Pandemic blog: Updates for the Northwest (March 15-19)
This post is archived. Read the latest here.
As of Friday, March 19, the Washington State Department of Health reports:
- 5,174 Covid-19 related deaths; 332,539 confirmed cases; 21,243 probable cases; and a 1.5% 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, 2,621,510 doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered to Washingtonians.
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FRIDAY, MARCH 19
Washington DOH's latest demographic numbers on Covid infections
2 p.m. — According to the Washington State Department's most recent report on the pandemic and demographics, native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and Hispanic communities are experiencing 3.5 time the infection rate when compared to white or Asian communities (which have the lowest case rates).
Confirmed or probable cases for Black populations are about twice as high than for white or Asian communities.
Native Hawaiian and "Other Pacific Islander" account for the highest levels of hospitalizations (10 times higher than white people, who have the lowest rate of hospitalizations). Hispanic hospitalization rates are five times higher than their white counterparts; it's 2.5 times higher for Black and American Indian and Alaska Native groups.
These numbers are echoed in data for deaths from Covid-19.
— Dyer Oxley
New CDC guidance says students can be 3-feet apart
1 p.m. — The CDC has released new guidance on how far apart students can be in the classroom. While the 6-foot rule has been common during the pandemic, the CDC now says three feet should be enough for young students.
NPR reports that the CDC updated its guidance for schools on Friday. It's latest guidance states students can be 3-feet apart in a classroom, along with universal masking. It's a notable change since the 6-foot rule has prompted many schools to reopen with hybrid models, or part-time. Shirking distance to 3 feet could allow for more students in a room.
NPR further notes "The new guidelines still call for 6 feet of distance between adults and students as well as in common areas, such as auditoriums, and when masks are off, such as while eating. And the 6-foot distancing rule still applies for the general public in settings such as grocery stores."
More details here.
— Dyer Oxley
Health officials watching variants of concern in Washington state
11 a.m. — Washington state health officials continue watching variants spreading in Washington state, with B.1.1.7 leading the pack.
B.1.1.7 was first identified in the UK. State health officials have also identified B.1.351 (first found in South Africa) and P.1 (first found in Brazil).
- B.1.1.7: 146 (between Jan. 7 and March 10)
- B.1.351: Eight (between Jan. 29 and March 8)
- P.1: Two (between February 5 and March 3)
They are noted as "variants of concern" in the state's most recent report on the variants. Washington has processed 9,761 specimens from reported Covid-19 cases (about 3%) since January 2020.
— Dyer Oxley
Canada-US border remains closed
9:30 a.m. — U.S. and Canadian officials have announced that the current restrictions at the border will be extended until at least April 21.
The U.S.-Canada land and sea border has been closed to nonessential crossings for almost a year now. The closure postponed the planned wedding of Gina Hwang of Vancouver, B.C., with Washingtonian Will Shin, and she still can only guess when the border may reopen.
"Worst case, till the end of the year," Hwang said. "Best case scenario, by the summer hopefully, with the vaccines rolling out. But then I mean, it's a little hard to tell how that's going to go."
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted his government will "continue to do whatever is necessary" to keep people safe from the spread of Covid-19. Members of Congress from northern border states have asked the Biden administration to negotiate a gradual relaxation of the crossing restrictions. So far, neither government has provided the metrics they're using to judge when it is safe to ease up.
— Tom Banse
Congressmember Schrier administers Covid vaccine shots in Kent
9 a.m. — Here's one benefit of having a local congress member who is also a doctor — they not only can make laws for you, they can give you a dose of Covid vaccine.
Congressmember Kim Schrier represents Washington's 8th Congressional District (which includes parts of Chelan, King, Kittitas, and Pierce Counties). Before she was elected, she worked as a pediatrician at the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Issaquah.
This week, Schrier was telling others to roll up their sleeves as she helped administer Covid vaccine shots at the ShoWare Center in Kent. Schrier volunteered to give shots at the vaccination site , which is run by King County. She said she was impressed by all that goes into running the clinic.
Since she was wearing a mask, a lot of people didn't realize it was their congress member giving them their shots.
— Angela King
Washington state's supply of Covid vaccine doses remains steady
8 a.m. — Michele Roberts oversees Washington state’s vaccination program. She says the good news is that starting next month, 30 million doses will be available each week nationwide
“Breaking that down, that means about 600,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines should be coming here to Washington state, each week, in April," Roberts said.
In the meantime, the state is urging people not to let their guard down.
Secretary of Health Umair Shah says this is critical as the state is poised to enter Phase 3 of reopening and colleges are about to start spring break.
“Regardless of how quickly vaccines get into the state and we get them on the arms of Washingtonians, we’ve got to continue to remember we’re not out of this pandemic," Shah said.
Adding to the concern are a variety of the Covid variants that tend to spread more easily. Last month, the state confirmed 156 variant cases.
— Ruby de Luna
Eviction moratorium extended
7 a.m. — Tenants in Washington who are behind on their rent are getting another reprieve. Governor Jay Inslee is once again extending the state’s eviction moratorium. This time until the end of June. It was set to expire on March 31.
“I’ve said each time that we’ve extended this moratorium, if you can pay rent, pay it, it’s the right thing to do," Inslee said. "We are acting in good faith for a lot of people and we know they would be in some very dire situations without this moratorium.”
Inslee is also extending his utility shutoff moratorium.
So far the state has set aside about $400 million for rental assistance. And another $400 million is expected as part of the latest federal stimulus plan.
Meanwhile state lawmakers are working on longer-term supports for tenants to avoid a wave of evictions once the moratorium is lifted.
Read more details about Inslee's most recent pandemic measures here.
— Austin Jenkins
THURSDAY, MARCH 18
You may be qualified for the coronavirus vaccine but not realize it
5 p.m. —As folks read the fine print on who is eligible for the coronavirus vaccine, they are learning that – wow! – they qualify.
If you are the parent of a child with autism, for example, you qualify as a medical provider, and you are therefore eligible for the vaccine. This is because people with autism are more likely to suffer from coronavirus than others, so to keep them safe, their caregivers are given priority in the vaccine line.
And this: If you have ADD – attention deficit disorder – coupled with another underlying condition, like type 2 diabetes or asthma, you qualify for the vaccine.
ADD is considered a neurological disability. Folks may get tripped up by the line that says people with “neurological disabilities like dementia,” may qualify, and think this line means dementia only. The list of neurological disabilities is long, and includes autism and learning disabilities.
The vaccine was in short supply when the Pfizer vaccine came online in December. Since then, two more vaccines, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, have been approved for use.
The state estimates that two million additional Washingtonians will be eligible for the vaccine on March 31. There are roughly 4.4 million adults (18+ in the state), which means there is potential to meet President Joe Biden’s goal of all adults being eligible by May.
Gov. Inslee expands vaccine eligibility as of March 31; extends eviction moratorium
2:41 p.m. -- The pace of Covid-19 vaccinations is picking up in Washington. By the end of March, 80% of the state’s 16 and older residents should be eligible to get a shot.
Each week, the state is getting more doses of vaccine. And there are more clinics and mass vaccination sites ready to deliver the shot. That means instead of waiting until April, the next two tiers of eligible groups will be able to get their vaccines starting March 31.
The state is also expanding the criteria for who’s eligible in those tiers. Governor Jay Inslee says people who work in the food service industry will now qualify.
“And I’m really happy we’re doing this earlier than we originally anticipated a couple of months ago, this is great news for restaurant workers in my view,” Inslee said in a news conference Thursday afternoon.
Also soon to be eligible are people 16 and up with two or more serious medical conditions and people living and working in congregate care settings like jails and group homes. By the end of March about five million Washingtonians will be eligible to get the vaccine out of an estimated 6.2 million who will ultimately be eligible.
Inslee also announced that he plans to extend the state's moratorium on evictions through the end of June.
-- Austin Jenkins
Mariners join forces with UW Medicine to promote Covid-19 vaccine
2 p.m. — The Seattle Mariners are donating $2 million to assist UW Medicine's vaccination efforts.
“Ensuring that every person is both willing and able to be vaccinated is critical to our community’s ability to end the Covid-19 pandemic,” said John Stanton, Mariners chairman and managing partner. “The Mariners are proud to join UW Medicine to both increase vaccine willingness and reduce the barriers to vaccination in our region.”
The baseball team will also be helping with community outreach and awareness efforts, titled "This is our shot to strike out Covid-19." They will also with UW Medicine's mobile vaccination program.
Current and former Mariners players are pitching in for the effort, including Edgar Martinez, Alvin Davis, Yusei Kikuchi, and Jose Marmolejos. Also, Manager Scott Servais and third base coach Manny Acta.
The players will have messages in English, Japanese, and Spanish, promoting the vaccines.
— Dyer Oxley
Federal judge denies lawsuit against $4 hazard pay for Seattle grocery workers
1 p.m. — A federal judge has rejected a lawsuit challenging Seattle's $4 hazard pay requirement for grocery store employees.
Seattle passed a $4 hazard pay requirement for stores in the city with 500 or more employees. The Washington Food Industry Association Northwest Grocery Association argued the requirement was unconstitutional and filed a lawsuit.
Other cities such as Burien passed similar hazard pay ordinances, as did King County for unincorporated areas of the county.
— Dyer Oxley
NW musicians #BandTogether for livestream event tonight
Noon — Dozens of Pacific Northwest artists will participate in a livestream event Thursday at 7:30 p.m. It's aimed at helping the local music scene survive pandemic losses.
Uniting under the hashtag #BandTogether, Keep Music Live WA will be hosted by Rachel Flotard and Sir Mix-A-Lot.
The event will feature live performances and discussions with the likes of Brandi Carlile, the Foo Fighters, Mike McCready, Pearl Jam, The Presidents of the United States of America, and many more.
The online event starts at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. More details at the Keep Music Live WA website.
— Angela King
Despite pandemic, state revenue forecast is better than expected
10 a.m. — Democrats in the Washington state House and Senate plan to release their budget proposals next week. The proposals come after lawmakers received good fiscal news Wednesday with the release of the quarterly revenue forecast.
It’s up by more than $3 billion.
Steve Lerch is Washington’s revenue forecaster. He says the state’s fiscal picture now looks very much like it did right before the pandemic struck just over a year ago.
“In revenue terms we are very close to being back to where we expected to be in February (2020)," Lerch said.
Majority Democrats in the Legislature say the news is better than they expected. Minority Republicans were quick to say this should quell any talk of new and higher taxes, including a capital gains tax.
A strong housing market and higher than expected retail sales are among the reasons for the positive forecast.
Read more details here.
— Austin Jenkins
Stimulus checks should start arriving this week
9 a.m. — Stimulus checks should be arriving in bank accounts this week. How will people in the Seattle-area be using the money?
I heard from a lot of people about what they'd do with their $1,400. There was a common theme.
"I wish I could say I was going to have more fun with it," Sally said.
"Tuition. Not the most fun thing in the world," Ross said.
After a year of financial hardship brought on by the pandemic, this is only the third stimulus check from the government. And for most people, it went straight to the essentials.
"I will be using my check to buy food and pay my bills," Dennis Dumont said.
"Pay my property taxes," Sally said.
"My stimulus check is going into a savings account so this old lady has money there when medical bills arise, and they always do," another KUOW listener said.
— Casey Martin
Bird and Rapinoe help out at Seattle's mass vaccination site
8 a.m. — Wednesday was a busy day at the Lumen Field Event Center where approximately 1,200 people got vaccinated against Covid-19. It was the first day pregnant women, more critical workers, and those with certain disabilities became eligible to get their shots.
And among the crowd was Seattle power couple and star athletes Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird. they greeted people and volunteered at the mass vaccination site.
"You know, it's been so much sadness and grief," Rapinoe said. "Obviously, we know the death numbers and how many people have gotten it. We know just how much Covid has touched people's lives and how much a struggle it's been. For us to do something positive and exciting is really cool."
The clinic at the Lumen Field Event Center is the largest civilian-led vaccine site in the country. Health officials warn, though, that finding a vaccination appointment might be difficult with so many people now eligible to receive a dose, and a limited supply of vaccine doses.
Mayor Jenny Durkan says she is in touch with the White House to get more vaccines.
— Angela King
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 17
Legal advocacy group calls on state leaders to provide vaccines for all inmates
2 p.m. — Attorneys from Columbia Legal Services recently sent a letter to Washington state leadership asking that they immediately make Covid-19 vaccines accessible to those incarcerated within the Department of Corrections.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, almost 6,200 inmates in Washington state have caught the virus and as a result, 14 inmates have died, according to DOC data.
“We are still in the midst of this global pandemic, which means that each person in DOC custody remains at grave risk of serious illness or death from this virus,” the letter reads. “The State of Washington has a constitutional obligation to protect the health and safety of the people in its custody against the ongoing threat posed by Covid-19.”
The letter calls on state leaders to: immediately offer the Covid-19 vaccine to all inmates within the DOC; create and distribute vaccine education that will address “the historic and ongoing distrust of DOC”; and protect inmates from corrections staff who are unwilling to be vaccinated.
The letter asks that Gov. Jay Inslee, and leaders from the Washington State Department of Health and DOC, respond by March 19, with a detailed plan to address the concerns outlined in the letter. If this deadline is not met, Columbia Legal Services wrote that they plan to file a lawsuit.
— Ashley Hiruko
Overall Washington energy consumption went down over 2020
1:30 p.m. — Washington state's energy consumption went down 6% overall in 2020 as pandemic lockdowns changed habits.
According to the number crunchers at CommercialCafe, energy use at home went up by 1% in Washington state, but at the same time, commercial usage went down by 7%. On top of that, industrial energy use went down by 16%.
Washington's 6% decline is slightly ahead of the nation trend over 2020; the United States saw a 4% overall decrease in energy use.
— Dyer Oxley
UW opens up vaccine schedule
11:30 a.m. — The University of Washington Medical Center is now scheduling Covid-19 vaccine appointments for first doses. The medical system had been focusing on second doses due to limited supply.
About 400,000 people in King County are now eligible to get their shots. The county, however, is only receiving 50,000 doses per week.
UW is now scheduling vaccine appointments for patients under Phase 1B tier 2 of the state guidelines. This includes high risk, critical people working in:
- Grocery stores
- Prisons, jails, detention centers
- Fishing vessel crews
- Food processing
- Also eligible are people with certain conditions and disabilities:
- Pregnancy in people age 16 or older (the vaccine is approved for 16 and older)
- Down syndrome
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
- Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
- Obesity and severe obesity
- Sickle cell disease
- Type 2 diabetes mellitus
To schedule, call 844.520.8700 to join the vaccine appointment waitlist. The medical center will contact you by phone or text message when it is time to make your appointment.
— Isolde Raftery
Covington Walmart closed for outbreak
10 a.m. — The Walmart in Covington closed Wednesday morning after 24 staff members tested positive for Covid-19.
The outbreak was initially discovered on March 11. So far, the store says it's not aware of any customers getting sick.
The Covington Walmart will remain closed until Thursday morning. Crews will continue sanitizing the store in the meantime.
Customers can still get prescriptions through curbside pickup.
Walmart is working with the CDC which has not identified any violations of the state's safe start policies.
— Angela King
Seattle preschool classes to make up for lost time over the pandemic
9 a.m. — Seattle and its partners are now accepting applications for the city's preschool program.
Services will be available in 14 additional locations this year. So now there will be 129 classrooms for the 3 and 4 year olds. About half of them will stay open for two months in the summer to help make up for time lost to the pandemic.
Tuition is free, or on a sliding scale, for some low- and middle-income families.
Families can see a list of locations and apply at the city’s Department of Education and Early Learning website. The Seattle Preschool Program is funded by the city’s $619 million Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Levy, which voters approved in 2018. It offers free preschool to families making up to 350% of the federal poverty level, around $93,000 for a family of four.
The levy also pays for summer and after school programs and school-based health centers for K-12 students, and a free community college program for all Seattle public high school graduates.
— Angela King
Vaccine doses are targeted while supplies are limited
7 a.m. — Covid vaccine eligibility opens up to Phase 1B Tier 2 Wednesday, in Washington state.
That means in addition to critical workers, grocery store employees, firefighters, those who are pregnant, and other front line workers can get a shot. It might be difficult to find an appointment, however.
That's why King County Executive Dow Constantine says the limited doses King County gets are being targeted at marginalized communities.
"We remain focused on reaching out to find people who are the most vulnerable, as well as trying to reach those that are not well connected to the systems that have been distributing vaccine," Constantine said. "Trying to make sure everybody has a fair opportunity to get the shot that they're eligible for."
Constantine says once supply catches up, the county's vaccination crews could start going door-to-door.
As of Wednesday, about 15% of people in King County are at least partially vaccinated against Covid.
— Paige Browning
TUESDAY, MARCH 16
Seattle schools to reopen March 29 following long-awaited agreement with teachers union
5:34 p.m. — Seattle Public Schools and its teachers union have reached a tentative agreement to restart in-person classes for pre-K, elementary, and certain special education students.
Pre-K and some elementary special education students would be the first to return on March 29.
Other elementary students and some older special education students would return to the clasroom part-time on April 5, the school reopening deadline Governor Jay Inslee announced last week.
Like many districts, Seattle would offer a hybrid model. Most students would learn in-person four days out of the week, morning or afternoon — they would learn remotely during the rest of that time. However, the district will still let families choose a 100% remote learning option.
Read more here.
DOH creates vaccine verification letter for Community Health Workers
Noon — Community Health Workers are among those who could be eligible for a Covid vaccine. The Washington State Department of Health has created a special vaccine verification letter for this group to use in order to get a shot.
Community Health Workers can use the letter to show vaccine providers they are eligible, instead of using the Phase Finder tool that everyone else has to use.
The letter and instructions on how to use it are only in English, but DOH hopes to have them offered in Spanish soon.
— Dyer Oxley
Vaccinations continue as Covid cases plateau
9 a.m. — Nearly 12% of Washingtonians are now fully vaccinated against Covid-19. That number is expected to grow as more people will be eligible to get their shots starting Wednesday.
Data from the Washington Department of Health shows that case counts are plateauing with 699 average daily cases, as of March 2.
But in a statement, state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist notes that the current case plateau is still higher than previous ones the state saw last spring and summer. During those plateaus, Washington recorded about 200 to 400 average daily cases.
— Angela King
Gov. Inslee says districts have to start offering in-person classes
7 a.m. — School districts around Washington state have a few weeks to come up with in-person learning options for their students, if they don't already have one.
Governor Jay Inslee signed an emergency proclamation Monday that requires plans for in-person learning options to be in place by April 5 for elementary school students. Plans for middle and high school students are due by April 19.
The order doesn't put all students back in class right away, rather it requires the option. Districts must offer at least 30% of students the option of weekly instruction on campus.
— Angela King
MONDAY, MARCH 15
Open vaccine appointments await the next tier
2:15 p.m. — The next group of people becomes eligible for a Covid vaccine on Wednesday, and there are lots of open appointments waiting for them, according to Washington State Hospital Association CEO Cassie Sauer.
“You might not be able to get an appointment this week, but you should be able to get one next week or the week after,” Sauer said. “Like, I don’t think it’s going to be — this is not months of waiting. This is, you know, days to weeks of waiting.”
The people who become eligible this week include many essential workers, such as those who work in grocery stores, agriculture, or public transit.
People who are pregnant or who have a disability that puts them at risk of severe Covid-19 can also get their shots starting Wednesday.
— Eilis O’Neill
Covid cases cease declining; concern grows for potential fourth wave
Noon — Officials with the state's Department of Health are warning that Covid-19 cases have ceased going down. In many areas, the case counts have flattened. And in some areas, cases are ticking back up. The numbers are detailed in DOH's March 10 situation report.
Health officials would like to see case numbers declining, which means that flattening, plateauing, or up-ticking cases are concerning. In addition to those concerning numbers, DOH notes that cases are rising among younger populations (ages 20-39), a situation that health officials say has previously been an "early warning sign of larger surges in the general population."
“When you look at our data, there is a pattern of several waves of Covid-19 activity followed by a return to baseline level. The baseline we reached after our second wave in summer 2020 was higher than the level after our first wave. Now, following the third wave that began last fall, cases have flattened out at higher baseline level than ever before,” said Acting State Health Officer Scott Lindquist, MD, MPH.
“I’m concerned about what this means for the future and a possibility of a fourth wave of activity, along with the increases we are seeing in variants of the virus," he said. "As we continue working to accelerate vaccination so we can protect more people, it’s critical that we all maintain the precautions we’ve been taking to stop the spread of the virus.”
Some good news is that there are "sharp declines" in the numbers of hospitalizations in people 70 and older. Officials believe this could be the result of vaccination among this group.
— Dyer Oxley
Covid cases increase in Puyallup schools
10 a.m. — The Puyallup School District is reporting an increase in Covid-19 cases now that more students have returned for in person learning.
The most recent data cited by the Tacoma News Tribune shows 16 cases were reported between Feb. 29 and March 5.
As a result, 107 students and 44 staff members had to go into quarantine because of their close proximity to someone who tested positive. That's an uptick, according to the newspaper, and far more cases than the larger, neighboring Tacoma School District.
The Puyallup district estimates approximately 72% of the student population, and the majority of staff, are back on campus.
All grades returned to in-person classes as of March 2.
— Angela King
Inslee says students should have in-class option by mid-April
9 a.m. — Washington Governor Jay Inslee is expected to sign an emergency proclamation this week which will require schools to offer students an in-person learning option by mid April.
Inslee made the announcement last week calling on schools to offer the option to all kindergarten through sixth grade students by April 5, and all other students by April 19.
Districts will have to have an average of 30% instruction via in-person classes.
On Monday, parents demonstrated in the Seattle area, urging schools to bring their students back into the classroom.
A group called the Washington Alliance 4 Kids protested during the Lake Washington School Board meeting for a second time. The district has issued a statement saying it's already offering in-person learning options for kindergarten and first grade students. It plans to bring back the remaining grades before the governor's deadline.
— Angela King
People eligible for a vaccine will need 'patience' in King County
8 a.m. — Hundreds of thousands of King County residents will become eligible for the Covid vaccine on Wednesday.
But King County’s public health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said Friday that it could take several weeks to get them all signed up for their first doses. He said people will need patience as they look for appointments.
“Although people are becoming eligible very quickly, the eligibility is outpacing the vaccine supply,” he said. “So there will be delays in the time between someone becom[ing] eligible and the time they can access vaccine.”
Many essential workers, including those who work in grocery stores, agriculture, and prisons, can sign up for their first dose starting Wednesday.
Pregnant people also become eligible, as do people with a disability that puts them at high risk of severe disease.
— Eilis O’Neill