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caption: Ben Gilmer works remotely as his children attend theater camp nearby on Friday, August 13, 2021, at Jefferson Park in Seattle. 
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Ben Gilmer works remotely as his children attend theater camp nearby on Friday, August 13, 2021, at Jefferson Park in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Covid blog: Pandemic updates for the NW

Updated news about the coronavirus pandemic in Seattle and Washington state.

According to data from the Washington State Department of Health, as of August 19, 2021:

  • 63.3% of eligible Washingtonians (ages 12 and up) are fully vaccinated. Since children are not yet eligible for a Covid shot, this means Washington state is 54% fully vaccinated.
  • 6,356 Covid-19 related deaths; 1.2% death rate since the beginning of the pandemic; 477,415 confirmed cases.
  • Compared to white people and Asian people, the rate of Covid cases, hospitalizations, and deaths has been higher for Black, Hispanic, and Native Washingtonians, compared to their share of the state's population.
  • According to the latest data from the department of health, 94.5% of people hospitalized with Covid were not fully vaccinated.

This post covers August 6-20, 2021. Read here for more recent updates.


FRIDAY, AUGUST 20

Washington Supreme Court orders employees to be vaccinated against Covid

The Washington State Supreme Court has issued an order requiring employees to get vaccinated by November 1.

The court's order has been extended to cover volunteers and independent contractors. The mandate is similar to Gov. Jay Inslee's vaccine requirement for state employees.

The only exemptions allowed are based on medical or religious reasons. Policies covering employees for trial courts and the Court of Appeals across Washington will be made by presiding judges.

Other courts and agencies within the judicial branch are encouraged to adopt similar vaccination requirements.

Also, oral arguments before the state Supreme Court this fall will continue to be held virtually.

— Ruby de Luna

Hospitalizations at highest levels ever in Washington state

Covid-19 hospitalizations are the highest they've ever been in Washington state, according to Cassie Sauer, head of the Washington Hospital Association.

"The highest we ever were was in December with about 1,100 patients. And right now we are at 1,240 hospitalized patients across Washington state," Sauer said.

Those numbers are as of Thursday morning.

Sauer says hospitals are strained statewide. They already had heavy patient loads prior to the current surge in Covid cases. The vast majority of covid hospitalizations are among unvaccinated people.

Sauer says health care workers are frustrated and burned out. She and others are pleading with the public to help lighten the load by getting vaccinated and wearing a mask.

— Kate Walters

Make an appointment ahead of time to get a Covid test

Public Health Seattle & King County is urging you make an appointment ahead of time if you want to get a Covid-19 test.

That's because testing sites are experiencing longer than usual wait times. You can get tested at places like the Boeing Auburn Facility, Bellevue College, and the Federal Way Aquatics Center. There is a drive-thru site at HealthPoint in Renton.

There are also the sites in West Seattle, Rainier Beach, SODO and the Aurora Avenue North testing sites.

King County's Covid-19 community transmission rate is now listed as "high." The department warns that even vaccinated people may need to get tested to help track the spread of variants like delta.

— Angela King

Childcare centers are subject to vaccine mandate

Some childcare providers are applauding the vaccine mandate recently announced by Governor Jay Inslee.

"I think it shows care and resolve," said Kelly Davidson who heads the Pike Market Child Care and Preschool. "And our littlest guys are not eligible for vaccines, so we need to make good, careful decisions as adults to keep them as safe as possible."

Davidson says that all 15 of her center's employees have been fully vaccinated. So they won't have to worry about meeting the October 18 deadline to be vaccinated. But an official with the Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families says its department has not yet collected vaccination data from child care employees. They are working to verify those records.

Most child care providers must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 under the governor's new mandate. So will teachers and staff at K-12 schools, along with higher education institutions if they want to stay in their jobs.

— Noel Gasca

THURSDAY, AUGUST 19

King County Sheriff: Don't call 911 about mask violations

The King County Sheriff's Office is getting out ahead of Washington's latest mask mandate that begins on Monday, Aug. 23. It says that enforcing the mandate does not fall under its purview.

"We know that mandates of any kind are upsetting to many people. The KCSO will play no role in enforcement ... please do not call 911 to report mask violations. We must keep our 911 lines open and our call receivers free to handle emergency calls."

The sheriff's office adds that Governor Inslee's office is working on how mask mandate enforcement will operate.

— Dyer Oxley

WSU Coach Rolovich now says he will follow state's vaccine mandate

Washington's new vaccine mandate for school workers also applies to WSU football coach Nick Rolovich. Last month, Rolovich said he wasn't getting vaccinated and gave no religious or medical reasons.

Coach Rolovich, the state's highest paid employee, now says that he will follow the new vaccine mandate, The Seattle Times reports. The deadline is October 18. While he said he will follow the mandate, he did not say he would get a vaccine, leaving some vagueness around whether he will get a shot or claim an exemption.

Washington State University said in a statement that it applauds the governor's efforts to protect Washingtonians, adding it will work to ensure the mandates in the governor’s proclamation are followed.

— Angela King

Parents hold anti-mask rallies

Starting Monday, people throughout the state will need to mask up in indoor pubic settings. Outside of some medical exceptions, it applies to everyone older than 5

This is on top of the mask mandate in place for students.

More than 100 parents in places like Bellingham turned out to protest the latest mask regulation.

Kylee Walker is the creator of For the Kids Washington, a Facebook group that helped coordinate at least 120 "Unmask Our Kids" rallies. A mother of three, Walker says these rallies aren't about debating the science of Covid. Rather they're about getting education officials to see that some parents want to have a choice when it comes to masking.

"I think that we all know how dangerous Covid is," Walker said. "We all understand that Covid is a thing and people are getting sick. And I hope that they don't think any parent is against that part of it. Its just our kids, our choice."

Unfortunately for Walker, it's not her choice. Washington's mask order will take effect Monday.

— Noel Gasca

Covid outbreak at Whatcom jail

A Covid-19 outbreak at the Whatcom County Jail has now sickened 10 corrections deputies and one person being held at the Bellingham facility.

The Bellingham Herald reports that Whatcom County health officials are trying to pinpoint the source of the outbreak. They believe it might be tied to someone who was acting unruly as they were being booked into the jail.

That person, who initially refused testing, has since tested positive for Covid-19. All corrections deputies at the jail get tested weekly.

Health officials say several corrections deputies, who were involved in the initial booking, have since tested positive as well.

— Angela King

Washington teachers union on board with vaccine mandate

Washington state's largest teachers union is on board with Gov. Jay Inslee vaccine mandate for faculty, staff, contractors, coaches, volunteers, and school visitors.

Inslee announced the new mandate on Wednesday — all school workers statewide must get vaccinated or lose their jobs.

“This is all designed to ensure that we get off this Covid roller coaster that we’ve been on with our schools and having cohorts A’s and B’s, and schools are open, and schools are closed. And we want to make sure that when schools open in the fall that they can remain open," said Larry Delaney, president of the Washington Education Association.

Delaney says unions will likely bargain over things like ensuring time off to get vaccinated or deal with side effects.

Staff at all K-12 schools and higher education must be fully vaccinated by October 18. Read more details on that here.

Public schools, private schools and charter schools are all included, as well as most childcare and early learning programs.

Genuine medical and religious exemptions are allowed.

The mandate does not apply to any students in the state, or to tribal school staff.

— Kate Walters

Klickitat sheriff says public health regulations are unconstitutional

Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer says will continue to oppose Washington's public health regulations, even though he was recently hospitalized with Covid-19.

Sheriff Songer told Oregon Public Broadcasting that he believes the public health regulations are unconstitutional, adding that his bout with the virus hasn't changed his stance.

“If you want to go get a shot, go get that shot. By all means. I also have a right as an individual under the Constitution not to take that shot," he said.

Songer says he doesn't know how he caught Covid-19 and couldn't say if he's infected others.

— Derek Wang

Special Education and vaccine mandate

Many parents of children with disabilities support Governor Jay Inslee's school vaccine mandate.

"Lots of kids with disabilities, especially if the disability includes any type of sensory sensibilities, can't tolerate a mask," said Janis White with the Seattle Special Ed PTSA.

White says having vaccinated teachers and support staff helps keep those kids safe. She adds that other kids with disabilities can have related medical issues that make Covid particularly dangerous to them.

— Eilis O'Neill

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 18

‘Serious situation’ in Washington driven by delta variant

Washington’s Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah delivered an alarming assessment of current pandemic conditions across the state.

“We have a serious situation right now,” Dr. Shah said at a Wednesday press conference. “We are seeing a significant rise in cases, hospitalizations, and in increasing proportions. The vast majority is due to the delta variant. We should all be concerned about what is happening across our state.”

“We are seeing (hospital) staff shortages, hospitals trying to discharge patients early, and divert patients from the care they need because they are simply too full. This is happening throughout our state. The delta variant is a game changer.”

Shah said that more than 90% of cases are from the delta variant in Washington state. The variant is causing cases to surge, and filling up hospital capacity in the state. At the same time, Dr. Shah notes, medical facilities are short on staff, and the people who remain are fatigued.

He said there was a hope that getting people vaccinated would have been enough to knock the virus down, however, not enough people in the state have answered the call. Dr. Shah notes that there has been a 20% increase in vaccinations over the past couple of weeks in Washington. About 4.1 million Washingtonians are currently fully vaccinated.

“That’s still not enough people who have gotten vaccinated,” he said. “There are 2 million people above the age of 12 who have not started their vaccine series yet. Now is the time. Those who are unvaccinated are not protected and are truly helping drive up our surge.”

Dr. Shah’s statements came as Gov. Jay Inslee announced a new vaccine mandate for the state’s K-12 staff, as well as a new mask mandate for indoors and in some outdoor settings.

“We should not fear Covid-19 or the delta variant, instead we should respect Covid-19,” Dr. Shah said. “It does not care who you are. If you let your guard down, it will rear its ugly head. We are seeing that across our state. So let’s respect this virus and especially what we have to do to fight it again.”

Read more about the mandates announced Wednesday here.

— Dyer Oxley

Covid cases surging in Thurston County

Public health officials in Thurston County say two area hospitals are dealing with an all-time high number of Covid hospitalizations.

And in addition to the figures they're seeing at Providence St. Peter Hospital and Multicare Capital Medical Center the health director says only three ventilators were available county-wide as of Tuesday morning.

The county can ask for more ventilators from the state.

County data shows Covid hospitalizations have risen by 57 case over the past week.

— Angela King

Seattle Opera to require vaccination to attend performances

Starting on September 1, the Seattle Opera will require audience members to show proof of vaccination in order to get in the door.

“Health and safety remain our top priorities, and we’re excited to offer beautiful music and storytelling in McCaw Hall once again,” said General Director Christina Scheppelmann. “We’re committed to making people’s return to live performance as safe and enjoyable as possible.”

The opera says that people with medical exemptions, or deeply held religious beliefs that prevent them from getting a vaccine will have to show proof of a negative Covid test from within 48 hours of a performance. Same goes for children under 12. A negative Covid antigen test from within 12 hours is also acceptable.

The opera's youth programs will not require vaccination.

Masks will be required inside the theater, except for when eating and drinking.

The Seattle Symphony, Pacific Northwest Ballet, The 5th Avenue Theatre, ACT, Seattle Rep, and Village Theatre have all implemented similar requirements.

— Dyer Oxley

Community groups worry about looming eviction crisis

Millions of dollars in assistance for renters and landlords has been slow to get into their pockets. Washington state's eviction moratorium is in place through September 30.

Jeanice Hardy with the YWCA in King County says community groups are trying to work double-time to reach people before then, but the work won't stop at the deadline.

She says the state and country need policies in place to keep people housed when the moratorium is no longer there.

"We already have a homeless crisis. If we don't get this right, we haven't seen what we're going to see," Hardy said.

Specifically, Hardy says she worries about more kids ending up on the streets and small mom-and-pop landlords left to fend for themselves while large companies reap the benefits.

Read more here.

— Katie Campbell

TUESDAY, AUGUST 17

UW Medicine study: pregnant women do well with Covid vaccine

A new UW Medicine study adds to the evidence that Covid vaccines are safe for pregnant women.

The study tracked more than 17,000 pregnant and lactating individuals who got the vaccine and found they had no worse symptoms than people who are not pregnant.

Dr. Linda Eckert, UW obstetrics professor said the study provided researchers more data about the effects of vaccines.

"We have much more assurances of no increased risk of miscarriage. We have assurances that the antibodies that are made are passed to the mom, to the baby via breast milk, via cord blood, and that this is a really great way to start your infant off in a safe manner," she said in a video news release.

Eckert also added that not getting vaccinated raises health risks for pregnant individuals from possibly developing Covid-19.

"There's increased risk of pre-term labor. 22 times increased risk of pre-term labor. There's an increased risk of needing a ventilator. 14 times. These all really, really worry me," she said.

The UW Medicine study comes on the heels of a formal recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that pregnant women get Covid shots, and is published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

-- Derek Wang

National Park Service announces mask mandate

If you're planning to visit a national park here in Washington— or anywhere — before the end of the summer, be sure to pack a mask.

The National Park Service (NPS) has implemented a nationwide mask mandate for all visitors and employees, regardless of their vaccination status. According to a release from the agency, the mandate applies to all NPS parks and buildings.

“Visitors to national parks are coming from locations across the country, if not across the world. Because of this, and recognizing that the majority of the United States is currently in substantial or high transmission categories, we are implementing a service-wide mask requirement to ensure our staff and visitors’ safety,” NPS Deputy Director Shawn Benge said.

The mandate will be in effect until further notice and applies to all National Park Service buildings, public transportation systems and crowded outdoor spaces.

Washington state is home to three national parks: Mount Rainier National Park, North Cascades National Park and Olympic National Park.

— Rob Wood

Emerald City Comic Con announces vaccination, test requirement

Emerald City Comic Con has announced that it will require 2021 attendees to show proof of vaccination, a negative antigen test (valid within 6 hours), or a negative Covid test (from within 72 hours).

ECCC is also requiring all attendees, vendors, and staff to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.

Seattle's largest comic con was delayed and then canceled in 2020. The event usually takes place around early spring, but it has been rescheduled for December 2021.

Attendance will be limited at the event.

— Dyer Oxley

Elective surgeries put on hold as Covid once again rises

Officials at the Washington State Department of Health report that the 14-day hospitalization rate has not been higher since January 2020.

Q13 reports these new Covid-19 infections are causing some local hospitals to postpone elective surgeries. Harborview Medical Center in Seattle says patients could be waiting more than a month.

Health officials say most people being hospitalized have not yet been vaccinated.

— Ross Reynolds

Facebook group is back as people seek booster shots

The Facebook group "Find a COVID Shot WA" is back at it, helping people who are eligible for a Covid vaccination booster shot find available doses.

The CDC recommends (and the FDA has approved) a third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine for people who are at a higher risk of severe illness.

But people have a lot of questions about getting that third shot, says a co-founder of the Find a Shot group.

One founder of the group, Steve, told KING 5: "It's been pretty busy lately .... lot of questions about where to find a booster; 'am I eligible to find a booster?' The answer to that is first and foremost if you are immunocompromised."

Steve's last name has been withheld after the Facebook group received a rush of hate mail earlier this year.

He says about 75 volunteers are working to help find available vaccination appointments. The group previously hoped that it was no longer needed and could shut down. Steve notes that the delta variant has now created a need for them to continue.

— Ross Reynolds

Insurance companies consider not covering Covid treatment for unvaccinated patients

With a rising number of Covid cases among unvaccinated people, health insurers are reportedly reconsidering paying for treatment.

Q-13 spoke with Cassier Sauer of the Washington State Hospital Association. She says that because of the available vaccines, insurers are now considering Covid a preventable disease and they're not going to provide unlimited free coverage.

"Insurers, earlier in the pandemic, were saying 'you don't have to pay for your Covid care.' Covid hospital care is really expensive. And a lot of insurers are now saying, 'That is not the case anymore. We are not going to cover it all.'"

— Ross Reynolds

MONDAY, AUGUST 16

Planning to see live music anytime soon? Bring proof of vaccination

More than 200 Covid-19 cases are now linked to the Watershed Music Festival held at the Gorge Amphitheater just over two weeks ago.

In a statement to KUOW, the Grant County Health District confirmed 210 cases have been identified and are under investigation.

"Cases have been identified among Washington State residents of King, Grant, Pierce, Skagit, Kitsap, Whatcom, Kittitas, Okanogan, San Juan, Lincoln, and Stevens counties. There has also been a case tied to a resident of Oregon State. These cases are all still under investigation," the statement says.

The music festival drew an estimated 20,000 people, and the health district is now urging anyone who attended to self-quarantine and get tested.

Watershed did not require concert goers to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test for entry, but touring artists and event companies are now introducing new protocols.

Fans heading to the Gorge this month to see Phish, the Dave Matthews Band, or attend the Bass Canyon festival will all need to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test to get in. And come Oct. 4, the same goes for all events at the Gorge and other shows put on by Live Nation.

“Vaccines are going to be your ticket back to shows, and as of October 4th we will be following the model we developed for Lollapalooza and requiring this for artists, fans and employees at Live Nation venues and festivals everywhere possible in the US," Live Nation Entertainment CEO Michael Rapino said.

AEG Presents, which operates venues like the Showbox in Seattle, will have a similar approach.

— Kate Walters, Noel Gasca

Customers voice approval and anger over restaurant vaccine requirements

As many restaurants in Seattle and other major cities adopt proof-of-vaccination policies, restaurant managers and hosts are taking on a new duty — verifying the vaccination status of customers.

This is causing problems for some and causing a rift between businesses and customers.

James Lim, owner of the Watson’s Counter restaurant in Ballard told The Wall Street Journal that his staff support a proof-of-vaccination requirement for customers. The restaurant reopened for dine-in service earlier this month. Since then, employees have been put in the position of checking vaccination status.

The policy has been welcomed by some customers. Other customers, however, are angry. Lim says some customers have called the restaurant, screaming at staff about vaccines and saying racist things.

— Ross Reynolds

Expedia pushes back return-to-office-date

The Puget Sound Business Journal reports that Seattle-based Expedia Group is pushing back its return to the office to January 2022.

Expedia said it will adopt a hybrid work model and follow guidance from local governments and health authorities.

Expedia's decision follows similar delays in return to the office from other local tech companies. Microsoft is pushing back its reopening to October at the earliest. Amazon is moving back its target date for in-person work to January 3.

— Ross Reynolds

UW offers booster shots for vulnerable people

University of Washington Medicine is now offering Covid boosters to people who are most vulnerable to the virus.

The CDC is recommending third doses of a Covid vaccine for immunocompromised patients with existing conditions that may increase their risk of serious illness. The Washington state Department of Health has stated a similar recommendation.

If you are not in that group, Dr. Christine Johnston at the Harborview Medical Center says you should not get a booster at this time.

"I have heard anecdotes of people actually going and telling the pharmacist, or the health care provider, that they haven't had a prior dose, and we really advise against that at this point," Dr. Johnston said.

The CDC estimates only about 3% of the country's adult population is eligible for Covid boosters right now.

— Katie Campbell

Oregon National Guard activated for hospital support

Oregon Governor Kate Brown says she will deploy up to 1,500 National Guard troops to hospitals around the state to support healthcare workers as Covid-19 surges again, due to the rapid spread of the delta variant.

Governor Brown is sending 500 Guard members to serve as equipment runners in hospitals and help with Covid-19 testing, among other duties.

There are 733 people hospitalized with the virus in Oregon, including 185 in intensive care units. Hospitals have warned they are near capacity as the state endures a fourth wave of the outbreak.

— Ross Reynolds

Kids and Covid

More and more kids are being hospitalized with Covid in the Puget Sound area.

Janet Englund is a pediatric pulmonologist at Children’s Hospital in Seattle. She researches Covid in kids at UW. She says there’s currently no evidence that the delta variant is more dangerous to children.

What is happening is that Covid rates are going up as the delta variant is far more contagious than previous versions of the virus. And kids under 12 aren’t yet eligible for the vaccine yet.

Dr. Englund says there are two big ways to protect children from Covid until there’s a pediatric vaccine.

"Household vaccination of those who can get the vaccine is the most important. Because, even if children go to school, they still spend a lot of time at home in close contact with their siblings and friends over 12 and their parents and family members."

Dr. Englund says kids should wear masks in indoor public places, including schools.

A small percentage of children who contract Covid end up with long-term symptoms. But, so far, no one under the age of 10 has died of Covid in King County.

— Katie Campbell

Washington vets homes hit with more Covid cases

The Covid-19 situation is worsening at a state-run veterans home in western Washington where more than 20 residents have tested positive since July 30.

It’s becoming an almost daily drumbeat with more Covid-19 cases at the Washington Veterans Home in Port Orchard, including the death of a resident who had tested positive.

A resident of the Spokane Veterans home also died.

The outbreaks come amid rising Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths statewide – fueled by the contagious delta variant.

While most residents are vaccinated, the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs reports that as of late July just 43% of staff at the Spokane Veterans Home and 52% at the facility in Port Orchard were vaccinated. In an effort to get more shots in arms, the agency is scheduling vaccination clinics on site.

Governor Jay Inslee has ordered all general government state employees to get vaccinated by mid-October. Meantime, the veterans homes are regularly testing residents and staff are being screened for symptoms and wearing PPE.

— Austin Jenkins

FRIDAY, AUGUST 13

WSU nixes vaccine exemptions, UW brings back masks

Washington State University is tightening up its vaccine requirement as the delta variant continues to rapidly spread.

WSU students will have until September 10 to start the vaccination process, a deadline that was previously in November.

Also, students will no longer be able to claim any personal or philosophical exemptions to avoid getting a vaccine. This policy will be in place once the FDA fully approves the vaccines that are currently under emergency use authorization. That approval is expected within the next few weeks.

WSU faculty and staff now must be vaccinated by Aug. 23.

Students were notified of the new policies by email on Thursday.

The Seattle Times also reports that the University of Washington is bringing back its masking requirement, regardless of vaccination status. Masks are required in all buildings on campus, including common spaces such as stairs, bathrooms, and hallways. Presenters will be allowed to remove masks if they are fully vaccinated.

— Dyer Oxley

Covid cases surge more than 300% in King County, caused by delta variant

Covid cases are dramatically rising due to the spread of the delta variant. Washington state is now experiencing around 3,000 Covid cases each day — a level not seen since last winter's peak.

King County is among the counties that have seen a rise in cases by 300-599%. Other counties include: Clallam, Stevens, Asotin, Whitman, Franklin, Spokane, Clark, Lewis, Pierce.

Elsewhere in the state:

  • A total of 12 counties have seen cases increase by a factor of 100-299% over the past 30 days (Adams, Thurston, Snohomish, Benton, Skamania, Whatcom, Skagit, Kitsap, Yakima, Cowlitz, Mason, Grant).
  • Pend Oreille, Douglas, Lincoln, Pacific, Chelan, and Island counties are experiencing a Covid case surge above 600%.

DOH says the situation is rapidly evolving into what was seen over last winter.

DOH also notes that "Covid-19 related hospital occupancy and ICU occupancy are skyrocketing, and many regional hospitals are at or near full capacity. This rapid increase in Covid-19 hospitalizations is further limiting hospital capacity."

— Dyer Oxley

Thurston County mask mandate

Thurston County is joining Snohomish County in requiring people older than 5 to mask up in public indoor settings.

County officials announced the directive Thursday. Thurston County becomes the second county in the state to revert to this protocol. The directive for Snohomish County went into effect THursday.

Starting Friday, all of Oregon state will be under a mask mandate as well.

— Angela King

UW Medicine postpones some surgeries as delta variant rises

UW Medicine is postponing some surgeries at its hospitals because of capacity challenges.

The delta variant is being blamed for a surge in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations across the state, mostly among the unvaccinated.

This comes as many hospitals are already filling up with patients needing care for other reasons.

Dr. Tim Dellit is the chief medical officer for UW Medicine. He says all this means that, starting next week, non-urgent procedures that would require a person to be hospitalized will be rescheduled.

"We absolutely appreciate that it's incredibly frustrating for our patients, for their families, especially when they may have been delayed before ... But, really for the health of our community we have to ensure that we have the ability to care for those urgent patients who really do require hospitalization now."

Dellit says each case will be reviewed to make sure the delay won't put any patients in danger. Outpatient surgeries, however, can go ahead as planned.

Surgeries that are postponed will be rescheduled after September 20.

Other hospitals across Washington state are dealing with similar challenges. Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia is running at surge capacity. It has cancelled non-urgent surgeries and is not allowing visitors. MultiCare in Spokane is doing the same.

— Kate Walters

State superintendent calls for vaccine mandate among public school employees

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said Friday that keeping schools open will be a challenge without extra safety measures to combat the Covid-19 delta variant.

Reykdal is asking Governor Inslee to expand his mandate requiring state workers to be vaccinated to include public school employees.

He wants getting the Covid-19 vaccine to be a condition of employment, with appropriate medical and religious exemptions.

Reykdal said it would be up to the Governor’s office to come up with an appropriate deadline for staff vaccinations if a mandate is put in place. But he said it would not delay the start of school. Reykdal also said the mandate would not apply to students.

The Governor's office has not publicly responded to Reykdal's request.

The Washington Education Association (WEA) said in a statement that the health and safety of educators, students, families and communities has been their top priority throughout the pandemic. WEA says it will support such a vaccine mandate if "it is the opinion of public health experts."

Read more details here.

— Kate Walters

THURSDAY, AUGUST 12

SPS announces vaccine requirement for some district employees

Seattle Public Schools has announced all non-union staff will need to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 18 as a condition of employment.

In a statement to staff members, Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Brent Jones wrote getting vaccinated is an "obligation" employees must fulfill in order to keep students and staff safe.

"It is in this spirit that I hereby direct that all non-represented Seattle Public Schools staff be vaccinated against COVID-19," Jones wrote.

Jones added that "limited exceptions" will be made for documented medical reasons and religious beliefs.

Noel Gasca

State schools chief to ask Gov. Inslee to make vaccines mandatory for teachers and school staff

State Superintendent Chris Reykdal announced on Thursday that he would ask Gov. Jay Inslee to make vaccination a requirement for all K-12 school employees.

Reykdal also plans to say that the state schools office intends to withhold state and federal money from any school district that "knowingly and willfully violates" the mask requirement for K-12 schools.

Isolde Raftery

University of Washington Medical Center postpones non-urgent surgeries

The University of Washington will pause non-urgent surgeries at its hospital because of a fifth wave of hospitalizations, predominantly among unvaccinated people.

The delta variant is driving a surge in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations across the state.

This comes as many hospitals are already filling up with patients needing care for other reasons.

Dr. Tim Dellit, chief medical officer for UW Medicine, said capacity challenges means non-urgent procedures that would require a person to be hospitalized will be rescheduled, starting next week.

"We absolutely appreciate that it's incredibly frustrating for our patients, for their families, especially when they may have been delayed before," Dellit said.

"But really, for the health of our community, we have to ensure that we have the ability to care for those urgent patients who really do require hospitalization now."

Dellit said each case will be reviewed to ensure a delay won't harm the patient, and outpatient surgeries can go ahead as planned.

Those surgeries that are postponed will be rescheduled after September 20.

UW Medicine isn't the only hospital system pausing some surgeries. At least two others are doing the same.

Isolde Raftery

Visitor ban, cancelled surgeries. Fifth wave of COVID-19 slams SW Washington hospitals

How bad is the fifth wave of COVID-19? In Southwest Washington, Providence is once again banning visitors to its hospitals. The intensive care unit is at capacity. And elective surgeries and procedures are being delayed.

The hospital is running at surge capacity. Patients who need a hospital l bed are stacked up in the ER. A recent check showed 41 of 42 critical care beds full – 14 of those beds are COVID patients.

Providence Southwest Chief Executive Darin Goss says the spike in COVID cases is putting pressure on an already strained system.

“So on top of already being full, we continue to now have to deal with this fifth wave which is just unprecedented since this pandemic has started,” he said.

And Goss said the next few weeks look rough. He says they’ve seen a few breakthrough cases of COVID. “But mostly are unvaccinated, younger demographic, much younger,” he said.

Goss says the situation is putting an additional strain on staff who are already experiencing burnout. He’s encouraging people who can get vaccinated to do so. He says “help us help others.”

Multicare is also delaying some procedures according to the state hospital association.

Read more about the concern among hospitals here.

Austin Jenkins

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 11

CDC recommends COVID-19 vaccination for pregnant people

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says pregnant people should be vaccinated against COVID-19, following a new analysis of data that underscores the safety of the vaccine.

The agency previously suggested that pregnant people should discuss getting vaccinated with their doctors.

Results from the analysis indicated that the Covid vaccine did not present an increased risk of miscarriage among the nearly 2,500 pregnant people included in the data. The miscarriage rate among the group was around 13 percent, within normal range.

“The vaccines are safe and effective, and it has never been more urgent to increase vaccinations as we face the highly transmissible Delta variant and see severe outcomes from COVID-19 among unvaccinated pregnant people," said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

The new analysis also indicates that the vaccine is also safe to get past the 20 week mark during a pregnancy, and while breastfeeding.

— Noel Gasca

Food insecurity worsens in Washington

A recent study out of UW and WSU is showing how bad food insecurity has gotten in Washington state since the pandemic started. Before 2020, 1/10 people was food insecure. Now, that figure is up to 3/10.

Lots of people started using food banks or publicly-funded food assistance programs. But Jennifer Otten, an Associate professor at the University of Washington, says that's not all. Many people's eating habits got worse as the pandemic wore on.

“Some of it was food shortage related," Otten said. "But as time goes on, it might be because people’s economic situations have also deteriorated.”

She thinks another major component is that food prices have gone up. The study hopes to analyze how the economic impacts of the pandemic are affecting people. Otten notes that prior recessions like the one in 2008 have shown long lasting effects on food security.

“I don’t think anybody really knows how this particular story is going to unfold, given that it’s a new situation for us in so many ways," Otten said. "You will still hear stories of the food supply chain still recovering.”

Otten says the study showed food insecurity was higher among low income, less educated people and communities of color.

The study is based on a survey of more than 3,511 Washington residents.

— Ruby de Luna

TUESDAY, AUGUST 10

Snohomish County brings back indoor mask requirement

Masks will be mandated again in Everett and Snohomish County, starting this coming Thursday.

It's the first county in Washington to return to the widespread directive.

Snohomish County's health officer Dr. Chris Spitters announced the mandate will be required for all residents over the age of five.

The county's COVID-19 cases have doubled in the past three weeks, and at least 15 long-term care facilities have at least one confirmed Covid case, according to Spitters.

Masks will be required in retail, grocery and government buildings, in addition to any other public, indoor spaces

Paige Browning

Unions respond to vaccine requirement in Washington, Seattle

Unions are weighing in a day after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced a vaccine requirement for most state employees, along with private health care and long-term care workers.

The Washington Federation of State Employees (AFSCME Council 28) says members will bargain the impacts of any vaccine mandate policies to "ensure that public service heroes of this pandemic are treated fairly.”

The union argues that service workers have worked hardest amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Seattle Police Officers Guild issued a statement in response to Seattle's vaccine requirement for city employees. +++++Mayor Jenny Durkan announced the requirement Monday.

SPOG says that the union was not consulted ahead of the announcement and argues that such a requirement should be put through bargaining.

"The question remains, if our community is 82.5% vaccinated and the majority of SPOG members are vaccinated against Covid-19, why now mandate vaccines?" the statement says.

SPOG also alluded that the vaccine requirement would prompt more officers to leave the Seattle Police Department.

"SPOG is concerned for the safety and wellbeing of all of our members including those with personal vaccination beliefs. Our Seattle community is already experiencing a Seattle Police Department staffing crisis. Given this crisis; which in part resulting in an alarming crime wave, can Seattle now endure more losses of police officers due to Mayor Durkan’s vaccination order?"

— Angela King

Covid outbreak at Tacoma detention center

A Covid-19 outbreak at the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma has now infected 150 people since it was first reported in June.

The Seattle Times reports that the surge started right after the federal government transferred nearly 1,100 immigrants to the Tacoma site to relieve overcrowding at other facilities.

An attorney for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project argues the federal government is not taking adequate precautions when it transfers people.

Virtually all of those who contracted the virus tested positive shortly after arriving at the Tacoma facility. So the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and the ACLU want the courts to issue a temporary restraining order that would compel the facility to follow CDC guidelines.

But the government and the GEO Group, which runs the detention center, say they have taken extensive safety precautions with new arrivals, keeping them separate from the general population until they have two negative tests for Covid-19.

— Angela King

Seattle Council delays vote on hazard pay amendment

The Seattle City Council is holding off on a vote that could end some hazard pay requirements for frontline grocery workers.

The vote was slated for this month. If passed, it would have amended the city's hazard pay ordinances passed in January — cutting the hazard pay part, while keeping some of the safety protections.

KIRO 7 reports that Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda has pushed back the vote to September 13, for a few reasons.

The delta variant continues to surge in King County, and Washington state. Mosqueda also commented in a Council briefing that the hazard pay was never intended to be permanent, rather, for as long at the pandemic posed health hazards for workers.

— Angela King

Will Seattle's outdoor dining spaces last?

Outdoor dining spaces have sprung up all over Seattle in response to the pandemic. But should they become permanent fixtures, even though the pose challenges for some businesses?

"These last couple of months have been actually pretty amazing," said Lois Ko who owns Sweet Alchemy Ice Creamery in the U District.

The block where her shop sits is closed to car traffic and is now filled with about a dozen tables for Ko and the other restaurants.

"Actually, this is my first outdoor seating since we're a small ice cream shop, and we don't have seating, so I'm like so excited that we have this opportunity."

But it also means Ko has trouble getting deliveries to the shop. Parking was tight even before the pandemic.

"A lot of my vendors have had to move their delivery (time) to like 3 a.m. so they can just block the street and unload."

Outdoor dining permits in Seattle are currently good through May. The city is deciding now if they'll become permanent.

— Casey Martin

MONDAY, AUGUST 9

State employees and health care workers must get vaccinated by mid-October

State employees and private health care workers will be required to show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 by Oct. 18 or risk losing their jobs, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday.

Under the mandate, some 400,000 health care workers in Washington state will be required to have their last vaccination by Oct. 4 in order to have their bodies build immunity against the virus that causes COVID-19. Roughly 60,000 state employees will also be required to show proof of vaccination by mid-October.

Gov. Inslee said employers should take on the brunt of the enforcement, by verifying all their employees’ vaccination status. But, he says, the state also has other means to enforce the requirement.

"It is the same enforcement mechanism we have if they’re giving the wrong drug to somebody and they die. It is the same enforcement mechanism if they’re not providing hygiene in their surgical suites," Inslee said. "This is a life and safety rule they have to follow. They could lose their license."

Private health care workers covered in the order include those who work at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Inslee added that he hopes local governments and non-health care employers will follow the state’s lead and mandate vaccination for their employees.

Read more details here.

— Eilís O'Neil

Outbreaks at homeless shelters in Thurston County

Homeless shelters and service providers in Thurston County say an outbreak among the homeless "could really take off."

That's what Loren Steffen, executive director of the Union Gospel Mission, told The Olympian.

The Olympian reports two cases were confirmed at that shelter and another was found at Olympia's downtown homeless mitigation site. More cases are likely among people who are not in a shelter.

The homeless population accounts for a relatively small percentage of Thurston County's recent spike in cases. But officials worry that could change as infected and unhoused people can't really isolate from others.

The county does run hotel rooms for homeless people who have Covid to quarantine in. The Olympian reports that 16 of 21 such rooms were already occupied last week.

— Angela King

Amazon warehouse workers mask up again

Amazon will start requiring all of its US warehouse workers to mask-up indoors, regardless of their Covid vaccination status, as of Monday.

Amazon leaders say they're doing this in response to the rising infection counts resulting from the Delta variant.

Currently, Amazon workers are not required to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Other large retailers like Walmart and Target are also issuing mandates for many of their workers.

Other large, local companies like Microsoft, Redfin, Google, and Facebook will require their workers to be fully vaccinated when they return to the office in the fall. Amazon employees are slated to return in January 2021.

— Angela King

FRIDAY, AUGUST 6

Vaccination required for Neptune, Moore, and Paramount theaters

If you want to see a show at the Neptune, Moore, or Paramount theaters in Seattle, you'll have to show proof of vaccination.

Seattle Theatre Group, which manages the venues, announced Friday that it will require audiences to be vaccinated. It is also keeping its policy that all patrons wear masks, except when drinking or eating.

The vaccine requirement begins on August 12.

The theater group says that the vaccine requirement is a response to the surge in delta variant cases, as well as feedback from performers and customers.

An audience member must be fully vaccinated by the time of a performance. Exceptions are made for children under 12, or people with religious beliefs. People with exceptions must show proof of a negative Covid test within 72 hours of the event, or a negative antigen test within 24 hours.

— Dyer Oxley

More Seattle area hospitals requiring staff vaccinations

Two more Seattle area hospital systems are requiring employees to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Swedish Health Services Virginia Mason Franciscan Health are both requiring staff to get their shots.

“Swedish has implemented a COVID-19 vaccination policy to help prevent and control transmission among caregivers, our patients and within our communities. The policy requires all employees to participate by being vaccinated or signing a declination (for either medical or religious reasons),” said a statement from a Swedish spokesperson.

The statement said the policy supports the belief at Swedish that everyone who can get the COVID-19 vaccine should get the shots.

At Virginia Mason, chief medical officer Michael Anderson said in a statement: "After careful consideration, we believe this is a necessary step in order to keep patients and team members safe, and to ensure our communities have full confidence in the safety of their care environments. We appreciate the dedication of our employees over the past year in addressing the devastating impacts of COVID-19 and are finalizing the details of the vaccine requirement."

UW Medicine also has a vaccine mandate that's been in place for some time.

The new policies come in the wake of calls from dozens of medical and health care organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association, to require inoculation for all health care workers.

— Kate Walters


Read previous updates here