COVID-19 developments in late April and early May were a chaotic combination of good news, bad news, uncertainty and frustration as patience with the disruptions to daily life and impacts to budgets continued to wreak havoc.
Expanded testing efforts showed the virus continues to spread in some areas, prompting a push to make sure messages about how to stay safe were getting through to everyone. At the same time, the continued restrictions were starting to wear in a big way.
Grumblings got louder in anticipation of an end to the shutdown. Protests were planned, arguments made. On one side are those who said the cure was worse than the coronavirus and it’s time to get back to work. Others said any restart has to put a healthy population first. A host of others argued for something in between.
As the month wore on, some businesses decided to call it quits, others continued to look for ways to push through.
The usual community milestones were missing, making it difficult to judge what might be the new normal. No Apple Blossom Festival. No school graduation ceremonies. No spring concerts.
Some creative alternatives surfaced, providing a preview of what the world might look like in the months — and possibly years — to come. One thing everyone seems to agree on is that it likely won’t be quite the same.
As near-daily announcements flowed from Olympia outlining new rules and timelines, hope started to surface. The world got brighter for some.
That sparked a new set of challenges as those impatient for the starting gun butted heads with those trying to keep hold of the reins. Only time will tell what will come next.
As of May 22, the Chelan-Douglas Health District reported 208 positive cases of COVID-19 in Chelan County — 10 of those added that day. Six deaths attributed to the virus have been reported. Douglas County has 141 positive cases reported, with three cases reported that day. It reports three deaths.
Here are some of the ups and downs from the past month:
Wednesday, April 22
Testing expands as agriculture housing worker results sink in
Chelan Douglas Health District officials take steps to expand testing after 36 of 71 agriculture workers in a housing facility in East Wenatchee test positive for COVID-19.
Most workers did not exhibit symptoms that would have warranted testing, prompting the district to reconsider its approach to testing people in communal living sites, including agricultural housing and homeless shelters.
"It was really remarkable to find that many positives as in a group like that," health district Administrator Barry Kling said. "It really has us thinking differently now."
Health officials and community leaders simultaneously increase efforts to make sure Spanish speakers are getting information about how to prevent spreading the virus including frequent hand washing, wearing masks and social distancing. The effort includes videos and broadcasts in Spanish and distributing flyers with information for those who don’t have access to the internet.
Hints of good news
Gov. Jay Inslee says he expects to announce within days the back-to-work timelines for residential construction and elective surgeries.
All of that, though, depends on virus modeling data designed to prevent a second wave of the virus that might come if restrictions are lifted too early.
He also addresses statements made by elected officials in Franklin and Snohomish counties indicating they would not enforce the state's "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" emergency order, which includes restrictions on gathering in groups.
"It is disappointing when elected officials promote illegal activity that puts their community's well-being at risk," Inslee said. "People's lives are deeply impacted by this crisis. We are working hard to turn the tide on COVID-19 and begin lifting restrictions. These decisions are guided by science. Our priority is keeping Washingtonians healthy."
Chelan and Douglas counties get a nod of recognition for their willingness to work with his office on the construction restart. The two counties earlier rescinded proclamations that would have allowed some construction projects to restart, contrary to the Governor's order.
"They believed their guidance was consistent with my orders. When my office contacted them and expressed concerns, they rescinded the orders and are willing to work with my office," he said. "I appreciate their cooperation. They are examples of strong leadership."
Inslee said the shutdown, called to prevent the spread of COVID-19, is working and asked residents to stay the course.
"It is saving lives. There are people alive today because of what we're doing. Now is not the time to give up," he said.
Friday, April 24
After temporarily closing, some local restaurants reopen to give to-go services another shot.
Construction restart guidelines arrive
Inslee says construction projects previously underway can be completed if safety guidelines are followed. Those guidelines were created in consultation with members of the construction industry, health and safety experts, and local government officials, a model he said also will be used to establish guidelines for reopening other industries.
Saturday, April 25
Let us fish
Protestors in boats, armed with fishing poles, gather on the Columbia River under the George Sellar Bridge to protest restrictions on fishing, calling it “the ultimate social distancing activity.” The Wenatchee protest is one of several around the state including Moses Lake, Spokane, and Lake Washington, organized by the #letusfish group, a collection people interested opening fishing in Washington.
Monday, April 27
The outdoors beckon
Gov. Jay Inslee announces that outdoor activities, including fishing, hunting, state parks and public lands, will be allowed starting May 5. Camping will remain closed, though.
"Based on the data we have now received, we are close to the point of the virus where we can enjoy the outdoors again," he said. "This is a data-driven decision. It is a decision that follows the data because that is what we need to lead in these efforts."
He cautions that if the virus case counts start to climb, measures might have to be rolled back.
Wednesday, April 29
Inslee issues new guidance on construction and elective surgery.
With no clear end to the COVID-19 pandemic in sight, community health centers across the state, including Columbia Valley Community Health and Okanogan Family Health, are facing financial devastation, according to an economic impact analysis conducted by a national accounting firm.
With a reduction in face-to-face services and suspension of dental and non-emergency visits, the firm CliftonLarsonAllen predicts severe funding shortfalls that could force up to 16 of the state's 27 community health centers, operating 167 clinic sites, to close by mid-September — unless they receive additional funding from the federal government or services are allowed to pick back up.
Ag housing changes
Chelan County’s migrant worker camp in Monitor puts up 30 tents that will hold four people each, instead of six, to comply with state Department of Health guidelines. The camp also has 25 trailers for families.
Workers are expected to start arriving in June, said camp manager Edmundo Gonzalez.
"We have to modify how we should have beds and how many people can be in each tent or in each trailer, but so far it is not final yet," he said.
The guidelines recommend workers sleep 6 feet apart from each other and sleep head to toe.
The biggest challenge is so much is unknown about how to keep people safe, said Dr. Malcolm Butler, health officer for the Chelan-Douglas Health District.
"We don't know what it means to sleep in the same room as someone (with COVID)," Butler said. "I don't think anyone has studied it. So a lot of this is best judgment by people who have thought about it as much as anybody."
Friday, May 1
More masks needed
Confluence Health asks the community to continue to craft and donate homemade masks for patients visiting its facilities.
The organization expects to increase the range of non-urgent services it will provide over the coming weeks. It's requesting 5,000 masks for patients visiting its facilities for those expanded services.
More than two-thirds of businesses surveyed by the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce say they will not be able to sustain operations for another six months without help.
The online survey of COVID-19 shutdown impacts also found:
- More than two-thirds of businesses prioritized safety and well-being of their employees over short-term business performance.
- More than half the businesses reported revenues down by more than 50%.
- Nearly one-third of businesses reported revenue down by 80% or more.
- 53% believe they can sustain their businesses for less than three months
- 28% said they are "not sure" how long they can remain in operation
The chamber announces the formation of a Recovery Council of business, civic, nonprofit and health care leaders to "quickly engage" with Gov. Jay Inslee's restart process following the COVID-19 shutdowns.
Monday, May 4
Inslee extends stay home order to May 31, explains four phases of recovery
As he had promised on Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee extends the state's stay home, stay healthy order to May 31. He also explains his four-phase approach toward reopening businesses around the state, along with an option for smaller counties that were not hard hit by COVID-19 to apply to the state Department of Health for permission to open earlier.
The state, Inslee says, is just starting in the first phase of the plan, which includes some construction activity and outdoor activities like hunting, fishing, golf, and access to state parks.
He expects at least three weeks between phases, each of which will further loosen the restrictions on businesses. Social distancing and appropriate health precautions, including the use of personal protective equipment, will continue to be required through each phase.
No active virus cases at Bonaventure or Colonial Vista
After a pair of outbreaks in April, Bonaventure of East Wenatchee and Prestige at Colonial Vista say they currently have no active cases of COVID-19.
Short-term rental ban expires
The Chelan County Commission extends an emergency resolution for the county for COVID-19 through May 31, to match the state's order, but allows a ban on short-term rentals to expire.
Chelan County on April 6 had banned the rentals due to a concern over an influx of visitors from outside the area putting a strain on local resources.
Tuesday, May 5
More ag workers test positive
Two thirds of Stemilt agricultural workers in an East Wenatchee housing unit have now tested positive for COVID-19, an increase from earlier reports.
Other facilities in the area have not shown any sign of infection, but the close quarters workers live in present a possibility for rapid infection, Chelan-Douglas Health District Administrator Barry Kling said.
Stemilt isolated all those who tested positive and quarantined those that tested negative in separate housing units. The company is also shopping for the employees and delivering groceries free of charge.
Stemilt conducts safety meetings daily with its employees, according to court documents. Employees also get asked daily questions about their temperature and possible symptoms they may be experiencing.
The company provides cleaning products to its employees in the housing units and instructs them to clean twice a day, according to court documents. They also clean the vans daily that transport 14 people at a time.
The people in the vans are all crew members and wear masks during transportation, according to court documents.
In the orchards each worker is assigned one row and prohibited from working across from each other, according to court documents. Each crew member is also assigned a hand-washing station with soap.
Tuesday, May 5
Chelan, Douglas counties ask governor to loosen quarantine
The Chelan and Douglas county commissions look at applying for Phase Two of Gov. Jay Inslee's four-phase plan for reopening the state after COVID-19.
Both counties plan on starting the process, but meeting requirements might be a challenges, say county commissioners.
The current first phase allows some hunting, fishing, golf, boating and hiking to reopen. The second phase would reopen all recreational activities involving five people or fewer, as well as some of the following business activities:
- New construction
- In-home nannies and house cleaning
- Real Estate
- Hair and nail salons
- Restaurants with 50% capacity and table sizes of no more than five people
"Treating every jurisdiction like King County doesn't make sense," says Douglas County Commissioner Kyle Steinburg. "At some point, control from the governor's office needs to be relinquished to local officials."
Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett issues a statement recommending both counties enter Phase Two. Burnett argues that Central Washington Hospital has not seen a large number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the North Central Washington area and the closure is hurting the local economy.
Chelan County isn't on the list of 10 counties eligible for applying for Phase Two status, said Mike Faulk, spokesman for Governor Jay Inslee. Counties with populations of less than 75,000 and that haven't had any positive cases of COVID-19 in the last three weeks can apply to enter Phase Two.
Thursday, May 7
Federal funds help public agencies
Link Transit is on the list to receive $7 million in federal aid. It’s part of $25 billion the Federal Transit Administration received as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
The money will almost completely cover the loss of revenue the transit agency is expecting from the reduction in sales tax, due to the pandemic.
Chelan and Douglas counties and their municipalities will receive more than $8.6 million in federal CARES Act funds.
The money can go toward everything from public health and human services to small business and economic support.
Friday, May 8
Health district stops releasing COVID-19 ethnicity data
The Chelan-Douglas Health District stops releasing a breakdown of COVID-19 test results by ethnicity, data that has shown a disproportionately high rate of cases among the local Latino community.
The decision was prompted by calls from some members of the Latino community who felt the disparity in testing results could lead people to inaccurately believe they were responsible for the spread of the virus.
Other local Latino community leaders argue the information is important for understanding the disparity and responding to it appropriately.
The health district has been updating COVID-19 test results — including cases broken down by age, sex and city — on its website daily since April 14.
At that time, the cases numbered 47 Hispanic and 40 non-Hispanic.
As capacity increased and more tests were administered, the ethnic disparity grew. On April 28 the cases numbered 130 Hispanic, 41 non-Hispanic and one unknown. That was the last day the ethnicity data was updated.
The population of Chelan and Douglas counties is around 30% Hispanic.
The state Department of Health releases both case counts and deaths by ethnicity for Washington, which has a 12.4% Hispanic population, according to the data.
Across the state, 31% of positive cases and 8% of deaths are attributed to people who are Hispanic.
Monday, May 11
Ethnicity data returns
The Chelan-Douglas Health District resumes reporting coronavirus test results broken down by patient ethnicity.
The up-to-date case counts posted to the health district's website now number 219 Hispanic, 48 non-Hispanic and two unknown. Hispanics represent 81.4% of positive COVID-19 cases, despite accounting for around 30% of the area's total population.
Tuesday, May 12
Port launches small business grant program
The Chelan-Douglas Regional Port Authority establishes a grant program to assist small businesses with paying rent and buying personal protective equipment.
Health district drafts proposal to partially reopen counties
The Chelan-Douglas Health District is writing a proposal to start reopening both counties and loosen COVID-19 restrictions.
The isea is that both counties move to a 1.5 phase opening that could allow some activities to restart, but would still incorporate several restrictions.
“There is no guarantee that it is going to change anything, but we’re wanting to give it a try,” health district Administrator Barry Kling said.
He notes Chelan County is still in the middle of the epidemic. Five people are hospitalized with COVID-19 at Central Washington Hospital, one is in ICU. The number of positive cases, though, nearly doubled a week ago.
“We certainly aren’t seeing the signs that the local epidemic is subsiding,” Kling said. “It hasn’t been as serious as if we hadn’t done anything to prevent it, but it isn’t going away either, that’s for sure.”
Thursday, May 14
No go on the early start
State Secretary of Health John Wiesman declines the Chelan-Douglas Health District request to start reopening Chelan and Douglas counties early, saying the counties do not meet eligibility requirements.
Counties around the state have moved to phase 2 if their population is less than 75,000 and they have not had a positive case of COVID-19 in the last three weeks, Wiesman said. Chelan and Douglas counties continue to see positive cases each week.
Friday, May 15
Leavenworth’s downtown core closes to traffic and parking
After seeing too much traffic and too many people over Mother’s Day weekend, Mayor Carl Florea closes the downtown core to traffic and parking.
"In my one sweep through town, I would say that the downtown parking spots were roughly 80% full," he wrote. "But with all those curious visitors doing lots of window shopping — it was pretty evident to me that we needed to take some steps to set a different tone and standard sooner than later."
Barricades were put up Friday morning, and the closure will last at least until Phase 2 of the COVID-19 shutdown, he said.
Florea said this will allow more space for pedestrians. Sidewalks will be opened for use by businesses in Phase 2.
Hand sanitizer stations will be spread out around the downtown core and masks will be available, Florea said.
Monday, May 18
Non-urgent medical and dental care
Gov. Jay Inslee announces the reopening of non-urgent medical and dental services.
"We believe now, with appropriate safety measures, we can start the process of getting back to non-urgent medical and dental care," Inslee said.
Medical and dental providers must comply with new health and safety protocols, Inslee said, noting the level of allowed increased activity depends on the ability to be prepared for a second wave.
"This virus remains a threat to our way of life. We know PPE (personal protective equipment) and test capability remain challenges," Inslee said. "We think of this as a pacing item — how we are going to pace ourselves to open our economy. One of the things we'll be looking at is PPE capacity and contact tracing. We're going to see how these impact our plans going forward."
The plan was developed, Inslee said, in consultation with health care partners, including nurses, surgeons, pediatricians, dentists, community health clinics and hospitals. He said health care providers worked together to come up with the new protocols.
Fines less likely
The Chelan-Douglas Board of Health rescinds an order allowing the health officer to fine businesses not complying with the COVID-19 shutdown.
The board passed the original order March 20. Chelan-Douglas Health District Administrator Barry Kling said the purpose of rescinding the order is to reduce an impression that the board of health wants to take draconian actions against businesses.
The order made sense during the beginning of the pandemic, Chelan County Commissioner Kevin Overbay said, but now sends the wrong message and encourages people to complain about businesses which are operating during the pandemic.
The board of health is not asking the health officer or the health district to ignore the governor's order, Douglas County Commissioner Dan Sutton said.
Tuesday, May 19
The Windmill owner sets May 27 reopening date
The Windmill Restaurant owner Kevin Smith says he will re-open May 27, five days before Gov. Jay Inslee's "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order expires. The state's tentative plan is to move to Phase 2 at that point, which eases some restrictions, but not all.
Phase 2 would allow restaurants to reopen at 50% customer capacity. Some restaurants have stayed open and provided takeout or delivery service, a model that wouldn't work for The Windmill, he said.
Smith is reducing the number of tables to eight and spreading them farther apart to give customers 6 feet of distance.
Wednesday, May 20
Next round of summer festivals, events cancel
Cashmere's Founders' Days, Waterville Days, the Wenatchee River Salmon Festival and the Wenatchee Youth Circus all announce their summer events have been canceled.
Chelan County-owned Ohme Gardens will not open.
Leavenworth Summer Theatre cancels two of its three summer productions, but is holding out hope that a late summer “Sound of Music” run is still possible.