Northwest News Network

Regional Public Journalism from twelve public radio stations throughout Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee and the state Health Secretary are hitting the pause button on the county-by-county reopening process in response to the worsening coronavirus pandemic. Inslee announced that for at least the next two weeks all counties in Washington state will stay in whatever reopening phase they are currently in -- with a couple of exceptions.

For the first time since Herbert Hoover won the presidency nearly a century ago, the state of Washington won’t have a statewide initiative to the people on the November ballot in a presidential election year.

At the Secretary of State’s office, the 5 p.m. Thursday deadline to submit 259,622 valid voter signatures to qualify an initiative came and went quietly. No campaigns made an appointment to drop off petitions, according to a spokesperson.

A review of Washington’s initiative history reveals that not since 1928 has the November ballot been bereft of an initiative to the people in a year when voters were electing a president. 

The Tri-Cities has seen what Gov. Jay Inslee called an “astronomical increase” in COVID cases. 

In a visit Tuesday, he said local officials have asked him to implement stricter mask requirements. They also asked to open more small businesses.

About 10 protesters – one wearing a T-shirt that read “Inslee is Non-essential” and none appearing to wear masks – shouted the governor away from his podium at Columbia Basin College in Pasco.

A favorable weather forecast and the Fourth of July falling on a weekend has beach communities in the Pacific Northwest bracing for an onslaught despite the ongoing pandemic. Two beach towns that tend to be holiday crowd magnets are particularly in the limelight this year.

Ten years ago, Breean Beggs was an outsider waging a battle to make the Spokane Police Department more transparent and accountable when he got a letter from a city attorney.

A former state ferry now moored on the Olympia waterfront may be headed for auction for the third time in about three years, this time to remedy months of unpaid port bills. The venerable car ferry Evergreen State was declared "abandoned" by the Port of Olympia on Friday, to the dismay of its owner.

Over the objections of a bipartisan group of nearly two dozen state senators, Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) has decided to stick with its plan to repost online the financial disclosure statements of elected officials, candidates and other government officials following a one-month “pause” to review security concerns.

After two years of seeing a steady rise in the number of wildfires burning across Washington, the 2020 core fire season is looking to pull way ahead in wildfire starts. 

But this year’s unprecedented uptick in the number of fires has an unforeseen culprit: people cleaning their yards during the pandemic.

A Chelan County judge has denied an injunction on Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency order over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hours after Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee announced a statewide mandate for people to wear masks in public, a Republican sheriff in southwest Washington appeared to urge open defiance of the order.

“Don’t be a sheep,” Lewis County Sheriff Robert Snaza said to loud applause from a mostly mask-less crowd gathered in a church parking lot. 

Washington state leaders are expressing hesitancy about opening the door to the final phase of the governor's four-phase reopening plan. By the end of this week, eight rural counties will have spent the minimum three weeks in Phase 3 and can then theoretically apply to lift most remaining coronavirus restrictions.

A consultant's study of what it would take to boost east-west passenger rail service across Washington state effectively threw cold water on the envisioned trains. The report to the state legislature predicted high costs and relatively low ridership.

After weeks of relying on voluntary compliance, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday afternoon announced an enforceable, statewide requirement that people wear face coverings when in public, including outdoors when six feet of separation can't be maintained. The new public health order, to be issued by the Secretary of Health, takes effect on Friday.

Yakima County is still in Phase 1 of Washington’s four-phase reopening plan. And there are signs it will be stuck there for some time given the trajectory of coronavirus infection. It has one of the highest per capita rates in the U.S.

On Saturday, Gov. Jay Inslee spoke in an online press briefing joined by state and local health leaders.

Of particular concern: Yakima County’s biggest hospital, and the only one in the city of Yakima, has run out of bed space.

At Christmastime last December, Sharon Gowdey was a healthy 56-year-old woman with Down syndrome. A video from a holiday party shows her in a Santa hat dancing to a Michael Jackson song as strobe lights light up the dance floor.

Four months later, Gowdey was dead of COVID-19.

“When they turned the ventilator off, it was less than five minutes and she passed away,” said her sister Kathleen Hesseltine.

Gowdey’s decline happened suddenly.

A study of sea otter restoration in British Columbia is giving encouragement to a group that wants to bring sea otters back to the Oregon Coast. A research report in the June 12 issue of the journal Science found that the return of sea otters yields far more in ecological benefits and ecotourism dollars than in costs to commercial fisheries.

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would further protect public lands and recreation across the country. The legislation would also help relieve a massive maintenance backlog on federal lands.

In a move not seen since the Great Recession, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday canceled pay raises for some state employees and ordered furloughs for many more through at least this fall. The move came the same day a new state revenue forecast projected an $8.8 billion drop in tax collections over the next three years.

Summer officially begins on Saturday, but it still feels like winter if you study the sailing schedule of Washington State Ferries. With ridership depressed by the ongoing pandemic, the nation's biggest ferry system is sticking to a reduced schedule through what would normally be its busiest season.

An iconic, but disappearing American institution -- the drive-in movie theater -- came to the rescue of the senior classes in several Pacific Northwest communities this month. As luck would have it, a drive-in cinema is well suited for a socially-distanced graduation ceremony.

Stepping up an attack he began on Twitter last week, President Trump on Monday spent more than four minutes at a White House meeting inveighing against Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and the six-block protest area on Capitol Hill now known as CHOP.

On May 30, David Cruz died of COVID-19, before he could finish remodeling his Yakima home. Cruz, 60, had only replaced about a quarter of the old darkened roof tiles with clean green ones. Old gutters lie in his backyard waiting to be replaced. His wife, Reyna Cruz, and four children have taken over repainting the interior of their house.

Yakima County has the most COVID-19 cases per capita among West Coast states. Those cases originate from two hot spots: long-term care facilities and agriculture.

It’s hard to imagine maintaining social distance among 42,000 people, which is what the Spokane Interstate Fair draws on a typical Saturday.

“If you’ve ever been on our food row, those lines snake into each other and everyone’s touching each other just to get through there,” says Erin Gurtel, Spokane’s fair director and vice president of the Washington State Fairs Association

As the state of Washington grapples with the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers are bracing for a bleak revenue forecast on June 17 that could portend a $10 billion drop in state tax collections over the next three years.

Already, a preliminary forecast in May predicted state revenues would crater by $7 billion over that same time period. The official forecast is likely to be worse. The state’s current two-year budget is approximately $53 billion.

“We know that we are faced with a big problem over the next few years,” said David Schumacher, the governor’s budget director, in a recent call with reporters.

For many outdoor recreation guides, the past few months stuck at home have been different than any other spring in recent memory.

“We make a joke that the mountains are closed, which just seems odd to say,” Mick Pearson says.

Pearson runs Kaf Adventures, an outdoor education and adventure travel company based in Seattle. He’s used to guiding small groups, from one to nine people. Pearson has led people across mountain ranges, up climbing crags in the central Cascades or to the summit of Mount Baker.

Impaired driving citations dropped sharply across Oregon and Washington this spring during the coronavirus pandemic. There are multiple possible explanations for the decline, but people drinking and using drugs less does not appear to be a likely one.

Frustration with long delays in getting jobless benefits is boiling over into a lawsuit against the Washington State Employment Security Department. Attorneys representing two laid off workers and the nonprofit Unemployment Law Project filed the case directly with the state Supreme Court on Friday.

Washington's least populous counties will lead the way into the next phase of relaxing COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and social gatherings. This next phase allows for the resumption of team sports as well as for libraries, museums, gyms and movie theaters to at least partially reopen.

Fresh salt air and a good night's sleep to the sound of lapping waves might be just what the doctor ordered for Pacific Northwesterners left frazzled by current events. A getaway to the seashore is back in the realm of possibility as many coastal Oregon and Washington towns relax closure orders on tourist lodgings and vacation rentals.

There are a few holdout places along the Pacific Coast that are staying closed to visitors until further notice, along with considerable wariness about reintroducing a virus that has largely spared coastal counties up to now.

Gov. Jay Inslee's "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order will not be extended past May 31. Instead, state officials will use a phased plan to govern county-by-county reopening permissions.

Each county must apply with the state Department of Health and receive approval before moving to the next phase of reopening.

When Washington's stay home order expires on June 1, each county will be required to adhere to social distancing rules corresponding to its current reopening status.

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