Although the rate of new COVID infections has been slowing in eastern Washington, including in Okanogan County, “encouraging declines in Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties are offset by rises in Okanogan, Chelan and Douglas counties,” the Washington Department of Health (DOH) said in its weekly report for Aug. 7.
Still, new cases in Okanogan County are rising more slowly, with confirmed infections dropping to 206 per 100,000 for the week of July 29 to Aug. 4, from a high of 592 just two weeks earlier, according to DOH.
The county had a cumulative total of 877 confirmed cases as of Sunday (Aug. 9), more than 100 of those added in the previous week. Cases follow a stark pattern, with 52 of the new cases recorded in Brewster, which has 59% of the county’s total. Omak recorded 21 new cases in the past week, bringing the total there to 134.
The cases in Brewster are a result of community spread, Okanogan County Community Health Director Lauri Jones said at the county’s Board of Health meeting on Tuesday (Aug. 11). Because housing options are so limited, many people live 10 to a residence and work at businesses around the county. They have no place to isolate at home if they are sick or exposed to COVID, she said.
Dealing with the COVID pandemic has been very costly, with Public Health staff working ’round the clock for months and the need for additional computers and cell phones for data management and contact tracing, Jones said.
The Board of Health approved using CARES Act money to pay overtime for Jones, a Public Health nurse, and the county’s health officer, all of whom accrued months of overtime.
All three county commissioners are members of the Board of Health. County Commissioner Jim DeTro was the only Board of Health member to vote against using the money for overtime. DeTro pointed to the extra hours regularly worked by other county employees, including the treasurer at tax time and the emergency manager, and to his own extra hours during wildfires in 2014 and ’15, “which could have paid for my whole third term,” he said.
While DeTro said he recognized their hard work, these county employees didn’t miss a paycheck. He compared them to businesspeople in the county who were forced to shut down under “heavy-handed rules” during the pandemic, who now face bankruptcy and have “had their lives ruined.”
The commissioners have allotted one-fourth of their CARES Act money, or $575,000, to Public Health, which can be used for wages and other direct COVID expenses, County Commissioner Andy Hover said.