News, factoids, and insights from KUOW's newsroom. And maybe some peeks behind the scenes. Check back daily for updates.
Have any leads or feedback for the KUOW Blog? Contact Dyer Oxley at email@example.com.
Rise in syphilis cases prompts new guidance from health officials
Public Health officials in King County are recommending all women ages 45 and under test for syphilis annually.
Cases of the sexually transmitted infection have gone up five-fold since 2015 in cisgender women.
“The increase in syphilis in cisgender women and pregnant people suggest that syphilis may be spreading in the general population and among women in particular,” said Dr. Matthew Golden, director of the Public Health – Seattle & King County HIV/STD Program, in a statement. “Rising rates of syphilis in cisgender women and pregnant people is alarming, which is why we are recommending that most sexually active women 45 and under get tested if they haven’t had a test since 2021, and why we are asking providers to increase syphilis testing in pregnant persons.”
Seattle and King County Public Health seeks to help women catch it early, and reduce congenital infection, by asking all sexually active women under 45 to get tested. Syphilis is treatable when detected, but when undetected and carried in pregnancy, it can cause birth defects or miscarriage.
According to Public Health: "Prior to 2019, there had not been a case of congenital syphilis in King County for many years. In 2019 there were three reported cases and just one case in 2020. However, there were 11 cases of congenital syphilis in King County in 2021. Two of the babies were stillborn and five were born prematurely. Twelve cases of congenital syphilis have occurred in King County so far in 2022, resulting in 8 premature births and 9 babies with congenital syphilis symptoms."
Syphilis has been on the rise locally and nationally in recent years, prompting efforts in the Seattle area to raise awareness and encourage people to get tested.
Continue reading »
19K Seattle-area patients could face steep bills or be forced to find a new doctor
A dispute between the owner of the Polyclinic and a major insurance company could affect nearly 19,000 patients in Western Washington. It could leave them with a choice between higher medical bills or finding a new provider.
The people caught in the middle are Regence BlueShield insurance customers who get their health care at the Polyclinic, a multi-specialty health clinic that has nearly a dozen locations in the Seattle area. Also, the Everett Clinic, which has nearly two dozen locations, most of them in Snohomish County. In 2019, all those clinics were bought by Optum, a subsidiary of the large health-care company UnitedHealth Group.
The dispute is about how much those clinics should be paid for the care they provide. This is the first time negotiations between these clinics and Regence have gotten this close to the wire.
The insurer, and the owner of the clinics, have until Dec. 19 to come to a deal. But many Regence customers have only until the end of Wednesday to switch insurance companies before the end of open enrollment, if their employer offers another option. Open enrollment at some employers, like Boeing, is already over.
If the Polyclinic and Everett Clinic no longer have a contract with Regence, patients could opt to pay higher, out-of-network costs, or they could go to UW Medicine, Swedish, Virginia Mason, or some other providers for their care.
With 19,000 other patients possibly in the same boat, that could be a lot of competition for doctor’s appointments.
If the split goes through, and Regence customers become unable to access their benefits because of a lack of in-network providers, the Office of the Insurance Commissioner could levy a fine or take a different enforcement action against the insurance company.Continue reading »
2 shows in Seattle that should not be missed this holiday seasonBy
If you are a fan of live shows, we have entered the best part of the year. The holiday season is when venues around the city put on their best shows, aimed at getting as many seats filled as possible.
This weekend, I saw two shows: "The Wiz" at the 5th Avenue Theatre; and "The Nutcracker" (presented by the Pacific Northwest Ballet) at McCaw Hall.
Both were amazing.
The Wiz at 5th Avenue Theatre
"The Wiz" caught me by surprise. I covered the show for KUOW's Soundside. I interviewed director and choreographer Kelli Foster Warder and spent some time with Kataka Corn who plays Dorothy. I also visited DAT-5, a space tucked underneath the theatre where rehearsals happen, and I got sneak-peak of the cast performing the song "Brand New Day." But none of that prepared me for the show I saw on Saturday night.
I could get technical and tell you how awesome the costume designs were and explain how two rotating platforms in the stage were used immaculately to bring motion to the world of Oz. But instead, I’ll give it to you straight — I had so much fun!
Somehow, each song was perfect and the audience was alive as we experienced the brilliance of so many characters. The tap-dancing Tinman almost stole the show, and the hilarious Cowardly Lion had his moments, but Corn, as I learned in my interviews, has a voice that is truly special. With their power, confidence, and stage presence, I watched the birth of a star on Saturday night.
So many of us are familiar with "The Wiz." You may have seen the Broadway version, or the movie, or any of the many renditions that have been done in regional theatres around the country. But this performance was special. From the costumes to the stage design, the acting, the choreography – top to bottom this play was excellent. If you are able to see a production this holiday, "The Wiz" is definitely my recommendation.
The Nutcracker at Pacific Northwest Ballet
"The Nutcracker" is holiday tradition for many families. This year, I took my family. I now understand why this production has been a staple for so long.Continue reading »
Chief Seattle Club launches café showcasing Indigenous foodsBy
Chief Seattle Club, a nonprofit that provides social services to Seattle’s urban Native people, has a new café featuring Indigenous foods. The name of the café is ?ál?al, pronounced "ahl-ahl."
"?ál?al means home in Lushootseed," said café manager and chef Anthony Johnson. "And Lushootseed is the Native language of the Puget Sound.”
Johnson says part of the cafe's mission is to uplift and showcase Indigenous foods like blue corn mush, bison tacos, and wild rice and wojapi parfait. Most of the ingredients are sourced from Native growers and producers around the country.
For now, the menu will be limited, but Johnson hopes that will change.
“We’re trying to serve as many types of traditional foods from various regions of the country as we can,” he said.
The café anchors Chief Seattle Club's newly opened affordable housing project in Pioneer Square and is open to the public.Continue reading »
Washington is shutting down its Covid response website
After nearly three years of providing pandemic information, Washington state is shutting down its Covid response website.
According to the website: "Beginning Dec. 1, this website will no longer be available, and users will be redirected to the Washington State Department of Health’s website."
Throughout the Covid pandemic, Washington's website has been a one-stop shop for information about the state's response. It provided a range of information from where to find vaccines, to workplace safety guidelines.
The website shutdown is yet another sign that the pandemic has shifted into a new phase. Many of Washington's lingering emergency orders expired at the end of October, bringing to a close pandemic precautions around schools, travel restrictions, and other measures. Gov. Jay Inslee's overall state of emergency also ended.
The Department of Health also recently announced that it is out of free Covid tests, which are provided through sayyescovidhometest.org.Continue reading »
Seattle snow advice for (snickering) Midwest transplants: Today So Far
This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for November 29, 2022.
Snow has arrived in Western Washington. But you already know that by the time you're reading this newsletter. So the main things to know now are that it likely won't stick around too long as warmer rain moves through the area tonight. The other thing to be aware of is that, despite the snow going away, that doesn't mean it won't be icy out there.
I can already hear it — the chuckles and the snickering of Midwestern transplants humored by Seattleites' wariness upon hearing the word "snow." That usually precedes the sound of those same Midwesterners eating crow. For such boastful Midwestern transplants, please consider the following Northwest wisdom.
Our region has this thing where we get freezing and then non-freezing temperatures in the same day, or over many days. That is evident right now — we got some flurries, maybe a dusting, and it will all melt pretty soon or get rained away. So roads get snow, then rain and melted snow, and then all that rain and melt freezes again, making an icy roadway. Throw some more snow on top of that ice and you have some pretty deceptive and dangerous driving conditions.
Midwest drivers often like to scoff at us and say, "I didn't grow up with your puny Seattle snow that drops a couple inches here or there. Blizzards dump feet and feet of snow upon us! And we laugh at the snow and show no fear as we drive through it with ease and tell of our snowy triumphs over a mug of mead!"
Here's the thing that the Midwest doesn't consider: Seattle has hills. Plus, the Northwest has those icy conditions that I explained above. It's not really driving in snow, as much as it is driving on an ice rink — unlike that luxurious powdery Midwest snow that is easier to grip into. Midwest transplants probably shouldn't speak so soon and learn from our past mistakes ... like this one.
The snow may be meager, or even brief, but it can still be mighty slippery.
Now, having said that, we have to be honest with ourselves. Locals have to admit that there are a lot of drivers out there with more Subaru confidence than driving wisdom, and that can lead to some problems. Or worse, new Toyota Tacoma drivers that are hopped up on TikTok mudding and trail videos. So be aware out there.
Part of that awareness is knowing your city's plowing schedule and routes. Thankfully, KUOW's Paige Browning has put together this helpful roundup of snow plow routes across our region. If you do need to drive anywhere, it's probably best to check which roads are going to be cleared.
The snow might be gone by tomorrow or later this week (depending on where you are around the lowlands), but this week should prove to be a good primer on snow preparation and icy roads.Continue reading »
Seattle-area snow plow routes activated as first snow falls
Dozens of snow plows are at the ready in the Puget Sound region in case snow accumulates on busy roads.
The city of Seattle has 50 deicer and plow trucks fueled up and ready to hit Seattle's streets, if the snow does pile up. Bellevue has 17 trucks that can be fitted with a plow, and Bellingham has seven.
There's a chance of rain and snow every day this week.
When snow starts to accumulate, city of Seattle trucks drop granular salt and liquid magnesium chloride to help melt it. Plowing happens when there's a break in the storm, and crews only plow heavily used roads.
Seattle has three tools to monitor roads during snow:Continue reading »
First snow of the season arrives in SeattleBy
The season's first snow for the Seattle-area began falling Tuesday morning. Rain Tuesday night is expected to wash it all away, but in the meantime, drivers should be mindful of icy conditions.
The National Weather Service in Seattle has issued a Winter Weather Advisory for the Western Washington lowlands, including the Seattle and Everett areas. On top of snow, high winds are expected across the Puget Sound region.
Predictions for how much snow will fall range from mere flurries to 4 inches in Seattle.Continue reading »
Season of goodwill and food banks: Today So Far
As we head into a season of giving, food insecurity is one issue we can address in the Seattle area.
This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for November 28, 2022.
To all the regular TSF readers out there: I only half ruined the turkey. Let's just say it wasn't as much of a roast turkey as it was a steamed turkey.
It feels awkward to talk about triumphs and trials of what is essentially a feast, when our region is also dealing with significant strains on places like food banks. This is something that KUOW's Ruby de Luna has been covering for quite a while now, especially amid the pandemic. Earlier this year, Ruby reported that food insecurity in Washington has nearly tripled since the pandemic began. Inflation certainly hasn't helped. More recently, she has covered how Seattle-area food banks are trying to meet demand and adapt to challenges. This increasing strain on food banks has been going on for a while now.
Many folks might be unaware that food banks often have their own supply chains, such as grocery store donations, donations from people, and so forth. Seattle's Food Lifeline is a local organization that supplies banks with donations. Ryan Scott with Food Lifeline recently told KUOW that, "In a normal year, we have somewhere between 4-5 million pounds of food in our warehouse, moving out for distribution. Right now, we just have a little over a million.”
While talking with Seattle Now, Ruby pointed out that conditions at food banks are often early indicators of larger economic struggles. Strain at a food bank today could indicate more widespread financial strain in the months ahead. That is something Seattle's food banks have been watching for. As many pandemic-related programs ended over the past few months, food banks began bracing themselves for an anticipated increase in demand.
Looking at Seattle-area food banks, people are using them more and more as a means of supplementing their budgets — use the food bank, and then you have enough money for gas. On top of that, the banks are struggling to keep up. For example, grocery stores that often donate food have been unable to contribute as much as usual these days.
"Demand has grown, especially since the pandemic, and food banks have been terrific in trying to meet the needs of people," Ruby told Seattle Now. "But that is coming at a cost. They were able to get federal assistance through Covid emergency measures. That helped, but everybody is feeling the pinch. With retailers, they are also getting hit with supply chain issues, which is also why they are not able to donate as much to food banks like they normally have. As a result, food banks are shelling out more money in order to buy food to donate."
One food bank in Ballard recently told Ruby that their annual budget to purchase food before the pandemic was around $300,000. Last year, it was $1.5 million.
Some food banks around Seattle are set up like grocery stores. Instead of getting a bag of food, you go in and shop for what you need. Fresh food from the grocery chains helped with this. Now, Ruby says the banks are getting "creative" to get the food.
"They have worked with P-Patches or farmers who will grow some of the produce for them, and some of them are even planning on having their own gardens. There is more of a shift to providing foods that are nutritious and culturally relevant ... food banks are trying to provide what their clients are requesting, and what their clients are used to having."
Check out Ruby's full conversation with Seattle Now here.Continue reading »
One year after the Nooksack River flooded Sumas
It has been a year since the great Sumas flood hit Whatcom County and British Columbia. The flood was extra destructive because it sent a section of the Nooksack River north into Canada, over dry land that is now occupied by homes, farms, churches, and businesses.
Paula Harris is Whatcom County’s river and flood manager. She says that flood opened people up to change. Local leaders have supported her plan to demolish 39 homes in the flood path, and raise 29 others onto taller foundations.
“For the first time in my career here, I can see maybe a vision that could move forward to a final solution," Harris said. "And I really hope we can maintain the focus and we can have a safer community, and I can sleep good when it rains again.”
Climate change has made the Nooksack less predictable, as glaciers on Mount Baker recede, exposing more sediment to erosion.Continue reading »
Starbucks closing Capitol Hill store, the first union location in SeattleBy
Starbucks will close a store located at Broadway and Denny in Capitol Hill on Dec. 9.
The location happens to be the first Starbucks to unionize in Seattle, and some employees are alleging that the closure is "blatant retaliation" and a union-busting tactic.
Workers United, the employees' union, points out that the closure is scheduled on the anniversary of the union's formation last year. It also says that the Capitol Hill store is the fourth unionized Seattle location to close (along with Olive Way, First and Pike, and Holman Road).
Starbucks says the reasons for the Capitol Hill closure are "safety and security incidents." A Starbucks spokesperson says the company tried to resolve the issues at the store to no avail, and now, the company believes that closing it is the best way to keep staff and customers safe.
"At Starbucks, we make every effort to ensure our partners feel safe and supported at work so they can focus on providing our customers the safe, welcoming experience they’ve come to love and expect. Unfortunately, despite several mitigating efforts, safety and security incidents at our Broadway and Denny store have continued to escalate. As a result, we will be closing our Broadway and Denny store to customers on December 9, 2022.”
The spokesperson adds that the company routinely reviews "partner and customer experience" at its stores, and if it chooses to close a location because of safety concerns it will "work with partners to help them relocate to other stores, when possible." They also say that "we will bargain with the union in good faith to discuss the impact of this decision on our partners."Continue reading »
Seattle's ranked-choice voting system won't go into effect until 2027
Seattle voters have decided they want a ranked-choice voting system for future elections of mayoral and city council candidates.
Stephanie Houghton is the managing director of Fair Vote Washington, which campaigned for ranked-choice voting.
"Ranked-choice voting is a straightforward, easy improvement to the way that we vote right now," Houghton said. "That's been proven in places across the country, whether you're talking about Alaska, or Maine, New York City."
The latest election results show that 51% of Seattle voters want to see the system changed. Among the options put to voters for such a change, ranked-choice voting is strongly preferred (over the other option of approval voting).
Opponents of the shift argued it will be confusing, and that the current political culture is not a time to experiment with elections.
Houghton says that Seattle voters will have a few years to get ready for the change. Seattle's ranked-choice voting system won't go into effect until 2027.Continue reading »