By Marcy Stamper
For the past several weeks, Okanogan County has been grappling with its highest number of COVID cases since the start of the pandemic, and the impacts are being felt by residents and county employees.
The county auditor’s office, which serves more members of the public than any other department — for vehicle licenses and the recording of real estate documents and vital records — was struggling to keep up after 40% of their staff was out sick with COVID, Okanogan County Auditor Cari Hall told the county commissioners last week.
Hall made the decision to close the office for a day and a half until other staff members could be tested to avoid exposing the public, she said. They also needed time to finish processing the county’s payroll.
The staff are protected by a plexiglass shield and signs require everyone to wear a mask, but some people have been ignoring the signs. Some customers yell and scream at her staff, Hall told the commissioners.
“If the aggression continues to escalate, then I might need to say, ‘You know what — we can’t have this anymore,’” she said.
When the auditor’s office was closed for five and a half weeks last year, everyone was gracious, Hall said. But that was when everything in the state was shut down. Now, they’re getting much more pushback, she said.
Hall said she’s trying to balance the fine line of serving the public and protecting the public, her staff, and people in other county departments.
“I can’t continue to have my staff exposed at the level they’re getting exposed at right now,” Hall said. The only alternative would be to close their doors completely and switch to an appointment-only schedule, which they hope to avoid. Some services can be performed online, but others must be done in person.
Okanogan County stats
Okanogan County recorded 261 COVID infections in the week ending Sept. 20, which is 30 more than last week. Five of the cases were in Twisp, three in Winthrop, and one in Carlton.
The county also reported three more deaths from the disease, one female and two male residents of north and central Okanogan County, bringing the total lost to COVID to 44.
As of Sept. 17, the case rate per 100,000 population over 14 days was 1,152 for the total population. For unvaccinated people, it was 2,022, and for vaccinated people, it was 333. There were 74 breakthrough infections — cases recorded in vaccinated individuals.
Central Washington Hospital is treating 51 people for COVID as of Sept. 21. Forty-four of them are not fully vaccinated. Fifteen people are in the ICU and 10 on a ventilator. The hospital is caring for 11 Okanogan County residents with COVID.