Agriculture Industry new hot spot for virus… CDHD working on testing

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by Richard Uhlhorn

At Thursday’s virtual teleconference of the Chelan Leadership Response Team meeting, Barry Kling – Chelan-Douglas County Health District (CDHD) stated that Social Distancing has worked really well. “Our approach is to tell the community the truth of what is happening,” he said.

Kling said most of the positives have been asymptomatic. “We have a concern for farm workers… it is a critical industry in our area. We are working with the Ag. industry to formulate some plans.” The largest concern is the influx of an estimated 3,200 workers coming in for the upcoming cherry harvest.

The City of Chelan added seven more positives to its count over the last week, most of which Kling says is Ag. Worker related and members of their families.

Other concerns are for homeless shelters and the inmates at Chelan County Jail.

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Chelan District Ranger Kari Grover-Weir asked if the Stemilt numbers reported earlier in the week would remain asymptomatic. Kling replied that some of those workers would likely develop symptoms. “We don’t have the answer to that. Those who do need a higher level of care will get it,” said Kling. He added that the CDHD is exploring the possibility of letting farm workers continue working even though they have tested positive, but are asymptomatic. “These people are feeling fine and want to work.”

Chelan Fruit’s Jim Colbert stated that he is receiving a lot of calls from growers who have licensed housing (not H2A housing). “Is there anyway to know how long they will be positive,” asked Colbert. Kling replied that the only way would be to retest.

Debbie Conwell – Manson Chamber, said she had some community members complaining about shoppers not wearing masks. Kling replied that there are no requirements to wear masks presently. “You should wear a mask when you go into a store. Masks reduce your risk a little bit, but not a whole lot.”

“By and large, people are doing a good job. We have a pretty high level of cooperation. It is an act of Love for other people in the community,” said Kling.

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Kent Sisson – Emergency Management (EM), said that the current hotspots for positive cases are the farm worker camps. “It will be a big operation to test,” said Sisson, but he added that testing kits are finally coming through and that EM did order an additional 1,000 kits. “Omak is the latest hot spot,” added Sisson. He also stated that the State would be picking up the cost of all orders after May 1. “I’m in the process of explaining the process to hospitals, fire departments and other agencies.”

Ray Eickmeyer – LCCH-EMS, said the hospital and clinic are doing well. “We are open to a significant surge, but I don’t know if we will see that,” said Eickmeyer. “It will be interesting to see what things look like in six months or a year from now.”

Eickmeyer also said the hospital has created a very safe place for people who are either contagious or not contagious. “I just want to make it clear that if you have symptoms other than Coronavirus, please don’t hesitate to call.”

“We are using artificial intelligence called WANDA,” said Eickmeyer. WANDA is an integrated proactive screening, remote care management, and multimodal telehealth platform that has been adapted to monitor patients remotely in their homes, using CDC symptom guidelines for COVID-19. The patients can then be monitored by clinical staff who may themselves be self-isolating, as well as clinicians working routinely. The COVID-19 program can be implemented alone or in combination with other programs for vulnerable patients.

Christy Morris – Columbia Valley Community Health, reported that CVCH is sending Coronavirus patients to their COVID hallway, but also said they are going to be losing three rooms to the construction company soon. “They will be tearing down a wall to connect to the new space,” said.

Kari Grover-Weir told the team that the District will be on boarding firefighters next week. “We have been doing a bunch of scenario planning for things they might need this summer to prepare,” said Weir.

The seasonal firefighters will live together and ride in the same trucks together. The District plans on keeping spacing in vehicles as much as possible and instead of 10 people in a vehicle, it will be reduced to six.

Jim Colbert said Chelan Fruit is overseen by state regulators and wondered if they will be held to a different standard than the Forest Service. Kling replied that during emergencies there are times for compromising.

Colbert added that most of the Co-Ops growers are not large and will be dealing with housing issues and social distancing issues. Kling again stated that the key is sending emergency workers out to an emergency which will put them under different standards. Colbert replied, “I get your point. Cherry harvest is like a wildfire.” Kling said, “I understand your feeling, but there are different standards for different situations.”

Mayor Goedde said that it has been a very busy week in Chelan. He has been dealing with the Construction issue and the issues of people traveling to Chelan who should be sequestering at home. “I’m asking the governor to expand on the stay home-stay healthy issue,” said Goedde. He is also receiving requests for interviews and television clips.

Goedde wants to make it clear that Chelan wants its visitor base to please stay home until this crisis is over, and then Chelan will open up and welcome visitors back to the valley.

Goedde said he has had meetings with Sgt. Chris Foreman regarding planning for Memorial Day. “What are our options… what kind of enforcement can we expect,” said Goedde. “It is so open ended that we don’t know where we will be.”

Goedde is on the LINK Board as the City’s liaison and said that LINK is considering reducing the number of riders to 10 on its buses and adding three buses to each route to serve the public. Goedde said the LINK is down 35 percent in ridership from about 4000 to 1200 per day.

Manson, Chelan and Entiat Fire Districts reported that they are doing well.

The Food Drive is continuing to May 1 and Eickmeyer said the hospital is challenging people to raise funding for the Food Bank. Councilman Ray Dobbs replied that checks can be mailed to the Food Bank at P.O. Box 2684, Chelan, WA. 98816.

The Food Bank served 175 families this past week.

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