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caption: FILE: A student at the Denise Louie Education Center on Thursday, July 16, 2020, along Beacon Avenue South in Seattle.
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FILE: A student at the Denise Louie Education Center on Thursday, July 16, 2020, along Beacon Avenue South in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Blog: Pandemic updates in Washington state (September 21-27)

This post is archived. Read the latest here.

As of Sunday, September 27, the Washington State Department of Health reports:

  • 2,080 Covid-19 related deaths; 85,830 confirmed cases (2.4% death rate among positive cases).
  • Compared to white people and Asian people, the rate of Covid cases is nearly three times higher for Black people, and nearly seven times higher for Latino/x people and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders.
  • 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. One of the worst outbreaks in the nation during August/September was in Pullman, around Washington State University.


Tacoma delays start of in-person classes

9 a.m. -- Tacoma Public Schools says it's now going to hold off on bringing some younger and special education students back into the classroom. The district initially had a plan to bring kids back to class on Monday.

That's because some of the face coverings teachers were planning to wear don't meet safety standards set by the state Department of Labor and Industries. No word on when in-person learning will resume.

-- Angela King

Spokane school districts prepares to bring kindergarteners back to class

8 a.m. -- Spokane’s two largest school districts have started getting ready to bring kindergarten students back to class the week after next.

The districts acted quickly after Spokane County Health Officer Bob Lutz announced he supports the immediate, but slow reopening of schools.

Children in kindergarten will be the first to return , but Lutz endorsed sending students through second grade.

"Although our community incidence rate has gone up over the last few weeks, we believe, based upon our own data as well as experiences, both nationally and internationally, that this age group represents a population where in-person learning, while a risk, nonetheless is a very small risk and one that we have to balance with the importance of in-person learning."

Central Valley and Spokane are the largest Spokane area districts to announce in-school plans, but others are following.

They will begin welcoming students the week after next.

Superintendents in both districts say their districts will monitor the kindergarten attendance and consult with the health district before deciding when to add first graders next.

-- Andy Hurst


Update on UW Greek Row outbreak

3:33 p.m. -- As of Tuesday afternoon, 13 members of the same fraternity tested positive, with some living at the chapter house and others at outside housing, according to the student-run Interfraternity Council.

The group has banned social events and visitors at fraternities since March and hasn’t found any particular event that caused this outbreak, president Erik Johnson said.

Over the past two weeks, the university held testing specifically for sorority and fraternity members.

That’s how most of these 13 new cases came to light, Johnson said.

So far, it’s a small fraction of the cases Greek Row saw the summer: 165 students across 15 fraternities.

Tomorrow, the university is launching a new testing program for students, faculty and staff. It’s by appointment only.

--Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

Another spike in Covid-19 cases at UW Greek Row

8 a.m. -- The University of Washington is reporting a spike of 13 Covid-19 cases in Greek Row. The spike comes after Greek Row was hit with an outbreak in June.

According to UW:

"The UW and Public Health – Seattle & King County are responding to cases among members of fraternity and sorority houses near the Seattle campus. As of 3 p.m. on Sept. 22, 13 UW students have tested positive for COVID-19 due to this specific outbreak .... Public Health – Seattle & King County considers one or more cases of COVID-19 in the Greek community to be an outbreak."

The Daily is reporting that "Interfraternity Council President Erik Johnson said these cases are considered to be isolated because all of these cases are within one chapter between the fraternity house and live-out facilities."

Since the initial outbreak, UW has stationed a Covid-19 testing site along Greek Row.

-- Dyer Oxley


Seattle Schools considers in-person return to buildings

4 p.m. -- A small number of Seattle students with special needs are already receiving services in school buildings. Other students with special needs may return to school this year as well, as the district checks in with families by mid-October. These family meetings could result in more students returning to school buildings.

The Seattle School Board convened on Tuesday afternoon to discuss what school reopening might look like for schools. The focus was on special education students and those from bilingual families.

Online learning has “created a major disruption in the delivery of all education,” said Concie Pedroza, chief of student support. That is particularly true among special education students, she said, and Black, indigenous, families of color.

A slide that Pedroza shared said, “Families of color already have racialized trauma; the pandemic has added racial trauma to their lives.”

Kirkland and Redmond aim to reopen parks and playgrounds

10:30 a.m. -- The city of Kirkland has reopened its playgrounds, but you still have to wear a face mask and keep your social distance.

The volleyball and basketball courts, and the athletic fields will remain closed.

As for the waterfront parks, those have also returned to their regular closing time of 10 p.m.

Meanwhile, Redmond plans to open its playgrounds Friday Sept. 25. Sports fields reopened last Friday for drop-in use and field rentals are available starting Monday. Basketball and volleyball courts are reopening September 30.

The city is reminding everyone that uses these facilities to practice social distancing and not to gather in large crowds.

-- Angela King

Move-in day at University of Washington

10 a.m. -- Approximately 4,000 students will be settling into their dorms at UW. That's about half the normal capacity. Students can only have two people help them move in and everyone has to wear facemasks in all indoor spaces, or where you can't maintain the proper social distance.

The UW is also has a new coronavirus testing and monitoring program that begins Thursday. It's voluntary, but the UW is asking everyone who plans to be on campus to enroll in the program. Participants can be included in daily text messages that will ask if they've got any symptoms or if they've engaged in any risky behavior.

-- Angela King

5 Seattle-area school districts making plans for in-person classes

9:30 a.m. -- At least five Seattle-area school districts are making plans to offer some in-person classes after districts consulted with the state health department's "decision tree."

It's a framework to help calculate when in-person learning might be safe again. It says schools could consider expanding learning once Covid-19 was at a "moderate" activity level. That means 25 - 75 cases per 100,000 people in the last 14 days.

The state's framework calls for prioritizing in-person classes for the youngest elementary school students -- the ones who struggle the most with online learning.

Tacoma Public Schools plans to launch their effort next week. Other school districts taking similar steps include Lake Washington, Shoreline, Mercer Island and Peninsula.

Seattle Public Schools has not yet said when it might launch its plan.

Read more details here.

-- Derek Wang

Pumpkin patches and orchards can open to public

9 a.m. -- Just in time for fall, petting zoos, pumpkin patches, and u-pick orchards in modified Phase 1 counties can resume operations.

These activities have already been allowed in most of the state, but were on hold in Chelan, Douglas, Benton, Franklin, and Yakima counties because of the coronavirus.

Hayrides, corn mazes and other seasonal attractions can get back to business so long as operators and visitors follow social distancing, mask wearing, and other guidelines.

-- Angela King

Seahawks fined after Coach Carroll goes maskless

8:30 a.m. -- Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll is now one of three NFL coaches being fined $100,000 for not wearing a face covering during Sunday's home opener at Century Link Field.

The team, as a whole, was also fined $250,000. The Seahawks are now 2-0 for the season and will play the Cowboys at an empty CenturyLink Field on Sunday.

And the Seattle Storm was tentatively scheduled to play one of the semi final games Tuesday, after a number of inconclusive Covid-19 tests among players Sunday. It prompted the WNBA to postpone the game.

-- Angela King

Covid-19 outbreak could be shrinking in Puget Sound area

Covid-19 transmission could be down in Puget Sound region

Covid-19 transmission could be down in Puget Sound region

8 a.m. -- The confirmed coronavirus case count in Washington state now stands at more than 82,500 since the start of the pandemic.

But the numbers in the Puget Sound region are declining compared to a month ago. That's in part because the effective reproductive number -- or the number of people a sick person can infect -- is so low

Health officials in King County estimate that, currently, one person with Covid-19 infects fewer than one other person, on average. That suggests the outbreak is shrinking.

Disease modelers also say the outbreak appears to be plateauing in western Washington, with each person with Covid-19 infecting about one other person.

-- Anna Boiko-Weyrauch and Angela King


A key indicator suggests Covid-19 transmission may be declining in King County

1:58 p.m. -- How many other people will one person infect if they have Covid-19? That’s the question that the metric known as the “effective reproductive number” tries to answer.

In King County, the best estimate is that one person with Covid infected 0.6 other people (fewer than one other person) on average. That suggests the outbreak is shrinking.

Across all of Western Washington, the outbreak appears to be plateauing. Disease modelers estimate that each person with Covid-19 infected 1.07 (or around one) other person.

The most recent calculations use data as of late August. The effective reproductive number is one of many ways local public health officials track the disease.

--Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

Border remains restricted between United States and Canada

9 a.m. -- Travel restrictions between the United States and Canada were supposed to end today, but the border will remain closed to nonessential traffic for at least another month.

The border closure began in march to control the spread of Covid-19.

Cargo trucks are still getting across. But the elimination of personal and business travel has dramatically reduced trips into Washington state.

"While the land and air border are still operating to a certain degree, all marine and rail services have been suspended," said Laurie Trautman, who directs the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University." This has had devastating impacts on transportation and tourism as well as on some of those more rural communities that have been connected by that ferry, particularly on the Washington state side."

Trautman told a Cascadia Innovation Corridor webinar that passengers made a total of 16.5 million trips last year from British Columbia into Washington state by car, rail, air and on three ferry services. She estimates the total this year will shrink to just 2.5 million southbound border crossings.

-- Deborah Wang

Inconclusive Covid-19 tests for Seattle Storm players

8:45 a.m. -- We're waiting to see if the Seattle Storm will get to play the first game of the WNBA semi-finals on Tuesday.

Sunday's game was postponed after a number of players on the team had inconclusive Covid-19 test results. Those players are undergoing additional testing and were placed in isolation.

-- Angela King

PPE still in short supply

8:30 a.m. -- Personal protective equipment for Washington's medical personnel remains in short supply, nearly seven months into the Covid-19 pandemic.

The state's been struggling to find suppliers overseas. That's in part why Major General Bret Daugherty -- the head of the Washington National Guard -- says this kind of equipment needs to be made in the United States.

"We’ve had to scour the entire planet to come up with PPE and it just shouldn’t be that hard," Daughterty said. "I’m hoping that there will be some legislation somewhere in the future requiring anything dealing with national health and national security being manufactured in the United States. I don’t know if we have a ghost of a chance getting that, but it is certainly on our radar."

Washington has already spent nearly $350 million procuring PPE – and that figure's expected to rise. And while the federal government has provided some equipment, the bulk was sourced on the open market.

The equipment has been distributed to places like hospitals, long-term care facilities and to first responders.

-- Deborah Wang

$300 unemployment benefit starts processing Monday

8 a.m. -- Washington state will start processing a $300 unemployment benefit for eligible recipients Monday.

This is in lieu of the $600 weekly payment from the feds that expired back in July.

The new payment will be retroactive and will cover the month of August and the first week in September. It's intended for those who can prove they lost work because of the pandemic and is slated to last until the money runs out. But there's a limited pool of money for all states that applied.

-- Angela King


Canada keeps US-Canada border closed another month

11 a.m. -- Canada has extended its border closure with the United States until October 21. The border has been closed to non-essential travel since March.

The Associated Press reports that the decision is based on limiting the spread of Covid-19 while the US has more cases, and Covid-19 related deaths, than anywhere else in the world.

-- Dyer Oxley

Read previous updates here.