NCW — The response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Chelan and Douglas counties has been hampered by a lack of trust and communication with the area's most vulnerable communities, federal officials say.

“Many groups expressed a lack of trust," Hannah Lofgren, a member of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention team sent to Wenatchee, told community members Thursday afternoon. Lofgren said the target of the lack of trust varied across the groups.

"Occasionally it was a medical system, more often political leaders and other factors as well," said Lofgren, a CDC community mitigation specialist.

The CDC team of epidemiologists has been in North Central Washington for about a month. The team is still analyzing data from a survey of the community it conducted. It also pulled together six focus groups, talked to key stakeholders in the community and, Lofgren said, discovered:

  • Confusion about whether people should get tested for COVID-19 if they weren’t showing symptoms.
  • A perception that reports in data or the phases for reopening were inconsistent.
  • A disconnect in focus groups between access to free testing sites and the awareness that those sites and opportunities existed.

“There are persistent inaccuracies regarding risk perception,” Lofgren said. “So this idea that it is happening to other people and not me, a lack of understanding about the potential severity of COVID-19.”

She said it would be beneficial if health officials released more data on the number of people hospitalized due to the virus and on those suffering long-term side effects because of it.

In the Hispanic community there is some perception that the virus is worse in Mexico than here, because businesses are more open than in Mexico, Lofgren said.

The focus groups discovered people strongly believed that churches and church leaders should get more involved in supporting compliance with safety measures, said Emily Lilo, CDC team partnership/communication specialist.

“Because even if they’re following good practices in their churches by distancing, they’re not necessarily actively encouraging those prevention behaviors,” Lilo said.

People also don’t like to be told what they have to do, she said, instead it should be framed as what people can do to help their friends and neighbors, she said.

Another issue was a lack of good systems in place to notify those who are testing positive and for conducting contact tracing, Lilo said. People don’t really know what they’re supposed to do if they do test positive and are concerned telling others about it could impact their ability to work.

“There’s a lot of skepticism and people don’t want to answer the phone and that was true across the board in all groups that we spoke to,” Lofgren said.

Tony Buhr: 664-7123

buhr@wenatcheeworld.com or

on Twitter @TonyBuhr