Updates: COVID-19 in Washington state (March 30-April 5)
This is an archived post. You can read the latest here.
This post will be updated periodically with information about the coronavirus. Scroll down for older information. Top line information:
*338 COVID-19 related deaths have been reported by the Washington State Department of Health as of Sunday, April 5.
*7,984 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Washington state as of April 5, according to state health officials.
*King County has been struck the hardest with COVID-19 with 3,167 cases and 208 deaths. Snohomish County had 1,486 cases and 47 deaths. Pierce County had 536 cases and 10 deaths.
*If you believe you have been exposed to COVID-19, or are a healthcare provider with questions about COVID-19, contact King County's novel coronavirus call center at 206-477-3977 between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. People can also call the Washington State Novel Coronavirus Call Center at 800-525-0127.
SUNDAY, APRIL 5
Social distancing on Palm Sunday
Local blood supply in dire need
5 p.m. -- Because of social distancing mandates and school closures, King County blood banks are running short on supply.
Typical blood donor screenings protect the blood supply and there has yet to be any reports that coronavirus is transfusion transmitted, Public Health, Seattle & King County said.
Currently, inventories are steady due to donors who have responded to the urgent need. But as Washington state’s stay-at-home order was extended, continued help is sought.
Blood donation is exempt under Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order. And all types of blood are required for cancer treatment and trauma cases.
For additional information on giving blood, visit: www.bloodworksnw.org/coronavirus.
Boeing extends local shutdown on production
2 p.m. -- Boeing will continue their suspension of Puget Sound production operations until further notice due to the coronavirus, the company said Sunday.
Moses Lake sites are also impacted by the indefinite extension.
The company said the actions were made “in light of the company's continuing focus on the health and safety of employees, current assessment of the spread of COVID-19 in Washington state, the reliability of the supply chain and additional recommendations from government health authorities.”
Boeing said they will monitor government guidance and actions on Covid-19 and will observe and evaluate on a daily basis the Boeing sites that remain open.
While the stoppage continues, Boeing said they will put in place new safety measures to protect employees not impacted by the stoppage. They include visual cues that encourage distancing, frequent cleaning of work areas and staggering shifts.
Washington state will return ventilators to national stockpile
12 p.m. -- Washington state will return more than 400 ventilators, so other state’s facing a surge of Covid-19 cases can have access to the equipment.
"These ventilators are going to New York and other states hardest hit by this virus," Inslee said in an announcement Sunday. "I’ve said many times over the last few weeks, we are in this together."
Washington state has seen fewer Covid-19 cases than expected, said Raquel Bono, director of Washington State COVID-19 Health System Response Management.
These lower numbers meant Washington could assist other states with a more “immediate need,” Bono said.
While these ventilators will be returned to the Strategic National Stockpile, Inslee wrote that Washington state has already purchased 750 of their own ventilators.
They will arrive in the coming weeks, as Washington state is anticipated to have a peak of coronavirus-related resource use this month.
President Trump not doing enough in coronavirus fight, Gov. Inslee says
11 a.m. -- Gov. Jay Inslee has again called for a national effort to curb Covid-19 and criticized President Donald Trump’s approach to addressing equipment shortages.
He voiced his frustration on Sunday morning, during Meet the Press.
“This is ludicrous that we do not have a national effort in this,” Inslee said. “The surgeon general alluded to Pearl Harbor. Can you imagine if Franklin Delano Roosevelt said ‘I’ll be right behind you Connecticut. Good luck building those battleships.’”
Inslee said the U.S. needs a national mobilization of the manufacturing base, and that companies should shift to producing test kits and personal protective equipment -- supplies that have been running short in hospitals and health clinics across Washington state.
During a press conference on March 26, Inslee noted that Washington state had received shipments of PPE from the federal government, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy the state’s need.
Inslee said Washington acted relatively early, by issuing a stay-at-home order and closing schools to prevent the spread of coronavirus. At the same time, the president was saying “this was not a problem,” Inslee said.
And while Washington was quick to respond -- and has been pointed to by President Trump as one of the states to successfully flatten the curb -- the U.S. needs a national stay-at-home order, Inslee said.
“Even if Washington gets on top of this fully, if another state doesn’t it can come back and come across our borders two months from now,” Inslee said.
Sound Transit puts hold on light rail extension projects
10:00 a.m. -- Sound Transit will temporarily stop nearly all transit projects in the region.
Only work that is considered critical and necessary to safety and security, and tasks that prevent mobility and environmental impacts, will continue.
The stoppage will run from April 6 to May 4. This period may be extended, or decreased, according to Sound Transit.
There will be increased oversight at the construction sites that remain open, Sound Transit said. Safety inspection and management resources will be redirected to the few open sites.
Construction personnel assigned to ongoing projects will work on a voluntary basis and not be compelled to work.
SATURDAY, APRIL 4
King county's jails are less occupied than usual
6:00 p.m. -- King County announced today that it has reduced the number of people in custody by more than 600 people in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.
The change allows for greater social distancing in its facilities.
The county's Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention operates two adult and one juvenile facility.
The county has also banned in person visits and has transferred people considered high risk to a designated housing unit at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent.
So far, no one at King County's jails or detention centers has tested positive for the virus.
Trump says 300 hospital beds will not be coming to Washington state after all
3:30 p.m. -- During the Saturday briefing of the White House coronavirus task force, President Donald Trump said that Washington state is doing such a good job controlling the Covid-19 outbreak that the federal government will redeploy 300 hospital beds that it had set aside for the state.
The beds-- and we are talking about actual hospital beds, and not the health care providers needed to staff them-- would have come from the US Department of Health and Human Service's Federal Medical System.
Early on the the outbreak, the state had asked HHS to set aside 1,000 hospital beds in case the state needed to open excess hospital capacity. 250 of those beds have been delivered to Yakima.
"We put in these requests when Washington was a hot spot in case surge capacity was necessary," said Karina Shagren, a spokesperson for WA Military Department.
But so far the state has not needed to use any of those surplus beds.
Shagren said if the state does need to open excess hospital capacity in the future, the state has its own stockpile of hospital beds. It purchased 1,000 of them and they are now in storage.
Trump's announcement does not impact the 140-bed military hospital that is currently in operation at the CenturyLink Events Center.
-- Deborah Wang
Western State Hospital patients to be released
2:00 p.m. -- From the Associated Press: State mental health officials plan to release as many as 60 patients from Washington's largest psychiatric hospital in order to reduce some of the stress that the new coronavirus has placed on staff at the 850-bed facility.
Sixteen workers and six patients at Western State Hospital have tested positive for COVID-19 and one patient died.
Behavioral Health Assistant Secretary Sean Murphy says moving some civil-commitment patients to group homes or supported-living facilities will help relieve some of the strain on the system.
Federal money on its way to regional transit agencies
11:10 a.m. -- The Puget Sound Regional Council is working with the Federal Transit Administration to get $538 million in emergency aid to transit agencies in the region.
The largest chunk of the money, close to $243 million, is currently earmarked for King County Metro.
The next largest recipient is Sound Transit, which is slated to receive close to $167 million.
The Washington State Ferries system will get close to $40 million, Pierce Transit will receive close to $21 million.
The funding is included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which set aside $25 billion for public transportation.
Oregon sends ventilators to New York
10:00 a.m. -- Our neighbor to the south Oregon is helping out hard-hit New York state with a shipment of 140 ventilators.
"New York needs more ventilators, and we are answering their call for help," tweeted Oregon Governor Kate Brown, saying Oregon is in a better position right now. "Oregon doesn't have everything we need to fight COVID-19 — we need more PPE and testing — but we can help today with ventilators. We are all in this together."
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo tweeted his reply: "From the bottom of my heart, thank you. NYS will repay the favor when Oregon needs it."
New York has been hard hit by Covid-19. Currently 103,704 people have tested positive for the virus, which has killed more than 3,560 people.
Oregon currently has 899 cases and 22 deaths.
-- Deborah Wang
FRIDAY, APRIL 3
Cloth face coverings recommended (not medical grade)
8:03 p.m. -- The Washington state Department of Health (DOH) Friday night joined the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in recommending that people wear cloth face coverings when going out in public. The department said cloth coverings can help reduce the release of infectious particles. It also said there's limited evidence that suggests the coverings can help reduce transmission of COVID-19.
The recommendation is not a mandate.
The department also said it's critical that its recommendation not put increased demand on medical grade masks, such as N95 respirators and surgical masks.
DOH also said people should continue to maintain 6-feet of space with non-household members and to continue to be diligent about washing your hands.
- Derek Wang
Gov. Inslee vetoes millions in new spending, anticipating severe economic downturn
5:07 p.m. -- The COVID-19 crisis is starting to have an impact on Washington’s budget. Governor Jay Inslee Friday vetoed $235 million from the recently passed supplemental spending plan. That’s the update to the state’s two-year budget. Among the 147 vetoes was funding for school guidance counselors. Inslee made clear he doesn’t relish the cuts, but said they are necessary.
“We felt this was prudent, it is not draconian, but it is a step to stability. I just have to tell you we thought long and hard and made some really hard decisions. These were not easy decisions,” he said during a bill signing ceremony.
Inslee left intact funding to address homelessness and the lack of affordable housing which he sees as part of the response to COVID-19. Meanwhile, state lawmakers are bracing for a major drop in revenues which could necessitate them having to cut billions from the budget next year.
- Austin Jenkins
Updated cases and deaths
4:04 p.m. -- The Washington state Department of Health (DOH) posted new numbers about the COVID-19 outbreak Friday afternoon.
284 deaths were reported, as were 6,966 confirmed cases of infection. That represents an increase of 381 cases and 22 deaths from the state's previous update.
King County has been struck the hardest with 2,711 cases and 188 deaths. Snohomish County had 1,317 cases and 38 deaths. Pierce County had 433 cases and 7 deaths.
- Derek Wang
UW researchers want a sample of your cough
11:45 a.m. -- Your cough could be used to help develop an app for health care providers to monitor the coughs of Covid-19 patients. Researchers at the University of Washington's Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering are asking for sample sounds of coughing.
“These sounds will help train our cough detection model,” said Matthew Whitehill, a doctoral student that’s part of the research. Whitehill said they’re seeking other sound samples, such as laughs and throat clearing. “The more examples we can give the model, the better performance it will achieve.”
For more information about the project, email Matthew Whitehill at email@example.com.
-- Ruby de Luna
King County to move hundreds of people from shelters to hotels
9:30 a.m. -- King County is preparing to move hundreds of people experiencing homelessness out of shelters and into hotel rooms.
This is part of the ongoing effort to de-crowd shelter spaces and allow better physical distancing.
Beginning early next week, nearly 400 people will be moved from shelters in Bellevue, Kent, Renton, Federal Way and Seattle to three hotels in the county.
These are not quarantine sites, the people being moved are presumed to be well.
The hotels won’t be open to other guests during this time, the county said they're still finalizing agreements with the three hotels.
-- Kate Walters
Senator stresses need for internet access during COVID-19 crisis
8:31 a.m. -- Senator Patty Murray is calling on internet providers to expand access and service to more low-income Americans during the COVID-19 crisis and people are ordered to stay at home.
She says such a move could help nine million people do their work, take classes online, and reach their doctors through virtual appointments.
Senator Murray introduced the Digital Equity Act last year. It aims to help bridge the digital divide in Washington state and across the country.
Approximately 15% of U.S. households with school-age children currently do not have access to high-speed internet.
State Republican argues to allow construction work
8:23 a.m. -- State Republican leaders ares saying that while it's important to save lives during the current crisis, it's also important to get back to normal as soon as possible.
In that vein, Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler says Governor Jay Inslee is sending out mixed messages when it comes to work like construction. He is arguing that construction projects should continue.
"What we have is a very inconsistent approach to construction," he said. "Some construction good, some bad, even though in many cases they can be the same workers in the same community, some working on a public project, good. Working private sector, bad."
Schoesler says banning residential construction while allowing government projects to continue doesn’t make sense and hurts the economy.
Stay-at-home order extended to May 4
8:17 a.m. -- Washington's stay-at--home order has been extended through May 4, Gov. Inslee announced this week.
Many experts expect the peak of COVID-19 cases to occur in mid- to late-April.
Financial boost to food assistance in Washington
8:02 a.m. -- Washington families on food assistance will be able to buy more food, thanks to a temporary boost in their benefits.
The extra benefits are part of Congress’ recently passed COVID-19 relief bill. The temporary boost will help about 277,000 households who currently receive assistance under the state’s Basic Food Services. The supplemental benefit will vary from family to family.
According to the state’s Department of Social and Health Services, which administers the benefits, the average amount is $155. Some will receive more, some less.
-- Ruby de Luna
Free and subsidized health care for musicians
7:33 a.m. -- Seattle Musicians Access to Sustainable Healthcare, SMASH, will offer free or low cost access to mental health and substance abuse treatments online. SMASH also plans to offer subsidized telehealth appointments for COVID-19 or dental emergencies.
To qualify for free membership in SMASH, musicians must be over age 18 and recently employed as a musician.
THURSDAY, APRIL 2
Concerns about prisons
The risk that COVID-19 could get into a Washington state prison is high, as is the potential for it to spread quickly because of tight spaces, shared quarters and dense populations. Adding to the danger is the fact Washington prisons – with nearly 17,000 inmates -- are at 100 percent of capacity.
As of Thursday, across Washington’s 12 prisons, nearly 1,100 inmates were either in isolation or quarantine. The department could not say whether all are related to COVID-19 concerns.
To date, eight Department of Corrections staff members across the agency have tested positive for COVID-19, along with one inmate who was already at a local hospital for treatment of another condition. So far, no inmates in the state’s prisons or individuals on work release have tested positive. But that could change any day.
We have an in-depth look at the situation in Washington prisons.
- Austin Jenkins
Updated cases and deaths
The Washington state Department of Health (DOH) released more numbers Thursday about COVID-19 cases and deaths.
DOH reported 262 COVID-19 related deaths and 6,585 confirmed cases.
King County continues to be the hardest hit county with 2,609 cases and 175 deaths. Snohomish County had 1,266 cases and 38 deaths. Pierce County had 368 cases and 7 deaths.
- Derek Wang
Stay-at-home order extended into May
Gov. Jay Inslee has extended his order for Washingtonians to stay home unless engaging in essential activities until 11:59 p.m. on May 4.
"We unfortunately have yet to see the full weight of this virus in our state," Inslee said. "This order is not only justified, it is morally necessary."
- Liz Brazile
Tacoma's 1,400 warehoused test kits no longer in limbo
Local officials had been waiting for a week to hear from the Federal Emergency Management Agency whether they could use the kits, locked up in a warehouse after five days of drive-through coronavirus testing at the Tacoma Dome.
“We simply had to wait and work through the proper channels to see if we were going to be able to deploy those tests locally,” Edie Jeffers with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department said Thursday. “We received final word from FEMA yesterday that, yes, they would allow us to use the tests here in Pierce County.”
Tacoma City Council member Conor McCarthy told the News Tribune the delay was “irresponsible and reprehensible.” It wasn't immediately clear why federal officials took a week to give permission.
Jeffers said the tests will be distributed to local health care providers to make sure the people most in need get tested. Designated recipients include: community clinics, rural clinics, first responders, the Puyallup Tribe and long-term care facilities with coronavirus outbreaks.
-- John Ryan
Temporary boost for families on food assistance
Washington families on food assistance will be able to buy more food, thanks to a temporary boost in their benefits.
The extra benefits are part of Congress’ recently passed COVID-19 relief bill. The temporary boost will help about 277,000 households who currently receive assistance under the state’s Basic Food Services.
The supplemental benefit will vary from family to family. According to the Department of Social and Health Services, which administers the benefits, the average amount is $155. Some will receive more, some less.
-Ruby de Luna
Pacific Northwest Ballet furloughed most of its staff
The Seattle-based ballet company faces at least $3 million in lost revenues, in the wake of the public gathering ban which forced the company to cancel its two spring productions -- and possibly the season-closer scheduled for early June.
The furloughs include more than 700 full- and part-time workers. Other staff are working on reduced salaries.
Almost 200 PNB employees will keep their health benefits for the next couple of months, until emergency funds run out.
As of mid-March, at least 2,000 arts-related workers have lost their jobs in King County.
Washington to get more than $50 million in federal aid for housing
Washington state will get $52, 234,830 in federal aid to support critical housing needs during the coronavirus pandemic. The money comes from the first round of funding that Congress passed recently.
According to Washington state Senator Patty Murray, the money will go to cities and counties across the state to help with things like building or acquiring affordable housing, providing short term rental assistance, and setting up shelters. Seattle and King County will get about $13 million combined.
-- Kate Walters
Should you wear a face mask in public?
Public Health -- Seattle & King County is changing its messaging on whether you should wear a face mask when you go out in public.
Officials say even a piece of fabric across your face can be helpful when it comes to keeping infected people from spreading the virus. In other words, they can help sick people keep the virus to themselves. But the masks aren't as helpful preventing healthy people from getting the virus.
Nonetheless, they're still urging you reserve as many masks as possible for healthcare workers on the front lines of this fight.
They also say -- face mask or not -- you still need to wash your hands frequently, stay at home, and maintain that safe social distance
New claims for unemployment soared again to never-before-seen highs in Washington state this past week. The deluge in layoffs from coronavirus shutdowns continues to overwhelm the state hotline.
Around 182,000 Washingtonians filed first-time claims for jobless benefits last week. That represents a 42% jump over the previous week, described then as "unprecedented."
Suzi LeVine, Commissioner of the Washington state Employment Security Department said Thursday that the peak is yet to come.
"So when we look ahead to mid to late April, we should anticipate a much, much higher number in terms of both initial claims as well as cumulative claims, given the expansion of the pool of those eligible for benefits," she said.
LeVine said the shutdown in most construction accounted for the biggest chunk of new Washington claims. She said her agency is hiring more staff as fast as it can to handle applications. But significant numbers of the newly unemployed are still not getting through on the phone.
Washington state's unemployment benefits trust fund is one of the best-financed in the nation, according to LeVine. She said she is not worried about it running out of money anytime soon even with a deluge of unprecedented demand.
- Tom Banse
Relief package for Sea-Tac Airport shops
The Port of Seattle Commission has approved an emergency financial relief package for businesses at Sea-Tac Airport.
Commissioners also placed a ban on evictions from now until the end of June. Shop owners are struggling with so few people passing through the airport, and that means few customers.
Foot traffic at the airport dropped by two-thirds earlier this month.
Pandemic affecting people on food-assistance programs
Empty store shelves due to panic-buying may cause an inconvenience for most people. But for families on food assistance, it’s a big hardship.
Grocery shopping has been stressful in the past several weeks for Felicia Washington. She relies on two food assistance programs to feed her two grandchildren and her great grandchild.
“What little I have, like $174, so the stuff that I was getting on WIC vouchers I had to pay for it.”
That’s because her vouchers expired. WIC -- or Women, Infant and Children -- is a federal nutrition program. The appointment to get her vouchers renewed was cancelled because of coronavirus.
When store shelves are empty like they have been, food choices especially those specifically for WIC recipients, are limited. The program serves 195,000 women and babies in Washington state.
-Ruby de Luna
UW Medicine alters mask guidelines
You'll now notice lots more people wearing face masks at UW hospitals and clinics. UW Medicine announced it is expanding it's face-mask guidelines for healthcare workers, screeners, food service providers, and even security.
"We are offering this because of this lack of definitive knowledge around asymptomatic transmission," Dr. John Lynch said. "We also recognize they have a hard time staying 6 feet apart in many facilities so this could be a mitigation for that."
Dr.Lynch is medical director of infection control at Harborview Medical Center. He says they'll monitor this change and make adjustments if they start running out of masks for nurses and doctors.
UW doctor dies from COVID-19
Another doctor connected with the University of Washington has succumbed to COVID-19.
The Daily reports that Dr. Gita Ramjee, who became well-known for her work on HIV prevention, died Mar. 31 at a hospital in South Africa where she was working as director of the South African Medical Research Council’s HIV Prevention Unit.
Northwest Folklife postponed
Northwest Folklife announced that it is postponing its annual event originally slated for May 22-25 at Seattle Center. This year is the 49th Folkelife.
The organization did not state when the event will be rescheduled. In a statement Folklife organizers said: "Over the past few weeks, Northwest Folklife has monitored the severity of this situation, which has brought to light more possible factors, barriers, and limitations to public events like the Northwest Folklife Festival. Northwest Folklife is committed to supporting the proactive measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and prioritizing the health and safety of their constituents. This decision was not made lightly, but ultimately, the organization feels this is the best decision for the greater community."
Life Care Center could be fined $611K and be barred from federal programs
The Life Care Center has become known for the many cases of COVID-19 and related deaths that have come from the facility since the local epidemic began. Now, Life Care could be fined $611,000 and lose all Medicare and Medicaid funding, The Washington Post reports.
The Post writes that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid have sent a letter to Life Care officials. The letter cites that the facility did not report the outbreak soon enough, and did not provide adequate care to residents while the coronvirus was spreading within its walls. It also says that Life Care should have provided 24-hour emergency doctor care, but did not.
Life Care must address the issues that the federal government is pointing out by September 16, 2020 or it will not be able to participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 1
Updated cases and deaths
The Washington state Department of Health (DOH) released more statistics Wednesday night about cases and deaths following a previous announcement earlier in the week that said the state was having problems releasing all of the data.
On Wednesday night, DOH said Washington had a total of 5,984 reported cases and 247 deaths.
King County continued to have the highest number of cases and deaths, the DOH said the state's most populous county had 2,468 cases and 165 deaths. Officials said Snohomish County had 1,221 cases and 38 deaths. Pierce County had 352 cases and seven deaths according to the latest statistics.
Before the numbers were released, Gov. Inslee held a press conference Wednesday afternoon and asked manufacturers to help produce emergency medical equipment, including N95 masks, face shields and testing supplies.
- Derek Wang
Indie music venues seek help
A new coalition of Seattle independent music venues is calling on the government for immediate financial help.
The Washington Nightlife and Music Association (WANMA) says local clubs, shut down by the public gathering ban, won’t survive another month without cash grants, tax and insurance relief, and rent forgiveness.
Dana Sims, owner of El Corazon, says rent deferment and other loans aren’t enough to keep the venues alive, especially given the high cost of doing business in Seattle. Independent music clubs like his attract hundreds of thousands of fans every year. Sims says if and when public gathering restrictions are lifted, he hopes El Corazon and other local venues will be there to welcome them.
Seattle couple tries to survive outbreak on a cruise ship
If you feel trapped at home during the coronavirus pandemic, imagine being stuck at sea on a cruise ship in a deadly outbreak.
Kim and Joan Peterson of Seattle are among about 1,000 passengers on the Zaandam, a ship that's been rejected from port after port for two weeks.
It’s now headed for Fort Lauderdale, but officials there have resisted letting it dock.
“It's natural for citizens to be afraid about bringing in people who are an added risk,” Kim Peterson said. “But work with the facts. Not the emotion. And recognize that it's important to bring everyone home.”
So far four people have died on the Zaandam and dozens more are showing symptoms.
Seattle-based Holland America owns the ship and has called this a "humanitarian crisis."
You can hear more of the Petersons' story Thursday on Morning Edition.
-- Kim Shepard
Have you recovered from COVID-19? Got plasma?
Researchers with UW Medicine and Bloodworks Northwest aim to test out a potential therapy for COVID-19, but they need help from people who have already recovered from the disease. More specifically, they need their blood.
Doctors believe that treatments could be derived from the plasma in the blood of people who have already overcome COVID-19. Whether it will work has yet to be tested.
According to a statement from UW Medicine: "Plasma is the liquid component of blood that contains various proteins. Antibodies are proteins in plasma that defend your body against infections. Donated plasma can be used to make medicine containing antibodies to treat people who are fighting a severe infection or who cannot make antibodies on their own. Plasma and medication made from it are used routinely to treat many different diseases. It is unknown whether the antibodies in plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 can help people who are ill with a COVID infection."
Dr. Terry Gernsheimer and Dr. Anna Wald with UW Medicine are working with Dr. Rebecca Haley, medical director of Bloodworks Northwest’s apheresis center, on the project.
More information can be found here. Interested donors can contact researchers at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 206-520-4212.
Campgrounds, trailheads, and more closed in Washington and Oregon
All US Forest Service recreation sites in Washington and Oregon are now closed to the public in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.
That means no going to those day-use sites, campgrounds, trailheads, boat ramps, and fire lookouts.
Tom Ibsen is the Developed Recreation Program Manager for the Pacific Northwest Regional Office for the Forest Service.
"If we do come across people in closed areas, we will inform them of the closure order and ask them to leave," Ibsen said. "If visitors do not adhere to a warning, officers may issue a citation."
Ibsen says the forests themselves are still technically open to the public. But he says the Forest Service hopes everyone will observe the stay at home order ... issued by both Gov. Inslee and Gov. Brown in Oregon.
-KLCC, Chris Lehman
National Guard preparing to deploy, support food banks
The Washington National Guard has been on standby ever since Governor Jay Inslee declared a coronavirus state of emergency a month ago. Now it's looking like the troops will be deployed in the coming days.
Karina Shagren is a spokesperson for Washington's Military Department and says their first bit of business will be to help with the food banks .
"It would be helping food banks across the state with either packing up food, or transporting food, food delivery, handing out food -- anything to help our food banks ensure that those who need food and can't get it right now have access to important meals."
Many food banks used to rely on volunteers for this kind of help. But those volunteers, especially elder ones, are staying home in large numbers.
Now is not the time to ease up on social distancing
Social distancing seems to be slowing down the spread of COVID-19 in Washington state. But that doesn't mean people should ease up their efforts.
Experts say this week is particularly dangerous. One such expert is Adam Lacey-Hulbert, an immunologist at the Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason in Seattle.
"Because the shutdown went into effect a week ago, this is probably the time that the most people have the virus and are spreading it to others."
He says now is not the time to let up on social distancing. People need to stay home if they can and stay away from others.
Seattle Fire Department sends a message with song
Maybe it's cabin fever or maybe it's a clever way to get a message across. Either way, Seattle firefighters produced a video reminding folks to keep up social distancing, keep disinfecting, and wash their hands.
TUESDAY, MARCH 31
1:37 p.m. -- King County Executive Dow Constantine is proposing a $2.2 million plan to cover child care for about 300 children of essential workers.
The legislation sent to the King County Council on Monday would use funding from Sound Transit educational taxes in the Puget Sound Taxpayers Accountability Account. It is expected to go to a vote later this afternoon.
The proposal would pay for spots in an estimated 60 existing sites around the county at a time when many child care facilities have shut their doors due to the coronavirus, while others struggle to pay the bills as families pull their children and tuition dollars.
As of Monday, 890 child care facilities had closed statewide.
“This legislation helps solve child care challenges for those working long hours for our health and safety, while also supporting our region’s dedicated child care providers who want to keep their doors open in these extraordinary times,” said Constantine in a written statement.
Front line workers interested in enrolling can call Child Care Resources, which is working to help identify available child care openings, at 1-800-446-1114.
The proposal would also provide one-time funding to child care providers for hard-to-find safety gear, like protective equipment and cleaning supplies.
The program would be available to residents who work or live in King County outside the City of Seattle. For details, call Child Care Resources at 1-800-446-1114.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan last week announced issued an Emergency Order to create free child care spots for more than 700 preschool- and school-age children of first responders and other essential workers.
The Seattle plan would cost $1 million per month, and be paid for with the city’s Families, Education, Preschool and Promise levy. It would be staffed by workers from the city's subsidized preschool program.
— Ann Dornfeld
12:44 p.m. -- Kitsap County Treasurer Meredith Green is asking property owners to pay their first half or full year of property taxes early, if they are able, to fund essential services.
Property taxes go toward funding state and local governments and act as the primary source of income for local governments, the statement from Green said. Without this cash flow, some districts may be unable to meet their expense or debt obligations.
“We recognize that many families and businesses are struggling to make ends meet during the economic crisis from the COVD-19 pandemic,” Green wrote. She added that the property tax deadline for residential and commercial taxpayers is extended to May 31. This extension won’t apply to late payments from last year.
People who won’t be able to make their payment by May 31, should reach out to the Kitsap County treasurer department at email@example.com.
12:07 p.m. -- Attorney General Bob Ferguson has sent cease and desist letters to certain online sellers for alleged price gouging. According to the AG's office, the sellers, working on Amazon, have dramatically upped the price on items related to the coronavirus pandemic, such as hand sanitizer and N95 face masks.
The AG's office states that after Amazon provided information about the sellers -- which it noticed were considerably raising prices -- the AG sent letters to five independent sellers based in Washington state. It notes that one seller raised the price of an item by more than 600% -- hand sanitizer that was originally $3.50, but went up to $25 (and one customer paid more than $40 for the product).
The AG's office considers the price gauging an "unfair or deceptive practice" under the Consumer Protection Act.
“Price-gouging during an emergency is morally wrong, and a violation of the Consumer Protection Act,” Ferguson said. “These businesses are charging exorbitant prices on products that are essential for the health and well-being of Washingtonians. We will use all of the tools at our disposal to prevent price-gouging during this public health emergency.”
The AG's office notes that more letters are expected for additional accused price gougers.
10:28 a.m. -- Amid the coronavirus pandemic and orders for social distancing, QFC has gone on a hiring spree aiming to add 600 employees across 61 stores.
QFC began hiring more employees about two weeks ago and sped up its new employee on-boarding process to 72 hours. The grocery chain reports that its HR department is working seven days a week for the hiring effort.
According to the company, the new hires are needed to keep up with demand at its stores as the coronavirus pandemic continues, and that "QFC needs to fill e-commerce positions at most of its 61 stores over the next several weeks to fulfill pick-up orders that have drastically increased over the last several weeks."
Parent company Kroger wants to hire 20,000 for its stores nationwide.
“QFC continues to serve our communities by providing customers with food and products on our shelves or by providing a nearly immediate job opportunity to help an unemployed person to begin working again,” QFC President Chris Albi said in a statement. “We are committed to remaining a constant. We have a responsibility to our associates, customers and communities.”
10:13 a.m. -- There is now a phone number for Washington residents to report people who violate the stay-at-home order.
Governor Inslee says most people and non-essential businesses are following his stay at home order. But he also says state and local authorities are getting thousands of calls about scofflaws.
Now a crackdown could be on the way. Instead of calling the police, the state has created a new online reporting form available at: coronavirus.wa.gov. The form is mostly aimed at businesses.
Much of the initial education and enforcement will happen at the local level. But police say don’t call 911 to report violators.
9:56 a.m. -- A warning for businesses and individuals who don’t comply with Washington's social distancing orders. Governor Jay Inslee says they're getting ready to start enforcing the order through a three tier process.
- You'll get a warning.
- Then you'll get cited. Businesses could also get their licenses suspended.
- After that, your case will be referred to the attorney general for possible prosecution.
Read more here.
9:02 a.m. -- New data shows social distancing measures appear to be working in King County with less spread of COVID-19. But that doesn't mean people should ease up on their efforts as the pandemic continues. In fact, Dr. Jeff Duchin with Public Health - Seattle & King County says it's time to "double down."
“We are being successful together through our extraordinary actions and we need to double down and hold the line now as we continue to manage this epidemic over time. This is a long-haul situation.”
Dr. Duchin warns that the new reports are based on modeling which has limited data. But he says they indicate the county is moving in the right direction.
Read more here.
7:51 a.m. -- Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant says Amazon needs to do more to help the average worker through the coronavirus crisis.
“They’re making a profit at a time when thousands of small businesses in the region who are already struggling have completely gone belly up,” Sawant said.
While many businesses are passing out pink slips, Amazon is hiring 100,000 new employees.
The company has also donated $5 million to help businesses near its headquarters survive the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus.
Read more here.
MONDAY, MARCH 30
3:46 p.m. -- Immigration activists are pushing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release detainees at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, arguing the coronavirus outbreak is a threat to the detainees' health.
But under state guidance, the protest that happened today had to get a little creative.
"We kept our social distance by having people driving, staying in their cars and honking," says Maru Mora Villalpando, an immigration activist with La Resistencia.
The caravan of thirty cars was in support of a hunger strike that started last Friday. The detainees and activists are asking for humanitarian visas for those inside and for deportation and immigration proceedings to cease until the pandemic has ended.
Mora estimates 300 detainees are now part of the hunger strike.
A spokesperson for ICE says ‘rumors’ of the hunger strike are ‘inaccurate’ but that the agency respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference.
The agencies website says there are no positive cases of COVID-19 at the Northwest Detention Center at this time.
1:02 p.m. -- By now, you have your favorite neighborhood restaurants and eateries for deliveries and take-out while you shelter in place.
The city of Seattle wants you to share that information and has created an interactive map. The goal is to help support small businesses during this time.
Retail and restaurants have been hard hit by the state’s preventative measures, including Gov. Inslee’s March 16 directive that shut down restaurants, bars, and cafes, but allowing for businesses that offer delivery or take out to remain open.
A study by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce shows more than 336,000 workers in Washington are directly affected by the restrictions.
Want to give your neighborhood business a shout out? Add their names here. More information about the city’s #SupportSeattleSmallBiz campaign.
-Ruby de Luna
12 p.m. -- Mandatory social distancing orders implemented in Washington state have slowed the coronavirus epidemic in King County, according to new report from the Bellevue-based Institute for Disease Modeling.
Using a simulation built on epidemiological data such as COVID-19 testing results and deaths, researchers estimate that the potential for new infections dropped by approximately half between late February and mid-March in King County.
They caution, however, that the "estimates come with high uncertainty" and advise that "compliance with social distancing policies will remain an important facet of daily life" in the coming weeks to effectively stop the spread of the disease.
10:19 a.m. -- As people continue to stock up on food and supplies during Washington's stay-at-home order, Costco says it's changing its store hours.
Starting Monday, all warehouses will close at 6:30 p.m. rather than 8:30 p.m. The gas stations will close at 7 p.m. The new times are only for weekdays. Weekend hours will remain the same.
The stores will be open from 8-9 a.m. for people with health issues or those 60 and older every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
9:57 a.m. -- A reminder of a development occurring over the weekend: Public Health - Seattle & King County has ordered people who are symptomatic or have been tested for COVID-19 to self-isolate until test results are made available.
People who violate the order may be placed under involuntary detention. Those who do test positive must remain in quarantine at home or in a recovery facility until they are no longer infectious.
The order is effective now and will remain in place until further notice.
9:42 a.m. -- The Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett is being converted over to an isolation and quarantine site for coronavirus patients
It's set to open sometime next week and will be used for those who can't recover at home or don't have one.
9 a.m. -- Approximately 300 Army soldiers are transforming Century Link Field into a military hospital for non-coronavirus patients.
The 150-bed space is expected to be ready sometime this week. The field event center at Century Link Field is being transformed into a hospital operated by the military.
It will be used to take care of people who don't have the coronavirus. Instead, it will be slated for people who require other medical needs, freeing up space at hospitals to respond to COVID-19.
Approximately 300 soldiers are setting up the facility.
Gov. Jay Inslee applauded the "tremendous" step by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA for their work.
8 a.m. -- Hospitals across the country are debating whether to allow caregivers to wear face masks throughout their entire shifts.
Some hospitals require it. But in many Seattle hospitals, masks are still in short supply. And some staff who have wanted to wear them constantly have been told not to.
KUOW’s Ashley Hiruko profiled an anesthesiologist at Swedish who raised concerns and reports the company has since changed its policy.
According to Hiruko: “Swedish’s policy on masks has fluctuated during the entire outbreak. Before this weekend for instance, Swedish doctors and nurses were not allowed to wear surgical masks throughout the day. To be clear, this is when they’re not dealing with patients with CV. As of this weekend, Swedish announced they’re changing their policy to permissive universal masking. What that means is caregivers may, but don’t have to, wear surgical masks while in patient care areas.”
Before the policy change, the anesthesiologist told KUOW he wanted to wear the mask full-time at work to protect patients, in case he was an asymptomatic carrier of the virus.
Swedish said they've also started to allow the reuse, and extended use, of N95 masks and face shields due to low supplies.
Read more here.
SUNDAY, MARCH 29
4 p.m. -- Visualizing the spread of coronavirus in Washington state by mapping the deaths over the last month.
1 p.m. -- This spring's marathons, half marathons, and other races have been cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19. That's why a Seattle-area running company, Orca Running, is hosting a virtual race. They're calling it the "Social Distance Run."
Participants choose one of six distances and run it on their own over Memorial Day weekend. Then the Orca Running Company sends them a race shirt and medal.
Close to a thousand people, some from as far away as Denmark, have already signed up.
11 a.m. -- KUOW has been keeping track of the coronavirus-related deaths internally since the outbreak in region. We have now published that list and will strive to keep it updated on weekdays.
9 a.m. -- Bill Gates said this week that the U.S.’s response to coronavirus has been slow and chaotic.
The Microsoft co-founder called for an extended nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the virus.
“We’re entering into a tough period, where If we do it right we only have to do it once, for 6 to 10 weeks,” he said. “But it has to be the whole country. We have to raise the level of testing, and the prioritization of that testing quite dramatically.”
SATURDAY, MARCH 28
8 p.m. -- King County public health officials today issued an order that all people who test positive for COVID-19 should remain in quarantine until no longer infectious.
The order also directs people who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to remain isolated until they receive test results.
Officials announced they are also opening an additional quarantine and isolation facility this weekend at a former hotel in Issaquah. Those facilities are meant for people who are homeless or who don't have a place that they can self-isolate.
Health officials are ramping up their testing of people living in homeless shelters. Currently four shelters in the county have at least one resident who has tested positive for the disease.
4:15 p.m. -- Five of the largest homeless shelters in Seattle are on lock-down for two weeks.
That’s because a resident of a shelter run by the Union Gospel Mission tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday. The patient is now recovering in a hospital.
The Union Gospel Mission locked down all five of its shelters because staff members move back and forth among them.
The person who tested positive for COVID-19 lived in a men’s recovery program near Burien.
The Union Gospel Mission says it’s now testing everyone in that building.
4 p.m. -- The number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases in Washington state has jumped from 3,723 to 4,300.
That's according to data just released by the state Department of Health.
Almost half of those cases, 2,077, are in King County.
The number of reported deaths is now at 189.
3:15 p.m. -- More than 300 soldiers have begun setting up an army field hospital inside the event center at Century Link Field.
The 150-bed facility will be staffed by doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other personnel from the 627th Army Hospital in Fort Carson, Colorado.
The hospital will serve patients who do NOT have COVID-19. The goal is to free up space at hospitals as COVID-19 spreads.
"We know that many of our hospitals right now are being overtaxed by COVID and we know that is going to get worse. We want to make sure we can off-load those patients to a hospital setting that is going to be safe and efficient for them," said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, who welcomed the Army personnel to CenturyLink Field this afternoon.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee says this is the first of what may be many more temporary hospital facilities set up around the state.
The field hospital is expected to be up and running by Tuesday of next week.
1:30 p.m. -- More specific guidance was issued from Governor Jay Inslee's office today about the current "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order.
Funerals in Washington state can go ahead in this time of COVID-19, but can only be attended by immediate family members of the deceased.
The state Department of Licensing sent a letter to funeral homes and cemeteries saying that people attending funerals must practice proper social distancing. The letter says embalming can go ahead.
In addition, the governor's office sent a letter to the real estate industry saying in-person meetings are prohibited "except when necessary for a customer to view a property or sign necessary documents." No real estate open houses shall be permitted.
Property viewings, inspections, appraisals, and final walk-thrus can go ahead but must be arranged in advance and limited to only two people.
The governor also clarified that the proclamation does not apply to sovereign Tribal governments.
1:15 p.m. -- Public health officials in Skagit County are reporting six new confirmed COVID-19 cases at a long-term care facility in Burlington.
One resident and five staff members at Prestige Care and Rehabilitation, a skilled nursing facility, have tested positive for the illness.
The state's Department of Health is currently identifying and notifying all close contacts and are issuing quarantine instructions, according to a press release. Officials are in the process of testing remaining staff and residents.
10:30 a.m. -- Beginning tomorrow (Sunday) morning, the Washington State Ferries will temporarily reduce service on its central Puget Sound routes in response to COVID-19.
Sailings on the Seattle/Bainbridge and Seattle/Bremerton routes will be cut by about half. The Fauntleroy/Vashon, Fauntleroy/Southworth, and Southworth/ Vashon sailings will be reduced by about a third. The Mulkiteo/Clinton and Edmonds/Kingston schedules will also be affected.
Ridership on the ferries system was down more than 60 percent as of March 26, according to a press release. That includes an 80 percent decrease in walk-on passengers. Availability of crews to staff the sailings is also a concern.
The suspension of these sailings will give crew members more time to clean and sanitize the vessels, according to Amy Scanton, head of the Washington State Ferries. "Further suspensions and adjustments are possible depending on ridership trends," she said.
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