After the Methow Valley went two and a half months with no new COVID infections, there were three confirmed cases reported in Twisp in the past week.
There are currently 16 active cases in the county, according to Okanogan County Public Health. The cumulative case count in the county was 1,101 as of Monday (Oct. 12). Total deaths from the disease remain at 13.
Until the new infections, the cumulative cases in the Methow Valley had been at 11 since July 30 — six in Winthrop, one in Twisp, and four in Carlton.
Overall, new infections in Okanogan County have remained low, with 27 cases confirmed since Sept. 29, a 14-day incidence rate of 37.4 per 100,000 population. At one point this summer, that rate was over 1,000.
One of the Twisp cases is an individual in the 60-to-75 age group. No additional information about the other cases was available at press time.
Gov. Jay Inslee relaxed some Safe Start restrictions last week, expanding opportunities for sporting events, permitting movie theaters in Phase 2 counties (like Okanogan) to open at 25% capacity, and allowing up to six people at a table in restaurants.
Gebbers testing results
Okanogan County Public Health has released results of state-ordered testing of more than 3,100 Gebbers Farms employees. The test results found a positivity rate of 0.7%, lower than in the community at large, Okanogan County Community Health Director Lauri Jones said in an Oct. 9 press release.
In August, when public health officials became alarmed by the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 in the food and agriculture industry, state Secretary of Health John Weisman ordered the testing of all Gebbers Farms workers and of workers at other growers with an infection rate of 10% or more.
“The dangers of bias and misinformation can complicate our response to COVID-19, especially in these uncertain times,” Jones said in the press release, urging people to rely on state and local health departments for information.
“Gebbers Farms came under fire based on assumptions that people made about H-2A farmworkers,” she said. The H-2A program covers temporary agricultural workers.
Gebbers Farms is based in Brewster. Brewster has accounted for more than half of the county’s total COVID cases.
The cases in Brewster were a result of community spread, Jones said in August. Because housing options there are limited, many people share a residence and have no place to isolate at home if they are sick or exposed to COVID, she said.
“We encourage everyone — no matter where you work — to get tested at the first sign of symptoms, and to work with contact tracers to make sure we can stop the virus in its tracks,” Jones said in the press release.
After COVID took a heavy toll on agricultural workers statewide this summer, the state launched a program providing up to two weeks of sick leave to farmworkers.
Two investigations by the state Department of Labor & Industries into COVID protocols at Gebbers Farms haven’t been completed, according to an agency spokesperson.