Covid-19 updates in the Northwest (January 25-29)
This post is archived. Read the latest here.
As of Friday, January 29, the Washington State Department of Health reports:
- 4,285 Covid-19 related deaths; 295,861 confirmed cases; 13,940 probable cases; and a 1.4% death rate among positive cases.
- 17,543 people have been hospitalized with Covid-19 in Washington state. According to the most recent data and NPR's hospital capacity monitor: King County has 74% of hospital beds taken, with 8% occupied by Covid-19 patients; Pierce County has 90% of beds taken, with 15% occupied by Covid-19 patients; and Snohomish County has 77% of beds taken with 13% occupied by Covid-19 patients.
- 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.
- So far, 616,589 Washingtonians have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
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FRIDAY, JANUARY 29
Two new vaccination sites for people 75+ in King County
10 a.m. — Two new community vaccination sites are opening on February 1 in King County. The goal is to reach vulnerable older adults in south King County.
In Kent, the site will be located at the ShoWare Center. In Auburn, at the General Services Administration (GSA) Complex.
These sites will help, too, when the entire community is eligible for the vaccine.
A freezer breaks, and a mad scramble ensues to vaccinate hundreds of Seattleites overnight
4 a.m. — A freezer malfunction at a Kaiser Permanente site on Capitol Hill on Thursday led to an impromptu effort to vaccinate folks who could show up in the middle of the night.
Once the problem was discovered, 800 doses of the Moderna vaccine were given to UW Medicine, and almost 600 were given to Swedish Medical Center.
Swedish Hospital sent out a tweet that said they needed people to come in for vaccinations.
“URGENT: We have 588 DOSE 1 MODERNA appointments available Jan. 28 11 p.m. to Jan. 29 2 a.m. Click link to book. For additional slots through to 2 a.m. click on SHOW MORE and select TOMORROW. Must be Phase 1a or Phase 1B / Tier 1.”
These tiers include essential workers and older folks awake at this time of night. By morning, those tiers wouldn’t matter.
People came in droves – by car, by foot, willing to spend hours under cover of night and parking garage.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 28
Barriers to vaccine access loom large in immigrant communities
4:54 p.m. -- Covid vaccine appointments are hard to get: You have to find your eligibility through a website and print it out or take a screenshot, then spend a lot of time scouring websites for open slots.
Now imagine doing that if you can’t use a computer or smartphone, and don’t know English.
“How do we expect non-English (or) limited English-speaking seniors in their 80s, and their 70s and – some of them are even 90 years-old – to do all this when they don’t have access to the very basic technology that is being requested from them?” said Pradeepta Upadhyay, executive director of InterIm CDA, an affordable housing provider for immigrant families older adults.
The organization considered going door-to-door with laptops to sign up residents, she said, but open vaccine slots are easiest to find at odd hours.
“So to be able to apply late at night and early in the morning, who’s going to be there with them?” Upadhyay said.
And even if the seniors got an appointment, they don’t have transportation, she said.
The state’s Phase Finder website isn’t the right solution for many people, and a walk-up clinic isn’t much better, Redmond-based Centro Cultural Mexicano executive director Angie Hinojos said.
“It is a major undertaking to take some of our elders out, drive them an hour to a clinic, wait in line for a couple hours, only to find out they won’t be served that day,” she said.
But even before that, Hinojos would like more education for her community around the vaccine, she said.
She wants public health officials to work with grassroots groups so people can get their questions answered and know what their options are, Hinojos said.
It wasn’t until almost a year into the pandemic – December 15 – that the eastside got its first free, high-capacity Covid testing site at Bellevue College, so Hinojos said she hopes vaccination access doesn’t follow the same slow pace.
Inslee announces two regions can move into Phase 2 of state's reopening plan
2:34 p.m. -- COVID case counts are still high. And a more contagious variant of the virus has arrived in Washington. Nonetheless, Governor Jay Inslee is changing the rules to allow two regions of the state – including the central Puget Sound area -- to begin to reopen.
Inslee has been under pressure to allow restaurants and other businesses to begin indoor service again -- especially from Republican state lawmakers. But instead of embracing their proposal to move all regions of the state to Phase 2 immediately, Inslee is adjusting the rules of his reopening plan. Now, instead of having to meet four metrics, regions of the state will only have to meet three of four. The Democratic governor defended the change at a virtual news conference Thursday afternoon.
“It’s the right plan today that we can do with the best science and data we have, it’s based on real science, it’s based on real experience. It’s based on a rational prediction of where we are with potential future activity,” Inslee said.
But Inslee allowed that if disease activity picks up, regions may go backwards again. In the short term seven counties including King, Pierce, Snohomish, Thurston and Grays Harbor will be eligible to advance to phase two. That means restaurants and gyms can operate again at 25 percent of capacity, among other limited reopenings.
Read more here about the changes.
-- Austin Jenkins
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 27
Nursing homes won't allow normal visitation till March
2:35 p.m. — Nursing and retirement homes won’t be allowing normal visitation anytime soon, even once their residents and staff are mostly vaccinated.
That’s according to Robin Dale, with industry group the Washington Health Care Association.
“I do see vaccine visitation, if everyone’s got their vaccine passport or however we’re going to do it, when we’re in mid- to late-March and ... a majority of the population ... should have full immunity,” he said. “But we’re not there yet.”
Exactly how visitation will work once most residents and staff are two weeks out from their second dose is something Dale says his association will sort out with the state. The Department of Health and the Washington Health Care Association had previously worked out visitation guidelines that didn’t account for the vaccine.
— Eilis O'Neill
TUESDAY, JANUARY 26
Two locals with UK variant recovered
3:53 p.m. — The two Snohomish county residents infected with the UK variant of the coronavirus have recovered, according to health officer, Dr. Chris Spitters.
“They were not hospitalized, they experienced mild or asymptomatic illness,” he said. “There was no travel involved with these cases so we know they acquired the infection in Snohomish county.”
More cases of the variant are probably in the community already, and will most likely be found, Spitters said. The variant is cause for concern, but not an “alarm bell.”
The UK variant spreads more easily from person to person, so it’s even more important to take steps to prevent the spread of the virus, such as wearing a mask and refraining from gathering, Spitters said.
One person in Pierce county also had the UK variant and experienced mild symptoms, according to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.
Even without that variant widely circulating, a lot of people in Washington are still getting infected with the coronavirus. Across the state in mid-January, an average of around 2,000 people a day had a confirmed case.
Washington to get an increase in vaccine supply
3:15 p.m. — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday afternoon that the state will be getting an increase in expected vaccine doses.
Inslee explained that he was on a call with other governors and the Biden administration Tuesday when he was informed that the feds will be upping the amount of vaccines sent to the state each week.
"They told use a couple hours ago that we can expect a 16% increase in allotment ... having a 16% increase is really great news," Inslee said. "It's also great news that (the feds) are giving certainty."
Inslee also said that the syringes for the Pfizer vaccine will be upgraded so that they can draw an extra dose out of the bottle — six instead of five.
— Dyer Oxley
More Covid-19 cases at Tacoma detention center
Noon — Two more staff members at the immigrant detention center in Tacoma have contracted Covid-19.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) owns the facility and notified a judge of the cases over the weekend, according to advocacy group La Resistencia.
ICE has reported a total of 17 staff who have tested positive, and 30 detainees.
Immigrant rights advocates say the facility is unable to manage the coronavirus outbreak and that detainees should be released, for their safety.
— Paige Browning
500K vaccines shots so far; three more mass vaccination sites coming
11 a.m. — Anxious seniors still waiting for a vaccination appointment may not believe this but the Washington State Department of Health says it’s making "tremendous progress" in getting Covid-19 vaccines into more arms.
More than 500,000 vaccine shots have been administered across Washington since doses first arrived in the state. That's about 6% of Washingtonians. The state aims to provide 45,000 vaccine doses per day. The current average is about 24,000.
Assistant Washington Secretary of Health Michele Roberts briefed state senators on the vaccination drive Monday. She celebrated the 500,000 vaccine shot milestone.
"It's not been without challenges in the first weeks as everybody knows, especially with the holidays happening and working through some data reporting barriers. But we have really turned the corner," Roberts said.
Roberts says limited supply remains the biggest roadblock to significantly stepping up the pace. She announced her agency is organizing three more state-run mass vaccination sites to join four others that opened this week. The new supersites will be coming soon to Bellingham, Bremerton, and Lacey.
— Tom Banse
Vaccine supply and paperwork among complicating factors
10 a.m. — Hospital officials around Washington say they’re most worried about supply as they prepare to ramp up their Covid-19 vaccination efforts.
They say the demand for vaccines is outpacing the supply. But there’s another complicating factor: paperwork.
Cassie Sauer from the Washington State Hospital Association says the vaccine reporting requirements add to the process.
“You’re not reporting to the state, ‘We did 560 vaccines today.’ You’re reporting to the state, ‘Here are the 560 people I vaccinated today, by name, birthdate, etc.'" Sauer said. "Each individual has to be entered into the Washington immunization information system so that each individual is tracked. It’s important, I think, to do that, but it is very labor intensive.”
Sauer says a mass vaccination site operated by Swedish Health at Seattle University has added to its recording labor force to make the system more efficient.
— Derek Wang
In-person classes back, again, in Bellevue
9:30 a.m. — School is back in session in the Bellevue School District as of Tuesday.
District officials say they have reached an agreement with the teacher's union that will allow some classes to resume in person.
Second graders will have in-person classes Tuesday and Thursday, and students already getting in-person schooling will continue as scheduled.
All online learning for other grades resumes Tuesday.
There will be new Covid mitigation measures in place.
— Paige Browning
500 vaccinated at Benton County site
9 a.m. — About 500 people recently lined up for a Covid-19 mass vaccination event in Benton County.
It was kind of like the fair. Only not. The Benton County Fairgrounds were full of Porta Potties, event tents, and people in bright vests directing traffic and hundreds of cars.
But it’s bitter winter, not summer. There’s no cotton candy. And the smiles of patrons are brief, with a solemn edge.
First car in line was at 4 a.m. Guy Cook, a 69-year-old from Walla Walla, drove through the snow to get there.
“My youngest son says if I get a shot I can see the granddaughter, her name is Zuzu,” Cook said.
Cook and others drove through a tent to get their shots from National Guard nurses.
Among the crowd vaccinated that day was retired General James Mattis.
— Anna King
Seattle Council passes $4 hazard pay requirement
8:30 a.m. — The Seattle City Council has voted unanimously to require large grocery chains to pay their workers hazard pay during the pandemic.
Those workers will now get a bump of $4 an hour for the duration of the pandemic. It covers companies like Kroger (QFC, Fred Meyer) and Safeway/Alberstons, but does not apply to convenience stores.
Grocery workers did receive some hazard pay at the start of the pandemic last spring, but it was phased out last summer.
— Kim Malcolm
UK variant about 1% of coronavirus cases in Washington state
8 a.m. — A faster-spreading variant of the coronavirus — known as the U.K. variant — has appeared in Washington state. But it’s not very prevalent, yet.
That’s according to Alex Greninger, a virus researcher at the University of Washington. He says we have a pretty good idea of what variants are here, because Washington state has several labs that can sequence virus genomes.
"Washington is doing relatively well compared to other states, but the United Kingdom is putting everyone to shame in terms of the amount of sequencing," Greninger said.
Greninger’s lab was the first to find the variant in Washington state. He says his lab and others are able to screen enough positive coronavirus samples to be certain that, for now, the U.K. variant is less than 1% of cases in the state.
— Eilis O'Neill
MONDAY, JANUARY, 25
Paul Allen foundation boosts funding to address food insecurity, childcare
4:45p.m.— Local non-profits helping vulnerable families struggling through the pandemic got a boost from The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.
The foundation announced $1.4 million in additional funding to help address food insecurity and childcare.
The grants will be aimed at underserved communities across the state, especially those living in remote areas who've been disproportionately affected by Covid-19.
The foundation says money will go directly to the following organizations: Na' ah Illahee Fund, The Potlach Fund, Pride Foundation, All In Child Care Initiative, University of Washington Foundation, and WA Food Fund.
—Ruby de Luna
4 mass vaccination sites coming this week
Noon — There will be four mass vaccination sites in Washington state before the end of the week, located in Spokane, Wenatchee, Kennewick, and Ridgefield.
Only those in groups 1A or 1B Tier 2 are currently eligible to receive a vaccine, which includes vulnerable populations, front line medical workers and those age 65 and older.
Washington state health officials aim to vaccinate 500 people at each site, per day when they open. The hope is to increase that rate moving forward.
Spokane will be administering the Moderna vaccine, while Wenatchee, Kennewick, and Ridgefield will have the Pfizer version. People must make an appointment to be vaccinated at the sites. Those without an appointment will be turned away, according to officials.
“As our vaccine allocations increase, these sites will provide additional capacity to get people vaccinated quickly and efficiently across the state,” said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Secretary of Health. “With much less supply of vaccine than people currently eligible, it is going to take time which will require patience from all of us. I want to thank our partners who are working together to help us build the infrastructure needed to reach our goal of 45,000 vaccinations a day.”
Details on exact locations, where to sign up for each site, and to check your eligibility, can be found here.
— Dyer Oxley
Gov. Inslee gets Covid-19 vaccine
11 a.m. — Washington Governor Jay Inslee has been vaccinated.
Inslee and his wife Trudi Inslee received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine on Friday in front of journalists.
They are both 69 years old. That makes them eligible to receive the vaccine since it's open to anyone in Washington age 65 and older.
— Paige Browning
Washington lawmakers consider $2.3B relief package
10 a.m. — Washington lawmakers are preparing a sizeable pandemic relief package that could land on Governor Jay Inslee's desk early next month.
Most of the money will come from the federal relief bill that passed Congress in December. Washington House Republicans have proposed doubling the size of the relief measure by tapping the state’s rainy day account. Their plan would include direct payments to families.
But Majority Democrats say they’re not yet ready to use the rainy day fund.
The $2.3 billion package will include money for rental and food assistance, grants to struggling businesses and cash to replenish an immigrant worker relief fund. Democratic state Senator Christine Rolfes chairs the Senate budget committee. She says the goal is to get the money out as quickly as possible.
“We’ve also paid a lot of attention to how to make sure that funding is distributed equitably and really can get to communities that have been more marginalized," Rolfes said on TVW's Inside Olympia.
The relief measure will also send money to schools and help pay for vaccinations, contact tracing and testing.
— Austin Jenkins
All of Washington remains in Phase 1 as Covid cases rise
9:30 a.m. — All region in Washington state will remain in Phase 1 of the Covid-19 recovery plan, until at least next Monday.
The state department of health has said no region is qualified to move forward.
For a region to start relaxing indoor dining and shopping restrictions, there needs to be a documented drop in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations.
In the Puget Sound region, the case rate has gone up 23% in the past 14 days. Hospitalizations, however, have started to go down.
The North Central region is the only part of Washington state seeing declines in both case rates and hospital admissions.
— Paige Browning
Bellevue classes cancelled while teachers and district at odds
9 a.m. —All classes were canceled in the Bellevue School District Monday as the district and union try to reach an agreement about how and when to bring more students back in-person.
The union has refused to send more staff to buildings, citing safety concerns amid the ongoing pandemic.
Monica Rodriguez Wilson teaches at Puesta del Sol Elementary. At a Sunday union rally, she thanked families for their “overwhelming” support.
“This is not about denying opportunities for their children, but rather continuing to give them the tools they need to learn in a safe environment," she said.
Bellevue Schools Superintendent Ivan Duran has pledged to work with the union to bring back students as soon as possible and that schools will “exceed” safety protocols.
Last week, the district brought back second-graders anyway, but staffed classrooms with substitute teachers.
The district has in turn sued the teachers’ union.
But last Friday, a court rejected the district’s claim that teachers are engaged in an illegal work stoppage or slowdown. A judge will hear the case on Friday.
— Ann Dornfeld
2K get Covid-19 vaccine at Amazon one-day clinic in Seattle
8 a.m. — Amazon teamed up with Virginia Mason to open a Covid-19 vaccination clinic at one of its South Lake Union buildings Sunday. About 2,000 people got a shot.
"They designed it. They laid it out. We brought our vaccine," said Dana Nelson-Peterson, Virginia Mason's vice president of nursing. "We brought medical supplies, and the staff to administer and observe the patients afterwards."
Nelson-Peterson said that Amazon reached out to Virginia Mason, offering the space for the mass vaccination clinic. People signed up online to get the shots. Only those who are currently in line for the vaccine were asked to sign up — age 65 and older and vulnerable populations
Read more details here.
— Eilis O'Neil
SUNDAY, JANUARY 24
New Covid-19 variant discovered in two Snohomish County residents
10 a.m. — Scientists have discovered the first Washington state cases of the new Covid-19 strain from the United Kingdom, the Washington State Department of Health announced on Saturday.
The UW Medicine Virology Lab found the B.1.1.7 variant — which scientists believe spreads more easily — in specimens collected from two Snohomish County residents.
The lab screened 1,035 samples between Dec. 25 2020, and Jan. 20, 2021, in an effort to locate the mutations associated with the new variant. So far, data suggests a low incidence of the variant in western Washington.
“We thought this variant of concern was here and now we know it’s here,” said Dr. Alex Greninger, assistant professor of the Clinical Virology Lab at UW Medicine. The lab developed several new rapid tests to detect the variant, Greninger added.
In Snohomish County, where the Covid-19 variant was discovered, containment protocols will remain the same, said Dr. Chris Spitters, Health Officer for the Snohomish Health District. Currently, there's an investigation to learn more about the cases and people who tested positive for the new strain.
Read more here.