Pandemic blog: Updates for the Northwest (January 31-February 4)
This post is archived. Read the latest here.
As of Friday, February 5, the Washington State Department of Health reports:
- 4,449 Covid-19 related deaths; 303,961 confirmed cases; 15,410 probable cases; and a 1.4% death rate among positive cases.
- 18,156 people have been hospitalized with Covid-19 in Washington state. According to the most recent data and NPR's hospital capacity monitor: King County has 74% of hospital beds taken, with 7% occupied by Covid-19 patients; Pierce County has 89% of beds taken, with 14% occupied by Covid-19 patients; and Snohomish County has 81% of beds taken with 9% occupied by Covid-19 patients.
- Compared to white people and Asian people, the rate of Covid cases is nearly three times higher for Black people, and nearly seven times higher for Latino/x people and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders.
- So far, 833,935 Washingtonians have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
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THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 4
Return to school expected to be delayed for Seattle students pre-K to grade 1
7:05 p.m. — Seattle Public Schools' phased timeline for reopening prioritizes getting students receiving special education services, and those in grades pre-K through 1 back into the classroom on March 1.
But Superintendent Denise Juneau announced Thursday that "it is unlikely" that students in pre-K through grade 1 will be learning in person by then, citing ongoing negotiations with the Seattle Education Association.
However, Juneau said the district did still anticipate the return of students receiving intensive special education services come March 1.
Currently, the district has in place a fully remote learning model, with the exception of some special education students whose individualized learning plans specifically call for in-person instruction.
The district has proposed creating a hybrid learning schedule under which students eligible to return, assigned to an A or B group, would each receive two days of in-person learning.
Read more here.
Scenes from mass vaccination site in Clark County
10:30 a.m. — The Washington National Guard is operating four mass vaccination sites across the state. One is in Clark County, where they partnered with Safeway to create a drive-thru vaccination site.
— KUOW Staff
Gov. Inslee supports reopening school buildings
10 a.m. — Washington Governor Jay Inslee now supports re-opening school buildings.
Inslee wrote the state's largest teachers union on Wednesday, explaining his support for returning students to school in a safe manner. He cites research from districts that have brought students back. He also visited a Pierce County elementary school on Tuesday to learn what health protocols they have in place against coronavirus.
On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also updated guidance on schools, saying schools can reopen safely even if teachers are not vaccinated yet.
The Washington Education Association has been reluctant to have educators back in-person before being vaccinated.
— Paige Browning
Grocery associations sue Seattle over hazard pay requirement
9 a.m. — Two grocery trade groups are suing the city of Seattle over its new grocery hazard pay requirement.
This week, grocery employees at large chains in Seattle will start earning $4 more per hour thanks to a recently-approved City Council bill.
On Wednesday, the Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Food Industry Association filed a lawsuit in federal court. It alleges the city's law interferes with the collective-bargaining process between grocery stores and unions
A spokesperson for the city attorney says they will "absolutely defend the City's right to see essential grocery workers receive" hazard pay.
— Paige Browning
Lack of vaccine supply puts many appointments on hold
8 a.m. — People eligible for Covid vaccines who are looking to sign up might be out of luck for the moment.
Many vaccine providers and mass vaccination clinics around Puget Sound are not taking new appointments at the moment because of a lack of supply.
"I can’t get an appointment to save my life," said KUOW listener Kathy Springer. "I’m tech savvy, I have a computer, and I have sat for hours on the DOH and individual provider website and it is just crazy."
State officials say they expect supply to increase in the coming weeks. In the meantime, they say check providers' websites often for updates. The Crisis Connections hotline is available to help people find appointments.
We've consolidated tips and tricks for finding a vaccine on our website.
— Deborah Wang
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 3
Trader Joe's ups workers' pay by $4 nationally
11:30 a.m. — Grocery chain Trader Joe's is bumping its non-management workers' pay nationwide by $4 an hour.
The move comes after the Seattle City Council approved a required increase in hazard pay for grocery workers at large chains in the city by $4 an hour, starting this week.
A statement on the Trader Joe's website notes it raised worker pay last year by $2 an hour, and this week it is increasing that to $4. The pay raise is effective Feb. 1.
The Seattle Times also reports a letter from the company to employees notified them mid-year raises will be cancelled for this year.
— Kim Malcolm
UW pauses giving out first doses of Covivd-19 vaccine
11 a.m. — Citing what it calls "challenges" with Covid-19 vaccine supplies, UW Medicine has decided to "pause" providing the first dose of the two-shot vaccine.
"We are hopeful that there will be more vaccine coming, and we are aware that the Biden administration is looking to create additional vaccine distribution across the country," said UW Medicine President Lisa Brandenburg.
UW Medicine is no longer taking appointments for the first dose. Brandenburg did not give an exact time for when it will begin taking appointments again, other than to say they hope it will be soon and that they are taking it week-by-week. Its hospitals will be honoring appointments already made for first and second doses.
UW Medicine has given more than 65,000 vaccine shots so far.
— Dyer Oxley
Washington state reports 11th Covid-related inmate death
10 a.m. — A third inmate at the Airway Heights Corrections Center in eastern Washington has died due to Covid-19, according to the Washington State Department of Corrections.
This is the 11th Covid-related inmate death in the state. Two Washington state correctional officers have also died of Covid-19.
At the Airway Heights Corrections Center, within the last 30 days 238 inmates have tested positive for Covid-19.
— KUOW staff
Native Americans willing to get vaccinated despite concerns, survey finds
9 a.m. — Covid-19 vaccination is under way. And while some people are skeptical, a recent report from the Urban Indian Health Institute found that more than 70% of Native people are willing to get vaccinated even when they have concerns about potential side effects.
Esther Lucero is the chief executive officer of the Seattle Indian Health Board. Lucero helped to develop this report.
“Where other communities it’s about protecting themselves and their safety, and that sometimes is the motivating factor, but for us, it's all about community,” Lucero said. “Taking care of our elders is very significant as American Indian, Alaskan Native people.”
Lucero said yesterday alone, they’ve had more than 5,000 people call to make an appointment for a Covid-19 vaccine. But they only have the capacity to vaccinate 160 people a day.
In their vaccination efforts, they’ve prioritized older adults, both Native and non-Native. Lucero said King County should do more to track race and ethnicity data to make sure distribution efforts are equitable.
— Esmy Jimenez
Washington House passes bill allocating federal Covid-19 dollars
8 a.m. — The Washington State House of Representatives approved a $2.2 billion Covid-19 relief bill earlier this week. The bill directs where federal Covid-19 relief money should go.
The majority of house Republicans voted no on the bill, saying it does not go far enough to provide relief to businesses and families. The Republican plan would have also tapped into the state's rainy day fund.
A similar bill is making its way through the Washington State Senate.
— Paige Browning
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 2
Biden administration will ship Covid-19 vaccines directly to pharmacies
10:19 a.m. —The Biden administration has announced that it will begin shipping about 1 million Covid-19 vaccine doses a week directly to thousands of pharmacies, in an attempt to address equity concerns and speed up the country's crucial inoculation effort.
The vaccines sent to pharmacies will be in addition to the millions of doses sent weekly to states, territories and tribes and that are sometimes administered at local pharmacies.
The program will begin on Feb. 11 on a limited basis, with vaccines sent to about 6,500 stores nationwide, Jeff Zients, the White House's Covid-19 response coordinator, told reporters on Tuesday. He said that the effort would then scale up and that eventually up to 40,000 retail pharmacies, including Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid locations, would receive doses directly from the federal government.
Once the program starts, Zients said, those wishing to get vaccinated should follow their state's current eligibility requirements and, if eligible, then check with their local pharmacy to see if there is vaccine availability.
In his remarks, Zients stressed that equity of vaccine distribution is a key component of the pharmacy effort. In many locations around the U.S., white people are getting vaccinated at much higher rates than are people of color.
"[Pharmacy] sites are selected based on their ability to reach some of the populations most at risk for severe illness from Covid-19, including socially vulnerable communities," said Zients, who added that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will monitor the site data for equity concerns.
Read more here.
King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties now open for indoor dining
10 a.m. — Monday was the first day when restaurants in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties could offer indoor dining again.
The loosened restrictions come after these counties made progress against the coronavirus. King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties moved into Phase 2, allowing restaurants to operate at 25% capacity.
Eric Bahn is the owner of Ba Bar and Monsoon restaurants. He said indoor dining will help him a great deal.
“Our goal – is to lose less money,” Bahn said. “And with this opening of 25%, now we feel a sense of relief that we will hopefully break even and then we’ll ride this through the next three months.”
Not every county in the state is doing as well. Restaurants in Skagit and Whatcom counties will have to wait until they reach Phase 2 before they can reopen for indoor dining.
Washington's Covid dashboard now has vaccination rates, but it doesn't include race and ethnicity, yet
9 a.m. — Around the country, people of color are getting sick with Covid-19 at higher rates. But when it comes to vaccination, they fall behind.
Less than 20 states are recording who’s getting the vaccine by race and ethnicity. But Washington is not one of them.
The state’s Department of Health recently added a new section on its dashboard to show vaccination rates across the state. Right now it shows the number of vaccines given, county by county.
The state is collecting race and ethnicity data, but it hasn’t incorporated that into the dashboard.
The department says it is taking steps toward a more equitable distribution.
They’re currently in the planning phase as they work with different community groups to help address barriers such as disabilities or language proficiency.
—Ruby de Luna
Covid-related budget deficit could impact Seattle Public Schools' bus service
8 a.m. — School bus service may see major cuts as Seattle Public Schools works to close a huge budget gap. The district projects a $69 million shortfall next school year, due largely to Covid-related costs.
Seattle School Board member Brandon Hersey said state transportation funding falls about $11 million short of what the district spends.
The school board is now considering offering bus service to only certain schools or students — like students from low-income families, or students who have transportation in their special education plan.
Hersey said the busing cutbacks would only last a few years, until the budget rebounds.
More than anything, he said, the state legislature needs to boost its funding for school transportation to reflect districts' budgetary situations during the pandemic.
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 1
People jump vaccine line in Washington state, as hundreds of thousands can’t get appointments
9 p.m. — At a recent mass vaccination clinic run by Virginia Mason, Steve Baruso, 57, sat in a chair, recovering after getting his shot.
When asked what made him eligible to get the vaccine, it turned out he wasn’t eligible.
“I hit the ‘other’ on the form,” he said. That was the option for people who not in the phases that are currently eligible but wanted to join the waitlist anyway.
“Then I got an email confirmation," he said. "I don’t know how that happened.”
Baruso wasn’t the only person who somehow managed to jump the line that day. In fact, half the people this reporter interviewed were ineligible.
Virginia Mason isn’t the only provider where ineligible people have gotten the vaccine. Swedish, Kaiser Permanente, and others have too. This happens because each provider must come up with its own process for checking eligibility, and most rely on the honor system.
Vaccine sites in South King County serve elders cared for at home
5 p.m. — On a drizzly morning, about three dozen people lined up outside an arena in Kent for their vaccine appointments.
It’s one of two new vaccination sites the King County government opened Monday for South King County residents 75 or older, or 50 or older and living in multigenerational households.
The aim is to serve a community that’s been hit hard by the pandemic: Covid rates there are three to four times what they are in North Seattle.
It’s also a way to reach the elders of South King County, who are often cared for at home by adult children instead of in nursing or retirement homes.
Emy Haruo was at the Kent site with her 63-year-old mom, whose primary language is Tagalog. Haruo said her mom lives with her, her husband, and their three children in Kent.
They’d been trying to get an appointment ever since Haruo’s mom became eligible two weeks ago. But, now, Haruo said, "I feel a lot better. She feels a lot better. My family feels a lot better."
Evelyn Dunlap was also at the Kent site with her mom, who’s 70 years old and has dementia.
"She has underlying illnesses, and other things like that," Dunlap said. "Then I have my grandchildren, and they go see my daughter. They go in and out of the house."
The Kent and Auburn sites will each vaccinate about 500 people per day, six days per week, as long as they get the necessary doses from the state.
Appointments at both sites are already booked through the end of February.
— Eilis O'Neill
UK coronavirus variant found in King County
1 p.m. — Public health officials say the UK mutation of the coronavirus has now officially been detected in King County.
Variant B117 was previously found in Snohomish and Pierce Counties. It is believed to be spreading among the community.
The variant spreads more easily than others and quickly became the dominant strain in the UK.
— Paige Browning
Vaccines for teachers could be weeks away
Noon — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal says coronavirus vaccines will likely be available to school staff in four to six weeks.
Kaiser will offer shots at locations throughout the Puget Sound region and in Spokane.
Reykdal says this agreement does not allow teachers and other school staff to leap ahead in the state's vaccine timeline, but it will expedite the process when it’s their turn.
"We think this opportunity from Kaiser to create meaningful and dedicated capacity for school employees will make more efficient the ability for all our school employees to get the vaccine, and not stretch that out over months, but rather as little as weeks if we can be super effective at this," Rekdal said, noting his agency is working with the state Department of Health to identify more sites to serve educators in Central Washington.
This announcement will affect about 143,000 public school employees and about 12,000 who work in private schools.
But Reykdal says schools should not wait for vaccines to start bringing students back for in-person learning. He emphasized that it’s possible to do that now by closely adhering to health protocols.
— Derek Wang
Tough news for Washington regions not moving into Phase 2
11 a.m. — Washington Governor Jay Inslee gave the thumbs up for two regions to enter Phase 2 and start reopening restaurants and indoor venues in a limited fashion.
The Puget Sound region moved into Phase 2 today, allowing for restaurants to have some indoor dining, and gyms to open up slightly more. Southwest Washington missed the cut and business owners there are not happy.
The state will wait two weeks before re-evaluating a region’s Covid-19 spread. That means in southwest Washington, if they don’t get the greenlight in mid-February, businesses will have to wait until March.
Anja O’Neil, owner of Vancouver’s Trusty Brewing, says it’s a tough sell.
“How do you explain to an employee on a Friday, 'Hey, we didn’t meet the metric. I will call you in two weeks.' And then how do I explain when we don’t meet the metrics two weeks later and say ‘I’m really sorry, please don’t come to work on Monday.'”
While counties like Clark and Cowlitz remain closed, restaurants in Lewis County will open Monday, even those that landed hefty fines for defying state closure orders.
— Troy Brynelson, Oregon Public Broadcasting
Phase 2 for two Washington regions
10:30 a.m. — Two Washington state regions moved into Phase 2 Monday. The two regions include 7.6 million people and cover King, Pierce, Snohomish, Thurston, Pacific, Grays Harbor, and Lewis Counties.
That means restaurants and gyms will be allowed to have indoor dining at 25% capacity. Sports competitions can resume with limited spectators, and weddings and funerals can have a higher capacity.
Governor Jay Inslee says these areas have met three out of four coronavirus metrics that determine safe reopening.
— Paige Browning
OSPI says to brings students back to in-person classes
10 a.m. — No more delays. Washington’s superintendent of public instruction is making a hard push for school districts to start in-person learning.
Chris Reykdal says elementary school kids should be back in school now and that districts should prioritize bringing back middle and high school students who are struggling.
By the end of this spring, he says, the goal should be full reopenings.
“This is going to be hard," Reykdal said. "I know a lot of districts are probably going to try to push that off till next fall. But I think they can keep going. I think they can demonstrate effectiveness. We’ve seen it around the state. If we got kids for a week or a month or two months this year it would absolutely worth the press right now to get that done.”
Reykdal spoke with Olympia Correspondent Austin Jenkins on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program. He emphasizes that any effort to bring students back into the classroom needs to be done with Covid-19 safety protocols in place.
In December, Reykdal and Governor Jay Inslee announced new guidance for in-person instruction.
— Derek Wang
King County opens two new mass vaccination sites
News 20210201 Rdwrapkcnewvaxsites
9 a.m. — King County is opening two mass vaccination sites Monday with the goal of reaching the most vulnerable older adults in South King County. They are located in Kent and Auburn.
Vaccine doses will be limited at first, which means the sites in Kent and Auburn can offer up to 500 vaccinations a day. Dr. Jeff Duchin of Public Health Seattle and King County says they’ll be able to take in more people when supplies improve.
For now, they’re targeting older adults, and those in group settings.
“These sites will really be focusing on those groups 75 and older, as well as 50 and older who cannot live independently, or living with and caring for their own families, or caregivers or home healthcare workers," Duchin said.
Before you go, appointments are required.
As of late January, more than 174,000 people in King County have been vaccinated.
— Ruby de Luna
Seattle grocery worker pandemic pay bump could become official this week
8 a.m. — Seattle grocery workers could start receiving $4 more per hour in “hazard pay” this Wednesday. That’s when Mayor Jenny Durkan is expected to sign an ordinance passed by the City Council.
Supermarkets paid their frontline employees extra last spring for facing the risks of the pandemic, but then “hazard pay” died out.
A report by the Brookings Institution in December found profits soared for food retailers last year, but frontline workers saw little benefit.
Last week the Seattle City Council unanimously voted to enact the pay increase for an estimated 7,000-10,000 workers in the city. It lasts as long as the coronavirus civil emergency remains in effect.
The Washington Food Industry Association opposed the measure, saying officials should focus on getting vaccines for their workers instead. Industry groups also said they were given no lead-time to prepare.
— Amy Radil
SUNDAY, JANUARY 31
More than 10K vaccinated at Washington mass vaccination sites
2:45 p.m. — As of January 29, more than 10,000 people have been vaccinated at Washington's mass vaccination sites.
The results come less than a week after the four sites were established.
Total vaccines per site, as of Jan. 29:
- 2,509 in Spokane
- 3,060 in Ridgefield
- 1,550 in Wenatchee
- 3,817 in Kennewick
The sites are operated by the National Guard and some private partners. Currently, only people included in Phase 1A or 1B tier 1 are being accepted at the sites.
— Dyer Oxley
Johnson & Johnson touting vaccine data success
Noon — A Johnson & Johnson representative says that their new Covid-19 vaccine will help combat the most severe cases of the illness, keeping people out of the hospital and decreasing death numbers.
"We showed that there was an 85% efficacy against severe disease and a complete protection against hospitalization and complete protection against death. And that's across all the regions, including in South Africa," Chief Scientific Officer at Johnson & Johnson Dr. Paul Stoffels told NPR.
The South Africa variant is among a handful of mutations that health officials are watching. Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is 57% effective in preventing moderate to severe cases in South Africa, and 89% effective preventing severe illness.
The vaccine was tested across the United States, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. Unlike the Pfizer and Modernda vaccines, Johnson & Johnson's version is only one shot.
While Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is less effective than the two other options in the US (about 72%), Dr. Anthony Fauci said that the results are "really encouraging." He added that the emerging variants are concerning, but he is optimistic that current vaccines can be modified to counter them.
"We will have to be nimble to adjust and make vaccine against whatever mutant is prevalent at the present time," he said.
— Dyer Oxley
AstraZenica vaccine approved for EU
9 a.m. — The European Union has added a third option to it's list of approves vaccines. The EU has already been using Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. AstraZenica's vaccine has now been approved and is slated to deliver 400 million doses.
AstraZenica's vaccine requires two doses and is reportedly 66% effective in protecting against the coronavirus.
— Dyer Oxley
FRIDAY, JANUARY 29
Two new vaccination sites for people 75+ in King County
10 a.m. — Two new community vaccination sites are opening on February 1 in King County. The goal is to reach vulnerable older adults in south King County.
In Kent, the site will be located at the ShoWare Center. In Auburn, at the General Services Administration (GSA) Complex.
These sites will help, too, when the entire community is eligible for the vaccine.