Covid-19 pandemic updates for the Northwest
This post will be updated with information about the Covid-19 pandemic in Washington state. Scroll down for older information.
As of Friday, December 4, the Washington State Department of Health reports:
- 2,925 Covid-19 related deaths; 174,290 confirmed cases; a 1.7% death rate among positive cases.
- Compared to white people and Asian people, the rate of Covid cases is nearly three times higher for Black people, and nearly seven times higher for Latino/x people and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 3
Seasonal depression could be aggravated by pandemic pressures
2:30 p.m. — Experts with UW Medicine have noticed that patients with depression and anxiety are facing a unique challenge amid the ongoing pandemic.
SAD (seasonal affective disorder) has to do with how the seasons, with more or less light, etc. affect depression and anxiety. As the Northwest becomes darker and colder this time of year, many are susceptible to seasonal depression. Adding high stress layers like a global pandemic and an election, depression and anxiety could be heightened.
“I see quite a few cases in my practice with depression and anxiety and this year we’ve definitely seen more folks, “ said Bryna McCollum, a physician assistant at UW Neighborhood Northgate Clinic. “One thing we know about depression, is it tends to feed on itself. Once people are feeling down and depressed, they often withdraw from their normal activities and they’re not doing the types of things that bring them a lot of enjoyment and that just makes the depression worse.”
— Dyer Oxley
More people died from Covid-19 on Wednesday than on 9/11
Noon — A somber milestone: More people died of Covid-19 on Wednesday than on 9/11.
MSN reports that the United States hit a record high 3,157 coronavirus deaths in a single day on Wednesday. A total of 2,977 people died during the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
More cases and deaths are expected to come in the wake of the Thanksgiving holiday when many gathered indoors with others. Recent data indicates that fewer people traveled this year for the holiday. Still, about 13% of people traveled a significant distance for Thanksgiving. That level of travel is expected to result in a greater wave of the pandemic.
There have been more than 273,000 Covid-19 related deaths in the US since the pandemic first struck.
In Washington state, the average number of people dying each day from the virus was five. That number has doubled to the current average of 10 people each day.
— Dyer Oxley
Seattle rent declines amid pandemic
11 a.m. — For the first time in a long time, average rent around Seattle has dropped.
The Seattle PI reports that rent has been dropping around 5% each month ever since the pandemic struck. It is now about 20% down from pre-pandemic levels. In dollars and cents, the average for a one-bedroom is $1,395, and $1,739 for a two-bedroom.
That is a greater decline than the national rent average of 1.3%.
— Dyer Oxley
New quarantine guidelines
10 a.m. — Washington state has adopted the CDC's latest, shortened quarantine guidelines for those exposed to the coronavirus.
Instead of isolating for 14 days, you're advised to do so for 10 days. Unless you get a negative test result after your exposure, then the recommended quarantine time is down to seven days.
But state health officer Dr. Kathy Lofy says you still need to monitor your symptoms for two weeks, regardless.
As for the Washington state travel advisory which suggests people quarantine for two weeks if traveling into the state — that's still in place.
— Angela King
Despite conspiracy theories, there is no government vaccine mandate
9 a.m. — Despite a massive misinformation campaign online that claims the government will force people to take a Covid-19 vaccine, Washington's lawmakers are not considering such a mandate.
"I don’t think we’ll be looking at anything like mandatory vaccination because this has just become such a hot political issue," said Democrat Eileen Cody who chairs the health committee in the State House of representatives.
Some employers, like hospitals, already require their staff to be vaccinated (and they could be the first inoculated). In general, private companies could require employees to be vaccinated. But early reporting indicates that there is hesitation by some for that requirement, due to cultural and legal consequences.
The state also could eventually require school children to be vaccinated. That’s the case now with some vaccines for kids who don’t have medical or religious exemptions.
Vaccine conspiracy theories have long lingered online. But the Covid-19 pandemic has given them a higher profile. Included conspiracy theories that claim Bill Gates wants to use the vaccine to place microchips in the population for the purposes of surveillance and control through 5G technology.
— David Hyde and Dyer Oxley
Most hospitalizations in Washington since start of pandemic
8 a.m. — More than 3,100 new cases of Covid-19 were reported Wednesday. Though officials with the state health department warn there could be duplicate reporting. A total of 45 more deaths were recorded, too.
The number of Covid-19 hospitalizations is at its highest level since the pandemic started. More than 1,000 people are hospitalized in Washington, which is more than double the amount from a month ago and is the highest level since the start of the pandemic.
Washington state has now surpassed 170,300 cases and 2,850 deaths.
— Angela King
Washington almost ready to submit vaccine plan to CDC
7 a.m. — It's been in the works for more than a month, but Washington state officials are getting ready to submit their official Covid-19 vaccine distribution plan to the CDC this week.
Governor Jay Inslee says he's confident things will go well from distribution to storage of the vaccine. The vaccine from Pfizer, for example, needs to be kept at negative 94 degrees Fahrenheit.
At least 54 state health care providers have been approved to receive the first shipment.
The state health department hopes to start getting the vaccine to some of Washington's most vulnerable residents by mid-December; people like health care workers and older adults living in long term care facilities.
The state's advisory panel is slated to meet again to determine which groups will be next in line. Among the possible groups are police, firefighters, teachers, and essential workers in food production and transportation. The elderly and people with underlying medical conditions are also expected to be first up.
According to experts, the vaccine will not be more publicly available until about spring.
— Angela King
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 2
Pandemic proof pot
2:30 p.m. — There's one way to lock people in their couches during pandemic lockdowns.
The Everett Herald reports that state excise tax collections from marijuana sales in Snohomish County are at record levels.
In May, Snohomish County took in 43.8% more in marijuana taxes than the same time in 2019 — a total of $47.4 million. The numbers have remained higher than normal ever since. Both customers and cannabis shops are reporting that the increase in consumption has been considerable. More details at The Herald.
— Dyer Oxley
CDC Shortens Its Covid-19 Quarantine Recommendations
1:10 p.m. —The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revised its guidelines for people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus.
Now, instead of the standard 14-day quarantine it has been recommending, the CDC says that potential exposure warrants a quarantine of 10 or seven days, depending on one's test results and symptoms.
If individuals do not develop symptoms, they need only quarantine for 10 days; if they test negative, that period can be reduced to just one week.
The revision marks a significant change from the CDC's recommendations since the start of the pandemic earlier this year. While the agency says a 14-day quarantine remains the safest option, it acknowledged this length placed difficult demands on people.
"Reducing the length of quarantine may make it easier for people to take this critical public health action by reducing the economic hardship associated with a longer period, especially if they cannot work during that time," Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC's incident manager for its Covid-19 response, told reporters on a conference call Wednesday.
Read more here.
Coronavirus testing lines shorten to an hour wait
12 p.m. — The lines at Seattle's free coronavirus testing sites have receded, now that Thanksgiving is over. But wait times are still around 45 minutes to an hour.
The federal government has not facilitated test sites in the city, so the city of Seattle has budgeted to keep them running. Mayor Jenny Durkan signed the 2021 budget on Tuesday.
"This budget provides important resources for addressing Covid-19 response programs, including, we will expand our testing. So far the city has conducted 425,000 free Covid tests," Durkan said.
The test sites have been increasingly popular since they opened this summer. There are nine free test sites across King County, including four in Seattle.
More than 11,000 people in Seattle have tested positive for coronavirus, and nearly 2% (200) of them have died.
— Paige Browning
Free coffee for frontline workers!
11 a.m. — Starbucks is offering frontline workers free brewed coffee throughout the month of December in a campaign to show its appreciation of the people battling the pandemic up close.
Workers can receive a free tall brewed coffee — iced or hot — daily at company-owned locations.
The offer is available to doctors, nurses, paramedics, firefighters, police officers, housekeeping staff, security, active duty military, and others on the front lines of the pandemic.
“It has been an extraordinarily difficult year, especially for the front-line responders who are serving our communities,” said Virginia Tenpenny, Starbucks vice president, Global Social Impact. “We want to show our deep gratitude for those who support and protect us every day with a small gesture of kindness and a cup of coffee.”
Starbucks did a similar free-coffee campaign at the start of the pandemic. It gave away 2 million free cups of coffee between March and May.
Check here for a full list of eligible frontline workers. Unfortunately, journalists are not included (not that I'm bitter ... like the constant stream of black coffee I rely upon daily).
— Dyer Oxley
More Covid-19 spread at Tonasket elder care facility
10:30 a.m. — There’s been another death at a Tonasket, Wash. elder-care facility.
That marks 12 residents dead, 32 sickened, plus another 20 staff sickened. Officials blame community spread from the surging national pandemic.
At least one staff member at North Valley Extended Care was sick enough to be hospitalized more than two hours away in Wenatchee. The remaining staffers are struggling to care for all the residents — both sick and healthy. Okanogan County Public Health Officer John McCarthy says the facility follows correct protocols, including regular testing. But an asymptomatic staff member still may have brought in the disease.
“People work really hard to try and not let it spread," McCarthy said. "(Covid-19) is stealthy; it has a propensity for spreading even when we are all on guard.”
The heavy pandemic workload prompted McCarthy to announce he’s leaving his job this month.
— Anna King
Mossyrock officials say nay to state pandemic restrictions
10 a.m. — The Mossyrock City Council says it's going disregard the Covid-19 restrictions for indoor dining announced by Governor Jay Inslee in November.
The council voted unanimously last month to ignore the ban. And while Mossyrock Mayor Randall Sasser acknowledged the city doesn't have the authority to ignore state orders, he said it will put restaurants in the small community south of Chehalis out of business.
Sasser also said restrictions should be determined by local health officials. Despite the city's stance, Mossyrock's restaurants and bars told KING 5 they are still following the state's order.
— Angela King
Washington National Guard, Alaska Airlines on standby for vaccine distribution
9:30 a.m. — We could be just a couple of weeks away from a new coronavirus vaccine arriving in Washington state. That is, if the FDA signs off on emergency use authorization.
The Washington National Guard tells KING 5 News it is standing by to help distribute a vaccine if called upon. Seattle-based Alaska Airlines also says it's ready to help get the vaccine to remote areas of Alaska.
— Angela King
Nonprofits struggling under pandemic pressures
9 a.m. — Nonprofit organizations are struggling financially as they try to keep up with the wave of needs in the community.
Lauren McGowan is Senior Director with United Way of King County. She says there’s such a demand for food that they partnered with Safeway and DoorDash to deliver groceries.
“So right now we’re approaching 3,000 households that will be served and we’ve got about 1,000 more on the waitlist," McGowan said.
McGowan says she’s thankful for the community support and federal aid. But she notes the demand will continue to grow in the winter months.
“I think the scary part is not knowing whether there will be additional federal relief," she said.
McGowan is not alone in her fears. A recent report out of the University of Washington shows nonprofit funding has gone down 30% and will continue to decline over the next year. At the same time, demand has increase by about 10%.
McGowan says there are different ways to give, and that includes volunteering your time.
— Ruby de Luna
Snohomish County bracing for extended pandemic restrictions as cases rise
8 a.m. — Don’t expect the state’s ban on indoor socializing to be lifted before the new year. That’s the message from Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers.
He says Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are all going up in his county.
“It’s my expectation that following this Thanksgiving holiday, we’re going to continue to see cases rise," Somers said. "I fully expect things will not be getting better over next few weeks, so the expectation we might be loosening restrictions between now and Christmas are not realistic.”
Governor Jay Inslee’s ban on indoor gatherings is scheduled to last through December 14. The ban can be extended if the pandemic continues unabated.
— John Ryan
Snohomish County seniors suffering under current Covid-19 wave
7 a.m. — A total of 15 nursing facilities in Snohomish County are currently dealing with Covid-19 outbreaks.
Nursing homes in Monroe and Stanwood each have more than 80 infected residents.
The pandemic has also taken a toll on seniors who live on their own.
"The two primary needs that we have seen are food insecurity and social isolation," said Laura White with the county’s Human Services Department.
White says the number of Meals on Wheels delivered to Snohomish County seniors has tripled since the pandemic began.
— John Ryan
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 1
Dreaming of an indoor Christmas?
7 p.m. — Don’t expect Washington state’s ban on indoor socializing to be lifted before the new year.
That’s the message from Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers.
Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations are rising rapidly in his county, as they are elsewhere in the state.
“It’s my expectation that following this Thanksgiving holiday, we’re going to continue to see cases rise,” Somers said. “I fully expect things will not be getting better over next few weeks, so I think the expectation we might be loosening restrictions between now and Christmas are not realistic.”
Governor Jay Inslee’s ban on indoor gatherings is scheduled to last through Dec. 14, but Inslee said the ban could be extended if the pandemic continues unabated.
— John Ryan
Ombuds' investigation finds Coyote Ridge Covid-19 response lacking
5 p.m. —An investigation by the Office of the Corrections Ombuds found that a series of delays in testing, quarantining, and medically evaluating inmates contributed to the Covid-19 outbreak at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center.
The report, published on Nov. 13, explored the factors at play during the outbreak, beginning with the first reported case of Covid-19 at Coyote Ridge, located in Connell, Washington.
The Coyote Ridge outbreak began in May, and since that time, more than 300 inmates have caught the coronavirus. Two inmates died as a result of the virus.
The report also outlines several inmate concerns previously reported by KUOW, including guards not consistently wearing masks, and inmates not self reporting Covid-19 like symptoms.
Further, the report made several recommendations to the Washington State Department of Corrections. The department of corrections, in a written response to the investigation, said they had implemented or were planning to implement some of these suggestions.
These included providing inmates in medical isolation with a way to communicate with their family, and ensuring prison staff are social distancing and wearing masks outside of work.
However, the corrections department said they did not have the resources to comply with a recommendation to conduct a daily mass screening of the prison population.
— Ashley Hiruko
Vaccines headed to Seattle will have a chilly ride
1:45 p.m. — KIRO 7 reports that vaccines slated for the Seattle region will arrive on traditional passenger airliners. They will be transported using special Swedish-made freezers.
Both of the current leading vaccines — Pfizer and Moderna — must be kept at very cold temperatures, requiring the special frigid transportation.
Meanwhile, Harborview Medical Center just placed an order for more of these special freezers to store any vaccines coming its way. The freezers can run up to $15,000.
— Dyer Oxley
Democratic lawmakers in the state House asked to limit bill proposals in upcoming session amid pandemic
1:18 p.m. — Majority Democrats in the Washington House have been told to limit the number of bills they introduce when the Legislature convenes in January because of Covid-19.
Just before Thanksgiving, the chief of staff to House Democrats sent out a two-page guidance document. It instructs lawmakers to limit their bill introductions to no more than seven bills during the upcoming session. The average per lawmaker is 12 – although some introduce many more than that in a normal year.
The guidance also asks House Democratic members to prioritize bills that are urgently needed and to vet their ideas through a series of prompts. For instance, does the bill advance racial equity, respond to the pandemic, help with economic recovery or address global climate change.
The guidance says the goal of the restrictions is to focus the work of the Legislature on critical needs and not overwhelm staff during this period of disruption wrought by the pandemic.
Read more about the proposed limits here.
Higher viral load of coronavirus leads to higher risk of death
11 a.m. — Research from University of Washington Medicine indicates that a higher viral load leads to more severe Covid-19 cases, and significantly higher risk of death within 30 days.
In short, the more virus a person has in their body, the higher the risk of death from Covid-19. Environments such as enclosed spaces without people wearing masks can lead to such exposure.
The Daily reports that patients with higher viral loads admitted to hospitals had a four times greater chance of dying from the disease. Covid-19 tests that are currently used, however, do not test for levels of viral load. They only test for a negative or positive result.
— Dyer Oxley
Amazon is hiring while other industries are laying off workers
9 a.m. — The pandemic has affected Amazon much differently than other businesses. Instead of layoffs, Amazon is hiring — a lot.
On average, Amazon has hired 1,400 workers every day of 2020. It has grown its workforce to over 1.2 million people. Labor historians and economists alike say this rate of hiring is unrivaled by any other American company.
Seattle-based reporter Karen Weise with the New York Times has been reporting on Amazon’s pandemic hiring spree.
"If they were to take this recent growth pattern and continue that for the next little bit, they would surpass Walmart probably within a year and half to become the world's largest employer," Weise said.
Weise said that the Seattle-area branches of Amazon will likely continue to hire, especially as the company expands to the eastside of Lake Washington.
— Seattle Now
Teenager dies from Covid-19 complications
8 a.m. — The Tri-Cities Herald is reporting that a 15-year-old girl in Kennewick has become the third young person in the state to die from Covid-19 complications.
Lucy-ann Carver was severely disabled and died shortly after she was admitted to the hospital with breathing problems one week ago. She passed away on Nov. 24.
Statewide data shows about 15% of Covid cases statewide are in ages 19 and younger.
And while the state's health department's dashboard says zero percent of patients younger than 19 have died, there have been at least two other reports of children in Washington state dying from the coronavirus.
One died about a week ago in Spokane. And last summer a 19-year-old Puyallup High School grad died of Covid.
— Angela King
Washington's largest psychiatric hospital is dealing with a Covid-19 outbreak
7 a.m. — At least 30 patients and staff members at Western State Hospital in Lakewood have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Officials are scrambling to find nursing staff to work on the Covid-19 ward and have offered overtime pay. The latest outbreak has contributed to the largest spike in cases as the facility.
More than 150 people at the facility have tested positive since March; 12 workers tested positive within a three-day span last week.
— Angela King
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 30
Contact tracing for Covid-19 — there's an app for that
Noon -- With the help of Google and Apple, Washington state has launched a new smartphone app to help alert users when they have potentially been exposed to an infected person.
It's called WA Notify. It touts privacy safeguards while notifying of a potential exposure. The app uses a phone's Bluetooth signal to communicate with other app users. If someone reports that they have tested positive for the virus, any app user who has come near them within the past 14 days will receive a notification.
“Secure, private and anonymous exposure notification technology is an important tool for Washington,” Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee said. "We’ve deployed WA Notify in 29 languages so as many Washington residents as possible can protect themselves, their loved ones and their communities. I encourage everyone to start using WA Notify today so we can continue to work together to contain this virus.”
The governor's office notes that studies have found that using such a tool can greatly reduce the number of infections in the community.
“WA Notify complements the actions Washington residents are already taking, like wearing masks, physical distancing and keeping gatherings small,” said Secretary of Health John Wiesman. “We’re excited to be joining the states already using this safe and secure technology and encourage all Washingtonians to join the effort.”
Washington state is not the first to use such an app. Canada, Ireland, Germany, and Korea have used apps to help combat the pandemic. Virginia, New York and Colorado have also used a similar app.
Schools with the University of Washington also helped develop the app. UW tested WA Notify with student participants over November.
To use Wa Notify:
- iPhone: Go to settings > Exposure notifications > Click “Turn On Exposure Notifications.”
- Google/android: Download from the Google Play store.
Remember: Washington has a travel advisory with a 14-day quarantine
11 a.m. -- Local health officials are worried about the Covid-19 fallout from the Thanksgiving holiday. And they're urging those who traveled outside of the state to follow Washington's current travel advisory and quarantine for 14 days upon their return.
Meanwhile, as we wait to find out how many people passed through Sea-Tac Airport over the holiday weekend, TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein tweeted about half as many people nationwide traveled this year compared to last. That's a decrease, but the numbers are still the largest we've seen since the pandemic started.
Washington Congress member pushes vaccine info bill
A bill to counter vaccine misinformation
A bill to counter vaccine misinformation
10 a.m. -- Even before there were pending Covid-19 vaccines, there was a lot of false information floating around on the internet about the alleged dangers of vaccines.
Now, a Washington state congresswoman is pushing for legislation to combat such vaccine misinformation.
Dr. Kim Schrier represents the 8th Congressional District, east of Seattle. She co-sponsored a bill last year help people become better informed about vaccines.
“I think where the government plays a really big role is making sure that the funding is there to get information to all of the trusted community members who will be delivering information about the vaccine,” Schrier said.
The bill didn’t pass. But Schrier says she’s hopeful a version of it can make it over the finish line in the next stimulus package,, with bipartisan support and a new president in the White House.
Be vigilant against pandemic fatigue
9 a.m. -- Washington health care professionals are urging people not to give up in the fight against Covid-19 and push back against pandemic fatigue. Especially now that a vaccine is on the way.
Nathan Schlicher is an emergency room doctor and former Democratic state senator. He says healthcare workers are also feeling frustration.
"We’re all tired of it," Schlicher said. "I’m tired of the fatigue of wearing a mask eight hours a day or more in the ER; the bruises and rashes and all that comes with that, all the struggles that we have. But can’t give up just because we’re tired."
Betsy Scott is a nurse in Seattle and a vice president of the nurse’s union. She says both her daughter and son-in-law got sick with Covid-19.
"Fortunately, they didn’t need hospital care, but my daughter and her husband took over a month to recover and return to work," Scott said.
Both Schlicher and Scott spoke recently at a news conference organized by Governor Jay Inslee.
Upcoming WSU football game delayed for more Covid-19 concerns
8:30 a.m. -- Covid-19 concerns are once again being cited for delaying another WSU football game.
The Cougs will now play the USC Trojans Sunday, December 6, instead of December 4. This is to give some of the USC players extra time to come out of their coronavirus quarantines.
This is the third WSU game that's been delayed or canceled because of Covid concerns — including the Apple Cup — which was supposed to take place on November 27.
When the Cougs face the Trojans down in LA, they will have gone 22 days without a game.
Meanwhile, the Huskies came back to beat the Utah Utes 24 to 21 Saturday.
In the pandemic era, Lysol is highly coveted
8 a.m. -- It's not just toilet paper that people are clearing store shelves of, and hoarding at home. Lysol disinfectant has become one of the most highly-sought-after products in 2020.
Bloomberg reports that Lysol has pushed its factories to the limit, producing more of the disinfectant that ever before. Lysol's plant in New Jersey and produce 700-800 cans per minute. It's sending out more than triple the volume than before the pandemic, and is seeing a 70% increase in sales. Competitor sales haven't seen that spike.
While Lysol works well to fend off the novel coronavirus, it should be noted that it is not the only product that can do the job. Rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and bleach also work. Pine Sol was recently added to the list of cleaning agents that will take down the virus on surfaces.
Nervous wait for holiday fallout
7 a.m. -- Local health officials are nervously awaiting the fallout from Thanksgiving with so many people gathering for the holiday
"There's a potential to see a dramatic increase, even beyond the numbers that we're seeing currently in both cases, hospitalizations and subsequently deaths. Very worried, said Dr. Jeff Duchin with Public Health Seattle & King County.
He's worried hospitals will fill up and won't be able to care for patients.
"That is about as bad as it gets with respect to the impact on our healthcare system -- people not getting live-saving care that they need," he said.
Covid-19 infections have picked up tremendous momentum in King County with the number of cases doubling every two weeks.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 25
Covid vaccines start next month in Washington state. Regular shipments start at new year
5 p.m. — The first people in Washington state will likely start getting Covid vaccines next month.
High-risk healthcare workers will be first in line. The state expects to receive about 60,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in mid-December, as long as the FDA approves it for emergency use.
That’s enough for only a fraction of Washington’s health care workers.
The state expects to receive 200,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of December, and expects regular shipments to begin in January.
State officials say they’ll know in early December how many doses of the separate Moderna vaccine to expect, and when they’ll arrive.
The Pfizer vaccine does need to be kept very cold (-94 degrees Fahrenheit), but Pfizer will ship the doses in a container that keeps them cold for about two weeks, so even facilities that don’t have ultra-cold storage capacity will be able to receive and administer vaccines.