A1 A1
County pest board seeks public's help to contain apple maggots

On a sunny spring afternoon near Selah, a crew hired by Yakima County cut down an apple tree.

This wasn’t a case of a tree growing in the right-of-way of a new road or interfering with utility lines. Instead, the tree had become a haven for apple maggots, and the Yakima County Horticultural Pest and Disease Board was removing it to keep the insects in check.

“In a perfect world, you would think you could spray and kill those things,” said Keith Mathews, the board’s program coordinator. “Once there is an infestation, it is difficult to eliminate it.”

Apple maggots, along with coddling moths and other pests, pose a threat to the state’s apple industry, one of the region’s economic mainstays. And, like the coronavirus, it requires public cooperation to slow its spread, Mathews and others say.

Apple maggots, a variety of fruit fly, originated in New England, where they were usually found among hawthorn, quince and crab apple plants. In the 1980s, the insect found its way into Washington state.

Its life cycle starts in June, when the flies emerge from the ground after a winter hibernation, and the wave usually continues until September, said Mike Willett, a former manager of the Washington State Tree Fruit Research Commission and an advisory member of the Yakima County pest board.

The insects typically travel about a half mile in search of food and mates, although some have gone as far as 3 miles with a strong wind driving them, Mathews said. The fly then plants its eggs in apples, where the larvae eat the fruit before retiring into the ground to complete their growth cycle.

Each fly can lay 300 to 500 eggs, Willett said, and while sprays can kill adults, larvae are usually shielded if they’re in the fruit. They can be killed if the fruit is chilled, he said.

For a grower, having maggot larvae show up in fruit can add up to a significant loss. Willett said overseas markets will reject a fruit shipment if it is found to have been infested with apple maggots, coddling moths or other pests.

And since a foreign shipment cannot be returned, it is destroyed or must go to another market where it will be sold at a loss because the fruit has bugs, he said.

David Allan of Allan Brothers said that while commercial growers have been able to keep the maggots out of their crops so far, the flies poses a threat to organic fruit, which cannot be sprayed to the same degree as nonorganic fruit.

“We do a fair amount of organics ourselves, and if we wound up with apple maggots, it would kick (the apples) out of organics” because of the need to spray, Allan said.

Washington produced almost 70 percent of the nation’s apples in 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with 7.4 billion pounds of fruit produced.

After maggots were discovered, the state established quarantine zones in infested areas, barring people from moving home-grown fruit, or even yard waste and soil, from those areas into others. The quarantine areas, indicated by highway signs warning people not to move fruit across the line, cover the west side of the state, as well as Spokane County and parts of Yakima, Kittitas, Okanogan, Chelan and Lincoln counties.

In Yakima County, the quarantine area covers the Upper Valley and a part of the western side of the Lower Valley.

Gov. Jay Inslee famously got in trouble last year when he brought Honeycrisp apples grown on the grounds of the governor’s mansion to people displaced by wildfires in Bridgeport, Omak and Malden, in violation of quarantine. The apples, which were infested with maggots, were tracked down and destroyed, according to news reports.

So far, the quarantines and work by pest control boards have protected commercial growers, Willett and Mathews said, but backyard fruit trees and abandoned orchards can poses threats to the fruit industry.

Willett said controlling maggots can be a difficult task for the average backyard gardener, who may not be able to get the organic sprays used by exterminators or have the time to cover each individual apple with a small bag to keep pests out.

To track down apple maggots, the state Department of Agriculture hangs adhesive traps. If one is found, Mathews goes out and informs the property owner that there are maggots present and offers to help by either spraying the tree or, in more extreme cases, cutting it down.

Mathews said 687 trees were sprayed in the Upper Valley last year, and 187 were removed by the county. While the county will cover a couple of sprayings, Mathews said his board doesn’t have the budget to regularly service people’s trees.

Willett’s advice is for people to have the tree removed, and if they want the shade to replace it with an ornamental tree.

top story
New migrant facilities crop up to ease crowding, again
  • Updated

For the third time in seven years, U.S. officials are scrambling to handle a dramatic spike in children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border alone, leading to a massive expansion in emergency facilities to house them as more kids arrive than are being released to close relatives in the United States.

More than 22,000 migrant children were in government custody as of Thursday, with 10,500 sleeping on cots at convention centers, military bases and other large venues likened to hurricane evacuation shelters with little space to play and no privacy. More than 2,500 are being held by border authorities in substandard facilities.

The government failed to prepare for a big increase in children traveling alone as President Joe Biden ended some of his predecessor’s hardline immigration policies and decided he wouldn’t quickly expel unaccompanied kids from the country like the Trump administration did for eight months.

So many children are coming that there’s little room in long-term care facilities, where capacity shrank significantly during the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, minors are packed into Border Patrol facilities not meant to hold them longer than three days or they’re staying for weeks in the mass housing sites that often lack the services they need. Lawyers say some have not seen social workers who can reunite them with family in the U.S.

“As it currently stands with a lot of these emergency intake sites, children are going in and there’s no way out,” said Leecia Welch, senior director of legal advocacy and child welfare at the National Center for Youth Law. “They’re complete dead ends.”

Donald Trump and Barack Obama faced similar upticks in Central American children crossing the border alone in 2019 and 2014. The numbers have now reached historic highs amid economic fallout from the pandemic, storms in Central America and the feeling among migrants that Biden is more welcoming than his predecessor.

The Trump administration had predicted the strain on capacity, documents show. Projections from a former top official in the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, which cares for migrant children until they’re reunited with family, said the agency would run out of beds by mid-January or early February. On Feb. 22, the Biden administration reopened a tent facility used during previous increases as smaller shelters ran out of beds.

The Border Patrol encountered 18,663 unaccompanied children in March, the highest monthly total on record, well above previous highs of 11,475 in May 2019 and 10,620 in June 2014.

The number of children in custody rose after eight months of expulsions that began in March 2020, when Trump invoked a section of an obscure public health law amid the pandemic. More than 15,000 unaccompanied children were expelled between April and November last year, according to government figures.

In response to a 2019 uptick in crossings, the Trump administration had increased the number of beds in small- and medium-size shelters that are better prepared to handle family reunifications — to 13,000 by early 2020.

But pandemic restrictions brought down actual capacity to 7,800 beds by November, said Mark Greenberg, who was acting assistant secretary for the Administration of Children and Families at U.S. Health and Human Services during Obama’s second term and part of Biden’s transition team. A February government tally had it at 7,100 beds.

“Throughout 2020, they didn’t rebuild capacity,” Greenberg said of the Trump administration. “For much of last year, the number of children in custody was very low, and they had 8,000 available beds, and the government was expelling children at the border. It was in that context that they didn’t rebuild the loss of supply.”

During the last months of Trump’s term, unaccompanied minors were allowed to stay after a federal judge ruled in November that the government couldn’t use the pandemic as a reason to expel them. In January, an appeals court said the government could resume the practice, but Biden decided against it.

The numbers quickly rose under Biden, who ended other Trump policies, including one that made asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for court hearings in the U.S.

Jonathan H. Hayes, who directed Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement from February 2019 to March 2020, said the Biden administration needed to listen to estimates on capacity needs before undoing Trump’s policies.

Projections of arrivals threatened to strain the system and should have prompted officials to hit pause, considering the time it takes to get licensed shelters up and running, Hayes said.

It took longer than usual after protests in 2018 and 2019 turned the public against Health and Human Services, Hayes said, referring to demonstrations outside facilities that housed migrant children separated from their parents under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy.

Opening shelters for unaccompanied minors normally took four to six months as the government acquired state licenses and local permits. But in 2019, it was taking anywhere from nine to 12 months because of community pushback.

“We had Democrats, state and local officials who didn’t want to cooperate because in their minds they had bought into this idea that kids were in cages in HHS,” Hayes said.

Recent federal court filings show the problems that Health and Human Services faces as the number of children rises.

The challenge “will likely increase in severity in the coming weeks and months,” Cindy Huang, director of HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, wrote last week. She said the agency is prioritizing moving children out of border authorities’ custody, relying on the growing network of large emergency venues run by private contractors.

Setting up the sites has cut in half the number of unaccompanied minors in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody to 2,500, down from 5,000 in late March. But the transfers are severely straining Health and Human Services resources.

The first week of April, 5,000 children were transferred to HHS sites or shelters, but only about 2,000 were released to relatives, according to government figures. This was after already reducing the average length of stay in HHS custody from 51 days in October to 35 in March and instituting measures to speed up releases, such as flying children to their families.

HHS spokesman Mark Weber said the Biden administration has taken “aggressive actions” to expedite transfers out of Border Patrol facilities and shorten stays at the large emergency sites.

“They’re just not able to keep pace with the need,” said Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense, which provides legal services to immigrant children. “We are not thrilled by the fact they’re using these mega ad hoc emergency facilities, but I will say better to have kids there than a Border Patrol situation, or in Mexico.”

Eleven emergency sites have opened since mid-March. At two recently visited by attorneys, children said they had not met with case managers tasked with reuniting them with family.

Attorneys have long pressed for expanding HHS’ capacity to vet sponsors and prepare children to be released promptly — not continually adding more bed space to keep them detained, said Peter Schey, president and executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law.

“Had they done that, this entire crisis could have easily been avoided,” he said. “The solution was to pour a lot more money into case managers.”

Half of US adults have received at least one COVID-19 shot

WASHINGTON — Half of all adults in the U.S. have received at least one COVID-19 shot, the government announced Sunday, marking another milestone in the nation’s largest-ever vaccination campaign but leaving more work to do to convince skeptical Americans to roll up their sleeves.

Almost 130 million people 18 or older have received at least one dose of a vaccine, or 50.4% of the total adult population, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. Almost 84 million adults, or about 32.5% of the population, have been fully vaccinated.

The U.S. cleared the 50% mark just a day after the reported global death toll from the coronavirus topped a staggering 3 million, according to totals compiled by Johns Hopkins University, though the actual number is believed to be significantly higher.

The country’s vaccination rate, at 61.6 doses administered per 100 people, currently falls behind Israel, which leads among countries with at least 5 million people with a rate of 119.2. The U.S. also trails the United Arab Emirates, Chile and the United Kingdom, which is vaccinating at a rate of 62 doses per 100 people, according to Our World in Data, an online research site.

The vaccine campaign offered hope in places like Nashville, Tenn., where the Music City Center bustled Sunday with vaccine seekers. High demand for appointment-only shots at the convention center has leveled off enough that walk-ins will be welcome starting this week.

Amanda Grimsley, who received her second shot, said she’s ready to see her 96-year-old grandmother, who lives in Alabama and has been nervous about getting the vaccine after having a bad reaction to a flu shot.

“It’s a little emotional. I haven’t been able to see my grandmother in a year and a half almost,” said Grimsley, 35. “And that’s the longest my entire family has ever gone without seeing her. And we’ll be seeing her in mid-May now.”

The states with the highest vaccination rates have a history of voting Democratic and supporting President Joe Biden in the 2020 election: New Hampshire at the top, with 71.1%, followed by New Mexico, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine, CDC data show.

The demand has not been the same in many areas of Tennessee — particularly rural ones.

Tennessee sits in the bottom four states for rates of adults getting at least one shot, at 40.8%. It’s trailed only by Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi — three other Southern states that lean Republican and voted for Donald Trump last fall.

Vaccination rates do not always align with how states vote. But polling from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research has shown trends that link political leanings and attitudes about the vaccines and other issues related to the pandemic, which has killed more than 566,000 people in the U.S.

A poll conducted in late March found that 36% of Republicans said they will probably or definitely not get vaccinated, compared with 12% of Democrats. Similarly, a third of rural Americans said they were leaning against getting shots, while fewer than a fourth of people living in cities and suburbs shared that hesitancy.

Overall, willingness to get vaccinated has risen, polling shows.

In January, 67% of adult Americans were willing to get vaccinated or had already received at least one shot. The figure has climbed to 75%, according to the latest AP-NORC poll.

Nationwide, 24% of Black Americans and 22% of Hispanic Americans say they will probably or definitely not get vaccinated, down from 41% and 34% in January, respectively. Among white Americans, 26% now say they will not get vaccinated. In January, that number was 31%.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said the goal is to get community figures, from athletes to clergy, to encourage vaccinations, particularly as the seven-day national average of cases remains over 60,000 new infections per day.

“What we are doing is we’re trying to get, by a community core, trusted messages that anyone would feel comfortable with listening to, whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, an independent or whomever you are, that you’re comfortable,” Fauci said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

Fauci also indicated Sunday that the government will likely move to resume use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine this week, possibly with restrictions or broader warnings after reports of some very rare blood clot cases.

In a series of news show interviews, Fauci said he expects a decision when advisers to the CDC meet Friday to discuss the pause in J&J’s single-dose vaccine.

“I would be very surprised if we don’t have a resumption in some form by Friday,” he said. “I don’t really anticipate that they’re going to want to stretch it out a bit longer.”

Fauci, who is President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said he believed federal regulators could bring the shots back with limits based on age or gender, or with a blanket warning, so the vaccine is administered in a way “a little bit different than we were before the pause.”

The J&J vaccine was thrown into limbo after the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration said last week they needed more evidence to decide if a handful of unusual blood clots were linked to the shot — and if so, how big the risk is.

The reports are rare — six cases out of more than 7 million U.S. inoculations with the J&J vaccine. The clots were found in women between the ages of 18 and 48. One person died.

Authorities stressed they have found no sign of clot problems with the most widely used COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S., from Moderna and Pfizer.