Updates on the coronavirus pandemic in Washington state (May 18-29)
This is an archived post. You can read the latest here.
As of Friday, May 29, the Washington State Department of Health reports:
*1,111 Covid-19 related deaths; 21,071 confirmed cases (there's a 6.1% positive rate among those tested, and 5.3% death rate among positive cases). Note that tests have been limited, so there are likely more unreported cases.
*The most heavily hit counties have been King (554 deaths), Snohomish (148 deaths), Pierce (73 deaths), and Yakima (89 deaths).
Friday, May 29
King County moves to reopen outdoor restaurant dining and allow small gatherings
6:28 p.m.— King County officials say they're moving to allow outdoor dining, small gatherings, and personal services to resume soon.
But the state must first approve the county's request to move into a modified version of Washington's first phase to reopening the economy.
May 31 is the last day for Washington's stay-at-home order. Thereafter, state officials will move to using a four-phase plan, which is already underway, to govern reopening on a county-by-county basis.
Starting June 1, each of Washington's 39 counties must adhere to the social distancing rules corresponding to one's state-approved reopening status. Twenty-six counties have been approved to move to Phase 2 as of Thursday. King County is currently in Phase 1.
While county officials say we aren't ready to move into Phase 2, which allows certain indoor establishments to resume in-person services, we are poised to loosen some restrictions under a modified version of Phase 1.
"This is a big step in the right direction. We'll be monitoring our progress," said King County Executive Dow Constantine on Friday. "And if our metrics are stable, and we are meeting the criteria, then we plan to open up more businesses, and activities in a safe manner."
Read more here.
19 inmates, 4 staff test positive for coronavirus at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center
4 p.m. — A coronavirus outbreak within an eastern Washington prison has swelled to the second-largest outbreak within state prisons.
19 inmates, out of 54 examined, have tested positive for coronavirus at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center as of Friday, according to the Washington State Department of Corrections.
Four staff members connected to the prison, located in Connell, Washington, have also tested positive.
This outbreak comes second only to the number of cases identified at the Monroe Correctional Complex, where 18 inmates and 9 staff have tested positive.
Coyote Ridge "has increased testing and does test incarcerated individuals as soon as they are symptomatic, " the Department of Corrections said by email.
Because of the outbreak, Coyote Ridge has been placed on a 10-day quarantine, to slow the spread of coronavirus within the facility.
As part of the 10-day quarantine, the Correctional Industries food factory, housed at Coyote Ridge, will remain closed until June 3. About 120 inmates work in the factory each day.
During the factory’s closure, the factory will be cleaned and sanitized. This closure will not impact meal supply. Correctional Industries prepared extra non-perishable food in advance, the Department of Corrections said.
Contact mapping will be used to identify people who might have been exposed to Covid-19 positive inmates.
Gov. Inslee announces updated plan to reopen Washington on county-by-county basis
2:45 p.m. -- Washington State Governor Jay Inslee rolled out an updated approach to phase in the state's economy that will operate on a county-by-county basis.
The updated approach allows local and county health officials to make additional rules and regulations specific to their communities.
Metrics for moving forward include: a county has 25 or fewer Covid-19 cases per 100,000 within 14 days; another goal is having 90% contact tracing within 24 hours of a positive Covid-19 test.
Some counties will be more ahead or behind others in the four-phase plan to reopen. Inslee said that June 3 would be the earliest some eligible counties could move into Phase 3.
"We plan, under this initiative, to move Washington state forward by a county-by-county basis, and under this new approach counties will have more flexibility …" Inslee said.
As of May 29, a total of 26 Washington counties were approved to be in Phase 2 already, including: Adams, Asotin, Clallam, Columbia, Cowlitz, Ferry, Garfield, Grant, Grays Harbor, Island, Jefferson, Kitsap, Kittitas, Lewis, Lincoln, Mason, Pacific, Pend Orielle, San Juan, Skamania, Spokane, Stevens, Thurston, Wahkiakum, Walla Walla, and Whitman.
Calling it a "badge of commitment" Inslee also stressed the importance of getting as many people to wear face coverings as the state moves forward with its phase-in plans -- as people go to restaurants, stores, and places of work.
"The more we do this, the faster we can reopen," Inslee said.
The state has put forward new guidance for workers to wear, at least, cloth face coverings, which will take effect on June 8. Employers will be required to provide the masks, but employees can wear their own.
Fund raises $3.3 million for undocumented immigrants in Washington state
2:05 p.m. — A fund for undocumented immigrants is blowing past fundraising goals, but the need is huge
Some families cry when they find out they’re going to get money from the COVID-19 Relief Fund for Undocumented Individuals, Washington Dream Coalition organizer Daniela Murguia said.
“They really just say, ‘I can’t believe I am getting a call back from you all. I never get called back when I ask for help. And this government has this help, but I don’t qualify for it. I thought I was just being forgotten again.’”
Read more here.
Seattle-area seniors reflect on graduating into a changed world
1:48 p.m. — For Seattle-area seniors, the pandemic has upended the milestones that typically signify an end to their high school chapters.
No graduation. No prom. No last day of school.
For some, like Rodrigo Jacobo, walking across the stage held a deeper meaning -- as the first person in his family to graduate high school.
For others, like Jinsu Ha, graduation would have been the first time in almost three years that he'd see his parents.
Read more here.
A Bellingham ER doctor sues after being fired from hospital following criticism of its Covid-19 response
12:47 p.m. —An emergency medicine physician from Washington state has filed a lawsuit to get his job back at a hospital. He was fired in late March after criticizing his hospital's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
"This is about people on the front line being given the opportunity to speak out without being terminated and being reprimanded," says Dr. Ming Lin.
Since 2003, Dr. Lin had worked in the ER at St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, Wash., owned by health system PeaceHealth.
As the coronavirus swept through Seattle, Lin started publicly outlining concerns about his hospital's handling of the pandemic.
"I was calling other doctors" to find out what their hospitals were doing, Lin says, adding that he came to the conclusion that "our hospital wasn't doing adequate protection for the staff."
On March 15, Lin shared on Facebook the text of a letter he had sent to the hospital's chief medical officer, pointing out the infection risks of how the hospital was testing for the coronavirus, and suggesting changes he thought the hospital should make, including checking the temperature of staff at the beginning of shifts and triaging patients outside the emergency room, in the parking lot.
Read more here.
Washington expands nursing homes for Covid-positive patients
11:09 a.m. — Washington state continues to expand its network of nursing homes for Covid-positive patients. A total of 25 beds have just been added in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.
The Ballard Center nursing home is the sixth to accept Covid patients under a contract with the Department of Social and Health Services. The others are in Pasco, Tacoma, Shoreline, and two in Bellingham.
Ingrid Ulrey heads the long term care response for Public Health Seattle-King County. She said those facilities allow patients to be discharged from hospitals or moved from other facilities.
She said the idea is “to ensure we have a safe isolation space in a skilled nursing facility that will accept Covid-positive individuals who need that nursing home-eligible level of care.”
The state has also purchased the former Paramount nursing home in Seattle’s Central District to take Covid-negative patients from hospitals. It’s scheduled to open in June.
A DSHS spokesman said, “Even though we have passed the peak, the goal is to free up those hospital beds in case there are additional outbreaks.”
But King County has recommended that the facility be designated for Covid-positive residents instead.
Snohmish County officials argue they should be able to move into Phase 2
11:04 a.m. — Some officials in Snohomish County are calling on Governor Jay Inslee to let them move into Phase 2 of reopening their economy.
County Executive Dave Sommers says they have enough resources when it comes to PPE, testing, contact tracing, and quarantines to address any surge in Covid-19 cases. The Snohomish County Council and top health officials there will hold an emergency meeting Friday to consider a variance application.
Snohomish County's case numbers, however, remain higher than most other areas of the state.
Unauthorized Covid-19 medications seized
10:40 a.m. — U.S. Customs and Border officials say they seized a shipment of unauthorized COVID-19 medication at the Port of Seattle.
A package coming from Canada Wednesday contained more than 300 pills of Lianhua Qingwen.
The medication has been used in China and other countries to treat coronavirus but it has not been approved for use in the United States.
Agents in Baltimore seized a shipment of 1,200 capsules from Hong Kong earlier this month, and on Tuesday agents in Chicago confiscated three shipments from China totaling 28,800 capsules.
Another child comes down with inflammatory disease linked to Covid-19
10:35 a.m. — The Yakima Herald is reporting that another child has been diagnosed with multisystem inflammatory syndrome related to Covid-19 bringing the statewide total to five children.
The child -- from Yakima -- is younger than 10 and was transferred to Seattle Children's Hospital.
Doctors say the illness can be deadly, but most children who are diagnosed have recovered.
Food insecurity on the rise as pandemic continues in Washington
10:30 a.m. — The need for food assistance during the pandemic has been greater than anticipated in Washington state, according to a report by a local hunger relief agency.
Before the pandemic, more than 800,000 Washington residents were considered food insecure, according to Northwest Harvest. CEO Thomas Reynolds says that as of May, nearly 2 million residents don’t have adequate food.
“Depending on when we peak and how much more unemployment we see, we think that peak number will increase to 2.2 million people during the peak months of food insecurity,” Reynolds said.
Even with unemployment benefits, many are struggling to put food on the table. Philanthropic organizations have stepped up. The state’s effort, under Washington Food Fund, set a goal of $11 million in April. To date, it has raised just over $4 million.
—Ruby de Luna
Seattle mayor calls for patience amid doubts King County will enter Phase 2
10:15 a.m. —More than half of Washington's counties have been allowed to enter Phase 2 of reopening under Governor Jay Inslee's Safe Start plan.
On Thursday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan called for continued patience in King County which is still in Phase 1.
"I understand that everyone's weary, and people are ready to start coming together again, to get to work again, to be earning a paycheck," Durkan said. "We all want to start reopening our economy in our society, but people also want to do it safely."
In order to move to Phase 2, counties must have fewer than 10 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people over a two week period. King County is not expected to meet those and other benchmarks by June 1.
Durkan said she respects the governor's handling of the reopening process, which she says is based on scientific tracking.
Washington stops fraudulent unemployment claims, hopes to speed up process
10 a.m. — Washington state's employment officials say they'll be able to speed up unemployment payments now that they've stopped millions of dollars worth of fake claims.
Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine says they're working to identify each applicant quickly.
"And hiring individuals to do that rapid verification, as well as ratcheting back some of the mechanisms that we had put in place to stop the fraud," Levine said.
Those security mechanisms delayed some payments. More than 1.1 million Washingtonians have filed for unemployment since the start of the pandemic.
LeVine says the state has recouped $300 million in fraudulent claims since April. That includes 48,000 claims just last week.
LeVine adds that Washington state was a target for criminals because it was among the first to face the pandemic, and has generous unemployment benefits.
Traffic on the rebound
9:25 a.m. —After plummeting by half in March, and weeks of strangely empty highways, statewide traffic volumes have bounced back to 81 percent of their pre-pandemic baseline, according to the Washington state Department of Transportation.
Rush hour grew busy enough in May that the state has resumed using metered traffic signals at on-ramps on Interstate 5 and other highways in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.
“Congestion is still down quite a bit,” University of Washington transportation researcher Mark Hallenbeck said. “That's partly because the easiest trips to get rid of are a lot of the downtown office trips. Those kinds of jobs are a lot easier to stay at home for.”
Driving has rebounded as industries like construction reopen and as people tire of staying at home. Whether traffic will get as bad as it used to be is an open question: Some businesses want their employees to keep working from home, pandemic or no.
Hallenbeck said if people go to work every day but remain reluctant to ride with strangers on mass transit, “it's going to be really ugly.”
As of May 26, King County Metro ridership was at 27 percent, Sound Transit at 14 percent and Washington State Ferries at 51 percent of pre-pandemic baselines.
Thursday, May 28
Unemployment in Washington expected to peak by September
6:36 p.m. — By the end of September, the unemployment rate in Washington state is expected peak at 19.2%. That’s according to the state's Economic and Revenue Forecast Council.
A jobs recovery is also expected — but not until 2025.
Non-farm employment is expected to pick up next year and not let up. By 2024, projections put unemployment at 5.9%; by 2025, it arrives at 4.9%. That is slightly better than a previous forecast issued by the council in February — before the coronavirus crisis began in earnest.
Manufacturing, such as that by Boeing, will still be down by 2025, according to the estimates. It's the same for construction, which was expected to be lower even before the pandemic. But now its declines are expected to be more severe.
But those industries only make up 13% of the state's economy. And our economy is strong in services, including technology.
All Washington state nursing homes, assisted living facilities to test residents and staff for Covid-19
3:30 p.m. — All nursing homes in Washington will be required to offer Covid-19 diagnostic tests to consenting residents and all staff by June 12. Institutions with memory care units must complete testing by June 26.
The new state proclamation is aimed, in part, at assessing the potential for asymptomatic carriers to spread the coronavirus at long-term care facilities.
"Very early on in the epidemic here in Washington state, we learned that nursing homes indeed were a high risk place where there were a number of outbreaks and infection," said state health secretary John Wiesman during a press conference on Thursday.
"Thankfully, over the last month, month and a half ... we have really seen a decrease in the number of outbreaks in our long term care facilities."
Testing residents and staff, however, remains a priority, as new research suggests that asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus are more common than previously thought. Officials say they are prioritizing facilities that haven't had known outbreaks.
Read more here.
UW Medicine to temporarily furlough thousands, close psychiatric unit
12:12 p.m. — University of Washington Medicine is temporarily furloughing roughly 5,500 workers. The institution is citing financial losses of roughly $500 million due to the pandemic.
The move will lead to the temporary closure of a small psychiatric unit at the UW Medicine Montlake campus.
Dr. Kisha Clune is a resident psychiatry physician and the lead negotiator for the resident union at UW.
She’s not facing a furlough, but she said the closure of the unit will impact physicians like her who go there to train as well as patients, especially at a time when people are feeling the mental health impacts of the pandemic.
“People in the community are struggling for myriad reasons, but it’s a time of crisis really for all people, and it’s not a good time to be shutting down our crisis mental care unit,” Clune said.
Clune said Washington state already has a large shortage of in-patient psychiatric beds.
“Just taking 10 beds out of circulation impacts the whole community,” she said.
Read more here.
Wednesday, May 27
Religious, spiritual services allowed to continue in person as Washington state counties reopen
4:21 p.m. -- Gov. Jay Inslee has issued new guidance for continuing in-person religious gatherings as 24 of 39 Washington state counties move ahead with phased reopening.
State officials are still urging faith-based organizations to continue hosting remote services to the extent possible, citing the potential for the coronavirus to spread to dozens within a single service.
However, new guidelines allow all religious organizations in Washington to hold outdoor gatherings of up to 100 people — excluding staff — when online services aren't considered feasible. Service goers must wear face coverings and keep at least six feet of distance between families.
The new guidance encompasses worship services, religious ceremonies, religious study classes, weddings, funerals, and religious holiday celebrations.
Read more here.
Tuesday, May 26
King County not expecting clearance for non-essential reopening by June 1
6:33 p.m. —So far, 14 of Washington's 39 counties have been cleared to enter the second phase of reopening the state's economy. That means restaurants, barber shops, and other non-essential establishments in approved counties can resume in-person services with certain safety restrictions in place.
But King County Executive Dow Constantine said Tuesday the county is not poised to take those steps come June 1, the day the state's stay-at-home order is currently slated to lift.
The criteria to move into the second phase of reopening require, in part, that a county have less than 10 new cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 residents, over the span of 14 days.
“We are not approaching the numbers — the benchmarks that are set out under the most recent state orders,” Constantine told KUOW's The Record. “So unless the rules are going to change, which they of course could, I can't foresee that happening.”
Read more here.
Inmates released early share what it's like to rejoin a society deeply changed by Covid-19
3:57 p.m. — Four inmates told KUOW what life is like now that they have been released from prison — earlier than expected — as part of an attempt to reduce crowding during the coronavirus pandemic.
For some, the transition from prison to a home confinement was smooth. Others said serving the remainder of their sentence with an ankle monitor was difficult — that restrictions complicated their ability to purchase groceries and look for employment.
Read more here.
New emergency rules could mean fines for non-essential businesses operating against state orders
3:19 p.m. -- A set of new rules aimed at keeping businesses from overstepping Washington state's four-phase reopening approach could mean citations and fines for violators. Those actions would be taken by the Department of Labor and Industries, which could impose a fine of almost $10,000 for a workplace safety citation.
Department officials say they'll first issue warnings to either close or adjust operations to businesses contravening Inslee's stay-at-home order, which currently extends through May 31. The order restricts non-essential businesses from delivering most in-person services.
Officials say compliance checks will be conducted by phone, in writing, and in some cases, by in-person assessments.
Seattle volunteer has a reaction to Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine
9:00 a.m. -- There’s been some excitement about the first coronavirus vaccine to be tested on humans, but a Seattle man who is part of that trial has had a reaction to the vaccine. Science communicator and vaccine volunteer Ian Haydon developed a high fever after his second injection.
The vaccine is being developed by a company called Moderna. Haydon said he got a dose that was 10 times more than the amount some volunteers received.
Moderna said two other volunteers also experienced full body reactions, but has not said what they were. The company has ended safety trials at the higher dose level, but testing of lower doses will continue.
Earlier this month Moderna reported some good news: Several of the vaccine volunteers given lower doses tested positive for coronavirus antibodies, including Neal Browning of Bothel.
Moderna indicated the vaccine could be ready for the public by the end of this year if all goes well. But it’s still not clear whether the vaccine will ultimately be proven safe, or effective against the actual virus. This type vaccine – called messenger RNA –has never been licensed for use in human. And this is just first stage in the clinical trials. Two other stages also need to be completed.
As for Ian Haydon, he recovered within a day, and said he was happy to do his part to help determine what dose of this vaccine will be safe – if it ever becomes publicly available.
-- David Hyde
FRIDAY, MAY 22
Memorial Day weekend covetiquette
7:23 p.m. -- During Memorial Day weekend, Washington state officials are asking people to stay within their own counties.
You can go for a hike or picnic, they say, but stay close to home and keep your distance from everyone not in your household. Also, wear a mask.
“I do encourage you to get out, enjoy the outdoors, enjoy this beautiful place we live in,” said Dave Somers, the Snohomish County executive. “Just be safe; practice social distancing. We don’t want the holiday to become cause of a surge in cases. The virus is still in our community.”
All of the state’s rest areas remain open, and they’re being cleaned, disinfected, and restocked more frequently than they normally are.
Washington State Ferries is asking everyone to take the ferry for essential purposes only and to remain in their cars while on board.
Issaquah software engineer faces federal charges for $1.5M coronavirus business loan fraud
6:22 p.m. -- Baoke Zhang, 35, was charged with wire fraud and bank fraud in a federal criminal complaint unsealed in the Western District of Washington on Friday.
He is accused of filing multiple fraudulent bank loan applications in pursuit of more than $1 million in forgivable loans guaranteed under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
The complaint states that Zhang sought $1,525,000 in Covid-19 relief loans provided by the U.S. Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program, by falsifying payroll expenditures for nonexistent technology companies.
The federal CARES Act, which was enacted on March 29, authorized up to $349 billion in forgivable loans for small businesses struggling to compensate staff and handle certain other expenses. Zhang is accused of knowingly attempting to defraud lenders for those funds.
Read more here.
Seven options for reopening Washington schools.
10 a.m. -- The state Education Department is considering at least seven different options for reopening schools once they get the green light to do so.
The ideas range from resuming in-person classes to developing new remote learning models, or creating combinations of the two.
Some schools could re-open by district or county, depending on where their coronavirus numbers stand. But officials going back to school “as usual” is unlikely unless we get a vaccine or the infection rates change drastically.
Many are concerned their children are falling behind because of coronavirus-related school closures. About 86% of parents said they have this worry, according to a poll of more than 880 Washington parents released Wednesday. The poll was conducted by a nonprofit education advocacy group called The Education Trust.
Covid-19 death toll could be higher in Washington
9:45 a.m. -- Washington state health officials are warning the death toll from the coronavirus could be higher than what the current numbers reflect.
As of Thursday night, there were more than 1,040 Covid-19 deaths. But now officials are looking into another 3,000 deaths that date back to January 1.
They say those people had coronavirus symptoms but weren't tested because it was too early in the outbreak. They died before the first coronavirus death was reported in Washington.
Everett's Paine Field closes for 3 months
9:30 a.m. -- You won't be able to catch a commercial flight out of Everett's Paine Field for the next three months.
That's because its suspending passenger service starting Friday until August 1.
The move comes largely in part because so few people are flying right now. Crews will spend the time doing planned maintenance work and repairs.
Small town mayors ask Governor Inslee to reopen
9:15 a.m. -- The mayors of Sumner and Bonney Lake in Pierce County have sent a joint letter to Governor Jay Inslee asking him to let businesses in their cities reopen.
They argue the one-size-fits-all approach for counties just doesn't work. Pierce County is still in Phase 1 of reopening, which is the most restrictive out of Washington's four-phase reopening plan.
The mayors argue that Pierce County cities are "vastly different from Seattle and Tacoma." They say small businesses should be allowed to decide to reopen for themselves.
They also encourage seniors and other at-risk members of the community to stay home. Mike Faulk with the governor's office said that for now, any exceptions to the state's four-phased reopening plan will be considered by county, and not by city.
More counties eligible to move into Phase 2
9 a.m. -- Three more counties can apply to move into Phase 2 of the Washington's safe start plan. They include: Pacific, Grant, and Cowlitz Counties.
Each county got the go-ahead from the governor's office to apply for Phase 2. Currently, a total of 25 counties are either in Phase 2 or can ask to move ahead.
Washington GOP lay out special session agenda for Legislature
8:45 a.m. -- Washington Republicans want to cut the state budget, give businesses tax breaks, and stop state employee pay raises. It’s all part of a proposed agenda for a June special session of the Legislature to address the Covid-19 crisis.
Governor Jay Inslee has been managing the state’s response to the pandemic using his emergency powers. But now minority Republicans say it’s time for the Legislature to intervene. In a virtual press conference, Republican leaders and budget writers called for the Legislature to convene next month and unveiled a five-page agenda. State Senator John Braun is the ranking Republican on the Senate budget committee.
"I’d like to think this to be helpful to the governor," Braun said. "That he doesn’t have to shoulder this by himself. We are here. I think we have a good sense for what’s expected and what needs to be done to get through this.”
Inslee would be the one to call a special session. He and majority Democrats have said it’s likely the Legislature will convene before next January. But they haven’t committed to when.
Seattle officials want to expand internet access
8:30 a.m. -- Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan says the city is looking at how to expand internet access during the pandemic. With more school and work happening online, disparities are showing up for children who don't have internet at home.
Durkan does not oversee schools, but says the issue is on her radar.
"And we're looking now to see where in the community access to the internet is the most lacking, and how we can partner with Seattle Public Schools to increase that, and not just in the short term," Durkan said. "If we want to have true equity the internet is the new highway, and we've got to make sure families have access to that."
Currently, three internet companies offer packages for low-income households, and Comcast is offering two months free for people who apply by the end of June.
Durkan says the city and school district need a longer term plan. She has not provided details on what her office is doing.
Folklife goes online this weekend
8 a.m. -- The Northwest Folklife Festival has been an annual Memorial Day ritual for almost 50 years. But this year, instead of heading to Seattle Center, audiences will find their favorite artists online.
Folklife’s artistic director Kelli Faryar says they made the decision to go digital in March.
“It may not be four days of up to 250,000 people coming to Seattle Center, but at the core of what Folklife is, that can still happen,” Faryar said.
Digital Folklife will feature pre-recorded performances from the artists’ homes, plus a remote version of the festival’s popular Roadhouse dance venue.
It’s all streaming free. But if you like what you see this weekend, Folklife organizers hope you’ll click the donate button to help support the organization.
THURSDAY, MAY 21
Washington continues record unemployment streak
9:12 a.m. -- Washington state just recorded its highest unemployment rate in 50 years. The latest numbers show it reached 15.5% in April, which is triple the rate in March.
Overall, 527,000 jobs were lost in April, with the hospitality, construction, and retail industries suffering the biggest losses.
Financial website WalletHub is reporting that Washington state has experienced the third highest increase in unemployment this month (comparing May 2020 to May 2019), according to its own assessment.
It says Washington has been the 20th most affected state from unemployment since the pandemic struck the United States. WalletHub reports that Washington has had a 2367.45% increase in unemployment claims since the start of the Covid-19 crisis in March.
States Hit Most by Unemployment Claims - May 2020 vs May 2019
--Dyer Oxley and Angela King
Why pandemic projections have fluctuated
8:30 a.m. -- You may have seen changes in scientific models on the coronavirus epidemic over the past few months. Scientists say it's normal for projections to fluctuate as data changes.
Angela Rasmussen lives in Seattle but is a virologist with the Center for Infection and Immunity at the Columbia University.
"We were told to lock down in March to flatten the curve, and now that we've done that, some of the models that projected a certain amount of cases, a certain amount of deaths, by this time have not proved to be true," Rasmussen said.
She says locking down bought us time to understand the data better, protect the health care system, and ramp up testing.
"Unfortunately, we still do not have our testing capacity where it needs to be," Rasmussen said. "So that's going to probably affect the outcome of reopening."
She says taking a slow, evidence-based approach, as Washington state has done, still provides the highest degree of predictability.
Seattle police looking for man from racially-charged incident
8:24 a.m. -- Seattle police are trying to find a man caught on video shoving an Asian couple and telling them the coronavirus is their fault. The man also spat on the couple before he walked off.
This happened Saturday afternoon near the corner of 3rd and Stewart in downtown Seattle.
This is the second reported racially-charged incident in Seattle over the past few days.
Earlier this week, Kert Lin said the SPD was dismissive of his complaint about someone yelling a racial slur at him outside the SODO Home Depot parking lot.
Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best has recently urged people to call 911 to report bias incidents.
No Seafair this year
8:17 a.m. -- The coronavirus has put the kabash on a Seattle summer staple. All major Seafair events have been postponed until next year. Some smaller events may be allowed to go forward. But there will be no Blue Angels and no Fourth of July celebration at Gas Works. Also, not Torchlight Run or parade. The Milk Carton Derby is also cancelled.
Another protest at the capitol in Olympia
8:15 a.m. -- There's going to be another rally at the capitol building in Olympia Thursday to protest Governor Inslee's stay-at-home order.
Among those attending will be the owners of a couple of gyms that were forced to shut down this week after state Attorney General Bob Ferguson threatened to sue them for defying the mandate.
Indoor gyms are not slated to reopen until Phase 3 of Washington's plan. Even then, they are only allowed to open at half capacity.
Contact tracing for Covid-19 positive Washingtonians
8 a.m. -- Anyone who tests positive for the coronavirus in Washington state is getting a call for contact tracing. That’s according to state health officials who say the majority of people are being contacted within 24 hours.
Governor Jay Inslee toured the contact tracing call center in Tumwater Wednesday. He says he's encouraged, but won't say when Washington state as a whole can move to Phase 2 of reopening.
“All of us would like to know that date," Inslee said. "We cannot state that date now. It depends on the progress of this virus. It depends on the success of this contact tracing mission. It depends on how many people are cooperating, and we’ll make a decision as we get to that date.”
More than 700 National Guard members are now trained to do contact tracing along with hundreds of other state and local employees.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 20
Free food distribution coming to Bellevue
2:00 p.m. --Food Lifeline has added Bellevue to its distribution list. Earlier this month the non-profit started giving out pre-packaged boxes of shelf stable foods to families in need at various shopping malls. On Friday it will distribute food at Bellevue College, between 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
-Ruby de Luna
Contact tracing is up and running in Washington State.
1:55 p.m. -- Governor Jay Inslee toured the state's contact tracing call center in Tumwater today and said he was encouraged as the state moves away from what he called the “blunt instrument” of social distancing.
“To replace that blunt instrument we have really smart members of the Washington National Guard and state Department of Health and local health officials to really target their efforts to help people protect themselves,” he said.
Over 700 National Guard members are trained in contact tracing and case investigation, along with hundreds of other state and local employees – including close to 770 Department of Licensing employees on stand-by.
According to health officials, everyone newly diagnosed with COVID-19 is getting a call, and the majority are getting one within 24 hours.
The federal government intends to take the National Guard off duty at the end of June, Inslee said, before they're eligible for benefits. But he said he expects that policy to change.
Contact tracing is an important component in the state's reopening, but Inslee still would not say when Washington can move to Phase 2.
“All of us would like to know that date,” he said. “We cannot state that date now. It depends on the progress of this virus; it depends on the success of this contact tracing mission; it depends on how many people are cooperating, and we’ll make a decision as we get to that date.”
-- Anna Boiko-Weyrauch
City of Renton furloughs more than 200 employees
10 a.m. -- More than 200 employees of the city of Renton have enrolled in a "voluntary furlough program" that will save the city more than $600,000.
The workers will reduce their hours by 10-50%. But they will receive unemployment benefits from the state as well as $600-per-week from the Federal CARES Act.
Even with the furloughs, the city is projecting a $22 million shortfall this year.
No statewide mask requirement for Washington state
Gov. Inslee likely won't implement statewide mask requirement
Gov. Inslee likely won't implement statewide mask requirement
9:45 a.m. -- It appears that Washington Governor Jay Inslee is not planning to make wearing a mask mandatory in public as other governors have.
But he is likely to require businesses to encourage the practice.
Governors of several states, including New York and Michigan, have issued statewide orders that people wear masks when they’re in public and can’t maintain social distancing. In the Northwest, San Juan County has also made masks mandatory. Governor Inslee says he strongly supports mask wearing.
"We want to have broad usage of masks when we’re inside in public," he said.
But Inslee says instead of a statewide order, he’ll likely put the onus on businesses to encourage their customers to mask up.
More rural Washington counties move ahead to Phase 2
9:30 a.m. -- There are 20 counties in Washington state that are either in Phase 2, or are eligible to apply for a variance to reopen their economies.
King County is not one of them, even though some rural parts of the county have only a few confirmed coronavirus cases. County Executive Dow Constantine says it's important that the county operate as one.
"There is a good argument to be made that different geographies should be treated differently," Constantine said. "But there also is a lot of travel around the county and within central Puget Sound. I mean, people may live in a rural community but folks work in urban areas a lot of the time."
He says as time goes on, there could be a chance to fine-tune the phases for rural and urban areas.
Most of the counties that have been allowed to re-open early are rural with small populations and have had a low number of Covid-19 cases within the last 14 days.
The rest of Washington state remains in Phase 1, meaning businesses cannot have customers inside, until June 1 or later. Washington has a four-phase approach to reopening parts of the economy and daily life. the first phase has been in effect for weeks. Phase 4 is a full reopening but with an emphasis on physical distancing.
Long-awaited Covid-19 testing materials arrive in Washington
9:15 a.m. -- Long-awaited Covid-19 testing materials from the federal government are finally arriving in Washington state this week.
They include enough swabs to test nearly 200,000 people. But Reed Schuler -- an adviser to the governor -- says the state still has to do some quality control.
"Some of these products have been in transit for a very significant period of time in uncertain conditions after what we were told by FEMA was a shipping mix up," Schuler said.
Other swabs have come in boxes with the wrong labels. And instead of being individually wrapped, they were packed in bulk. Schuler says that makes it harder to keep them sterile.
Still, he says the supplies are welcome. Now that the state is trying to ramp up coronavirus testing, the federal government says it will continue to supply swabs and vials to Washington through next month.
UW plans for in-person fall quarter classes
9 a.m. -- The University of Washington is making plans to resume in-person classes when the fall semester begins September 25.
UW President Ana Mari Cauce says large lecture classes will likely remain online, but smaller classes could resume at all three campuses.
"Our best prediction suggests we should be able to do that," Cauce said. "But you know, no matter how much we plan, the virus is in charge."
Cauce says the university is looking at a number of changes for reopening the campus, such as having students wear masks, and sanitizing classrooms between classes.
All classes at the UW have been taught online since early March. Students who were accepted for Fall 2020 will not be able to defer because of Covid-19. Instead, they would have to reapply for a future term.
Washington plans to test all nursing home residents and staff
8:45 a.m. -- Washington state is moving ahead with a plan to test all nursing home residents and staff members in the coming weeks.
KUOW first reported on this effort last week. Secretary of Health John Wiesman confirmed the move Tuesday, adding they hope to do the tests over a two-week period.
"Yes we are moving in that direction we think that’s a good policy and are ramping that up, of course all of this depends on testing supplies. We continue to work on that as well," Wiesman said.
Wiesman said that once they finish the testing in nursing homes, they plan to move on to other long-term care facilities like assisted living and adult family homes. They'll hope to regularly test staff in those facilities.
Metro ridership down 75% amid pandemic shutdowns
8:30 a.m. -- King County Executive Dow Constantine says Metro ridership is down by more than 75% because of the coronavirus crisis.
And he says it will take a long time to rebuild service.
"Metro is going to lose hundreds of millions of dollars over this next biennium from the collapse in sales tax," Constantine said. "And that is a direct result, not just of Covid, but of the less than optimal way in which we fund transit in this state."
Constantine says the state Legislature will have to act to fix the shortfall. He says efforts to rebuild the system will be step-by-step and could be complicated by the West Seattle Bridge closure.
Seattle summer school will open online
8 a.m. -- Seattle Public Schools says it's going to offer online summer school courses to all students between July 6 and August 7.
Superintendent Denise Juneau made the announcement on Facebook Live this week. She says they will also be making efforts to reach out to students identified as needing a little extra support to keep up with their peers.
"Our summer school programs have a track record of successfully supporting students for educational justice, with 90% saying they were positively engaged in the summer," Juneau said. "That is really a great number and one that we hope to keep as we move forward."
TUESDAY, MAY 19
More homeless shelters and housing sites reporting Covid-19 cases
5:44 p.m. -- Health officials are reporting more Covid-19 cases at homeless shelters and housing sites around the Seattle area. There are now 251 confirmed cases of Covid-19 among staff and clients at homeless service sites, according to Public Health – Seattle & King County.
Those cases span 52 locations, up from 45 locations roughly two weeks ago.
Three large clusters are at shelters that typically serve some of the older and more vulnerable people experiencing homelessness.
The county is also now reporting 7 Covid-19 related deaths among people who are homeless. They previously reported 8 but now say the virus was determined not to be the cause of death for one person.
-- Kate Walters
Test materials arrive
4:43 p.m. -- Long-awaited Covid-19 testing materials finally arrived in Washington state from the federal government early this week, including enough swabs to test close to 200,000 people.
But the state also has to do quality control.
“Some of these products have been in transit for a very significant period of time in uncertain conditions after what we were told by FEMA was a shipping mix up,” the governor's policy advisor Reed Schuler said on a media briefing today.
Other swabs came in boxes with the wrong labels, and they weren’t individually wrapped, but packed in bulk. That makes it harder to keep them sterile, Schuler said.
Still, the supplies are welcome at a critical time when the state tries to ramp up testing for the coronavirus, he said.
The federal government has committed to supplying swabs and vials to Washington state through June.
10 more Washington counties identified for early reopening eligibility
12:52 p.m. -- Gov. Inslee on Tuesday said that 10 additional counties are eligible to apply to loosen some social distancing restrictions in place to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
State officials have also outlined the criteria for moving into the second phase of reopening, which could allow in-store retail and restaurant dining to resume with certain limitations.
Kitsap, Spokane, Thurston, Lewis, Clark, Clallam, Adams, Mason, Island, and San Juan counties are newly eligible to apply with the state Department of Health to move into Phase 2 of the state's four-phase approach to reopening.
As of Monday, 10 of Washington's 39 counties have been given the green light to move into the second reopening phase, and 22 total are eligible. That phase could allow restaurants to host patrons at 50% capacity, with parties no larger than five to a table. Additionally, gatherings of five or fewer, new construction projects, and pet grooming services could be permitted.
The criteria for eligibility requires a county to have less than 10 new cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 residents, over the span of 14 days. Also, hospitals serving a given county must have at least 20% surge capacity and a 14-day supply of personal protective equipment for health care workers.
Read more here.
Another food business shuts its doors for good
11:43 a.m. --Specialty’s Café and Bakery has announced it will permanently close after 33 years of operation, citing market conditions stemming from Covid 19 and shelter in place policies. Today is its last day.
The Pleasanton, California based chain has six locations in Seattle and one in Bellevue. In a statement posted on its website, customers with orders for May 20th and beyond will be contacted for a refund.
-Ruby de Luna
Washington AG sues 2 gyms allegedly violating Stay Home, Stay Healthy order
11:01 a.m. -- The Washington State Attorney General has filed suit against two gyms that he says continue to operate in violation of the state's "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order.
AG Bob Ferguson says both business owners have been warned multiple times, but continue to endanger public health by remaining open. He also says they're gaining unfair advantage over competitors who are remaining closed.
The gyms involved are Fitness 101 Team in Puyallup and Power Alley Fitness in Arlington.
Sound Transit gets $166M in federal funds
11 a.m. -- The United States Department of Transportation is giving more than $166 million in federal funds to Sound Transit. The money will help the agency maintain operations as the pandemic has greatly weakened ridership and associated fares.
President Donald Trump tweeted about the development Tuesday morning, saying it will help make up for lost revenue.
Sound Transit has also announced that it will start offering discounted fares for Link light rail and Sounder commuter train service starting June 1.
Riders haven't had to pay since the fares were suspended since March 21. But between June 1-30, it'll cost riders $1 to use Link light rail and $2 for the Sounder trains.
Link service will also increase to every 20 minutes during the day and continue to run every 30 minutes at night and on the weekend.
--Angela King and Dyer Oxley
UW Medicine to furlough 1,500 employees
10:30 a.m. -- UW Medicine says it plans to furlough 1,500 employees as a way to deal with the financial fallout from the coronavirus crisis.
The furloughs will last between one and eight weeks. Employees will keep their benefits. The CEO senior leadership will also have their salaries cut.
The system is facing $500 million budget shortfall by the end of summer. The shortfall comes after the a dual hit of lost revenue (because of canceled or postponed medical procedures) and rising costs due to the fight against coronavirus.
Another rural county moved to Phase 2
10 a.m. -- Asotin County in southeast Washington can now enter Phase 2 of reopening its economy.
It's the 10th county in Washington state to get the green light under the governor's Safe Start plan.
Governor Jay Inslee says the rest of the state could be ready enter Phase 2 ... sometime in June. But there is no strict deadline for the move.
US-Canada border won't open as originally planned
9:30 a.m. -- Canada and the United States have agreed to keep the border closed to non-essential travel until June 21.
The extended closure was supposed to expire this week but will now stay in place for another month.
Essential cross-border workers like healthcare professionals, airline crews and truck drivers are still permitted to cross.
Another county is calling on residents to wear face masks
9 a.m. -- Starting Friday, people in Whatcom County will be urged to wear a mask if they can't maintain safe social distances. The rule does not apply to children ages two and younger or those with conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask.
1 in 10 renters weren't able to pay rent in May
8:30 a.m. -- About 1 in 10 tenants in Washington state wasn't able to pay their rent this month. That’s according to a survey of landlords in the state. It has some of them worried.
Delaney Wysingle is a landlord with two rental properties on Seattle's Beacon Hill. When he saw how many renters couldn’t pay in May, he has this thought: “Well, I see it as a lot of people not communicating. Quite frankly. There are bills that still need to be paid.”
He wants his renters to understand his expenses. For example: he has one unit torn up for a major remodel.
“I’m at a point of no return and I have to finish, cause I have too much outlay in it to stop,” Wysingle said.
So far, Wysingle’s renters are still paying.
Last month, a similar number of Washington renters couldn’t pay at the beginning of the month. But later in the month, more than half of them had caught up.
Coronavirus vaccine progress
8 a.m. -- Efforts to find a coronavirus vaccine have taken a step forward. Four volunteers in the first clinical trial have developed antibodies.
Neal Browning of Bothell was one of them.
“This is honestly some of the best news I could have hoped for," Browning said. "There was questions on whether or not our body would truly react to the vaccine.”
The vaccine is being developed by a Boston-based company called Moderna, which says that, so far, the vaccine looks safe.
But this is just the first stage in the clinical trials and it’s still not clear whether the vaccine will be effective against the actual virus.
But if all goes well, Moderna says it could be ready by the end of this year.
MONDAY, MAY 18
Non-urgent health and dental procedures cleared to resume in Washington state
Gov. Jay Inslee issued a proclamation on Monday allowing health and dental care providers to move forward with non-urgent procedures, if they can meet certain safety criteria. The measure is effective immediately and will remain in place until further notice.
"The most important requirements for any provider of course is that they have appropriate personal protection for the workers, and their patients, and themselves," Inslee said during a press conference.
Under the measure, clinicians must monitor their supply of personal protective equipment using conservation guidelines set by the state Department of Health. Officials say that guidance will be regularly reviewed and updated.
Inslee's proclamation requires health care providers to create formal employee feedback processes regarding safety, the delivery of care, and technology for expanding care.
Read more here.
-- Liz Brazile
Washington Senators Murray and Cantwell pen open letter about safety at meat plants
9:30 a.m. -- Criticizing the Trump Administration's order to force meat plants to continue operating, Washington Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell have signed a letter, along with 26 other senators, arguing that while it is important to keep the food chain moving, the plants need to have health protections in place first. They want the USDA to ensure the operations are safe.
The senators write:
“While we recognize the importance of keeping these plants running, it is wrong and shortsighted to use the Defense Production Act to mandate plants to stay open without effectively addressing worker safety issues."
“Prematurely reopening or pressuring unsafe plants to stay open could expose employees to COVID-19. This could then sicken more workers and their families, spread the virus in their communities, and cause further damage to our food supply chain, farmers and ranchers, and rural economies.”
Antibodies from 2003 SARS could help protect against Covid-19
9 a.m. -- Researchers at the University of Washington have discovered that antibodies produced by a patient to protect against the 2003 SARS virus could help protect against Covid-19 and related coronaviruses.
"We still need to show that this antibody is protective in living systems, which has not yet been done," said David Veesler, assistant professor of biochemistry at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
Veesler is one of the lead authors of a May 18 report detailing the discovery, which is unique. While many are searching for antibodies sourced from patients who have recovered from Covid-19, this is sourced from a patient who recovered from SARS 17 years ago.
The SARS antibody is now also being studied at Vir Biotechnology in San Francisco. If it does prove to be helpful against Covid-19, it could be used as a treatment.
Please stay at home
8:41 a.m. -- People who have symptoms or are confirmed to have Covid-19 are urged to isolate at home. But public officials in Washington are out clarifying that people will not be forced into isolation.
The state Department of Health says there has been misinformation spreading that made it seem people would be forced into an isolation facility. The states request is for people to voluntarily stay in quarantine during their illness, and stay there until they test negative for Covid-19.
Also, Governor Jay Inslee is loosening the restaurant guidance on tracking people. Inslee says people should give their names to the restaurants they attend, voluntarily, so that if an outbreak happens at that facility they can be notified right away.
Whitman County moves into Phase 2
8:30 a.m. -- State health officials have given Whitman County permission to fast-track its reopening under Governor Jay Inslee’s four-phase coronavirus recovery plan.
That means nine of Washington’s 39 counties can move to phase two of Inslee’s reopening plan.
Under the second phase, counties can begin letting restaurants to open up at 50% of capacity, with tables of no more than five people and special health guidelines to protect customers and staff.
Likewise, barbershops, hair stylists, tattoo and makeup artists and other personal-service businesses can reopen with protections, as can a host of professional services.
The counties reopening more quickly have smaller populations and no recent confirmed cases of Covid-19.
Inslee and health officials have said other counties may start proceeding to Phase 2 on June 1, as long as public-health data surrounding the virus looks favorable.
Washington police officers worried about coronavirus conditions
8 a.m. -- Police officers in Washington state say they're worried about not having enough protective gear, bringing the coronavirus home, and lack of information about sick colleagues.
That's according to a survey by the state's Fraternal Order of Police. Executive director Lynnette Buffington says 100 officers from around the state have weighed in anonymously.
“Making it anonymous allowed some of them to indicate that they felt their agency wasn’t prepared, or there was poor communication about infected co-workers, and their personal concerns about what their role is in enforcement,” Buffington said.
Some sheriffs have called the governor’s stay home orders unconstitutional. Buffington says rank and file officers say they just want a consistent message on what their role should be. So far the emphasis has been on education rather than enforcement.
FRIDAY, MAY 15
Washington state death toll approaching 1,000
3:25 p.m. -- As of publication, Washington state currently has 983 confirmed Covid-19-related deaths.
That number is likely to pass 1,000 in the coming days, according to data scientist Youyang Gu whose Covid-19 projection model is among those cited by the CDC.
Gu said deaths remain on a downward trajectory in Washington.
“Right now there are about 13 per day, but we have it projected that it will continue to go down, at a slow pace, but still on a downward trajectory,” he said.
“I think that’s positive for the state for sure. I think a lot of other states in the country are not is as great a shape as Washington.”
Gu said Washington has done a good job of keeping the infection rate low and his research indicates a slow, staggered reopening may reduce the likelihood of a significant second wave here.
However, he stressed that he can’t state anything with 100 percent certainty.
Gu’s projections still predict more than 1,500 deaths in Washington by early August. The model assumes heavy social distancing in states until they begin to reopen things like restaurants, and then assumes moderate social distancing after that.
-- Kate Walters
King County reports no new Covid-19 deaths for Thursday
9:57 a.m. -- There were zero Covid-19 deaths reported in King County on May 14, according to the Public Health, Seattle & King County outbreak dashboard.
The “new since yesterday” cases and death figure reported on the dashboard each day often includes reports of cases and deaths that are a few days delayed, said Public Health.
This means the county may still receive reports in the coming days of deaths that occurred on May 14.
Airport travel requirements: masks and temperature checks
9:32 a.m. -- Sea-Tac Airport will start to require masks for all passengers on Monday, May 18.
Sea-Tac is not doing temperature checks for every traveler, though Paine Field in Everett is. That's because of the difficult logistics of having dozens of entry points at Sea-Tac, according to Port of Seattle spokesperson Perry Cooper.
He says the major airport is developing plans for temperature checks, which may be the first for a large airport in the United States.