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caption: Adam Pollard, a registered nurse with HealthPoint, draws out individual doses of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine from a vial on Thursday, January 7, 2021, at a drive-thru vaccine clinic for healthcare workers in Renton.
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Adam Pollard, a registered nurse with HealthPoint, draws out individual doses of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine from a vial on Thursday, January 7, 2021, at a drive-thru vaccine clinic for healthcare workers in Renton.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Pandemic updates for Seattle and the Northwest (January 3-11)

This post is archived. Read the latest here.

As of Saturday, January 9, the Washington State Department of Health reports:

  • 3,698 Covid-19 related deaths; 260,360 confirmed cases; 10,611 probable cases; and a 1.4% death rate among positive cases.
  • 15,415 people have been hospitalized with Covid-19 in Washington state. According to the most recent data and NPR's ICU monitor: King County has 69% of hospital beds taken, with 9% occupied by Covid-19 patients; Pierce County has 88% of beds taken, with 14% occupied by Covid-19 patients; and Snohomish County has 75% of beds taken with 22% occupied by Covid-19 patients.
  • Compared to white people and Asian people, the rate of Covid cases is nearly three times higher for Black people, and nearly seven times higher for Latino/x people and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders.

MONDAY, JANUARY 11

New coronavirus cases remain high throughout King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties

3:52 p.m. — The holidays are over, so people are wondering: Was there a post-Christmas surge in Covid-19 cases in King County?

County health officials cautiously say: It looks like there was not. That said, we don’t have all the numbers in yet. But, from what we do know, it looks like the number of new coronavirus cases we have in King County every day peaked in late November and early December, and has leveled off since then.

The problem is that, in King County, new cases are now holding steady at a very high number. There are more than twice as many new daily cases of the disease as there were during the spring or late summer peaks.

In Snohomish County, cases are as high as they ever were. And, in Pierce County, cases seem to be climbing again after a brief lull in late December.

Eilis O'Neill

Attorneys unable to reach Covid-positive inmates at SeaTac prison

3:47 p.m. — It was through an email sent on December 18, 2020 that defense attorney Sadé Smith found out that her client, José Escoto-Fiallos, had tested positive for Covid-19 for the second time since he got to the SeaTac Federal Detention Center in August — and the third time since the pandemic got underway.

By December 21, prison officials had reported a total of 124 active Covid cases among inmates and 16 among staff. Smith hasn’t been able to check in with Escota-Fiallos since learning he had Covid again; prison officials temporarily banned telecommunication for Covid-positive detainees, citing the risk of transmission for other inmates and staff.

But several defense attorneys with clients at the federal detention center in SeaTac maintain that the moratorium, which was in effect for at least two weeks, with Monday, January 4 cited as the earliest possible lift date, is a violation of detainees’ Sixth Amendment right to legal counsel.

It’s unclear whether the telecommunications embargo has been lifted yet for inmates who had active Covid cases as of December 21; the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which operates FDC SeaTac, has not responded to KUOW’s multiple requests for comment.

But defense attorneys say it’s their understanding that telecommunication access is restricted for all inmates who test Covid-positive for the duration of their quarantine period.

“One of the reasons why we can justify keeping people detained pretrial, before they are adjudicated, before a jury or a judge finds them guilty, is that we allow them to have access to counsel,” said attorney Emily Gause, who has seven clients being held at the SeaTac detention center, six of which have tested positive for Covid. “That's required by the bail Reform Act and that's not happening here.”

Read more here.

Liz Brazile

SUNDAY, JANUARY 10

Coronavirus: Numbers Rising In Nearly Every State; Capitol Siege Put Members At Risk

12:19 p.m. — Last summer, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Congress that if the U.S. didn't get the coronavirus outbreak under control, the country could see 100,000 new cases per day.

Six months later, the U.S. is adding, on average, more than 271,000 new cases per day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Over the past 24 hours, 3,700 new deaths were recorded.

That brings the total number of reported cases in the U.S. to more than 22 million since the start of the outbreak — with a death toll of 373,000.

And many members of Congress are now at heightened risk for contracting the coronavirus. When many House lawmakers sheltered in place in a committee hearing room as the pro-Trump mob attacked the Capitol last week, they may have been exposed to someone infected with the virus, Congress' attending physician, Brian Monahan, said in a letter to lawmakers Sunday.

"The time in this room was several hours for some and briefer for others. During this time, individuals may have been exposed to another occupant with coronavirus infection," read the email, obtained by NPR. "Please continue your usual daily coronavirus risk reduction measures (daily symptom inventory checklist, mask wear, and social distancing). Additionally, individuals should obtain an RT-PCR coronavirus test next week as a precaution."

Several Republican members of Congress refused to wear masks while sheltering with others Wednesday. Video shot from inside one room shows Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., offering blue surgical masks to six Republican lawmakers. They all declined. It's unclear if those unmasked Republicans were in the same room as the one referenced by the attending physician.

Read more here.

NPR

FRIDAY, JANUARY 8

Seattle Schools superintendent calls for accelerated immunization timeline for staff slated to return to buildings

3:53 p.m. — In a letter sent today to Washington Governor Jay Inslee and top state and local health officials, Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau called for Covid vaccination priority for school staff who are tentatively scheduled to return to buildings March 1st.

That's the date the district aims to bring back students in pre-K through 1st grade and many special education students for in-person learning.

Currently, K-12 staff ages 50 and over are in vaccine priority B2, and projected to receive their vaccinations in February. Most other staff would not receive their vaccines until group B4, which the state predicts will be in April.

"It does not make sense to have an age limit of 'over 50' for educational professionals," Juneau wrote in the letter.

"Prioritizing vaccinations for public educators and critical support staff will send a strong message of the state’s commitment to public education and care for our public educators in a time when so much is uncertain," Juneau wrote.

Governor Inslee's press secretary Mike Faulk said that the governor's office had just received the letter and had not had time to review and discuss it, but that the state is " absolutely open" to suggestions about vaccine distribution.

"The bottom line is that we had to balance anticipated vaccine supply with many, many risk groups," Faulk said, but "we recognize we may need to make adjustments along the way."

Faulk said the Department of Health is primarily responsible for collecting stakeholder input, and will make any changes "based on ongoing feedback, along with info on vaccine supply, uptake, clinical data, outbreak data, etc."

Some school staff in Seattle and other area districts have said that they will not return to buildings until they are vaccinated, and have questioned why Governor Inslee urged schools to begin reopening as soon as possible without giving school staff vaccine priority.

Two UW doctors enter debate of splitting up vaccine doses

2:24 p.m. — A recent debate over coronavirus vaccines has been over whether or not the required two doses should be split up as a means of stretching it further. Two University of Washington professors and doctors have entered that debate and argue in favor of giving just one dose to get it out faster to more people.

In a recent blog post, Dr. Ruanne Barnabas, associate UW professor of global health, and Dr. Anna Wald, professor of epidemiology and laboratory medicine and pathology lay out their argument.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots, taken weeks apart, to obtain more than 90% immunity. But Barnabas and Wald say that just one shot will likely provide more than 50% immunity and is "substantial efficacy." They argue this will reach more people in a faster timeframe. They also note that the FDA's initial requirement for a vaccine was 50%.

"A single-dose SARS-CoV-2 vaccine approach deals directly with the shortage of vaccines by vaccinating twice the number of people while maximizing the probability of achieving herd immunity,” they say.

“We agree that the 2-dose regimen in the initial clinical trials was preferable as the possibility for protection after immunization had to be demonstrated. However, public health bodies have flexibility in their authority to recommend and implement a vaccination program that does not stringently reflect the product label.”

The two UW doctors recently published their opinion in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Read it here.

Not every expert agrees with this assessment, however. Washington Health Secretary Umair Shah is one such voice who disagrees.

"The second piece of this is that the trials that were done, the clinical trials for both Moderna and Pfizer that showed for Pfizer 95% efficacy or effectiveness and 94% for the Moderna vaccine, those both were with the understanding of two doses," Shah said.

Shah says he could change his mind if new information comes to light. But he currently favors the full two doses, especially has new, more infectious variants of the coronavirus spread throughout the United States.

— Dyer Oxley

King County to set up 2 high-volume vaccination sites

2 p.m. — King County officials plan to open two high-volume vaccination sites in South King County on February 1.

The county is launching the effort to make sure people who aren’t well-connected to the health care system will get their coronavirus vaccines as they become eligible.

King County Executive Dow Constantine also says this is the county’s effort to pick up the slack from a lacking federal government response.

"The vaccination rollout overseen by this administration is sadly consistent with the general incompetence and lack of discipline with which it has handled all of the pandemic," Constantine said. "It’s up to us to make this work."

The vaccination sites would be set up similar to existing Covid-19 testing sites. County officials say their end goal is to reach herd immunity by vaccinating 70% of the county's residents by June.

The county aims to work with employers and community centers to establish pop-up vaccination clinics. And they’ll be deploying mobile units to vaccinate homebound seniors and those in adult family homes and homeless shelters.

What the county doesn’t know is how many people per week they’ll be able to vaccinate through these efforts, or how they’ll ensure that the permanent and pop-up sites run smoothly.

During a Friday briefing, King County officials also said that based on current vaccine allocations, they don't expect to finish vaccinating health care workers and long term care facilities until February. Allocation may be quicker in other parts of the state.

— Eilis O'Neill

Alaska bans 14 for not wearing masks, "rowdy" behavior on flight from DC

1:20 p.m. — Alaska Airlines has banned 14 people after they reportedly caused a disruption on a flight out of Dulles International Airport, near Washington DC.

An Alaska Airlines spokesperson tells KUOW that the crowd refused to wear masks in accordance with the airline's policy during the ongoing pandemic. They were "rowdy, argumentative and harassed our crew members."

The 14 passengers will not be allowed on Alaska flights in the future.

This adds to the total number of people who Alaska has banned since it started its mask requirement in August 2020, now totaling 302 people.

According to Alaska Airlines:

“Last night, a number of passengers on board Alaska Airlines Flight 1085 from Washington Dulles to Seattle were non-mask compliant, rowdy, argumentative and harassed our crew members. Their behavior was unacceptable. Because of their actions and non-compliance, we have banned 14 of those passengers from future travel with us. We apologize to our other guests who were made uncomfortable on the flight. We will not tolerate any disturbance on board our aircraft or at any of the airports we serve. We’re thankful and appreciative of the efforts of our dedicated crew members who are committed each day to keeping travel safe and respectful."

— Dyer Oxley

Lake Washington schools announce plan to bring students back to class

11:30 a.m. — The Lake Washington School District has announced a phased plan for returning students to the classroom.

Part-time, in-person learning for Kindergarteners and first graders will start Feb 4. Then second and third graders can return two weeks after that.

Middle and high schoolers are expected to get back into the classroom by March.

Families can chose whether to send their students back to school or have them continue with remote learning.

— Angela King

Negative Covid-19 test now required to fly to Canada

11 a.m. — You'll now need proof of a negative Covid-19 test if you want to fly to Canada. The test must be done within 72 hours of your flight. And you'll still have to quarantine for 14 days even if you test negative.

— Angela King

State committee says dentists should be allowed to administer coronavirus vaccines

10 a.m. — The Dental Quality Assurance Commission voted last month to give dentists that authority.

But Thursday, it added language that requires them to get hands-on training from a medical professional before they can actually inoculate patients. Vancouver, Washington dentist Dr. David Carsten agrees with that decision.

"As long as people have that hands-on training and are doing it competently, I don’t have a problem with it," Dr. Carsten said. "I just don’t want to see any dentist cause a permanent injury to a person. That’s completely avoidable."

— Derek Wang

Seattle plans for vaccine distribution system

9 a.m. — Despite the availability of two coronavirus vaccines in Washington state, lots of people are wondering when they will have the opportunity to be vaccinated.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan says her administration has aggressive goals.

"We hope to be able to set up a system very similar to our testing for the city of Seattle," Durkan said. "I want the city of Seattle to reach the necessary number of vaccinations faster than any city in the country."

Durkan says she's working with public health officials to set up a system where people can get vaccinated easily and quickly at no charge.

As of Wednesday, 522,000 vaccine doses had been delivered to Washington state; 126,000 of them had been administered.

High-risk health care workers and those in long-term care facilities are being vaccinated now. People 70 and older, and those 50 and older in multigenerational homes will receive priority later this month.

— John O'Brien

Covid death at Renton hotel shelter

8 a.m. — There's been a Covid-19 death at a hotel being used to house those experiencing homelessness.

The person was staying at the Red Lion in Renton where King County has been housing more than 200 people to keep them from crowding into shelters during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, an outbreak there has sickened more than 30 people since mid-December.

The Seattle Times reports that officials have been performing routine Covid tests among those staying there and there's not been a positive case since Dec 28.

The Renton City Council recently passed a mandate stating that the hotel/shelter be vacated in June 2021.

— Angela King

THURSDAY, JANUARY 7

Got allergies? Doctors say you should still get a vaccine

2 p.m. — One concern with the new coronavirus vaccines has been the potential for allergic reactions to the shot. People who get the vaccine are monitored for 15 minutes after getting a dose just to make sure they are OK.

Dr. Shireesha Dhanireddy, medical director for the infectious disease clinic at Harborview says now there is data on vaccine responses and there have been very few negative reactions.

“So the vast majority of people should not be concerned even if they have a history of allergies to oral medications or food," Dr. Dhanireddy said. "We still strongly encouraging those individuals to get vaccines.”

Dr. Dhanireddy says that even people who have allergic reactions to certain foods or medications should still consider getting a vaccine shot.

The CDC reports that of the 1.89 million doses administered in the United States, only 21 people have had an allergic reaction (anaphylactic shock), of which 20 recovered.

“The chance of dying if you take penicillin is much higher, and few worry about getting an antibiotic in this country,” said Dr. Doug Paauw with UW Medicine.

store/469eff74d1de0dd542c367646d726002_mp4-thumb-00001.png Video Icon 2 mins
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Dr. Shireesha Dhanireddy discussed allergies and other aspects of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Credit: UW Medicine

— Dyer Oxley

Immune system remembers the coronavirus after mild cases

Noon — Researchers at UW Medicine have uncovered new knowledge of the coronavirus that could prove valuable in the larger fight against the pandemic.

Studying blood samples of people with mild cases of Covid-19, UW Medicine discovered they had "an immune memory response." Essentially, their immune systems remembered the virus after overcoming it. That's good news.

During and after an infection, antibody cells usually die. But having a "immune memory response" means the body keeps the immune remedy on file, so to speak, and is more prepared for a future infection — even after a mild case.

What isn't known just yet is how long this immune memory will last. That information will be very helpful when considering how long vaccines can potentially work.

The full results of the study were recently published in the journal Cell.

— Dyer Oxley

State plans for next group of vaccinations

8 a.m. — The Washington State Department of Health has unveiled plans for the next phase of its Covid-19 vaccine rollout.

Having already gone through group 1A, the state is planning for group 1B. This second group will be divided into four tiers.

Group 1B includes those over 70, who will possibly get their shots by the end of the month. Next in line are vulnerable essential workers like teachers and bus drivers 50 and older, followed by those 16 and older with underlying health conditions. And the last group includes high-risk critical workers of any age, and those who live in homeless shelters, correction facilities and group homes.

— Angela King

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 6

2nd inmate dies from Covid-19 at Washington Penitentiary

1 p.m. — A second person imprisoned at the Washington State Penitentiary has died from complications of Covid-19.

The Department of Corrections says the inmate died on New Year's Eve at a local healthcare facility.

— Angela King

UW taking volunteers for Novavax trail vaccine

Noon — People in the Seattle area are now signing up to try out one of the latest vaccine candidates, developed by Novavax.

This vaccine from Novavax is in phase-three trials, and UW is one of the host sites.

UW Doctor Anna Wald says even though two vaccines are already authorized in the United States, the wait is long and they are both the same type — mRNA.

"Well, there's seven billion people in the world and we need to vaccinate them all," Wald said. "So even if the mRNA vaccines could be transported everywhere, which it's not clear that they can, I don't think they can sufficiently produce enough in a very short period of time."

Unlike the other two vaccines, Wald says the Novavax version would not need ultracold storage. Wald also says since a small number of people have had allergic reactions to the Pfizer vaccine, that's another reason a third option is important.

The UW trial is open to adults, ideally who are frontline workers or age 65 and older.

Meanwhile, UW Medicine has already vaccinated 13,000 people with the authorized vaccines.

— Paige Browning

Washington health secretary discourages changing vaccine dose

10 a.m. — Washington Health Secretary Umair Shah says he’s not in favor of Covid vaccinators changing the dose or skipping out on the second shot.

Those measures have been suggested as a way to get some protection to more people in a faster manner.

Shah says he might change his mind if new information about the vaccines becomes known, but for now, the main focus should be to get as much vaccine as possible to local health care providers.

"The second piece of this is that the trials that were done, the clinical trials for both Moderna and Pfizer that showed for Pfizer 95% efficacy or effectiveness and 94% for the Moderna vaccine, those both were with the understanding of two doses," Shah said.

Shah says he wants to make sure people get the full vaccine protection, especially with new variants of this coronavirus being discovered.

Shah says Washington health officials are looking for evidence that it now has a presence in this state. So far, he says, there is no evidence of that. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee wouldn’t speculate about whether new protective measures would be taken if that new strain makes an appearance in Washington.

— Kim Shepard

Mercer Island brings kindergarteners back to class

9 a.m. — Many kindergarteners in Mercer Island will be going to school Wednesday for the first time in months.

The district is reopening to kindergarten students half-day, with afternoon classes online. They hope to bring first graders back in two weeks.

In Seattle, the district is asking families of kindergarten, first grade students, and many kids who receive special education services whether they will attend in-person classes when schools reopen.

In Seattle, the target date is March 1, with an online option for families not ready to return.

A lot remains to be done for Seattle Public Schools to reopen, however, including HVAC upgrades, hiring more custodians, and figuring out transportation plans.

The district also needs to come to an agreement with its teachers’ union, which has voiced concerns about the district’s readiness to reopen safely.

— Derek Wang

TUESDAY, JANUARY 5

Inslee announces new WA reopening plan, ditches county-by-county phases for regional approach

2:40 p.m. — Restaurants and gyms in Washington could start to reopen next week, once current restrictions expire — but there’s no guarantee.

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee on Tuesday announced a new, region-by-region reopening plan set to take effect on Monday, January 11.

The plan, dubbed "Healthy Washington," consists of two phases. Each region will be in phase one come Monday, and will be advanced to the next phase — without having to apply — based on Covid-19 case and hospitalization data routinely collected by the state Department of Health.

"We've learned a lot about Covid in this pandemic, and we are adjusting to it as we go, using the latest scientific information," Inslee said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

When each region enters phase one next week, gyms will be permitted to resume appointment-based fitness training, with no more than one client per room or within 500 square feet for larger facilities.

The first phase of the plan also opens the door to resuming live entertainment outdoors, with attendance limited to ticketed groups of 10 or less and a maximum of two households. That includes zoo attendance, along with outdoor concert and theater programs.

Phase one does not, however, permit indoor dining or gatherings to any extent. A lot has to go right for restaurants and gyms to resume indoor service at 25% capacity in phase two.

Under the new rules, it’s a four-part test: A 10% decrease in positive Covid rates over a two-week period, a 10% decrease in Covid hospital admissions, a positive Covid test rate of less than 10%, and an intensive care unit occupancy rate that’s less than 90% — that's for both Covid and non-Covid patients.

The state’s new Secretary of Health Dr. Umair explained why the state adopted a regional approach.

"We know that our lives are interconnected, that travel patterns and activity patterns are not just about what happens in one community or one county," he said, adding that regions must meet all four metrics in order to move from phase one to phase two.

However, once advanced to phase two, a region need only maintain three out of four criteria in order to remain there.

Some see the new reopening plan as a day late and a dollar short.

“This new plan is intended to offer a road map for reopening the economy, but it’s an incomplete map at best with a destination that remains out of reach for too many small businesses struggling to survive the pandemic," said Kris Johnson, president of the Washington Association of Business in an email statement.

Read more here.

Austin Jenkins & Liz Brazile

First sheriff's deputy in Washington dies of Covid-19

11:20 a.m. — A central Washington sheriff’s deputy has died from pneumonia and Covid-19, according to the Grant County Coroner's office.

Jon Melvin, 60, was found dead in bed on December 11 after family members were unable to reach him. He was found when fellow deputies went to his Desert Aire home in southwest Grant County to check on his welfare.

This marks the first sheriff’s deputy in Washington state to die of Covid-19. Although nearly a half-dozen other officers have died of the virus: two state corrections officers, another corrections officer from Yakima County, a police officer from Bainbridge Island, and a federal officer.

Grant County Deputy Melvin had served over 35 years in law enforcement.

In Seattle, the most recent pandemic count is:

  • Seattle Police Department employees in quarantine or isolation: 13
  • SPD employees who have returned to work: 956
  • SPD employees who have tested positive for Covid-19: 44
  • SPD employees who have tested negative for Covid-19: 529

— Anna King

Hospital bed capacity up in Washington state

11 a.m. — The latest data from Washington shows more than 80% of both regular and ICU hospital beds across the state are full right now.

And of those, between 13-21 percent are filled with Covid-19 patients.

While the capacity numbers may seem high, Cassie Sauer, CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association, says things are almost always this full around this time of year. She also says she's not panicked about the current situation, but they will be monitoring it closely.

Hospital bed capacity also depends on the county in Washington state. According to NPR's ICU monitor, King County's beds are 69% filled, with 9% being Covid-19 patients. Snohomish County is at 75%, with 22% filled with Covid patients.

But over in rural Pend Oreille County, 85% of its hospital beds are taken up, with 40% being Covid patients. Yakima County also faces higher levels with 78% of beds taken; and 29% being Covid patients.

— Angela King, Dyer Oxley

Health officials struggle with distributing vaccine in Washington

10 a.m. — Seattle area health officials are scrambling to get the coronavirus vaccines out to hospitals and health facilities in Washington state. That's the latest from Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health Seattle & King County.

About 90,000 people statewide have had the first vaccine shot, but Washington state has received nearly 400,000 doses so far.

Duchin says the problem is still the distribution of the vials.

"Although Operation Warp Speed did a tremendous job in getting us two Cadillac vaccines, there was not a close to adequate investment made in delivering those vaccines across the country," he said. "And so we've been scrambling as a local health department to get vaccines to all the local health providers who need them."

But Dr. Duchin says King County is seeing some progress as it continues to build out a system to get the vaccines to the people who need it.

— Paige Browning

Who is eligible to get a vaccine?

9 a.m. — There's a new online tool available for people in Washington who want to find out when they might be eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine.

It's called Phase Finder, and after you answer a few questions it will let you know if you can get the vaccine currently.

If not, you can chose to be notified when you are eligible. Your contact information will remain private.

Washington has adopted a phased approach to distributing the vaccine. Group 1A was first up and included front line workers such as doctors and nurses. A second group, 1B, has not been identified yet. The next phases are expected to include others working among the public, such as grocery store workers.

Check the Phase Finder here.

— Angela King

Health officials planning for vaccine group 1B

8 a.m. — This could be the week we find out who will be included in the next group of people eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine.

The so-called "1B group" is widely expected to include older people, especially those with underlying health conditions.

Meanwhile, the latest numbers from the state health department show that only about 20% of the vaccines delivered to Washington state have been administered.

And the Washington State Hospital Association says hospitals like Ferry County memorial in Republic has 500 doses sitting in a freezer. Officials there say they're waiting for the go-ahead for the next phase, 1B, before administering them.

— Angela King

MONDAY, JANUARY 4

Hospital outbreak sickens 30 patients

11 a.m. — A coronavirus outbreak at a hospital in Vancouver, Washington has now sickened 30 patients over the past week.

PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center says none of the patients had the virus before they were admitted.

But now they, and six workers who cared for them, have tested positive for the virus.

The hospital says a total of 86 workers there are now in self-quarantine because of the outbreak. Officials are trying to figure out how it started.

The facility's medical officer says their infection specialists are conducting a review to understand the root cause of the outbreak. Clark County Public Health and PeaceHealth are notifying potentially exposed patients.

— Angela King

Vaccine side effects? There's an app for that

10 a.m. — The federal government is tracking the health of people who've received their coronavirus vaccine shots.

Dr. Francis Riedo from Evergreen Health in Kirkland says the Centers for Disease Control’s V-Safe program uses a smart phone app to communicate with vaccine recipients.

"It sends you a little reminder every day to document your side effects. In effect, the Centers for Disease Control is trying to crowdsource millions of peoples’ true responses to the vaccine to get a good sense of the side effects," Dr. Riedo said.

Riedo says the feedback will allow the CDC to adjust the guidance it gives to those who administer the shots.

People who receive the shots can go to the CDC website to sign up for V-Safe. They’ll be asked for their names and contact information, and let the agency know the vaccine they received and when.

— Angela King

Upcoming legislative session to pickup with pandemic relief

9 a.m. — Washington’s 2021 legislative session starts January 11. Lawmakers will pick up largely where they left off last March – addressing the coronavirus pandemic.

But this long session to set the state’s two-year state budget will also feature fewer bills than usual. Topics that pass will deal mostly with pandemic relief, climate issues, and topics around racial justice and police accountability.

House Democrats told their members to "limit yourself to seven bills "and don't try to introduce and push bills "that are not teed up, ready to go, have a lot of support." You know, if they're controversial, if they can wait a year and they're not urgently needed, the message to the house Democrats from their leadership was wait a year.

Aside from the substance of bills, the session will also look different, with much of the work – and voting – being done remotely.

— Austin Jenkins

The new coronavirus variant is on its way to Washington

8 a.m. — Health officials are sounding the alarm that the new mutation of the coronavirus is spreading in the United States. Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, public health officer for Public Health Seattle & King County, is among them and warns the region to be on guard — expect the newer version of the virus to show up in Washington state.

Health experts say that the new variant of the coronavirus, that was initially detected in the United Kingdom, is far more contagious than the original. It spreads much more quickly. That has officials worried as the coronavirus is already spreading rapidly through the United States with the highest levels of the pandemic yet.

The CDC states that information on the mutation is "rapidly changing" and that "at this time, there is no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness or increased risk of death."

At the national level, Dr. Anthony Fauci recently said that the new variant "does not appear to be more virulent, namely making people sicker or greater incidence of dying. Nor does it seem to elude the protection that's offered by the antibodies that are induced by the vaccine."

The coronavirus mutation arrives as the United States is falling behind vaccination goals. The federal government aimed to have 20 million people vaccinated by the end of December. So far, 4.2 million have gotten the shot.

— Dyer Oxley

SUNDAY, JANUARY 3, 2021

Pregnant women and the coronavirus vaccine

Noon — Doctors with UW Medicine are addressing one major concern surrounding the new coronavirus vaccines: Should pregnant women get it?

The short answer is: Talk with your doctor.

Dr. Linda Eckert has a longer answer.

She's a UW Medicine obstetrician and gynecologist as well as an infectious disease expert. In a recent blog post, she goes through the thought process around vaccine considerations. Health experts know the risks associated with Covid-19 for pregnant women. They generally get more sick and have a greater likelihood of needing heart and lung support and a ventilator in the ICU.

Dr. Eckert adds that while no pregnant women were part of vaccine trials, there is some data on animal tests, which she says are "reassuring."

“If I were talking to my own patient, I’d be listening to that patient and trying to assess how she was feeling about the risk of acquiring Covid versus the concerns about the vaccine,” Dr. Eckert said in the blog post. “But overall, especially if she had significant medical risk factors, I would be saying, 'I think this vaccine could be a really good idea for you because we absolutely know how dangerous Covid can be for pregnant individuals.'”

UW Medicine is starting to look into pregnant women's experiences with the vaccines, as well as lactating mothers. More than 4,500 have signed up to participate, so far.

Read more of Dr. Eckert's comments on the issue here.

— Dyer Oxley

UW Medicine begins studying new coronavirus vaccine

11 a.m. — UW Medicine is now enrolling volunteers for a clinical trial of the Novavax vaccine. The phase 3 trial aims to include up to 1,000 local volunteers.

For this vaccine, UW Medicine wants to enroll more volunteers from underserved and disproportionately impacted communities.

“It is important that we provide equitable access to the trial for people from the communities that have been hardest hit by Covid-19, particularly the Latinx, Black and Native American communities,” said Dr. Scott McClelland, professor of medicine, epidemiology and global health, who is the principal investigator at UW Medicine.

“And because seniors are particularly at risk of serious infections, we aim to make sure at least a quarter of enrollees are age 65 or older.”

Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that are currently being distributed (which uses messenger RNA technology), UW Medicine notes that the Novavax candidate uses methods that have already been used for many years to produce vaccines.

— Dyer Oxley

A way to make PPE last longer: methylene blue

10 a.m. — Having adequate supplies of PPE has been a challenge during the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, researchers at UW Medicine have identified a way to make these limited supplies last longer.

With just a dash of methylene blue, add a little sunlight, the coronavirus can be inactivated on a facemask, including the important N95 masks that frontline workers use.

According to UW Medicine, methylene blue was originally invented in 1876 as a textile dye, but it has since evolved into use as a topical sanitizer when exposed to light. It is also used to sterilize blood plasma for transfusion.

The news gets better. After treating a mask with methylene blue once, it can continue to disinfect the mask against coronavirus for up to week with only exposure to indoor lighting.

The discovery has the potential to make these limited supplies last even longer. The chemical is not rare and commonly found across the globe.

“This is a valuable tool to health-care workers in low or medium-income countries, who don’t have access to either refrigeration or highly technical means of sterilization,” said Dr. Thomas Lendvay, lead author of the study, and a UW Medicine urologist as well as a pediatric urologist with Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Read more about the study on sanitizing PPE here.

— Dyer Oxley

Melatonin correlates with fewer positive Covid-19 tests

9 a.m. — Ever since the pandemic struck in the United States, researchers have tested common over-the counter remedies and vitamins — such as vitamin D or Zinc — with the hope they offer some help fighting the coronavirus. Add the common sleep aid melatonin to that list.

KIRO 7 reports that researchers in Ohio have found a correlation (not a causation) between melatonin use and Covid-19 negative tests. Researchers found that people who report using melatonin are 28% less likely to test positive for Covid-19.

The correlation is more prominent among Black patients, as the study states "Importantly, melatonin usage is associated with a 52% reduced likelihood of a positive laboratory test result for SARS-CoV-2 in African Americans."

Researchers are not sure what is behind this correlation. What is known is that aside from sleep, melatonin may help with immune system support and reduce inflammation.

Read more about the study here.

— Dyer Oxley

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2020

Department of Corrections distributing Covid-19 vaccines to some staff and inmates

4 p.m. — The Washington state Department of Corrections has begun vaccinating inmates and staff who fall within the priority category of Phase 1A — those considered most vulnerable and likely to contract the virus.

Under Phase 1A guidelines, staff who work with geriatric inmates and staff caring for and working near Covid-positive inmates qualify for the vaccine. Geriatric inmates with chronic medical needs also qualify.

On Dec. 28, some staff who qualified at the Airway Heights Corrections Center — where 1,430 inmates have contracted the coronavirus — began receiving vaccinations, according to the department of corrections.

However, staff and inmates are not required to get the vaccine when it’s offered to them, corrections officials said. If they later change their mind, they will receive the vaccine as long as there’s supply available.

The department of corrections said they anticipate receiving enough vaccine doses for every staff member and inmate who meets the Phase 1A priority criteria, and additional doses are expected in the coming weeks.

— Ashley Hiruko

Inslee extends statewide business restrictions until January 11

11:15 a.m. — Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee announced that current Covid-19 business restrictions, which were previously set to expire on January 4, 2021, have been extended by a week until 11:59 p.m. on January 11.

The extension of the proclamation does not include any additional changes.

—KUOW Staff


Read previous updates here