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caption: Ximena Vaca Torres, 8, puts away her backpack on her first day of 3rd grade at Mount View Elementary school on Thursday, September 2, 2021, in Seattle.
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Ximena Vaca Torres, 8, puts away her backpack on her first day of 3rd grade at Mount View Elementary school on Thursday, September 2, 2021, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Pandemic blog: Updates for Washington state

Updated news about the coronavirus pandemic in Seattle and Washington state.

According to data from the Washington State Department of Health, as of Sept. 1, 2021:

  • 64.5% of eligible Washingtonians (ages 12 and up) are fully vaccinated. Since children are not yet eligible for a Covid shot, this means Washington state is 55% fully vaccinated.
  • 6,643 Covid-19 related deaths; 1.2% death rate since the beginning of the pandemic; 512,162 confirmed cases.
  • Compared to white people and Asian people, the rate of Covid cases, hospitalizations, and deaths has been higher for Black, Hispanic, and Native Washingtonians, compared to their share of the state's population.
  • According to the latest data from the department of health, 94.1% of people hospitalized with Covid were not fully vaccinated.

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 4

PeaceHealth medical centers put hundreds of unvaccinated workers on unpaid leave

Amid a surge in new COVID cases, a Pacific Northwest hospital system is at odds with its employee unions over a decision to dismiss hundreds of unvaccinated workers.

PeaceHealth, based in Vancouver, Washington, placed roughly 800 unvaccinated workers on leave as part of a companywide vaccine mandate that went into effect Sept. 1. Statewide mandates for health care workers in Oregon and Washington won’t take effect until next month.

Since PeaceHealth announced the mandate on Aug. 3, unions representing a swath of workers — from nurses to respiratory therapists to custodians — have leveled at least seven labor complaints. The Washington State Nurses Association, which filed its complaint Aug. 20, said the system forced a change in policy without discussing it with the worker groups.

“It’s the health system’s responsibility to negotiate with their unions, and it is our right to negotiate over these events,” said Ruth Schubert, a WSNA representative.

-- Troy Brynelson and Tom Banse


Washington's largest public employee union reaches tentative deal with Gov. Inslee over implementation of the vaccine mandate

The largest state employee union in Washington has reached a tentative agreement over the implementation of Governor Jay Inslee’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate.

The deal was announced early Saturday morning just after 1:00.

It comes after the Washington Federation of State Employees sued the Inslee administration over the mandate.

Under the agreement, the union won a series of concessions and special considerations. Workers will get additional vacation day in 2022 as a so-called “vaccine incentive.” Additionally, employees who are not fully vaccinated by the governor’s October 18th deadline will be allowed to take paid or unpaid leave until they are fully vaccinated – rather than be terminated.

The agreement still requires ratification. The vote is scheduled for next week.

Meanwhile negotiations continue with other state employee unions.

Read more here about the tentative agreement.

-- Austin Jenkins

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 3

Need a shot to get a shot. Two Wash. counties to require bar and restaurant patrons to show proof of vaccination

The public health officer for two counties on Washington's Olympic Peninsula detailed a controversial order Friday to stem a tide of Covid cases that's overwhelming local hospitals. Beginning Saturday, all restaurant and bar patrons in Clallam and Jefferson counties will need to show proof of vaccination to be served indoors.

Clallam and Jefferson counties are the first in the Northwest to take this step.

Health officer Dr. Allison Berry issued the vaccine mandate. During a virtual briefing Friday, she described indoor dining and indoor bars as "uniquely high risk settings," some of the only places left where large groups of people gather indoors without masks on.

"We are pushing our healthcare and our public health system to the breaking point and we have to work together to reduce cases," she said.

A select number of bars and restaurants from Bellingham to Eugene have independently begun asking for proof of vaccination to sit indoors. But this new mandatory rule on the Olympic Peninsula drew instant outrage from conservatives who object to what they consider government overreach. Food service establishments can lose their operating permit if the county health department finds willful noncompliance.

-- Tom Banse

Outbreak emerges from Northwest Washington Fair

The Whatcom County Health Department says it's learned that at least 108 Covid-19 cases have been linked to the Northwest Washington Fair in Lynden.

The fair ran from August 12-21.

Jennifer Moon, a spokesperson for the Whatcom County Health Department, told the Bellingham Herald that it's not clear how much transmission actually happened at the fair, but she expects the number of associated Covid cases to increase as they comb over the data.

She also told the paper what they've seen at the fair highlights the need for masking or other precautions when attending large events.

— Angela King

Edmonds closes city buildings to public amid rise of Covid cases

The Mayor of Edmonds has announced that all city buildings will close to the public starting Friday.

My Edmonds News reports the closures are in response to the increasing number of Covid-19 cases in the area.

Residents will still be able to access city services online, via phone, or email.

And while the police department will be closed to the public, residents can still use the emergency phones at the entrance of the building to reach dispatchers.

All city council meetings will be broadcast over Zoom.

— Angela King

Covid will emerge in Washington's schools

Washington state health officials say Covid cases will show up in schools this year. State Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shah says that now is the time for families to start planning.

"Make sure you, as a parent, have a plan for when cases happen," Shah said. "And that means making arrangements with work, or making arrangements with neighbors or family members. These are really important things that we want to make sure that everybody is thinking about."

Schools are using masks, ventilation, and other measures to keep students as safe as possible.

But health officials say that what happens outside of school is just as important. Getting vaccinated and waring masks are important tools to combat Covid as schools reopen.

— Eilis O'Neill

Vaccine proof needed at restaurants in Jefferson and Clallam counties

You will need to show proof that you've been vaccinated against Covid-19 if you want to go to a bar or restaurant in Jefferson and Clallam counties on the Olympic Peninsula.

Dr. Allision Berry, public health officer for both counties, announced the new requirement Thursday. It goes into effect Saturday, Sept. 4.

Each county has been dealing with a rise in Covid hospitalizations and deaths, according to The Peninsula Daily News. The counties have record four deaths from Covid; two happened in the past week. Local hospitals, however, are buckling under the weight of rising Covid cases.

“With hospitals around our region stretched to the breaking point, we need to do everything we can to keep our communities safe” Dr. Berry said in a statement. “Getting vaccinated with this incredible vaccine, which is safe, effective, free and life-saving, is simply the right thing to do.”

“Indoor bars and restaurants are known to pose a high risk for Covid-19 transmission, as they encourage unmasking of large groups of people indoors. Our goal is to make these safer places to be and to reduce transmission in our communities, allowing our hospitals to keep functioning and our schools to open more safely this fall.”

— Angela King

Dick's Drive-In fined for lacking social distancing, safety equipment

Washington's Department of Labor and Industries has fined Dick’s Drive-In $35,000 for committing a number of pandemic health and safety violations.

A health inspection report issued in August outlined 12 citations ranging from management ignoring social distancing and masking requirements to the business not providing workers with required safety equipment.

KIRO 7 reports that the president of Dick’s Drive-Ins is going to appeal some of the findings.

In March, Dick’s Drive-In publicly responded to allegations from five of its employees who alleged that managers did not take adequate pandemic precautions. Management said most allegations were without merit and isolated incidents that go against the company's procedures and training.

— Angela King

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 2

Vaccination now a condition of employment for more UW employees

The University of Washington will require campus staff, academic student employees and campus student workers to provide proof of vaccination against Covid-19 by Oct. 18 as a condition of employment.

Philosophical exemptions are not allowed under Gov. Inslee's mandate, and UW employees seeking other exemptions will need to submit documentation according to an email from Vice President for UW Human Resources Mindy Kornberg.

"Employees requesting religious exemptions for sincerely held religious beliefs, practices or observances will be required to provide an explanation and medical exemptions will require a signed form from a physician, physician assistant or nurse practitioner."

UW Faculty members, academic personnel and medical center staff are already required to provide proof of vaccination by mid-October under Gov. Inslee's mandate.

— Noel Gasca

Masks now required at large outdoor gatherings in King County

King County Public Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin has issued a local order that requires face masks at any outdoor event with more than 500 people.

The order goes into effect on September 7. The requirement applies to ages five and older, whether they are vaccinated or not.

"We will continue to adapt our response measures to the reality of the evolving COVID-19 outbreak. The Delta variant is more contagious through the air, causes more severe illness in adults, and we have a high level of community transmission in King County and Washington state," said Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin. "Outdoors is much safer than indoors, but there is risk even outdoors currently when large numbers of people are in close, prolonged contact. Layering multiple prevention strategies, including wearing a well-made and snug-fitting face mask when in crowed outdoor locations, is a necessary precaution at this time to limit COVID-19 spread and preventable cases, hospitalizations, and deaths."

Masks are currently required for all indoor settings, like shops and restaurants.

Health officials note that the region has a high vaccination rate, but there are still about 320,000 eligible people who have not been vaccinated (and 750,000 total people in the county who are not vaccinated, including children under 12).

— Dyer Oxley

Sickout protests rumored to disrupt ferry service over Labor Day weekend

Officials with Washington State Ferries are warning travelers that service over the Labor Day weekend will likely be disrupted due to a staffing shortage. The boats will be slowed down as a result.

WSF has already stopped taking weekend reservations for the San Juan Island route, and Coupeville - Port Townsend route as a result of the potential disruption.

The ferry service is already experiencing a staffing shortage. KING 5 reports that things could be made worse over holiday weekend with employee sickouts as a form of protest against the vaccine mandate for state workers.

Sickouts are rumored to be planned for Monday, Sept. 6, Tuesday, Sept. 7, and Saturday, Sept. 11.

— Angela King, Dyer Oxley

Alaska Airlines requires new employees to be vaccinated

Alaska Airlines says it's going to require all new hires to be vaccinated against Covid-19, The Seattle Times reports.

New employees will need to be inoculated by the time they start their job.

The new rule does not apply to current employees. If they are unvaccinated and exposed to the virus, they will be required to use sick or vacation time to quarantine for 14 days. Vaccinated employees who test positive for Covid can take paid time off if needed, but are not required to quarantine.

— Angela King

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 1

Seattle Children's Hospital reports first youth death from Covid

Seattle Children's hospital has confirmed its first patient death from Covid-19.

The hospital did not provide any details as to the age of the patient, but in a statement it said the young person passed away last week "despite the extraordinary efforts of the care team."

"We are saddened to confirm that the first patient death from Covid-19 at Seattle Children’s occurred last week, despite the extraordinary efforts of the care team. This hits all of us close to home, and the patient and family are in the thoughts and hearts of the Seattle Children’s community. For privacy reasons, we cannot share any additional information at this time."

Experts have said the delta variant doesn't appear to be more dangerous to children, however, hospitals are seeing more youth patients as delta surges. Covid case rates among children remain much lower in Washington state than in older age groups in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.

The delta variant is incredibly contagious. With transmission rates currently very high, and with many children under 12 unable to get vaccinated yet, more kids are winding up in the hospital than previously in the pandemic.

— Kate Walters

Masks now required indoors and outdoors at state fair

People going to the State Fair in Puyallup will have to wear masks both indoors and outdoors when it opens Friday.

Tacoma - Pierce County Public Health Officer Dr. Anthony Chen issued the new order Tuesday in response to the rise in Covid cases. He made masks mandatory for the fair to operate.

Intensive care units in Pierce County hospitals are at around 90% capacity. Dr. Chen argues that there's little reserve to take in more Covid patients.

The fair CEOs say visitors who don't have masks will be offered one, and if they refuse to put them on, they'll be asked to leave the fair. The only exceptions will be for eating and drinking and in cases where a person is deaf or hard of hearing.

Washington's State Fair runs through September 26.

— Angela King

Idaho activates National Guard, calls up additional medical workers

Idaho Gov. Brad Little is calling in 220 additional medical workers — available through federal programs — and mobilizing about 150 Idaho National Guard soldiers to deal with a surge in unvaccinated Covid-19 patients who are overwhelming the state's hospitals.

The Republican governor said Tuesday that the moves are a last-ditch effort to avoid activating statewide crisis standards of care which, for the first time, could force medical professionals in Idaho to decide who lives and who dies.

Little says only four intensive care unit beds were available in the entire state on Tuesday.

Idaho has seen about 1,000 newly-confirmed Covid-19 cases per day over the past week, most of them unvaccinated.

— Kim Malcom

Bellevue begins parking enforcement again after pandemic break

A warning for drivers on the east side: Bellevue police are going resume the city's 24-hour parking rule on Thursday.

The parking rule was suspended during the pandemic.

This means drivers can't leave their cars parked on the same Bellevue street for more than 24 hours — they must move it to a different city block — unless they have a special or residential parking permit.

— Angela King

Travel caution for Canada

The U.S. State Department is urging people to reconsider any travel plans to Canada, especially those who are unvaccinated.

Canada is also dealing with a spike in Covid cases. There has been a 29% infection rate increase in just one week in Canada.

— Angela King

TUESDAY, AUGUST 31

King County students and teachers share back to school woes

With many of the region's school districts, welcoming students back into the classroom this week, some are still navigating concerns about returning to in-person learning.

Alex Van is a senior at Mercer Island High School.

“One of my biggest worries is hallways and passing periods," she said. "The hallways are not large. I probably pass by a couple hundred kids on my way to and from a single class. And with just how contagious the virus is – if one person in my school tests positive – odds are much of the student body would have been exposed.”

Passing another student in the hallway – is not considered close contact, by state standards.

Kirkland Paraeducator Judy Linett is more concerned about students who may be too relaxed when it comes to mask wearing.

“When kids come back into the building tomorrow, I want to wear two N95 masks," she said. "And I’m just not going to go out into the hallways during passing time.”

In Issaquah, school started Tuesday. Parent Ryan Kleinman said his three kids took it well. “In my family – I have seen a huge reduction in their anxiety," he said. "Their anxiety is mostly that of being held back from engaging with their peers and being in school and being able to learn in that environment. Yeah, and so personally, I’m excited for the kids to go back to school.”

But in West Seattle, parent Marco Deppe has concerns that the delta variant could disrupt his school district’s plans. “The main thing I don’t like this year - is my understanding is they are not prepared to go back to hybrid or online," he said, "And I feel that would that would probably be a good ace to have up your sleeve when it’s needed.”

Only a handful of school districts in the state are offering remote learning programs this year and many of them are full.

Joshua McNichols

Covid cases surge as state fairs open up

The number of Covid hospitalizations continues to raise concern among Washington's health officials.

As of Monday morning, the Washington State Hospital Association reported 1,570 people were hospitalized with Covid-19 (a week and a half ago that number was 1,250), and nearly 190 were on ventilators. Officials are concerned about the strain being placed on emergency rooms and hospitals as the cases rise.

Given the current surge, the head of the group and other leaders are urging people to stay away from crowded events. Cassier Sauer with the WSHA says this includes the state fair, which begins this Friday in Puyallup.

There are some pandemic precautions in place at the state fair, such as indoor masking, regular ride cleanings, and sanitizing stations.

Fairgoers are also encouraged to wear masks in crowded outdoor settings, but they're not required on rides or at concerts. The fair will supply masks to people who need them.

Meanwhile, Evergreen State Fair in Monroe decided to cut off ticket sales early Saturday evening, both online and at the gate. Officials said they wanted to limit capacity so their reduced staff could keep up with cleaning and sanitizing.

— Angela King

How state union lawsuit over vaccine mandate could play out

The Washington Federation of State Employees says the details of the state's vaccine mandate for public employees should subject to bargaining. It has filed a lawsuit against the mandate announced by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The legal impasse could be settled in one of two ways:

  • This could get resolved in the courts, either with the judge granting a temporary injunction, halting the implementation of the vaccine mandate.
  • Or, throwing out the lawsuit and saying the governor is on solid legal ground to implement this emergency order and that he's not engaging in unfair labor practice.

It's also possible that this could be worked out at the bargaining table. But time is of the essence. By the state's own calculation, a person would need to get the first Moderna/Pfizer shot by Monday, September 6 to start the two-shot vaccine in time to meet the mandate's deadline in October. The Johnsons & Johnson vaccine is one shot, however, only the Pfizer vaccine has been fully approved by the FDA (the other two are authorized for emergency use).

The two sides are expected to continue discussing the mandate this week. Courts have generally upheld other employer vaccine mandates.

— Austin Jenkins, Derek Wang

Seattle parents nervous as first day of class approaches

As Covid cases continue to increase locally, many Seattle-area parents are nervous about sending their children back to the classroom on September 1.

That includes Sara Vora, who is also a pediatric infectious disease doctor. But she says sending the kids back to school is worth it.

"For me, having seen my kids for almost a year not being in any kind of school, being remote and being so isolated and lonely frankly, and working in the hospital and seeing so many kids come in with mental health issues, I'm a strong advocate of going back to school."

Vora says schools can keep children safe with good ventilation, masking, and vaccinating all eligible adults and teenagers.

She also says there will likely be Covid cases in the school environment, and strong policies are needed to stop the spread.

— Kate Walters

Extra $300 unemployment relief funding ends soon

This is the last week that those on unemployment will receive an extra $300 in federal Covid relief money.

The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefit, which was extended earlier this year, ends on Saturday, September 4.

And now the state Employment Security Department is telling recipients to go ahead and file weekly claims, especially if you have several weeks remaining on your claim.

Just be aware, while you'll receive your regular weekly amount, it will exclude the $300.

— Angela King

Emergency proclamation for utilities set to expire in September

Washington state's emergency proclamation preventing shut-off of water, electricity, or natural gas services is slated to end September 30.

State leaders are urging those who are behind on their utility bills to start making plans now.

State officials estimate that more than 500,000 people are at risk of having their services cut off. They're urging customers to contact their utility providers and work out a payment plan or some other alternative.

More information here.

— Angela King

MONDAY, AUGUST 30

EU recommends new travel restrictions for unvaccinated Americans

After welcoming back American travelers in June, the European Union has proposed new travel restrictions for unvaccinated visitors from the United States.

If enforced, unvaccinated American tourists would face tighter Covid testing and quarantine requirements when they enter the EU.

The Associated Press reports the decision to remove the United States from the European Council's "safe list" of countries for nonessential travel reflects a growing anxiety that EU member nations may experience a spike in Covid cases like the U.S.

Although the issued guidance is just a recommendation, American travelers could experience a variety of travel policies since the EU has no unified Covid tourism policy for its 27 member nations.

— Noel Gasca

Protesters oppose vaccine mandate

Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s office is making contingency plans in case large numbers of state employees choose to quit or lose their jobs because they don't want to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Such people include Mike Columbo, a woodland firefighter with the Department of Natural Resources. He joined hundreds of people who rallied against the new mandate at the state capitol in Olympia on Saturday.

“I’m ready to roll 22 years of service, and if the commissioner of public lands and the governor have their way, I’ll never fight fire in Washington state again," Columbo said.

Colombo said he hasn’t gotten a vaccine since he was a child and worries about the long-term effects of the Covid shots.

Other protesters displayed signs that read “stop the mandate” and “jab Inslee with the constitution.”

Tricia Gilson works for the Washington Department of Health. She spoke in front of the crowd of hundreds, arguing that the mandate is unconstitutional.

“I want to tell you that we need to be prepared to be fired, OK," Gilson said. "We need to be prepared to be replaced. It won’t work well for them. I’m going to tell you right now. It will not. And we need to hold strong. We need to stay strong.”

Courts have generally upheld employer vaccine mandates.

Inslee's office argues that the vaccines are "safe and effective" and says the mandate will make the workplace safer for everyone.

Washington's vaccine mandate for such employees goes into effect in mid-October.

— Derek Wang

State union files complaint over vaccine mandate

The Washington Federation of State Employees has filed an unfair labor practices complaint in response to Governor Jay Inslee's Covid vaccine mandate.

It argues the governor's office failed to bargain the mandate in good faith. The 45,000-member union wants a preliminary injunction to suspend the deadline.

Most state employees, along with healthcare and school workers, must be fully vaccinated by October 18 or they'll lose their jobs, if they don't receive a medical or religious exemption.

The Seattle Times reports that union and state negotiators will sit down at the bargaining table this Wednesday, ahead of Friday's hearing in Thurston County Superior Court.

The union says the governor's office has rejected all of its proposals on how the mandate should be managed. But a spokesperson for the governor told The Seattle Times they think they are negotiating in good faith.

The case that was filed in Thurston County Superior on Friday seeks a temporary injunction on September 3.

— Angela King, Derek Wang

QFC holds vaccine clinic for students 12 and older in Shoreline

QFC is opening a special vaccination clinic for students 12 and older ahead of fall classes in the Seattle area. Spanish language interpreters will be on site.

The clinic will be: 1-7 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 31 at the Center for Human Services, 17018 15th Avenue NE Shoreline, Wash.

It will be providing doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Second doses will be scheduled for Sept. 25.

Gift cards will be offered to students between 12 and 17 years old. Childcare will also be provided at the site for children under 12 during times of appointments.

Appointments can be made here.

— Dyer Oxley

EMS workers faced low risk while tending to Covid patients, study says

EMS workers faced little risk from patients infected with Covid-19, according to a new study out of UW Medicine, as well as the Division of Emergency Medical Services at Public Health–Seattle & King County.

The study indicates that proper use of PPE and other precautions adequately fended off the virus while EMS workers helped infected patients.

“Our findings should help reassure first responders that emergency care in general, and specifically when performing aerosol-generating procedures, can be delivered safely to patients as long as personal protective gear is properly deployed,” said Dr. Thomas Rea, who led the research project.

Researchers looked at 3,710 incidents of King County EMS workers caring for Covid patients between February and July 2020. UW Medicine has a breakdown of the study's results here. In short, it concluded:

"Of the 1,592 potentially exposed providers, only one tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 within two to 14 days of an encounter with a COVID-19 patient, representing an extremely low incidence of 0.28 cases/10,000 person-days at risk. The single EMS case linked to contact with a COVID-19 patient involved an encounter in which an aerosol-generating procedure was performed."

The study does note that it took place before the more-contagious delta variant arrived in the region. It also happened before vaccines were available. Researchers want to further take these factors into account to get a more updated occupation risk for EMS workers.

— Dyer Oxley

FRIDAY, AUGUST 27

Largest state worker union sues Gov. Inslee over vaccine mandate

The largest state workers union in Washington has filed a lawsuit against Democratic Governor Jay Inslee in response to his Covid-19 vaccine mandate for state agency employees.

Late Friday, the Washington Federation of State Employees announced its suit in Thurston County Superior Court, which the union says seeks more bargaining over how the mandate will be implemented.

The filing seeks a temporary injunction on September 3rd.

The union argues that the proclamation impairs the union’s right to bargain on behalf of employees and impairs its ability to ensure a fair exemption process.

Multiple public sector unions have asked the governor’s office to negotiate with them over the terms of the vaccine requirement.

Earlier this month, Inslee signed an emergency proclamation that requires most state workers and contractors to be fully vaccinated by October 18 or risk being fired. The unions say they don’t outright oppose mandatory vaccination, but want input on the timelines and exceptions.

-- Tom Banse

Washington vaccine rate rises

Washington's health department says it's seen an uptick in the number of people getting vaccinated against Covid-19.

Vaccine rates for this week were 21% higher than the week before, and 34% higher compared to two weeks ago.

Health officials believe fears about the surging delta variant and recent vaccine mandates are the main reasons for the increase -

Governor Jay Inslee announced earlier this month that most state employees, and those who work in education, must be fully vaccinated by October 18.

The delta variant continues to drive Covid cases higher and higher in Washington state. In King County, there is a rate of 180 cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days.

— Angela King

Penalties set for out-of-compliance schools

Washington's superintendent of public instruction is following up on his threat to withhold state funding from school districts that "willfully" violate Covid-19 mandates.

Chris Reykdal said Thursday that districts will be given at least two chances to comply with the rules before he takes that step.

Students, teachers, and staff must mask up indoors and all state education workers will have to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by October 18 if they want to keep their jobs.

Districts will get 15 days to come into compliance after they receive their first warning. Five days after the second notice, schools and districts will be eligible to receive withheld funds once OSPI finds they are in compliance.

However, those found to be in noncompliance for two months will receive funds reduced proportionately by the number of days they were found in violation, divided by 180 (the number of school days).

— Angela King

Mask up at Sounders, Mariners, and Reign games

Sounders fans five and older will need to mask up in indoor spaces at Lumen Field.

The new requirement will be in effect for this Sunday's Sounders and OL Reign games.

The same requirement is in place for Mariners games at T-Mobile Park.

— Angela King

Colleges announce vaccine mandates

Evergreen State College and South Puget Sound Community College have announced vaccine mandates for those wanting to return to campus this fall.

Students will need to upload their vaccine information or provide an approved medical or religious exemption before classes start on September 27.

— Angela King

Thurston County vaccine mandate

Thurston County is planning to implement a vaccine requirement for all county workers.

Employees will need to get their shots by October 31 or submit to weekly Covid-19 tests.

— Angela King

Parent responds options for fall school in Seattle

Lots of parents have been anxious about sending their kids to full-day, in-person school this fall with the rise of the delta variant. Now some are lobbying Seattle Public Schools to provide a remote or hybrid option until children younger than 12 can get vaccinated.

Aimee Chora's kids are going into third and sixth grades, and both are too young for the Covid vaccine.

"I'm not going to send my kids in-person as planned," Chora said. "So, if nothing changes, I'm going to home-school my kids. And then I would like to re-enroll them in their schools vaccinated."

Seattle Public Schools has not yet said how easy ... or hard it might be to re-enroll students mid-year, Once a pediatric vaccine is available.

— Eilis O'Neill

THURSDAY, AUGUST 26

Don't use ivermectin for Covid prevention

Washington's Department of Health is echoing a warning from the CDC Thursday, urging people not to use ivermectin as a preventative measure for Covid.

Similar to how hydroxychloroquine was promoted early in the pandemic, the use of ivermectin has been floated around conspiracy groups online as a Covid cure. Both are anti-parasite drugs (coronavirus is not a parasite, rather it is a virus). Ivermectin is commonly used for deworming dogs, cats, and large animals like horses.

People are now being hospitalized after self-medicating ivermectin doses intended for horses, according to the FDA. DOH says that there was a five-fold increase in calls for human exposure to ivermectin in July.

According to the state DOH:

"Despite the dangers, nationwide the CDC has seen a sharp increase in both providers prescribing and patients requesting ivermectin for Covid-19. According to the CDC, during the second week of August more than 88,000 prescriptions were reported nationwide, which is 24-times higher than the number of prescriptions written before the pandemic and more than double the previous peak of prescriptions written in early January 2021. The FDA has established a cross-agency task force that closely monitors for fraudulent Covid-19 products that claim to prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure Covid-19."

UW Medicine tested hydroxychloroquine and found it was ineffective against Covid-19. Ivermectin has also been studied amid the pandemic, and some results have indicated it doesn't work well against Covid-19. One study that helped promote the drug for Covid treatment was withdrawn.

There is, however, one known preventative measure that is proving to offer great protection against severe illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths — vaccines.

— Dyer Oxley

Pierce County is at a "crossroads"

Anthony Chen, director of the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department, says that the county has a choice: "Ignore and minimize what we are seeing. Or do what is right."

The health department says the county is in the "longest and strongest sustained case rate" since the pandemic began in 2020.

Pierce County just recorded its highest Covid case rate ever (556 cases per 100,000 people over 14 days).

"Our hospitalization rate is on track to also break records in the next few days. From Aug. 6—12, 115 new patients were hospitalized for COVID-19," Chen wrote in a recent health department blog.

"It happened so fast. And outbreaks in the community are increasing in frequency and size."

Low vaccinations levels, people easing up on pandemic precautions, and the delta variant are being blamed for the surging cases.

Chen further notes that the current Covid wave is striking children far more than previously in the pandemic — 9% of cases over the past two weeks were in children under 10; 21% were in ages under 20. More outbreaks are popping up in childcare centers, and Mary Bridge Children's Hospital is noting an uptick in ER visits for Covid-19.

— Dyer Oxley

Mayor Durkan announces $7.5 million for downtown Seattle recovery

Mayor Jenny Durkan announced that the city's Office of Economic Development will make $7.5 million available for the recovery of downtown neighborhoods and businesses.

"We will get through this, we will come back stronger and more equitable," Durkan said Thursday.

Funding comes from the American Rescue Plan. Durkan says the money could help with everything from increasing foot traffic to shifting businesses to the online market, even addressing vandalism.

Individual neighborhood groups and businesses can apply for funding. City officials said that local groups know best how to revitalize their neighborhoods.

According to Pamela Banks, director of the Office of Economic Development, applicants could get between $10,000 and $100,000, depending on the level of impact. Applications will be due by 5 p.m. October 7. The office will hold webinars to help businesses apply for the funds.

— Dyer Oxley

Hospitalizations doubling every 18-19 days in Washington

State health officials say Covid hospitalizations in Washington state have been doubling every 18-19 days. And they say the bulk of those hospitalized — more than 94% — are not fully vaccinated. Hospitalized patients are getting younger; they're getting sicker, too.

Washington's Chief Science Officer Scott Lindquist noted that a person younger than 19 recently died of Covid-19 at a Seattle-area hospital.

Officials say the current spike in cases will level out when more people are vaccinated. As of Monday, 72 % of Washington residents ages 12 and older have had at least one vaccine shot. There is no shortage of vaccine doses in the state.

Meanwhile, the state has documented 5,879 possible vaccine breakthrough cases of Covid-19.

— Angela King, Kim Malcolm

Report home Covid tests to state, DOH asks

Washington's health department is encouraging people who take at-home Covid tests to report their results to the state.

Officials say this will help them keep track of who's getting sick, and where, so they can better allocate resources where they're needed.

The state Covid hotline number is 1-800-525-0127.

Officials say the at-home antigen tests are not as accurate as the molecular ones administered at local testing sites.

— KUOW staff

Victoria Clipper to resume service to BC

The Victoria Clipper says it will resume service to British Columbia on September 17 now that the Canadian government has announced the reopening of the marine border for commercial ferry service.

The Clipper will operate on a four-day schedule.

Travelers can start booking trips September 6.

— KUOW staff

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 25

WA health official shares why she's sending her kids back to school in-person

Lacy Fehrenbach is in charge of state's Covid response with the Washington State Department of Health. She's also the mother of a kindergartner and a fifth-grader — both too young to be vaccinated.

She talked about her decision to send them to in-person school this fall during a Wednesday morning press conference:

Schools are fundamental to our children’s growth, learning, development, and wellbeing. You know, there is clear science that our children have struggled academically and emotionally during the pandemic.

We also know how to do this as safely as possible, and our state has required layered prevention measures for schools. Most school staff are already vaccinated, but, under (Gov. Inslee's) proclamation, all K-12 staff must be vaccinated by Oct. 18. This is hugely protective for our children and all staff who work in schools.

The second best tool we have are face coverings. We also have additional required measures like improved ventilation, physical distancing, handwashing, cleaning, disinfecting—and then, you know, keeping our kids or staying home when we are sick.

We face a more transmissible variant, but we also have more tools in our toolbox than we did this time last year.

— Eilís O'Neill

WA hospitals are strapped for staff and short of open beds

Washington’s hospitals are full and struggling to find beds for patients who need them. More new Covid patients are being hospitalized every day now, than during the worst of last winter's outbreak.

Small, rural facilities often need to transfer a patient to a larger regional hub amid the current surge. But there are no beds available.

At larger hospitals, many patients are spending their entire time in the emergency department, which means ambulances have long waits at hospital doors before they can unload their patients.

Steve Mitchell is the medical director for Washington’s coordination center, which tries to find hospital beds for patients who need them.

"There was a patient, for instance, who came into a hospital on the Washington coast with severe Covid illness and had to be emergently put onto a ventilator in order to save his life," Mitchell said. "And there was no ICU bed anywhere in the entire state of Washington. And it was actually a hospital in Idaho that was able to accept that patient after many hours of trying."

It took Mitchell’s team six hours to find a bed for a patient who needed emergency surgery for an infection. After finally tracking down a bed, that patient had to be transported across the state, from eastern to western Washington. Another time, the team spent eight hours looking for a bed for another patient, and only gave up because she passed away.

Mitchell says the constraint isn’t actual beds: It’s skilled staff to care for the patients in them.

— Eilís O'Neill

Vaccine mandate could lead to firefighter shortages in Pierce County

Pierce County fire chiefs and firefighter unions say they're preparing for staffing shortages as a result of Gov. Inslee's vaccine mandate.

The Tacoma News Tribune reports 30% of Pierce County's firefighters remain unvaccinated, and many firefighters are deciding to make a career change, move out of state, or take an early retirement instead of getting vaccinated.

Because firefighters receive paramedic and EMT certifications, they are considered health care workers, and fall under Gov. Inslee's vaccination requirement for most of Washington's health workers.

— Noel Gasca

Parents and advocates ask SPS to reconsider virtual options

With the first day of school for Seattle Public School students just a week away, some education advocates are calling for the district to reinstate their virtual learning option for middle and high school students.

Janis White is with the Seattle Special Ed PTSA. In a letter to the school board and superintendent, she said the virtual options the district is offering aren’t equitable for students with Individualized Education Plans. That includes children with a range of disabilities and health impairments who need extra support.

She says when one family looked at virtual options, there were restrictions.

“The conditions were things like 'we’re going to reduce her specialized direct instruction that she’s entitled to now in her IEP. We don’t provide one-on-one paraprofessional support,' " White said.

White says that the families she works with would prefer delaying the start of school if it meant their kids could learn virtually.

Seattle Public Schools did not respond to a request for comment.

Noel Gasca

UW nixes philosophical exception for Covid vaccine

You won't be able to use a philosophical exemption to get around the Covid vaccine mandate at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The school announced Tuesday that it's dropping that exception for students and staff.

Faculty and staff must be fully vaccinated by October 18 if they want to keep their jobs under Governor Jay Inslee's mandate for school workers. The university will contact those who've already claimed a philosophical exemption.

Religious or medical exemptions are still being granted.

WSU has also dropped the philosophical exemption for the Covid vaccine. The decision follows the FDA's full approval of Pfizer's Covid vaccine.

— Angela King

Snohomish County Health District outbreak

In-person services at the Snohomish County Health District will be suspended until the end of the month.

The Health District is reporting a small Covid outbreak among some of its workers at its headquarters. They did not have public-facing jobs and are now quarantining at home.

In the meantime, in-person services at the Snohomish County Health District will be suspended until August 31 so crews can thoroughly clean and disinfect the building before it reopens September 1.

— Angela King

King County is 70% vaccinated

King County is now reporting it is the first large county in the nation to get more than 70% of its eligible population — across every demographic group — vaccinated against Covid-19.

We're talking about those 12 and older who've gotten at least one shot.

King County Executive Dow Constantine expects that number will continue to increase now that the FDA has fully approved the Pfizer vaccine.

— Angela King

Oregon starts outdoor mask mandate

Oregon Governor Kate Brown has issued an outdoor mask mandate for public outdoor settings.

It begins this Friday and applies to everyone regardless of their vaccination status.

The outdoor mask mandate is on top of the indoor mandate already in place.

— Angela King

Seattle school district plans for fall classes

Seattle Public Schools students will have about three feet of distance between them when they go back to classrooms on September 1.

District officials laid out Covid-19 protocols during a virtual town hall Tuesday night, which included written, rather than live, questions from parents.

Dr. Carrie Nicholson, who directs the district's student support services, said students and staff who present symptoms will be separated from the crowd.

"We will continue to have what we have identified as a 'protected healthcare room,' which is specific to separate these ill students or staff until they can go home."

She notes students will not be in cohorts of 15 or fewer as they were in the spring, meaning schools will have to be more vigilant about enforcing masking rules and contact tracing efforts.

— Katie Campbell

Lawmaker refused to follow mask mandate at official meeting

The debate over masks, civil rights, and the duties of Washington's governor played out in a recent Franklin County Commission meeting. Beyond that, the meeting evolved into a lively discussion on the founding principles of the United States.

Watch video of the meeting at The Bellingham Herald.

Franklin County Commissioner Clint Didier refused to wear a mask at the commission's meeting. He called it civil disobedience. He said he is creating a sanctuary county for people who don't want to wear masks. He argues that rights are given by God and not the government.

"If we want to risk our lives, then we can," Didier said.

Members of the audience also refused to wear masks. Didier claimed he had a note from a doctor stating he does not have to wear a mask for medical reasons.

It prompted Commissioner Brad Peck to walk out of the meeting.

Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant then was called upon to brief the commission and the public on the law —from the U.S. Constitution to Washington state regulations. In short, if the mask mandate requiring people to wear masks indoors is not followed during an official meeting of the commission, then the meeting would be void and no decisions would be deemed valid, Sant advised.

“We have to focus efforts in the appropriate manner," Sant said. "Let’s go to the courthouse, let’s go to Olympia and let’s make those challenges. Let’s create an initiative. If people are here and want to do the initiative process, let’s do that. But when we get to a point when we say we could decide which laws we are going to follow and what laws we are not going to follow, that’s tyranny right there. Because at that point, there is no Constitution because everybody can just say what their Constitution applies to them. That’s where we go down a path of losing our liberty, even more so than this mask mandate right now.”

Sheriff Jim Raymond also spoke and said that arresting people for not wearing a mask is not mandated and he would not arrest anyone. He asked that the public remain civil as they address their grievances to their elected officials.

— Dyer Oxley

TUESDAY, AUGUST 24

SPS Town Hall

Parents will have the chance to hear from SPS officials tonight about the district's plans to return to full-time, in-person schooling this year in their first of two virtual town halls.

The town halls plan to address parents' concerns and questions surrounding the district's Covid protocols.

Snohomish businesses enter another masking phase

Washingtonians are once again getting used to wearing masks in public, indoor settings.

In Snohomish on Monday, the first day of the re-instated mask mandate, some businesses were a little loose with the mask rule. Like a few bartenders who wore masks around their necks, not over their faces.

But at Proper Joe Coffeehouse, owner Aaron Donohue reminded every customer to mask up. He says not everyone's crazy about it.

“You know, frankly, I've just taken to saying, 'We're masking up now.' Just kind of a collective we. If there's resistance, of course, I do always remind people it's not ... our rule. We're just we're just abiding by it.”

“No one who was unvaccinated wants to do it because they didn't want to do it in the first place and no one who's vaccinated wants to do it because we are vaccinated.”

In Snohomish County, the mask mandate started a couple weeks ago.

— Casey Martin

Hawaii governor says it's not a good time to visit

Hawaii Governor David Ige is asking people to avoid travelling to the island destination unnecessarily, noting "it is a risky time to be traveling right now."

The Associated Press reports that the governor aims to lessen travel through October. The delta variant is currently spreading through the islands. Restaurant capacity has been limited, as has access to rental cars. Honolulu has limited indoor gatherings to 10 people, and outdoor gatherings to 25.

There is no limited travel mandate, however, as Hawaii implemented earlier in the pandemic.

— Dyer Oxley

Group of firefighters fight against vaccine mandates

Several unions joined Pierce County Professional Firefighters and wrote a letter to Governor Jay Inslee saying they believe vaccines play an important role to right the pandemic, however, they oppose the mandate.

"The decision regarding the vaccine is complex and personal; we believe our members should retain the ability to make their own decisions on personal health matters," the letter states.

The Washington State Council of Fire fighters Union warned Governor Inslee last week that the state vaccine mandate could lead to a shortage of firefighters, paramedics, and EMTs by the October 19 deadline. In an August 12 letter to the governor, the Washington State Council of Firefighters said "though a majority of our Statewide First Responders are vaccinated, the numbers are not where we had hoped. We now have serious concerns related to our ability to maintain a response ready Workforce if in fact mandatory vaccination is our only option."

KIRO 7 reports that anecdotal accounts state that between 30-40% of firefighters, paramedics, and EMTS in King County are unvaccinated.

— Angela King

Washington DNR mandates Covid vaccine

Washington's Department of Natural Resources is directing all employees — including firefighters — to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Commissioner Hilary Franz says the number of Covid infections among firefighters has been growing every week and crews and resources are stretched thin. Fires have already burned nearly a half-million acres so far this year.

Those firefighters and workers, like others under the governor's vaccine mandate, must be fully vaccinated by October 18 or lose their jobs, if they're not granted a medical or religious exemption.

Franz also wants vaccines to be made available at fire camps and she's calling on the federal government to require Covid-19 vaccinations for all federal wildland firefighters.

DNR notes that a federal crew of firefighters was forced to abandon a mission last week to the Muckamuck Fire because members tested positive for Covid-19. Such infections are increasing among crews, according to Franz.

“Pulling resources from the fight, when we are already stretched thin, has made a bad situation worse,” Franz said. “We cannot afford to lose a single firefighter or tool in our arsenal given the unprecedented fire danger that is threatening Washington’s communities. Already, a record-breaking number of fires have burned almost half a million acres of Washington lands. And, with high temperatures and drought conditions expected to continue, there is no relief on the horizon.”

— Angela King

Outbreak at Omak Stampede

Covid cases are spiking in Okanogan County and health officials think a popular event, the Omak Stampede, is to blame.

Health officials think the event's beer garden was a Covid hotspot. They say they've detected 15 cases, and that’s likely just the start of the problem.

Hospitals in Okanogan communities are already at capacity. Ambulances are running short. They are now driving patients to other hospitals, hours away.

Okanogan County officials say they know these events are important to communities. But it’s hard to buck the untamed Delta variant, even outdoors.

Now comes the Washington State Fair, the Pendleton Round-Up, and the Ellensburg Rodeo.

— Anna King, Northwest News Network

Pierce County Covid cases surge

Health officials in Pierce County say their Covid case rates are at their highest levels since the start of the pandemic. They also warn more young people are getting sick and hospitalization rates are getting close to reaching a new peak.

That's why they're continuing to urge residents to get vaccinated. Fewer than 50% of eligible people in the county have gotten their shots.

— Angela King

Port of Tacoma cancels annual boat tour

The rise of the delta variant through Washington state has prompted officials with the Port of Tacoma to cancel its annual boat tour.

“A lot of families with young children attend the boat tours and out of concern for everyone’s health and safety, we have made the difficult decision to cancel this year’s event,” said Dick Marzano, Port of Tacoma commission president. “The Port’s boat tours are very popular and an important way for us to connect with the community, we look forward to holding the event again next year.”

The event was scheduled for August 28 and has been an annual occurrence for four decades. The port notes that the Foss Waterway Seaport Maritime Weekend was organized alongside its boat tour. That event has also been cancelled.

Pierce County is currently experiencing a considerable surge in Covid cases.

— Dyer Oxley

Washington's vaccine mandate and Republican pushback

Washington Governor Jay Inslee is characterizing the FDA's full approval of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine as a "great milestone."

Pfizer is the first to get full FDA sign-off for its vaccine. Previously, it was allowed under emergency authorization. Inslee says the FDA’s seal of approval should give people more confidence than ever that the vaccine is safe and effective.

Inslee has mandated that state employees, K-12 and higher education employees and healthcare workers get fully vaccinated by mid-October or risk losing their jobs. He notes that more than four million Washingtonians have already gotten a Covid-19 vaccine.

But Inslee also faces pushback.

Republican State Senator Doug Ericksen says Inslee’s vaccine mandate has “stirred a hornet’s nest in Olympia.” Ericksen claims that after the governor announced the vaccine mandate for many public employees, phone calls to legislative offices came in at 100 per hour.

Ericksen is pointing to SB 5144, which he proposed in early 2021. The bill aims to prohibit employers from firing people if they choose not to get a Covid vaccine. He calls vaccine mandates a form of "discrimination."

“This is one time I wish I wasn’t a prophet,” Ericksen said. “But it was easy to see in January where this was heading, after months of emergency decrees from the governor’s office and no input from the people. When our colleagues voted to extend the governor’s emergency powers indefinitely, they invited this abuse of government authority.”

The Washington Federation of State Employees union has said the Inslee administration is failing to negotiate in good faith on the details of the mandate.

— Austin Jenkins, Dyer Oxley

Judge orders Tacoma detention center to test for Covid

A federal judge is now ordering all immigrant detainees transferred to the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma to be tested for Covid-19 before they arrive.

The ACLU and the Immigrants Rights Project say more than 240 people, including staff at the detention center, have tested positive for Covid since June. They say the numbers started spiking after ICE started transferring detainees from the southern border.

The decision from Judge James Robart is part of a case brought by Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, ACLU, National Prison Project, and Immigrants' Rights Project. The case aims to protect medically vulnerable detainees. The federal court has determined that ICE violated the rights of such vulnerable detainees.

— Angela King

MONDAY, AUGUST 23

Those working on-site on state projects have to get vaccinated

Some contractors for the state of Washington will need to get their last dose of a Covid vaccine by Oct. 4.

If, say, a construction company wins a state contract, not all of its employees have to be vaccinated — only the ones involved in the project for the state, and, of those, only the ones who may need to work on-site.

Gov. Jay Inslee's office says they haven’t yet figured out exactly how enforcement will work, but there might be a verification process, or options for the state to ask the company for verification.

And the state will reserve the right to stop by work sites and audit workers for proof of vaccination.

Eilis O'Neill

UW doctor answers common pandemic scenarios

Can two or three other couples get together safely — under current pandemic conditions with the delta variant spreading in Washington state — if everybody is vaccinated?

"I'm nervous about it indoors," Dr. Seth Cohen said during a recent UW Medicine Town Hall. "I've previously been very optimistic during this pandemic, and I think something has really changed where I am very cautious about who comes into my house unmasked."

He said that outdoor barbecues could be OK if everyone stays adequate distances from each other.

How the delta variant has changed the pandemic was a top issue during the recent UW Medicine virtual town hall. Toward the end of the discussion, a series of real-life scenarios were put to Dr. Cohen, head of infection prevention at UW Medical Center.

Some answers were simple — mask up, wash your hands, and keep your distance if you go to the grocery store. Other questions involved more nuance. Assistant Dean for Well-Being Anne Browning relayed questions to Dr. Cohen from the online audience. Here are a few highlights.

Q: Would you feel OK about getting on an airplane right now?

A: I think it depends why and where you're going. Usually, being on the airplane is safe if you have a good mask that has multiple layers of cloth and well-fitted. But I worry about the lining up and everything else that comes along with travel and I'd be very hesitant to do a long plane flight. So our family is sticking to road trips for the time being.

Q: Is it safe to eat at a restaurant if an area, like Seattle, has a high vaccination rate?

A: I think for me it's more about the community incidents than the vaccination rate right now. So I'd be pretty nervous about eating indoors in Seattle until the community incidents declines.

Q: Is it OK to exercise at a gym?

A: Yeah, I think for right now, I am going to use this as an excuse to not get out to go to the indoor gym.

Q: Would you go to an outdoor concert, if you could be masked and maintain some physical distance?

A: This is really one of the first times that we are starting to see outdoor (viral spread); large outbreaks related to concerts and high-density crowds. So I would be very nervous about going to a concert right now, as much as I would love to.

Q: Would you let a 12-year-old play in a three-on-three tournament, if unvaccinated kids had to wear masks and vaccinated kids didn't necessarily have to wear them?

A: If it's an outdoor three-on-three tournament, I would let them play if they were masked.

Q: Would you send school-aged kids back into classrooms this fall?

A: Yeah. I'm sending my kids back for kindergarten and second grade. So we're doing it, and we're going to see how it goes.

— Dyer Oxley

FDA fully approves Pfizer Covid vaccine

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has officially approved the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for people 16 and older.

The approval came early Monday morning. It's the first vaccine to receive the FDA's approval. All vaccines have previously been authorized for emergency use.

Under the emergency-use authorization, the Pfizer vaccine is also available for children 12-15 years old and for immunocompromised people who are now advised to get a third dose of vaccine. Emergency authorization also covers the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

In a statement, acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock says this approval may give some unvaccinated people the additional confidence they need to get vaccinated.

Moving forward, the Pfizer Covid vaccine will now be marketed as Comirnaty.

Read more details here.

— Katie Campbell

U.S. - Canada border remains closed a little longer

Canadians looking forward to crossing into Washington state and other parts of the U.S. this week are having to change their plans.

Today, the Department of Homeland Security extended the closure of U.S. borders with Canada for another month because of the surge in coronavirus cases.

That's despite Ottawa's decision to open up to vaccinated Americans.

Washington Senator Patty Murray is calling the move the wrong decision.

She said there should be at least an exemption made for Point Roberts, the Washington town that shares its only land border with Canada. Murray is seeking a border exemption for the town, which has been facing unprecedented challenges during the pandemic.

— Rob Wood

State union pushes back on vaccine mandate

A major Washington state employees union claims that Governor Jay Inslee isn't bargaining in good faith as he promised with his sweeping Covid-19 vaccination mandate.

The Washington Federation of State Employees argues that he's also failing to give them details about how the mandate will affect state workers.

Last week, Inslee ordered the employees to get their shots by October 18 or face termination. The governor's office says officials are putting guidance together for state agencies.

Meanwhile, legal experts warn technicalities could spark at backlog at state agencies from terminated workers seeking unemployment benefits.

— Rob Wood

UW Medicine starts offering booster shots

UW Medicine is now offering Covid booster vaccine shots to people with compromised immune systems, such as those who have had transplants, or take medications that suppress their immune system.

Dr. Shireesha Dhanireddy at UW Medicine says they’re working on the honor system and she’s urging people not to come in for a third shot unless they're in this vulnerable group.

Dhanireddy adds that it’s important to think about our social and global responsibility.

"As long as we have Covid anywhere in the world, we have Covid," Dr. Dhanireddy. "And so we need to be responsible stewards of the vaccine and not use it outside of what the recommendations are."

Dhanireddy says while there’s been a big focus on people getting additional doses, lots of people still need their first shot. Currently, nearly 95% of people hospitalized in the state are unvaccinated.

— Kate Walters

Covid outbreak at Pierce County Jail

A Covid outbreak has emerged at the Pierce County Jail. It's so large that local police chiefs are being told that only those arrested for violent crimes will be booked into the facility (for example: murder, kidnapping, domestic violence).

The Tacoma News Tribune reports the test results for upwards of 35 inmates came back positive Sunday. The prompted officials to place more than 160 inmates in quarantine — about a third of the jail population which was 548 people on Sunday.

Pierce County is one of the more under-vaccinated counties in western Washington. Fewer than 50% of those eligible have received their shots. All three vaccines are offered at the Pierce County Jail's health clinic.

— Angela King

head

New mask mandate goes into effect today

Anyone older than five in Washington state must now mask up indoors while in public, regardless of their Covid vaccination status.

Governor Jay Inslee's renewed mask mandate goes into effect Monday and it is a legally binding proclamation so business owners and employers must comply with it.

There are a few exceptions, such as instances where people work alone or in offices that aren't easily accessible to the public. You also don't have to wear a mask at small private gatherings where everyone is vaccinated.

Otherwise, cover up.

The Governor's Office says it's still working on an enforcement system for those who violate the mandate.

The state health department is also encouraging you mask up in crowded outdoor settings as well.

— Rob Wood

FRIDAY, AUGUST 20

Washington Supreme Court orders employees to be vaccinated against Covid

The Washington State Supreme Court has issued an order requiring employees to get vaccinated by November 1.

The court's order has been extended to cover volunteers and independent contractors. The mandate is similar to Gov. Jay Inslee's vaccine requirement for state employees.

The only exemptions allowed are based on medical or religious reasons. Policies covering employees for trial courts and the Court of Appeals across Washington will be made by presiding judges.

Other courts and agencies within the judicial branch are encouraged to adopt similar vaccination requirements.

Also, oral arguments before the state Supreme Court this fall will continue to be held virtually.

— Ruby de Luna

Hospitalizations at highest levels ever in Washington state

Covid-19 hospitalizations are the highest they've ever been in Washington state, according to Cassie Sauer, head of the Washington Hospital Association.

"The highest we ever were was in December with about 1,100 patients. And right now we are at 1,240 hospitalized patients across Washington state," Sauer said.

Those numbers are as of Thursday morning.

Sauer says hospitals are strained statewide. They already had heavy patient loads prior to the current surge in Covid cases. The vast majority of covid hospitalizations are among unvaccinated people.

Sauer says health care workers are frustrated and burned out. She and others are pleading with the public to help lighten the load by getting vaccinated and wearing a mask.

— Kate Walters


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