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caption: Boxes of fresh produce, meat and dairy are loaded into vehicles at a free food distribution drive-thru site led by the Pacific Islander Community Association of Washington on Thursday, July 10, 2020, along Military Road South in Kent.
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Boxes of fresh produce, meat and dairy are loaded into vehicles at a free food distribution drive-thru site led by the Pacific Islander Community Association of Washington on Thursday, July 10, 2020, along Military Road South in Kent.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Blog: Covid-19 pandemic in Washington state

This post will be updated with information about the coronavirus pandemic in Washington state. Scroll down for older information.

As of Thursday, August 13, the Washington State Department of Health reports:

  • 1,736 Covid-19 related deaths; 65,339 confirmed cases (2.7% death rate among positive cases). Note that tests have been limited, so there are likely more unreported cases.
  • Compared to white people, the rate of Covid cases is three times higher for Black people, five times higher for Latinx people, and six times higher for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders.
  • While the pandemic initially struck older populations hard, more recent surges in case numbers (June/July) have been driven by younger people -- ages 40 and below.

Versión en español aquí / Read KUOW's coronavirus coverage in Spanish

THURSDAY, AUGUST 13

Update on statewide pandemic conditions

1:23 p.m. -- Washington's Joint Information Center held a briefing on how the local pandemic is going. Officials said there is more hesitancy to let counties move up a phase and there is no timeline for counties to continue up through the state's four phase plan.

On Wednesday, state Secretary of Health John Weisman said the timing depends on what a variety of data look like going forward, especially as the weather turns cooler and people spend more time indoors. But, he’s “a bit more hesitant now” compared to the state’s first experience with reopening. Local health directors told Weisman that people in their counties over-reacted to reopening, acting like there were many fewer restrictions that there actually were.

“That isn’t helpful,” Weisman said. “We saw, certainly, a lot of increases in Covid activity across the state.”

There has been a lag in testing and contact tracing recently. It's taking, on average, four days for people with Covid-19 to get tested from the time they show symptoms, and another four days on average for that information to enter the state's database, according to Department of Health data from July 26 to August 1. A positive test result triggers state and local health departments to begin work interview the person who was infected and reaching out to their close contacts, so these delays hinder efforts to slow the virus’ spread.

The first delays could be due to how quickly people seek care and how available testing is, State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy said.

“I think it’s probably more likely has to do with the individual seeking testing,” she said. “They get to the point where they finally feel poor enough that, 'Oh maybe something is going on.'”

After it’s collected, specimens pass through many more hands, Lofy said. It travels to the lab, which may be closer in an urban rather than a rural area; the lab reports the results to public health authorities, and then the data needs to be processed and uploaded into the data system. “Obviously really important to try to minimize the time it takes to do every single one of those steps because we know how important the timeliness is to our contact tracing,” Lofy said. Washington state has set benchmarks for how quickly contact tracing needs to be conducted, but has not publicly released data on its performance yet.

Senior Policy Advisor for the Office of the Governor Reed Schuler said testing turnaround times have been decreasing on average in the state, both in “already rapid” state labs and in the out-of-state commercial labs, which have faced significant delays. “Those times appear to have come down from very long to meaningfully faster,” Schuler said. The Department of Health would not share data on specific turnaround times with KUOW.

-- Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

Seattle to invest in more housing for people who are homeless as pandemic continues

12:50 p.m. -- The city of Seattle will invest roughly $60 million from the Seattle Housing Levy to build more housing for people who are experiencing chronic homelessness.

The investment will go towards 599 new units of permanent supportive housing across six sites within the city. These are units which have services on site for people who have been homeless for long periods and are dealing disabling physical, mental or behavioral health issues.

“Covid-19 has forced us to reconsider how do we do more? How do we do it more quickly? How do we support the most vulnerable people,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said Wednesday.

The goal is to get the new units online by the end of next year. That’s an aggressive timeline and officials said Wednesday this investment is far higher than the normal yearly investment in permanent supportive housing.

There’s an emphasis on opening units as quickly as possible, according to Emily Alvarado, director of the city’s Office of Housing.

“There are many responses to homelessness, but the proven long-term response is housing. So our effort here is to try to expedite delivery of the proven long-term solution and make sure there are more permanent homes for people to move into.”

While the timeline for the six new buildings is fast-tracked, questions remain around strategies for housing people who are living outside in the meantime as the pandemic continues. The addition of hundreds of units will also likely fall short of the need across the county.

Alvarado said they’re using multiple strategies to ensure housing can be built quickly and cost-effectively, including use of alternate building technologies and expedited permitting.

She also stressed that the city is focused on ensuring racial equity when people are placed in the units.

There are more than 3,300 people experiencing chronic homelessness in King County. Homelessness disproportionately impacts people of color and members of the LGBTQ community.

-- Kate Walters

Fred Hutch model: Most spread of Covid-19 coming from 20% of cases

11 a.m. -- According to a new report from Fred Hutch, about 80% of Covid-19 cases do not spread to other people. Instead, Fred Hutch says the spread is "largely driven by contact with people who happen, briefly, to be highly contagious in the wrong place, at the wrong time."

The medical research center says that super spreader events, such as weddings or other large gatherings, are where many new infections are stemming from. Their computer model suggests that, while people can shed the virus for an extended period of time, they generally shed enough to be contagious over the span of a couple days. That period usually happens before they experience symptoms, meaning they likely aren't aware they are infected and are spreading it to others.

“Super-spreader events come from when people are shedding virus at their peak,” said Dr. Joshua T. Schiffer with Fred Hutch. “They have to show up in a crowded place, and they have to do so when they are shedding at a high viral load."

Schiffer said that the best thing everyone can do is to assume they are infected and contagious when they are in public, and do their best to protect others.

--Dyer Oxley

Washington may be on the other side of recent Covid-19 wave

10:30 a.m. -- It looks like Washington state is on the downswing from a big peak of cases in mid-July. If the graph of our cases this summer looked like a big hike up a mountain, now it looks like we’re coming down. We’re on the other side, losing elevation.

Another bright spot in the data is the number of people hospitalized with symptoms that look like Covid-19. That curve is going down, too. Fewer and fewer people are going to the ER with what appears to be Covid. There are fewer people now compared to earlier this summer, and there are way fewer people compared to the peak back in March.

Recent cases appear to have spread from mostly young people to older people. With the most recent wave this summer, it was initially a lot more cases in people under 40 going to the hospital. But their cases flattened out around mid-July. At the same time, more people over 40 have been getting sick.

Read more details here.

--Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

REI halts new headquarters plan

10 a.m. -- REI is says it's looking to sell it's brand new headquarters in Bellevue . More than 1,200 employers were supposed to move into the new space over the summer, but the pandemic put the brakes on that.

Now REI says Covid-19 crisis has drastically changed its need for office space. So it's looking to sell the building and have most of its corporate team work remotely. It also plans to have satellite offices set up around the Puget Sound region.

--Angela King

Petition opposes state's rules for gyms

More than 15K sign petition to end pandemic rules for Washington gyms

More than 15K sign petition to end pandemic rules for Washington gyms

9 a.m. -- More than 15,000 people have signed a petition calling for an end to the new 17-foot-rule for health clubs and gyms across Washington state. Small fitness centers say the rule is unworkable and will force them out of business.

At Athena Fitness and Wellness in Olympia, they’re holding classes, but their space is so small they can only allow six people in a class and still keep 17 feet of distance. That’s the new rule as of this month imposed by Governor Jay Inslee to reduce the chances of Covid-19 spreading.

“I feel like we’re just being unfairly punished and then the people at the top just continue to get richer, which is the very, very broken system that we are in and I know many are feeling this,” said Athena owner Tiffany Krueger.

Krueger says the 17-foot-rule works for bigger gyms, but not smaller ones like hers. Inslee’s office says it continues to work with the industry but it’s too early to say if changes to the rule will be made.

--Austin Jenkins

Yakima casino opens

8:30 a.m. -- The Yakama Legends Casino opens its doors Thursday for the first time since the pandemic forced Yakama Tribal Council to shut it down in March.

Letisha Peterson is the casino's general manager and says they employ nearly 800 people, making them one of the top three employers in the Yakima Valley.

“We're not an essential business, of course, but we are essential to the financial support that we provide to our nation," Peterson said.

As a sovereign nation, the Yakima currently have a public safety order in place that bans all social and religious gatherings. But the community is still reliant on the income from the casino.

"I know it was not an easy decision," Peterson said. "And I know there was a lot of concerns in regards to it. But I think once people have seen the protocols and all of the information we've provided, people will make their own decision if they want to come out."

Peterson says employees will undergo temperature checks and will follow strict cleaning schedules and social distancing protocols. Guests will also be screened and asked to wear a mask and they won't be allowed to smoke indoors

--Esmy Jimenez

Seattle to start online classes in the fall, potential outside classes

8 a.m. -- The Seattle Public School District is one step closer to starting the upcoming school year with online classes.

The district and the teachers union are set to sit down at the bargaining table Thursday. The school board signed off on a back-to-school plan Wednesday which that calls for classes to start online in the fall.

Members also want the district to look into offering outdoor classes once in-person learning is considered safe again. But details of the plan could change during negotiations with the teachers union, and so far the two sides are reportedly still far apart.

Read more details here.

-Derek Wang

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 12

Council votes to uphold Covid-19 relief spending, but at lower level

4:55 p.m. -- The Seattle City Council has voted to uphold plans to use emergency funds to help residents and businesses impacted by the Covid-19 crisis.

The vote overrides a veto from Mayor Jenny Durkan.

Durkan has argued it’s irresponsible to spend down the city’s rainy day funds early in what is likely to be a multi-year crisis.

Despite overriding her veto, the council struck a tone of compromise Wednesday.

“Together we are working to identify the needed revenue to address the needs in our community and to be fiscally prudent with the dollars in front of us,” said council member Teresa Mosqueda.

Mosqueda said this is an ongoing crisis that requires the city to invest in community needs like housing, child care, food assistance and small business support. But she said the council must also take economic realities into account.

Updated forecasts released this week show the city is facing an additional $26 million budget shortfall in 2020. That is on top of an already dire gap facing Seattle due to the economic impacts of the pandemic.

As a result, the council amended their relief plan Wednesday, lowering the amount that will be spent from more than $80 million to $57 million.

Council members said they’ll continue to work with the Mayor’s office on concerns and expressed hope that they could reach common ground on the spending.

The council and the Mayor’s office have shared a tense relationship over recent months, something council members alluded to Wednesday while saying they hope to move forward in collaboration.

No Pac-12 sports this year

6:40 a.m. -- The Pac-12 has canceled or postponed all sports until January 2021.

Conference leaders made the call Tuesday, saying they didn't want to risk players' health during the pandemic and were also worried about the unknown, long term health effects of Covid-19.

The Big Ten also pulled the plug on the fall sports season.

But there is a chance fall sports like football, cross country, and swimming could resume in the spring -- even though some analysts are doubtful. They say spring would be too busy with essentially every sport being played at once.

Either way, the affected athletes will be able to keep their scholarships and maintain their eligibility until the next season.

--Angela King

Outbreaks at child care facilities

6:30 a.m. -- There have been two dozen confirmed Covid-19 outbreaks at child care facilities in King County since March. And Public Health – Seattle & King County says it’s investigating another six possible recent outbreaks.

The agency did not provide any specific locations. An “outbreak” consists of at least two infections within two weeks of each other, with at least one confirmed by a lab.

The majority of people infected at child care centers appear to be adults, although studies show kids often have mild or no symptoms.

Child care centers are required by state law to report Covid-19 cases to health officials.

--Paige Browning

New rules for long-term care facilities in effect today

6:15 a.m. -- New visitation rules for long-term facilities and nursing homes go into effect statewide Wednesday.

Under Phase 1 -- which the Governor says they're all under -- residents can have window visits, and some outdoor visits.

Under Phase 2 and Phase 3 for these facilities, indoor visits will be allowed. And regular visits will be allowed under Phase 4.

But the facilities must go 28 days without a Covid-19 case to move to the next phase.

--Angela King

Seattle plans for homeless shelters

6 a.m. -- Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is expected to talk Wednesday about a plan aimed at helping the homeless get off the streets, and out of shelters, during the pandemic.

Her office says investments made by the Seattle Office of Housing will help them create a significant number of new and permanent, supportive housing units through the Seattle Housing Levy. The goal is to get more people out of shelters and into stable homes and limit the spread of coronavirus.

--Angela King

MONDAY, AUGUST 10

New rules for gyms, weddings and funerals in effect Monday

9:30 a.m. -- Another round of Covid-19 related restrictions is going into effect in Washington.

Starting Monday, gyms and fitness centers -- which were allowed to reopen in Phase 2 and Phase 3 counties -- must now make sure their patrons are about 17 feet apart instead of six feet.

Exceptions will be made for those practicing certain team sports. Everyone must wear a face mask if they're not doing any strenuous exercises. There are also new limitations on the number of people allowed inside at one time.

Also, a ban on wedding and funeral receptions goes into effect. Services must be limited to 30 people or 20% of the indoor capacity, whichever is less.

--Angela King

Seahawks player placed on Covid-19 list

9 a.m. -- The Seahawks have placed their first player on the NFL's Reserve/Covid-19 list.

Wide Receiver John Ursua was placed on the list Sunday, which means he either tested positive for Covid-19 or is being quarantined because he made close contact with an infected person, The Seattle Times reports.

The Seahawks had been one of five teams that had yet to place a player on the list. Ursua can return the main roster once he's received several negative test results and is deemed healthy enough to play.

As of Sunday, 105 players had been placed on the list since training camp began around the league, including two on Sunday. Of that total, 74 have since been activated, including eight on Sunday.

--Angela King

Religious rally on Capitol Hill

8:30 a.m. -- Hundreds of people descended on the Capitol Hill neighborhood for a worship rally at Cal Anderson Park this past weekend.

Outdoor religious gatherings of more than 100 people are currently banned under the state's Safe Start Plan. Current rules stat that up to 100 people, excluding religious staff, can meet outdoors at the property of a faith organization anywhere in the state.

At the Capitol Hill rally, few people were wearing face coverings at The “Let Us Worship” rally led by Sean Feucht, who's been described as a worship leader and political activist.

Organizers say masks were made available and social distancing was encouraged.

--Angela King

Washington gave 3 no-bid contracts to consulting firm for pandemic

8 a.m. -- A high-priced global consulting firm has received three no-bid contracts from the state of Washington since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Those contracts each cost more than $100,000 a week.

When the pandemic hit, the prestigious management consulting firm McKinsey and Company began offering Covid-related services to governments. In Washington, the governor’s office signed up for a special Covid data dashboard at a cost of $165,000 a week. Washington’s Medicaid program and Employment Security Department also contracted with McKinsey. These were all no-bid contracts paid for with federal dollars.

“Consulting really thrives in moments of change and upheaval because they can say we’ll be here to help you along the way. It’s sort of a helping hand I guess,” said Ian MacDougall, a journalist who’s written about McKinsey for the investigative news site ProPublica.

MacDougall says the Covid-19 pandemic has been a bonanza for McKinsey.

But MacDougall questions the value for taxpayers. McKinsey notes that it offered discounted prices. Inslee’s office says the McKinsey tool was useful in more than one way. Even so, after the initial eight weeks, its contract with McKinsey was paused.

Read more details here.

--Austin Jenkins

FRIDAY, AUGUST 7

A crowded covid-19 testing spot in South Seattle is expanding

4:57 p.m. The Seattle Fire Department is taking over a testing site in the parking lot of Rainier Beach High School, and it’s no longer a drive-through.

Now, people will park their cars and walk through lines to get testing, Lieutenant Brian Wallace said.

“It’s much more efficient to move people through this walk-through model, and we really wanted to lessen the traffic impact to the neighborhood, and also increase the capacity of testing,” he said.

The site is open five days a week and can test up to 800 people a day. Appointments are encouraged, but not necessary. You don’t need insurance and the tests are free.

In the future, Wallace says they want to use sites like this to administer a vaccine for Covid-19.

Before, the testing at this site was done by UW Medicine out of a mobile van. It operated two days a week with limited hours and could serve up to 200 people a day. Some people had to wait in a long line of cars for hours to get tested.

Wallace says the Fire Department expects to operate testing here at least through the end of the year.

Seattle will also announce a fourth city-run testing site in the near future located somewhere in southwest Seattle.

--Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

11 cases of Covid condition that afflicts children in Washington

3 p.m. -- There have now been 11 confirmed cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Washington state. The rare conditions afflicts children and is associated with Covid-19.

"While MIS-C is very rare, parents should be aware it can happen and contact their health care provider if their children develop new or unusual symptoms,” said Dr. Kathy Lofy with the department of health. “We are tracking this issue closely and continue to ask health care providers to be on the lookout and immediately report possible cases to local health.”

Six of the cases have been in children ages nine and younger. More than half of the cases have been in the Hispanic population. They have been recorded in the following counties:

  • Franklin: 2
  • King: 3
  • Skagit: 1
  • Snohomish: 2
  • Yakima: 3

--Dyer Oxley

Pandemic is a ‘forest fire looking for human wood to burn’

2 p.m. -- Don’t expect a second wave, scientists say. Rather, expect this rise of coronavirus cases to look like one big wave.

"Scientific opinion on a second wave of coronavirus is beginning to vary,” today’s statewide Situation Report says. “Whether it be from the long incubation period, or varying degrees of mitigation measure compliance.”

Scientists are beginning to doubt there will be a low point before another peak, as occurred during the 1918 flu.

The pandemic could be like a 'forest fire looking for human wood to burn,' said epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy in Minnesota.

Osterholm told Business Insider that there’s no evidence that there will be a decrease in cases. "It's just going to keep burning hot,” he said.

--Anna Boiko-Weyrauch and Isolde Raftery

Record number of new coronavirus cases in Pierce County

11:00 a.m. -- Coronavirus cases have been rising steeply in Pierce County since mid-June.

Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department officials said Thursday’s record high of 123 new cases might reflect a backlog in processing Covid tests or a delay in data processing by the Washington Department of Health.

The virus has been striking county residents of all ages, with people in their 20s or their 80s most likely to be infected.

“We have seen clusters of dozens of people infected from one house party,” department director Anthony Chen reported in July.

Outbreaks of at least 10 infections have hit 13 nursing facilities in the county, with the largest clusters at Linden Grove Health Care Center in Puyallup (73 cases) and Heartwood Extended Health Care in Tacoma (70 cases).

The virus has infected Latinos, Blacks, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans in the county at least twice as often as whites and Asians.

“People who earn less money, are less educated, or have limited ability to speak English are at higher risk,” according to the department.

Pierce County’s data underestimates the toll of the disease there: Joint Base Lewis-McChord, like the rest of the U.S. military, stopped revealing its Covid-19 cases in April.

--John Ryan

Health officials to start visiting restaurants, taverns to ensure compliance

8:45 a.m. -- King County's restaurants and taverns will get some help to comply with the state's reopening rules. Public health officials have noticed rising number of Covid cases as restaurants and bars reopen.

Public Health Seattle-King County has launched a new program that will provide guidance and help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Health inspectors will be visiting restaurants and taverns to make sure owners and workers are aware of state guidelines. They'll look for things like employee health screening, proper cleaning practices and adequate safe distancing.

The agency says the goal is to help businesses understand the guidelines and identify areas that need to be enforced, with return visits if needed.

--Ruby de Luna

Most fall classes will be online at UW

8:30 a.m. -- The University of Washington says more than 90% of its classes will be held remotely at all of its Western Washington campuses this fall. Exceptions will be made for a number of graduate programs that require in-person learning.

Campus housing will still be open to students, but residents and those who visit the campuses for in-person instruction must wear a mask.

--Angela King

Changes at Seattle-area beaches as pandemic continues

8 a.m. -- The Seattle Parks and Recreation Department says lifeguards are now stationed at Magnuson, Madison, Pritchard, and West Green Lake beaches.

They'll be there from noon to 7 p.m., Monday-Friday and from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on the weekend.

Parks officials are asking people to still practice social distancing and stay chest-deep in the water so they don't have to perform and close-contact rescues.

Mount Baker Beach remains closed because the bacteria levels in the water are high.

At Alki Beach Park, the parks department has been receiving noise complaints and reports of other violations. Police say they've been getting calls about people lighting fires on the beach even though they're not allowed right now. The parks department has now hired three Seattle police officers to help clear-out Alki Beach Park at night, over the weekend.

They will patrol the beach and boat ramp from 8-11 p.m. Thursday through Sunday until at least September 27.

And last Sunday, the Seattle Times reports that police responded to a drive-by shooting that left two men injured.

--Angela King

Masks now required on Alaska Airlines

7:30 a.m. -- Starting Friday, all Alaska Airlines passengers over the age of 2 must wear a face mask -- both in the airport and on their flight. No exceptions.

That means no exemptions for those who say they can't wear them for medical reasons.

But some passengers say they want the airline to ensure passengers wear their masks properly, so they cover their noses as well as their mouths

--Angela King

Gov. Inslee announces plan to reopen long-term care facilities

7 a.m. -- Governor Jay Inslee has issued new rules for those who want to visit loved ones in long-term care facilities. The healthcare sites have been under strict restrictions since that initial coronavirus outbreak at the Life Care Center in Kirkland.

"I think it's going to be really good for the mental health of residents," Inslee said Thursday. "It's going to mean people have what they enjoy most in life, which is to see the people that they love."

The new rules go into effect August 12, barring any big jumps in the coronavirus.

Read more about the state's new four phase plan for long-term care facilities below.

--Angela King

THURSDAY, AUGUST 6

When bars and restaurants reopened, cases rose. This initiative aims to change that

4:30 p.m. -- Public Health Seattle & King County has launched an initiative to educate bar and restaurant staff – and to enforce safety protocols to reduce coronavirus spread.

The department of health noticed “an unsettling trend” as Seattle and the rest of the county reopened bars and restaurants.

Public health may now enforce statewide orders to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The initiative is called SSTAR, for Safe Start for Taverns and Restaurants.

SSTAR will visit restaurants and bars throughout the county to help staff understand the requirements. SSTAR will look to see if these measures are in place:

Employee health screening

Employee and customers wearing masks

Employee and customer social distancing

Sanitation procedures

Collection of customer contact information

Compliance with seating capacity

No seating at bar counter

Public health has made 423 inspections since July 3. Most of those food businesses were in compliance. Those that were not made the requested upgrades.

--Isolde Raftery

After months of lockdown, new plans for care facilities that will allow family visits

caption: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee briefs the media and the public on a new four-phase plan for reopening long-term care facilities and allowing visits, Aug. 6, 2020.
Enlarge Icon
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee briefs the media and the public on a new four-phase plan for reopening long-term care facilities and allowing visits, Aug. 6, 2020.
Credit: TVW

2:55 p.m. -- Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced new regulations for long-term care facilities (LTC) Thursday. Such facilities, where people with vulnerable conditions reside, were put on lockdown as the pandemic began to spike in spring.

“I’m very pleased today to say we have come far enough both in our restraint of the pandemic and develop protocols that will work to continue to protect the health of our residents and give them much better contact with their loved ones," Inslee said. “More grandmothers visiting their grandchildren, more fathers visiting their sons, more friends getting together."

The state has developed a new four-phase plan for the healthcare settings and nursing homes. This four-phase plan is entirely separate than the four phase protocol for reopening the state.

  • 1st phase: Allow compassionate care visits, window visits, remote visits, and outdoor visits limited to two per day.
  • 2nd phase: Allow indoor visits, but limited.
  • 3rd phase: More visits; easing up on restrictions.
  • 4th phase: Return to normal visitation.

In order to move forward in the phases, an LTC facility has to go 28 days without staff or residents testing positive for Covid-19. They must also have a 14-day supply of PPE. Phases for facilities will also be based on conditions in the county they reside. Areas with higher transmission rates will have slower openings at healthcare facilities.

As of Aug. 4, there have been 5,694 cases of Covid-19, and 894 deaths, associated with long-term care facilities in Washington state. These cases include residents, employees and staff.

State Secretary of Health John Wiesmann said Thursday that data clearly shows that the elderly population is more at risk during the pandemic. He stressed that limiting activity outside the facilities in daily life will add up to improved conditions for Washignton's vulnerable populations.

Inslee echoed that sentiment.

“We know this virus is extremely active and we know that we are acting outside of these facilities to take care of folks inside by wearing masks," Inslee said. "We need to be conscious of the devastating impacts of what we do outside these facilities that can impact what happens inside. I’m serious when I say that I hope people, the next time they think about going to a big party where they are going to hang around 20-30 people, not wearing masks, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, breathing on each other, I hope you think about the lives that would cost, the people that you love who might be in a long-term care facility, or yourself for that matter."

--Dyer Oxley

Covid cases need to drop before schools can reopen, officials say

9 a.m. -- Washington has announced new guidelines for school districts trying to decide if, or when, to restart in-person learning.

Officials say students should come back only once Covid-19 case numbers drop significantly in most counties. State superintendent Chris Reykdal says Washington is taking its lessons from abroad.

"What we’ve observed in other countries is, for certain, you’ve got to get your case numbers down and then you’ve gotta have a slow return back," Reykdal said. "Perhaps it’s your earliest learners first, small groups of students."

Right now, under the new recommendations, case numbers are too high for in-person learning in the Puget Sound region. Most school districts in the area have already announced plans to be online-only this fall.

The Seattle School Board is set to vote Wednesday on how to handle its upcoming school year.

Read more details on Washington's school plans below.

-- Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

State making progress on backlog of unemployment claims

Progress on unemployment claims, but many Washingtonians still waiting

Progress on unemployment claims, but many Washingtonians still waiting

8 a.m. -- Washington's Employment Security Department says it has cleared a backlog of claims from the spring, with people who had never been paid.

The department is expected to report the latest numbers on the state of its other backlogs Thursday. Such as when people's payments were interrupted because of identity fraud. At last count, 30,000 people were still stuck waiting.

The Employment Security Department says it is working on the remaining cases. It also admits its website often isn’t clear about how the claimant can solve their problem.

That’s why people often have to call, or get their state representative involved.

-- Carolyn Adolph

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 5

New back-to-school recommendations suggest in-person instruction a long ways off for most Washington counties

4:57 p.m. -- It’s not safe for the “vast, vast majority” of students in Washington state to go back to school in-person this fall, Governor Jay Inslee said today, issuing a new set of back-to-school recommendations for local school and public health authorities.

Across the state, 25 counties including King, Snohomish, and Pierce, are being classified as “high risk” and have levels of Covid-19 transmission that are too high for in-person instruction to be safe this fall. The new guidelines also recommend cancelling or postponing extracurricular activities in such counties.

Whether or how students go back to school in the fall is a decision up to local authorities in Washington state.

Inslee and state schools superintendent Chris Reykdal said this new framework provides flexibility that local school districts can adapt to their needs.

“High risk” counties are those with more than 75 cases per 100,000 residents over a two week period.

For counties with moderate (25 to 75 cases per 100,000 residents) and low rates of infection (less than 25 cases per 100,000 residents) the new guidance recommends online learning for most middle and high schoolers, with in-person instruction possible for elementary and special needs students.

Nine counties are in the moderate risk category, including Clark and Whatcom counties. Only five of Washington’s counties fall in the low-risk category, including San Juan and Wahkiakum counties.

As far as what it will take for any school district to get back to in-person learning, the state superintendent had this to say: “What we’ve observed in other countries is, for certain, you’ve got to get your case numbers down and then you’ve got to have a slow return back. Perhaps it’s your earliest learners first. Small groups of students.”

The governor and superintendent also announced $8.8 million in CARES Act funding. The money will enable some tens of thousands of low-income families to get a year of internet access, Reykdal said.

Earlier this summer, the state released a guide for school districts to plan how they would conduct operations and teach students in the fall.

Most Puget Sound-region school districts have already announced plans to teach online, with no in-person attendance, this fall.

On August 12th, the Seattle School Board will vote on Superintendent Denise Juneau’s recommendation to start the school year remotely.

--Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

Reminder: Stick to your social distancing bubble

10 a.m. -- The Washington State Department of Health is reminding people to keep their social circles "small, very small" as cases of Covid-19 continue to rise across the state.

In a recent blog post from the department, officials note that 30-50% of people with Covid-19 say they likely got it from someone who did not present any symptoms at the time.

According to the post: "Larger social gatherings are one big reason we’re seeing high rates of COVID-19 activity throughout the state. Every time we’re around others talking, laughing, or singing, we risk catching the virus from someone’s breath."

The message comes as health officials in Okanogan County are trying to track down 100 people who recently gathered for a camping trip there. Some members of the party have tested positive for Covid-19 (more details on that story below).

Even though the Northwest sun is shining, experts say the advice remains the same as it was at the start of the pandemic: stay home if you're sick; practice 6-feet of distance and wear a mask (no either/or); and only have a couple social interactions a week, preferably outside, in small groups (five to 10 people depending on the phase your county is in).

--Dyer Oxley

Top places where Covid-19 outbreaks have occurred in Washington

9 a.m. -- The Washington State Department of Health has released a new outbreak report which details the settings where most Covid-19 outbreaks have happened.

There have been 459 outbreaks in long-term care facilities so far this year. Those outbreaks peaked in March and have tapered off since. But Covid-19 cases continue to rise elsewhere in Washington state, away from healthcare settings. The department of health has comprised a list of non-healthcare settings where outbreaks have been reported since the pandemic began.

Note: The following are the number of outbreaks (numerous cases), not the number of individual cases.

  • Agriculture/produce packing - 57
  • Manufacturing (food and food-related) - 44
  • Retail/grocery - 44
  • Food service/restaurant - 44
  • Manufacturing (non-food) - 34
  • Other - 32
  • Private event - 19
  • Construction - 17
  • Childcare - 13
  • Warehousing - 10
  • Professional services / office-based - 9
  • Corrections - 9
  • Place of worship - 9
  • Shelter/homeless service - 7
  • Transportation/shipping/delivery - 7
  • Leisure/recreation/hospitality - 6
  • Fishing - 6
  • K-12 school - 5
  • Public safety - 4
  • Utilities - 4
  • College/University - 3
  • Hotel - 3
  • Military - 3
  • Large gathering - 2
  • Bar/nightclub - 1
  • Cleaning service - 1
  • Office - 1
caption: From the Washington State Department of Health outbreak report, Aug. 3, 2020.
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From the Washington State Department of Health outbreak report, Aug. 3, 2020.
Credit: Washington State Department of Health

-- Dyer Oxley

Officials tracking down attendees of Okanogan camping trip with Covid outbreak

8 a.m. -- Okanogan County health officials are working to track down more than 100 people who attended a two-day camping trip in the Methow Valley. Some of them have since tested positive for Covid-19.

Lauri Jones with Okanogan County Public Health told the county health board Tuesday that large gatherings are driving up the number of coronavirus cases and deaths and overburdening the local health care system.

"We don’t have the capacity," Jones said. "Central Washington Hospital can’t take any more. They’re on diversion because of staffing. What does that mean for citizens of our county? We had to send someone to Vancouver! It’s ridiculous!"

The coronavirus case count is climbing quickly in the county, with about 300 of the nearly 800 total cases coming in the last two weeks.

Officials continue working to track down all attendees of the camping trip on July 24-25. Anyone who attended is asked to contact the Okanagan County Health Department.

--Derek Wang

TUESDAY, AUGUST 4

Don't trade social distancing for mask wearing -- do them both

3 p.m. -- The SCAN study in Seattle has release a few results from the 17,957 people it has tested for Covid-19.

Among the observations:

  • While there is a significant number of people testing positive after they were in contact with someone known to be infected, there is a greater number of people who test positive and are unaware of how they got the virus. A total of 80% of people tested between June 10 and July 28 said they had no contact with a person known or suspected to be infected.
  • People who came in contact with a person known to be infected were 10.8 times more likely to test positive. People who said they might have come in contact with an infected person were 2.4 times more likely to test positive.
  • People who test positive for the virus are more likely to have reported symptoms.
  • Mask usage has increased, but it is not universal. SCAN notes that a combination of social distancing (staying 6 feet apart) and using masks is the best practice. Self-reported mask usage increased from 50% in May to 90% in late July. At the same time, people eased up on social distancing. SCAN estimates that 40% of people traded social distancing for masks.

According to Public Health - Seattle & King County: "Trading social distancing for mask use is counterproductive for COVID-19 prevention. The best way to protect each other when we must go out is to maintain at least six feet of distance from others and to always wear a mask."

--Dyer Oxley

Flower shop fined for not enforcing pandemic safety measures

9 a.m. -- The Everett Herald reports that a plant nursery -- whose owner forbade employees from wearing masks -- has been fined $4,200 for failing to ensure a safe workplace and potentially exposing workers to the novel coronavirus.

Investigators with the state Department of Labor and Industries reported violations at Flower World in Maltby during four different visits in June. During those visits, investigators found that employees were not wearing masks, keeping a 6-foot distance, or having their temperatures checked at the start of the day. Investigators also reportedly found a flier from the business stating that employees nor customers would be required to wear masks.

The nursery has 15 days to appeal the citation.

-- Kim Shepard

New gym requirements

8:30 a.m. -- Governor Jay Inslee has issued new guidelines for gyms and other fitness facilities under his Safe Start Plan.

People will now need to be 17 feet apart at gyms, instead of the often-quoted six feet.

Exceptions will be made to those practicing certain team sports. Showers, hot tubs, saunas, and tanning beds will be closed along with steam rooms, squash courts, and racquetball courts.

-- Angela King

Backlog of unemployment claims is cleared, but more work ahead

8 a.m. -- Washington’s employment security department says it has cleared its initial claims backlog. All claims from March and early June have been resolved. But they still have to work on claims still outstanding from late June and July.

Commissioner Suzi LeVine says the department is getting ready for a new stage in the crisis -- a wave of unemployment claims that could be triggered by new lockdowns.

There's also the issue of retraining people who can't go back to their old jobs.

“We will need to support a record number of workers whose jobs aren't coming back and who needs help to find another job and Dean's skills," LeVine said. "And at the same time, with the tectonic shift in what jobs are in demand, working closely with employers on what new skills and new jobs they need to fill."

LeVine says her department is committed to improving its methods and systems, so it can help more people get through the crisis.

Read more details here.

--Carolyn Adolph

MONDAY, AUGUST 3

2 more free Covid-19 testing sites in Seattle

8 a.m. -- Seattle’s south-end is getting two new, and free, Covid-19 testing sites this week.

One will be based at Rainier Beach High School. The second will serve the Southwest Seattle area, near White Center.

Mayor Jenny Durkan said they’re focusing on South Seattle because that’s where Black and brown communities have been especially hard hit by the virus.

Cities like Kent, Tukwila, and SeaTac have nearly times the rate of Covid positive results than Seattle.

Currently, Seattle has two drive-in testing locations in So-Do and on Aurora North.

--Esmy Jimenez

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