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Today's Headlines: July 3, 2024

Studies look at how Snake River dam changes might affect river transportation

Two studies are underway to determine the Northwest’s transportation needs if four Lower Snake River dams are modified to improve salmon migration

The Washington legislature asked the state Department of Transportation to study how dam breaching would affect transportation on the Snake and Columbia Rivers. The department and a consultant have begun a two-year, $4 million study. The results are due in 2026.

Legislators also ordered Washington State University’s Freight Policy Transportation Institute to monitor that study and ensure the viewpoints of the major river users are captured. Business interests have complained that past dam breaching studies haven’t considered their viewpoints,

“We have pretty tight relationships with the stakeholders that are involved," said Eric Jessup, the institute's director.

That includes barging companies that ship everything from wheat to logs to fertilizer on the rivers.

“I think they felt like, because we’ve worked with these people in the past, we would be better suited to collecting good information from them based on kind of a trust factor," he said.

Jessup says his institute’s report is due next summer. The state's Joint Transportation Committee is paying the university $485,000.

SRHD dashboard shows slight rise in Covid cases

Reported coronavirus cases in Spokane are rising slightly ahead of the Independence Day holiday, according to the Spokane Regional Health District.

The increase is small. Its curve resembles that of a similar rise this time last year. So far the trend isn’t enough to arouse serious worry, said Mark Springer, SRHD’s communicable disease program manager.

“I think the numbers are still relatively low,” Springer told SPR News. “I would not look at this as a more significant health issue as we’re going into the summer months.”

In addition to reported cases, Springer said he checks hospitalizations and deaths, two key metrics for determining how severe a coronavirus variant is. Both figures are relatively flat and have not risen to serious levels.

Viral variants that are currently circulating are sneaky because coronavirus tends to mutate faster than other respiratory illnesses, such as flu and RSV. It’s too early to say whether the June uptick will keep going through July or if cases will fall, Springer said.

Springer advised applying good sense in planning social activities. Put another way: if someone you know is ill, don’t party down with them this weekend. But you don’t have to cancel your summer vacation plans.

WA rideshare drivers now eligible for paid leave

Under a state law that took effect Monday, Uber and Lyft drivers in Washington are now the first rideshare drivers in the country eligible for paid family and medical leave.

The drivers are eligible for up to 16 weeks of paid leave in case of a medical emergency. That includes caring for a family member and welcoming a new child. The law, which the state legislature passed last year, requires that Uber and Lyft pay the drivers’ premiums to the fund.

Statewide Drivers Union is helping drivers enroll in the new program. Kerry Harwin of the Drivers Union said more than 30,000 Uber and Lyft drivers work in Washington state. The majority are immigrants and people of color.

Up to 30 percent of rideshare drivers in King County rely on food stamps, Harwin said.

Spokane lines up plans for Independence Day, wraps up Expo ’74 celebrations

Spokane’s annual Fourth of July observance kicks off today, and this year it will be bundled with a farewell to the golden anniversary of Expo ’74.

After Thursday afternoon’s summer carnival, Riverfront Park will host the Expo closing ceremonies and the city’s Independence Day festivities.

The evening will include live music, martial arts demonstrations, and performances by a local theater group.

Following the ceremonies, the MasterClass Big Band will perform in the Spokane pavilion at 8:30 p.m. before the city’s July 4th fireworks display at 10:00 p.m.

A full schedule of performances and events can be found on the city of Spokane’s website.

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Reporting was contributed by Doug Nadvornick, Brandon Hollingsworth, Lilly Ana Fowler and Owen Henderson.