Pandemic blog: Covid-19 news for the NW (March 29-April 2)
This post is archived. Read the latest here.
Need a vaccine?
- Washington state vaccine appointment locator
- CovidWa.com: Not an official vaccine finder from the state, but the product of a former Microsoft developer who created a website to more easily find open vaccination appointments.
As of Friday, April 2, the Washington State Department of Health reports:
- 5,278 Covid-19 related deaths; 343,463 confirmed cases; 23,652 probable cases; and a 1.4% 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.
- So far, 3,471,343 doses (not total number of people) of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered to Washingtonians.
FRIDAY, APRIL 2
Navigating dating during the pandemic
1 p.m. — In addition to advertising their professions, hobbies and most attractive photos, some people on dating apps are also sharing whether they’ve been vaccinated against Covid-19.
Or rather, they're claiming as much. There’s really no way to know for sure. Unless you, say, meet in the line to actually get vaccinated and see the jab go into their arm.
"It used to be cars and holding large fish. Now, the (dating) flex is vaccination status," said Cora Boyd, a dating and relationship expert in Seattle.
Boyd said the pandemic has made people be more communicative and intentional when dating now. You have to navigate a partner's comfort level with in-person dating and even minimal physical contact right up front.
Read more here.
— Katie Campbell and Angela King
Older Washingtonians should get vaccines before all adults are eligible, health officials urge
11 a.m. — An estimated 330,000 older Washingtonians have not been vaccinated against Covid-19, even though they’re eligible.
Officials hope that population will proceed with getting vaccinated before April 15, when all people 16 and older will qualify for vaccines and the demand for appointments is expected to significantly increase.
Despite the state's progress in vaccination rates, many adults 65 and older, who have been eligible since January 18, are not getting the shots.
Health officials are concerned because the risk for severe illness increases with age. At a recent press briefing, Gov. Jay Inslee said they're in the "danger zone."
Read more here.
— Ruby de Luna
King County Latinos more likely to get Covid, but barriers prevent vaccination
10 a.m. — Cases are spiking right now in the South Seattle and South King County neighborhoods where many Latinos live. Over the course of the pandemic, Latinos in King County have been almost four times as likely to get Covid as white people, and three times as likely to die of it.
But fewer Latinos have received a Covid dose: one in five Latinos compared to one in three white people in King County.
Isabel Quijano is a community health worker, helping people schedule their vaccine appointments.
"The number of people who call me every day — it’s never ending," she said in an interview in Spanish. "They give me their information and everything, and I make their appointments."
Quijano said the biggest barrier to Latinos getting vaccinated is language, because everything’s in English. The second barrier is technology.
Read more here.
— Eilis O'Neill
THURSDAY, APRIL 1
Alaska Airlines and the potential for vaccine passports
Noon — The head of Alaska Airlines says the Seattle-based carrier supports the development of Covid vaccine passports as a means to help reopen international travel.
A digital app on a smartphone, for example, could be a way for Americans to show proof of vaccination. Airlines, cruise lines and foreign governments among others are looking at such Covid vaccine passports as a possible key enabler to restart international travel. Alaska Air CEO Ben Minicucci says he's on board.
"The idea of an international vaccine passport has a lot of merit," Minicucci said. "It's something that we should pursue aggressively if it opens up the international borders. That said, there are a lot of complexities with a vaccine passport.”
Namely, agreeing on global standards and establishing privacy protections.
The White House this week said the federal government will not get in the business of issuing “vaccine passports,” but will work with the private sector to develop standards for people to show they've been vaccinated.
— Tom Banse
Return to the office?
10 a.m. — More and more local companies are starting to decide when to bring their employees back to the workplace, if ever.
Amazon announced this week it plans to bring most US workers back to the office by the fall. Some Microsoft employees are already back on campus.
UW Professor Xiao-Ping Chen who specializes in business management says she's not surprised some telework policies are ending.
"Creativity and innovation really needs a lot of spontaneous kind of… idea exchange, or debate, and instant feedback is also important, so if you are located in the same space it's much easier to happen," Chen said.
But Chen adds that remote work can be better for some people like researchers who need to focus.
Seattle-based Zillow is one of several companies allowing telework indefinitely.
No long term policy yet from the University of Washington (one of the state's largest employers), but the university is allowing tele-work until at least September 10.
— Paige Browning
Pandemic prompted layoffs across Puget Sound arts organizations
8 a.m. — The pandemic has devastated local arts and culture organizations, according to a new report from ArtsFund.
The group surveyed 77 museums, theaters, performance spaces, and other venues in the central Puget Sound region. It found more than half had to layoff highly-trained workers. Now there’s concern those jobs will never return.
The pandemic has also harmed the organizations’ larger missions.
Rita Meher is with Tasveer, a group that portrays the lives of South Asians through film, art, and storytelling.
"We've worked on this bonding the community bonding for over 18 years," Meher said. "There's a special healing and the strength that comes from when people come together under one roof and exchange ideas and the empowerment that happens may wither a big.
Yet despite these setbacks, 70% of arts and culture groups in the survey are confident or very confident they’ll be able to re-open.
— Ross Reynolds
Ramping up homeless vaccine efforts
7 a.m. — Many people who are experiencing homelessness in King County can now get vaccinated against Covid. But Esther Lucero of the Seattle Indian Health Board says they've already been prioritizing these folks. Their program takes a different approach than the state.
"It's community based," Lucero said. "It allows us to protect the things that are of value to our people, you know, our languages, our culture keepers, our traditional new medicine people. We know how to care for our most vulnerable."
Lucero says the health board and its community partners are bringing vaccines to people staying in hotels and those already accessing services.
More vaccines will be available at hotels in the coming weeks.
The county is also ramping up efforts to bring vaccines to places people who are homeless are already showing up, like shelters.
— Kate Walters
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 31
Everyone 16 and older eligible for vaccine on April 15, Inslee says
4 p.m. —After months of waiting for Washington's most vulnerable residents to be vaccinated, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday that he's relaxing eligibility requirements to include everyone age 16 and older, beginning April 15.
So far about 3.3 million Covid vaccine doses have been administered statewide, Inslee said. More than 1 million people are fully vaccinated in Washington state.
However, 28 percent of people over the age of 65 have still not received a vaccine, Inslee said.
Inslee’s announcement comes after public health officials continue to urge the importance of social distancing and wearing masks, and warn of a potential fourth spike in Covid cases. KUOW reporting found Covid cases were up by 31 percent on March 22 in King County.
Read more here.
— Ashley Hiruko
Executive Constantine: “Things are turning in the wrong direction”
1 p.m. — King County Executive Dow Constantine tells KUOW's The Record that Covid case counts are getting worse in the region.
“Right now we are having a lot of success getting people vaccinated, but the number of cases are going up ... Things are turning in the wrong direction," Constantine said.
As of Tuesday, March 30, Constantine said there were 131 per 100,00 people; last week it was 99 per 100,000 people.
Some of this is coming from the area around the University of Washington. Mayor Jenny Durkan's office and the county's health department have said the hottest spot for Covid cases in the area are in zip codes 98115 and 98105, which surround UW.
“There does seem to be elevated cases in the U-District, but it seems to be much more spread out than it was earlier in the pandemic," Constantine said.
"In our jails we are seeing increased cases, but it’s not what you might have seen before in other jail systems where you have a specific individual and there is an outbreak around them. Rather, we are finding one here, one there, a guard over here, someone in a different facility … there’s doesn’t seem to be much of a pattern to it. It just seems to be more low level and ubiquitous. That is concerning, of course.”
Hear Constantine's full discussion with The Record's Bill Radke here.
— Dyer Oxley
Amazon planning for eventual return to office work
10 a.m. — Amazon currently is operating with 10% of office staff back at their desks, but most employees remain at home. In a letter to employees this week, the company says it is now planning on how to bring everyone back to the office.
The letter states:
"Our plan is to return to an office-centric culture as our baseline. We believe it enables us to invent, collaborate, and learn together most effectively.
The timelines for returning to the office will vary by country, depending on the infection and vaccination rates, and we expect our return to the office to be gradual. In many parts of Asia, our employees are already back in the office. In the U.S., as vaccines become broadly available in the next few months, we expect more people will start coming into the office through the summer, with most back in the office by early fall. In some countries in Europe, we expect in-person working to take longer given recent setbacks."
The company also notes that restaurants, cafes, and other shops that operate within its offices are also planning on re-opening alongside employees' return. Amazon plans to continue requiring face masks, temperature checks and other pandemic measures.
— Dyer Oxley
Vaccines open to 2 million more people today
8 a.m. — Two million more people in Washington state are eligible to get vaccinated as of today. This includes people ages 60 and older, those who work in congregate settings, high risk workers, and certain people with two or more medical conditions.
Vaccine eligibility opens to everyone age 16 and older on May 1. Governor Jay Inslee is facing pressure to move that eligibility date up sooner. But Inslee says he won't consider that until Washington's vaccine supply improves.
— Angela King
Breakthrough cases in Washington: Infected after getting vaccinated
7 a.m. — Washington's Department of Health is reporting that it has discovered a number of "breakthrough cases" of Covid. That means they've found people who have been infected with the virus, despite being vaccinated.
"It is important to remember that every vaccine on the market right now prevents severe disease and death in most cases,” said Washington Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah. “People should still get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible, and encourage friends, loved ones, and co-workers to do the same.”
- 102 breakthrough cases identified in 18 counties
- Eight people were hospitalized with breakthrough cases
- Two deaths are being investigated as potential breakthrough cases (both were in their 80s)
With more than one million people having been vaccinated in Washington state, the breakthrough cases add up to .01% of vaccinated residents.
The people tested positive for Covid-19 more than two weeks after being vaccinated. It is unknown exactly why the people were infected after getting their shots. There are a variety of factors to consider.
DOH notes that breakthrough cases are to be expected with any vaccine.
“Finding evidence of vaccine breakthrough cases reminds us that, even if you have been vaccinated, you still need to wear a mask, practice socially distancing, and wash your hands to prevent spreading Covid-19 to others who have not been vaccinated,” Shah said.
— Dyer Oxley
TUESDAY, MARCH 30
New research suggests vaccinating previously infected people will help counter variants
2:50 p.m. — Seattle's Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center helped produce new research that indicates vaccinating people who have already recovered from Covid-19 (and therefore already may have some antibodies) will help them resist variants of the virus.
The study states: "Pre-vaccination sera from recovered donors neutralized Wuhan-Hu-1 and sporadically neutralized B.1.351, but a single immunization boosted neutralizing titers against all variants and SARS-CoV-1 by up to 1000-fold."
In regular-person speak, that means a single vaccine dose for people who may already have antibodies from a previous infection dramatically helped their resistance to variants, such as B.1.135 first identified in South Africa.
"Our study highlights the importance of vaccinating both uninfected and previously infected persons to elicit cross-variant neutralizing antibodies," the abstract from the report states.
Read the study published in Science Magazine.
Contrasting with this study is the opinion of a range of medical experts who, in a March 31 article, state that variants will make current vaccines ineffective within a year. The article considers 77 epidemiologists from 28 countries (who are part of the People's Vaccine Alliance); 66.2% say that the world will need new or modified vaccines to keep up with mutations of the virus.
— Dyer Oxley
Notable tweets today
2:30 p.m. —
— Dyer Oxley
Covid outbreaks at WWU and WSU (and around UW) over spring break
Noon — Western Washington University is dealing with a Covid outbreak just as spring semester classes begin Tuesday.
A total of 30 positive cases were confirmed over the past week among students living in the Fairhaven and Nash residence halls. WWU officials say they hope further contact tracing will help them determine what set-off this spike. But The Bellingham Herald reports the initial assumption is that the outbreak may be tied to off-campus parties and other large social gatherings.
Washington State University is also seeing its Covid numbers creep up again at the Pullman campus — 168 cases were confirmed over the past two weeks. The university has banned group gatherings.
WSU leaders recently posted a letter saying poor decisions and student gatherings could result in all of Whitman County going back to Phase 2, or even Phase 1 of reopening.
The WSU letter to students states: "This needs to stop. Now. Student gatherings and parties, which ignored basic safety and health protocols, have directly resulted in an increase of Covid‑19 cases .... This is real. This is serious. Our numbers are alarmingly high. This is unacceptable. We are potentially putting our community and vulnerable populations at an increased risk."
Meanwhile, the University of Washington has reported 33 new cases over the past 10 days. The area surrounding UW, however, in northeast Seattle has shown a considerable spike in cases. On Monday, Mayor Jenny Durkan's office noted that zip codes 98105 (University District) and 98115 (Green Lake, Maple Leaf, Ravenna, Roosevelt, Sand Point, Wedgwood) were showing the most severe increases in cases (read more about that below).
— Angela King, Dyer Oxley
Bellevue students to return to class in April
11 a.m. — Sixth through 12th graders in the Bellevue School District can start returning to the classroom next week.
The district and its teachers union say they've agreed on an April 8-9 return date for the older students.
All elementary students who wish to return will be back on school campuses Monday, April 5.
Seattle Public Schools started welcoming back pre-k and special education students Monday.
— Angela King
Federal mass vaccination site ready to open in Yakima tomorrow
10 a.m. — Washington's first federal mass vaccination site is set to open in Yakima on Wednesday, March 31.
It is slated to administer 1,200 Covid vaccine doses each day for six weeks at the Central Washington State Fair Park. The feds will also operate a mobile unit to take vaccines to where people live.
All of the doses will come directly from the federal government's stock and won't cut into the supply that Washington state has been given.
On Washington's side of things, the state is ready to open vaccine eligibility to two million more residents on Wednesday.
— Angela King
15% of Washington has been vaccinated
9 a.m. — Nearly 15% of Washingtonians are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 as of Monday. That's on par with the total percentage of Americans who are vaccinated (16%).
State health officials say if you're eligible already and haven't gotten the Covid vaccine, get it as soon as possible. In a few weeks, all Washingtonians 16 and older will be eligible, and demand could surge.
Of residents 65 and older, 30% are still unvaccinated in Washington. Those people are all eligible now.
And while vaccinations are speeding up the coronavirus is still spreading. About 1,400 people in Washington were infected last Friday alone.
The city of Seattle was going to close some of its testing sites this week (because previously case numbers were plateauing) but announced on Monday it needs to keep them open due to the surge in cases.
— Paige Browning
NW wine industry emerges after year under pandemic conditions
8 a.m. — It’s been a hard year in Northwest wine country. First the pandemic, then last year's massive forest fires. But now tourists and winemakers alike are breathing in gulps of fresh spring air.
Gina Bianco is the executive director of the Rogue Valley Vintners, out of Medford, Oregon. She says winemakers have done everything they can to make a cozy, warm environment so people can still stay socially distanced.
“Well, they’ve expanded their outdoor spaces with additional decking and patios," Bianco said. "And they’ve certainly spaced tables appropriately and added fire pits and heating and blankets.”
Despite losing some Northwest wineries, there has been overall growth in the region. According to the Washington State Wine Commission there are around 50 new licensed wineries.
— Andy Hurst
MONDAY, MARCH 29
CVS pharmacies in Seattle area to start Covid-19 vaccinations on Wednesday
5:49 p.m. — CVS will expand its Covid-19 vaccination efforts to select Seattle area locations starting Wednesday, March 31, when vaccine eligibility is expected to expand to an additional 2 million Washingtonians under phases 1B tier 3 and 1B tier 4.
Six total CVS locations in Seattle, Burien, and Lakewood will offer the shots. Starting Wednesday, people 16 and up with two or more underlying conditions, all people 60 and older, restaurant workers, and staff and residents of various congregate settings will be able eligible for a vaccination.
Seattle to resume Covid testing at Rainier Beach and West Seattle as cases rise again
2 p.m. — Seattle was previously planning to stop its Covid-19 testing program at its sites in Rainier Beach and West Seattle (which are now mass vaccination sites) at the end of March. But due to a considerable increase in cases, it will continue testing at these locations.
“The recent spike in cases — especially in the last week — makes clear that we still need robust, free testing across Seattle," Mayor Jenny Durkan said Monday. "The Seattle Fire Department has the important flexibility to continue testing and vaccinations at our Rainier Beach and West Seattle hubs, and until we can lower cases, we will continue testing."
“We can only end the pandemic if we work together as a community," she said. "So please, get vaccinated as soon as you’re eligible. Continue wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and following all public health guidance. As the days get longer and warmer, our desire to gather as a community will no doubt increase. But we have to be smart and cautious, or else we risk a prolonged surge in cases that will put the health and safety of our city in jeopardy.”
According to King County's health department, Seattle has seen 713 positive Covid-19 cases in the past two weeks (a 3.1% increase for testing in Seattle). At the same time, there have been 3,117 positive tests throughout King County (a 5.8% increase).
According to the Mayor's Office, cases are spiking most severely in North Seattle, specifically around the University of Washington — zip codes 98105 (University District) and 98115 (Green Lake, Maple Leaf, Ravenna, Roosevelt, Sand Point, Wedgwood).
Check here for free Covid testing in Seattle.
— Dyer Oxley
Biden: 90% of US eligible for vaccine by April 19
12:15 p.m. — President Biden said Monday that 90% of the US population would be eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine by April 19.
Whether or not there are enough doses for everybody is another issue.
The Associated Press reports that the White House aims to have vaccine access within five miles of most homes. Part of that plan is doubling the number of pharmacies participating in the federal retail pharmacy program.
About 33 million Covid-19 vaccine doses are expected to be delivered to US communities this week; that includes 11 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
— Dyer Oxley
Status of Washington state's mass vaccination sites
Noon — A total of 153,480 doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered across Washington's four state mass vaccination sites since January.
- 34,775 doses in Spokane
- 41,917 doses in Ridgefield
- 34,456 doses in Wenatchee
- 42,332 doses in Kennewick
Washington's seven-day average is 48,455 vaccines.
There have been 3,012,719 doses administered in Washington, so far. A total of 3,494,340 doses have been delivered to providers.
— Dyer Oxley
CDC head has "feeling of impending doom" over current case numbers
11:30 a.m. — Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the CDC, says she has a feeling "of impending doom," as Covid cases rise across the nation, including in Washington state (more details about that below).
“We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope,” Dr. Walensky said during a White House briefing. “But right now, I’m scared.”
The Associated Press reports that Covid cases have spiked 10% over the past week. That's about 60,000 cases.
— Dyer Oxley
Janitors, security guards say they're being left behind
11 a.m. — Frontline workers are vying for a dose of Covid vaccines as new cases are, once again, on the rise in the Puget Sound area.
Some janitors and security guards say they're being left behind.
Demetrus Dugar is a security guard at an office building in downtown Seattle. He’s been going to work in-person since the pandemic began. He’s 35, so he’s not eligible under Washington state’s current vaccine guidelines and also not in the expanded group of workers that becomes eligible this week.
“So if we’ve been considered essential from the day 1, then we should be up on that list because it’s us out there,” Dugar said.
Some security guards and janitors are eligible, but only if they’re older than 65, have certain health conditions, work in congregate settings like prisons, or if they work in a hospital.
Union advocates say the current guidelines leave out roughly 6,000 janitors and security guards.
Officials with the Department of Health said they’re currently limited by vaccine availability and are prioritizing the workers at highest risk.
Read more here.
— Esmy Jimenez
A coming fourth wave
10 a.m. — The number of new Covid cases continues to tick upward in Washington state. The state health department reported approximately 1,500 this past Saturday, raising concerns the region could be heading toward a fourth wave of the virus.
Daily case numbers have flattened across Washignton as of March 11. But that flattened rate is higher than any previous plateau — more than 650 new cases each day.
"We're seeing a clear trend now of rising Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations over last two weeks," said King County Health Officer Jeff Duchin. "At the same time, more contagious variants that cause more severe infections are increasing. I think there's a good chance we're looking at the beginning of a fourth wave."
In another two weeks, on April 12, state officials will evaluate whether any counties will have to move back down to Phase 2 (indoor dining capacity limited to 25%). Based on analysis by KOMO News, 14 out of the state’s 39 counties would be in danger of moving back down to Phase 2 if the numbers don't improve.
Six Washington state counties (Cowlitz, Grays Harbor, Lewis, Pacific, Wahkiakum, and Pierce) are in Western Washington. Pierce County’s Covid-19 case rate has recently spiked by about 20%.
— Angela King
Microsoft employees start to return to the office
9 a.m. — Microsoft started welcoming back employees to its campus in Redmond Monday morning.
Employees can still work from home, or do a combination of working from home and the office. Microsoft says the hybrid working-from-home model will continue indefinitely.
More than 50,000 people normally work at the Redmond headquarters alone.
Facebook is also preparing to bring back employees to its Bellevue, Redmond, and Seattle offices at 10% capacity on April 5.
— Angela King
Lawsuit against Seattle of gig worker pay moves forward
8:30 a.m. — Instacart and the Washington Food Industry Association sued the city of Seattle over its pandemic pay bump for delivery workers. On Monday, a judge in King County ruled that the lawsuit can move forward, KOMO News reports.
The City Council passed the pay bump in 2020. It gives delivery drivers $2.50 for their first delivery and $1.25 for every delivery after that.
— Dyer Oxley
More and more people eligible for a shot, but limited vaccine available
8 a.m. — Nearly half a million more people in the Seattle area will be eligible to get a Covid vaccine this week. There won't be enough doses for everyone to get a shot right away, however.
King County won't even be getting enough doses to cover a quarter of the people eligible for a vaccine.
Public health officials estimate King County will get enough first shots for a tenth of the folks who are eligible. IN other words, there will be enough vaccine for one out of 10 people who can get it.
Washington state does not expect the federal government to increase the number of vaccines its sending in the weeks ahead.
If you’re eligible now and want a shot but haven’t gotten one yet, state public health officials are urging you to get on it before you have even more competition.
— Anna Boiko-Weyrauch
FRIDAY, MARCH 26
Phase Finder no longer needed to verify vaccine eligibility in Washington state
4 p.m. — Starting Wednesday, March 31, vaccine providers in Washington state will no longer have to use Phase Finder to verify whether vaccine recipients are eligible or not.
That’s according to an email the state Department of Health sent to vaccine providers Friday. Phase Finder is the state’s online tool that helps users find out if they're eligible for a Covid vaccine.
It acts as a quiz, asking a series of questions to determine eligibility. Many vaccine providers required people to show a printout or screenshot of their results from the tool before getting a shot.
The email said the department hopes removing Phase Finder from the vaccine appointment process will remove a technological hurdle for those who don’t have access to a printer, or the technical know-how to grab a screenshot.
The email also said the department trusts most people will continue to wait their turn.
And that the state’s priority now is vaccinating as many vulnerable people as possible before May 1, when everyone 16 and older will become eligible.