Pandemic blog: Covid-19 updates for Washington state (January 11-18)
This post is archived. Read the latest here.
As of Sunday, January 17, the Washington State Department of Health reports:
- 3,903 Covid-19 related deaths; 289,939 confirmed cases; 12,535 probable cases; and a 1.3% death rate among positive cases.
- 16,558 people have been hospitalized with Covid-19 in Washington state. According to the most recent data and NPR's ICU monitor: King County has 71% of hospital beds taken, with 8% occupied by Covid-19 patients; Pierce County has 90% of beds taken, with 17% occupied by Covid-19 patients; and Snohomish County has 80% of beds taken with 18% 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.
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TUESDAY, JANUARY 19
Bellevue educators refuse to return to the classroom
10:20 p.m. — Bellevue school staff who’ve been called back to buildings this week say they won’t go.
The teachers union voted on Tuesday to call on the district to pause its plan to start in-person learning for the youngest students, starting Thursday with second-graders.
Bellevue Education Association President Allison Snow said the union has many safety concerns, from the amount of space between desks to how the district will deal with staff who move from building to building.
"We call on the district to come back to the negotiating table and address that, and to pause all that expansion until vaccines are fully available," Snow said.
If the district does not agree on Wednesday to pause its reopening plans, the union voted not to add any new staff to buildings and to stop live online instruction Thursday and Friday. Instead, staff will provide asynchronous, independent work for students those days.
The union said its members will keep serving the students with special needs already learning in-person.
The district had planned to bring back first-graders and kindergarteners over the next two weeks.
School district officials were not immediately available for comment.
— Ann Dornfeld
MONDAY, JANUARY 18
People 65 and older now eligible for vaccine in Washington state
4:35 p.m. -- It was a year ago this week the first Covid case in the U.S. was confirmed -- in Washington state. Now, Governor Jay Inslee is launching an effort to dramatically increase the state’s ability to get people vaccinated and announced the plan Monday.
It’s been more than a month since the first Covid vaccine was approved for use. But since then getting the shots into people’s arms has gone slowly. In Washington, only about 42 percent of the vaccines received have been administered. Governor Inslee wants to change that.
“We need to step it up,” Inslee said during a news conference.
Currently, Washington is getting 100,000 vaccine doses a week and vaccinating about 16,000 people on a good day. Inslee wants to boost that number to 45,000 vaccinations a day. To get there, the state will open mass vaccination sites starting as early as next week. The National Guard and a legion of volunteer vaccinators will be deployed. In addition, the state will partner with companies like Starbucks, Microsoft and Kaiser Permanente.
“This is a massive effort and it takes everybody pulling on the rope to do this, because 2021 is the year to get vaccinated in the state," Inslee said.
The state of Washington is also immediately expanding the universe of people who are eligible to get vaccinated. Now anyone 65 and older and those 50 and older who live in multi-generational housing will qualify.
But even with the ramped-up effort to get people vaccinated, it won’t happen overnight. And there are a lot of uncertainties – especially around how much vaccine the state can expect to get in the coming weeks. But Inslee is setting a new standard. He wants 95 percent of the vaccines received administered within a week of their arrival here. And his Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah has a message to providers if they have leftovers after a day of vaccinating.
“We do not want you to waste that vaccine, we want you to get that into the arms of Washingtonians,” Shah said.
Asked why this effort didn’t happen sooner, Inslee said he doesn’t want to look in the rearview mirror. At 69, Inslee is now eligible for the vaccine and he says he expects to get it in the coming days.
— Austin Jenkins
FRIDAY, JANUARY 15
UW Medicine to expand ICU bed capacity
12:45 p.m. — Hospital beds across the UW Medicine system have remained relatively full in recent weeks. About 90 beds across its four campuses have been consistently full. ICU beds are currently at about 85% capacity.
UW Medicine is aiming to expand that ICU bed capacity, anticipating a potential surge in new cases.
“It’s important to continue to manage this so we’re prepared for a surge, because the numbers could still increase,” said Lisa Brandenburg, president of UW Medicine Hospitals & Clinics.
— Dyer Oxley
Anticipated shipment of vaccines won't arrive next week — they don't exist
10:30 a.m. — New shipments of coronavirus vaccine slated for delivery next week won't be arriving as promised by the feds — they don't exist.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown took to Twitter after confirming that her state will not be getting the new doses, stating: "Last night, I received disturbing news, confirmed to me directly by General Perna of Operation Warp Speed: States will not be receiving increased shipments of vaccines from the national stockpile next week, because there is no federal reserve of doses."
The Seattle Times reports that a change in vaccine plans from the Trump administration was recently told to some cities and states, while others remained unaware and were still anticipating additional doses.
— Dyer Oxley
More infectious coronavirus strain to be dominant in US by March
10 a.m. — With a slow rollout of vaccines and a new, more infectious strain of the coronavirus in the United States, it's time to double up on social distancing measures.
The CDC announced Friday that it expects the new more infectious variant of the coronavirus to become the dominant strain in the United States by March, according to The Washington Post.
The new coronavirus variant was first detected in the UK and has officials worried as it is far more infectious than the original strain that started the global pandemic.
— Dyer Oxley
Seattle firefighters begin administering vaccine
9 a.m. — Seattle firefighters have started visiting and vaccinating residents at adult family homes and long-term care facilities.
More than 200,000 doses have been given out thus far, but that only covers about 3% of the state's population, according to numbers compiled by the Washington Post.
— Angela King
More than 15% positive rate in King County
8 a.m. — Washington's health department confirmed more than 2,500 new Covid-19 cases yesterday and 38 more deaths.
In King County, the test positivity rate over the past couple weeks has surpassed 15%.
— Angela King
THURSDAY, JANUARY 14
Washington state clarifies who gets the next vaccine doses
2 p.m. — Health-care workers and people who live and work in nursing and retirement homes were first in line for the coronavirus vaccine. Next come people who are 70 or older and people who are 50 or older who live in multigenerational homes. The Department of Health clarified to KUOW what "multigenerational" means to them:
— Eilis O'Neill
Covid-19 case numbers rise in wake of holidays
Noon — Covid-19 case counts appear to be on the rise in Washington state. But the state department of health notes that there is some nuance in the numbers.
According to the Washington State Department of Health's Jan. 13 newsletter,:
Case counts rebounded after Christmas and appear to be increasing steeply in the most recent data, which is still incomplete. The flat and declining case count trends seen in mid-to-late December may be due to fewer people seeking care or getting tested over the holidays, rather than an actual decrease in COVID-19 activity. Hospitalization trends show a similar decline through Dec. 30 followed by a rebound in early January.
As DOH points out, there may have been a few reasons as to why the numbers declined around the holidays; many counties experienced a decline in cases.
Currently, transmission rates remain high:
COVID-19 transmission continues to plateau at a level above 1.0, meaning the number of people becoming infected is increasing. The best estimate of the reproductive number (how many new people each COVID-19 patient will infect) on Dec. 24 was 1.09 in western Washington and 1.13 in eastern Washington. The goal is maintaining a reproductive number well below one—meaning COVID-19 transmission is declining—for a substantial amount of time.
Case rates remain high, with 31 of 39 counties at rates above 200 new cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks. Eleven counties had rates above 500 new cases per 100,000 people.
— Dyer Oxley
Vaccine frustration in Washington
9 a.m. — Instructions from the federal government for states to broaden coronavirus vaccination eligibility aren't sitting well with the Washington state secretary of health.
Dr. Umair Shah says he wants to get more people vaccinated, and could, if the feds did a better job of distributing the vaccines.
“Without consistent and enhanced vaccine supply, by making pronouncements we are simply having people get into even longer lines, which only adds to the frustration and consternation of everyone," he said.
Umair says Washington state is a few days away from moving into the next phase of the vaccine rollout when seniors age 70 and over can get the shots.
The federal Health and Human Services Department indicated earlier this week that states which lag behind with administering vaccines could get fewer doses in the future.
In a speech Tuesday, HHS Secretary Alex Azar instructed states to rapidly expand vaccination eligibility to all seniors 65 and over and to younger adults with worrisome underlying conditions. State departments of health and governors, however, have the final say on vaccine prioritization.
In Washington, Dr. Shah says a federal pronouncement coming without more vaccines is just a recipe for frustration.
"When you don't have enough vaccines, what you're doing essentially is opening up a queue or a line, you've making the line longer," Shah said. "But you're not actually helping people get vaccines because there's not enough supply."
— Andy Hurst
Snohomish County opens 2 drive-thru vaccination sites
8:30 a.m. — The Snohomish Health District has opened two new drive-thru vaccination sites, according to the Herald newspaper.
One is at Paine Field in Everett and the other is at Edmonds Community College.
People must make an appointment and show a voucher from their employer, confirming they're eligible to receive a dose.
The county is hoping to vaccinate up to 10,000 people this week and nearly 900,000 residents this year.
Cases of Covid-19 have returned to previous highs recorded in December. State health officials say we're also seeing an uptick in transmission rates, most likely resulting from holiday travel and gatherings.
— Angela King
Windstorm meant an early vaccine dose for many from Tulalip Tribe
8 a.m. — Tuesday's windstorm may have helped hundreds of people get their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, ahead of time.
When the power went out for the Tulalip Tribe, it also put at risk the viability of nearly 500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine which needs to be kept in ultra cold storage.
So rather than watch them go to waste, the tribe started vaccinating as many people as possible.
KING 5 reports that non-tribal spouses, casino workers, and even 40 first responders from Snohomish County were among those who got a shot Wednesday.
— Angela King
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 13
Washington Education Association says K-12 staff should have vaccine access before returning to buildings
5:06 p.m. — The state’s largest teachers union is calling for school staff to have access to full Covid vaccination before returning to buildings.
Although many districts around the state are planning to bring students back to classrooms over the next few weeks, most school staff are not eligible for vaccinations until the spring under the current state schedule.
The Washington Education Association board voted Tuesday to call on state leaders to make both vaccine doses available to school staff who are scheduled to return to in-person learning.
"One of the many keys to returning to in-person teaching and learning safely is access to the vaccine," said WEA President Larry Delaney.
State legislators and some school district superintendents have also urged the state to prioritize school staff in the vaccination schedule.
Right now, only school workers ages 50 and over and those with preexisting conditions are prioritized. Delaney said if staff can’t get vaccinated soon, he hopes districts will postpone reopening plans until they’re immunized.
— Ann Dornfeld
U.K. Variant Could Drive A New Surge In The U.S., Experts Warn
1:29 p.m. — Scientists are sending the U.S. a warning: What's happening right now in the United Kingdom with the new coronavirus variant could likely happen in the U.S., and the country has a short window to prepare.
"I feel a sense of déjà vu right now about the situation we were in back in the spring," says epidemiologist Emma Hodcroft at the University of Bern in Switzerland. "I think a lot of countries are looking at the U.K. right now and saying, 'Oh, isn't that too bad that it's happening there, just like we did with Italy in February.
"But we've seen in this pandemic a few times that, if the virus can happen somewhere else, it can probably happen in your country, too."
The new variant, called B.1.1.7, appears to be significantly more contagious than previous versions of the virus. It has been spreading rapidly in the U.K. and causing a huge surge in cases, hospitalizations and death. Last week, the U.K. reported a record-breaking 419,000 cases. The governments of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland issued strict lockdowns, urging people to stay inside their homes.
Studies suggest the new variant increases the transmissibility by about 50%. While restrictions have largely suppressed previous versions of the virus in the U.K., B.1.1.7 has continued to grow exponentially.
Now scientists say the virus is already here in the U.S., and circulating widely-- albeit at very low levels, says computational biologist Trevor Bedford at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Read more here.
2,000 people vaccinated in King County each day
9 a.m. — King County Executive Dow Constantine says approximately 2,000 people are getting a coronavirus vaccine shot in King County each day.
He says once the county can get a more steady supply of doses, it will need to speed things up.
"In this county we need to vaccinate 16,000 people a day every day for six months in order for us to get to the 70% of adults, which is what the experts think would constitute success," Constantine said.
People at high-risk, like healthcare workers and those in nursing homes, are qualified to get vaccinated right now.
King County will not be adopting the new Trump Administration guidelines which say to vaccinate everyone over age 65. Constantine says there just aren't enough vaccines on hand for that.
— Angela King
TUESDAY, JANUARY 12
100 adult family homes in Seattle to get vaccinated by city
4:25 p.m. -- Members of the Seattle Fire Department are going to start vaccinating adult family homes that are eligible for vaccines – but don’t have a way to get them.
The program is fairly small scale. Starting Thursday, teams of firefighters will go location to location, reaching up to 100 residents and workers a day.
The city expects to vaccinate 1,000 people with two doses by the end of February.
The facilities were identified through local public health authorities, said Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins. They serve older adults and people with disabilities, but were not able to sign up in time to get vaccinated by CVS or Walgreens under the federal program for long-term care facilities.
That’s because it wasn’t clear they were eligible to sign up until it was too close to the deadline, according to Kelsey Nyland with Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office.
Seattle’s program costs around $1,200 per day and the city expects to seek reimbursement from FEMA, she said.
Eventually the city is also considering opening mass vaccination sites – though there are no firm details on that yet.
On January 9th, the City of Seattle gained approval from the Washington State Department of Health to receive vaccine doses and distribute them. The city originally applied late November, Scoggins said, and had to prove it could safely store vaccine doses at the right temperature.
Seattle starts cash assistance for laid off hospitality workers
10 a.m. — Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan says that $2.17 million in direct cash assistance is now available for hospitality workers who've lost work because of the pandemic.
The funding comes from the $5 million assistance package that the mayor and the City Council announced last month.
Hospitality workers who live and work in Seattle, who have been laid off, or had their work hours reduced, can receive up to $1,000 per individual, or up to $2,000 dollars per family. They can get more if they have dependents.
There are qualifying factors. Workers must earn less than 60% of the area median income (AMI) to qualify. And while gig workers are not eligible, restaurant and bar delivery drivers are.
After eligibility is established, there will be a weighted selection process that will prioritize applicants with dependents and earning less than 50% AMI.
The Mayor says the pandemic has forced more than 600 restaurants and bars in the city to close permanently.
— Angela King
US Rep. Pramila Jayapal tests positive for Covid-19
9 a.m. — Seattle Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal says she has tested positive for Covid-19. She is noting that the positive test came days after she was in lockdown during the riots at the capitol, isolated with colleagues who refused to wear a mask.
“I’m quarantining now because I am convinced that where we ended up, in the secured room — where there were over 100 people and many were Republicans not wearing masks — was a superspreader event,” Jayapal said.
She's also calling for every lawmaker who refuses to wear a mask in the capitol to be fined and removed from the floor.
Video of Jayapal captured during the siege does show that the representative was not wearing a mask in chambers at the time of the incident.
It appears that Jayapal is not alone as others in Congress are also testing positive following the lockdown. Rep. Brad Schneider and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, both Democrats, have also tested positive for Covid-19.
— Angela King
Senators ask for sped up vaccine delivery
8 a.m. — Washington Senator Patty Murray is one of 43 Senate Democrats calling on the Trump administration to immediately address the failures with Covid-19 vaccination distribution.
Reporting from the Washington Post shows only 2.5% of people in Washington state have received the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine — zero percent has received both doses.
The number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic has now surpassed 265,000 and nearly 3,700 people have died in Washington state.
— Angela King
MONDAY, JANUARY 11
Why vaccine rollout is slow in Washington state
10 a.m. — Washington state is getting vaccines out slightly better than the national average, but it's still slow going. So sluggish, that state officials have pushed out expectations for frontline workers to get a shot to April.
So far, Washington has received 466,775 doses of vaccines. It has administered about 151,856 as of last Friday. Now The Seattle Times is reporting a few reasons as to why it's been so slow.
For starters, CVS and Walgreens have not adequately scheduled for the vaccines, according to The Times. That's partially because of bad communication with state officials. Also, plans to distribute the vaccines have been harmed by unpredictability at the federal level. Locally, getting vaccines to nursing homes has been more difficult than expected.
The United States is not alone as it faces difficulties getting vaccines to people. The UN recently stated that it doesn't expect herd immunity to happen this year despite vaccinations.
— Dyer Oxley
State's new two-phase Healthy Washington program starts Monday
8 a.m. — All of Washington's eight regions in the new Healthy Washington plan are under Phase 1. With Covid-19 case levels so high, no region is ready to move into Phase 2.
Under Phase 1, gyms and indoor fitness centers will be allowed to offer limited and restricted service by appointment only. Only one person per every 500 feet can be permitted indoors and session can last no longer than 45 minutes.
Indoor entertainment venues, such as aquariums, indoor theaters, and indoor concert halls, can offer private tours for individual households of no more than six people. General admission will still not be allowed.
Some outdoor entertainment is allowed under Phase 1, but limited to 10 guests.
Still no indoor dining. That is allowed under Phase 2.
— Angela King
SUNDAY, JANUARY 10
Coronavirus: Numbers Rising In Nearly Every State; Capitol Siege Put Members At Risk
12:19 p.m. — Last summer, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Congress that if the U.S. didn't get the coronavirus outbreak under control, the country could see 100,000 new cases per day.
Six months later, the U.S. is adding, on average, more than 271,000 new cases per day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Over the past 24 hours, 3,700 new deaths were recorded.
That brings the total number of reported cases in the U.S. to more than 22 million since the start of the outbreak — with a death toll of 373,000.
And many members of Congress are now at heightened risk for contracting the coronavirus. When many House lawmakers sheltered in place in a committee hearing room as the pro-Trump mob attacked the Capitol last week, they may have been exposed to someone infected with the virus, Congress' attending physician, Brian Monahan, said in a letter to lawmakers Sunday.
"The time in this room was several hours for some and briefer for others. During this time, individuals may have been exposed to another occupant with coronavirus infection," read the email, obtained by NPR. "Please continue your usual daily coronavirus risk reduction measures (daily symptom inventory checklist, mask wear, and social distancing). Additionally, individuals should obtain an RT-PCR coronavirus test next week as a precaution."
Several Republican members of Congress refused to wear masks while sheltering with others Wednesday. Video shot from inside one room shows Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., offering blue surgical masks to six Republican lawmakers. They all declined. It's unclear if those unmasked Republicans were in the same room as the one referenced by the attending physician.
Read more here.