happy tears, she said, at the idea that things might soon return to normal.

She already had been vaccinated and was pleased her co-workers would now get the opportunity.

“After taking care of a couple of members of my family during their COVID infection ... and not being able to see and hug family, friends co-workers and students, it was no-brainer for me to take the vaccine,” she said. “I did it for me, for my family, and for my community. I want to be back to normal! Getting vaccinated was vital to me.”

When the news broke late Tuesday night that educators were moving into the state’s 1B-1 tier to qualify for the vaccines, Wenatchee School District’s spokesperson, Diana Haglund, said a message was quickly sent to district staff.

Similar notifications were sent to Eastmont teachers and staff, said Eastmont Superintendent Garn Christensen. The response was positive, he said.

School districts are now working with the Chelan-Douglas Health District and state Department of Health on logistics. Christensen said March 12 has been set as an Eastmont Educator Vaccination Day at the Town Toyota Center. Other dedicated dates are expected.

“We pointed (teachers) to the Town Toyota Center as a primary location to jump on if there was space available, but also let them know additional vaccinations could be available at local pharmacies,” Haglund said. “We’ll be working with local partners on pop-up style vaccination clinics in the days ahead just for school staff.”

Wenatchee Education Association President Monika Christensen said getting the notification that teachers now qualify for the vaccine was a blessing.

“It happened sooner than we expected but our teachers have been waiting for this. They were excited and happy to have this opportunity provided,” she said. “I was getting phone calls, text messages and emails right away. Teachers are pleased.”

But not all teachers are comfortable with the vaccinations, she said, and vaccinations are not required.

“It will come down to personal preference,” she said. “Our teachers, as a whole are excited to be vaccinated. I encourage those that want the vaccine to find a way to get it. Get yourself signed up. If you’ve been given the opportunity, take every advantage of it.”

Haglund said the school district has been tracking vaccinations of teachers and staff. As of Wednesday, Haglund said 112 Wenatchee School District staff had received their first and second vaccinations. Garn Christensen said more than 200 teachers in the Eastmont School District have been vaccinated.

Submitted photo 

Jon Magnus

Wenatchee High School

Wenatchee High School teacher Jon Magnus is one of them.

“I am relieved to have received the vaccine for both personal and professional reasons,” he said. “As a primary caregiver for a family member with terminal cancer, it is comforting to know that there is a diminished chance of getting/spreading COVID to that person. As an educator, I am thrilled to take any step that enables our students to return to full-time instruction as soon as possible.”

Submitted photo 

Rebecca McFarland

Lincoln Elementary School

Lincoln Elementary School teacher Becky McFarland, who teaches kindergarten through fifth-grade in a structured learning center, received the vaccine in January. She is pleased others will now have that chance.

“Given the unique needs of our student population, my classroom staff and I have been providing in-person instruction with students since September. In January, we were given the opportunity to receive COVID vaccinations. This allowed us to both serve our students and feel safe. We are so very grateful,” she said.

Whether the effort to vaccinate teachers will mean a change in the hybrid instruction model that has returned students to classrooms part-time in Eastmont and Wenatchee remains to be seen.

Wenatchee Superintendent Paul Gordon previously said that if 100% of teachers and staff were vaccinated or given the option of vaccination, the school district would consider bringing students back to school for full-time, in-person instruction. No decisions have been announced.

Wenatchee Town Toyota Center adds vaccine appointments to make room for teachers

WENATCHEE — The Town Toyota Center mass vaccination site is making space for teachers, school staff members and childcare workers to schedule COVID-19 vaccine appointments this week, starting with an additional 100 slots today and Friday.

More will follow next week, according to a press release from the Chelan-Douglas Health District, “to encourage teachers and licensed childcare providers to register for a COVID-19 vaccine appointment.”

The move follows Tuesday’s directive by President Joe Biden to make teachers immediately eligible to get the vaccine. Gov. Jay Inslee accomplished that by moving teachers, school staff and licensed childcare providers into the state’s Phase 1B Tier 1 on the vaccine priority list, joining people age 65 and older and those age 50 and older who live in a multigenerational household.

Educators, school staff members and licensed childcare providers still have to go through the process to confirm eligibility and schedule an appointment.

The focus on educators, though, means additional first-dose vaccine clinics and “teacher vaccination days” are being set up.

The health district offers the following recommendations for educators, staff members and licensed childcare providers:

At the Town Toyota Center:Confirm eligibility through the state Department of Health’s Phase Finder website: https://form.findyourphasewa.org/210118771253954

  • .

Schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment through DOH’s PrepMod website: https://prepmod.doh.wa.gov/

  • or call the COVID-19 hotline at 1-800-525-0127, then press #. The new hotline hours are Monday 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
  • Bring your school identification or badge to the vaccine appointment.

Other vaccination opportunities:

  • Columbia Valley Community Health will offer first-dose clinics starting next week in Wenatchee, Chelan and Orondo. For appointments, call 662-6000.
  • Confluence Health will also have first-dose appointments available next week. For appointments, call 663-8711.
  • To check for first-dose vaccine appointments at Lake Chelan Health, go to


  • or call 682-6115.