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Pandemic blog: Updates for western Washington (May 24-28)

This post is archived. Read the latest here.

Need a vaccine?

Many locations are now accepting walk-ups.

Washington state vaccine locator Not an official vaccine finder from the state, but the product of a former Microsoft developer who created a website to more easily find open vaccination appointments.

Seattle vaccination sites

As of Thursday, May 27, the Washington State Department of Health reports:

  • 5,765 Covid-19 related deaths; 400,615 confirmed cases; 34,168 probable cases; and a 1.3% 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, 6,908,004 doses (not total number of people) of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered to Washingtonians. A total of 52.3% of eligible people in Washington state have been fully vaccinated; and 62.3% of eligible people in King County have been fully vaccinated.


CDC changes mask guidelines for summer camps

5:48 p.m. — If you're sending your kids to summer camp this year, there's a good chance they won't need to include face masks in their packing lists.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have revised their guidelines for mask use at summer camps. Now, campers can play sports, sing songs, and roast s'mores without wearing a mask — as long as everyone is fully vaccinated. The new guidelines do not apply to camps where masks are still required by local law.

The CDC still encourages summer camps to keep kids in cohorts that stay together as much as possible.

The change in guidelines follow the Food and Drug Administration's authorization of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 to 15 in May.

—Noel Gasca

$1M Covid vaccine incentive at Fred Meyer, QFC

8:30 a.m. — Kroger stores (QFC, Fred Meyer) nationwide are going to give five people $1 million each for getting their Covid vaccine shots at a Kroger Health location.

We'll find out in the coming days exactly how the contest will work and who will be eligible to win.

There will also be 50 chances to win free groceries for a year when Kroger's launches the contest next week. No word yet if people who have already gotten their shot at a Kroger location will be eligible.

— Angela King

After pandemic snarled 2020 reopening, Seattle Asian Art Museum opens doors this weekend

8 a.m. — The Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park is reopening to the public Friday. The museum features 400 works of art.

It underwent major renovations three years ago and was able to show off some of those upgrades in early of 2020. But it was forced to close as the pandemic struck.

Those wanting to visit the museum must buy their tickets in advance, online.

— Angela King

Folklife continues virtually under current pandemic conditions

7:30 a.m. — An iconic Seattle event marks 50 years this Friday. But Northwest Folklife won't be held in person this year.

Instead, it will happen virtually, all four days over Memorial Day weekend. Artistic Director Kelli Faryar says even so, it just feels special.

"We are no longer limited by a location, we are no longer limited by challenging parking in this area, and being able to tune in from India, being able to tune in with family in Iran, so it also just offers that sense of more of a global audience," Faryar said.

Folklife begins Friday evening with dance lessons and music. It closes with a powerful lineup Monday, which includes a breakdance battle and a performance by the Seattle Peace Chorus.

There will also be reggae, and workshops on confronting racism.

Faryar is asking people to connect with the event or share old Folklife photos by using the hashtag #Folklife50.

— Paige Browning

Seattle to use part of pandemic relief funding on housing, homelessness

7 a.m. — As Seattle begins to reopen, the city will get an injection of just over $128 million in federal aid to help with its recovery from the pandemic.

City officials unveiled a proposal for how to spend that money this week.

"We will kick start Seattle's recovery by prioritizing business, revitalization of our neighborhoods, and increasing shelter and housing for people experiencing homelessness,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said at a press event Thursday.

“Our businesses are now starting to reopen, kids are back in schools, sports and culture events are happening, but we know the recovery work is just beginning. People, families, individuals, businesses, so many are still struggling,” she said.

Durkan, along with Seattle city council president M. Lorena Gonzalez and councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, said the recovery plan will be deeply focused on equity.

The proposal includes:

• $49.2 million for housing and homelessness

• $25 million for direct cash assistance for those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic

• $23 million for community and small business recovery

Money is also set aside to support city services and workers, and for things like supporting child care providers, and enhanced maintenance of parks.

The largest portion of funds will go towards addressing homelessness. The city plans to buy or create hundreds of units of affordable housing, as well as adding more shelter beds, likely in hotels. There are also plans to create more tiny house villages and more safe parking spots.

The plan will go before the city council next week. Officials are hoping to finalize it by the end of June.

The city expects to get more federal aid later this summer and next year.

— Kate Walters


Seattle closing vaccination sites

11 a.m. — The city of Seattle has announced it will close its three, large Covid vaccination sites next month.

The West Seattle clinic is closing on June 9.

The largest clinic, run by Swedish Health at Lumen Field, will end on June 12.

Rainier Beach's vaccination site closes June 23.

The city run sites have administered more than 210,000 vaccinations. More than 60% of Seattle residents have been vaccinated at this point.

After the site closures, the city will still offer vaccinations at mobile pop-ups, neighborhood vaccine sites, and in healthcare settings.

In another change underway: the Covid-19 testing site in SODO is going to start offering vaccines, too.

And while the Rainier Beach and West Seattle hubs are open, they will offer testing for the next few weeks.

— Paige Browning

Seattle schools officially going full time, in-person in the fall

10 a.m. — The Seattle Public School Board has signed off on the district's plan to reopen campuses in the fall.

All public school districts must submit their plans to the state superintendent's office by June 1 to receive a portion of the nearly $2 billion in federal funding awarded to Washington state.

Under Hhase 1 of Seattle's Academic and Student Well-being Recovery plan, all public schools will hold five full days of in-person learning. Students have to mask up.

There will be virtual learning options for students who choose to not return to campus.

— Angela King

No more mask mandate at WSU

9 a.m. — Washington State University has dropped its mask mandate for staff, students, and visitors who can show they've been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Although those who work in certain departments such as childcare and health care services will have to continue wearing masks, regardless of their vaccination status.

Anyone wanting to return to campus by fall must get vaccinated against the coronavirus, but the University is offering medical, religious, and personal exemptions for some people.

— Angela King


Occupancy increased for outdoor spectator events

5:21 p.m. — You may see more people at your next visit to T-Mobile Park or Lumen Field.

Gov. Jay Inslee has updated the guidelines for outdoor spectator events, which impact occupancy for places like rodeos, stadiums, and ballparks.

Under the new guidance, the occupancy percentage for outdoor venues is increased from 25% capacity to 50%. The cap of 9,000 spectators will remain.

Venues will also no longer be required to provide a separate entrance or exit for vaccinated spectators.

However, some former guidance is still in effect. Facilities will still need to have a plan for handling crowd congestion, and social distancing will still be used in unvaccinated seating sections.

— Kate O'Connell

Pre-pandemic traffic levels expected this Memorial Day

4 p.m. — If you're planning on hitting the road to reconnect with friends and family this holiday're not alone.

The AAA motor club says that roads could be 60% busier than Memorial Day weekend last year.

To keep things moving, the Washington State Patrol is boosting its staffing this weekend.

State Trooper Rocky Oliphant more traffic means the potential for more accidents, so drivers should expect congestion.

"With more traffic, we usually anticipate more collisions, and as those come we're going to have more congestion, so just make sure that you're paying close attention to the road," Oliphant said. "We also are, at night time, several trooper will be out looking for DUI [and] impaired drivers."

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is also expecting its busiest weekend since 2019, with about 100,000 travelers booked to fly in-and-out.

— Paige Browning

Some fully-vaccinated grocery store employees can go maskless

Noon — You may notice workers at your local grocery store starting to go maskless.

On Tuesday, Washington issued new mask guidance for fully-vaccinated people, which includes employees at places of businesses (read more about that in Tuesday's post below).

As of May 25, Kroger (QFC, Fred Meyer) has updated its mask policy and is now allowing fully-vaccinated employees to work without wearing a mask. Same goes for customers.

According to a Kroger statement:

"Starting May 25, fully vaccinated customers and most fully vaccinated associates no longer need to wear a mask in our facilities, including stores, distribution centers, plants and offices, unless otherwise required by local jurisdiction. If there is a local mandate, we will adhere to that requirement and its timeline. Non-vaccinated associates will still be required to wear a mask. Additionally, associates in our pharmacy and clinic locations will be required to continue wearing a mask due to the CDC’s guidance for healthcare settings. We request that non-vaccinated customers continue to wear a mask, and we respect the choice of individuals who prefer to continue to wear a mask."

The same goes for Safeway/Albertsons which is no longer requiring masks for fully-vaccinated employees. A spokesperson said that most workers were able to be vaccinated in their own stores, so it's easy to confirm vaccination status. If they were vaccinated outside of the store, management will require proof.

Both Kroger and Safeway/Albertsons offered employees $100 if they get fully-vaccinated.

But not all stores are nixing masks. And the local health department has countered current CDC guidance, which states fully-vaccinated people can go without masks in most situations. Public Health Seattle & King County is urging people and businesses to continue masking up as variants continue to spread locally and vaccination rates are still lower than desired.

As of May 22, PCC seemed to reverse its previous mask policy (set one week prior) and is asking all employees and customers to continue wearing masks, regardless of vaccination status. It stated this was due to the local health department recommending continued mask wearing.

Whole Foods is no longer requiring that fully-vaccinated customers wear masks. But employees will continue to wear them, and the company says it will follow local guidance.

Trader Joe's and Costco are no longer requiring fully-vaccinated customers to wear masks, but will follow local regulations for their stores. They will not be asking for proof of vaccination.

— Dyer Oxley

King County approves largest pandemic relief funding yet

10 a.m. — The King County Council has approved its seventh Covid emergency budget. It's the county's largest one yet at $630 million.

That is more than the previous six relief packages combined ($418 million).

Council Chair Claudia Balducci calls it a huge investment in recovering from the pandemic.

"I really believe this is a transformational budget action, and the list is long of what it's done," Balducci said. "I'm excited to see the work begin that is being funded with these dollars. I'm excited to see the outcomes and to build upon them."

The funding will cover staffing costs for vaccination clinics and a new tiny house village. It also provides rental assistance, food assistance, and a fund for businesses owned by people of color, among other programs.

Councilmember Reagan Dunn objected to the funding, saying it lacked money for criminal justice.

The package uses most of the money the county received from the federal American Rescue Plan, combined with emergency grants.

— Paige Browning

Washington DOH investigating potential new vaccine side effect

8 a.m. — The Washington State Department of Health is looking into incidents of myocarditis and pericarditis as possible side effects of the Pfizer Covid vaccine.

Myocarditis and pericarditis are conditions that involve the inflammation of heart tissues, and usually are the result of a viral infection.

According to DOH: "The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) is aware of reports of a small number of cases of myocarditis or pericarditis in some patients, post-vaccination. Further investigation is needed to determine if these cases are connected in any way to COVID-19 vaccines."

That statement was made on May 24. On May 26, DOH tweeted that there are no conformed cases in the state.

Shortly after that tweet, DOH sent another tweet stating they are aware of a few cases.

DOH notes that more than 3.1 million people in Washington state are fully vaccinated, which adds up to a population immunity of almost 40%.

Oregon's Health Authority has also issued a warning to doctors about myocarditis or pericarditis following vaccination. The Willamette Week reports that six cases were reported in Oregon and Washington.

— Dyer Oxley


King County Council approves largest Covid emergency budget yet

4:42 p.m. — The King County Council has approved its seventh and largest COVID-19 relief package to date.

The county will use the $630 million dollar emergency budget towards vaccination efforts, rental assistance, and food programs.

A majority of the budget's funding comes from the Biden administration's American Rescue Plan, with the rest coming from the county budget and FEMA grants.

Council chair Claudia Balducci hailed the package as a win for the county.

"This is just an awful lot of funding coming through," Balducci said. "I believe in the coming weeks and months we're going to look back on this budget work and see that we are making truly transformational investments in the lives of people in King County."

Council member Reagan Dunn cast the only "no" vote, adding that he wanted more money budgeted for the criminal justice system.

— Paige Browning

Fully vaccinated workers may no longer need to wear a mask

4:42 p.m. — State representatives are reacting to new Covid-19 workplace safety guidelines from the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.

The new guidance follows Gov. Jay Inslee's announcement that Washington would follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that suggest fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear masks in most settings.

Here's what the new guidance says:

  • Fully vaccinated employees don't have to wear a mask or socially distance while at work, unless their employer or local public health agency still requires it.
  • Employers must confirm workers are fully vaccinated before ending mask and social distance requirements.
  • Employers must be able to verify employee vaccination status. Accepted verification methods include creating a log of workers who have been vaccinated, checking vaccination status each day as workers enter a jobsite, and marking a worker's credentials to show they are vaccinated.

House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox released a statement condemning the new guidelines, saying,

“Our state should not require employers to ask their employees if they are fully vaccinated for any reason. Forcing employers to ask and record this personal medical decision violates employee privacy and is fundamentally wrong. People never envisioned having to do this and the question is, what's next? Governor Inslee's Department of Labor and Industries needs to rescind this new, unworkable policy immediately."

— Noel Gasca

Seattle bar requires proof of full vaccination to enter

Noon — A Capitol Hill bar is now only allowing entry to patrons who can prove they are fully vaccinated.

According to a post on the Facebook group for the bar CC Attle: "The constant changing of directives by various agencies over mask use and what is safe, has caused confusion and frustration over what is the right thing to do. Because of this, we have made the decision to only admit people that have been fully vaccinated and will require proof of full vaccination to gain entry. This protects our staff and all others that choose to enter, it also adds incentive for others to get vaccinated."

The bar is now requiring customers show their Covid vaccination card, or a photo of the card, with the name matching their ID.

"You will be denied entry without this information! We understand this may be inconvenient or controversial for some, but it is safer for everyone in the long run," the post states.

— Dyer Oxley

Mariners continue vaccination effort

11 a.m. — The Seattle Mariners’ vaccination incentive program is now being extended through June 2. Spokesperson Rebecca Hale says nearly 20,000 fans have now checked in at the ballpark as "fully vaccinated" to take advantage of a range of freebies and discounts.

They also offer vaccinations on site, at the game, that come Amazon gift cards.

"Many of them are men in their 20s, 30s and 40s. A lot of them are saying that this is something that they are meaning to do they just didn't have time to make an appointment and go to a vaccination location," Hale said.

The team is also targeting its employees.

"We've been encouraging folks to get vaccinated. They can do that on T-Mobile park on game days. They can also use time off."

But a number of players are reportedly not getting vaccinated and some are missing games as a result.

— David Hyde

Amtrak train service back to normal in Washington state

10 a.m. — Full-train service is back on track in Washington state.

The president of Amtrak was at the Seattle Station Tuesday morning to celebrate.

Amtrak's Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, and Cascades lines all got back up and running as normal as of Monday.

Service had been reduced to three times a week because of the pandemic and low ridership over the past year. But now, daily trips are being offered to places like Chicago and Los Angeles.

— Angela King, Paige Browning

Vaccination with a view

9 a.m. — Riders who use the Seattle/Bremerton ferry route can get vaccinated against Covid-19 while onboard the boat.

The offer runs from May 25-27, and also between June 1-3. They'll be give out both in the galleys and on the car deck.

Those wanting their shot will receive it within the first 30 minutes of each sailing, so healthcare staff on board can monitor them for any reactions.

You can get either the Pfizer or the Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

Children who are 12 and older can be given the Pfizer vaccine with parental permission.

— Angela King


State health department is investigating heart problem in younger vaccine recipients

5:54 p.m. — An article in the New York Times says that Washington state's Department of Health, among other state health departments, is investigating a heart problem in teenagers that appeared about four days after they received the second dose of a vaccine for the coronavirus.

Dr. Liam Yore, past president of the Washington State chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, told The New York Times that he had seen such a teenager.

"The patient was treated for mild inflammation of the lining of the heart, and was sent home afterward. But the teenager later returned for care with a decrease in the heart’s output. Still, Dr. Yore said he had seen worse outcomes in youngsters with Covid, including in a 9-year-old who had arrived at the hospital following a cardiac arrest last winter.

“The relative risk is a lot in favor of getting the vaccine, especially considering how many doses of the vaccine have been administered,” he said.

The Washington State Department of Health released a statement saying that they were aware that a small number of patients in Washington have experienced chest pains and shortness of breath after getting vaccinated.

"Health care providers in Washington, Idaho and Oregon have been notified about this issue so they can be ready to quickly identify symptoms if more cases occur."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is currently reviewing the reports and has yet to determine whether there is a link between the vaccines and heart conditions.

This story has been updated with additional details from the Washington State Department of Health

— Isolde Raftery, Noel Gasca

West Seattle vaccination hub slated to close

4:14 p.m. — Seattle has passed the 75% mark for residents who have initiated Covid vaccinations, and now, the city is shifting its focus to smaller, mobile vaccination clinics.

Mayor Durkan announced today that the West Seattle Vaccination Hub will close after June 9. Since opening in February, the hub has administered around 48,135 Covid-19 vaccines, but closure is due to "a significant drop in demand" over the past weeks.

After June 9, the Seattle Fire Department Mobile Vaccination Teams will focus on running vaccination pop-ups and in-school clinics throughout West Seattle.

“The West Seattle site has been important to the City’s overall strategy for providing testing and vaccine access in the fight against the pandemic; but now, vaccines are more readily available through pharmacies and medical clinics,” said Seattle Fire Department Acting Captain Brian Wallace.

“We have already seen a lot of success at reaching people through pop-ups at sporting events and through business partnerships. This shift allows us to invest more in these outreach efforts.”

The Lumen Field and Rainier Beach vaccination hub sites will remain open, and several pop-up vaccination clinics are still running throughout the city.

— Paige Browning, Noel Gasca

UW Medicine discovers two health factors that could relate to Covid mortality

3 p.m. — According to research from UW Medicine, there are two main signs of health that can predict mortality among those who test positive for Covid-19: resperation and blood oxygen levels.

UW Medicine says that these two factors can be monitored at home.

UW looked at more than 1,000 patients who were hospitalized with Covid-19 and concluded that "by the time some people with Covid-19 feel bad enough to come to the hospital, a window for early medical intervention might have passed."

“Initially, most patients with COVID don't have difficulty breathing. They can have quite low oxygen saturation and still be asymptomatic,” said cardiologist Dr. Nona Sotoodehnia. “If patients follow the current guidance, because they may not get short of breath until their blood oxygen is quite low, then we are missing a chance to intervene early with life-saving treatment.”

The survey found that despite having low blood oxygen levels or shallow breathing, few felt short of breath and were likely asymptomatic.

UW Medicine further says: "compared to those admitted with normal blood oxygen, hypoxemic patients had a mortality risk 1.8 to 4.0 times greater, depending on the patient’s blood oxygen levels. Similarly, compared to patients admitted with normal respiratory rates, those with tachypnea had a mortality risk 1.9 to 3.2 times greater. By contrast, other clinical signs at admission, including temperature, heart rate and blood pressure, were not associated with mortality."

— Dyer Oxley

Free bus rides to get a vaccine in Snohomish County

1 p.m. — Community Transit, which serves Snohomish County, is offering free bus rides to anyone traveling to get a Covid vaccine.

Riders simply have to state they are going to get a vaccine and do not have to show any documents or other proof.

“We want to help as many people as possible get the vaccine so that our community can enjoy a return to normal life with family and friends,” said Community Transit CEO Ric Ilgenfritz. “A free ride can make the difference for people who have not been able to get a vaccine before now.”

— Dyer Oxley

Last day for small businesses to apply for federal assistance funds

11 a.m. — Monday is the last day for restaurant owners to apply for assistance through the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund (organized through the U.S. Small Business Administration).

The $28 billion fund was established to help restaurants and others in the food and beverage industry try to weather the pandemic. The Small Business Association has received more than 300,000 applications nationally.

A report by the Washington Hospitality Association found that more than 2,300 restaurants closed across Washington state last year. Nearly half of those were in King County. The WHA believes that 80% of businesses that apply won't qualify because there isn't enough money to go around.

Some local restaurant advocacy groups want to see the fund replenished. Businesses who received funds will not have to repay them if they are used by March 11, 2023.

— Angela King

Washington's latest guidance on masks and businesses

10 a.m. — Workers in Washington state must attest to being vaccinated or show proof of vaccination before going mask-free at work, according to the latest order from Governor Jay Inslee.

A second gubernatorial proclamation prohibits employers from penalizing workers who take time off to get vaccinated or to recover from vaccine side effects.

Currently many employers require people arriving for work to do a temperature check or attest to not having Covid symptoms, or both. Now that we’re well into the vaccine stage of the pandemic, Governor Inslee is laying out new rules.

His latest Healthy Washington emergency proclamation says before an employee is allowed to work without a mask, they need to prove they’re vaccinated, or at least attest to being so. Furthermore, Inslee’s proclamation says employers can opt to require that all employees continue to mask-up regardless of vaccination status.

At the same time, Inslee is loosening mask requirements for everyday life by formally adopting CDC guidance that says if you’re fully vaccinated you’re not required to wear a mask except in certain settings like schools. Under the new guidance, businesses can adopt an honor system and assume that customers who aren’t wearing a mask have been vaccinated. Or they can continue to require masks for all guests.

— Austin Jenkins

Fully-vaccinated Amazon workers can go maskless

9 a.m. — Starting Monday, fully-vaccinated Amazon warehouse workers no longer have to wear masks indoors, except where required by law.

Amazon employees reportedly have to upload their vaccine information to an internal employee portal before they can go mask-free. Amazon will otherwise maintain its Covid-19 safety protocols, such as hand washing, hand sterilizing, and social distancing.

Other companies, such as Costco, Walmart, and Starbucks, are now following the newly-updated CDC mask guidelines for fully-vaccinated people.

— Angela King

UW Greek Row cases down, vaccination effort continues

8 a.m. — Remember the Covid outbreaks on the University of Washington's Greek Row last summer and fall? Cases are down now, thanks in large part to a successful vaccine rollout.

About three quarters of the university's fraternity residents are at least partially vaccinated.

Vinny Speziale is the Interfraternity council president. He says those who haven't gotten the vaccine yet have various reasons.

"A common one were parental concerns," Spziale said. "Some parents don't want their kids to get vaccinated. I would say they're slowly coming around. I think everyone will be getting vaccinated at some point, especially with the whole UW mandate."

The sororities' association president did not provide their vaccination rate but did say that it's "substantially high."

— Eilis O'Neill

Read previous updates here