Heartbreak and hope were hand-in-hand as 2020 met its end and 2021 arrived.
National events — including the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and its aftermath — showed the challenge facing incoming President Joe Biden’s administration, above and beyond dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Washington state, the vaccine rollout got underway, though that feeling of relief that accompanied the arrival of two vaccine options in mid-December was soon tempered by confusion and concern over the who, when and how of their delivery.
Case counts and the death toll continued to climb, attributed to holiday gatherings and pandemic fatigue.
The renewed restrictions on businesses and social gatherings ordered before Thanksgiving were extended through Christmas and New Year’s. Economic survival worries were helped, in part, with a federal stimulus package, providing some relief, though late in the game.
Gov. Jay Inslee on Jan. 5 introduced a new phased reopening plan for the state, along with a new set of options for restaurants, bars and fitness centers. It was followed by an updated vaccine rollout plan — that includes a mass vaccination site at the Town Toyota Center and an expanded list of who can get the next shots, though the details were slim at first, with a communication lag between state and local officials. As the Wenatchee Valley Business World prepared to go to print, those gaps were starting to be filled in, and further help appears to be on the horizon from the federal level.
Here are some of the developments from the past month that set the stage for the rest of 2021:
Monday, Dec. 21
Gebbers Farms receives one of the largest safety fines in state history
The state Department of Labor & Industries fines Gebbers Farms more than $2 million after an investigation into the COVID-19 deaths of two workers this summer finds "dozens of safety and health violations.”
The $2,038,000 fine was one of the largest worker and safety fines in state history, the agency said in its release.
The fine was based on 24 COVID-19-related safety violations — $84,000 each. The agency said the fines were in response to "egregious willful violations." Twelve of the violations related to unsafe sleeping arrangements and 12 related to unsafe worker transportation.
The company said it is looking into appealing the violation.
One person hospitalized after Heritage Heights COVID-19 outbreak
Heritage Heights, an assisted living center in Chelan, reports 19 positive COVID-19 cases, with one person hospitalized.
The center, which has 24 residents and 26 staff members, reported 10 positive cases as of Dec. 15. The center has now completed testing all of its residents and staff, and testing will continue each week until all tests come back negative for two consecutive weeks.
Tuesday, Dec. 22
Cresting the third wave
Residents of Chelan and Douglas counties appear to have listened to health care officials' pleas to stay home during Thanksgiving, says Chelan-Douglas Health Officer Dr. Malcolm Butler.
The counties are on the downswing of the third COVID-19 wave with the incidence rate at about 706 positive cases per 100,000 people over a two-week period, he said. It reached a rate over 1,000 at its peak.
Chelan and Douglas counties recorded nine deaths from COVID-19 from Nov. 9 to Dec. 14.
Wednesday, Dec. 23
1 million Americans receive a COVID vaccine, CDC says
More than 1 million Americans have received their first doses of a COVID-19 shot across the country since federal officials authorized two vaccines for emergency use, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CDC Director Robert Redfield called it an "early but important milestone.”
A CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices updated its interim recommendations for COVID-19 vaccine allocation.
It said the second group of people after health care workers and nursing home residents to receive a coronavirus vaccine should be individuals 75 years of age and older and front-line essential workers who are not involved in health care.
The next group should consist of people between 65 and 74 years of age, individuals between 16 and 64 years old with high-risk medical conditions and essential workers who were not recommended in the second round of vaccinations.
"Vaccination is a critical tool in bringing this unprecedented pandemic to an end," Redfield said. "But until every person in the U.S. is able to get a COVID-19 vaccine, we continue to ask Americans to embrace proven public health strategies including social distancing, good hand hygiene, and wearing a mask in public to reduce the risk of transmission and protect our communities."
Monday, Dec. 28
COVID-19 rate improves
The Chelan-Douglas Health District reports a COVID-19 infection rate of 662.4 per 100,000 people over a two-week period as of Dec. 23.
That’s down from 906.1 on Dec. 16 and from 1,017.2 as of Dec. 9, the highest rate reported since the pandemic started.
From Dec. 14 to Dec. 20, 411 people from Chelan and Douglas counties tested positive for COVID-19 out of 3,694, a 11.1% positive testing rate, according to health district data.
It is down from a 17% positive testing rate from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6. The two counties had a steady 2% positive rate for most of the pandemic until October.
Tuesday, Dec. 29
Chelan long-term care center continues to manage outbreak
Heritage Heights in Chelan now has had 25 positive COVID-19 cases after its second week of testing.
The second round of testing shows four new positive cases and 19 negative results, according to a news release. The center has 24 residents and 26 staff members total.
Staff and residents will continue to be tested until four weeks after the last positive test comes back.
Heritage Heights is one of at least 10 long-term care centers in Chelan County that had COVID-19 outbreaks at the beginning of December, Chelan-Douglas Health Officer Malcolm Butler said. It is now down to nine.
Ten more Grant County COVID-19 deaths announced
Grant County Health District officials announce the deaths of 10 more people due to coronavirus infection, bringing the total in the county to 83.
Seven people were residents of long-term care facilities. Five lived at McKay Healthcare and Rehabilitation in Soap Lake. They included two women in their 90s, two women in their 80s and a man in his 50s. Sixteen residents at McKay have died as a result of coronavirus infection.
One resident of Lake Ridge Center in Moses Lake died, a man in his 80s. That brings the total number of Lake Ridge Center residents who died from COVID-19 to 17, with one additional death pending review.
Wednesday, Dec. 30
Wenatchee police get their first vaccinations
Wenatchee police officers get their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine at Confluence Health.
Several officers came in to get their vaccine after the hospital reached out, said Wenatchee Police Capt. Edgar Reinfeld. Confluence told the department they expect to have more vaccination opportunities for officers in the future, he said.
COVID-19 rate holds steady
The COVID-19 rate in Chelan and Douglas counties has held steady over the past two weeks.
The rate inched up from 662.4 per 100,000 over a two-week period from Dec. 9 to Dec. 23, to 666.5 per 100,000 from Dec. 16 to Dec. 30, according to Chelan-Douglas Health District data.
Inslee extends indoor dining ban, other restrictions until Jan. 11
Gov. Jay Inslee announces a one-week extension to restrictions on indoor service at bars and restaurants — until Jan. 11 — as holiday travel drives a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases.
The governor had already extended his "Stay Safe — Stay Healthy" guidelines until Jan. 4 after first putting them in place in mid-November. In addition to banning indoor dining and drinking, the order closes other businesses that rely on indoor activities, such as movie theaters and gyms.
Tuesday, Jan. 5
Inslee announces new reopening plan
Gov. Jay Inslee announces a new region-by-region reopening plan that includes metrics for when certain activities can resume, though much of the state will not be moving forward yet.
The plan goes into effect Jan. 11. The entire state will begin in Phase 1, which has many of the same restrictions but does allow for some limited fitness and entertainment activity.
The new reopening plan groups counties into eight regions across the state. Each region will advance to the next phase, or not, depending on the data. Previously, phases were determined county-by-county. Chelan, Douglas Grant and Okanogan counties comprise the North Central Region.
To advance to Phase 2, regions must have:
- A 10% decreasing trend in case rates
- A 10% decrease in COVID hospital admission rates
- An ICU occupancy rate less than 90%
- A test positivity rate of less than 10%
The second phase allows restaurants to open indoor dining and indoor fitness centers to open at 25% capacity. Sports competitions can resume with limited spectators, and wedding and funeral ceremonies can increase their capacities from current limits.
Regions also could move backward if two or more of the metrics worsen. Each region's metrics will be evaluated on Fridays, and any movement forward or backward in phases will take place the following Monday.
Wednesday, Jan. 6
Seniors 70 and older will be part of next wave for vaccinations
The Washington Department of Health is prioritizing older Washington residents and those who live in multi-generational households to be next in line for the COVID-19 vaccine.
New tiers prioritize residents over the age of 70, those over the age of 50 in multigenerational households and then some high-risk essential workers over the age of 50. Officials warned that the state cannot move past the first phase of vaccination just yet, however.
Thursday, Jan. 7
Chelan-Douglas Health District strategizes mass vaccination plan
The Chelan-Douglas Health District is trying to figure out how it will help facilitate the wider population getting the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.
Both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are delivered in batches of around 10, Health Officer Dr. Malcolm Butler said, so it makes sense to vaccinate groups of people instead of having individuals go to a pharmacy or doctor's office, like they would to get the flu shot.
"We sort of need a vaccination center where they're opening up 10 doses at a time and they need 10 people in line who can come in and all get vaccinated," Butler said.
The health district is likely to try to deliver the vaccines from one central location, maybe in Wenatchee or East Wenatchee, he said, rather than creating multiple vaccination centers in multiple cities.
The health district is estimating it will need to vaccinate about 1,000 people a day at that one location when things really get going, he said.
Eight more COVID-19 deaths reported in Grant County
Grant County Health District adds eight deaths to the county’s COVID-19 count, for a total of 91 since the pandemic began.
Four of the eight newly reported deaths were associated with an outbreak at the Columbia Crest Center, a Moses Lake nursing home. The other four deaths were a Moses Lake woman in her 40s, a Mattawa man in his 60s, a Moses Lake man in his 60s, and a Moses lake man in his 80s.
Friday, Jan. 8
Chelan, Douglas counties still in Phase 1
The state Department of Health says North Central Washington will remain in Phase 1 of Gov. Jay Inslee's new two-phase reopening plan for now.
The new plan groups counties into regions that must qualify together to pass four metrics in regards to COVID-19 infections to move to Phase 2. The region that includes Chelan, Douglas, Okanogan and Grant counties is failing in two metrics — hospital admissions and case counts.
The 14-day rate of new COVID-19 hospital admissions decreased by 1%, but needs to decrease by 10%. The number of COVID-19 tests that came back positive increased by 15%, but needs to decrease by 10% to meet the guidelines.
The region performed well on the other two metrics — the 14-day rate and percentage of occupied intensive care beds.
The 14-day rate of new COVID-19 cases (number of cases per 100,000 people over a two-week period) decreased by 24%, ahead of the required 10%. The average seven-day percentage of intensive care unit beds occupied was at 76%. It needs to be less than 90%.
The determination on the phase for each region is announced on Fridays.
Monday, Jan. 11
Chelan-Douglas Health District reports six more COVID-19 deaths
The Chelan-Douglas Health District reports six more residents of Chelan and Douglas counties have died from COVID-19.
In Chelan County, a woman in her 70s, a woman in her 80s, a man in his 50s and a man in his 90s, died from COVID-19, according to a health district news release. In Douglas County, a woman in her 80s and a man in his 80s died from COVID-19.
It brings the total number of deaths to 35 in Chelan County and nine in Douglas County, according to the health district.
Wenatchee gyms reopen
Gyms and fitness centers reopen as part of Gov. Jay Inslee's newest two-phased reopening plan, the "Roadmap to Recovery."
A few regulations apply:
- Masks are required to be worn at all times
- Appointments required, with a 45-minute maximum
- Spacing is one person per 500 square feet.
Thursday, Jan. 14
Eight senior care centers had COVID-19 outbreaks in December
Eight long-term care centers in Chelan and Douglas counties are recovering from COVID-19 outbreaks that happened in December.
The largest of the outbreaks was at the Cashmere Care Center, reporting 47 positive cases between residents and staff combined, according to information released by the Chelan-Douglas Health District. The Cashmere Care Center was the only center where the data was not divided between residents and staff.
Other centers reported the following outbreaks:
- Mountain Meadows (Leavenworth): One resident, two staff
- Prestige Senior Living at East Wenatchee: Eight residents, eight staff
- Prestige Colonial Vista: 12 residents, 16 staff
- Bonaventure: Five residents, two staff
- Heritage Heights (Chelan): 13 residents, 11 staff
- Regency Wenatchee Rehabilitation & Nursing Center: One resident, three staff
- RiverWest Senior Living: one resident, one staff
In the month of December, two residents were hospitalized with COVID-19 and two residents died, according to the health district. Locations were not disclosed.
The health district reports 12 long-term care centers have ongoing outbreaks as of Jan. 12 and four residents are hospitalized with COVID-19. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 23 long-term care residents have died from COVID-19 in Chelan and Douglas counties. The two counties combined have had 44 deaths.
Law enforcement, firefighters get vaccinations
Law enforcement personnel and firefighters in Chelan and Douglas counties have been vaccinated as part of the first phase of a COVID-19 vaccine rollout, after medical personnel.
It isn't everyone within those agencies, but the first-responders who might be exposed to COVID-19 during an aid call, Chelan County Commissioner Kevin Overbay said.
"We basically looked at this as the high-risk workers in the health care settings and the high-risk first responders," Overbay said of prioritizing the vaccinations.
Chelan and Douglas counties have been very efficient in their use of the roughly 5,000 vaccines that have been provided so far to Lake Chelan Hospital, Columbia Valley Community Health and Confluence Health, Overbay said. About 96% of the vaccines have been allocated to people.
New group leading local COVID-19 pandemic response
An organization called the Multi-Agency Coordinated (MAC) group has been leading Chelan and Douglas counties' response to the pandemic since about Thanksgiving.
Chelan County Commissioner Kevin Overbay, a member of the committee of elected and health officials, said its members, in addition to himself, include:
- Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett
- Douglas County Sheriff Kevin Morris
- A representative from Confluence Health
- A representative from Columbia Valley Community Health
- A representative from Aging & Adult Care of Central Washington
- Chelan-Douglas Health District Administrator Luke Davies
- Chelan-Douglas Health District Epidemiologist Peter Houck
- Chelan-Douglas Epidemiologist Joyous Van Meter
- Chelan-Douglas Health District Officer Malcolm Butler
- Chelan-Douglas Board of Health Chair Dan Sutton (Douglas County commissioner)
In September and October, a group called the Coordinated Policy Group was making pandemic response decisions. The group included Latino community representatives and other members. The Coordinated Policy Group still exists, but it now acts as an advisory group to MAC, Overbay said.
MAC is in charge of deciding things like how vaccines are distributed in the community, where COVID-19 testing occurs and more, he said. They also give direction to the incident management team that is directly involved in the pandemic response.
The group's meetings are not open to the public.
Friday, Jan. 15
Lake Chelan Health reports outbreak
Lake Chelan Health stops accepting visitors or new patients due to the spread of COVID-19 at its medical center after five people at the hospital test positive for COVID-19.
The medical center is working with the Chelan-Douglas Health District to manage the situation.
North Central region remains in Phase 1
Chelan, Douglas, Okanogan and Grant counties will remain in Phase 1 of Gov. Jay Inslee's new two-phased reopening plan.
The combined four counties of the North Central region met two of four metrics for moving to Phase 2, but that’s not enough. No counties in the state qualified for advancing to the next phase.
Chelan County’s COVID-19 death toll climbs by three
The Chelan-Douglas Health District adds three more deaths — men in their 50s, 80s and 90s — to Chelan County’s COVID-19 list, bringing the total to 38.
All of the deaths occurred in the first week of January.
Monday, Jan. 18
Town Toyota Center to be state COVID-19 vaccination site
Wenatchee’s Town Toyota Center is identified as one of four new Washington COVID-19 vaccine sites that will be set up by state agencies next week as a way to increase the rate of vaccination against the virus across the state.
During a press conference, Gov. Jay Inslee said it’s one of several avenues for vaccinations being made available to people including local clinics and pharmacies. Inslee also announces that vaccines will be made available to everyone 65 years or older and those 50 years or older in multi-generational housing.
The Department of Health also is introducing its new Phase Finder tool, findyourphasewa.org, designed to help state residents find out if they are eligible for a COVID vaccine now or if not, sign up to be notified when they become eligible.
Pybus opens concourse for 'open air' dining
Pybus Public Market's concourse reopens for indoor seating — at 25% capacity, which meets the state's Health Washington guidelines announced Jan. 11.
The change is part of a new concept for restaurants, taverns, breweries, wineries and distilleries that allows "open air' establishments. The state's Liquor and Cannabis Control Board met with Pybus staff to determine if the facility could meet airflow standards. It did, though continued carbon dioxide monitoring is required and building windows will remain open to allow fresh air to circulate.
"Bring a jacket," is the advice offered in the press release.
Tuesday, Jan. 19
Chelan County man dies of COVID-19
A Chelan County man in his 80s is added to the COVID-19 death count. The Chelan-Douglas Health District said the man died the second week in January. He's the 39th Chelan County resident to die of the coronavirus, with nine deaths reported in Douglas County.
Lake Chelan Health staff cleared
Lake Chelan Health’s 98 staff members get a clean bill of health after being tested Jan. 15 for COVID-19. The hospital continues to remain closed for new patients after five inpatients tested positive for COVID-19 last week, according to a news release from the hospital.
Wednesday, Jan. 20
Local officials unclear on state's plans for Town Toyota Center
The Chelan-Douglas Health District has almost no details on how the Town Toyota Center will be used as a mass vaccination site, says Chelan-Douglas Health Officer Malcolm Butler.
Town Toyota Center General Manager Mark Miller says he learned that the center had been identified as one of four vaccination sites across the state by watching the television news.
Despite the lack of details, dozens of people each day are showing up inquiring about being vaccinated, Miller said.
Confluence Health also has been flooded with calls from residents asking about COVID-19 vaccinations, said spokesman Andrew Canning. Its call center received about 3,000 phone calls on Tuesday alone.
It is in the process of setting up a hotline people can call, he said.
"At least someone will be able to talk to a human and ask a question," Canning said.
Douglas County man dies from COVID-19
Chelan-Douglas Health District officials report the 10th COVID-19 death in Douglas County — a man in his 50s died from the coronavirus during the second week of January.