March Cheers & Jeers

If there’s one thing that deserves a giant cheers this month it is the fact that we can finally see the light at the end of this long, dark, jumping-spider-filled COVID-19 tunnel.

Cheers to the fact that COVID rates, hospitalizations and deaths have been dropping across our region and much of the United States this month, prompting more reopenings and another step toward a more “normal” way of life.

In Clark County, COVID transmission rates have fallen from 209 cases per 100,000 residents in mid-February to 90 cases per 100,000 as of March 22.

The falling rates and increasing vaccinations have led to Gov. Jay Inslee allowing counties in Washington to move swiftly through the next phases of the state’s reopening plan.

Clark County moved into Phase 3 on March 22, and will remain in the less-restrictive phase, which allows restaurants, gyms, theaters and other establishments to reopen with 50-percent occupancy indoors — as long as people are still wearing face coverings when they are not eating or drinking — as long as the county has fewer than 200 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period and fewer than five new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period.

This doesn’t mean we’ve had a totally smooth road toward reopening. This month also saw a hiccup in the Camas School District’s reopening plans after more than a dozen Camas High students contracted COVID-19 at a private, non-school-related party held the weekend before the high school was set to move into its hybrid of in-person and remote classes.

Camas High Principal Tom Morris gave his own version of Cheers & Jeers in his letters to Camas families, when he admonished the students who chose to attend a party during a pandemic and thanked the majority of students who have been following public health guidelines.

We think Morris’ words sum the situation up nicely: “We have done so much work to get us back to in-person school, and I’m disappointed that some of our students blatantly ignored COVID protocols outside of school,” Morris wrote in a March 11 letter sent to Camas High families. “We all need to make good decisions in order to keep ourselves moving in a positive direction. You want to be in school, we want you to be in school. Whether you are in school or out, please wear your mask and follow safety protocols.”

Cheers to that, Mr. Morris.

Another education-related Cheers goes out to Washougal High teacher Charlotte Lartey. The first Black female educator at Washougal High School, Lartey has not been shy about sharing her experience with racism in Washougal and inside the school district. She has pushed for changes at the district level and inside Washougal High School that will benefit not only students of color but the entire student body and greater Washougal community, and we were pleased to see her efforts rewarded by the Washington Education Association’s Human and Civil Rights Committee, which recently honored Lartey with an award for her “dedication to racial, social, economic justice.”

We’re on a roll with our Cheers this month, so let’s keep it going. Our third Cheers goes to the 75-year-old Camas-Washougal Community Chest for its extraordinary ability to raise money from local residents and businesses to help Camas-Washougal residents, especially families with children, in need. The organization is still fundraising for its 2021 grants, which will give more than $127,000 to 28 local nonprofits to assist more than 19,500 Camas-Washougal residents. The folks behind the Community Chest understand that, despite the fact that Camas has one of the highest median income levels in Southwest Washington, there are hundreds of local families who have a hard time making ends meet every month. Their grants help nonprofits feed, shelter and clothe local residents — but they also provide children who live in lower-income households with the same extracurricular dance, music and art lessons so many higher-income families take for granted. Cheers to that.

Our final Cheers goes out to another longtime local organization, the Silver Star search-and-rescue group, which has been helping find missing hikers in Southwest Washington since the 1960s. The group has been operating out of its Washougal headquarters for nearly 35 years, but recently discovered the city of Washougal will not renew its lease in October 2023. The group would like to stay in the Washougal area, a convenient site that is close to the Vancouver-Portland metro area but still within driving distance of the remote areas where Silver Star often conducts its wilderness search-and-rescue operations. Here’s hoping the group will find a suitable location in the Camas-Washougal area well before its lease expires.

No Jeers this month. Just another Cheers for everyone who has masked up, stayed home, kept their distance, got vaccinated and helped our community weather this yearlong COVID-19 pandemic.

Editor’s Note: This story was edited on March 25, 2021 to note that Charlotte Lartey is the first Black female educator at Washougal High School. An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly identified Ms. Lartey as the only Black female teacher in the Washougal School District. The Post-Record strives for accuracy and regrets the error.