Updates: Covid-19 pandemic in Washington state (October 26-30)
This post is archived. Read the latest here.
As of Friday, October 30, the Washington State Department of Health reports:
- 2,366 Covid-19 related deaths; 106,573 confirmed cases (2.2% death rate among positive cases).
- Compared to white people and Asian people, the rate of Covid cases is nearly three times higher for Black people, and nearly seven times higher for Latino/x people and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 30
Schools reconsider plans as Covid-19 cases grow
9 a.m. -- Health officials in Thurston County are now recommending schools there hold off on expanding in-person learning until at least November 6 because of increasing Covid-19 cases.
They also said if transmission rates remain high, they'll recommend a return to distance-learning for all students, except for some students with the highest needs.
The state health department says its recorded 36 outbreaks in Washington schools since the pandemic started -- 26 outbreaks since September 1.
An outbreak is called when at least two staff members or students test positive within two weeks. Nearly all of the outbreaks had fewer than five cases.
Washington State Coronavirus Response Joint Information Center says universal masking could cut the number of daily deaths in half.
-- Angela King
Number of people without insurance jumped statewide during the pandemic
8:45 a.m. -- Washington’s uninsured rate went from just over 6% pre-Covid, to 13% amid the pandemic.
There’s been some improvement in the insurance numbers. As of September, the uninsured rate is just under 8%. State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler says people who lost their jobs also lost their health insurance.
Many were able to enroll under Medicaid, or get coverage through the state’s Health Exchange.
For people who want to switch health plans, the open enrollment period starts November 1 and runs through December 15. And for those shopping for one, premiums will be a little lower.
“This year there was a decrease in average rate, and the average rate, projected for 2021, there will be a rate decrease for 2021," Kreidler said.
Kreidler says financial assistance is available to those who qualify.
-- Ruby de Luna
King County employees will continue to work from home until July 2021
8 a.m. -- Hundreds of King County employees will now be working from home until at least July 5, 2021.
King County Executive Dow Constantine extended the mandatory work-from-home order Thursday because the number of coronavirus cases continues to grow.
Constantine recently wrote to employees: "By limiting the number of people in our facilities and on our roads and transit system, we can keep our worksites safer for those employees delivering in-person services."
Over the past two weeks, King County has reported 104 cases per every 100,000 people. Officials want that number under 25 per 100,000.
In Snohomish County, the rate is 122 per 100,000. And in Pierce County, it's 137 per 100,000.
The state health department says that the virus is currently spreading faster in western Washington than it is in eastern Washington, with it mostly infecting those in the 25-39 and 40-59 year old age groups.
-- Angela King
Washington State Nurses Association sues Trump administration
7 a.m. -- The Washington State Nurses Association and other groups are suing the Trump Administration over safety issues amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The suit says the administration shelved a standard that would protect healthcare workers from exposure to infectious diseases.
The lawsuit is filed by nursing associations from Washington and California, and the nation's federations of teachers and state and municipal employees.
They argue that despite asking for one for three years, OSHA has no standard designed to protect against most infectious diseases.
The president of Washington's association says "many WSNA members have contracted Covid-19, and at least one has passed away."
-- Paige Browning
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 29
Kroger to offer Covid-19 antibody tests in Washington
9:15 a.m. -- The Kroger Company says it will now offer rapid Covid-19 antibody tests at all of its pharmacies by the end of November.
Kroger has already been offering this service at stores in California and Michigan. In Washington state, Kroger operates Fred Meyer and QFC stores.
The finger prick test, which looks for antibodies in the blood, can let you know if you've already been infected with the novel coronavirus.
The test will cost $25 and results are usually ready within 15 minutes.
An antibody test does not necessarily determine if a person has an active infection. Rather, it indicates if a person has been infected in the past and therefore developed antibodies to combat the virus. If someone tests positive for an antibody test, they should still quarantine themselves and follow CDC guidelines.
"Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Kroger Heath has remained committed to helping people live healthier lives by offering in-clinic and at-home COVID-19 testing solutions supported by our multi-disciplinary team of licensed, trained and experienced healthcare providers," said Colleen Lindholz, president of Kroger Health. "Making rapid antibody testing available across our family of pharmacies will not only provide an affordable and convenient testing solution for individuals who want to understand if they have previously been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, but also help clinicians understand the long-term impacts of COVID-19 and potential public health strategies for fighting the disease."
-- Angela King
Covid-19 cases rising in South King County
8:30 a.m. -- With nearly 105,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Washington state, and with hospitalizations on the rise, local health officials are expressing concern about the growing number of cases.
That growth is considerably higher in South King County. Testing sites in and around Auburn show 13% of people who are tested are testing positive. The rest of King County has a 3% positivity rate.
-- Angela King
Washington joins four-state vaccine pact
7 a.m. -- Washington and three other states have joined a pact to independently review the safety and efficacy of any coronavirus vaccine that is ultimately approved by the FDA.
California was the first to announce the plan last week. Oregon, Nevada, and Washington have also signed on.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee said this will be an added layer of assurance for residents “so we can increase the number of people who actually get the vaccination."
-- Angela King
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 28
Covid-19 cases continue to surge among 25-59 year olds
1 p.m. -- The trend of rising Covid-19 cases throughout Washington state has health officials worried about an even more dramatic spike in cases heading into the coming months.
The most recent data accounts is good through Oct. 15. The rate of transmission is 1.34 in western Washington and 1.12 in eastern Washington. That means an infected person in Western Washington is infecting, on average, 1.34 people. Data suggest wide community spread is responsible, instead of isolated outbreaks.
The new cases in western Washington are mainly coming from the 25-39 and 40-59 age ranges.
While the rate is lower on the eastern side of the state, conditions have officials bracing for a more turbulent spike. The proportion of positive tests in eastern Washington is higher than western Washington. The case rate per person is also twice as high as western Washington.
"Any spike in COVID-19 cases will jeopardize our progress toward reopening schools, strain our healthcare system and increase risks during holiday gatherings,” said Deputy Secretary of Health for COVID-19 Response Lacy Fehrenbach. “High rates in the community increase the chance that someone at your gathering—even people you know well and trust—could have COVID-19. If we act now, we can get these increases in control in time for the holidays.”
The state health department notes that some of the increases in numbers are due to increased testing. At the same time, even during recent periods of decreased testing, the case numbers continued to rise.
-- Dyer Oxley
Voting and the pandemic
9:30 a.m. -- Governor Jay Inslee has suspended any coronavirus restrictions that could restrict access to voting in Washington.
Inslee clarified Tuesday that people can gather for the purpose of voting, registering, or other voting related activities.
The state's position on healthy protocols remains the same: elections personnel and voters should practice physical distancing and use masks.
-- Paige Browning
Cautioning against trick-or-treating during the pandemic
8 a.m. -- Doctors at the University of Washington's clinics are among the latest to warn against trick-or-treating this Halloween.
Going house-to-house is considered high-risk for transmitting Covid-19.
Suggestions from UW's Neighborhood Ravenna Clinic are: a Halloween movie night, a candy hunt in your own yard, or virtual costume contests.
The city of Seattle is offering the option of "trick or street blocks," in which residents can apply to close down their block to traffic, so kids in costume can safely be outside.
-- Paige Browning
Wear your mask at home
7:45 a.m. -- Washington's public health officials say mask-wearing is working to limit the spread of the coronavirus, but there's one area of concern. It's time people mask-up even at home, in certain cases.
The state's health officer, Doctor Kathy Lofy, says spreading coronavirus between friends or family indoors may be a significant part of new transmissions.
"Some people may feel it is awkward to ask a friend to wear a mask when they come over to your house, but we really need to make mask wearing, particularly inside, really we need to make this the norm," Lofy said.
Washington state has one of the lowest rates of coronavirus per capita, in the United States. But case numbers continue to rise.
Lofy says that if people double down on mask wearing, thousands more cases can be prevented this winter.
-- Paige Browning
Gov. Inslee's harsh words for Idaho
7:30 a.m. -- Washington Governor Jay Inslee has sharp words for Idaho officials who refuse to mandate masks in response to a surge of Covid-19.
Inslee referred to reports that some Idaho hospitals have sent or may have to send patients to other states because they’ve run of bed space. This includes Seattle and Portland. He mentioned the vote last week by the board that governs public health for five north Idaho counties. That board removed a mask mandate for Kootenai County, which includes Coeur d'Alene.
"Instead of increasing the common sense measures that we know work to reduce the pandemic, they went backwards and removed the mask mandate," Inslee said. "I heard a comment, he says he just didn’t think Covid was real. I mean, what planet are they living on?"
On Monday, the Coeur d’Alene City Council adopted a mask mandate for the city.
Inslee says Washington hospitals will accept Idaho patients, if they are asked. He said Washington has not, and probably would not consider asking Idaho residents to quarantine for a period of time when they enter the Evergreen State.
-- Derek Wang
Western states join forces to review anticipated vaccine
7 a.m. -- A group of western states has announced they will independently review coronavirus vaccines before they're distributed to the public.
It's an effort to assure the public that the vaccine is not being influenced by federal politics. Governor Jay Inslee says scientists from Washington and the other states will run the panel.
"This panel will review all publicly available data currently with federal reviews and will present a report as soon as possible after the FDA approves a vaccine and safely as humanly possible," Inslee said.
Inslee says this pact is with the same states that initially banded together on coronavirus restrictions: California, Oregon and Nevada.
In the meantime, public health officials are now urging people to wear masks even while at home if they are having a guest over.
In-home transmission of the coronavirus is growing in Washington state.
Health officials say Washingtonians are doing a great job of wearing masks in public but need to do the same in private spaces.
-- Paige Browning
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 27
2 guards, 1 nurse test positive for Covid-19 at Tacoma’s immigrant detention center
4 p.m. -- The acting managing nurse at the Northwest ICE Processing Center (formally the Northwest Detention Center) has tested positive for coronavirus, according to court records.
Documents filed Tuesday state, "The IHSC [ICE Health Services Corps] employee is not believed to have been infectious or to have potentially exposed others to Covid-19 when last at the NWIPC. "
The staff member was asymptomatic and found out she was positive after being tested for an outside medical procedure. Two other guards contracted through the GEO Group have also tested positive, all within the last month.
Detainees and staff will not be quarantined or tested. So far, 16 detained immigrants have tested positive for the virus since the start of the outbreak. Read more here.
-- Esmy Jimenez
UW researchers studying app to detect viral outbreaks
1 p.m. -- University of Washington researchers are seeking participants to see how well a smartphone app can detect viral outbreaks as the Covid-19 pandemic continues and the flu season arrives.
Researchers are using an app called "HIPPOCRATIC" which stands for "Health and Injury Prediction and Prevention Using Complex Reasoning and Analytic Techniques Integrated on a Cellphone." The study already has about 5,500 participants, but researchers are aiming to get 25,000 people.
According to UW: "Participants answer daily questions about their mood, physical and social activity, and sleep, and allow the app to collect passive data from sensors on the phone. The goal of the two-year study is to develop algorithms that enable continuous, real-time assessment of individuals’ health by making use of data that is passively and unobtrusively captured by smartphone sensors..."
Patricia Areán is spearheading the study. Areán is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
“This is a huge opportunity for us to get a sense as to whether or not phones could basically become a personal screener for an illness,” Areán said, noting that smartphones provide an opportunity to include segments of the population that are not often participants in such studies.
"We still need to work harder to reach these communities,” Areán said. “Our hope is that by giving them the voice they so desperately need, identified early so that these communities no longer experience the extreme negative impacts of future outbreaks."
People interested in participating can find more information here.
-- Dyer Oxley
Covid-19 cases spiking throughout western Washington
9 a.m. -- The coronavirus case count continues to climb around the Northwest.
Health officials aim to have the rate of Covid-19 cases at 25 per 100,000 people, or fewer. The numbers over the past two weeks have been far above that goal:
- Snohomish County: 121 cases per 100,000 people
- Pierce County: 132 per 100,000
- King County: 99 per 100,000 cases
But King County public health officials also note that the death rate associated with Covid-19 has either flattened or decreased over the past two weeks.
-- Angela King
2 officers at Tacoma detention center have now tested positive for Covid-19
7 a.m. -- Two officers at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma have now tested positive for the coronavirus within the last month.
They join 16 immigration detainees who were also infected.
Facility operator GEO Group says one of the officers is in isolation while the other has recovered and has returned to work.
[The coronavirus has hit the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma - the region's main immigration detention facility.
The jail's private operator, Geo Group, says two officers have tested positive in the past month.
Immigration advocates say 16 detainees have also been infected.
-- Angela King
MONDAY, OCTOBER 26
Hydroxychloroquine does not prevent or cure Covid-19, study says
9 a.m. -- Hydroxychloroquine became a familiar drug early on in the Covid-19 pandemic -- mostly for confusion around it.
The anti-malaria drug was touted as a cure by President Trump, but medical experts doubted whether that was true. So researchers at the University of Washington put hydroxychloroquine to the test over the past few months.
The verdict: Nope.
“This is a rigorous large-scale randomized, controlled clinical trial proving whether or not hydroxychloroquine is effective in preventing COVID-19, adding to less rigorously controlled studies,” said lead researcher Dr. Ruanne Barnabas, associate professor of medicine and of global health at the UW School of Medicine. “The additional data we have today provides strong evidence that hydroxychloroquine offers no benefit in preventing people from developing COVID-19 with a 14-day treatment course.”
The study out of UW shows hydroxychloroquine does not prevent people from developing Covid-19. Researchers found those who had close contact with an infected person and took the medication were just as likely to get Covid-19.
The study also found no evidence that those who got hydroxychloroquine were less likely to develop symptoms when infected.
After the president hyped hydroxychloroquine as a means to fight the novel coronavirus, it was pushed for emergency use during the pandemic. But it lost its emergency use authorization in June over safety concerns.
-- Angela King and Dyer Oxley
Where to get a free flu shot
8 a.m. -- There are now more places in western Washington where you can get a free flu shot if you don't have insurance.
The state health Department is working with 14 Safeway stores in the region, including:
- Auburn on Auburn Way
- Kent on Washington
- South Seattle on Rainier
- Shoreline on Aurora
- Everett on Broadway and Rucker
The new partnership with the state department of health also covers Safeways in Tacoma, Bellingham, and Bremerton.
Drive-thru flu shot clinics are ongoing at North Seattle College and Seattle Public Schools. But this is the last week they’re open.
Ahead of flu season, health officials are pushing for everyone to get vaccinated who can, especially as more hospital beds start to fill up with Covid-19 patients. Health experts are concerned that the fall/winter surge of Covid-19 cases will coincide will a rise in flu cases, further straining the health care system already under pressure.
-- Anna Boiko-Weyrauch
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 23
FDA approves first official treatment for Covid-19
9 a.m. -- While many different experimental treatments have been used in the past, the FDA has approved the first official treatment for Covid-19 patients.
Remdesivir is an antiviral drug that has been commonly mentioned around Covid-19 cases, and has long been looked to with hope in aiding the fight against Covid-19. It is also known by its brand name Veklury. On Thursday, the FDA gave it the official thumbs up for use with patients 12 years and older and when the patient requires hospitalization.
“The FDA is committed to expediting the development and availability of Covid-19 treatments during this unprecedented public health emergency,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. “Today’s approval is supported by data from multiple clinical trials that the agency has rigorously assessed and represents an important scientific milestone in the Covid-19 pandemic. As part of the FDA’s Coronavirus Treatment Acceleration Program, the agency will to continue to help move new medical products to patients as soon as possible, while at the same time determining whether they are effective and if their benefits outweigh their risks.”
The remdesivir treatment is not a vaccine (which is aimed at preventing infection). Rather, it is meant to treat a patient after they have become infected and reduce the time it takes them to recover in the hospital.
The approval comes after the FDA conducted a benefit-risk assessment, as well as three randomized clinical trials with Covid-19 patients.
According to the FDA: "The median time to recovery from Covid-19 was 10 days for the Veklury group compared to 15 days for the placebo group, a statistically significant difference. Overall, the odds of clinical improvement at Day 15 were also statistically significantly higher in the Veklury group when compared to the placebo group."
Remdesivir has already been approved for use in India, Singapore, and Japan for Covid-19 cases. The drug was initially developed for use in hepatitis C cases, and has also been used against Ebola.
-- Dyer Oxley