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caption: Seattle Mariners fan Nick Pham, left, gets the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine shot from Bill Allemann, right, of the Seattle Fire Dept., Tuesday, May 4, 2021, during a clinic held at T-Mobile Park before a baseball game between the Mariners and the Baltimore Orioles in Seattle. The Mariners will be offering free COVID-19 vaccines to eligible fans at three locations in the ballpark during upcoming home games.
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Seattle Mariners fan Nick Pham, left, gets the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine shot from Bill Allemann, right, of the Seattle Fire Dept., Tuesday, May 4, 2021, during a clinic held at T-Mobile Park before a baseball game between the Mariners and the Baltimore Orioles in Seattle. The Mariners will be offering free COVID-19 vaccines to eligible fans at three locations in the ballpark during upcoming home games.
Credit: (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

KUOW's pandemic blog: Updates for the NW

This post includes updates about Covid-19 in the Seattle area and Washington state.

Need a vaccine?

As of Sunday, May 9, the Washington State Department of Health reports:

  • 5,614 Covid-19 related deaths; 385,762 confirmed cases; 32,258 probable cases; and a 1.3% 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.
  • So far, 6,046,656 doses (not total number of people) of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered to Washingtonians.

THURSDAY, MAY 13

Seahawks planning for a return of fans

12:15 p.m. — The fall football schedule is out for the Seattle Seahawks who hope to have fans in-person again.

Its the first year with a 17-game NFL schedule. The Seahawks play their first game on the road, in Indianapolis September 12 at 10 a.m.

The Seahawks host their first home game September 19 against the Titans at Lumen Field.

The Seattle Times says the team put single-game tickets on sale Wednesday, but they don't yet have an outline for stadium health protocols.

— Paige Browning

Court hearings to begin again in Seattle

Noon — Court hearings are starting up again in Seattle, as soon as next week.

The Seattle Municipal Court will allow in-person appearances for criminal cases, though participants will still have the option to appear by video or phone.

Jury trials will start again June 16.

Trials have been on hold since November 2020.

— Paige Browning

Vaccinated people can hang out indoors, outdoors without masks, CDC says

11 a.m. — If you are fully vaccinated, the CDC now says you can nix the mask in most situations. This includes indoors and outdoors, no matter the crowd size. And you don't have to worry so much about social distancing either.

There are some exceptions, however. Even if you're vaccinated, the CDC says you should wear a mask if you are traveling (planes, trains, buses, airports, etc.). Also wear a mask if you are at a hospital or long-term care facility.

Washington continues to make progress on vaccinating residents. Demand has slowed, however, as of this week the Pfizer vaccine opened up to ages 12-15. Providers' requests for doses dropped be nearly half this week — 440,000 doses were made available, but under 225,000 doses were ordered. Last week's demand only dropped by 30,000 (read more about this in yesterday's blog post below).

As of this morning, 43.7% of eligible people in Washington have been fully vaccinated. About 57% of those eligible have initiated the vaccination process (they've received their first dose, but not the second). When considering Washington's entire population (including ages that are not eligible), about 35% of residents have been fully vaccinated.

Washington state passed another Covid vaccination milestone on May 10 — more than six million doses have gone out in the state. That number includes first and second doses of vaccines and is not a count of the number of people fully vaccinated.

— Dyer Oxley, Paige Browning

Washington issues new guidance for re-starting in-person classes

10 a.m. — Washington's Department of Health has announced new guidance for the state's K-12 schools to restart in-person learning for the 2021-22 school year, starting in the fall.

“Schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being," said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Secretary of Health. "They provide children with academic instruction, support for developing social and emotional skills, safety, reliable nutrition and more. We are releasing this guidance early to give the schools districts in Washington the opportunity to put plans in place for a safe and successful 2021-2022 school year.”

DOH says that all students and staff must wear masks indoors, as well as outside where adequate social distancing is not possible (six feet apart). It also instructs schools to have basic ventilation and infection control plans.

Students are to be separated by three feet in the classroom, and at least six feet elsewhere on campus.

On top of that, districts must develop plans and communication protocols for infections or outbreaks in their schools as well as prepare to provide for students who are absent for illness or quarantine.

— Dyer Oxley

Seattle-area vaccine sites begin serving ages 12-15

9 a.m. — Everyone 12 and older in Washington state is now eligible for the Pfizer Covid-vaccine.

The CDC recommended Pfizer's expansion Wednesday, enabling the vaccine to be given to adolescents. A CDC panel voted with 14 in favor, one recusal.

Some local locations will start giving shots to youth today, including University of Washington, and Lumen Field in SoDo.

State health officials say it's the best step to take to ensure kids remain in the classroom, spend time with friends, and enjoy sports and activities. Though children are not sick with Covid as frequently as adults, they can easily spread the virus.

The Pfizer-Biontech vaccine is safe for children 12-15, according to a panel of independent scientists not affiliated with the feds, the Western States Scientific Review Group.

— Paige Browning

Seattle Public Schools to return to full-time, in-person classes in the fall

8:30 a.m. — Seattle Public Schools announced Thursday that it will return to a full-time, in-person class schedule in the fall of this year. SPS has been mostly remote since the pandemic began.

"The conditions are right. The pandemic is slowing. And we have access to vaccinations," Interim Superintendent Dr. Brent Jones said Thursday morning. "We are creating the conditions for our children to come back to school safe. It is imperative to create the best conditions for our students, and I believe that is in-person learning."

A remote option will be available to families who wish to remain learning from home. Dr. Jones noted that many students have thrived through remote learning — which lacked bullying, racism, harassment, and other barriers — so the district will aim to make classrooms safer moving forward.

He also said that SPS is focusing on a "culture of care" to address staff and students' mental health that has suffered over the past year.

SPS also announced that it will be opening 39 vaccine sites for students to get a Covid shot. Details on that effort are not immediately available. But Dr. Jones said that the district wants vaccines available to families if and when they want one.

Read more details here.

— Dyer Oxley

WEDNESDAY, MAY 12

SPS will make a full return for the 2021-22 school year

5:17 p.m. — Seattle Public Schools will return to full-time and in-person instruction this fall.

The interim superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, Dr. Brent Jones, is expected to provide details about the district's return to in-person instruction at a news conference tomorrow, May 13.

*A previous version of this post stated that there would be no remote option offered by SPS. It has been updated to reflect Seattle Schools' current announcement that remote learning will be offered in the fall.

— Noel Gasca

Pop-up clinics head to Ballard, Fremont, and West Seattle

4:43 p.m. — More pop-up vaccine clinics will be hosted around Seattle on Thursday, May 13 and Saturday, May 15.

The Seattle Fire Department plans to hold the pop-ups in Ballard, Fremont, and West Seattle.

On Thursday, people can walk or drive up to the parking lot next to Roxy's Diner in Fremont and Marvin's Garden in Ballard to receive their vaccination.

The pop-up will move to the Junction Parking Lot in West Seattle on Saturday.

No appointments are necessary for the pop-ups.

— Paige Browning

Jury trials and in-person court appearances resume in Seattle

4 p.m. — In-person court appearances could start again in Seattle as early as next week, according to Seattle Municipal Court.

Participants will still have the option to appear for their hearing by video or by phone, unless they've been ordered by a judge to appear in-person.

The court also announced that jury trials will resume June 16. Jury trials were suspended in November 2020 due to increasing Covid-19 cases in Washington.

— Paige Browning

WA sees large dip in vaccine ordering

3 p.m. — Providers in Washington state ordered only about half the number of Covid-19 vaccine doses available to them for this week.

More than 440,000 doses were made available to Washington by the federal government for the week of May 10. Just under 225,000 doses were ordered, the rest were left on the table.

That’s according to Michele Roberts, acting assistant secretary for the Prevention and Community Health Division of the state Department of Health.

“It was a more significant drop off than we’d expected. The previous week we’d had about 30,000 doses of vaccine that were unordered,” Roberts said.

Roberts said there are likely multiple reasons so many doses went unordered. Some of it comes down to a dip in demand, but there are other reasons, too.

For instance, she said some providers already have doses on hand, others know more will be available in the future so may not feel the need to order immediately, and some smaller providers who never received doses from the state when supply was limited may have stopped trying to order.

There were also logistical challenges that were creating barriers for providers, Roberts said. Until late last week, the state Department of Health required providers to use 95 percent of their vaccine stock within seven days. Now, the department has changed its policy and is encouraging providers to stock up and keep doses on hand in order to be more flexible and offer vaccines to walk-ins.

The state is trying to remove as many barriers as possible for those who have not yet been vaccinated, and for providers, Roberts said.

She said the department has some work to do in order to fully understand this significant dip in ordering, and it’s too early to know whether the trend will continue.

More than 40,000 vaccine doses are being administered in the state each day, according to the Department of Health.

Roberts said there’s still work to be done to reach people who are willing to be vaccinated but have yet to take the step to get a shot.

-- Kate Walters

Plans begin for vaccinating 12-15 year olds

10 a.m. — With summer approaching, families around Seattle are getting their young teens vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Jill Estes and her husband love to travel. To help with pandemic-era travel goals they signed up for their shots as soon as they could. But Estes also has two teenage daughters.

"And we've just been anxiously waiting for them to get the approval," Estes said.

That approval came from the FDA this week. The FDA said that anyone between 12 and 15 should be eligible for the Pfizer vaccine. The CDC still has to weigh in on the matter and is expected to this week.

Estes is thrilled.

"It's been a difficult year and the minute we got that shot, I feel like we just worried a little bit less and that's kind of what I'm shooting for. And I also want to go to Disneyland someday soon.”

Local vaccinations sites have already begun planning to vaccinate younger teens. Muticare in Tacoma is scheduling appointments for young teens, as well as UW Medicine in Seattle.

— Casey Martin

Covid vaccines likely not required for K-12 schools in Washington

8 a.m. — Authorities in Washington state say primary schools will not require Covid-19 vaccines in schoolchildren until a vaccine is fully approved.

The three vaccines currently in use are authorized for emergency use, but not formally approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA this week did sign off on emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in 12- to 15-year-old kids.

The Seattle Times reports that until its approved, however, the Washington State Board of Health will not consider adding the vaccine to the list of required immunizations.

Washington Secretary of Health Umair Shah says more than 370,000 Washingtonians are between 12 and 15.

— Paige Browning

TUESDAY, MAY 11

Vaccinated fan sections coming to Lumen Field

6:12 p.m. — Sounders fans will get to participate in a matchday experience that's a bit closer to life pre-pandemic when Lumen Field introduces its vaccinated fan sections on May 23.

The new sections will be limited to fully vaccinated individuals that are at lease 16-years-old. The sections will be sold at 100% capacity.

Fans will be required to wear masks and provide valid documentation of their vaccination in order to sit in the sections.

Valid forms of documentation include a vaccination card, a photo of an attendee's vaccination card stored on their phone, or documentation of vaccination from a healthcare provider, electronic health record or state immunization information system record.

Children between the ages of two years-old and 15-years-old will also be allowed to sit in a fully vaccinated section if they can provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of kickoff.

In a statement, Sounders President of Business Operations Peter Tomozawa said that opening the vaccinated sections at games is a step towards getting life back to normal.

“The ability to host vaccinated sections inside Lumen Field is an important milestone in the fight against COVID-19. I know we all want to see those limited vaccination sections turn into a full stadium of support for our team, and vaccines are how we get there," Tomozawa said.

— Noel Gasca

King County families prepare to get teens vaccinated

5:15 p.m. — As more adults around King County receive their second dose of Covid-19 vaccines, they're turning their attention towards getting the younger members of their family vaccinated too.

KUOW reporter Casey Martin spoke to one parent, Jill Estes, who has been eager to book vaccine appointments for her children.

One of her daughters is 17 and already fully vaccinated because she works at a Starbucks. Estes was also finally able to schedule a vaccine appointment for her 13 year old today, following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's emergency approval of the Pfizer vaccine for everyone over the age of 12.

"We're a family that likes to travel," Estes said. "We're a family that likes to go do things and we just feel better than we're all going to be vaccinated and she's on board."

— Noel Gasca

Primary schools will not requite COVID-19 vaccines...yet

3:57 p.m. — Authorities in Washington state say primary schools will not require COVID-19 vaccines for schoolchildren until a vaccine is fully approved.

The Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are currently authorized for emergency use but have not been formally approved by The United States Food and Drug Administration.

The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention is also slated to approve the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for emergency use in adolescents this week.

According to reporting by The Seattle Times, the Washington State Board of Health will not consider adding the Covid vaccine to its list of required vaccinations until it has received full approval by the FDA.

There are more than 370,000 Washingtonians between the ages of 12 and 15 years old, according to the state's secretary of health, Dr. Umair Shah.

— Paige Browning

Mercer Island is King County's most vaccinated community

Noon — Good news for people who live in the 98040 zip code. That's where vaccination rates are among the highest in King County.

According to King County's dashboard for the pandemic, Mercer Island has the highest vaccination rate in King County right now. Data from the public health department shows 88.8% of people in the 98040 zip code have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine. That zip code covers Mercer Island.

Other areas with rates exceeding 80% include the northwest end of Seattle and Shoreline (98117 and 98177), and parts of central Seattle (98112), West Seattle (98136) and northeast Seattle (98115).]

Those who live in the 98047 zip code though, which covers part of Pacific in South King County, currently have the lowest vaccination rate (46%).

Overall, 68% of King County residents who can get vaccinated have gotten at least one shot, putting the region close to reaching President Biden's goal of having 70% of US adults partially vaccinated by July 1.

— Angela King

Hospitalizations flattening in King County

9 a.m. — Covid hospitalizations appear to be flattening in the Seattle area, as well as across the state.

But health officials say while the recent acceleration in cases seems to have subsided, the numbers are still higher than they'd like to see.

State data shows that 173 ICU beds were occupied as of May 6. That figure was as high as 203 back in mid-April.

Hospitalization rates are one of the metrics the state is using to determine which phase of reopening counties are in.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee is expected to give us an update on that next week.

— Angela King

SPU to require vaccinations for fall classes

8:30 a.m. — Seattle Pacific University has announced that it will require students to be vaccinated against Covid-19 for the fall quarter.

SPU has not yet made a decision about whether to require shots for employees.

SPU joins universities such as UW, WSU, PLU and others in requiring vaccinations for fall classes.

Washington universities are not alone. Oregon colleges are also requiring vaccinations.

The University of Oregon and Western Oregon University say students this fall will be required to get Covid-19 vaccines. Oregon State University says the same.

The University of Oregon, located in Eugene, has about 18,000 undergraduate students.

Meanwhile, WOU officials announced during a virtual session on Monday that vaccinations will be required for students and employees who either study or work in person at the university's Monmouth or Salem campuses for the fall term.

— Paige Browning, Kim Malcolm

UW Medicine starts planning to vaccinate ages 12-15

8 a.m. — UW Medicine says it hopes to start administering the Pfizer Covid vaccine to children between 12 and 15 years old soon.

The CDC is expected to give its final approval for use of the vaccine in children on Wednesday. Once that happens, parents and guardians will be able to schedule their children's appointments online or by calling the UW Medicine's Contact Center (206.520.5000).

You can also visit one of the vaccine clinics on a walk-in basis.

— Angela King

MONDAY, MAY 11

Local healthcare providers making preparations for teen vaccination

4:21 p.m. -- Now that the FDA has approved the Pfizer vaccine for 12-15 year olds, local healthcare providers are trying to come up with ways to make the experience comfortable for young patients.

“We need to think of strategies of how to distract," said Renee Rassilyer-Bomers, Chief Quality Officer at Swedish Medical Center. "We also don’t want folks coming in finding kids in distress getting their vaccination, and that also not being a pleasant experience for the children waiting to go through that process.”

One idea is to create a private pod for children at mass vaccination sites instead of vaccinating them in the general public.

The CDC is scheduled to meet Wednesday for final approval.

— Ruby de Luna

SPU requires vaccinations for classes this falls

3:53 p.m. — Seattle Pacific University has joined a growing list of colleges that will require students to be vaccinated against Covid-19 for in-person classes.

All undergraduate and graduate students will need to be vaccinated by the start of the autumn quarter to attend in-person classes.

The university has not made a decision about whether to require shots for employees.

— Paige Browning

Pfizer vaccine approved for ages 12-15 by FDA

3 p.m. — The Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine has been approved for ages 12-15 by the FDA. Previously, it was approved for ages 16 and older.

The CDC still has to sign off on its use in adolescents. A CDC advisory committee is expected to discuss the vaccine expansion soon.

Children as young as 12 years old have been taking part in a Pfizer trial since October 2020. The Food and Drug Administration gave approval to expand the vaccine's emergency authorization to ages 12-15 on Monday.

Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are also testing their vaccines on adolescents.

Some Seattle-area vaccination sites are already scheduling appointments for ages 12 and older.

Read more details here.

— Dyer Oxley

King County Covid cases slightly down a week ahead of next statewide evaluation

Noon — We're about a week away from the next statewide Covid re-evaluation in Washington.

And the latest official numbers from the King County Health Department's Dash Board show the region is still surpassing the current benchmarks to stay in Phase 3 of the state's reopening plan.

The last official count, as of April 29, shows the two week new case rate was 248 for every 100,000 people. But now, preliminary data up to May 6 shows the number of new cases for every 100,000 people may actually be down to 203. That's just three more than the threshold.

Last week, County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said the number of hospitalizations had also decreased.

"The Covid-19 outbreak is no longer a five-alarm fire, but it continues to burn and has not yet been extinguished. At the moment, new cases of Covid-19 can still spark flare-ups that spread among unvaccinated people," he said.

Last week, King County passed a grim milestone, recording more than 100,000 confirmed Covid cases since the start of the pandemic. As of Monday morning, King County has recorded 101,099 positive cases.

Health officials are reminding everyone the best way to bring Covid numbers down is to follow precautions: mask up and get vaccinated

— Angela King

New rules for vaccinated agricultural workers in Washington

9 a.m. — The rules governing how temporary agricultural workers live and work during the pandemic are changing in Washington state.

The state’s new emergency rules now take into account vaccinations.

The new requirements let workers sleep in bunk beds if they’ve been vaccinated, and if they are separated into groups of 15 or fewer. And multiple, fully-vaccinated workers can now share common areas like cafeterias if they maintain physical distancing and wear masks. The workers can also ride in the same vehicle while masked.

These changes come after farm operators filed a lawsuit in February, arguing the old rules limiting congregating were too strict.

— Anna King

Washington tweaks vaccine distribution policy

8 a.m. — Washington's State Health Department is encouraging providers to stock up on Covid-19 vaccines so they can better accommodate walk-in appointments as well as prescheduled ones.

This is a departure from previous policies that required providers use 95% of their vaccine supplies within a week or else risk getting a smaller shipment the next time around.

King County public health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin says it's harder to know how many doses to take out of the freezer when you don't know how many people will show up.

"Taking out as few doses as you think are realistically going to be used, and then also having systems in place to either rapidly solicit people to use doses that are out and available or to move them to another location," Duchin said.

Health officials are trying to remove barriers and they want to make getting vaccinated as easy as possible across the state, even if that means a small number of doses goes to waste.

— Kate Walters

Read previous updates here