(Photos by Elizabeth Shepherd, Michael Sage, Jim Diers and Michelle Bates) In 2021 (top left to right ), students returned to full-time in-person education. Vashon Opera, led by local luminaries Jennifer and Andrew Krikawa, performed once again at Vashon Center for the Arts. (Bottom left to right) Islanders also took an ecstatic chance to dance during a relative COVID lull at a hyperlocal Strawberry Festival. But in the story of the year, Vashon Pharmacy owner Tyler Young joined forces with Vashon’s Emergency Operations Center, Medical Reserve Corps, Community Emergency Response Team and Vashon School District to vaccinate Vashon at one of the highest rates in any King County community.

(Photos by Elizabeth Shepherd, Michael Sage, Jim Diers and Michelle Bates) In 2021 (top left to right ), students returned to full-time in-person education. Vashon Opera, led by local luminaries Jennifer and Andrew Krikawa, performed once again at Vashon Center for the Arts. (Bottom left to right) Islanders also took an ecstatic chance to dance during a relative COVID lull at a hyperlocal Strawberry Festival. But in the story of the year, Vashon Pharmacy owner Tyler Young joined forces with Vashon’s Emergency Operations Center, Medical Reserve Corps, Community Emergency Response Team and Vashon School District to vaccinate Vashon at one of the highest rates in any King County community.

A look back at another tumultuous year

2021 is a wrap — another year that seemed to last for several, as islanders look back on it all now.

2021 is a wrap — another year that seemed to last for several, as islanders look back on it all now.

Those yearning for some kind of a “return to normal” (and who wasn’t, in January of 2020?) got their wish for a brief time in the late spring and summer of 2021, followed by the harsh hangovers of Delta and Omicron surges.

Nevertheless, 2021 marked a sustained return to a more public life on Vashon.

The island’s arts scene came roaring back, with Vashon Center for the Arts reopening its doors in March of 2021 and following the lead of arts organizations nationwide in requiring that both its staff and audience members be vaccinated and masked.

Vashon Opera also returned to the stage in the fall of 2021, with a glorious and star-studded performance of ​​Pietro Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana.”

Visual arts exhibits, concerts, and even a summer theater festival popped up on Vashon — a welcome change from 2020’s all-virtual entertainment. Vashon Heritage Museum re-opened its doors with stellar exhibitions (see page 11).

However, vandalism was an issue in 2021, occurring several times throughout the year in prominent places in town. Islanders rallied to both clean up the mess and also call out racist intent in three of the incidents.

Local real estate was hot in 2021, with the island’s biggest real estate story being the sale of multiple parcels of land belonging to Misty Isle Farms to several buyers.

King County is still seeking to buy more than 80 ecologically-sensitive acres of the Misty Isle property. These include the pasture that was home to the Vashon Sheepdog Classic — a beloved event that organizers said in December will not take place in 2022, after the property’s owners cited ongoing real estate interest in Misty Isle properties.

Maggi McClure, the founder of the dog trial events, initially left the door open to the possibility of some kind of hybrid event, possibly for dog handlers only, taking place on a different Vashon property in 2022. However, on Dec. 31, a community email from the Vashon Sheepdog Classic announced that 2022 would definitely be a “skip year” for the event.

“Our community is resourceful and generous, we had several offers for locations around Vashon,” the email said. “There were even some off-island offers, but if it’s not on Vashon it’s just not the Vashon Sheepdog Classic. And thanks to the generosity of some of the new landowners on Wax Orchard Road we could have held a 2022 event, however the VSDC Board decided it was time for a skip year. Meaning we’re not ready to say goodbye forever, we’re going to take a rest, let the real estate transactions around the Misty Isle property settle down and we’ll reassess our resources for a 2023 event.”

Throughout 2021, the pandemic and all its changing dynamics provided the most fodder for local front-page stories.

In January of 2020, the number of cases on Vashon stood at 89; it now stands at 271, with 19 of those cases occurring in the past two weeks.

Here are more big things that happened in this small town along the way.

Vashon gets vaccinated

The story of the year took all year to tell: Vashon’s high vaccination rates.

The efforts began on Dec. 23, 2020, when 60 residents and staff of Vashon Community Care were the first on Vashon to receive Pfizer shots. Sea Mar Clinic began giving shots to Phase 1 recipients on Jan. 5.

On Jan. 15, a high-volume vaccination site opened at Vashon Pharmacy — a colossal effort created in partnership by the pharmacy, Vashon’s Emergency Operations Center, its Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) and the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).

Throughout the winter and spring, islanders eagerly awaited their turn in line, according to phased eligibility requirements.

A major milestone occurred on March 8, when nearly 300 Vashon teachers, paraeducators, school and daycare staff were vaccinated in a single week, as a rollout to hybrid education began for elementary school-aged children.

By March 15, nearly 40% of island residents older than the age of 16 had received at least one dose of vaccine, and for a brief time, the dashboard for King County Seattle Public Health said, implausibly, that 107% of seniors aged 65 and older had received at least one dose.

Thanks again to partnerships between the school district, the pharmacy, Vashon’s MRC and EOC, vaccination clinics were also held at Vashon High School in April, and at McMurray Middle School in May.

In October, Vashon Pharmacy teamed up with the EOC and MRC once again to offer a booster shot clinic at Vashon United Methodist Church. So far, 55.1% of fully vaccinated islanders aged 12+ have also had booster doses. (Boosters have not yet been approved for 12- through 15-year-olds.)

Finally, in November, vaccines were approved for ages 5 to 11, and more vaccination clinics in the schools took place for children in that age range.

Currently, 92.7% of Vashon residents age 12 and above have been fully vaccinated — compared to 85.7% of the total King County 12+ population. Almost 60% of young islanders who are 5 to 11-years-old have had their first doses of vaccine.

This all matters: For King County, the Public Health Seattle King County dashboard currently says that unvaccinated people are six times more likely to get COVID, 40 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID, and 44 times more likely to die of COVID.

First hybrid, then full-time, in-person education returns

At this time last year, Vashon Island School District (VISD) was fully remote, with a preliminary plan to return to hybrid education tentatively scheduled for early to mid-February.

After weeks of talks with labor leaders representing teachers and school staff, as well as consultations with Vashon’s MRC, parent Q&As and community groups, hybrid education for elementary school students finally began in early March. By mid-April, middle and high school students were also back in school buildings for a mix of in-person and distance learning.

Vashon High School’s class of 2021 graduated in-person, in the open air of the VHS stadium — a joyous milestone.

Sports practices had begun even before the hybrid return to the classroom. But after an exposure incident related to COVID-positive students attending those practices happened in March, it was announced that Public Health Seattle King County would hold decision-making authority in terms of measures including whether to quarantine and/or contact trace students and employees who may have been exposed to COVID on campus or during school activities.

At the same time, Superintendent Slade McSheehy said that the MRC would play a more important role in future cases, conducting contact tracing and investigations of incidents related to the district.

That policy changed in the fall, as students in all grades returned to the classroom full-time for the first time since March of 2020. The district currently follows Washington Department of Health (DOH) guidelines, with contact tracing conducted by designated district COVID coordinators — a group that includes McSheehy and the principals of each of the three schools in the district.

A new arrangement has now been forged between VISD and the MRC, which underlines the MRC’s role as public health experts charged with protecting the entire community. Currently, the MRC advises the families of positive students and close contacts of cases in schools, if the families of those students give the district permission for their information to be shared. While the district’s contact tracing efforts focus only on students and staff; the MRC’s expert contact tracing efforts cast a community-wide net.

The MRC also conducted multiple pop-up mass-testing clinics, using mostly PCR tests, for the district throughout the fall, following a series of significant exposure events that have happened in the schools in the wake of the Delta surge.

In late October, the district launched its own “Test to Stay” program, a drop-in site offering rapid antigen tests to students and students only. According to DOH guidelines, a negative test allows a fully-vaccinated staff member or student who has been deemed a close contact of an infected person to return to the classroom.

According to a COVID dashboard launched by the district in September, which has not been updated for much of December, a total of two classroom closures have taken place due to outbreaks, with both of these closures taking place at Chautauqua Elementary School.

The dashboard, found at tinyurl.com/nbxzys8w, shows a total of 37 cases of COVID among students, four among staff members, with close contacts numbering 173 students and 65 staff members.

However, these numbers do not include 10 positive cases in eight high school wrestlers and two close contacts in December, which resulted in almost half of the 502-member student body of VHS being designated as close contacts.

Still, despite a steady drumbeat of cases in the schools throughout the fall, McSheehy said that safety protocols including mandatory masking for all students and staff are still working at VISD, pointing to a transmission rate of well under 2% in the more than 500 tests conducted between Aug. 29 and Dec. 12.

Throughout the fall of 2021, the district has also conducted the arduous task of creating a new strategic plan and sworn in two new board members — Kali Aguilera, who was appointed to the board after Bob Hennessey’s resignation in September, and Allison Krutsinger, who was elected to the board in December. A fifth board member will be appointed in January.

Summer was hot, in more ways than one

In late April and early May, the CDC, Gov. Jay Inslee and President Joe Biden all encouraged what turned out to be short-lived freedom from masks for those who were fully vaccinated.

As vaccination ticked up and cases remained relatively low in King County, a brutal heatwave scorched the Pacific Northwest. Islanders suffered, but still found ways to stay cool as the thermometer climbed past 100 degrees for three consecutive days in late June.

At Vashon’s closest official National Weather Service station, Sea-Tac Airport, temperatures hit a mind-boggling, all-time record of 107 degrees on June 28. The day before, the high had been 102 degrees; the day before that, it had been 101.

It was the first time in history that Seattle had three-digit temperatures for three consecutive days, and part of a pattern of worsening heatwaves and extreme weather in a time of rapid climate change. But when the heat dome lifted, islanders returned to the streets for major events including the return of Vashon’s annual Strawberry Festival in July, an event its presenter, the Vashon Chamber of Commerce, billed as “for islanders, by islanders.”

The dance floor at the festival’s outdoor music stage throbbed as local music acts, curated by Vashon Events, drew tightly packed crowds. The same month, a mostly outdoor theater festival, presented by Vashon Repertory Theatre Festival, brought Vashon performers back to island stages in late July for events that took place at Ober Park, Open Space for Arts & Community, Vashon Center for the Arts, and Snapdragon’s Black Cat Cabaret.

But by late July, Delta variant-driven cases had begun to climb steeply. In mid-August, a state-wide mask requirement was re-instituted by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who also announced vaccination mandates for healthcare workers, first responders, state employees and those who worked in public and private education.

But islanders kept dancing throughout August, as Concerts in the Parks returned to Ober Park with an all-local lineup of bands.

Governor’s mandate sparks local story

In late September, Vashon Fire Chief Charles Krimmert announced that he had received a Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccination at Vashon Pharmacy on Tuesday, Sept. 21.

His decision to get the shot came after a six-week-long public drama over the chief’s vaccination status, which played out in public meetings, on social media, the Seattle press and a raft of letters to the fire district and The Beachcomber.

In August, Krimmert told The Beachcomber that he had not been vaccinated for COVID-19, and objected to Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandate for all state healthcare workers to become so by Oct. 19.

As a proposed workaround to the mandate, Krimmert had asked Vashon Island Fire and Rescue’s (VIFR) board of commissioners to release him from his duty to maintain his status as an EMT so that he could continue to serve as the district’s chief.

“If the district wants to keep me, they’ll keep me, if they want to fire me, they’ll fire me,” he told The Beachcomber.

At an Aug. 26 commissioners’ meeting, Krimmert defended his administration, saying he was a strong leader and that his opposition to Inslee’s mandate was an example of that leadership.

The commissioners voted on Sept. 1 to deny Krimmert’s request to change his job description, effectively closing the door to his continued employment in the district unless he became vaccinated.

In an op-ed published in The Beachcomber after he had gotten his shot, Krimmert explained that ultimately, he made this choice in order to stay in a job he loved.

“We have worked hard to bring the district back from the brink of bankruptcy and improve it and grow it,” he said. “We worked together to meet this historic pandemic challenge and it’s not a good time to change leadership while we still face the Delta spike and who knows what is yet to come.”

He also said that the economics of the choice also factored into his calculation, as he had no plans in place for his salary and pension to be taken from him.

At its most recent commissioner’s meeting, on Dec. 22, VIFR’s board of commissioners considered a motion to approve a mandatory vaccination policy for all VIFR employees, with the possibility of exemptions for religious and medical reasons. The motion passed 4 to 1; outgoing commissioner David Hoffman cast the only no vote.

Ferry woes loom large in fall

Starting on Saturday, Oct. 16, Washington State Ferries (WSF) announced that it would reduce schedules for an indefinite period of time on many of its routes in order to “provide more predictable and reliable travel.”

For islanders, the change continues to impact north-end service going to Fauntleroy and Southworth. Instead of having three boats in operation, WSF now operates the route on a two-boat schedule.

One-boat south-end ferry service remained unchanged, however, that is not to say it has been reliable. Throughout the fall and as recently as Christmas Day, service between Tahlequah and Point Defiance has been curtailed or canceled altogether due to a lack of qualified crews to operate the service.

WSF has cited an aging workforce, COVID-19 cases, and quarantines among the reasons a schedule change was necessary; on Oct. 19, it also reported a loss of 132 employees total due to the governor’s vaccination mandate.

For islanders, a reduction in ferry service continues to have a myriad of impacts for business owners, Vashon Island Fire & Rescue and Vashon School District, which garners crucial state dollars for the enrollment of more than 250 off-island students, most of whom attend McMurray Middle School and Vashon High School.

Vashon Community Care closes

In September, Vashon Community Care (VCC) announced its intent to cease providing assisted living and memory care services, with a closure date sometime around the end of the year.

VCC’s executive director, Wendy Kleppe, and Jeff Slichta, an executive vice president for Transforming Age, the nonprofit organization that became the owner of VCC in 2017, explained the decision, saying the VCC’s operations were no longer sustainable due to a number of factors — all of which had been exacerbated by the pandemic.

The most significant factor, they said, was a critical budget shortfall caused by decreased demand for assisted living services on the island, and throughout the country as well. They also cited an insurmountable staffing shortage at the care facility, which factored importantly in the decision as well.

By mid-November, VCC’s staff had found alternative living arrangements for all of VCC’s residents.

Also in mid-November, a community task force convened by Transforming Age resigned en masse. Some of its members — a group that included non-profit leaders in healthcare and senior services on Vashon —said they would continue to liaise with Transforming Age on behalf of their own organizations.

In taking over the operation of VCC in 2017, Transforming Age took ownership of VCC’s building, which came with an outstanding $6 million loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) — a debt that Transforming Age assumed and is still making payments on.

The story of what will happen next with VCC’s building — a storied place of care for island seniors — will start to be written in 2022.

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