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Gov. Jay Inslee answers questions from reporters during a news conference in a gymnasium in Wenatchee Valley College’s student recreation center Tuesday. Inslee addressed the high COVID-19 case rate in Chelan and Douglas counties and outlined the resources the state is providing local authorities.

WENATCHEE — Gov. Jay Inslee and local health officials announced Tuesday morning that the state will set up a COVID-19 incident command team in Chelan and Douglas counties.

The incident command team was established due to the high infection rate in Chelan and Douglas counties, Inslee said during a news conference Tuesday morning at Wenatchee Valley College. Both Chelan and Douglas have infection rates hovering around 500 people per 100,000 over a two-week period, among the highest in the state.

“That’s frankly the reason we came because this is one of the hot spots in the state of Washington,” Inslee said. “And it is the place we are most concerned about. It is a beautiful valley full of beautiful folks.”

The incident command team will assist the Chelan-Douglas Health District with managing the pandemic, Chelan-Douglas Health Officer Malcolm Butler said. The National Guard has also been deployed in North Central Washington to assist with testing, starting in Bridgeport today, Butler said.

They will continue testing into Chelan and Manson later this week, he said.

North Central Washington has seen great compliance when it comes to wearing masks into stores and social distancing at work, Butler said. The challenge communities are facing is people engaging in social events.

“Every single one of us has been to a park, or driven past a soccer field, or driven past a house on your street with 16 cars lined up in front of it,” he said. “This is where the disease is being transmitted. It is in social gatherings where we’re having fun.”

Inslee also announced that the state plans to improve access to healthcare in agricultural communities and provide more testing.

When asked about the state’s protection of agricultural workers so far, Inslee said the state has already implemented aggressive rules to protect farmworkers and H2A guest workers. The state is also taking enforcement action on those rules, he said.

“(People in) the agricultural industry, by necessity, are exposed in situations that are a lot more dangerous than a lot of other (industries),” Inslee said. “So we have tried to do everything we can to minimize the risk.”

On Saturday in Wenatchee , local activists and community organizers protested conditions for farmworkers and said the state hasn’t done enough. In particular, they highlighted the death of three employees of Gebbers Farms in Okanogan County.

As for the large amount of tourism that counties like Chelan and Okanogan are experiencing, Inslee said the state has been focused on a communication strategy.

“That’s always a fine balance, because some of these places want business too,” Inslee said. “So it’s striking that balance that is sometimes a problem.”

Butler has said in the past the state needs to do more to curb tourism in cities like Leavenworth and Chelan.

Inslee met Tuesday morning with members of the Chelan and Douglas county commissions, as well as the mayors of Wenatchee, East Wenatchee, Chelan and Leavenworth, Douglas County Commissioner Dan Sutton said.

Sutton in late May was a plaintiff in a lawsuit against Inslee’s ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy,’ order. The lawsuit argued that the COVID-19 crisis had subsided and the need for the restrictions on businesses was over. Sutton later withdrew as a plaintiff.

Sutton said that is now water under the bridge.

“You know the fact of the matter is, COVID-19 is here, it’s real and it is part of our ecosystem now,” he said. “It will never go away, we will have to learn to open up despite of it or in light of it and figure out how to keep businesses open, whole and healthy.”

Sutton appreciates the resources the state is providing, but this is just the beginning, he said.

“We certainly need more, but we’re not complaining about what we have,” Sutton said. “We’re very thankful that we received what we have.”

Tony Buhr: 664-7123

buhr@wenatcheeworld.com or

on Twitter @TonyBuhr