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Talking shop
Shoppers, Valley Mall retailers adjusting to life with COVID-19 restrictions
 07.24.20

Just before noon Thursday, there was a line forming outside the Hot Topic store at the Valley Mall.

But this time, it wasn’t due to COVID-19 — at least not directly. The store was one of several releasing new Funko Pop figurines. These figurines, along with others, were to be released as part of Comic-Con International: San Diego. The event went virtual due to COVID-19, but retailers started selling Funko Pop figurines for the event this week.

And that’s what drew Christian Jimenez, 22, to stand in line Thursday. He was in line to buy Goku, a character from the anime Dragon Ball.

“I’ve been a fan since I was a kid,” he said.

Thursday was the first time Jimenez, who lives in Grandview, was at the mall since it reopened July 7.

He only made limited trips outside the house for his safety and his mother, who is a breast cancer survivor.

He was prepared to take extreme caution but was pleasantly surprised to see the mall managing capacity and enforcing the 30-minute shopping limit.

“I have more confidence,” he said.

More than two weeks after reopening, the Valley Mall in Union Gap has settled into a new normal, said marketing manager Jacob Butler.

“Our opening plan was pretty comprehensive. We haven’t had to make too many adjustments,” he said. “The shoppers, in general, are just happy to shop again. They’ve been overly cautious, which is very much appreciated.”

The mall closed March 22. It reopened just days after Yakima County entered modified Phase 1 under the state’s four-stage reopening plan. Modified Phase 1 allows retailers to open at 15% capacity and with a 30-minute time limit inside stores.

On the mall’s first day back, only a handful of retailers opted to open. Many chose to wait several days to reopen so they could clean, lay out their stores to encourage social distancing and to train staff.

By Thursday, nearly all the Valley Mall’s stores and eateries were open. Victoria’s Secret and Bath and Body Works, the last of the retail stores still closed, were scheduled to open Monday.

“L Brands is very protective,” Butler said, referring to the parent company of both stores. “They monitor their openings closely.”

Fruit Zone, a snack bar, is also scheduled to open sometime next week, Butler said.

For the most part, the long lines from the first few days of the mall’s reopening were gone Thursday. There was no wait to enter the mall, and shoppers could visit most stores without waiting.

The lines “have gone done considerably,” Butler said.

A handful of stores did have lines Thursday, primarily Ross and T.J. Maxx, which are in the Valley Mall Plaza, the neighboring open-air shopping center.

Sharon Dolan was waiting in line at Ross early Thursday afternoon. The 76-year-old Yakima resident, who spends the winter months in Yuma, Ariz., hadn’t visited the shopping center since October.

Dolan returned to Yakima in April. Other than a handful of grocery store trips, she has remained at home and was happy to be out shopping, even with restrictions.

“I’m getting tired of staying home. Those four inside walls are still the same,” Dolan said with a laugh.

Back at Hot Topic, Emily Borup, 26., was waiting in line to purchase a Funko Pop figurine from the anime My Hero Academia. It was Borup’s third trip to the mall, and she was used to the rules.

“The mask does get warm after a while, but it is what it is,” she said.

The one challenge Borup encountered was buying a shirt that didn’t fit her, resulting in an unplanned trip to return the item. Fitting rooms are not available, so shoppers must choose clothing by sight and try them on at home.

Borup sees it as another adjustment because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If you understand your size, it’s pretty easy,” she said.

Butler said nearly all the mall’s retailers are continuing to offer curbside pickup for shoppers still not comfortable shopping inside the mall.


National
AP
Portland standoff with US agents ongoing after mayor gassed
 07.23.20

PORTLAND, Ore. — The tense standoff between demonstrators and federal police dispatched to Portland dragged on Thursday after the city’s mayor was tear-gassed by U.S. government agents as he made an appearance outside a federal courthouse during raucous protests.

Mayor Ted Wheeler and hundreds of others Wednesday night were objecting to the presence of federal police sent by President Donald Trump, who labeled the demonstrators as “agitators & anarchists” after Wheeler was gassed.

Also, late Thursday a federal judge specifically blocked federal agents from arresting or using physical force against journalists and legal observers at the ongoing Portland protests. The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

U.S. Judge Michael Simon previously ruled that journalists and legal observers are exempt from police orders requiring protesters to disperse once an unlawful assembly has been declared. Federal lawyers had said that journalists should have to leave when ordered.

“This order is a victory for the rule of law,” Jann Carson, ACLU of Oregon’s interim executive director, said in a statement.

A freelance photographer covering the protests for The Associated Press submitted an affidavit that he was beaten with batons, chemical irritants and hit with rubber bullets this week.

The ACLU lawsuit is one of several filed in response to law enforcement actions during the protests. The state of Oregon is seeking an order limiting federal agents’ arrest powers during the demonstrations.

On Wednesday night Wheeler, a Democrat, appeared slightly dazed and coughed and said it was the first time he’d been tear-gassed.

He put on a pair of goggles someone handed him and drank water but did not leave his spot at the front of the raging demonstration — with protesters lighting a large fire between protective fencing and the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse amid the pop-pop-pop sounds of the federal agents deploying tear gas and stun grenades into the crowd.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the agents knew Wheeler was among those in crowd when they used the tear gas.

Earlier in the night, Wheeler was mostly jeered by protesters as he tried to rally the demonstrators who have clashed nightly with federal agents. But they briefly applauded when he shouted “Black Lives Matter” and pumped his fist in the air.

Trump in his tweet attempted to ridicule Wheeler, calling him the “Radical Left Mayor of Portland, who last night was booed & shouted out of existence by the agitators & anarchists.”

Wheeler has opposed federal agents’ presence in Oregon’s largest city but has also faced harsh criticism from the protesters, who yelled and swore at him.

Ignoring the pushback, Wheeler told those out gathered outside the courthouse that he wanted to “thank the thousands of you who have come out to oppose the Trump administration’s occupation of this city.”

The Justice Department’s inspector general said Thursday it will conduct a review of the conduct of federal agents who responded to unrest in Portland and in Washington, D.C., after concerns emerged from members of Congress and the public.

Wheeler has been accused by critics including City Council members of not reining in local police who used tear gas multiple times on protesters before federal agents arrived early this month in response to nearly two months of nightly protests since George Floyd was killed. And city business leaders have condemned Wheeler for not bringing the situation under control before the agents showed up.

On Thursday, City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, the first Black woman elected to that role, said the arrival of federal agents had reignited protests that had been starting to die down after weeks.

“The reason why we have thousands of people on the street every night is because Portlanders are not going to set back when they see an injustice happening. They’re going to come and they’re going to stand on a line,” said Hardesty.

Hardesty also apologized for saying Wednesday that she believed police officers were setting fires to justify violence against protesters.

Department of Homeland Security acting Secretary Chad Wolf denied that federal agents were inflaming the situation in Portland. He told “CBS This Morning” that Wheeler legitimized criminality in the city by going to the front of the crowd of demonstrators where the fires were lit and that people were trying to pull down a fence erected to shield the federal courthouse.

Wheeler did not participate in lighting any of the fires or attempting to tear down the fence and was surrounded by his security team when he was gassed.

Earlier, protesters held signs saying “Tear Gas Ted” in a reference to Wheeler and his leadership of the Portland Police Bureau, which used the substance on protesters before federal agents arrived in the city in early July. As Wheeler left the protest zone about 12:40 a.m. Thursday, one person shouted that he should be there “every single night.”

Less than an hour later, police said the crowd threw Molotov cocktails, lit fires in a park and in trash cans and released hundreds of gallons of water from fire hydrants. The police bureau in response declared that there was a riot at the site and threatened to use tear gas but officers never did and made no arrests.

Wheeler’s appearance in the protest zone came hours after state attorneys for Oregon urged a judge to issue a restraining order against agents deployed to tamp down on the protests.

The arguments came in a lawsuit filed by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, who accused federal agents of arresting protesters without probable cause, whisking them away in unmarked cars and using excessive force. Federal authorities have disputed those allegations.

The lawsuit is part of the growing criticism of Trump’s order that sent the federal agents to Portland and pending orders for them to head to Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico, to fight rising crime.

The court hearing focused on the actions of the more than 100 federal agents responding to protests outside the Portland courthouse.

The motion asks U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman to command agents from the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Patrol, Federal Protective Service and U.S. Marshals Service to immediately stop detaining protesters without probable cause, identify themselves and their agency before arresting anyone, and explain why an arrest is taking place.

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Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus


Inslee puts tighter restrictions on bars, eateries, weddings as Washington COVID cases rise
 07.23.20

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday tighter restrictions on bars, restaurants, fitness centers, weddings and funerals as new confirmed cases of the new coronavirus rise across Washington.

And in a news conference with Inslee, state Health Secretary John Wiesman announced an expansion of the current requirement for residents to wear facial coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Inslee’s announcement represented the most sweeping set of new restrictions so far to the governor’s original four-phase reopening plan, which has let Washington’s 39 counties reopen to varying degrees.

In his news conference, Inslee said experts have told him Washington is now potentially in a place similar to where Florida — currently one of the hardest-hit states with infections — was several weeks ago.

“Our suppression of this virus is not at the level it needs to be to continue … to allow more activity,” said Inslee. “If we let the virus get even more control, it will have even more devastating impact over the long-term in our economy, and certainly in our health and the very lives of our loved ones.”

State health officials Thursday confirmed 762 new COVID-19 cases and 14 new deaths in Washington as of Wednesday night, crossing a 50,000-case milestone.

The new numbers bring the state’s totals to 50,009 confirmed cases and 1,482 deaths, meaning about 3% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the state Department of Health (DOH).

So far, 870,763 tests for the novel coronavirus have been conducted in the state, per DOH. Of those, 5.7% have come back positive.

Almost every part of the state is “on the path to runaway transmission rates of COVID-19,” state health officials said this week.

They also have said hospitalization rates have not increased dramatically because more young people are testing positive for the virus. But they worry that in the next few weeks, those people will infect older people who are more at risk for hospitalization or death.

Inslee again Thursday encouraged younger people to limit their social gatherings to avoid spreading the virus. Health officials have “traced quite a number of clusters now to social gatherings” of young people, he said.

The restrictions announced Thursday by Inslee include:

Limiting indoor dining at restaurants to members of the same household. People meeting from different households can still dine outdoors.

No indoor service at any bar, brewery, tavern, winery or distillery, regardless of whether food is being served.

For counties in the third phase of the four-part plan, restaurant table sizes must be reduced to five people, and indoor occupancy to 50%.

Restaurants must also close down game areas, such as for video games, pool tables and darts, until their county has reached the fourth phase.

Restaurants must stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m.

Second-phase counties — like King, Pierce and Snohomish — must limit indoor fitness spaces to five customers at a time. Those indoor places include but are not limited to gyms, pools, fitness studios and tennis facilities.

Third-phase counties must cap indoor fitness occupancy to 25% and not more than 10 people to a group class, not including their instructor.

Indoor entertainment spaces — like bowling alleys, arcades, mini-golf and card rooms — are not allowed to open until the fourth phase.

Indoor movie occupancy for counties in the third phase is now limited to 25% capacity.

The new restrictions on businesses are set to take effect July 30, according to Wiesman. Businesses violating the emergency orders could be subject to sanctions, such as fines or suspension of their license.

Business owners with questions about how the emergency orders apply to them can contact the governor’s office via webform at: https://coronavirus.wa.gov/how-you-can-help/covid-19-business-and-worker-inquiries.

The governor also announced a new ban on receptions at weddings and funerals, which will take effect starting in two weeks, on August 6.

Wedding and funeral ceremonies will still be allowed, but they will be restricted in all counties to an indoor occupancy of 20% capacity or as many as 30 people, whichever is less.

Wiesman also announced an expansion of the current requirement that people wear facial coverings when in public when they can’t stay six-feet apart.

Facial coverings will now be required in any common spaces where people can’t socially distance. That includes “places like elevators, hallways and shared spaces in apartments and condominium buildings, university housing, hotels and motels,” said Wiesman. The rule also applies to congregate settings like assisted living facilities, nursing homes and adult family homes.

The new facial covering order takes effect Saturday, Wiesman said.

Some within Washington’s business community have been critical of Inslee’s orders in addressing the pandemic, and Thursday’s announcement was no exception.

Anthony Anton of the Washington Hospitality Association said the new restrictions on businesses “likely means the end of some of our favorite places in Washington.”

“We’re frustrated that so much of our economy is at risk and disappointed in the announcement,” Anton, president and CEO of the association, said in a prepared statement. “Today’s new restrictions on our industry show Washington state is moving in the wrong direction.”

“To save our small businesses, we must beat this virus,” added Anton. “We must bring our employees back to work and reopen our economy. We must demonstrate compliance and commitment in all phases — compliance by our industry and also by our guests.”

The governor Thursday also announced he will extend the current moratorium on evictions through Oct. 15. The current order is set to expire Aug. 1.

Inslee implored people who can afford to pay their rent to do so. He also announced a work group of landlords and tenants to consider further changes to the order. The governor said he wants the group to also consider the potential for rent increases, which the current emergency order prohibits.

Housing and homelessness experts have warned of a surge of homelessness that could follow once eviction bans expire.

One analysis from Columbia University economist Brendan O’Flaherty published in the spring projected that the U.S. could see a 40% to 45% increase in homelessness — roughly 250,000 people — due to the COVID-related economic downturn.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, more than 8% of renters surveyed in Washington state between July 9 and July 14 said they had no confidence they would be able to pay next month’s rent.

Low-income renters were even less likely to say they could pay rent — more than 14% of survey respondents making less than $35,000 weren’t confident they could make rent next month.

Asked about Inslee’s announcements Thursday afternoon, House Republican Minority Leader Rep. J.T. Wilcox of Yelm said he wasn’t briefed beforehand.

“Since the Governor doesn’t let us know his intentions it’s not possible to have an immediate, thoughtful response to his proposals.” Wilcox said in a statement.

“I do hope that if he is addressing the gatherings where the virus spreads he will pay equal attention to the gatherings in Seattle and Olympia where violence and threats take place with people in close and dangerous proximity to each other,” added Wilcox, referring to recent protests in both cities that have damaged property or targeted the homes of elected officials.


Coronavirus
Just 13% of Washington is Hispanic, but they're nearly half the state's COVID-19 cases. Community leaders say more needs to be done
 07.24.20

Hispanic leaders raised concerns about COVID-19’s impact on their community statewide, saying improvements are needed in communication, outreach and contact tracing.

The issue came up twice Thursday, first during a stakeholder meeting hosted by the Latino Civic Alliance and then again during the governor’s Thursday afternoon news briefing.

Statewide, 44% of COVID-19 cases are among people who are Hispanic, who are 13% of the state’s population. Hispanic people made up 30% of the state’s hospitalizations, and 13% of deaths, according to information on the state Department of Health’s website. Yakima County’s numbers by ethnicity haven’t been updated since late June.

Dr. Kathy Lofy, the state health officer, joined the Latino Civic Alliance call on Thursday to answer questions.

“We have been very concerned about these disparities,” Loft said. “We have focused a lot of our work on Eastern Washington communities that have had very high rates of the disease.”

Those communities include Yakima, an agricultural center with a high number of essential workers who are Hispanic.

Lofy said the state Department of Health has worked closely with the Yakima Health District to ensure information about COVID-19 has been translated into both English and Spanish, and to distribute masks to communities and essential workers.

Community leaders voice concerns

Community leaders serving Hispanic populations voiced concerns Thursday that the state’s efforts haven’t been effective and misinformation has proliferated.

Karina Vega-Villa of Wenatchee said several farmworkers told her they were under the impression they would have to pay to get tested for COVID-19 and decided to stay home from work instead. Some of those workers who declined testing had died, she added.

Nina Martinez, the board chair of the Latino Civic Alliance, also pointed to misinformation and gaps in communication. She asked the state to work more closely with county health districts in areas with minorities disproportionately impacted by the virus.

“There has to be better access,” Martinez said. “There has to be better outreach.”

Lofy mentioned a federal website that could reimburse people for testing costs and said she would have the state’s testing team provide more specifics about the program.

Several community leaders on the Latino Civic Alliance call also shared concerns about the state’s contact tracing efforts.

Lofy noted there were several challenges, including that staffing needs had skyrocketed.

“We have concerns about the quality of investigations as well because people are trained in three days and then are expected to be perfect contact tracing investigators,” Lofy said.

Lofy said reported numbers of confirmed cases likely only represent one in 10 people who have by the virus.

Gov. Jay Inslee, during his news conference, noted COVID-19’s disparate impact on agricultural workers and people of color remains cause for concern.

“All folks in this community deserve protection,” he said. “Every ethnicity is subject to this disease.”

Washington Secretary of Health John Wiesman said state staff have translated educational materials about the virus into 30 different languages and also financially supported 41 community based organizations to help with outreach to marginalized communities.