Pandemic blog: Updates for the Northwest (June 17-25)
This post includes updates about Covid-19 in the Seattle area and Washington state.
Need a vaccine?
Many locations are now accepting walk-ups. Washington state and the city of Seattle are closing mass vaccination sites in favor of mobile and pop-up clinics.
As of Sunday, June 27, the Washington State Department of Health reports:
- 5,911 Covid-19 related deaths; 414,249 confirmed cases; 36,681 probable cases; and a 1.3% death rate among positive cases.
- Compared to white people and Asian people, the rate of Covid cases has been nearly three times higher for Black people, and nearly seven times higher for Latino/x people and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders.
- So far, 7,795,522 doses (not total number of people) of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered to Washingtonians. A total of 58.5% of eligible people in Washington state (ages 12 and up) have been fully vaccinated; 70% of King County residents age 16 and older will be fully vaccinated on June 29.
- As of June 21, Seattle was 70% vaccinated, making it the most vaccinated major city in the United States.
FRIDAY, JUNE 25
Latest vaccine lottery winner: "Stay healthy, stay safe, and get vaccinated"
The latest big winner in the Washington's Shot of a Lifetime lottery says she feels blessed to receive $250,000.
Marissa P. of Spokane is a pre-nursing student at Washington State University. She joined Governor Jay Inslee for a press conference Thursday to receive a giant $250,000 check. She encouraged everyone to get vaccinated.
"I'm so honored to be here and I feel so blessed to be here," Marissa said. "I just want to say: stay healthy, stay safe, and get vaccinated."
Lotto officials are encouraging you to pick up the phone or check your email. More than 100 prizes from last week's drawing still haven't been claimed.
The last drawing for $250,000 will happen Tuesday. Then the big $1 million giveaway will take place July 13.
— Angela King
THURSDAY, JUNE 24
DOH advice on vaccinations/masks for employees
Washington's Department of Health is reminding businesses that they have some extra responsibility as workers return to workplaces.
In a new blog post, DOH states:
"Employers must keep their workplaces safe and protect their workers from COVID-19. This means employers need to ensure that workers are vaccinated before they can stop following COVID-19 safety measures."
DOH says that unless an employee has confirmed they are vaccinated against Covid-19, mask rules should be in place. It recommends having employees signing a document to verify they are vaccinated. Proof can be a vaccination card or certificate, or a photo of either.
Fully-vaccinated individuals do not have to wear masks in most places. However, masks are still required in settings such as public transportation, shelters, health care facilities, schools, and prisons/jails.
— Dyer Oxley
Big purchases are up in Washington state, up to pre-pandemic levels
Washington's economy is projected to have about $2.6 billion more than previously assumed, through mid-2023.
Updated numbers came out Wednesday from the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council. The state's revenue projection through mid-2023 is back to where it was in pre-pandemic levels.
It's a complete turnaround since last June, when numbers warned of a nearly $9 billion shortfall.
— Paige Browning
Lifeguards will be returning to Seattle beaches this Saturday, just in time for the heat wave.
The city had to cut back on the lifeguard program last year because of the pandemic and budget issues.
Lifeguards will be at Madrona, Magnuson, Mount Baker, West Green Lake, Seward, Matthews, Madison, and Pritchard Island Beach between noon and 7 p.m. weekdays, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends.
Outside of Seattle, lifeguards will be on hand at Lake Wilderness Park in Maple Valley.
But some popular beaches, such as Kent's Lake Meridian Park, Pine Lake in Sammamish, and Long Lake in Lacey will not have lifeguards. Those places are having a hard time finding people to fill those positions.
Be careful around Des Moines Beach Park, however. A sewage spill from the Midway Sewer District has contaminated the water in that area. People and pets are being told to stay out of the water there until further notice.
— Angela King
Snohomish County approves hazard pay
Some essential government employees and grocery store workers in Snohomish County are about to receive hazard pay. The Snohomish County Council approved the move yesterday.
The Everett Herald reports that approximately 1,500 essential county workers — like deputies and park rangers — will get a one-time payment of $1,250. The county council will further vote on an ordinance stating who is exactly eligible.
Grocery store workers in unincorporated parts of the county will get an additional $4 an hour. However, the total payout for grocery workers is capped at $1,250. There are about eight large grocery chains in the county.
The county is using federal relief money to fund the hazard pay. It will go into effect 10 days after the bill is signed by Executive Dave Somers.
— Angela King
WENDESDAY, JUNE 23
Gov. Inslee aims to extend state's eviction moratorium
Governor Jay Inslee plans to temporarily extend Washington's eviction moratorium.
He announced the extension Tuesday while touring a vaccine site in Auburn. We'll find out more about his plan later this week. Inslee has been under pressure to take this step.
Democratic state Representative Kirsten Harris-Talley represents a diverse south Seattle district. She is worried about all of the people who are behind on rents and mortgages.
"Are there systems that are going to be wrapping care around people to make sure that folks don’t fall through the cracks and lose everything on the other side, just when it feels like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel?" Harris-Talley said. "That’s my anxiety; is that it’s going to feel like the rug is being pulled out from under folks.”
Harris-Talley is a member of the Legislature’s Black Members Caucus. It recently sent Inslee a letter warning that families of color face the greatest risk.
Inslee said Tuesday that he plans to create a so called "bridge" until rent relief programs are more widely available. The state is in the process of awarding approximately a billion dollars in rental assistance.
— Derek Wang
Counties behind on renter assistance
Washington state has nearly a billion dollars to help tenants who are behind on their rent. That’s more than 16 times the amount the state gave out the year before the pandemic.
The money is supposed to help ward off a surge of evictions after the statewide eviction moratorium ends this month. Much of the money gets distributed by counties. And every county has its own system.
John Barbie is in charge of housing and homelessness for the Pierce County government. He says the thing he worries about most is that many people, who have never asked for help, don’t know where to turn.
“I mean, I think about myself, putting myself in that shoe. Who would I call? Would I call?" Barbie said. "To be honest, I don’t know that I would call the county, if I needed help with my rent. Right? Like, I just don’t know if I would connect those dots.”
Pierce County has been working through thousands of applications for rent relief. Right now, it's more than a month behind schedule. Other counties say they're facing similar challenges.
— Joshua McNichols
TUESDAY, JUNE 22
Durkan signs Seattle Rescue Plan
5:36 p.m. — Seattle's plan to move past the past the pandemic is now law. After unanimous approval from the city council, Mayor Jenny Durkan signed the Seattle Rescue Plan today.
The $128 million package is intended to revitalize Seattle post-Covid, with a emphasis on housing. Nearly $50 million will go towards rental assistance, child-care assistance, and small business assistance. The package has also designated $25 million to go directly to Seattle households in the form of cash assistance.
A portion of the money will also be used to help the city reopen its parks, pools, and arts programs.
The majority of the relief package funding is stimulus money from the federal government.
— Paige Browning
Cooling centers across the city reopen
4:31 p.m. — With an excessive heat watch in effect for Western Washington starting Friday, Seattle is reopening some of the city's cooling stations — but at reduced capacity due to public health mandates.
Many cooling stations are located inside of Seattle Public Library branches, but some of the branches, like Central Library, are operating at 50% capacity until June 30.
Visitors are being asked to wear a mask and remain socially distanced from others, regardless of vaccination status.
The city plans to open up wading pools and spray parks to the public on Saturday, June 26. You can find a list of cooling centers and wading pools here.
— Angela King
Lumen Field to open at full capacity for Seahawks 2021 season
1 p.m. — The Seahawks will play in front of a full stadium of fans during its 2021 season.
The Seattle Times reports that Lumen Field will be open to a full 68,000 seat capacity.
Fan will not be required to be vaccinated to attend games. The team is expected to ask unvaccinated spectators to wear masks.
The Seahawks' first game of the season will be in Indianapolis on Sept. 12. The first home game for Seattle will be Sept. 19 against the Tennessee Titans.
The Seattle Mariners, Storm, Reign, and Sounders will also be playing in front of full crowds starting in July.
— Dyer Oxley
Washington's hospitalization rate largely held up through unvaccinated people
Noon — Vaccination rates may be improving around the state but local health leaders are still troubled by the number of people being hospitalized with Covid.
About 200 people per week, statewide, are being hospitalized and Washington hasn't dipped below that number since last September.
"We can't get lower than that, we keep hitting the same plateau," said Cassie Sauer, CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association. "And I think the virus looks for some place to land, it looks for a host, so it's still finding people to infect, and if people aren't vaccinated they are vulnerable for infection."
As of Monday, the seven-day hospitalization count is 320 people. The peak was much higher during the pandemic wave last winter (about 800).
Sauer says the vast majority of people who are hospitalized now have not been vaccinated.
— Paige Browning
Seattle Rescue Plan
11 a.m. — Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is set to sign the Seattle Rescue Plan Tuesday afternoon.
City Council members unanimously passed the package Monday. It calls for investing $128 million in federal Covid relief funds into things like housing for the homeless, small business support, reopening city programs, and direct cash assistance.
Meanwhile, the state will hold the third drawing in the shot of a lifetime vaccination lottery Tuesday. In addition to the big $250,000 cash prize, lotto officials will also give away more Guaranteed Education Tuition prizes to vaccinated individuals between 12 and 17 years old.
— Rob Wood
Three pandemic proclamations rescinded for Washington state
10 a.m. — Washington Governor Jay Inslee is ending three statewide pandemic emergency proclamations.
One deals with protections for high-risk workers. For example, to keep them from getting fired if they have Covid concerns in the workplace. Many of those emergency protections became state law in May.
Inslee is also removing the cap on fees for food delivery services, which have been heavily relied upon amid social distancing and lockdowns.
Starting the week of July 4, unemployment benefits will be tied to job search requirements again. That requirement was suspended during the pandemic.
— Angela King
Canada drops 14-day quarantine requirement
9 a.m. — The Canadian government says it's dropping its mandatory 14-day quarantine requirement for fully-vaccinated Canadian citizens and permanent residents coming back into the country.
The change will go into effect July 5, but that's only for Canadians. The current ban on non-essential border crossings for Americans will stay in place until at least July 21.
— Angela King
Delta variant expected to become dominant strain in Washington state
8 a.m. — The delta coronavirus variant may be taking off around the United States, but the new sequencing numbers from the University of Washington's virology lab show that the dominant strain in Washington state is still the alpha variant.
Delta was first detected in India. Alpha was first detected in the United Kingdom, but now hospital leaders are watching for a change over to delta. It works fast and targets vulnerable, unvaccinated people, according to the World Health Organization.
"They had sequenced delta strains in Washington state, so it's definitely here. There's no reason to think it won't become the dominant strain here," said Dr. Mary Fairchock with MultiCare Health System.
The delta variant has caused huge spikes in cases across India, Portugal, and the UK. UW's virology lab has tracked about 286 positive delta samples in Washington state so far.
Fairchock says the good news is that vaccines in the US are effective against the delta variant.
— Paige Browning
MONDAY, JUNE 21
The Potlatch Fund opens application for Native pandemic relief
6:30 p.m. — A Seattle-based nonprofit has created a grant fund specifically for Native Americans to help Pacific Northwest Natives rebound from the pandemic.
The Potlatch Fund, a philanthropic organization focused on Native well-being, has designated $1 million to give away through their newly-created "Resiliency Fund." Grants will be given in $10,000 t0 $15,000 chunks.
Potlatch executive director Cleora Hill-Scott says the pandemic reinforced in Indian Country how important it is to not only address economic and health care needs, but language and cultural preservation too.
"We pivoted around the tenets of community-based philanthropy, which allows the communities to self-identify how best to care for their families and what will help them thrive," Hill-Scott said.
The grant aims to support resiliency actions that "create hope, social connection, adaptation, flexibility, and purpose."
The application process is now open, and tribes, Native-led nonprofits, community groups, and individual artists can apply.
— Tom Banse
Delta variant spreading in eastern Washington, among unvaccinated
1 p.m. — The Covid delta variant (first detected in India) is spreading rapidly among the unvaccinated in the United States.
The variant is still appearing in fairly low numbers in Washington state, as far as health officials know. It is taking hold more rapidly in Eastern Washington, and areas with lower vaccination rates.
Washington health officials haven't yet tied the delta variant to any increase in local hospitalizations or deaths.
As the variant spreads worldwide, and Europe opens up to American travelers, officials are cautioning Americans to watch CDC travel guidance as they plan summer travel.
— Ryan Kailath
Jobs improving in Washington state
11 a.m. — The jobs picture is improving slightly in Washington state, per the latest federal employment data. Though we're not back to the pre-pandemic peak yet.
Restaurant and hospitality and service work jobs showed the biggest gains over the past three months. Whereas manufacturing in Washington lost jobs, with more than a third of them in the aerospace industry.
Meanwhile housing construction is at its highest point since the 1978. But these new-construction homes aren't on the market yet which means home prices increased for the ninth month in a row; up nearly 20% since this time last year.
— Ryan Kailath
Separated couples and families frustrated that hoped-for northern border reopening delayed
8 a.m. — The hoped-for reopening of the U.S.-Canada border for personal and leisure trips is being delayed for at least another month.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says more of his country’s residents need to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 before crossing restrictions can be eased.
The delay in reopening the northern border is especially frustrating to separated couples and families. One of them is Bobbi Hudson of Olympia. Her partner lives on Vancouver Island.
“From my perspective, it’s been way too long. The risk that I present as a fully-vaccinated American going into Canada is miniscule," Hudson said.
This week, Canadian leaders in Ottawa turned aside growing calls to begin a phased lifting of border restrictions now. Those calls came from American business and political leaders -- including Washington Gov. Jay Inslee -- and travel industry associations on both sides of the border.
This month, Canada exceeded the percentage of people in the US who have received their first dose of a Covid vaccine. However, nearly 16% of all British Columbia is fully vaccinated.
— Derek Wang
THURSDAY, JUNE 17
Washington military to get their own vaccine lottery
Noon — Washington residents who got their vaccines via military sources will get their own vaccine lottery.
The Seattle Times reports that the military lottery will begin on July 20. It will have two drawings for $100,000, one per week. A third drawing for $250,000 will be held a week after that.
There will also be prizes for gift cards to Amazon and for state parks.
As Washington began its vaccine lottery this month, many people who got vaccines through the military or the VA were not included. Federal vaccine sources would not share medical information with the state's lottery system.
— Dyer Oxley
How vaccinated are we, really?
9 a.m. — You may have heard recently that King County is 70% vaccinated. Well, that is sort of true-ish.
King County is slated to end its mask mandate on June 29. That's when about 70% of the county will be two weeks past their second vaccine dose (when you are considered fully vaccinated). So currently, no, we are not at 70%.
It's a lesson that these numbers have context. The CDC has Washington state at 71.7% fully vaccinated, but DOH has us at 67.2.%. That's because the CDC is only counting ages 18 and up. DOH includes ages 16-17.
And when you consider Washington's entire population, including children who are not eligible for a shot, 47.5% are fully vaccinated.
The 70% mark has been a goal often quoted by officials. But as State Secretary of Health Umair Shah recently said:
“It's not over until it truly is over, and we are really concerned that folks are going to think that we're at 70%, and therefore you don't have to worry about anything. In fact, that may mean that vaccinations drop off because people think that we've already had a statewide goal and so ‘I didn't get my vaccine, but that's OK because someone else got it.’ We don't want that to be the message. We want that message to continue to be get vaccinated.”
Also, vaccines appear to be effective against the variants spreading through the state. The variants are not only more contagious, but they cause more severe illnesses. This includes the delta variant which only accounts for about 6% of Covid cases in Washington. But the delta variant has overcome other variants, causing dramatic upticks in cases. This is what happened in the UK, recently.
— Dyer Oxley