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caption: Kevin Barrett, in quarantine after his former hospital roommate tested positive for COVID-19, rubs his hands together as he recovers from an injury in the acute care unit of Harborview Medical Center, Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, in Seattle.
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Kevin Barrett, in quarantine after his former hospital roommate tested positive for COVID-19, rubs his hands together as he recovers from an injury in the acute care unit of Harborview Medical Center, Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, in Seattle.
Credit: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Pandemic updates for Seattle: King County jails report decline in Covid cases

Updated news about the coronavirus pandemic in Seattle and Washington state.

As of Wednesday, February 16, 2022, the King County and Washington state departments of health report:

  • 193 new cases since Tuesday in King County. That's a 24% decrease over the last seven days. An average of 1,091 new cases are emerging each day.
  • 18 new hospitalizations since Tuesday in King County. That's a 16% decrease over the past seven days.
  • 17% decrease in deaths over the past two weeks, with an average of seven people dying every day in King County. The county reports 16 new deaths since Tuesday.
  • 78.6% of King County residents are fully vaccinated.
  • 11,373 Covid-19 related deaths across Washington state; 1% death rate since the beginning of the pandemic.

King County's vaccine verification rule will end March 1

King County is set to enter a new phase of the pandemic as officials roll back the Covid vaccine requirements put in place months ago.

Officials announced Wednesday that starting on March 1, proof of vaccination will no longer be required to enter bars, restaurants, gyms, and a host of other venues in King County.

While venues will no longer be required to check patrons’ vaccination status in March, officials say individual businesses can continue to set their own vaccination requirements.

"Our public health experts believe that now is the appropriate time to lift vaccine verification, based on high rates of vaccine coverage and the decrease in new cases and hospitalizations across the county," said King County Executive Dow Constantine in a statement. "We are moving in the right direction, and can continue taking additional steps toward recovery."

“This does not mean the pandemic is over," he said. "It means the current state of Covid-19 in the county indicates that this policy is no longer needed as one of the key strategies to protect the community.”

Vaccine verification requirements went into effect throughout King County in October 2021. The rules required people 12 and older to show proof of full vaccination or a recent negative test in order to partake in a range of activities, such as: dining indoors at bars and restaurants; going to the movies, museum, theater, or seeing live music; and attending large outdoor events like football games.

“We announced the vaccination verification policy in anticipation of a fall and winter surge in cases. The intent was to reduce Covid-19 transmission in high-risk indoor settings and thereby reduce the burden on our hospitals, while providing time for more people to get fully vaccinated,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer, Public Health – Seattle & King County in a statement.

Read more here.

Kate Walters, KUOW

King County jails count 16 Covid cases, down from January peak of nearly 200

A Covid outbreak in King County jails has “improved significantly” since last month, according to a spokesperson. During the outbreak, public defenders and corrections officers raised alarms about deteriorating conditions.

In mid-January as omicron swept through King County, the outbreak in the jails in Seattle and Kent peaked at 197 people in custody and 60 employees. Spokesperson Noah Haglund said the wave has now receded: Covid is now affecting a total of 16 people in detention and ten employees on leave.

Haglund said the outbreak disrupted kitchen and laundry services. The kitchen served pre-prepared food for three days, and the county used an outside vendor for laundry. But now he said those services have returned to normal.

During this recent outbreak, public defenders and corrections officers pressed King County to release more people, saying staff shortages were straining jail operations and keeping people confined to their cells. The jails were already short-staffed: there are currently 90 vacant positions for corrections officers, Haglund said. He said everyone in custody is now getting daily time outside of their cell, including people in Covid and quarantine housing units.

Amy Radil, KUOW

WA hires temporary staff to move long-term care patients out of hospitals

Washington state is ramping up staffing to help move patients out of overburdened hospitals.

The temporary staff will help open roughly 240 beds for non-Covid-19 patients in 10 long-term care facilities across the state. Currently, roughly 35 beds have been staffed in two facilities.

The temporary staff will cost about $6.5 million per month once all beds are fully staffed, according to the state Department of Social and Health Services.

Hospitals have struggled for years to discharge some patients with complex needs. But officials blame the current bottleneck on staff shortages that have emerged during the pandemic, saying boarding is becoming an issue for less complex patients as well.

"Skilled nursing facilities have beds available, but they're not able to admit residents because they don't have the staff to care for residents in those empty beds," said Bea Rector, with the Department of Social and Health Services' Aging and Long-Term Support Administration.

Health care workers have left jobs for a multitude of reasons, including burnout, pay levels, and work environment.

The extra staff the state has hired are only temporary, funded through the end of June.

Taya Briley, executive vice president of the Washington Hospital Association said she appreciates the extra beds, but she’d like to see a longer-term solution as well.

"We need this pressure removed in a sustainable way so I'm hoping that they can get those 240 beds staffed up quickly, and then continue beyond June," Briley said.

Sommer Kleweno Walley, CEO of Harborview Medical Center, said it’s important for resources to be used appropriately in the health care system in order to continue providing comprehensive care to the community.

“We shouldn’t be having patients who don’t need medical care staying in beds [in hospitals]," she said, adding that it's not good for the patients or the health care system.

Kate Walters, KUOW

Microsoft, Expedia plan to bring employees back into the office

Two of the Seattle area's largest, major companies are planning to reopen their campuses, showing signs that businesses are looking past the omicron wave.

The Seattle Times reports that Microsoft aims to bring 57,000 employees back into the office at its sites in Bellevue, Redmond, and Seattle. It will start this phase on Feb. 28.

Microsoft says employees can still work a hybrid schedule, once worked out with their managers. The campus will be fully open, however. Part of the reasoning behind this move is King County's high vaccination rate at 83.8%. The company also says it will have "local testing solutions" in place.

Starting in early April, travel company Expedia will also be bringing its workers back into its headquarters in Seattle's Interbay neighborhood. The HQ has already been open to vaccinated employees.

Dyer Oxley, KUOW