Blog: Ongoing Covid-19 pandemic in the Northwest
This post will be updated with information about the Covid-19 pandemic in Washington state. Scroll down for older information.
As of Friday, September 11, the Washington State Department of Health reports:
- 1,991 Covid-19 related deaths; 79,011 confirmed cases (2.5% 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 nearly three times higher for Black people, seven times higher for Latino/x people, and nearly seven 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.
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 11
Smoke blankets Seattle
Thick smoke coming from wildfires in California and Oregon now blankets Seattle. That makes it harder for everyone to breathe but it is especially hard on folks who already dealt with the coronavirus this year.
Lizette Wendy Martinez lives in Renton with her family. Two of them got sick with Covid-19 back in the March.
"Simplemente ahorita traigo dolor de cabeza. Con esto que nos dio lo del coronavirus, pues nos ha afectado en los pulmones. Con cualquier cosita se nos dificulta respirar," she said in Spanish.
Martinez has a headache after heading to the grocery store earlier today. Ever since the virus, she can tell her lungs are different. Even little thing makes it harder to breathe. She can't exercise the same as before. Her teenage son who also got sick can't ride his bike for long without running out of air. Now with the smoke, he's developed a cough.
Medical experts are still figuring out the long term effects of Covid-19 on the body but believe it can take months for a patient’s lungs to recover.
-- Esmy Jimenez.
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 10
Washington residents continue to struggle with food insecurity, prompted by the pandemic
4:30 p.m. Food banks across Washington state continue to see a surge in demand for food assistance. State officials say it’s only going to get worse.
Katie Rains, with the Department of Agriculture, says last year more than 1.12 million Washington residents sought food assistance.
“This year and this month in particular, we anticipate as many as 2.2 million Washingtonians are food insecure.”
In response, Washington launched a food relief fund to help three organizations that supply local food banks.
Since April, the Washington Food Fund has raised more than $12 million. But officials say millions more will be needed in the coming months.
-Ruby de Luna
Seattle to hire new director for pandemic recovery
8 a.m. -- Seattle has plans to hire a new "Director of Recovery and Equitable Investment" to oversee the city's response to the Covid-19 crisis.
The Seattle Times reports that the new director will be a member of the mayor's cabinet and will oversee both economic and social recovery efforts.
While there is currently a hiring freeze in effect, an exception is being made for this position.
-- Kim Shepard
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 9
The connection between being overweight and Covid-19
12:30 p.m. -- Being overweight – not just obese – can make having Covid-19 much worse, according to a story from Science magazine. Biology plays a part, the magazine says – being overweight makes one more prone to blood clots and inflammation – but so do social factors. “Because obesity is so stigmatized, people with obesity may avoid medical care.”
Science quotes Anne Dixon, a physician-scientist who studies obesity and lung disease at the University of Vermont, saying that “may be one reason for the devastating impact of Covid-19 in the United States, where 40% of adults are obese.”
This impact is pronounced among young people, American Indians and Native Alaskans. Science quotes Spero Manson, a Pembina Chippewa who is a medical anthropologist at the University of Colorado’s School of Public Health: “Poverty, lack of access to healthy food, lack of health insurance, and poor exercise opportunities combine to render ‘rates of obesity … remarkably high.’”
Inslee to college students: More safety, less Animal House
7:30 a.m. -- Washington Governor Jay Inslee is calling on college students to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.
He points to alarming numbers out of Pullman, home of Washington State University.
The New York Times lists Pullman as having the second most cases in the nation, relative to population.
"We need some leadership from the college students here," Inslee said. "This is just not a moment where typical partying is safe. It’s just dangerous. So we hope as you return back to your colleges, we have a little more safety and a little less Animal House."
While many colleges and universities are doing remote learning, students are often back in shared housing and going out together on nights and weekends.
In Pullman, police have started citing people who host parties or gather in crowds.
-- Andy Hurst
King County expecting funding shortfalls from pandemic
7 a.m. -- King County Executive Dow Constantine says he's made some major decisions about the budget plan he'll deliver later this month. But he also says he's worried about having enough money to pay for the county's pandemic response
"Those federal funds, and to an extent state funds, run out at the end of the year and we're not going to be able to continue a lot of work that we do on the coronavirus without them," Constantine said.
Constantine didn't talk about any backup plans but he said he would reveal more next week.
The county is facing future revenue declines of hundreds of millions of dollars, including big drops for Metro transit, the general fund, and mental health services.
-- Gil Aegerter
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 8
Why a key pandemic metric lags behind by about 3 weeks
10 a.m. -- There's a problem with one of the key indicators that Washington state and local officials rely on when it comes to dealing with the pandemic -- the effective reproductive number.
This is the average number of people that each infected person will transmit the virus to. If it's below one, the pandemic shrinks.
Mike Famulare helps lead the team at the Institute of Disease Modeling that calculates the number for King County. He says that calculation always lags behind other indicators -- usually by three weeks.
"And there's not much we can do about that," Famulare said. "We're always looking in the rear-view mirror when it comes to estimating the reproductive number."
He says that's because people don't experience symptoms right away. They wait to get tested, and then the testing centers don't quickly report their results.
All that waiting results in a big delay in knowing a number that state and local officials use to make public policy decisions. It's also an important number that individuals can use to assess their own personal risk.
Undercover covid cops do spot checks on businesses
9 a.m. -- Each day, a small squad of about 20 state inspectors visits as many as 200 Washington businesses on the sly.
“We walk into Safeway like we’re a customer,” said Tim Church, spokesperson for the Department of Labor and Industries.
These inspectors normally investigate things like wage theft or workers’ compensation fraud, but now they’re following up on complaints about employers refusing to require masks or otherwise fight the coronavirus pandemic.
These Covid cops have done about 6,000 undercover “spot checks” of businesses this summer.
Their mission? To see if complaints like these are for real:
- “Personnel… are no longer allowed to wear mask because it makes residents uncomfortable”
- “With many construction workers on site, very few are wearing masks at all, or are wearing their masks pulled down off of their nose and mouth. This is a neighborhood with elderly people.”
- “These contractors have been working in our apartment building and refuse to wear masks. They congregate around my doorway and I am forced within 3 ft of their unmasked face and when I asked them to wear a mask because of my immunosuppression”
- “Cooks are shoulder to shoulder with no masks. Those taking and assembling orders and taking payment are also not wearing masks.”
Read more details, and about other complaints, here.
-- John Ryan
More testing at WSU
8 a.m. -- The two new and free coronavirus testing sites are opening in Pullman Tuesday for students at Washington State University.
A recent surge in Covid-19 cases in the Pullman area has been largely attributed to students and those associated with the university.
One location will be run by the National Guard -- in the upper parking lot of the Steptoe Apartments (1630 NE Valley Road). The site is off campus, but in an area where a lot of WSU students live. This location is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays. Students need to bring their Cougar card, and do not need insurance to be tested.
The other site is operated by the University of Washington's own student clinic. The clinic is open to walk-ups and scheduled appointments between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Officials say students who are sick should contact their healthcare provider instead.
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 4
UW researchers discover potential for hepatitis C drugs to fight Covid-19
Noon -- Researchers at UW Medicine weren't initially considering the novel coronavirus as an alternative use for hepatitis C drugs, but they shifted their focus when the pandemic struck. Now they believe two such drugs could be used to fight Covid-19.
Researchers tested 6,800 drugs that have already already been approved for the market and are safe to use in humans. Boceprevir and narlaprevir are two such hepatitis C drugs that have shown promise, targeting a key protein in the novel coronavirus (called the "main protease"). If the drugs can interrupt this protein, they could break the life cycle of the virus.
Their conclusions are slated for peer review, but can be viewed here.
One of the researchers, Brian Kraemer, was previously studying drugs aimed at dementia, but switched to help in the fight against Covid-19. He helped author the paper up for peer review now.
"In the middle of a pandemic you don't have time for the normal course of drug discovery," he said. "That usually takes years to decades to go from concept to approved drug."
Kraemer said that the protease is the "Achilles heel" of many viruses. So targeting that part of the virus is part of their strategy of fighting it.
"If you can block the main viral protease, you will stop viral replication," he said.
"The most potent hits we identified were all related to hepatitis C viral protease inhibitors," Kraemer said. "Several of these are approved drugs that have been used in the clinic for sometime to treat hepatitis C. So the real question is: Will these drugs be potent enough to actually act as an antiviral in an infected patient? We have done no work of that kind -- we are all focused in test tubes. But the fact you got an approved drug that is known to be safe, and has antiviral properties for other viruses, it makes it a relatively short leap to do some trials and see if it actually works in human patients with Covid-19."