By Don Nelson
In the prevailing political climate, here’s something worth remarking on: Okanogan County, widely regarded as a bastion of “red” politics, is outperforming the rest of the state in COVID-19 vaccination rates.
The county’s success in vaccinating a significant part of its population countervails the No. 1 indicator of resistance to vaccines: whether you voted for Donald Trump. According to recent polls, nearly half of Republican men don’t intend to get vaccine, and trust Trump’s advice over that of the nation’s best medical minds (Trump himself has been vaccinated). In the 2020 general election, 56% of the county’s vote went to Donald Trump.
As we are reporting this week, “with 35.8% of its population receiving at least one dose and 28.2% fully vaccinated, Okanogan County is beating the state averages of 32.68% and 20.85%, respectively.”
Okanogan County’s excellent performance and vaccination efficiency have taken place with little fanfare. Recently, Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat — whose work I admire — wrote about the discrepancy between “east side” and “west side” vaccination rates in the state.
As Westneat noted: “ 10 counties with the lowest vaccination rates have all seen 22% or fewer of their residents get the first shot so far — with nine of those 10 being red counties east of the Cascades … Chelan County, in Central Washington, has a 39.5% vaccination rate, defying the general east-west trend.”
No mention of us, quietly defying the same trend and going about our business in the state’s largest county.
I think there are several reasons why Okanogan County is performing well relative to the rest of the state.
• Okanogan County Community Health Director Lauri Jones has been a relentless advocate for COVID-combating protocols and for an aggressive vaccination program. She he taken on the county commissioners when she thought they were not being responsive enough, and faced death threats for her steadfast support of science, rationality and proactivity in the fight against the coronavirus. Okanogan County remains in Phase 3 of the state’s recovery plan, while three counties slipped back to Phase 2 this week.
• Our hospitals are all nonprofits supported by taxpayers in their respective hospital districts. Family Health Centers is also nonprofit. As small rural health providers, they face extreme bottom line pressures but don’t have to answer to invested shareholders.
Individually, these health organizations have worked hard to come up with manageable vaccination plans. They have also cooperated as much as possible, with active participation by other providers including Confluence Health, Aero Methow Rescue Service and similar emergency response organizations, and pharmacies such as Ulrich’s in Twisp.
As our story this week notes, “When vaccinations began in January, each provider offering the shots had separate registration processes, which caused confusion and overlapping work … About three weeks ago, the county debuted its centralized portal, run through the same program — but using completely separate data — as the county’s emergency notification system.” That action has consolidated and streamlined the process to make it even more efficient.
• While most of Okanogan County glows Republican red, the Methow Valley leans Democratic, even liberal. We wear masks, and expect visitors to wear masks. We’re all about getting the shots. That makes a difference, even though we represent only a small portion of the county’s population. I suspect that if we could separate them out, our vaccination percentages would be higher than those in the rest of the county.
That said, Okanogan County has seen a recent uptick in its COVID cases. Okanogan County Public Health attributes that to people traveling more, gathering more often than recommended, and not wearing masks. And around the country, we are seeing a terrifying resurgence of the pandemic in states such as Michigan.
The lesson: Stay the course on vaccinations, Okanogan County. It’s working.
The blotter’s back
Most features that disappear from newspaper pages don’t come back. Over the years, the Methow Valley News has shed some offerings because we had neither the human resources, nor the space, to keep them going as our revenues trended the same direction as the rest of the newspaper industry.
This week, we are reviving a popular feature that many readers have missed: the police blotter of responses to 911 calls. Thanks to the efforts and energy of Managing Editor Natalie Johnson, the blotter returns with its terse summaries of local law enforcement engagements. It’s meant to be generally informative, not detailed, but the entries may generate story leads for us as well. Our goal is restore the blotter as a regular offering with news value to our readers.