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caption: Volunteer registered nurse Amy Rioux administers a Covid-19 vaccine on Wednesday, April 7, 2021, at Island Drug in Oak Harbor.
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Volunteer registered nurse Amy Rioux administers a Covid-19 vaccine on Wednesday, April 7, 2021, at Island Drug in Oak Harbor.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Coronavirus blog: Updates for Seattle and Washington state (April 5-9)

This post is archived. Read the latest here.

Need a vaccine?

As of Friday, April 9, the Washington State Department of Health reports:

  • 5,322 Covid-19 related deaths; 349,717 confirmed cases; 25,077 probable cases; and a 1.4% death rate among positive cases.
  • Compared to white people and Asian people, the rate of Covid cases is nearly three times higher for Black people, and nearly seven times higher for Latino/x people and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders.
  • So far, 3,943,100 doses (not total number of people) of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered to Washingtonians.

FRIDAY, APRIL 9

Eligible for a vaccine in Seattle but unable to get one? It might be your ZIP code

11:08 a.m. — As Covid-19 vaccines rolled out nationally and locally, reports emerged of wealthy white people traveling to working class neighborhoods and communities of color to get vaccinated, filling appointments intended for groups considered most vulnerable to severe Covid-19 outcomes.

In Seattle, city officials have tried to level the playing field by quietly enacting their own vaccine priority standards, within Washington state’s eligibility framework.

Instead of taking a first-come, first-served approach, the city says it is prioritizing Black, Indigenous, and people of color, older adults who haven’t been vaccinated yet, as well as people living within ZIP codes hardest hit by Covid, as identified by the University of Washington’s Social Vulnerability Index map.

But the city’s attempt to make vaccine access more equitable has caused some confusion for thousands of residents signed up on Seattle’s vaccine waitlist.

Community-based groups primarily serving communities of color are the first to receive appointment-booking access as the city gets new vaccine supply. These organizations then have seven days to reserve as many slots as they can for pop-up clinics, before the city sends out a temporary registration link to other vaccine-eligible people the city considers priority.

Thus far, the city has hosted 16 pop-up clinics with community-based organizations, including NAACP Seattle-King County, El Centro de la Raza, and the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle.

Mayor Jenny Durkan said the city’s approach to vaccine equity is tied to demands made during protests last summer for a greater concentration of city resources in communities of color.

Read the full story here.

—Liz Brazile & Ashley Hiruko

Variants of concerns primarily growing in western Washington

11 a.m. — Variants of concern continue to spread across Washington state.

According to the latest data from Washington's Department of Health, cases are primarily among ages 20-49, and are mostly located in King County, followed by Snohomish and Pierce Counties, depending on the variant.

caption: Data as of April 8, 2021 on variants in Washington state from the Department of Health. 
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— Dyer Oxley

Workers hold demonstration outside closing QFC in Seattle

10 a.m. — The shelves are getting pretty bare at two Seattle grocery stores set to close this month — both are QFCs

QFC says it is shutting them down in part because of the city's $4-an-hour hazard pay ordinance.

“Hey hey QFC! Share your profits, stop the greed!” shouted members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union who protested Thursday outside one of the closing stores in Seattle's Wedgwood neighborhood.

Stephanie Cook wasn’t there. She was getting her Covid vaccine, and working her last scheduled shift at the other QFC store that’s closing, on Capitol Hill. She says the company announced the store closures through the media.

“I saw a link to an article on Twitter and I was like, wait, my store?” Cook said.

But even with this stress, she says getting hazard pay during the pandemic has still been “a major win.”

“It was the one time ever when I’ve worked in a retail job where I felt like we were important for society.”

QFC spokesperson Tiffany Sanders says the company is meeting with staff at the two affected stores to help them transition to a different location if possible.

Most grocers granted hazard pay last spring. Then in February Seattle mandated it for the duration of the pandemic. QFC says that made operations “financially unsustainable” at the two stores. The company says it has worked instead to provide access to the Covid vaccine, and is awarding $100 to every employee who receives it.

There's more to this story. Read on here.

— Amy Radil

Houses, condos selling "lightning fast" across Puget Sound area

9:30 a.m. — Median home prices are way up — 20% more expensive this March, compared to last year.

James Young at the UW’s Washington Center for Real Estate Research says a lot of people are not selling. And those who are selling, are moving to suburbs and driving up prices there.

"This pandemic has really accelerated that trend up and down the coast, through to Cle Elum and Suncadia, and all the other peripheral cities, huge price increases in Spokane and everywhere else," Young said.

The median price in Skagit County is up 27%. It's up 30% in Grays Harbor County. And it's up 44% in Kittitas County.

Young says this spring is the first "post-Covid" buying period, because people are actively touring again, which they couldn't do one year ago.

— Paige Browning

Kent pays for outdoor dining for local restaurants

9 a.m. — Cities all over the region are getting ready for another summer of outdoor dining. In places like Edmonds and Seattle, solid-looking structures protect diners from the elements where there used to be parked cars.

Joseph Kahono owns Rafiki, an East African Restaurant in Kent and says the city paid for the dining structures on his street. Covid has helped make outdoor dining more popular.

"I was happy because I knew, the reason people go out, is they want to dine where they’re going to buy the food. So people can come in, although they are not coming inside the restaurant – but they will be in the tent – they enjoy. So that’s good extra money for us, for the city, and for everybody else.”

Some restaurant owners hope it can remain a permanent part of street life long after the pandemic goes away. Experts say outdoor dining is safer than indoor, so long as there’s good air flow.

There's more to this story. Read here.

— Joshua McNichols

San Juan County vaccination rates are good, so far

8 a.m. — San Juan County public schools have historically had very low childhood vaccine compliance rates. But things are different for adults when it comes to Covid-19

People there are getting vaccinated at high rates. Nearly 50% have already gotten at least one shot. San Juan County is now second in the state for vaccination rates.

"Historically, our childhood vaccination rates haven't been very great," said Kyle Dodd who is in charge of San Juan County’s Covid response. "So we are pleased that at least with this Covid vaccine, we are we are seeing the numbers that we are."

But Dodd says the county is not out of the woods yet. There’s been a recent surge in new cases on San Juan Island, mostly among middle and high school age people.

— David Hyde

Potential for counties to slide back to Phase 2 restrictions

7 a.m. — Washington Governor Jay Inslee says several counties in the state might have to return to more restrictive measures on dining, retail, and sports events because of an uptick in Covid cases and hospitalizations.

That rise in cases means counties might have slide back from Phase 3 to Phase 2 of reopening. That would mean 25% capacity at most businesses and other restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

Governor Inslee says that decision will be made Monday.

"This is not Judgment Day Monday," Inslee said. "The score’s the score. This score is determined by the Covid virus, not us. The numbers will be the numbers, and we will look at them."

One important metric is the number of new Covid cases per 100,000 residents, over a two-week period. To stay in Phase 3, King County needs to keep that number below 200. Right now, it’s at 184.

Inslee says he hopes that going back to Phase 2 will send a signal that the coronavirus is still a threat in the state.

"... it will help to get vaccinated," he said. "Talk to your seniors to get vaccinated, and wear a mask, and don't go to karaoke parties."

Cases and hospitalizations are climbing at the moment, partly because more contagious variants are spreading. At the same time, many businesses, like restaurants and gyms, are open at 50% capacity under Phase 3.

— Katie Campbell, Eilis O'Neill

THURSDAY, APRIL 8

Fewer doses coming to Washington following J&J mix up

1 p.m. — Washington state will receive fewer doses of Covid vaccines over the next few weeks than previously expected.

Instead of 600,000 dose, Washington state is expecting closer to 500,000 doses next week.

State health officials say one reason for the change is a mistake that occurred in production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Approximately 15 million doses had to be tossed out because workers got the ingredients mixed up.

The diminished shipment is arriving as the state is one week away from all Washingtonians 16 and older becoming eligible for their shots.

— Angela King

More than 100K on wait list for vaccine at Lumen Field after pre-registration opens

Noon — Seattle residents 16 and older can now pre-register for their Covid vaccination appointments. Those who live or work in King County can sign up.

Once you do, you'll receive an email confirming your appointment at one of the four city-run sites (North Seattle, Rainier Beach, West Seattle, and Lumen Field).

More than 100,000 people were already on the waiting list as of Wednesday afternoon.

— Angela King

Some counties could slide back into Phase 2 as cases continue to rise

10 a.m. — We're just a few days from finding out which counties will have to move back to Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan.

Health officials won’t say which counties are in trouble. But there are a handful that are at the threshold, or above it for case rates and hospitalizations.

Lacy Fehrenbach is tracking Covid cases for the state's health department. She says everyone’s behavior and actions matter.

“The chains of transmission go on," Fehrenbach said. "If you avoid infecting one or five people today, that makes a huge difference in the immediate term and in the long term.”

The department will have a new evaluation on how the state’s doing on Monday.

To remain in Phase 3 under the state’s reopening plan, the number of new cases for every 100,000 people in the last two weeks needs to be less than 200.

— Ruby de Luna

Some Seattle libraries to re-open this month

9 a.m. — Three branches of the Seattle Public Library will open to in-person patrons on April 27.

Library officials announced Wednesday that the Beacon Hill, Southwest, and Lake City branches will open at 25% capacity.

Hours will be limited from Noon to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

Patrons will able to pick up holds, sit and read, and use computers. Mask will be required.

Library officials say more branches will incrementally open in the future.

All branches have been closed to in-person services since last March.

— Angela King

Researchers testing new vaccine in Seattle to counter variant

7 a.m. — Researchers in Seattle are tweaking the Moderna vaccine to fight the the B.1.351 coronavirus variant, first identified in South Africa.

Dr. Lisa Jackson is a senior investigator with Kaiser Permanente's Health Research Institute. She says they're looking at several scenarios during the trial.

"One of which is to give it as a booster to people who received the original vaccine previously. And the other is to evaluate this being used in people who have never been vaccinated."

Dr. Jackson says initial results could be available within a few months.

The B.1.351 variant was first detected in Washington state in January and as of April 1, there were 17 cases detected statewide.

— Andy Hurst

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 7

New hours for state's mass vaccination sites

5:20 p.m. -- Washington’s mass vaccination sites could be offering evening hours for people who can’t leave work during the day.

Health Secretary Umair Shah says the change is based on recent feedback from some people in the Latinx community in Yakima who say it’s important to have non-traditional hours to accommodate their work schedules.

“We have been working the scenes," said Shah. "I’ve directed the team at our mass vaccination sites also to assure that we are having evening hours that are beyond the 6 p.m. hour at least a couple of nights a week.”

Shah hopes to launch the evening hours as early as next week.

To date the state has given out nearly 4 million doses of the Covid vaccine. On average it has vaccinated 60,000 people every single day.

Ruby de Luna

Covid cases rising across King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties

Noon — Coronavirus cases are ticking upward in King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties. Cases have been on an upward trend since mid-March.

In King County, 174 out of every 100,000 people are infected with Covid-19, a number that's gone up 14% in the last week.

King County Executive Dow Constantine tells KUOW that the vaccine is helping, but we're not close to herd immunity yet.

"So all across the board the statistics are bad," Constantine said. "We really need folks to follow the public health guidelines, mask up, avoid being cooped up with others, stay home if you're sick, and generally recognize this thing is not over. Even if you've been vaccinated, please wear a mask."

In the past two weeks, 12 people have died from Covid in King County, including four people in Auburn, and two in both Seattle and SeaTac.

In that time, 3,800 people tested positive for Covid-19.

— Paige Browning

Nation aims for April 19; Washington aims for April 15

10 a.m. — Oregon Governor Kate Brown has confirmed that all adults in her state will be eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine on April 19. President Biden has also announced this week that April 19 is the nationwide date for adult eligibility.

In Washington state, adults over 16 will be eligible a few days earlier, on April 15.

In Washington and Oregon, frontline workers, older adults, and other at-risk groups remain prioritized until the April 19.

— Paige Browning

Largest shipment of vaccines arrive in Seattle

9 a.m. — The city of Seattle is getting its largest weekly allocation of Covid vaccines so far — a little more than 30,000.

With that, it plans to ramp up the volume at its mass vaccination site at Lumen Field Event Center.

On Wednesday, officials said they expect to give out 8,000 shots which would be its biggest day so far.

— Kim Malcolm

Travel guidelines for Washington

8 a.m. — People traveling in and out of Washington need to follow the CDC's travel guidelines. That's the latest guidance from Governor Jay Inslee.

Inslee previously imposed quarantines, but has since revoked them.

The CDC says travelers, whether vaccinated or not, need to wear masks when around other people, stay six feet away from anyone not traveling with you, and wash hands often.

And people flying into the US must first show a negative Covid test result.

— Paige Browning

Seattle opens registration for vaccine appointments

7 a.m. — The city of Seattle has started an online form to notify people when a vaccination appointment is available. It is open to all, ahead of the April 15 deadline when vaccines will open up to all adults in Washington state.

The form pre-registers people for when an appointment is available at any of the city's vaccination sites at Rainier Beach, West Seattle, North Seattle, or Lumen Field.

Currently, only people included in the state's phased system are eligible to receive a dose. That system targets the most vulnerable. On April 15, vaccine eligibility will open to all adults age 16 and older.

— Dyer Oxley

TUESDAY, APRIL 6

Washington state has a "poop group"

4 p.m. — Washington's Department of Health has a "poop group."

That's not a joke or a pun. It's actually what health officials call this group that tests sewage to track the coronavirus.

It's more accurately called "wastewater surveillance" and has been used in the past to determine where viruses are spreading. This virus-tracking tactic has now gotten a big boost from the CDC.

The CDC is providing funding to DOH to help test local wastewater facilities across the state. This could help determine how prevalent the virus is among communities. Even if people are not showing symptoms, it will still show up in the sewage line.

The surveillance can therefore help determine if the virus is unknowingly spreading at a school, long term facility, or elsewhere and serve as an early warning system. It can also help track the virus as a community gets more vaccine shots into arms.

According to DOH: "It may be a dirty job, but wastewater surveillance can help us learn more about how Covid-19 is spreading. We are excited to add another tool to our kit to keep Washington communities safe and healthy."

— Dyer Oxley

Snohomish County launches sixth mass vaccination site

2:33 p.m. — The new drive-through site at Boom City in Tulalip opened this morning.

Snohomish Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters urges people to make an appointment first before heading out.

“Please do not show up without an appointment in the hope of getting extra doses," he said. "We still have a much higher demand than supply of vaccine and you’ll be disappointed and it’ll also kind of jams up the gears if there’s people showing up without appointments.”

If you’re not able to get an appointment, you can sign up to be on a waitlist for that same day. People will be notified if there’s a cancellation, or if extra doses become available.

Spitters also urges people who have extra appointments to pick one and cancel others to make those slots available.

Snohomish County’s case rate has gone up for a third week in a row. Spitters says there are 121 cases per 100,000 through the two weeks ending Saturday, April 3.

— Ruby de Luna

Thousands line up at Yakima mass vaccination site

Noon — Thousands of people in Washington are seeking that coveted vaccine appointment before vaccines open up to all adults on April 15. It’s pushed some to travel to Yakima where FEMA officials are vaccinating more than 1,200 people each day.

At the site that opened last week at the Yakima State Fair Park, hundreds wait in their cars along a dirt road stretching more than a mile. National Guard staff help direct them. It’s one of a handful of FEMA pilot sites across the country. The goal is to support vulnerable communities. Yakima has been hit hard by the pandemic. At one point, it had the worst rate of Covid cases on the West Coast. The county has one of the highest poverty rates in the state and is largely agricultural.

Jordan Gustafson is with the Valley Regional Fire Authority. He says vaccines are available regardless of immigration status or health insurance. And if people cannot get to the site, there are vaccination teams willing to go anywhere.

“Out to the orchards, we go out to the farms, churches, community centers. Wherever we can get vaccinations out,” Gustafson said.

Gustafson says they have noticed a lot of people coming over from Seattle for a chance to get a shot.

— Esmy Jimenez

Second gentleman visiting Yakima mass vaccination site today

10 a.m. — Second gentleman Doug Emhoff is visiting Washington state Tuesday.

Emhoff will visit the federal mass vaccination clinic that opened in Yakima last week. He will also get an overview of the mobile vaccination site in that area.

Governor Jay Inslee and Congressmember Kim Schrier will also be on hand and will meet with members of the Yakima Valley Latino and farm-worker communities.

— Angela King

Sounders to host 7K fans at upcoming games

7 a.m. — The stadium doors are about to open again for Seattle soccer fans.

Sounders FC has gotten approval to host 7,000 fans for its first five home matches. That starts April 16 when they play Minnesota.

The Seattle Mariners have a 9,000 person capacity undertheir coronavirus precautions.

— Paige Browning

MONDAY, APRIL 5

'Kind of excited, kind of nervous.' Seattle elementary students return to the classroom

5:47 p.m. — Monday was landmark day in Seattle Public Schools as many elementary students, as well as some older students with disabilities, returned to school buildings for the first time in more than a year.

At 7:45 a.m., Theo Strange waited with his mother Katy outside Rising Star Elementary in Beacon Hill to see the inside of his kindergarten classroom for the very first time.

Theo said he felt “kind of excited and kind of nervous.” He said he was most eager about the first recess of his academic career and the prospect of playing with some toys at choice time.

On the other side of town, waiting to check-in for class outside Northgate Elementary School, fellow kindergartener Rooney Walkingstick shared similar sentiments. "I'm a little scared and a little excited,” Walkingstick said, standing in line with her mother Ashley Walkingstick. At a check-in table school staff gave her a bright pink sticker with her name, classroom, and grade on it.

Mason Butler, a first grade student, said he had mixed emotions about his return to school. But attending class online didn’t lend itself to making friends, something Butler said he was good at.

At Rising Star, Theo’s mom, Katy Strange, was among the PTA volunteers holding cheerfully-decorated welcome signs for families as they rolled up along the curb to drop off their students — staying inside the car, as instructed.

Strange said this seemed like a good time to send her two elementary students back to buildings.

“We're at the point where a lot of our vulnerable family members are vaccinated, so we're feeling more comfortable. The [school] staff is vaccinated, so we're feeling like it was safe to come back,” Strange said.

Read the full story here.

—Ann Dornfeld & Ashley Hiruko

Passenger limits on buses to increase in coming months

1:30 p.m. — King County Metro plans to increase the number of passengers allowed on buses, incrementally, over the next six months.

The move to increase passengers on buses comes as more people are being vaccinated in the region.

In an online statement, Metro says: On April 19, we will modify our passenger limits to 40% of pre-Covid capacity (50% of seated capacity). This means the passenger limit will move from 12 to 20 customers on our 40-foot buses, and from 18 to 30 customers on our 60-foot buses. We also will make similar passenger limit updates on our other modes. This increase in load limits is in step with other transit agencies and in line with Gov. Inslee’s guidance for public transit agencies.

— Dyer Oxley

UW bioethicist frowns on paying employees to get vaccinated

1 p.m. — The opinion of one UW bioethicist is countering a trend of companies offering financial incentives for employees to get vaccinated.

Paying employees to get a vaccine has been a tactic used by some employers. The upside is that the more people who are vaccinated, the closer to normal operations a businesses can be (and in turn, the closer to normal society can be).

Nancy Jecker's argument was recently published in the Journal of Bioethics. Her main angle is that offering money to get vaccinated removes an element of autonomy for many people.

“For the most economically disadvantaged, payment would be the most coercive,” Jecker said.

Jecker further argues that there are alternatives to paying people, such as public health campaigns that promote the benefits of being vaccinated, such as being able to see friends and family or traveling more. Also, she says that paying people to do the right thing could provide a disincentive to do what's best in regular circumstances.

Jecker is an adjunct professor of humanities and bioethics.

— Dyer Oxley

Current Covid-19 outlook in Washington state

Noon — Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise in Washington state. Health officials attribute part of that increase to Covid variants, with more than 600 cases in King County.

King County health officials say:

  • Nearly a third of new cases were reported among people who said they'd recently attended social events, such as family gatherings and weddings.
  • 11% of cases said they had traveled or visited a bar or a restaurant
  • There has been an increase in outbreaks associated with child care and K-12 schools — 5% of cases. That's more than in January (2% of cases).

But on a positive note, the number of cases linked to long-term care facilities has dropped significantly in recent months.

The Covid death rate in King County continues to fall. Over the winter, King County saw an average of nine Covid deaths per day. Currently, one person is dying from the virus each day.

— Angela King

Booster shot being tested for B.1.135 variant

11 a.m. — A Covid-19 vaccine, or a booster shot, against the B.1.351 variant (first discovered in South Africa) is being tested in Seattle.

At least 17 cases involving the variant have been detected across the state since January. The Seattle Times reports approximately 150 people in Seattle and three other cities across the country will participate in the local trial.

The B.1.351 variant is said to be about 50% more infectious than the original strain, and is most adept at evading both natural and vaccine-induced immunity.

Volunteers can register for the trial here.

— Angela King

K-5th grade students can have in-person class starting Monday

caption: Derek Butler kisses his son, Mason Butler, a 1st-grade student at Northgate Elementary School, on the top of the head while saying goodbye on Monday, April 5, 2021, on the first day of in-person learning at the school in Seattle. "I feel scared and a little happy," said Mason. "I missed making friends the most because I'm pretty good at doing that." 
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10 a.m. — It's a big day for school districts across Washington state.

Schools are required to start offering an in-person option for K-5th grade students Monday morning.

Governor Jay Inslee's proclamation also requires older students have the option by April 19. But some older Seattle Public School students who are enrolled in Special Education Intensive Service Pathways will have the option OF returning to the classroom Monday.

And while state officials have said it's OK for student desks to only be three feet apart, Seattle public schools will keep its students six feet apart for now

— Angela King

Vaccine demand will be higher than supply on April 15

9 a.m. — We're less than two weeks away from all Washingtonians, 16 and older, becoming eligible to get their Covid vaccinations.

What will things look like when the wait is over on April 15?

King County Public Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin says there won't be enough vaccines for everyone right away. But he's told supplies are increasing.

"If supplies do continue to increase we should have a smaller mismatch between doses available and people who are eligible, and it still will take time to become vaccinated, but there will be more opportunities to get vaccinated," Dr. Duchin said.

Dr. Duchin adds that it should be easier to find an appointment as time goes on, but it will likely be several months before everyone who is eligible can get a shot. If demand becomes too great, he says they'll ask providers to try to prioritize high risk patients.

Covid-19 cases continue to rise in King County.

— Kate Walters

Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise in King County

8 a.m. — As the number of cases associated with Washington's long-term care facilities has dropped significantly in recent weeks, more new cases are being tied to social gatherings.

"Nearly 30% of cases reported attending events such as family visits, group meals, parties, and weddings during their exposure period," said King County Public Health Officer Jeff Duchin. "That's up 10% from 20% in January."

Dr. Duchin says cases associated with travel have doubled since January. And there have been eight outbreaks linked to youth sport leagues in as many weeks.

So Dr. Duchin is urging people to keep wearing masks, avoid crowded indoor spaces, and limit contact with those outside of their household (especially if they have not been vaccinated).

— Kate Walters

Which street permits will last beyond the pandemic

7 a.m. — The city of Seattle is starting to review its street permits to decide which ones will last beyond the pandemic.

For example, the transportation department has just re-launched its play-street program which allows for people to close off their block for recreation and games.

But when it comes to closing streets for outdoor dining, SDOT's Alyse Nelson says the department is still reviewing the situation.

"We're right now kind of working internally and kind of making plans for what comes next, both post-pandemic, and more specifically after October 31," Nelson said.

October 31 is the pandemic expiration date for street and sidewalk dining in Seattle.

Nelson says allowances will still be made for outdoor tents, as there were in past years, but there could be a new model.

— Paige Browning

Read previous updates here