Covid blog: Omicron cases surge in Washington state
Updated news about the coronavirus pandemic in Seattle and Washington state.
According to data from King County and Washington state departments of health, as of Monday, January 10, 2021:
- +18,793 new cases since Friday in King County. That's +88% over the last seven days.
- +255 new hospitalizations since Friday in King County. That's a 110% increase over the past seven days.
- 77.6% of King County residents are fully vaccinated.
- 10,004 Covid-19 related deaths across Washington state; 1.1% death rate since the beginning of the pandemic.
FRIDAY, JANUARY 7
A grim milestone: 10,000 Covid deaths in Washington state
This unfortunate marker came faster than we predicted, but deaths from Omicron are increasing rapidly.
Another milestone about to be achieved: We are nearing 10 million Covid tests administered statewide, including antigen and PCR.
Covid surge causes "huge backlog" in Washington ERs
Washington's Medical Association is asking Gov. Jay Insee to declare a Covid crisis so hospitals can get the extra resources they need.
Cassie Sauer with the Washington State Hospital Association says nearly 1,400 people around the state are hospitalized with Covid. That is more than double the weekly average in December.
“There’s been a huge jump in people 25-to-49 years old coming to the emergency room looking for minor Covid care, and there’s a federal law that requires us to screen and stabilize every patient who comes, and it is causing a huge backlog in our ERs," Sauer said. "It’s jeopardizing care for people with true emergencies and it is totally burning out our staff.”
Add to that, Sauer said that this is happening at a time when more and more health providers are having to stay home and isolate themselves because of Covid.
Washington hospitals close to rationing care as Covid cases surge
As the omicron Covid wave grows, the Washington State Hospital Association say it's closer than ever to implementing "crisis standards of care." That is when hospitals begin rationing care.
Dr. John Lynch is a medical director at the University of Washington’s Harborview Medical Center. He says King County saw a 76% increase in hospitalizations over the past week.
"This is the largest number of Covid-19 in-patients we've had in the entire two years," Dr. Lynch said. "And we're going to see this exact same trend in every single hospital in our state. Most of our facilities were at or over 100% capacity before this surge."
Hospital leaders have a few tips for the public in light of the Omicron wave:
- Avoid going to the emergency room if you only have mild Covid-19 symptoms.
- Replace your cloth masks with K95, N95, or KF94 masks.
- Continue avoiding in-person gatherings.
- Get vaccinated and boosted.
More schools, businesses having Covid outbreaks in Pierce County
Pierce County Health authorities say more schools and businesses in the area are dealing with Covid outbreaks.
A total of 139 businesses reported outbreaks this week, which is a 43% increase from last week. The number of school outbreaks increased slightly from 25 last week to 27 this week.
The county defines a school outbreak as one involving three or more cases, or 10% of the group in a shared location over 28 days.
Pierce County currently has the highest Covid case rate in Washington state.
Everett could move Covid testing site; current location overwhelmed with demand
The city of Everett is trying to find another location for its drive-up Covid testing site on Wetmore Avenue.
The Everett Herald reports that people wanting to get tested are clogging neighborhood streets and boxing neighbors in their driveways And this isn't a new problem.
A site manager told the paper that local police rerouted the line last month because it was making it hard for ambulances to get through to the nearby hospital.
The current site on Wetmore Avenue is in the north end of Everett. The free testing site may be moved to a location in the south end of the city, with the goal of having more space for cars to line up. Some people are beginning to line up at the current site at 6 a.m., which is three hours before it opens.
Workers were testing about 10 per day when the Wetmore Avenue site opened a few months ago. Now, it is handling 400 tests daily.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 6
UW Medicine caring for more Covid patients than it's ever seen, as hospitals experience spike in cases statewide
The strain of the current Omicron wave is hitting UW Medicine unlike anything it has experienced since the start of the pandemic. Much of its staff are out, isolating because of infection or exposure. At the same time, it is taking care of more Covid patients than it ever has.
In a message from Dr. John Lynch sent to the UW Medicine community Thursday afternoon:
"As we begin 2022, we face an unprecedented surge of COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron coronavirus variant. More than 1 million cases were reported in the U.S. on Monday, a daily record, and at UW Medicine, we have more patients (144 today) hospitalized with COVID-19 than at any point in the pandemic. We also have an increased number of UW Medicine colleagues who are currently isolating due to infection or in quarantine after a higher-risk exposure. Like most of the community, healthcare workers are being infected during regular activities outside of the workplace."
The numbers line up with predictions from experts as Omicron emerged in late 2021 — that while the variant could cause more mild illness, the massive spread of the virus would add up to overwhelmed hospitals.
The situation remains severe for the rest of the region's hospitals. The Seattle Times further reports that King County is currently averaging 31 Covid hospitalizations per day, which is a 76% increase over the past week. Infections are averaging 2,700 per day.
The Times also reports that King County had eight Covid deaths over the past 24 hours, a spike after deaths were on the decline.
The MultiCare Health System throughout Washington state reports a 250% rise in Covid hospitalizations over the past three weeks; 90% of patients are unvaccinated.
Dr. Lynch said Thursday that the region is facing the most "challenging" phase of the pandemic yet, and that hospitals are "closer to a crisis situation than we’ve ever been.”
UW Medicine is switching up its guidelines for employee Covid testing, offering rapid antigen tests with the aim of getting staff back to work more quickly after quarantining.
— Dyer Oxley
State doctors urge Governor Inslee to declare crisis, call in National Guard
The Washington Medical Association is calling on Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to send help to overwhelmed emergency departments and hospitals.
The association represents more than 12,000 physicians, resident physicians, medical students, and physician assistants.
In a letter to the governor, and to Secretary of Health Umair Shah, the association says the state's health care system is operating at crisis capacity strategies.
"Our emergency departments are overrun, our hospitals are full," it said. "We are emotionally and physically exhausted."
For two years, the system has made changes to adapt, including stopping or delaying non-life threatening procedures to free up hospital capacity. But those measures are no longer enough.
Among the list of actions the association is asking of the governor: "Use the national guard to assist with staffing shortages in long term care facilities and hospitals, including many non-clinical services such as patient transport, meal service, and laboratory assistance."
— Ruby de Luna
Pierce County closes Lakewood Covid testing site amid overwhelming demand
Pierce County has closed its drive-up Covid testing site in Lakewood Wednesday night, citing safety concerns.
Officials say the site has been overwhelmed with demand since the new year started. Around the holidays, the site was handling about 600 tests, but that has jumped to more than 1,000 people each day.
The county is attempting to locate a better site. The testing site at the Puyallup fairgrounds remains open; it's located in the bronze parking lot. A person does not need to be symptomatic to get a test there.
— Angela King
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 5
King County gets 400K new Covid tests
King County will soon have a total of 700,000 Covid tests on hand after a recent purchase that added 400,000 more tests to its supply.
The Seattle Times reports that the county tests will supplement those available through pharmacies and private entities. King County will distribute the tests via community centers, libraries, and other community sources.
— Dyer Oxley
A vaccine for all coronaviruses? It's possible
Researchers at the UW Medicine have been participating with an international team to develop a way to combat the coronavirus. They believe they've discovered specific antibodies that can neutralize the Omicron variant, among other variants.
The main idea is that there are parts of the virus' spike protein that don't change through mutations, unlike other parts of the protein that have changed from variant-to-variant. Researchers say they can target this part of the virus to develop vaccines and treatments.
“This finding tells us that by focusing on antibodies that target these highly conserved sites on the spike protein, there is a way to overcome the virus’ continual evolution,” said David Veesler, associate professor of biochemistry at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
To do this, researchers made pseudoviruses (viruses that cannot replicate), and compared different variants, including omicron, as they tested them against antibody samples from people who have recovered from Covid and who have been vaccinated.
Through this, they were able to determine that current vaccines do not hold up against Omicron as well as previous variants. Only fully vaccinated and boosted antibody samples did well against it. They also discovered certain antibodies that continued to neutralize Omicron despite the many mutations. This suggests that they are attacking parts of the spike protein that are not changing.
This information could well inform future vaccines and treatments, which could potentially stand up better against emerging variants.
Also, researchers' findings further suggest that Omicron may be bouncing back-and-forth between human and animal hosts, which would explain its high number of mutations.
Their findings were recently published in Nature.
— Dyer Oxley
Highest Covid cases in Pierce County
The newest data on the Washington state's Covid dashboard shows that Pierce County currently has the highest infection rate in the state. It also has one of the highest hospitalization rates (only behind Skamamia and Columbia Counties). The rate is about twice that seen in King and Snohomish Counties.
Thurston County's hospitalization rate isn't too far behind Pierce County's.
The Olympian newspaper reports that Thurston County set a new record for new Covid cases this past week, but adds that no new deaths were reported between December 27 to January 2.
— Angela King
School districts can decide how to handle Covid outbreaks
Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal says that at this point in the pandemic, it will be up to individual school districts, not the state, to decide whether students should switch to remote learning if Covid cases get out of hand.
Reykdal says the state has no plans right now to issue such a mandate. The superintendent will deliver his first annual update on the state of Washington's K-12 schools Thursday morning.
— Angela King
4% of those tested in Seattle schools positive for Covid
Seattle Public Schools hosted more than a dozen testing clinics Sunday and Monday. The results: 588, or 4%, of the 14,000 people who showed up tested positive for Covid.
Meanwhile, Seattle Public Schools also announced yesterday that it is suspending the winter basketball season for middle school students due to the increase in Covid cases in the Seattle area.
— Angela King
More and more kids catching Covid amid Omicron surge
Local health officials say more and more children are coming down with Covid.
KOMO reports that people age 19 and and younger now make up 69% of all Covid cases.
The current surge is fueled by the Omicron variant. Omicron may not make people as sick as other variants, like Delta, but it spreads far greater than before, infecting far more people at once.
Doctors at Seattle Children's say they've seen a spike in the number of young patients in their Covid isolation unit. The state health department says while 70% of Washingtonians are fully vaccinated against Covid, only 20% of kids between 5-11 have gotten all their shots.
In King County, 36% percent of kids 5-11 are fully vaccinated; 11 % in Pierce County.
A total of 13 children (18 and younger) died of Covid Washington state since the start of the pandemic.
— Angela King
New Covid quarantine site in Auburn
King County has opened a new Covid quarantine site for people who can't isolate themselves at home, or who have no where else to go. It's located at the old Clarion Inn in Auburn.
The Inn has 100 rooms. Visitors won't be charged to stay there.
It has 24-hour security, transportation to accommodate guests and medical and behavioral health staff.
The Inn was purchases as part of the county's Health Through Housing Initiative, which was created to address the homelessness crisis around the county.
— Angela King
New Washington SOS sets new Covid vaccination policy
Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs is reversing a policy set by his predecessor and now says his staff has until February 25 to get vaccinated against Covid.
Former Secretary Kim Wyman, a Republican, was the only statewide elected officials who did not require their staff to get their shots. But incoming Hobbs, a Democrat, has a different policy.
“This was a decision that I made after an assessment and commitment to the health and safety of our employees, especially as Covid-19 continues to occupy all aspects of our lives," Hobbs said. "I am confident that this will help protect the employees of this office, as well as the citizens that we serve.”
Approximately 300 people in nearly 30 locations currently work for the Secretary of State's Office.
Former Secretary Wyman, who stepped down to take a nob with the Biden Administration, is vaccinated, but she said she didn't want to be in a position of firing someone for not getting vaccinated against Covid.
Read more here.
— Paige Browning
TUESDAY, JANUARY 4
King County is known for its robust Covid data dashboard. This one stood out to me as I poked around today: a map of residents who have had two vaccine doses, by ZIP code.
According to the map, below, the ZIP code with the lowest percentage of fully vaccinated people is 98105, or University District and Laurelhurst.
The map shows that almost all people eligible for boosters have received them.
MONDAY, JANUARY 3
Long, frigid lines for Seattle families getting Covid tests
Seattle Public Schools were closed on Monday and the district instead offered free, rapid Covid testing to students and staff. School will resume for students in-person on Tuesday and Covid testing will be available at district-run sites throughout the week.
The line to get tested at Robert Eagle Staff Middle School took nearly an hour and a half to move through Monday afternoon. Many were dressed as though they hadn't anticipated standing in the 38-degree weather for so long. At other school testing sites, parents reported little social distancing indoors as families waited in line.
Once at the front of the line, getting tested was an easy process. But as we awaited the results of my 7-year-old son's test, we learned that a family waiting next to us for the past 15 minutes had tested postitive. That left me wondering: Did we just potentially get Covid because we came and did our due diligence to get tested?
By 3:30 p.m., the district announced that all of its testing sites had hit capacity and would no longer be collecting samples. However, the district says it will offer testing throughout the week at each of its testing sites:
- Denny International Middle School
- Eckstein Middle School
- Hamilton International Middle School
- Jane Addams Middle School
- Madison Middle School
- McClure Middle School
- Meany Middle School
- Mercer International Middle School
- Robert Eagle Staff Middle School
- South Shore PreK-8 School
- Washington Middle School
- Whitman Middle School
— Isolde Raftery
Should Covid shots be added to the state's required vaccines for school?
Students throughout Washington state could be required to get vaccinated against Covid, but not anytime soon.
It’s a big decision. Should Covid vaccines for kids in school and day care be written into state law? And this big decision is divided and sub-divided into numerous deliberative minutiae.
Currently, state officials are at step four of seven, in which a panel of dozens of experts hold two or three long meetings to decide answers to nine technical questions. Those questions, of course, are made up of other sub-questions about things like vaccine logistics.
"Can we actually deliver it," Tom Pendergrass with the state board of health asked at a recent meeting.
"Can we really be certain that every child entering childcare or the school systems truly have the opportunity and understanding of what they’re doing."
Right now there is no firm timeline for this decision.
Meanwhile, other states such as California and Louisiana have already added Covid shots to their list of required school vaccinations.
— Anna Boiko-Weyrauch
Several colleges go online for winter quarter
Several local colleges are starting the new winter quarter online instead of bringing students back into classrooms.
They include the University of Washington, Western Washington University, Bellevue College, Seattle Pacific University, and Tacoma Community College.
All of the schools, except for Tacoma Community College, plan to have students return to campus on January 10. Most TCC students are slated to return on January 18.
Officials say they want to give everyone time to get tested for Covid as well as get booster shots before returning to campus following the holiday break.
— Angela King
UW Covid testing sites focusing on people with symptoms, exposure
Starting Tuesday, January 4, UW Medicine's Covid testing sites will focus on people who are experiencing symptoms, or who have known exposures to the coronavirus.
Most of Tuesday's appointments have already been booked-up.
And one other note: the university has temporarily shut down its testing sites in Ballard, Lake Sammamish and Seattle City Hall. That way, its labs don't get overwhelmed.
— Angela King
Drive-thru Covid testing at Puyallup fairgrounds
Pierce County is opening a new, temporary drive-thru Covid testing site at the state fairgrounds in Puyallup. The site will be open Jan. 3-7 between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.
It's located in the Gold lot.
You don't need to make an appointment, but Puyallup police are anticipating long traffic back-ups in the area given the high demand for tests right now.
More information can be found here.
— Angela King
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 30
Seattle schools will close on Monday, offer free rapid Covid tests instead
Class will not be in session for Seattle Public Schools on Monday, Jan. 3. Instead of reopening as originally planned, the district will temporarily convert several of its schools into Covid-19 testing sites for students and staff.
School will resume for students in-person on Tuesday, and Covid testing will be available throughout the week.
District officials say they received 60,000 rapid antigen tests from the state department of health, as a Covid spike driven by the omicron variant overtakes King County.
The testing, which is voluntary, is encouraged for students and staff who have Covid-19 symptoms or have had recent contact with a known case, regardless of vaccination status.
The tests are being offered to students and staff free of charge, and insurance is not required. Those who get tested can expect to get their results via text message or email the same day, the district says.
The district will also offer walk-up testing to students living in central and southeast Seattle on Sunday, Jan. 2 at South Shore PK-8 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
All schools in the district will still serve to-go lunches on Monday between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Athletic practices will not be held Monday.
Visit this link for more details about which Seattle schools will offer testing next week.
UW Medicine to limit Covid testing to people with symptoms or known exposure
In an effort to turn test results around quicker, UW Medicine will start limiting tests to people who present with symptoms or have had contact with a known Covid case. The eligibility change begins January 4 and will continue until further notice.
Additionally, the City Hall, Ballard, and Sammamish testing sites will temporarily close due to short staffing.
UW Medicine has consistently turned around test results within 24 hours for most of the pandemic, said Dr. Geoffrey Baird, acting chair of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at UW Medicine. But high Covid positivity rates and short staffing in recent weeks have caused a lag — sometimes more than two days — in getting results back to people who test positive for Covid.
"Medically speaking, a Covid test that is not back for several days just isn't terribly meaningful," Baird said. "Someone could go on and spread the virus and they wouldn't have the important information they need to make the decision about whether or not to quarantine, or whether or not contacts should isolate, etc."
Baird explained how UW Medicine tests samples collected at testing sites in groups of four, running those combined samples through a robot that flags whether any of them are positive for Covid.
"If one of those mixed pools is positive, we then have that robot liquid handler spit back out those four individual samples," he said. "And then we have to go put those samples individually onto another robot that then tests them all again."
Read more here.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 29
New Covid studies show promise for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine booster
Two new studies of a Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine booster showed promise against the omicron variant at a time when public health officials are urgently recommending booster shots against the fast-spreading variant.
One study was conducted in some 69,000 health care workers in South Africa. Results showed the vaccine reduced hospitalizations by 85% when comparing people who got two doses of the J&J vaccine to people who had a single dose.
Unlike Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which require two initial doses before a booster six months later, Johnson & Johnson is a single shot that can be followed by a booster dose after at least two months for people 18 and older.
The booster study was done at a time when omicron was the dominant variant in South Africa.
"This data should reassure healthcare workers who have not taken their booster to get vaccinated as soon as possible," said Dr. Nicholas Crisp, the deputy director general of the South African National Department of Health.
Read more here.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 28
Washington state shortens recommended Covid isolation period, mirroring CDC guidance
The Washington State Department of Health has updated its Covid quarantine guidance, advising people who test positive for the disease to isolate for just five days instead of the previously recommended 10 days.
The state's new guidance mirrors recommendations put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday, also decreasing the suggested quarantine period to five days.
People who still exhibit symptoms after five days should remain in isolation until testing negative for Covid, the guidance states.
For people who have been exposed to Covid but haven't tested positive, the state recommends two potential courses of action, based on one's vaccination status:
- Unvaccinated individuals or people who are more than six months out from their first mRNA (Pfizer or Moderna) vaccination series, or who are more than two months past receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and haven't been boosted, should quarantine for five days followed by strict mask use for an additional five days.
- Vaccinated individuals who have received a booster shot do not need to isolate but should wear a mask for 10 days after exposure, the guidance states.
Covid hospitalizations back up in King County amid holiday omicron surge
King County on Tuesday reported 2,920 new Covid cases. The county has seen a 213% uptick in cases — that’s 13,911 cases — within a week.
Covid hospitalizations are also on the rise in King County after declining last week. Hospitalizations have gone up 48% over the past week, with a daily average of 11 new hospitalizations.
Hospital capacity has remained a top concern amongst health officials, who have warned that a spike in Covid cases this winter could put significant strain on hospitals.
“We are concerned that a surge of hospitalizations from the omicron variant, on top of an already crowded set of hospitals, could lead to a situation where life-saving and hospital care is denied to those who need it,” said Taya Briley, vice president and general counsel for the Washington State Hospital Association earlier this month.
Experts have predicted that omicron will, on average, cause more mild symptoms and will lead to lower rates of hospitalization than the delta variant. However, they've also cautioned that even with lower hospitalization rates, more people overall becoming infected and in a shorter period of time could overburden health care systems.
The latest local Covid data also reveals King County has seen an average of 1,987 new cases per day within the past week, surpassing its previous record average of 1,586 daily cases.
Read more here.
MONDAY, DECEMBER 27
CDC cuts the recommended isolation and quarantine periods for coronavirus infections
People who test positive for Covid-19 need to isolate themselves for only five days if they don't show symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday. This cuts in half the earlier recommendation of 10 days of isolation.
Data shows that the majority of coronavirus transmission "occurs early in the course of illness," the CDC explained — generally in the one or two days before symptoms begin and two or three days after.
"Therefore, people who test positive should isolate for 5 days and, if asymptomatic at that time, they may leave isolation if they can continue to mask for 5 days to minimize the risk of infecting others," the CDC said in a statement.
The CDC has also updated its recommended quarantine period for people exposed to the virus. It says unvaccinated people should quarantine for five days, followed by five days of "strict mask use." Exposed people who are more than six months past their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or two months out from a Johnson & Johnson vaccine, should also quarantine for five days.
Read more here.
New Covid cases reach a record high over Christmas weekend
King County has reported 7,789 new cases of Covid since last Thursday, and reports a daily average of 1,586 new cases. The latest reported numbers mark a 195% increase in confirmed cases over the past seven days.
Hospitalizations, which had been on a downward trend, went up by nearly 60% over the course of a week.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 23
How to report positive results from home Covid tests in Washington state
If you've been lucky enough to get your hands on a home Covid test this holiday season, but unlucky in testing positive, you can report your results via the state's WA Notify system.
You must activate the app on your smart phone and then request a verification code for your test results by doing the following:
- Go to your settings and scroll down the menu to "Exposure Notifications." Turn exposure notifications on
- Select "United States and then "Washington"
- Once inside "Exposure Notifications," click “Share a COVID-19 Diagnosis”
- Select “Continue” then select “Didn’t get a code? Visit WA State Dept. of Health Website”
- Enter the phone number of your device that uses WA Notify and the date of your positive test.
- Select “Continue”
- Go to the Google Play Store. Search for the WA Notify app and download it
- Open the WA Notify app and click “Share your test result to help stop the spread of COVID-19”
- Press “Continue” then select “I need a code”
- Enter the phone number of your device that uses WA Notify and the date of your positive test result
- Choose “Send Code”
Afterwards, you'll get a pop-up notification and a text message containing your verification link. Tapping into the notification or clicking the link will allow you to anonymously alert other users of WA Notify about a possible exposure.
After receiving the verification code, call the state's Covid-19 hotline at 1-800-525-0127 and then press the # sign to report your positive result to the state department of health.
— Liz Brazile
Covid cases quadruple in the Seattle area in a single day, where omicron dominates
King County reported 2,879 new Covid cases on Thursday — the most new daily cases documented since the pandemic started. New cases of the disease more than quadrupled between Wednesday and Thursday in King County, which has seen a 169% increase in cases over the past week.
Experts have confirmed that the omicron variant is driving the local Covid spike. They say over 80% of new Covid cases in the area have been linked to the variant.
The new cases reported on Thursday make up over half of new Covid cases the county has seen over the last seven days. King County reported 2,879 cases on Thursday, compared to 617 new cases the day before, on Wednesday.
Researchers at the University of Washington Virology Lab said on Wednesday they are now certain omicron is the dominant Covid strain in the Puget Sound region. However, the delta variant continues to drive the majority of cases emerging in southwest and eastern Washington, they said.
Health officials have warned that this holiday season would inevitably be marked by a surge in Covid cases as the omicron variant, which appears to spread more easily than others, makes its rounds. Many have predicted that the colder months could usher in the worst infection rates seen throughout the pandemic thus far.
Read more here.
— Liz Brazile
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 22
Covid cases continue to skyrocket in King County
King County on Wednesday reported a 143% spike in Covid cases over the past 7 days, keeping in trend with the surge in transmission health officials have warned about this holiday season. The county has reported seeing 617 new cases since Tuesday.
However, hospitalization and death rates have continued to dip.
— KUOW Staff
FDA authorizes 1st antiviral pill for Covid
In a highly anticipated decision, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the first antiviral pill to treat Covid-19 at home.
The pill, called Paxlovid, is made by Pfizer. It's taken twice a day for five days in combination with a second medicine called ritonavir, a generic antiviral.
"Today's authorization introduces the first treatment for Covid-19 that is in the form of a pill that is taken orally — a major step forward in the fight against this global pandemic," said Dr. Patrizia Cavazzoni, director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. "This authorization provides a new tool to combat Covid-19 at a crucial time in the pandemic as new variants emerge and promises to make antiviral treatment more accessible to patients who are at high risk for progression to severe Covid-19."
The Pfizer treatment could help keep people infected with the coronavirus from getting so sick that they need to be hospitalized.
The results from a Pfizer study involving more than 2,200 people at high risk for developing serious Covid-19 found Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89%, compared with a placebo, when taken within three days of first symptoms of illness. When taken within five days, the drug reduced the risk of hospitalization and death by 88%.
Early results from another Paxlovid study showed a 70% reduction in hospitalization risk among several hundred people at lower risk for severe disease.
Read more here.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 21
Christmastime Covid spike arrives for King County as omicron dominates in the U.S.
With omicron cases proliferating around the U.S., local health officials have warned of an imminent Covid surge during the holiday season.
That spike is arriving in King County, where Covid cases have more than doubled over the past seven days.
King County is seeing a daily average of 603 new Covid cases currently, with 850 confirmed since Monday. Hospitalizations, however, have gone down 14% over the past week.
Early reports suggest omicron could be less likely to lead to hospitalization than the delta variant, which could be because the virus is moving through younger people at higher rates right now. But evidence also indicates that omicron may spread more easily, and health experts are bracing for what they say could be the worst of transmission thus far in the pandemic.
It's too early to determine whether the omicron variant is behind the most recent spike in Covid cases for the Seattle area. But experts have pointed to rapid community spread of the variant in European countries and South Africa to predict what might unfold locally.
"It is very likely that omicron is in the process of becoming the dominant strain in King County, if it isn’t already," said Gabriel Spitzer, a spokesperson for Public Health – Seattle & King County via email on Monday.
Statewide, roughly 400 Covid cases have been confirmed to be caused by the omicron variant.
Read more here.
MONDAY, DECEMBER 20
Covid cases jump significantly in King County amid the holidays
With omicron cases proliferating around the U.S. and elsewhere, local health officials have warned of an imminent Covid surge during the holiday season.
That spike is arriving in King County, which has seen a 93% increase in Covid cases over the past week.
An average of 515 new Covid cases per day are currently emerging in King County. In the past three days alone, nearly 2,200 new cases have been reported by the county.
On Friday, Virologist Trevor Bedford said that he predicted King County would see over 2,000 new daily Covid cases by December 23 — that's triple the number of daily cases seen during the peak of delta in August.
Omicron is now the dominant Covid strain in the U.S., making up 73% of new infections
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers showed nearly a six-fold increase in omicron's share of infections in only one week.
In much of the country, omicron's prevalence is even higher. It's responsible for an estimated 90% of new infections in the New York area, the Southeast, the industrial Midwest and the Pacific Northwest.
Since the end of June, the delta variant has been the main version causing U.S. infections. As recently as the end of November, more than 99.5% of coronaviruses were delta, according to CDC data.
Scientists in Africa first sounded the alarm about omicron less than a month ago and on Nov. 26 the World Health Organization designated it as a "variant of concern." The mutant has since shown up in about 90 countries.
Much about the omicron variant remains unknown, including whether it causes more or less severe illness. Early studies suggest the vaccinated will need a booster shot for the best chance at preventing omicron infection but even without the extra dose, vaccination still should offer strong protection against severe illness and death.
"All of us have a date with omicron," said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. "If you're going to interact with society, if you're going to have any type of life, omicron will be something you encounter, and the best way you can encounter this is to be fully vaccinated."
Read more here.
—The Associated Press
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 17
Wrestling tournaments linked to 200 Covid cases
Wrestling tournaments held in early December have been tied to 200 coronavirus cases. At least three of those cases were the Omicron variant, according to the state Department of Public Health.
In response, the state health department has changed safety measures for all indoor sports, per a press release:
- Required testing of all athletes, coaches, trainers, and support personnel, regardless of vaccination status.
- Increased testing frequency to three times per week. Among those screening tests, at least one must occur no sooner than the day before the competition; ideally, and whenever possible, the day of the event.
Seahawks and Kraken games postponed as Omicron spreads
The NFL has postponed the Seahawks v Rams game until Tuesday because of Covid outbreaks, according to the Tacoma News-Tribune. The paper reported that the Rams put 25 players on the reserve/Covid-19 list. The Seahawks have two players on the reserve/Covid-19 list.
A statement on the Kraken website reads:
Due to efforts to minimize COVID-19 outbreaks, especially "concern with the number of positive cases within the last two days as well as concern for continued COIVD spread in the coming days," the league decided to postpone all Calgary games from Friday through Dec. 26, the end of the three-day holiday break.
37 percent of Covid cases in Washington state are likely Omicron
Omicron has spread faster than wildfire in Washington state (and we know wildfire). Pavitra Roychoudhury, of University of Washington Virology, reports on Twitter that we are "now at 37% likely Omicron." Remember when it was just a few cases detected?
Trevor Bedford at Seattle Flu Study explained yesterday evening on Twitter what he's seeing:
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 16
Omicron means we "should be prepared for eventually, many of us, being infected"
Covid cases from the omicron variant are increasing in King County, but health officials say the situation is not like it was at the start of the pandemic.
King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin says the vaccines offer some protection against what really matters — getting seriously sick and hospitalized.
“If you’re vaccinated, if you’re taking precautions to reduce your risk, you should feel cautious but you should feel optimistic and reassured that you have a very strong level of protection," Duchin said.
But you should be aware that you can still get infected, despite being vaccinated. And Dr. Duchin says you just might.
“I think everyone should be prepared for eventually, many of us, being infected. Now being infected doesn’t mean getting seriously ill," he said.
But you could still pass it along to someone who is unvaccinated. Duchin says he hopes that over time more people will get their shots and boosters. That is the best way to fend off serious disease.
"Over time, increasing immunity from vaccination and exposure to the virus will make Covid-19 less and less of a threat. For now, we should expect more omicron cases over the coming days and weeks, and take whatever extra precautions we can to reduce the risk..." he said.
Despite the emergence of the omicron variant locally, there are currently no plans for new pandemic restrictions.
Read more here.
— Anna Boiko-Weyrauch
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 14
Grocery worker hazard pay ends in Seattle
The Seattle City Council has ended its requirement that large grocery stores pay workers hazard pay. The measure was implemented in light of pandemic risks faced by employees.
Under a Seattle council bill in place since February, essential grocery employees were eligible for the extra pay.
According to a staff report on the hazard pay repeal: "This legislation would end hazard pay requirements in recognition of the considerable progress made toward supporting the health and safety of frontline workers and the community through high rates of vaccinations and reduced numbers of Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations."
The Northwest Grocery Association welcomed the move.
“The Northwest Grocery Association appreciates the thoughtful deliberation of the Seattle City Council today and their unanimous 8-0 vote to repeal the City’s mandated hazard pay on select grocery stores within its City limits," said association President Amanda Dalton.
“By January, Seattle grocery stores will have paid over 274 days of hazard pay. As the only business targeted by the Council to pay this enhanced wage, we are appreciative that the Seattle City Council has acknowledged that a repeal makes sense today. Snohomish County, Federal Way and Bainbridge Island have also chosen to repeal their mandate and all municipalities in California, where this concept began, have long since ended. Most California ordinances lasted 120 days. It is our hope that King County will follow the actions of the Seattle Council tomorrow during their scheduled vote.”
— Paige Browning
Three omicron cases found in Oregon
Oregon health officials have now confirmed cases of the omicron variant of Covid-19 in their state.
The Oregon Health Authority said Monday they've confirmed three cases of the variant in Multnomah and Washington counties. Both counties cover the city of Portland and surrounding communities.
The cases are in people in their 20s and 30s, and all three were fully vaccinated.
Governor Kate Brown, on the discovery, says getting vaccinated and wearing a mask are the most effective ways to keep people protected against Covid-19 variants.
There are at least six confirmed cases of omicron in Washington state.
— Paige Browning
Washington state doesn't track staff vaccinations at private schools
All employees at K-12 schools in Washington state are required to get Covid vaccinations or approved exemptions. But the state is not tracking the data for private schools.
Nearly 90% of staff at Washington's K-12 schools have received their mandatory vaccinations. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction required that data of all public schools.
But a different agency oversees private schools — the State Board of Education. Executive Director Randy Spaulding says his agency was never given the resources or direction to collect vaccination data from private schools.
In King County, the largest confirmed outbreaks in schools this fall have been at two private school campuses where a total of nearly 200 people tested positive, including two dozen staff members. Nearly all of the positive cases in those outbreaks were in unvaccinated people.
Read more about those school outbreaks in King County here.
— Ann Dornfeld
Omicron rises rapidly in Covid tests for Washington state
The omicron variant is showing up more and more in Covid tests processed by the UW Virology Lab, indicating its fast spread in Washington state.
The sample size of Covid tests processed through the University of Washington's Virology Lab are small, but they are showing a quick rise in omicron cases. The Seattle Times reports that omicron showed up in 3% of tests last Monday, then 7% on Tuesday, and 13% on Wednesday. The Times states the numbers indicate omicron is "surging."
GeekWire further reports statements from Dr. Pavitra Roychoudhury with the virology lab. Roychoudhury says the upward trend of omicron aligns with other countries that have experienced a rapid wave of omicron.
While its spread is notable, the omicron variant is still in small numbers in Washington. The delta variant remains the dominant strain in the state.
— Dyer Oxley
MONDAY, DECEMBER 13
'Bursting at the seams.' WA hospitals feel the pinch of long-term care shortages
It’s been an ongoing problem, amplified by the pandemic: hospitals in Washington state are overrun and overwhelmed. But right now, it’s not because of Covid patients.
“Our hospitals are bursting at the seams,” said Taya Briley, vice president and general counsel for the Washington State Hospital Association during a press conference Monday morning. “Several major hospitals and health systems are at or near 120% occupancy levels.”
The bulk of patients accounting for those hospital beds don’t actually need hospital care, Briley said. They’re long-term care patients who, under normal circumstances, would be in the care of places like skilled nursing homes or assisted living facilities. But staffing shortages in those settings, in addition to complex evaluation and placement protocols under the state’s Medicaid program, means care of those patients is being kicked to hospitals.
Briley described a dire situation for major hospitals across the state.
“Patients are receiving care in emergency department waiting rooms or in the hallways on gurneys, and waiting for days for inpatient beds to open,” Briley said.
The state is not currently operating within crisis care standards, under which life-saving care would be actively rationed. But Briley, along with other health care workers worry a possible surge in Covid-19 patients in the colder months would exacerbate things.
“We are concerned that…hospitalizations from the omicron variant, on top of an already crowded set of hospitals, could lead to a situation where life-saving and hospital care is denied to those who need it,” Briley said.
Read more here.
— Liz Brazile
More omicron cases emerge in King County
A total of six people in King County have now tested positive for the omicron coronavirus variant.
Local health officials confirmed five more cases last Friday (another person previously tested positive in late November making the total six, so far).
Information is only available for three of the five new patients — none were hospitalized. Those three had been vaccinated, and one had a booster shot. All three had recently traveled within the U.S., and none had travelled internationally.
The three cases are also unrelated and had no known contact with each other, or the case of omicron discovered in late November. This would, again, indicate that omicron is spreading among the community.
Public Health - Seattle & King County officials expect omicron cases to increase in the weeks ahead.
“Although the delta variant remains widespread and responsible for the vast majority of cases, omicron is now circulating and we expect that infections from omicron will continue to increase over the next month,” said King County Public Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin.
Meanwhile, Whatcom County has become the fourth county in the state to report a confirmed case of the omicron variant. And while officials expect to see more cases involving the omicron variant, they note that the majority of cases still involve the delta variant.
— Angela King
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 10
Covid hospitalizations down at UW Medicine, but officials wary of winter and omicron
Some good / cautious news out of UW Medicine — its hospitals are currently treating 18 patients for Covid. That number is down below 25 patients for the first time since July.
That's the good news. However, with the omicron variant spreading among the local community, health officials are concerned about a possible looming winter wave of cases on the horizon.
“This number is lower than it's been since midsummer, so we're very excited to see that,” said Lisa Brandenburg, president of UW Medicine hospitals and clinics. “That being said, with the omicron variant, we want to encourage people to stay vigilant. Please continue to social distance. Mask up and stay current with your flu and your Covid shots.”
Elsewhere in the world, the omicron variant has led to dramatic increases in case numbers. Early data indicates it is more transmissible than the delta variant and is therefore expected to become the dominant variant in most countries. Early data also shows that the omicron variant could be less severe, however. Vaccines still offer some protections, but initially appear to be less effective against omicron. Fully vaccinated people who have had booster shots appear to have greatest protection against infection.
— Dyer Oxley
With players in Covid quarantine, UW cancels basketball game with Gonzaga
Another blow for the UW men's basketball team which has already had to bow out of a couple of games because of Covid-19 protocols. Now, Sunday's match against Gonzaga has been canceled and won't be played this season. Gonzaga says it's because of the Huskie's Covid protocols.
According to a statement from the Huskies:
"Due to Covid-related protocols and after receiving guidance from our medical team, Sunday's men's basketball game scheduled to be played at Gonzaga has been canceled. The program will continue modified workouts and to receive consultation from the medical team about next steps as we work toward returning to full participation. This series is important to both schools and the administrations will begin working on an agreeable date for this game in Spokane next year."
Several news outlets are reporting the UW team is still dealing with a Covid outbreak. The Huskies have already rescheduled a game against Arizona and forfeited a game against UCLA due to the ongoing Covid issues. This is the second year a game between UW and Gonzaga has been cancelled for pandemic reasons.
UW Coach Mike Hopkins said this week that several basketball players were placed into a 10 day Covid quarantine and that no player was experiencing serious illness.
— Angela King
Boosters for 16-17 year old now approved in Washington state
The Washington State Department of Health is now recommending that everyone 16 and older get a Covid booster shot.
Only the Pfizer vaccine and its booster shot are the only one's authorized for use in 16 and 17 year olds right now.
The department expanded the eligibility list for the Pfizer vaccine booster to include 16 and 17 year olds on Thursday, after the FDA, the CDC, and the Western States Scientific Safety Review workgroup signed off on the move.
In general, those who have been vaccinated are encouraged to get a booster six months after receiving their last Pfizer or Moderna shot. For Johnson and Johnson, people should get a booster two months after the first shot.
“Ensuring booster doses are available to as many people as possible will add an extra layer of protection across our communities this winter, help keep families healthy as we gather this holiday season, and increase immunity as the omicron variant spreads worldwide,” said state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah. “Please do not delay. Make an appointment to get your booster shot as soon as you are eligible.”
Booster shots can be mixed and matched, meaning a person can get a booster that is from a different brand than the original doses.
Vaccination providers can be found using the state's online vaccine finder, or by calling 833-VAX-HELP.
In King County, the public health department is using a waitlist at its vaccination sites in: Auburn, Kent, Bellevue Eastgate, and Downtown Seattle. You can register for the waitlist here.
— Angela King
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 9
Kraken team captain rejoins team after Covid quarantine
Mark Giordano has rejoined the Seattle Kraken following 10 days quarantine in a Florida hotel after testing positive for Covid-19.
The team captain tested positive on November 26, as Seattle was beginning a road trip at Tampa Bay.
Giordano says he had a little bit of congestion and lost his sense of taste for a short time, but says that was about the extent of his symptoms while stuck in the hotel. He says his sense of taste is already starting to come back.
— Kim Malcolm
Washington Latinos experienced greater economic hardship during pandemic
Washington state Latinos have been hit with disproportionate economic hardships over the pandemic, according to a new assessment out of the University of Washington's Latino Center for Health.
"Latinos have suffered from losses and poor health due to Covid-19," said Dr. Aida Hidalgo-Arroyo with the Latino Center for Health. "They have faced dire personal and financial struggles despite their essential role in keeping the country and the economy moving…it is about time we support them back."
The effects of the pandemic have placed an outsized strain on Hispanic women whose unemployment rate has risen faster than Hispanic men.
"Latinas are facing a disproportionate economic impact from the pandemic," said Research Coordinator Dr. Miriana Duran. "In addition to experiencing high unemployment rates, having new childcare responsibilities at home due to school closures has forced them to leave the workforce at an alarming rate. Latinas need policies that support an equitable and inclusive post-pandemic recovery."
The center reports that Latinas exited the job market at twice the rate as men when the pandemic first struck. That rate doubled within eight months — 45% of women surveyed were unemployed, and 34% of men. Hispanic women also left the workforce three times more than white women and four times more than Black women during this time.
Overall results from the center's recent survey of Washington state Hispanic families conclude that 44% were unable to meet their basic needs after financial strains as a result of the pandemic; 60% said their household income was reduced amid the pandemic. A total of 38% of those surveyed were unemployed, 37% reported that their work hours were reduced. About 17% reported working from home, while a majority worked in positions that had greater exposure to the public and the coronavirus. Only 21% were eligible for unemployment benefits.
Based on the survey, the Latino Center for Health is making policy recommendations, including expanding federal unemployment benefits; increasing minimum wage; increased relief funding for childcare.
Read the full report and recommendations below.
— Dyer Oxley
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 8
Omicron variant likely spreading in community in King County
Public Health - Seattle & King County reported Wednesday that the patient who tested positive for the omicron variant did not recently travel. This would indicate that the variant has been spreading among the community.
According to an updated statement from the health department:
"The patient has experienced mild illness and has not required hospitalization. There is no evidence of widespread exposure from this case. The patient has not reported any recent travel, suggesting the Omicron variant has been spreading locally."
Three cases of omicron have been detected in Washington state so far — one in King County, one in Pierce County, and one in Thurston County.
The King County case is a woman in her 20s who tested positive for omicron on November 29. She was fully vaccinated. While she did receive a booster shot, she likely received it after being exposed to the virus. The woman has experienced a mild illness.
— Dyer Oxley
Pfizer vaccine holds up against omicron, according to initial assessment
Pfizer's Covid vaccine will "neutralize" the omicron coronavirus variant, if a person has had both initial shots and a booster.
According to a statement from the company Wednesday: "Preliminary laboratory studies demonstrate that three doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine neutralize the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529 lineage) while two doses show significantly reduced neutralization titers."
Three doses of the Pfizer Covid vaccine "increases the neutralizing antibody titers by 25-fold compared to two doses against the Omicron variant."
Pfizer also notes that while two doses of the vaccine don't protect as much against Omicron, T cell responses still held up against the virus. T cells are different than antibodies that are usually tested for after a variant is discovered. While these initial tests offer some insights into how vaccine immunity will handle the new variant, it will take longer to determine how the full immune response will react to omicron.
Read more about variants evading immunity, antibodies, T cells and more here.
“Although two doses of the vaccine may still offer protection against severe disease caused by the Omicron strain, it’s clear from these preliminary data that protection is improved with a third dose of our vaccine,” said Albert Bourla, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Pfizer. “Ensuring as many people as possible are fully vaccinated with the first two dose series and a booster remains the best course of action to prevent the spread of Covid-19.”
Pfizer is also working on an omicron update to the vaccine and aims to have that available by March.
Other recent studies on Covid vaccines (which have not yet been peer reviewed) have similar conclusions as Pfizer's — that the vaccines are less effective against omicron and that more breakthrough infections are likely. However, the vaccines still appear to prevent severe illness and death.
— Dyer Oxley
98% vaccination rate for Bellingham employees
The city of Bellingham is now reporting a 98% Covid vaccination rate for its city workers, after mandates from the state of Washington and Mayor Seth Fleetwood.
The Bellingham Herald reports that 27 city employees have left because of the mandates. They were clustered in the Public Works department, and police, and fire departments.
Employees had to provide proof of full vaccination, or request an accommodation, by Friday, December 3.
— Kim Malcolm
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 7
Seahawks get booster shots
The Seahawks held a clinic for any player or staff member who wanted a Covid booster shot this week.
Monday was coronavirus booster shot day for the Seahawks. The team chose Monday in case any players had side effects and wanted them ready for practice by Wednesday.
Coach Pete Carroll told The Seattle Times that he did not know how many players actually got a booster dose. But no Seahawks are on the NFLs list of players ineligible due to coronavirus. A total of 11 players have been placed on that list.
— Paige Browning
Boosters pushed as variants spread across Washington
In the face of the delta and omicron coronavirus variants spreading in Washington state, officials are again pushing for people to get booster vaccines.
The Department of Health sends this guidance this week:
- It's important that everyone who is eligible get a booster, six months after getting the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, or two months after the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.
- Breakthrough cases are still likely, but the DOH says current vaccines are expected to protect against severe illness and hospitalization.
- The state has requested more booster doses from the feds and they are expected to arrive later this week.
- 1.2 million Washingtonians have already received a booster dose.
— Paige Browning
MONDAY, DECEMBER 6
129K kids received Covid vaccine dose in November
The Washington State Department of Health is reporting that more than 129,000 kids ages 5-11 have received one dose of a Covid vaccine.
Eligibly opened to this age group in early November. The pediatric version of the Pfizer Covid vaccine is two doses taken 21 days apart. That means many kids are now due for a second shot.
DOH says the numbers break down to about 26% of eligible kids in the Puget Sound region. It's about 8% throughout central Washington.
“While COVID-19 is often milder in children than adults, children can still get very sick and spread the disease to family and friends, which is an even bigger concern as people gather this holiday season,” said State Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah. “As a father, knowing our children are vaccinated helps me breathe a sigh of relief. I am confident they are now much safer and more protected than they were just a month ago.”
A total of 13 people age 18 and younger have died from Covid in Washington since the start of the pandemic.
— Dyer Oxley
Small restaurants/bars now required to check for vaccination status
Starting Monday, small bars and restaurants will join all other locations in King County where vaccine verification is required.
Since late October, those looking to dine in at bars and restaurants in King County have been required to show proof of full vaccination or a recent negative Covid test.
Small venues, with a seating capacity of 12 or less, were given a little more time to implement the rules. But starting Dec. 6, your favorite hole-in-the wall café or sandwich shop will have the same rules as the bigger restaurants.
The same rules remain in effect for outdoor events with 500 plus people, as well as gyms, museums, live music venues, and more.
— Kate Walters
Omicron found in Washington state
The omicron variant has been found in Washington state. Health officials announced over the weekend that three cases of the new coronavirus variant have been found in King, Pierce, and Thurston counties — one case in each county.
Of the three cases, one was a man in this 30s in Thurston County, one was a man in his 20s in Pierce County, and one was a woman in her 20s in King County. Officials say they don't think the cases are related and that their travel history was unknown.
State Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah says it was only a matter of time before the variant was found locally. He says there is reason for concern, but not for panic.
"The best way to prevent the spread of this new variant, or any other variant, is, of course, to get vaccinated ... and we certainly want to continue to emphasize wearing masks and other safety protocols," Shah said.
Health officials say they expect to see more omicron cases. A lot remains unknown about the new variant. Experts say it could take weeks, not days, to get a better understanding of its impacts.
Read more here.
— Kate Walters
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 2
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee urges vaccinations and won't rule out requiring boosters
Washington Governor Jay Inslee said the new omicron variant of COVID-19 is another reason why people should get vaccinated and boosted. But at a news conference Thursday the governor said the bigger threat is still the delta variant.
Inslee said it’s too early to know what the omicron variant will mean for the battle against COVID-19. But he said whatever threat it poses, people who are vaccinated will be better off. He noted that more than a third of all Washingtonians are still unvaccinated.
“Thirty-four percent of Washingtonians today are walking around with a time bomb in their backpack because they’re not vaccinated and we’ve been fortunate to date by having some declining numbers, but that’s not a certainty particularly with this new variant," he said.
Inslee said he won’t rule out additional measures to increase the state’s vaccination rate. Asked if he plans to require booster shots for employees who are subject to his vaccine mandate, Inslee said he’s not given serious consideration to that, but added it could happen.
-- Austin Jenkins
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 1
Omicron variant "probably already here" in Washington state
UW Medicine’s Virology Lab is on the hunt for omicron Covid cases in Washington state. It already has the code and is keeping an eye out for the new variant that has prompted concern across the globe.
The virology lab can sequence around 2,000 test samples per week.
A case of omicron was detected in California recently, the first in the United States. Another case was detected in British Columbia on Tuesday, just over the border from Washington. But according to Dr. Pavitra Roychoudhury with UW Medicine, the omicron is likely already in the state. It's just a matter of detecting a case, and of time.
"I think that it is probably already here. It is likely at low frequency right now given that we haven't picked it up in samples from the last couple of weeks," Roychoudhury said. "I think it's a matter of time given how connected the world is, given how much travel has been occurring over the last few weeks and months."
— Dyer Oxley
First cases of omicron found in United States and British Columbia
The first case of the omicron coronavirus variant in the United States has been detected in California.
"The individual was a traveler who returned from South Africa on November 22. The individual, who was fully vaccinated and had mild symptoms that are improving, is self-quarantining and has been since testing positive. All close contacts have been contacted and have tested negative."
The World Health Organization has warned that omicron poses a high risk to global health. The variant has an alarming number of mutations, more than previously seen in other variants. It is unknown how well current vaccines and immunity will hold up against these mutations. However, health experts urge people to get fully vaccinated and get booster shots, promoting that as the best defense to variants.
British Columbia, just over the border from Washington state, detected its first case of omicron on Tuesday. That case was found in a traveler from Nigeria. The patient is with Fraser Health Authority, which covers communities around Vancouver along the border with Washington.
— Dyer Oxley
New vaccine hub in Rainier Beach
People looking to get a Covid vaccine booster, or their first round of shots, can now do so at Seattle's new Rainier Valley location.
The city of Seattle has opened a third Covid vaccination hub in Rainier Beach, located at the Southeast Seattle Senior Center. It will be open most Tuesdays and Thursdays between noon and 7 p.m.
You can make an appointment to get your booster or first round of shots on the city's vaccine website, or you can sign up to get vaccinated at the city's West Seattle and downtown Seattle clinics.
— Angela King
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 30
Short trips from Canada no longer need Covid test for fully-vaccinated
Today's the day fully-vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents will no longer have to submit a negative Covid test in order to return home from a short three-day trip out of the country.
But those who are gone longer than 72 hours will still have present that negative test. US travelers going into Canada still must present a negative Covid test taken within three days of their trip and proof they've been vaccinated against Covid-19.
— Angela King
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 29
WA scientists on hunt for omicron
Health professionals in Washington state are on the lookout for the new Covid-19 variant, omicron.
The variant has caused concern around the globe, but has not yet been detected in the U.S.
A lot remains unknown about omicron and how it compares to the highly transmissible delta variant that fueled huge spikes in cases and hospitalizations in recent months.
However, Dr. Alex Greninger is confident that current tests will pick up the new variant.
Greninger is assistant director of the clinical virology laboratories at UW Medical Center. UW virology labs are one of the locations in the state to run Covid-19 test, and sequence a portion of the positive samples to identify which variants are in the community and whether new variants are appearing.
Geringer said Washington is one of the best equipped states when it comes to sequencing.
"We have sort of the best eyes out there when it comes to looking for these variants and reporting on them, so I think as soon as omicron is here we'll be one of the first to pick it up."
Greninger said flight paths into the US may contribute to which states detect the variant first.
His lab has added a small extra step into their process to rapidly test samples to determine if omicron is present here.
Officials say people shouldn't panic. Instead, they are encouraging people to focus on protecting themselves by getting vaccinated and getting booster shots.
— Kate Walters
New Omicron variant prompts concern
The following is an excerpt from KUOW's Today So Far newsletter.
Omicron sounds like an evil Transformer or a Bond villain. It's the most ominous and threatening-sounding variant yet. So let's talk about it.
What is most scary is that we just don't know a lot about it and if it will ultimately be a significant threat. We do know that this variant has far more mutations than previously seen, and that has startled experts across the globe. The World Health Organization has labeled it a "variant of concern;" the last time that happened was delta (and we know what happened after that). Travel bans impacting South Africa have sprung up (omicron was first detected there, but it probably didn't originate there).
However, this variant has already spread across borders and is likely in the United States or will arrive shortly. Some early reports indicate it causes more mild illness, and yet others state it could evade immunity from vaccines and previous illness altogether. So, as previously stated: we just don't know right now and that is scary. But if you have been responsible this whole time (masking up, getting vaccinated and boosted, etc.), then you are already prepared for this.
— Dyer Oxley
Covid outbreaks in Seattle-area schools.
Most of the 29 outbreaks in the Seattle area's K-12 schools since September were pretty small — about four isolated cases. However, outbreaks at two private Christian schools in Renton and Bothell account for at least 80 cases each.
State officials have spoken to the schools for not enforcing mask mandates. Unvaccinated students and staff were the most affected. One Renton Christian School official disagrees with the county's case counts and argues that it is unclear where or how people get infected.
Overall, outbreaks have been minimal across the region when considering all K-12 schools. Read more here.
— Dyer Oxley
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 24
How King County will handle vaccine verification violators
King County officials are outlining the specifics of how they plan to enforce the county's Covid-19 vaccine verification system.
“We worked with the business and arts communities to develop this vaccination verification policy and, in turn, we’ve seen strong compliance,” said Dennis Worsham, Interim Director for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “We want to ensure that all businesses covered by the policy are complying with it so that staff and patrons are protected. Ultimately, this is about reopening in a way that reduces the risk of Covid-19 transmission, and protects our healthcare system and our most vulnerable residents.”
The mandate, which has been in place for about a month, requires larger businesses to verify their customers have either been vaccinated against Covid-19 or have had a recent negative Covid test (taken within 72 hours of their visit).
The rule will be extended to small restaurant and bar owners December 6.
- If the county receives a non-compliance complaint, it will first notify the business owner and provide them with outreach and education resources.
- If it's determined the owner is choosing not to comply, or if they've had three or more complaints filed against them, then they'll need to submit to an in-person inspection.
Any more complaints after that will result in the owner being fined $250 dollars or having their business temporarily shut down.
County Public Health officials say they've received complaints for about 250 businesses so far (out of the more than 10,000).
— Angela King
Pandemic holiday gatherings
As friends and family get ready to gather for the holidays, Seattle officials are urging people to keep up their Covid guard.
Covid cases are ticking up in other parts of the country.
The Seattle area has continued to see slow declines in recent months, but in this holiday travel season, Mayor Jenny Durkan is encouraging people to plan ahead for ways to protect each other.
That includes scheduling a booster shot if you’re eligible. Or, if you’ve been exposed to Covid-19 or have symptoms — get tested.
A statement from the mayor's office says increased demand for testing may mean longer wait times for results, so people should plan accordingly.
UW-run testing sites will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, but open on Friday. That includes locations in SoDo, Rainier Beach and West Seattle.
Other testing kiosks around Seattle will also be closed on Thursday.
— Kate Walters
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 23
Easy-to-use digital vaccination verification launches in Washington state
Need to prove your Covid-19 vaccination status in Washington state? There’s a new, digital way to do that in as little time as a minute.
WA Verify allows people who have been vaccinated in Washington state to receive a digital vaccination passport, which includes a QR code that can be used repeatedly.
You need only input your name and date of birth, which are then run through the state’s record system. You’ll also need to create a four-digit PIN during the application process, which you’ll need to retrieve your digital vaccine verification. You can access your record via email or mobile phone.
The WA Verify system may produce your vaccination passport within a matter of minutes — or it could take up to 24 hours. For families who may have more than one vaccination record associated with a single email address or phone number, the system requires separate verification applications.
If you received your shots from a federal agency, you will need to get in touch with them for assistance with the verification process.
Most eligible King County residents have started or completed Covid vaccinations
90% of King County residents (12+) have received at least one dose of the vaccine
King County just passed the 90% line for residents (ages 12+) who have had at least one shot of the vaccine. (84.4 percent are fully vaccinated.)
The last two weeks have seen a spike in first-time doses, likely because children 5 to 11 are now eligible for the vaccine.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 22
Booster shots now available to adults in Washington state
All adults in Washington state can now get a booster Covid shot. The Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, the FDA and a CDC advisory committee all signed off on the move Friday.
Seattle will start offering boosters at its locations throughout the city. Boosters are available at the Amazon Meeting Center in downtown and at the Neighborhood House location in West Seattle Clinic. And the city's newest vaccine HUB in Rainier Beach is set to start doling them out November 30.
“The new Rainier Beach Vaccination Clinic will add capacity to provide thousands of vaccines and boosters to South Seattle communities, supporting equitable access in one of our more diverse parts of the city," said Mayor Jenny Durkan.
“Since the onset of the pandemic, Seattle has led the way on Covid-19 with the fewest cases, hospitalizations, and deaths of any major U.S. city, and we did that by following the science ... As we move into the holiday season and join with friends and family more frequently indoors, vaccinations become even more important."
— Angela King
San Juan ferry line back to full service
The San Juan Island ferry run is back up to full service.
"We know the San Juan Islands are in dire need of reliable transportation, with the ferry system up there, to support medical needs, the school system, and economic needs," said Washington State Ferries spokesperson Dana Warr. "We know the other routes need that support as well to and we're going to be working hard to restore service."
Nearly all of the other routes are still on a reduced schedule because of worker shortages. Warr says the department has lost at least 130 employees over 2021 alone.
Reservations for the San Juan line could be back up and running in a few weeks if staffing remains stable.
— Paige Browning
It's going to be a busy week at Sea-Tac Airport
Nearly 1.5 million travelers are expected to pass through the terminals by November 29.
That's a 150% increase compared to 2020, but still below 2019 numbers, before the pandemic hit.
Shuttle bus service will be reduced. Parking in the main parking lot will be tight because of a project going on there. Airport officials are encouraging you to take the light rail if you can.
Sunday is expected to be the busiest travel day with an estimated 50,355 departures out of Sea-Tac that day, according to airport officials.
— Angela King
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 19
Covid-19 death toll passes 9,000 in WA
Washington state has passed a somber milestone in the Covid-19 pandemic.
More than 9,000 Covid-related deaths have been recorded in the state.
Death rates in Washington have been inching down in recent months after a peak in September.
But Cassie Sauer, CEO of the Washington state hospital association, said this week that numbers still remain high.
"We continue to have 10 to 15 people die in the hospital across the state every day from Covid,” Sauer said Monday during a media briefing.
“We're sort of accepting that as a society in a way that I really think is bad," she said.
Sauer said she's frustrated by how little attention is paid to the pandemic's death toll. She said recently she’s been thinking about the fatal Ride the Ducks crash that killed five people in 2015.
Sauer said that crash received a lot of attention and led to changes. But the current covid toll is two to three times higher on a daily basis and isn’t garnering the same response.
Unvaccinated people are far more likely to die from Covid than those who have had the vaccine.
— Kate Walters
Covid tests can make holidays safer
Many people are turning to at-home and walk-in Covid-19 tests to keep their families safe during Thanksgiving. Quickly swabbing your nose or spitting in a tube can indicate if you have been infected with the coronavirus.
But with so many options available, and a big season of holiday get-togethers up ahead, many are wondering what kind of test is best—and when is the best time to get tested?
Dr. Alex Greninger is assistant director at the clinical virology laboratories at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. He told Science Friday that the best timing for a PCR test is the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.
For a rapid test, it is just before a get-together.
“Whatever test you’re getting, the most important thing is that you’re able to get that result and then act on it, whether it's antigen testing or PCR testing,” Greninger said.
He said at-home rapid tests are an effective way to gauge infection status during a specific point in time, but he stressed the importance of multiple layers of protection, including testing, masks and vaccines.
- John Dankosky, Science Friday
Gov. Inslee will keep Covid testing option in Washington
Governor Jay Inslee says he's going to keep a Covid testing option available to federal workers here in Washington.
Unlike the state mandate, the order issued by the Biden administration requires employers with more than 100 workers make sure they're either vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.
It was set to go into effect in January, but it's now being challenged in court. Inslee said he hopes the courts will allow the federal mandate to move forward.
— Angela King
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 18
Seattle opens new vaccine clinic in Rainier Beach
The city of Seattle is opening another Covid-19 vaccine clinic, this time in Rainier Beach.
Mayor Jenny Durkan says they are timing the opening with the expected approval this week of boosters for all adults who got the Pfizer vaccine. That announcement is pending from the FDA.
The new site will be open on most Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 7 p.m..
Rainier Beach will be the third Covid vaccine hub in Seattle, along with those in West Seattle and South Lake Union that are already open.
— Paige Browning
More travelers expected at Sea-Tac Airport over Thanksgiving holiday
Nearly 1.5 million people are expected to pass through Sea-Tac Airport between now and November 29. That's a 150% increase compared to last year's Thanksgiving holiday. But it's still below 2019 numbers.
Nonetheless, it's a lot of people so officials are recommending travelers arrive at least two hours before their flights and take light rail to the airport if they can.
Parking is going to be tight with a couple hundred spots in the garage now closed off as part of a project there. Add to that staffing shortages and reduced shuttle bus availability
— Angela King
No PCR test for some Canadians crossing the US border
Canada is expected to drop it's PCR Covid testing requirement for some Canadian citizens and permanent residents returning home from the United States.
The Bellingham Herald reports that the change is expected to kick in over the coming weeks and would apply to those who spent fewer than 72 hours out of the country.
This has been a big concern for Washington businesses along the border. Especially those in the US and Washington exclave of Point Roberts that have argued the cost of taking the Covid test would discourage Canadians from visiting their towns.
— Angela King
Seattle school board approves request for Covid vaccine requirement
Seattle's school board has voted to send a resolution to the state health department, urging it to consider making Covid-19 vaccines a requirement for students throughout Washington state.
The board wants the requirement once the FDA and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices approves vaccines for 5-11 year olds, which has already been done for older children. Currently, a Covid vaccine is approved for ages 5-11 for emergency use.
The Board argues that Covid-19 has closed down more classrooms in low-income areas and has disproportionately affected students in under-served communities.
The State Board of Health is set to further consider the resolution in January.
— Angela King
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 16
2% of hospital staff left jobs over Washington vaccine mandate
Hospitals are starting to realize the full effect of Washington's vaccine mandate for health care workers. The Washington State Hospital Association reports that about 2% of staff across the state left their jobs over the mandate.
The Spokesman-Review reports that the 2% adds up to about 2,000 health care workers, however, that number is expected to rise to around 3,000 once all hospitals are counted.
A total of 94% of hospital staff in Washington are fully vaccinated and meet the requirements of the mandate. Another 4% received exemptions and are being accommodated.
— Dyer Oxley
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 15
Reason for caution and optimism this holiday season, hospital leaders say
Covid-19 hospitalizations continue to decline in Washington state, although disease levels remain high.
There were 865 people hospitalized across the state as of Monday. That’s compared with 968 the week before, according to the Washington State Hospital Association.
Still, hospital leaders remain nervous as numbers tick back up in other areas of the country.
“We’re seeing mixed signals around case counts in many parts of the country,” Dr. Seth Cohen said during a media briefing Monday. Cohen is the medical director of infection prevention with University of Washington Medical Center.
“Covid is unpredictable and as we head indoors for the winter we know that Covid really thrives in indoor environments,” Cohen said.
Cohen said it’s important for people to take precautions this holiday season, but there's also reason for optimism.
"Thanks to vaccines, there are several things that are now on the table that I think would have felt much riskier last year," he said.
“The single best way to ensure your holidays are safe is to spend time around people who are vaccinated."
For those who are traveling, hospital leaders say it’s important to wear good fitting, multi-layered masks, especially when in lines at security, or navigating airport crowds.
Cohen also recommends keeping gatherings small, and ensuring nobody has symptoms, or a known high risk exposure, before getting together.
Hospital leaders say those who are eligible should get their booster shots to increase protection.
But they say the most important message is for people who are not yet vaccinated to go out and get their first dose.
— Kate Walters
Vast majority of hospital workers in Washington are vaccinated
New data shows vaccination rates among hospital workers have inched up in the past few weeks.
About 94% of people working in hospitals around Washington are fully vaccinated, according to a survey by the Washington State Hospital Association.
That's up from about 88% last month, just before the deadline for the state's vaccine mandate.
About 2% of hospital staff statewide left their positions because of the mandate, according to Cassie Sauer, CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association.
Another roughly 4% were granted exemptions and accommodations, are in the process of getting vaccinated Sauer said.
— Kate Walters
Washington state mandate begins today
Starting today, Washington state residents will have to show proof of being vaccinated against Covid-19, or have a recent negative test, to attend concerts, sporting events, and other large gatherings.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced the state requirement for people 12 and older last month. It applies to indoor events that attract at least 1,000 people, and for outdoor events with more than 10,000 attendees.
Last chance to apply for Seattle pandemic relief
People financially impacted by the pandemic have until 11:59 tonight to apply for the Seattle Relief Fund.
It was set up last month and qualified families can receive between $1,000 to $3,000 in direct cash assistance — depending on their size. The City of Seattle and 45 community partners are distributing $16 million in direct cash assistance.
To qualify, people must have incomes lower than 50% of the area median income, and either live, attend school, or rent an art space in Seattle.
For more information visit seattlerelief.com.
Vaccine deadline looms for Port of Seattle employees
All employees at the Port of Seattle have until today to show proof they've been vaccinated against Covid-19.
A King County Superior Court judge upheld the mandate Friday, despite challenges brought by two unions representing Port employees.
It's estimated that 90% of Port employees have been fully vaccinated, while the other 10% have until 5 p.m. today to prove they are vaccinated or have submitted a request for a religious or medical exemption.
Employees can also ask for an extension if they've received at least one dose and plan to get the second one.
Sen. Doug Ericksen tests positive for Covid in El Salvador
Washington State Senator Doug Ericksen of Ferndale, Wash, in Whatcom County tested positive for Covid-19 shortly after he arrived in El Salvador last week.
A spokesperson for Sen. Ericksen told The Bellingham Herald that the senator's staff had difficulty contacting him. However, it appears that Ericksen emailed Republican colleagues in Washington state for help getting monoclonal antibodies, a common treatment for Covid in the United States, but it is not available in El Salvador.
It is unknown if Ericksen is vaccinated. Because El Salvador has high transmission rates of Covid-19, the CDC has recommended that only vaccinated individuals travel there. It further discourages unvaccinated people from traveling to the country. Sen. Ericksen has made frequent trips to the country in recent months. He was in the El Salvador when he missed many votes in the state senate last session.
— Dyer Oxley
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 10
How Delta, Kappa variants dodge vaccine antibodies
Researchers with UW Medicine have found an answer for what many have suspected since coronavirus variants began to emerge: Why the Delta and Kappa variants dodge vaccine protection.
Vaccines still combat the variants, but UW Medicine found that Delta and Kappa have a few upgrades and diminish their effectiveness. The coronavirus has a couple domains that the vaccines rely on: the N-terminal domain and a receptor binding domain. Delta and Kappa have mutated these receptors, making it more difficult for vaccine antibodies to interact with them.
“These are the major targets of neutralizing antibodies in convalescent and vaccinated individuals, thereby raising concerns about the efficacy of available vaccines and therapeutic antibodies against these [kappa and delta] variants,” researchers wrote in a new study published in Science.
According to UW Medicine, researchers looked at data from 37 vaccinated people and that "their data demonstrated that the delta, kappa and delta+ variants reduced virus neutralizing potency from vaccine-induced antibodies."
Half of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine antibodies were unable to neutralize one or more variants in a lab. Researchers note that Delta+ seems to cause the greatest decrease in efficacy.
UW Medicine notes that while theses variants are able to evade certain antibodies, there are other antibodies that they don't tackle too well, and that gives researchers hope. That information could be used to develop future treatments.
— Dyer Oxley
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 9
Seattle schools cancels Friday classes due to staffing shortage
Seattle Public Schools is cancelling Friday classes due to a staffing shortage. Friday falls immediately after Veterans Day on Thursday.
In a letter to families in the school district, officials stated:
"Seattle Public Schools will be closed on Friday, November 12. We are aware of an unusually large number of SPS staff taking leave on Friday, and do not believe we have adequate personnel to open schools with the necessary environment for high-quality learning."
School officials said that the learning day will be added elsewhere in the 2021/22 academic calendar.
— Dyer Oxley
10 million Covid shots in Washington
As of November 6, more than 10 million doses of Covid vaccine have been administered in Washington state. The Department of Health recently noted the number as a new milestone in the fight against the pandemic.
“Giving out 10 million doses of life-saving vaccine is something we should all be proud of here in Washington,” said Dr. Umair Shah, Washington's Secretary of Health. “Knowing that younger kids can now be protected from the worst outcomes of this virus is an incredible relief, not just for parents and families, but for everyone. The more people vaccinated, the more community protection we have, and that’s good for us all.”
There is hope that the availability for ages 5-11 to get a vaccine will help conditions improve. Though, demand for that age group currently outpaces supply.
DOH has also recently noted that 73.5% of people 12 and older are now fully vaccinated.
— Dyer Oxley
WSDOT staffing shortage expected to cause longer road closures this winter
Staffing shortages at the Washington State Department of Transportation could result in longer road closures and overall decreased service this winter.
WSDOT blames the shortage on a mix pandemic-related hiring freezes and a lack of certified mechanics and drivers along with an aging workforce.
The Seattle Times reports that 6% of WSDOT's staff quit over the governor's vaccine mandate for state workers. As a result, some stretches of freeway will only be partially plowed and cleared of snow and ice.
Response times to other emergencies might also be delayed
WSDOT says it has 1,500 jobs directly tied to winter operations, but only 1,200 have been filled as of October 19.
— Angela King
Kids start getting Covid shots in Burien
Young kids around King County are starting to get their first Covid vaccine doses. Kid-size doses are now approved for ages 5-11.
Calvin Johnson, 10, got his first shot Monday evening at a Burien Walgreen’s with his best friend. He’s looking forward to getting back to sleep overs and playing football.
“Really happy because like with this with a vaccination it’s gonna make us feel more safe when we’re tackling each other and all that.“
Johnson will be back in a couple of weeks for his second dose.
— Katie Campbell
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 8
Kid vaccine clinics open in Seattle, and western Washington
Seattle Public Schools started hosting Covid-19 vaccine clinics for students 5-11 years old today.
The district's first-dose clinics are slated to run through November 23. Second-dose clinics will begin on November 29 and last through December 14.
SPS is hosting the youth vaccine clinics at schools throughout the city.
And Seattle Children's will start distributing its pediatric Pfizer doses tomorrow on Tuesday.
"The reason we give a smaller dose to kids, is that just like with medicines, kids are not just small adults; we can't just give them the same dose. So kids 12 and up and adults will get one regular dose. And kids 5-11 get one third the dose," said Dr Sean Murphy with UW School of Medicine.
All of the vaccines will be given by appointment only since demand for the kid-sized doses is already exceeding supplies in Washington state.
In fact, for those in the South End, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department Tweeted on Sunday that its Lakewood Towne Center clinic had ran out of pediatric doses.
— Angela King
Borders open between US, Canada and Mexico
As of midnight, the U.S land borders with Canada and Mexico reopened to fully vaccinated travelers. The borders have been closed for about 20 months because of the pandemic.
While those entering the country must show proof they've been vaccinated against Covid-19, Canadians will also have to show proof of a negative Covid test in order to return to Canada.
That's why some business owners in border towns like Blaine, Wash. are tempering their excitement.
But Canadians like Maggie Morrey tells KING 5 that they're excited to return.
"A lot of Canadians that will not bring any groceries, we really support those businesses that have suffered for two years," Morrey said.
And she's specifically talking about businesses in the US exclave of Point Roberts, Wash, which shares its only land border with Canada (it's surrounded by water on all other sides). About 85% of Point Robert's economy depends on Canadians.
— Angela King
Vaccine mandate and workers at Hanford nuclear site
Federal workers have to get all their shots of the Pfizer, Moderna or J&J Covid vaccines by today (Monday, Nov. 8) or lose their jobs.
That’s so they’re ready to work by the federal vaccine mandate deadline of November 22.
There's one group of federal employees you might not think about — workers at the Hanford nuclear cleanup site in southeast Washington.
From WWII through the Cold War, Hanford produced plutonium for nuclear weapons. Now it’s a boneyard of debris and radioactive goo.
About 450 people work directly for the U.S. Department of Energy in the area which has experienced a lot of vaccine hesitancy. There has recently been a few anti-vax rallies in the nearby Tri-Cities.
Most of the 11,000 workers at Hanford are contractors. They have until January to be fully vaxxed or frequently tested. But two Hanford contractors recently have called stop work orders over vaccine mandates.
— Anna King
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 5
Youth Covid cases declined since September
The Washington State Department of Health reports that youth Covid cases have been on the decline since September.
Cases among ages 19 and younger were on the rise between July and mid-September. But they started to decline after that, even as schools began in-person learning.
DOH reports that there were about 8,029 youth Covid cases between October 10-24. The highest rates of youth Covid were in northeast Washington during that time. Ages 11-13 in Washington saw the highest case rates.
“It’s thrilling to know that the strongest form of protection is now available to school-aged kids—and that’s the vaccine,” said state Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah. “The more children who are vaccinated, the fewer outbreaks and cases we’ll see in the younger age groups and the less spread among their families.”
— Dyer Oxley
Coach Rolovich appeals firing over Covid mandate
Former Washington State University head football coach Nick Rolovich is appealing his firing as it relates to the state's Covid-19 vaccine mandate.
His attorneys say that while the coach chose not to get vaccinated, they argue that school officials were hostile and unfair when they decided to deny him a religious exemption. Attorneys also claimed that last month, WSU indicated it would make no accommodations for Rolovich even if the exemption was approved.
Rolovich made nearly $3.2 million last year. He was the highest-paid employee until he was let go last month. His attorneys say they will take the case to federal court if this appeal is rejected.
— Angela King
Seattle, Whatcom County start taking Covid appointments for 5-11 year olds
It could be a busy weekend for the folks at Seattle's Covid vaccine hubs in downtown and West Seattle. They're going to start vaccinating 5 to 11 year olds — by appointment only.
North of Seattle, a new vaccination clinic for children 5 to 11 is opening up Friday in Whatcom County.
It will be open from 4-7 p.m. in the old Lynden Middle School cafeteria. Parents/kids must register for an appointment on the county's website.
Use the state's vaccine locator to find an appointment near you.
— Angela King
Another antiviral pill shows promising results fighting Covid
NPR reports that Pfizer plans to send clinical results of a new antiviral pill to the FDA for emergency use authorization. The company says clinical trials showed the pill reduced the risk of hospitalization or death from Covid by 89%.
Pfizer has named the medication "Paxlovid."
"These data suggest that our oral antiviral candidate, if approved or authorized by regulatory authorities, has the potential to save patients' lives, reduce the severity of Covid-19 infections, and eliminate up to nine out of ten hospitalizations," Pfizer CEO and chairman Albert Bourla said.
Pfizer's antiviral pill is similar to one recently announced by Merck. That company has already received permission to use the medication in the UK. Clinical studies for Merck's antiviral pill reportedly reduced the risk of hospitalization and death by 50%.
Both antivirals work by interfering with the coronavirus' ability to replicate.
The emergence of antiviral medication aimed at Covid adds another weapon in the fight against the pandemic. So far, vaccines have proven to be the best tool to knock down the virus. However, antivirals come in pill form and can therefore be transported much more easily, and taken at home. Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines require extremely cold conditions for transport and storage and are administered at vaccination sites.
— Dyer Oxley
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 4
Seattle School Board delays vote on Covid vaccine resolution
The Seattle School Board is once again delaying a vote on a resolution that calls on the state health department to make the Covid-19 vaccine a requirement for public school students statewide, once it's fully approved by the FDA.
Board members now plan to vote on the resolution on November 17.
A small group of parents from Snohomish County protested outside the Seattle Public Schools headquarters Wednesday as the board discussed the resolution. SPS board wanted more time to do outreach when it comes to the vaccine resolution.
— Angela King
Status of kids Covid shots in Washington
Dr. Mark Del Beccaro with public health Seattle and King County says that nearly 89% of King County residents 12 and older have had at least one dose of a Covid vaccine.
A new group of eligible Washingtonians are now up to received doses —approximately 680,000 kids age 5-11. That includes roughly 180,000 kids in King County.
State Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah says: "There is going to be more than enough vaccine for children in our state. It's just going to take a bit of time to get there."
Demand will outweigh supply initially and the county wants to ensure equitable access as they divvy up doses among providers.
"We do look at the requests and then divide them up by looking at various things, including the number of children obviously in their practices, but also then the makeup of some of the other equity factors," Dr. Del Beccaro said.
Vaccination rates continue to lag in some parts of south King County and South Seattle.
There are more than 300,000 kid-sized doses that arrived in Washington state as part of the first round of shipments. More are expected to arrive in the coming weeks.
Parents may have to call more than one provider initially to find an appointment for their child.
State officials also know that some parents may be hesitant to vaccinate their kids against Covid and may have questions about the shot.
"Not vaccinating is not a risk-free choice," said Michele Roberts with the Washington State Department of Health. "You may be worried about potential side effects, but really you are choosing a different set of risks for your child ... it may feel like you're making a choice because you are not actively seeking an intervention or working to get that needle in an arm. But you're really choosing a different set of risks for you child and leaving them unprotected against what is really a severe disease."
— Kate Walters
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 3
Western States Scientific Safety Review approves Covid vaccine for kids
In a letter to the governors of California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup has given a thumbs up for emergency authorization of Pfizer's children's Covid vaccine.
“Parents can breathe a sigh of relief that their younger kids can now be vaccinated against the deadly Covid-19 virus," Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement. "This gets us a step closer to having the entire population of Washington eligible for the vaccine. And a step closer to finding our way out of this pandemic."
The workgroup said that the benefits of the vaccine for ages 5-11 greatly outweigh the risks. Pfizer's kid dose was found to be more than 90% effective against symptomatic Covid in this age group. It noted that reactions to the vaccine were far less common in this age group than in ages 16-25. The group considered risks such as myocarditis and found them to be low.
“Now that younger kids can join older children, who have been eligible, the challenges of cases in schools should be more manageable. Ideally this means less transmission, fewer absences and healthier kids and educators," Inslee said. “I encourage parents and guardians to get their children vaccinated."
Covid vaccine appointments can be found on the state's Vaccine Locator.
— Dyer Oxley
Washington prepares for kid Covid vaccine doses
State health officials say they're on track to receive an initial supply of approximately 300,000 pediatric doses of Pfizer's Covid vaccine.
For kids, it's two shots, taken three weeks apart. The dose is about 1/3 of an adult dose.
And now that the CDC has recommended it be used in 5-11 year olds, they'll be doled out by doctors and pharmacies. Some school districts even plan to hold popup clinics for younger students.
UW Medicine says its already received some shipments and plans to start administering them at its medical centers, which includes Harborview, this week. But it could take a while before your child gets their shots. The UW wait list has grown to more than 9,300 people. UW is not accepting walk-ins.
More than 500,000 children statewide fit into the new eligible age group. But health officials have predicted that parents of only about 30% of kids will have their children immunized.
— Angela King
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 2
UW Medicine doctor advises parents on Covid vaccine for kids
Dr. Sean Murphy says that there is a great source of information for parents with questions around Covid vaccines for kids: their family doctor.
Dr. Murphy is an associate professor of laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He recently spoke to the issue of children getting Covid vaccines. The CDC is expected to approve a lower dose of Pfizer for ages 5-11. The FDA has already given it a thumbs up.
Murphy notes that the children's version of the Pfizer vaccine is about a third the dose for adults. It does the exact same job, however.
“The beauty of mRNA is that it's a hardwired biological process,” Murphy said. “If you put an mRNA into a cell, the cell will make whatever that mRNA encodes, and that's going to be the same biological process in adults as it is in kids.”
Murphy adds that mRNA is “one of the most natural ways to make a vaccine.”
UW Medicine is currently adding children age 5-11 on a Covid vaccine appointment waitlist.
— Dyer Oxley
Covid-19 hospitalizations hitting plateau
After weeks of steady declines, Covid-19 hospitalizations seem to have hit a plateau in Washington state.
“And we don’t like where we are plateauing,” said Taya Briley, executive vice president of the Washington State Hospital Association during a media briefing Monday.
Briley said there was an average of 1,007 confirmed Covid-19 hospitalizations in the past week, compared to 1,013 the week before.
“One thing we don’t know about a plateau is whether cases are going to up or down from here,” Briley said.
The current levels are roughly the same as hospitalizations at the peak of the surge last December.
As hospitals remain full, and most patients hospitalized for Covid remain unvaccinated, it’s taking a toll on healthcare workers.
Karthikeyan Muthuswamy is an emergency room physician with Virginia Mason in Lakewood. He said he is seeing younger, unvaccinated patients in critical condition and dying because of the virus.
Muthuswamy said taking care of any sick patient is hard.
"But when you see it in younger and younger patients it really, really hurts your soul in a way that's very difficult to describe,” he said.
“I've been doing this 10 years and I've had to take care of critical young patients more in the past year and a half than I've done in 10 years."
Muthuswamy said he's recently had to try to resuscitate patients in their 30s and 40s.
He's asking the public to help healthcare workers like him by getting vaccinated.
Hospital leaders also expressed excitement that shots for children aged five to 11 are likely to become available in the coming days.
— Kate Walters
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 1
Decline of Covid hospitalization numbers slows down
Hospitalizations for Covid in Washington state were decreasing about 15% each week since September. But last week, it only went down 1% (from 1,013 to 1,007 cases). That's concerning according to state hospital officials.
The Seattle Times reports that Covid hospitalizations have leveled off after being on the decline in recent weeks. But the numbers are settling at a level that is still too high. The levels remain much higher than last winter's Covid wave.
— Dyer Oxley
Common questions about vaccines and kids
The CDC is expected to approve Pfizer Covid vaccines for Children ages 5-11. The FDA has already signed off on it.
Dr. Mark Del Beccaro with Public Health - Seattle & King County recently answered a range of questions parents might have about the vaccine and their children.
He notes that severe Covid illness in children is rare, but there are instances of serious disease and hospitalization. Beyond that, children can spread the virus when infected, even if they don't show symptoms. Therefore, Dr. Del Beccaro says that it is important to be vaccinated to knock down the spread and severity of the virus.
He also says:
"I’d look at the safety track record of the millions of Covid-19 mRNA vaccine doses given to date. As a pediatrician, I know that children aren’t just small adults. That’s why the clinical trial for children 5-11 was so important, and why it took time for a vaccine for kids to be approved.
The clinical trial looked at the safety of the vaccine in kids. The trial included about 2,250 children, with two-thirds getting the vaccine and the other third getting a placebo, which means they did not get the vaccine. While the clinical trial is still ongoing, and more data will be collected overtime with greater numbers, there were no cases of severe allergic reaction or myocarditis – a rare inflammation of the heart – in the three-month follow-up period after vaccination. Common temporary side effects included redness and pain in the arm where the child received the vaccine, headache, and fatigue. Studies in older children and adults have shown that the risks for myocarditis are higher in people with Covid-19 than from the vaccine."
Read Dr. Del Beccaro's full answers here.
— Dyer Oxley
DOH updates mask recommendations
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 29
Nearly 9/10 Washington K-12 school workers vaccinated against Covid-19
Washington State Superintendent Chris Reykdal thanked educators for getting their shots by the recent deadline for public employees. He reports that about nine out of 10 school workers got their Covid vaccinations.
“What we are seeing is stunning, because in every single county in the state of Washington, our educators exceeded the overall vaccine population in that county, sometimes by twice as much.”
A total of 10% of school workers were also approved for exemptions, which Reykdahl said were mostly religious.
There are roughly 500 school workers statewide who didn't get their shots.
“We hate to see those folks go," Reykdahl said. "These are folks who were clearly committed education. That's how they got into this. But they made a tough choice for themselves. And I want to respect that.”
Reykdal says he hopes some people will reconsider, get vaccinated, and return to school.
— Ann Dornfeld
Fat stacks of rent relief ... but will landlords take it?
Rent relief is flowing more smoothly in King County, helping renters pay their landlords money owed on lapsed rent. But as some agencies report, there are a few landlords who don't want to accept the payments, further putting the renters in a tough spot.
“We had one landlord, she was refusing, to the point that she emailed me, capitalized, bolded, blue, making it clear – 'I am not signing the agreement.' At that moment, I was furious. I was like, 'we are trying to help you. We are trying to help our client,'” said Diana Atanacio, a manager at Open Doors which is handing out rent relief.
Eventually, that landlord gave in.
“But it took us more than a month of struggles. Of her going back and forth, back and forth,” Atanacio said.
One rental housing organization tells KUOW that there are a few reasons landlords are reluctant to accept the rent relief. For example, if they agree to accept the money, they also must agree not to raise the rent for six months.
“Housing providers have gone almost two years without rent increases on property," said Jim Henderson, a lobbyist with Washington’s Rental Housing Association. "And expenses have dramatically increased, and the cost of operating the property has dramatically increased. And in order to be successful in this business, in order to provide quality housing, you need to be able to cover the cost of that housing.”