Earlier this spring, health officials were questioning whether the Packwood Flea Market — said to be the largest in the Pacific Northwest — should be held at all this year. The loosely-organized annual event usually draws thousands of visitors perusing antiques, crafts and food vendors.
The event was canceled last year due to the pandemic, and with local COVID-19 cases on the rise, Public Health Director JP Anderson said officials were scrutinizing the event and considering pulling temporary food permits.
But the event will go on this year, and public health officials will use it as a chance to get people vaccinated against COVID-19.
According to Anderson, not doing so would be a “missed opportunity,” and state Department of Health officials have OKed the harm-reduction idea.
“It’s not ‘this is the best way to manage a bad situation,’” Anderson said Thursday. “It’s more ‘this is an opportunity to go forward.’”
The flea market is set for Memorial Day weekend, May 28 - 31, plus some “early bird” shopping that Thursday. A second flea market is scheduled for Labor Day weekend in September.
“Let’s do the happy dance!” vendor Shamera Stewart wrote on Facebook Friday, announcing a plan to sell honey, Amish goods and “good ole junk.”
While vaccination plans haven’t been cemented, the county will offer doses at the event in one way or another, perhaps in the Packwood Senior Center, which is regularly incorporated into the annual flea market.
The hope is to give out Johnson & Johnson shots, the one-and-done COVID-19 vaccine that ensures providers don’t have to wrangle market-goers for a second dose a few weeks later.
The move comes as Lewis County continues to find creative ways to boost vaccine confidence and work with the community to operationalize smaller clinics. The county’s pledge to set up community-organized clinics wherever a group of 20 people can be convened has already spurred such events at local churches. And this month the county launched its “why I got vaccinated” video campaign.
Lewis County is still lagging behind the state in terms of how many residents have received the shot. But that can’t all be chalked up to folks resisting the vaccine, officials and providers have repeated. Instead, some point to situational barriers and the issue of convenience. The Packwood Flea Market may provide an opportunity to get more doses out to East Lewis County, where some communities are more isolated. The county’s mass drive-through and walk-through vaccination clinics have both been in the Twin Cities.
“The idea is just to put vaccines available to folks where they’re at. And if they’re ready to get one, that’s great. If they're not, that’s okay too,” Anderson said.
Anderson has previously critiqued the state’s phased reopening plan, arguing that it’s no longer a helpful component of Washington’s work to stamp down the pandemic, as officials are already occupied with vaccine distribution. While the state is still following its phased reopening strategy, Gov. Jay Inslee this week charted a course toward a post-pandemic world, announcing his plan to largely lift COVID-19 restrictions by June 30. That’s before the second round of the Packwood Flea Market, set for Labor Day weekend.
The Memorial Day weekend Packwood Flea Market, Anderson said, will be a good step toward normalcy.
“This may be a major event — hopefully positive,” he said. “It’s a meaningful step forward.”
Public health officials will also be providing hand washing stations and sanitation at the event.