Health officials split on rapid COVID-19 tests as admission tickets
Epidemiologists and other public health experts are debating whether to use rapid COVID-19 tests as admission tickets to schools, businesses and entertainment and sports venues.
Even with the quickening pace of vaccinations, it will be months before all Americans who want COVID-19 vaccines receive them. As a result, testing could become ubiquitous as a requirement for students, office workers, spectators and visitors seeking to gather indoors.
Many enterprises have been doing such testing for months, from colleges and universities to Hollywood movie productions to professional sports teams. In New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he wants to use extensive testing to enable Broadway to reopen.
More venues will take up testing as K-12 schools expand in-person instruction and a wide array of businesses and entertainment venues welcome people inside.
Manufacturers of tests say they are seeing a surge in interest from both public and private sources.
But some epidemiologists think that with uneven test and lab quality and varying skill levels among people administering the tests, the effort isn’t worth the time and money.
“With that kind of testing in most situations, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze,” said Dr. Daniel Morgan, an infectious disease doctor and professor of epidemiology at the University of Maryland.
But others hold the opposite view. “Active disease testing is the missing link for schools and employers to give them full confidence to come back in person,” said Mara Aspinall, a professor of health diagnostics at Arizona State University who advises the Rockefeller Foundation on COVID-19 research.
The testing debate coincides with arguments over whether proof of a COVID-19 vaccine should determine access to public spaces.
The skeptics’ chief complaint is the tests’ uncertain reliability. “We don’t have a gold standard,” said Dr. Anthony Harris, who is also a University of Maryland infectious disease doctor and epidemiologist. “There is not one test that is perfect.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved all COVID-19 tests and vaccines on the market under an emergency use authorization. During a public health emergency, the FDA can waive or loosen certain evaluation requirements to get essential products to the public as quickly as possible.
Harris said that because of time constraints, the COVID-19 tests now on the market were mostly studied for their effectiveness on those exhibiting symptoms of the disease. “They are not necessarily evaluated on asymptomatic people,” Harris said, who would likely be the majority of the people being to screened to determine if they can safely enter a venue.
There are two general categories of diagnostic COVID-19 tests. Molecular tests, usually referred to as PCR (for polymerase chain reaction) tests, can detect the genetic material of the virus. Antigen tests detect protein fragments specific to the virus that causes COVID-19.
The PCR tests are considered far more reliable, but are pricey and take hours to produce results. The Testing Wisely website, led by Morgan, lists PCR tests as producing 10% false negatives compared with 37% for antigen tests. (A false negative result occurs when a test shows someone is negative for the infection when it is actually present.)
“I’ve been involved with [antigen] tests that have up to 40% false positives and negatives,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.
As an example of the tests’ unreliability, skeptics point to the failures of antigen rapid testing during the Trump administration, including at the White House reception honoring Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
At least 12 people who attended that September event later tested positive for COVID-19, including President Donald Trump himself, even though they had received negative rapid tests before being allowed in. More than 35 White House staffers and other Trump associates came down with the virus despite the ongoing testing there.
However, antigen tests are cheaper and return results faster – in as little as 15 minutes. These features make them attractive for on-site screening at, for instance, live events and airport terminals. A negative result would allow admission.
Harvard epidemiologist Dr. Michael Mina, one of the most prominent proponents of screening tests, has noted that while antigen tests can miss the presence of the virus, they are better at flagging people with moderate or high viral loads. That means they can identify the people most likely to infect others.
PCR tests have their own problems. While more reliable than antigen tests, they can show someone is positive for the virus up to 100 days after they are no longer infectious – an unnecessary overcorrection for admissions tickets.
The FDA has also recently approved rapid PCR tests that can produce results in just under an hour. In the NCAA basketball tournaments, the NCAA used PCR tests for men’s teams and antigen tests for the women, which caused an uproar over the unequal treatment.
But many epidemiologists stressed that the quality of FDA-approved tests varies considerably. Furthermore, the samples collected may be faulty or contaminated, the person conducting the tests might be sloppy and the labs themselves might be deficient. “There are crappy companies running good tests,” Harris said.
The problem of false positive and false negative results goes beyond the risk of exposing people to infection. Epidemiologists fear that excess faulty results could cause people to ignore results altogether and fail to take necessary public health precautions.
“People who want to do something or need to do something, like those who have to go to work – they probably wouldn’t look for a reason not to go to work if they didn’t feel sick,” said Maryland’s Morgan. “So, if they get a positive result, they may not choose to stay at home, figuring the test was wrong anyway.”
Osterholm said there should be national testing standards that explain who should be screened and how often, the meaning of positive tests and what actions those results should prompt.
But even epidemiologists skeptical about mass testing think it could occasionally be useful.
“If in a community prevalence is high and very few people have been vaccinated, then yes, I would say regular testing in schools and colleges and businesses can make sense,” said Harris.
“But if prevalence is low and you have a high vaccination rate, that reduces the value of testing and increases the probability that you are getting a lot of false positives.” It would be better to spend the effort and resources on other mitigation efforts and on getting people vaccinated, he said.
Dr. Michael Saag, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who also advises the university on COVID-19 public health measures, said that while the school has run a robust testing program, it will soon scale it back. With a positivity rate of less than 0.1%, he said it’s just not worth it.
“I’m not trying to rain on the parade of testing, but there are things we can do in a common sense realm that are more effective than testing,” he said, such as masking and social distancing.
Testing remains central to reopening plans despite its shortcomings. The COVID-19 relief bill President Joe Biden signed last month provides nearly $50 billion for testing, including $10 billion for testing in K-12 schools to enable them to open their doors to even more students for in-person teaching this spring.
Many school systems have implemented multistage testing protocols. Some seem designed to address the reservations some epidemiologists expressed.
Baltimore is one of those school districts. In March, the city began reopening lower grades in the public schools for in-person instruction, with plans to open other grades this month.
To reopen safely, the schools have implemented a multilayered PCR testing procedure that begins with pool testing. In pool testing a group of people is tested to determine whether anyone in the group is infected, without disclosing who in the group carries the virus.
All students, teachers and staff in Baltimore are subjected to pooled testing once a week. The average size of the pools in the city schools is just under 13 individuals, said Cleo Hirsch, director of priority initiatives for the Baltimore city schools and the lead for its testing program.
The tests are self-administered and supervised, Hirsch said. Kids and adults swab the lower part of their nasal cavity and then drop the swab into a tube, which is then sent to a lab.
Hirsch said even young kids can perform the procedure. “It’s really easy, they say it’s like picking your nose,” Hirsch said. “Sometimes they giggle, no one cries.”
Results are returned in a day, Hirsch said. If they show that somebody in the group is positive, everyone in the group is given an individual PCR test by a nurse from the University of Maryland Medical System.
As of last week, over a three-week period Hirsch said the schools had tested 992 pools and 12,500 individuals. Sixty people were ultimately found to have the virus. The prevalence rate, Hirsch said, was 0.5%.
“What’s most newsworthy is we are not seeing transmission,” Hirsch said. “We’re not seeing those cases spread. It shows that masking, social distancing and air filters are working.”
She said each pooled test costs about $150.
Massachusetts has implemented similar pool testing, with more than half its public schools participating and more joining all the time, according to Russell Johnston, a senior associate commissioner for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and its lead on the testing program.
The pool approach uses PCR tests, while the individual tests use the antigen tests. If, after a positive PCR pool test, the individual antigen tests don’t produce a positive result for anyone in the pool, Johnston said, then everyone is given a PCR test.
So far, few cases have been detected. The positivity rate for the pools is 0.76%, Johnston said. An average of about two people in the school testing program out of a thousand have been found to have the virus.
Massachusetts is picking up all the costs of the school testing, Johnston said, relying in part on money from Biden’s relief bill.
While there may be holes in testing protocols that still result in false positives and negatives, Linda Mendonca, president-elect of the National Association of School Nurses, said testing can be a useful part of a school system’s public health strategy.
“It’s what the CDC talks about, taking a Swiss cheese approach,” she said. “Masking, distancing, air circulation. You have to do all these layers. Testing is just one more to add in.”
Goldendale Observatory reopening to public April 24 with limited schedule
The newly renovated Goldendale Observatory State Park Heritage Site will reopen on April 24 with a limited schedule.
To comply with the state’s Phase 3 order, Washington State Parks will reopen the observatory at reduced capacity. The free observatory programs will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays only. Visitors must register online for the programs, according to a news release.
The observatory won’t open for drop-in visitors, and staff will not offer private tours. State Parks will not be able to schedule visits outside the Saturday and Sunday program dates.
During Phase 3, visitors will not have access to evening viewing through the main telescope.
Afternoon programming will include the opportunity to tour the newly upgraded facility. Registered participants will be able to view the sun through the observatory’s solar telescopes.
The current observatory schedule is temporary and expected to change. For updates and schedule changes, check the park’s web page; sign up to get email park alerts; or check Parks’ social media: Twitter (@WaStatePks) or Facebook (@WashingtonStateParks).
The observatory, 2 miles north of Goldendale, houses one of the world’s largest publicly accessible permanently mounted telescopes. Last year, State Parks completed work on an extensive multi-year renovation of the observatory and grounds.
Work included converting the old Cassegrain telescope to a Newtonian telescope by replacing the telescope’s original mirror with a new 24.5-inch mirror. The site also includes a new building with a 140-person capacity auditorium.
Study: Pesticide use falls, but harms pollinators more
American farmers are using smaller amounts of better targeted pesticides, but these are harming pollinators, aquatic insects and some plants far more than decades ago, a new study finds.
Toxicity levels have more than doubled since 2005 for important species, including honeybees, mayflies and buttercup flowers, as the country switched to a new generation of pesticides. But dangerous chemical levels in birds and mammals have plummeted at the same time, according to a paper in Thursday’s journal Science.
“The bottom line is that these pesticides, once believed to be relatively benign and so short-lived that they would not damage ecosystems, are anything but,” said Dr. Lynn Goldman, a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency assistant administrator for toxic substances who wasn’t part of the study and is now dean of George Washington University’s school of public health
German scientists examined 381 pesticides used in the United States between 1992 and 2016, combining EPA data that calculates toxic dosage effects for eight types of animals and plants with U.S. Geological Survey data on how much of the chemicals were used year by year for dozens of agricultural crops. The scientists calculated a new measurement they call total applied toxicity for the eight groupings of species and trends over time.
“Very often politicians, media, scientists just talk about amounts. They always argue ‘OK, the amount of pesticides we use is reduced so things are getting better’ and this is not necessarily true,” said lead author Ralf Schulz, a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Kolenz-Landau. “It’s sometimes true, but not always.”
Industry keeps developing new pesticides and “very often these new compounds are more toxic,” Schulz said. They include neonicotinoids, which have been connected to one of the many causes of dwindling honeybee numbers.
The newer pesticides are aimed more toward animals without backbones to spare birds and mammals, but this means insects such as pollinators get poisoned, Schulz said.
The same goes for some land plants and for aquatic invertebrates including dragonflies and mayflies, which birds and mammals eat, he said, adding that future studies should look at the harm higher up the food chain.
Chris Novak, president of the pesticide industry group CropLife America, said in an email that “it is critical to note that the study found great reductions in acute toxicity have been achieved for humans and mammals over the past few decades.”
Novak noted pesticides go through extensive studies and “only one in 10,000 discoveries make the 11-year journey from the lab to the market.”
It’s not surprising that newer generations of pesticides generally are more harmful to insects, which are undergoing a massive decline for many reasons, said University of Connecticut entomologist David Wagner, who wasn’t part of the study. But Wagner said this newest research doesn’t provide data needed to show “that pesticides are the major driver of insect declines.”
Census delay spells election chaos for states
The monthslong delay in tallying last year’s census is wreaking havoc on the states with elections this year and next.
The stakes are high in states with fast-changing populations: In states that are becoming more diverse, Democrats are eager to wield increased statehouse clout and advance agendas such as expanding voting rights and moving away from mass incarceration. Republicans hanging on to control in swing states want to draw new legislative and congressional district lines to retain endangered suburban districts by extending them into rural areas where conservative sentiment is still strong.
States and cities depend on detailed population totals to draw the new districts that determine representation in Congress, statehouses and local offices.
Normally, those numbers from the 2020 census would have come out in March, but now they’re delayed until August or September because of pandemic setbacks.
Two states, New Jersey and Virginia, already have decided to hold elections using the old districts drawn after 2010, a move that deprives growing and changing areas of the representation they deserve. Twenty-five states have laws, some enshrined in their constitutions, requiring new districts this year – a difficult feat if tallies don’t come out until the fall or winter.
Some states have turned to courts – Alabama and Ohio tried to stop census delays, and Oregon is asking courts to allow a delay in redrawing districts despite state law. Idaho and Oklahoma are among those turning to alternative data to get the job done on time, a move Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington also are weighing.
Alabama is considering a law delaying 2022 primaries because of the late data and a Texas bill would give the governor the power to postpone next year’s primaries if time runs short. And in North Carolina, some cities are waiting for state permission to either delay elections or use old districts for city council elections this year.
Many states have primaries next spring for November 2022 elections. With timetables cut short by months, there’s little time for legislature or commission debates and public input even as candidates look for support in yet-unspecified districts.
“It’s just going to be a mess,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
When states carry out elections using outdated districts, fast-growing areas that may be becoming more racially and ethnically diverse can be politically underrepresented.
In New Jersey, progressive groups clashed with the Democratic Party’s decision to use a constitutional amendment approved by voters in November to delay redistricting until after this year’s state elections. The state’s largest growth in the past decade, about 38,000 people, has been in Hudson County, where Hispanic and other immigrants predominate.
“New Jersey is much more diverse than it was 10 years ago, so this is delaying representation for communities of color,” said Henal Patel, a director of the progressive New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, adding that it deprives her organization of support for programs it advocates, such as voting and housing rights.
“We advocate for racial justice, so this will delay our agenda. It’s about power,” Patel added.
Red states also may be disadvantaged in elections with old districts, Jillson said. That’s because districts that seemed safely Republican when drawn in 2011 may have slipped away as the state’s population diversified over the decade.
“Republicans want to redistrict as soon as they can in swing states like Arizona and Florida as well as Texas, to buttress their majorities in places where it has deteriorated, by adding in some more rural areas,” Jillson said.
A clear example, he said, are suburban areas such as the 24th Congressional District between Dallas and Fort Worth, where Republican Rep. Beth Van Duyne won by just over 1 percentage point last year.
Virginia also has opted to run state elections this year without new lines. New districts may be available before November, but not in time to prepare for elections.
The idea of using alternative data, such as Census Bureau estimates of population and race, is inherently flawed because such proxies are not based on actual counts like the delayed data, and they don’t go into the fine-grained detail usually required by redistricting. The delayed data, called P.L. 94-171 after the 1975 law that created it, includes population down to the level of city blocks, allowing almost infinite variations on district lines.
“I don’t think anybody in these states would call these good alternatives, but they’re trying to do the best they can, given the pickle the Census Bureau has put them in with late data,” said Benjamin Williams, an elections and redistricting policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Three states considering alternative data, Idaho, Oklahoma and Oregon, all have backup plans if the legislature can’t finish the districts on time. Oregon’s secretary of state would draw the lines, and commissions would do so in Idaho and Oklahoma, Williams said.
In Idaho’s case, it was relatively easy to use estimates because state law requires that districts respect county lines, so most of the job can be done with county population estimates made before the 2020 census, Williams said.
Oregon’s legislature and secretary of state are in a legal battle even though all involved are Democrats. The legislature is asking the state Supreme Court to delay redistricting until the census data comes out, cutting out the secretary of state, who, under state law, gets to make the districts if the legislature can’t do it in time. Secretary of State Shemia Fagan says she could get the job done by July 1 using estimates, a plan lawmakers called “replete with uncertainties” in court papers.
Fagan said in a statement that her plan is “an opportunity to get the work underway much sooner and avoid challenges,” and that it leaves as much time for public input as possible and allows later corrections when better data arrives.
The alternative data Fagan wants to use is being built by a team at Portland State University and will use a combination of 2010 census data and estimates based on state information such as births and residential construction to estimate population down to the block level. The state also will use it to flag possible errors after the census releases the data, said Ethan Sharygin, director of the university’s Population Research Center.
Other states with similar projects include Colorado, Massachusetts and Washington, Sharygin said.
Oklahoma is taking a different route, using survey estimates for smaller areas than counties to handle line-drawing without the new numbers, Williams said.
On April 5, a coalition of voting rights groups urged Ohio to postpone next year’s May primaries, to give candidates more time to prepare to run in new districts. Illinois Democrats have said they’ll use alternative data estimates to avoid losing control to a commission because of the delay.
Kimball Brace, a Virginia-based redistricting consultant who works for the Illinois legislature, said the alternative data can speed up the process and avoid some of the risk that courts will overturn elections based on old districts.
“We could end up having these elections in 2021 done over again in 2022 and then again in 2023,” Brace said. “Nobody wants to face that, and nobody wants to go through more court challenges.”
Kemi Alabi wins First Book Award from poets academy
NEW YORK (AP) – A Chicago-based writer and activist has received the First Book Award from the Academy of American Poets. Kemi Alabi’s “Against Heaven” is scheduled for publication in spring 2022.
Alabi, chosen for the honor by the acclaimed poet Claudia Rankine, will receive $5,000 and a six-week, all-expenses-paid residency at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Umbria, Italy. The academy will also purchase and distribute thousands of copies of “Against Heaven.”
Rankine said “Against All Heaven” was a virtuosic and multilayered exploration of “black queer subjectivity.”
“At once sonic and disruptive, these poems pull together everything in a world where nothing is sacred,” she said. “In this energetic and brilliant debut, the thrust of the lyric dislodges all that is stuck and stagnant, creating new possibilities for utterance.”
Previous winners of the award include Nicole Cooley and Jenny Xie.
Weather Eye: Don’t put those warm-weather plants out just yet
The occasional sunbreaks were welcomed Friday in between the scattered showers that also brought some hail and even graupel to the county. Precipitation amounts were about as planned, a tenth of an inch or so. Heavier showers fell near the foothills.
More snow fell in the Cascades and foothills as a chilly air mass once again covered the area. With clearing skies Saturday night, I expect most of us will have a good frost this morning, with lows in the 20s, which may be a record in some locales in the Evergreen State.
The weather will turn fair with plenty of sunshine and no rain all week into next weekend, as things look now. On Monday morning, another frost will occur mainly in outlying locations. Downtown Vancouver may stay in the 30s. Sounds like a repeat, doesn’t it? The weather forecast the past week or so was easy – cut and paste.
Let’s talk about temperatures this coming week. We will see 70 degrees for sure Wednesday through Saturday. Last week, we discussed 80 degrees. Some forecast models wanted to heat us up. Fine with me. Forecast charts Saturday afternoon showed another cold air mass dropping down from B.C. to our east. If it strays farther east, we warm into the 70s. If it strays westward, we could get east winds and chilly air. Goodbye, 70s and 80s.
We’ll go with a middle-of-the-road forecast for now, with cool mornings and mild to warm afternoons. In Tuesday’s column, we will see how things look as far as warmer temperatures. Again, I will advise you to not plant warm-weather plants or seeds yet, despite it being sunny all week. There’s still snow on Silver Star, and frosts are possible. I usually wait until Mother’s Day to set out tender plants. Keep a weather eye out for the overnight lows.
As of 4 p.m. Saturday, Vancouver is running more than one degree below normal on the temperatures and one inch below average in the rainfall department. We will welcome the sunshine and mild afternoon weather this week and watch for tempering of the overnight lows. Take good care.
Apple TV Plus announces Jon Stewart’s TV return
When it was announced last year that Jon Stewart, the longtime host of “The Daily Show,” was at last returning to TV for a new series, fans rejoiced. Then they wondered: What is this show going to be? And when can we see it? We still don’t know the exact premiere date for the new venture, but Apple TV Plus has announced the show’s title, and general information about when viewers should expect it.
So, get ready: the show will be called “The Problem With Jon Stewart,” and it will launch this fall. OK, exactly when this fall we still don’t know, but that’s at least more detail than was included in the initial announcement of the multi-year deal between Stewart and Apple TV Plus.
That so many people are eager to see Stewart back with a regular series reflects the tremendous impact he, and his “Daily Show” team, made. While political humor had long been a regular component of late-night TV monologues, “The Daily Show” combined satire, media critiques and current affairs to such an extent that the Comedy Central series was credited with being a primary news source for many of its viewers.
Stewart stepped away as host of “The Daily Show” in 2015, but the movement to combine comedy and commentary has only gained steam. That trend has much to do with “Daily Show” veterans who have gone on to host their own shows, which feature political commentary along with jokes.
“Daily Show” alums who have kept that show’s approach going strong include Trevor Noah, who inherited the hosting job from Stewart; John Oliver, whose “Last Week Tonight” series on HBO has become the Emmy-winning juggernaut “The Daily Show” used to be; Samantha Bee, who hosts the weekly, half-hour show, “Full Frontal” on TBS; and Stephen Colbert, who followed his former “Daily Show” companion series, “The Colbert Report,” to host CBS’ “The Late Show.” Stewart is an executive producer of Colbert’s show, and since leaving “The Daily Show,” Stewart has occasionally turned up on TV in cameo appearances on “The Late Show.”
“The Problem With Jon Stewart” is, not surprisingly, described as a current affairs series. According to Apple TV Plus, the show is a multiple season, hourlong, single-issue series which will “explore topics that are currently part of the national conversation,” along with Stewart’s advocacy work. Each season of the series will be accompanied with a companion podcast.
Stewart will host and be an executive producer of “The Problem With Jon Stewart,” through his company, Busboy Productions.
Apple TV Plus is a streaming service available on devices including iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, iPod touch, Mac, select Samsung, LG, Sony and VIZIO smart TVs, Amazon Fire TV and Roku devices, Chromecast with Google TV, PlayStation and Xbox consoles, and at tv.apple.com, for $4.99 per month with a seven-day free trial.
Everybody Has a Story: Neighboring warehouse explosive
My parents owned Starr’s Motel in Portland, right next to a fireworks warehouse. Every year we got free sparklers and boomers. Fun for a kid.
Our house was across a parking lot from the motel. My grandfather had just added a big south-facing porch to the house and it still smelled like new wood and paint.
I was 10 years old on July 5, 1958, when there was a huge explosion at the warehouse. My bedroom was right across from the warehouse, alongside a little alley, and the ceiling collapsed around my head.
The next thing I was aware of was my mom grabbing my arms and we were running through the house, through the office, across the new porch, down the stairs and across the parking lot. Running barefoot around fireworks, fires, glass from exploded motel windows. Mom had me stand in a garage to protect me from our house exploding and sending wood planks, roofing and metal shrapnel flying all around. She ran around banging on doors to make sure guests got into their cars and away.
The sky was bright from the fire, oranges and yellows and reds, like a psychedelic daylight. Plus the smell of gunpowder and big pieces of burning wood all around us. We huddled in the garage. Mom’s feet were cut to shreds by the glass and I was bleeding from a head wound.
We huddled in the garage, up against the side walls to avoid flying debris, and waited for the sirens of ambulances. Mom took my hand and we ran to Powell Boulevard where EMTs grabbed us and threw us in the back of the ambulance. Mom’s feet were in bad shape, and I had bled all over my pajama top, so we were off to the hospital. The Red Cross provided housing for us at a different motel as ours was rebuilt.
We couldn’t find my dad. Only later did we find out he had been blown out of the house. He was found in shock and we met up at the hospital.
A little girl that lived behind the warehouse died and 30 people were injured. I wasn’t seriously injured, just bled a lot and got a few stitches. Dad was okay, but he had suffered a series of strokes the year before, and I don’t think he ever recovered from the shock.
Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.
Vancouver’s 192nd corridor reimagined
Commercial buildings and subdivisions line most of the length of 192nd Avenue today, but as recently as 30 years ago, none of that bustling corridor existed – not even the road itself. A viewer flying over today’s eastern edge of Vancouver in the early 1990s would have seen an expanse of farmland, dotted with a few scattered houses bookended by a pair of massive mining sites. The only large-scale piece of developed land was the local Hewlett-Packard campus on Southeast 34th Street.
“That was all mining and farmland when I got here back in 1992,” said Chad Eiken, the city of Vancouver’s economic development director. “192nd wasn’t even a road at that point.”
A series of annexations extended the Vancouver city limits rapidly eastward during the 1990s, bringing a steady march of subdivisions and residential development out to what is now 192nd Avenue. Commercial development followed starting in the mid-2000s, rapidly transforming the road into a central retail corridor.
Today, the corridor is headed for a new kind of development boom – one that will focus on reimagining the mining sites that defined the area 30 years ago.
“For many years, all that gravel was being used for other construction, other developments in the region, and now those have sort of reached the end of their life cycle,” Eiken said.
Some remaining streetside properties are still filling in one by one, but the emerging round of construction will be driven by a quartet of much larger redevelopment sites: the former English Pit mine now known as Section 30, the former HP campus now known as the Vancouver Innovation Center, and the eastern and western halves of the former Fisher Quarry. The eastern half is now known as Columbia Palisades.Two decades of growth
Vancouver-based Romano Capital is becoming a major player in the current round of development along 192nd Avenue, with one apartment complex recently completed, another underway and two projects planned or underway in the Columbia Palisades area.
The company’s president, Kess Romano, said the corridor’s popularity with developers stems from a combination of readily available infrastructure, a growing residential population and an ideal location where the two cities meet. Vancouver’s growth and Camas’ determination to diversify its economy beyond the paper mill business set the stage for the corridor to emerge, he said.
“You had kind of this convergence of Camas that had been focused on the (technology) industry and Vancouver moving out further east,” he said.
Aerial imagery on Clark County’s Geographic Information System maps illustrates the progress of the corridor’s development, starting with the eastward march of housing construction during the 1990s. By 2004 the road was finished except for the segment through the Fisher Quarry to reach the new Highway 14 interchange. The connection was completed by 2007, by which point residential neighborhoods had spread to cover significant portions of both sides of the corridor.
The first major commercial projects had also appeared: The Walmart and Home Depot along 192nd Avenue at the east end of the fledgling Columbia Tech Center, and a handful of commercial buildings surrounding the intersection with Southeast 34th Street. Shahala Middle School, Illahee Elementary School and Union High School were all built along or near the corridor between 2002 and 2007.
Retail development slowed a couple years after that – stalled by the 2008 recession, according to Romano – with only a couple new additions at the east end of the Columbia Tech Center. But housing development continued, and in 2009 Fisher Investments broke ground on a 150-acre corporate campus east of the 192nd corridor, which would eventually become its headquarters.
“After things started warming up a bit, 192nd really just blew up,” Romano said.
Vancouver-based Kirkland Development kicked off the next wave with the 192nd Plaza project at the intersection with Southeast 20th Street in 2010, followed a couple years later by 192nd Station, a commercial project that spanned the distance between Southeast 20th and 15th streets on the east side of 192nd Avenue.
More Kirkland projects followed, including the Candlewood Suites hotel in 2016 near the southwest corner of 192nd and 20th, the nearby 192nd Plaza West mixed-used commercial building in 2017, the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in the middle of 192nd Station in 2018 and finally a medical office building in 2019 at the north end of the development.
In the northern half of the corridor, Costco and the Lacamas Crossing retail buildings arrived on the scene in 2011 at the intersection with Southeast First Street, and Hurley Development opened Union Station in 2017, a pair of commercial buildings along the east side of 192nd Avenue north of Costco.
“I think the difference now is that all the residential is there, and residences need supporting services, and so only recently has there been more commercial development in the 192nd corridor,” Eiken said. “You’re seeing restaurants, other services, hotels, things like that.”The next round
The new round of development sites are big enough to have their own master plans – or in the case of Section 30, a subarea plan with multiple master plans in the works for different parts of the site. The roughly 550-acre former mine extends west from 192nd Avenue at the north end of the corridor.
Planned projects for the site include a new corporate campus for HP, a commercial retail project at the intersection of 192nd and First Street and the Harmony Master Plan, a mixed-use project to the west of the Harmony Sports Complex.
The Vancouver Innovation Center, which extends west from the corridor north of 34th Street, includes all of the former HP buildings at the company’s original Vancouver site and the surrounding campus. The site’s owners, New Blueprint Partners and Rabina, are working on a plan to renovate the buildings and develop the rest of the 179-acre campus with a mixture of office, light industrial and residential uses.
The master plan for Columbia Palisades – the 84-acre eastern half of the Fisher Quarry – emerged in 2016 and the following three years saw the initial roads and infrastructure put in place on the east side of 192nd Avenue, setting the stage for commercial and residential development to kick off with the groundbreaking of a new Vancouver Clinic location in 2019.
Vancouver-based Hurley Development recently submitted a proposed master plan for the 98-acre western half of the former quarry, on the other side of 192nd Avenue.
“It’s in that old quarry, so there’s pretty cool features that they’re proposing to integrate into the park space, maybe even having a walkway up to the top of one of the rock outcroppings for people to get views out to the Columbia,” Eiken said.
Here’s a look at all the 192nd Avenue corridor projects that are planned, under construction or recently completed:Harmony Master Plan
Location: Within Section 30
Developer: Rotschy Inc.
The Harmony Master Plan site consists of about 181 acres north of First Street within Section 30 to the west of the Harmony Sports Complex. The applicant is still working with the city on a development agreement, according to Eiken, and a land use application is not yet under review. The city held a pre-application meeting with Rotschy in February 2020.
The project as currently proposed would include a 242-lot subdivision, two multifamily developments totaling 240 units and 210 units, respectively, and flex space, according to Eiken.HP Master Plan
Location: Within Section 30
Developer: HP Inc.
The city first announced in December 2019 that it had reached a deal with HP Inc. to develop a new corporate campus on a 68-acre portion of Section 30. The proposed project would be built along a northward extension of Northeast 184th Avenue and would proceed in phases. The first phase would include two of five planned buildings at an approximate cost of $50 million to $80 million.
The city views the HP project as a catalyst that could potentially kickstart further development at Section 30, according to Eiken, and will fund some of the necessary infrastructure improvements during the first phase.Lacamas Square
Location: Northwest corner of East First Street and Northeast 192nd Avenue (within Section 30)
Developer: Gramor Development
Tualatin, Ore.-based Gramor Development is probably best known locally as the lead developer for The Waterfront Vancouver, but the company has developed a smattering of other commercial sites in Clark County such as the Battle Ground Market Center and Hazel Dell Square.
The proposed Lacamas Square project would be built on an undeveloped 8.5-acre parcel at First Street and 192nd Avenue that forms the southeast corner of the Section 30 site. Gramor’s pre-application packet outlines plans for six buildings which would be mostly retail and would include at least two restaurants and a coffee shop.1st Street Village
Location: 19814 S.E. First St.
Developer: Romano Capital
Status: Under construction
Located a short distance east of 192nd Avenue, 1st Street Village is an $80 million project from Romano Capital that will feature 115 multifamily residential units, nine extended-stay hotel units and nearly 45,000 square feet of commercial space.Tru by Hilton
Location: 311 N.E. 192nd Ave.
Developer: Hurley Development
The proposed hotel project would be a four-story, 36,000-square-foot structure with 82 rooms, located on a small undeveloped parcel directly northeast of the 14,000-square-foot Union Station retail development, which Hurley Development built in 2017.
The Tru brand is owned by Hilton Worldwide, the parent company of the Hilton hotel chain.Kirkland car wash and medical building
Location: 1821 S.E. 192nd Ave.
Developer: Kirkland Development
The proposed car wash and medical building would be the latest in a series of Kirkland Development projects along the 192nd corridor between 15th and 25th streets, and would be located within 192nd Station.192nd West Lofts
Location: 2220 S.E. 192nd Ave.
Developer: Kirkland Development
Status: Recently completed
Located to the south of the Candlewood Suites and 192nd Plaza West projects, the 192nd West Lofts complex consists of a trio of luxury apartment buildings that collectively offer 163 units. The last of the three wrapped up construction in January.192nd Westridge Lofts
Location: 2311 S.E. 192nd Ave.
Developer: Romano Capital
Status: Recently completed
Located across the street from the Kirkland apartments, the Westridge Lofts building is a 130-unit apartment complex from Romano Capital. The project wrapped up construction in February.Vancouver Innovation Center
Location: 18110 S.E. 34th St.
Developer: New Blueprint Partners and Rabina
The preexisting office and industrial buildings at the center of the former HP campus will form the core of the planned Vancouver Innovation Center. HP sold the campus to SEH America in 2009, and New Blueprint Partners and Rabina reached a deal to acquire it last year.
The new owners’ plan includes renovating the existing structures and building out the rest of the campus to include light industrial, commercial, office and residential uses. As a first step, the developers have asked the city to rezone the area from light industrial to mixed use. Construction on the northern half of the campus is tentatively planned to run through 2025, followed by construction to the south.New Fisher Investments building
Location: North end of Fisher Investments Campus
Developer: Fisher Investments
Status: Recently completed
The newest addition to the Fisher Investments corporate campus sits at the north end of the site, a short way east of 192nd Avenue along 20th Street. The five-story structure is the fourth office building at the 150-acre Fisher Creek campus.
The project wrapped up in the fall of 2020 following about two years of construction. The tower has enough room to add about 1,100 employees to the company’s existing staff of about 1,700 at the Camas campus.Columbia Palisades
Location: Fisher Quarry eastern half
Developer: Columbia Palisades Corp., others
Status: Under construction
Overall planning and development of Columbia Palisades, the eastern half of the former Fisher Quarry, is being guided by Columbia Palisades Corp., a joint venture from Portland-based developers Ed Freeman and Joe Weston, with other developers handling individual projects within the site.
The Vancouver Clinic opened a branch at the site last fall, and several houses along the area’s northern and eastern bluff are completed or under construction. At the southeast corner, Romano Capital is building a luxury townhome project called Boulder Ridge. The company is also planning a large multifamily project at Columbia Palisades, according to Kess Romano.
Other projects on the docket include the Ledges at Columbia Palisades, a planned seven-story condo building from Kirkland Development and Portland Architecture firm Otak, and a planned senior living facility from Phoenix-based Alliance Realty Partners.Riverview Gateway
Location: Fisher Quarry western half
Developer: Hurley Development
Hurley Development released a proposed master plan for the western half of the former Fisher Quarry last fall, naming the project Riverview Gateway. The plans called for at least 17 buildings with a mix of commercial, residential and industrial uses.
Clark County unemployment claims continue to fall
The best statistic to reflect Clark County’s job market is the total continued unemployment insurance claims filed every week by residents. Thankfully, it continued a downward trend last week, according to Scott Bailey, regional labor economist for Southwest Washington. Claims fell from 14,585 to 14,537.
“We’ve seen a slow decline in total continued claims since the first of the year,” Bailey said. “However, much of that has been a seasonal improvement.”
Regular continued claims also continued to trend downward, dropping from 3,486 to 3,211, or an 8 percent drop.
About 525 regular initial claims were filed last week, down from 619 the previous week but almost the same as 524 the week before. The most initial claims came from construction workers in the industrial category, with 61 claims. Management, with 114 claims, was tops for occupational groups.
The number of long-term unemployed residents of Clark County is climbing. People who receive federal-extended benefits (Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation) rose last week from 5,937 to 6,148, which is a 4 percent increase. Claims for another extended benefits program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, slightly increased by 19 last week to 5,167.
“They have held steady for the past six weeks,” Bailey said.
Accommodations and food services is still the most-suffering sector. Claims totaled 1,229 with workers from full-service restaurants accounting for about half of that.
Retail trade had 800 total claims last week, construction had 795 claims, health care had 764, and manufacturing had 663 total claims.
“These industries have been pretty consistently the most impacted during the pandemic,” Bailey said.
Will Campbell: email@example.com; 360-735-4507; twitter.com/wtcampbell