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Workers line up for vaccines at packing houses and farms in the Yakima Valley
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Irvin Escobar, a 26-year-old employee at Hansen Fruit, has avoided COVID-19 infection so far.

He credits a mix of safety practices — washing hands, wearing masks — and pure faith.

“The main thing was trusting in God,” he said.

Escobar now had another means of protection from COVID-19: A Johnson and Johnson vaccine shot, which he received during a Friday clinic at Hansen Fruit.

He admits that he likely wouldn’t have sought out a shot on his own, but the on-site clinic made getting it an easy decision.

“I’m excited to get it and continue with life,” he said.

Escobar was one of nearly 250 workers who received vaccine doses at the mass vaccine clinic at Hansen Fruit. Such clinics are one tool the local agriculture industry has been using to ensure that as many workers as possible are vaccinated.

Employees of Allan Bros. in Naches also received vaccinations.

“It’s about doing our part for our community and trying to get beyond this,” said Eric Hansen, owner at Hansen Fruit.

Hansen said he hoped to vaccinate most, if not all, of the workers in the company’s packing operation Friday and hope to hold additional clinics or other efforts to vaccinate workers at its orchards throughout Central Washington.

Agricultural workers are part of Phase 1B, Tier 2 under the state’s vaccine priority plan. Those workers, along with many others in the same category, became eligible on March 17.

Just weeks after workers became eligible, agricultural employers, farmworker advocates and health organizations have been quick to organize on-site vaccination clinics and group appointments to speed up the vaccination process.

For those in the local tree fruit industry, the aim is to get all workers vaccinated before the start of the cherry harvest in June at the latest, said Tim Kovis of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association.

“The more opportunities, the better,” Kovis said.

Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic has had several on-site clinics, including the one at Hansen Fruit Friday.

Ana Aguilera, administration services manager who was at Hansen Fruit Friday, said agricultural employers play an essential role in encouraging employees to get the vaccine and completing the necessary paperwork to ensure a quick distribution process.

Hansen said he’s making vaccination voluntary but hopes a $100 cash incentive will persuade workers. Workers were paid during their vaccinations.

When workers arrived, YVFWC staff already had vaccine cards and documents organized by the employee’s birthday and name. Working ahead meant that staff could administer upward of 250 shots within a few hours.

“We want to have everything prepared and ready to go so we can do the bare minimum on-site,” Aguilera said.

In addition to the on-site clinics, YVFWC also accommodated agricultural workers’ group appointments at its clinic and at its other mass vaccine sites.

Partnerships with YVFWC and other health organizations are crucial for employers, which are making vaccination voluntary for workers, Kovis said. Every employer has different needs, so it’s essential to provide various avenues to distribute vaccines.

“A lot of what we tried to do is utilize our stakeholders and relationships to provide resources and opportunities,” Kovis said.

Matson Fruit

On Friday, Matson Fruit in Selah closed its packing line early so its employees could get vaccinated at a different on-site vaccination clinic. Employees from neighboring businesses, such as Helms True Value Hardware, were also invited along with the packing house employees.

The mobile vaccination site was organized through a pilot program from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, launched in Yakima County earlier this week. The project provides an additional supply of vaccines for the mass vaccination site at State Fair Park and mobile vaccination sites, such as the one at Matson Fruit.

General manager Jordan Matson said his aim is not to force workers to get the vaccine but rather to provide information. Prior to Friday’s effort, 28% of the packing house workers were vaccinated, and Matson expected 50 more workers to receive vaccine through the FEMA mobile site.

Matson said he plans to hold another on-site clinic from the company’s orchard in Selah. There are plans to have additional clinics as more foreign guest workers arrive through the H-2A program.

“I’m quite pleased to be able to offer this opportunity for people to get vaccinated for COVID,” he said.

New procedures

The local agriculture industry is hoping the vaccine will prevent the substantial infection activity seen a year ago. A year ago, the industry scrambled to implement safety measures, such as mask wearing and physical distancing.

The agriculture and food production industry, which represented of 15% of total cases, contributed to Yakima County reporting some of the highest infection rates not just in the state but nationwide per capita in May and June.

In May of last year, workers from several packing houses, including Hansen Fruit and Matson, protested over safety concerns. Workers’ action prompted some employers to provide cash bonuses and raises, evaluate safety measures and provide personal protective equipment.

Over time, agricultural employers continued to improve safety measures. The Yakima Health District had a designated team to respond to outbreaks, namely at agricultural housing facilities.

The Yakima Health District said it has been able to prevent and respond to recent infections in agricultural workers quickly, said Brittany Morrison, lead for the Yakima Health District’s COVID-19 Outbreak Response and Investigation team, in a written statement.

“Through the testing that has been coordinated between the state Department of Health and Medical Teams International, there have been very few positive (cases) identified in arriving agricultural workers, and those that have been identified were able to be isolated quickly,” Morrison said.

Getting agricultural workers vaccinated quickly is a crucial part of minimizing infections in the coming months, she said.

“Our outbreak team is working on vaccination among agricultural and food production workers through coordination of mobile clinics in conjunction with FEMA and other county partners.” Morrison wrote. “We are still responding to cases and outbreaks that may occur and are hoping that vaccine accessibility will prevent future outbreaks from happening.”


Washington
AP
Man rams car into 2 Capitol police; 1 officer, driver killed
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — A Capitol Police officer was killed Friday after a man rammed a car into two officers at a barricade outside the U.S. Capitol and then emerged wielding a knife. It was the second line-of-duty death this year for a department still struggling to heal from the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Video shows the driver of the crashed car emerging with a knife in his hand and starting to run at the pair of officers, Capitol Police Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman told reporters. Authorities shot the suspect, who died at a hospital.

“I just ask that the public continue to keep U.S. Capitol Police and their families in your prayers,” Pittman said. “This has been an extremely difficult time for U.S. Capitol Police after the events of Jan. 6 and now the events that have occurred here today.”

Police identified the slain officer as William “Billy” Evans, an 18-year veteran who was a member of the department’s first responders unit.

Two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press that investigators initially believed the suspect stabbed one of the officers, but it was later unclear whether the knife actually made contact, in part because the vehicle struck the officers with such force. The officials were not authorized to publicly discuss the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Authorities said there wasn’t an ongoing threat, though the Capitol was put on lockdown for a time as a precaution. There was also no immediate connection apparent between Friday’s crash and the Jan. 6 riot.

Law enforcement officials identified the suspect as 25-year-old Noah Green. Investigators were digging into his background and examining whether he had any mental health history as they tried to discern a motive. They were also working to obtain warrants to access his online accounts.

Pittman said the suspect did not appear to have been on the police’s radar. But the attack underscored that the building and campus — and the officers charged with protecting them — remain potential targets for violence.

Green described himself as a follower of the Nation of Islam and its founder, Louis Farrakhan, and spoke of going through a difficult time where he leaned on his faith, according to recent messages posted online that have since been taken down. The messages were captured by the group SITE, which tracks online activity.

“To be honest these past few years have been tough, and these past few months have been tougher,” he wrote. “I have been tried with some of the biggest, unimaginable tests in my life. I am currently now unemployed after I left my job partly due to afflictions, but ultimately, in search of a spiritual journey.”

President Joe Biden said in a statement that he and his wife were heartbroken to learn of the attack and expressed condolences to Evans’ family. He directed flags at the White House to be lowered to half staff.

The crash and shooting happened at a security checkpoint near the Capitol typically used by senators and staff on weekdays, though most were away from the building for the current recess. The attack occurred about 100 yards (91 meters) from the entrance of the building on the Senate side of the Capitol. One witness, the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, said he was finishing a Good Friday service nearby when he heard three shots ring out.

The Washington region remains on edge nearly three months after a mob of insurrectionists loyal to former President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol as Congress was voting to certify Biden’s presidential win.

Five people died in the Jan. 6 riot, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who was among a badly outnumbered force trying to fight off the intruders seeking to overturn the election. Authorities installed a tall perimeter fence around the Capitol and for months restricted traffic along the roads closest to the building, but they had begun pulling back some of the emergency measures. Fencing that prevented vehicular traffic near that area was only recently removed.

Evans was the seventh Capitol Police member to die in the line of duty in the department’s history, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks deaths of law enforcement. In addition, two officers, one from Capitol Police and another from Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department, died by suicide following the Jan. 6 attack.

Almost 140 Capitol Police officers were wounded in that attack, including officers not issued helmets who sustained head injuries and one with cracked ribs, according to the officers’ union. It took hours for the National Guard to arrive, a delay that has driven months of finger-pointing between that day’s key decision makers.

Capitol Police and National Guard troops were called upon soon afterward to secure the Capitol during Biden’s inauguration and faced another potential threat in early March linked to conspiracy theories falsely claiming Trump would retake the presidency.

“Today, once again, these heroes risked their lives to protect our Capitol and our country, with the same extraordinary selflessness and spirit of service seen on January 6,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “On behalf of the entire House, we are profoundly grateful.”

The U.S. Capitol complex was placed on lockdown for a time after Friday’s shooting, and staffers were told they could not enter or exit buildings. Video showed Guard troops mobilizing near the area of the crash.

Video posted online showed a dark colored sedan crashed against a vehicle barrier and a police K-9 dog inspecting the vehicle. Law enforcement and paramedics could be seen caring for at least one unidentified individual.

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Merchant reported from Houston. Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Mary Clare Jalonick, Lisa Mascaro, Mark Sherman and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.


Lifestyles
AP
Fully vaccinated people can travel safely again, CDC says

NEW YORK — Add travel to the activities vaccinated Americans can safely enjoy again, according to new U.S. guidance issued Friday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance to say fully vaccinated people can travel within the U.S. without getting tested for the coronavirus or going into quarantine afterward.

Still, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky urged caution and said she would “advocate against general travel overall” given the rising number of infections.

“If you are vaccinated, it is lower risk,” she said.

According to the CDC, more than 100 million people in the U.S. — or about 30% of the population — have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the last required dose.

The agency has said it would update its guidance on allowed activities for vaccinated people as more people get the shots and evidence mounts about the protection they provide.

Outside a San Francisco convention center, Kara Roche, a consultant with a tech company, welcomed the news after getting her second Pfizer shot.

“I’m thrilled that this summer there might be opportunities for us to go somewhere,” she said.

Roche said she normally travels overseas for vacation at least twice a year. Since the pandemic started, she’s only traveled to Utah and Texas for work.

“I’ll still be cautious. I’m not looking to go on a cruise. I’m not looking to be in mass crowds and I’ll probably not go overseas,” she said. “But absolutely, if it’s open and the CDC says we can do it, I’m looking forward to going somewhere in the states.”

For people who haven’t been fully vaccinated, the CDC is sticking to its recommendation to avoid unnecessary travel. If they do travel, the agency says to get tested one to three days before the trip, and three to five days after. People should also stay home and quarantine for seven days after travel, even if their COVID-19 test is negative, the agency says.

According to data through Thursday from Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. is averaging 66,000 daily new cases this past week, up from 55,000 two weeks ago.

The new guidance says:

— Fully vaccinated people can travel within the U.S., without getting tested for the coronavirus or quarantining. People should still wear a mask, socially distance and avoid crowds, the agency says.

— For international travel, the agency says vaccinated people do not need to get a COVID-19 test before leaving, unless the destination country requires it.

— For travelers coming into the U.S., vaccinated people should still get a negative COVID-19 test before boarding a flight, and be tested three to five days after arrival. They do not need to quarantine. The agency noted the potential introduction of virus variants and differences in vaccine coverage around the world for the cautious guidance on overseas travel.

Already, air travel in the United States has been picking back up. Although traffic remains down by nearly half from a year ago, more than 1 million travelers daily have been going through U.S. airports in recent weeks.

“I was surprised that our flight was kind of full,” said Telva Aguilar, after arriving at Oakland airport from Southern California to visit her grandchildren on Friday.

Aguilar works in a hospital and has been vaccinated, but said she is still being cautious.

Airlines do not require COVID-19 tests or proof of vaccination for travel in the U.S.; a few states have testing or quarantine rules for travelers.

The CDC cited recent research on the real-world effects of the vaccines for its updated guidance. Last month, the agency said fully vaccinated people could visit with each other indoors without wearing masks or social distancing. It also said vaccinated people could visit with unvaccinated people from a single household under similar conditions, as long as the unvaccinated individuals were at low risk for severe illness if infected.

The U.S. began its vaccine rollout in mid-December. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses given a few weeks apart. A one-shot vaccine by Johnson & Johnson was given the green light by regulators at the end of February.

Despite getting his second Pfizer shot on Friday, Mick Peacock, a fire inspector in San Francisco, isn’t planning on traveling anytime soon. If he and his wife do any traveling this year, he said they would rent an RV and hit the road.

“I think we all want a beach holiday right now but I don’t think it’s safe,” he said. “I don’t look at the numbers anymore, because we’ve all been looking at those numbers too long.”

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AP reporters Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco, Terry Chea in Oakland, California, Dave Koenig in Dallas and Carla K. Johnson in Washington state contributed.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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This version corrects the spelling of Kara Roche’s last name.


Lower_valley
top story
Memorial cross for California men removed by state transportation workers
  • Updated

A wooden memorial cross honoring two California men who disappeared while driving through the Yakama Reservation will return to the family who made it after its removal by state highway workers a couple weeks ago.

Rick Dominguez, who is known throughout and beyond the reservation as the Cross Man for the more than 200 wooden crosses he has made for grieving families, crafted it for Jon Cleary, 47, and Josiah Michael “Jo” Hilderbrand, 25, who went missing June 7, 2019. The men were driving to a Dead & Company concert at the Gorge Amphitheatre. The car they were traveling in was discovered abandoned and partially burned the morning of June 8, 2019, in an orchard about 8½ miles west of Toppenish.

On Aug. 5, a road crew working on U.S. Highway 97 about 10 miles south of Toppenish found their remains in the area of milepost 52. Their deaths have been ruled homicides and the FBI is investigating.

The area of milepost 52 is where Dominguez and Brad Goudy set the wooden cross in concrete Sept. 3 in a special ceremony attended by several people. Goudy placed a skull of a buck deer at the base of the cross along and others added two memorial candles and dozens of flat glass pebbles on and around the varnished cross, which featured photos of the men protected by acrylic, their names and the date they disappeared.

“Rest easy. Fly high,” it said.

Meagan Lott, south central region communications manager for the DOT, confirmed Friday that highway workers removed the memorial cross a couple weeks ago. Though smaller roadside memorials stand closer to roads throughout Yakima County, private memorials are not allowed along state roadways due to safety concerns, she said.

The cross for Jon and Josiah was about 30 feet from the highway. The usual right-of-way on state highways is anywhere from 60 to 100 feet from the shoulder, which is an estimate depending on the location, Lott said.

State highways on tribal lands are an exception, though. Washington has an easement to operate its highway through the reservation, Lott said. The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakima Nation, one of 29 federally recognized tribes in the state, is a sovereign nation.

Relatives and friends of the two murdered men were upset with removal of the cross along with those who made, set and blessed it.

Rick and Sonya Dominguez went to check on the cross Thursday after they had been out root digging with others and saw it had been sawed off and taken; everything else was gone, too.

“We drove right up on it and it’s sawed off. They damaged it. We’re so upset,” Sonya said. “As soon as we saw that, at first we thought vandalism. We thought wow, that’s really disrespectful.”

Their daughter, Chestina Salinas, posted about it on Facebook on Thursday evening and word quickly got around.

Caroline Looney, who participated in the Sept. 3 ceremony, said her brother thought he saw the cross propped against a bin outside in the Washington State Department of Transportation maintenance site on Fort Road in Toppenish. Sonya went there Friday, saw it, took photos and showed Rick.

Sonya said they were contacted by HollyAnna Littlebull, safety coordinator for the Yakama Nation. Littlebull is working with Rick and Sonya to possibly get the cross back Monday.

“We’re going to take a look at it and see how much damage there is on the bottom,” Sonya said.

She said there are memorial crosses closer to busy areas — along Fort Road and North Track Road, for instance.

State transportation officials understand it’s a sensitive issue, Lott said.

“Moving forward, we will be looking at the way we will be handling memorials on Yakama Nation land,” Lott said. “We’re working with our tribal liaison to see if there’s a way we can work with the families to try to find a solution that works for everyone.”

The state transportation department encourages people to remember their loved ones through its roadside memorial sign program. And workers remove private memorials along state roadways after time has passed.

Those who placed a private memorial along a Yakima Valley road and see it’s gone should call the DOT’S South Central Regional Office in Union Gap at 509-577-1600 or visit the website for more information.

“If our maintenance crews are out there and they see something, they usually will contact our traffic office. They will let it stay there for so long. Eventually we will remove it,” Lott said. “If we do remove a memorial like that, we will bring it back to our yard and keep it. It’s not something we would trash or throw away.”


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