Coronavirus pandemic updates for Seattle and the Northwest (November 23-25)
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As of Wednesday, November 25, the Washington State Department of Health reports:
- 2,702 Covid-19 related deaths; 153,906 confirmed cases; a 1.8% 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.
With more Covid cases ahead, hospitals figure out how to free up staff
5:15 p.m. — Hospitals in Washington state are starting to worry they could run out of nurses and respiratory therapists given this third wave of coronavirus.
That’s why many hospitals are starting to reschedule any surgeries that can safely wait. Others are retraining some staff to cover needs as they arise.
Kathy Lofy, Washington’s health officer, says the state is allowing hospitals to make their own decisions about how to free up staff.
“We could consider changing some of the scope of practice for some practitioners,” she said, so they may do “potentially more than they are normally able to do.”
The number of people hospitalized for Covid-19 is increasing across the state, so Lofy says it would be difficult to move patients from one region to another, because no region has much extra capacity.
Covid vaccines start next month in Washington state. Regular shipments start at new year
5 p.m. — The first people in Washington state will likely start getting Covid vaccines next month.
High-risk healthcare workers will be first in line. The state expects to receive about 60,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in mid-December, as long as the FDA approves it for emergency use.
That’s enough for only a fraction of Washington’s health care workers.
The state expects to receive 200,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of December, and expects regular shipments to begin in January.
State officials say they’ll know in early December how many doses of the separate Moderna vaccine to expect, and when they’ll arrive – enough doses for 30,000 of the state’s health care workers, or about one in every eight health care workers in the state.
The Pfizer vaccine does need to be kept very cold (-94 degrees Fahrenheit), but Pfizer will ship the doses in a container that keeps them cold for about two weeks, so even facilities that don’t have ultra-cold storage capacity will be able to receive and administer vaccines.
Where are people getting Covid? Here are the most common places in King County
12:15 p.m. — Covid is everywhere, says a recent report from Seattle - King County Public Health.
This marks a shift from the beginning of the pandemic, when outbreaks were primarily at nursing homes and in health care facilities. But nine months in, where you are most likely to contract the virus depends on your age, your race, and which part of the county you call home.
Public Health – Seattle & King County published a report today detailing where most of the 37,482 people who have had a confirmed case of Covid-19 probably contracted the illness in the county, as of November 20.
'Steady and alarming' loss of public health officers in NW, across U.S.
Noon -- The loss of top public health officers across the country is “steady and alarming," according to the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
More than 60 have been fired or left their posts since the pandemic began in the United States. In Spokane County people protested outside the home of health officer Dr. Bob Lutz. He was recently fired by the county board of health.
In Okanogan County, Lauri Jones has been doing public health for 17 years. But after repeated threats to her safety, she just got a new security system for her home. She’s not leaving her post as the community health director. But her colleague Dr. John McCarthy is, in December. He says the workload has become too heavy.
Health care workers across the nation are being fired or leaving at an alarming rate since the pandemic began, says Lori Freeman. She heads the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
“Some of our public health officials have been physically threatened, politically scapegoating, they have been embarrassed, their roles have been diminished, their authorities have been in some cases taken away. And this is very hard for them because they’re simply just trying to do their jobs," Freeman said.
Freeman says the outsized workload hasn’t let up since February. And for years before the pandemic, health officials have said they were underfunded, with staff cut to the minimum.
Officials considering loosening school guidelines
11 a.m. -- State officials are considering loosening some guidelines around students returning to the classroom, The Seattle Times reports.
Right now, the state health department says districts should stick with remote learning if their counties have had more than 75 coronavirus cases per every 100,000 people over two weeks.
But the paper says health officials presented a plan to Governor Jay Inslee earlier this month that would let districts resume some in person learning with as many as to 200 cases per 100,000 people.
The proposed updates are still being reviewed.
Grocery store workers want pandemic precautions, pay to return
10 a.m. -- People working in grocery stores around Seattle want more protections as cases of Covid-19 continue to rise throughout the state.
At the beginning of the pandemic, stores like QFC and Fred Meyer sanitized their carts for customers. They had one-way aisles for social distancing. And they paid their employees hazard pay for potential exposure to Covid-19.
None of that is happening any more.
"They called us heroes," said Sam Dancy who has worked at Westwood Village QFC for 30 years. "Well, I guess we're no longer heroes. We're zeros now because they don't treat us that way."
He and other employees want the safety measures back along with more staffing and $2 more per hour for hazard pay.
"Rolling back some of the things they're doing now is almost insinuating that the pandemic has left. Well, it hasn't left. It's gotten greater," Dancy said.
Kroger, which owns Fred Meyer and QFC, recently gave employees $100 in store credit.
More pleas for people to stop gathering, especially around the holidays
9 a.m. -- Washington Governor Jay Inslee is once again urging people to celebrate Thanksgiving virtually.
During a Tuesday news conference, he displayed a chart showing the state is approaching 300 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people.
"We’ve had more than 6,000 cases that have been reported in just the last three days. And as the accompanying graph would indicate, we have almost a vertical curve on how fast this pandemic is moving upwards."
Inslee calls the situation “stunning” and “alarming.”
He also played a new public health TV ad which shows people on ventilators after they attended game night, a birthday party, and a holiday meal.
“Wear a mask, stay six feet apart and don’t host gatherings, even in your own home. Protect the people you love," the ad states.
Inslee recently ordered restaurants to stop providing indoor service and other businesses like gyms and bowling alleys to close for at least a month.
Renton leaders looking to oust hotel shelter
8 a.m. -- Lawmakers in Renton could vote as soon as next week on a zoning proposal that would limit where certain shelters can be. A Renton hotel continues to house about 200 homeless people because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Now Renton lawmakers are looking to change that.
They could vote as soon as next week on a zoning proposal to limit where shelters can be located .
King County, which is leasing the hotel, plans to keep it a shelter for now.
"Renton has for some time been asking us for a drop dead date when we're going to move everybody out, and absent alternatives, we're going to need to continue to house people in that hotel," said King County Executive Dow Constantine.
The county moved people from a communal shelter into the Red Lion hotel early on in the pandemic so they'd have a place to isolate themselves.
Constantine says there have been virtually no Covid-19 cases among these residents.
Washington's new daily high record for Covid-19 cases
7:30 a.m. -- Washington state just shattered its daily record for new coronavirus cases.
The health department confirmed nearly 3,500 new Covid-19 cases Tuesday, and 35 new deaths.
The previous record high of 2,600 new daily cases was set just last week on November 17.
State Democrats want federal aid, Republicans want special session
7 a.m. -- Washington’s legislative session is just around the corner. It starts in January and majority Democrats say they’re gearing up to take quick action to address the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.
But Speaker of the House Laurie Jinkins also says the state needs another federal bailout package.
"There is just no way without federal help that we are going to be able to do everything that is going to need to be done for the people of the state of Washington," Jinkins said. "And I continue to hope and we will continue to work with our federal delegation to try and get action to be taken back in the other Washington."
Jinkins and other Democratic leaders say they don’t see the need for a special session of the Legislature before January. But minority Republicans have been calling for one for months. They have recently renewed those calls with the aim of producing some assistance amid pandemic shutdowns.
-- Derek Wang
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 24
Washington braces for Covid-19 surge in wake of holiday
Noon -- Washington's hospitals are bracing for the coronavirus surge to get worse, especially if people go against public health warnings and hold indoor gatherings this week.
Washington's hospitals are currently not at capacity. There are nearly 800 people hospitalized in the state with either confirmed or suspected Covid-19 cases. That's about 6% of all available hospital beds. The state of Washington's goal is to keep that number below 10%.
One goal the state is not meeting is the number of people who are Covid positive. Statewide, about 333 of every 100,000 people have Covid. Health officials say to control the virus that needs to be less than 25 per 100,000.
-- Paige Browning
61% drop in holiday traffic at Sea-Tac Airport
11:45 a.m. -- The number of passengers flying through Sea-Tac Airport this Thanksgiving week is expected to be 61% less than last year.
Still, roughly 24,000 passengers are expected to depart from Sea-Tac each day, over the next three days.
That's more than have been flying in the early months of November, but significantly below the normal holiday rush of travelers.
Port of Seattle officials say masks and physical distancing are mandated.
More than 50 businesses remain open at the airport, including bookstores, restaurants, and pubs, many with limited hours.
-- Paige Browning
Washington hospitality industry asks lawmakers for more help
10 a.m. -- The Washington Hospitality Association says the latest Covid-related restrictions will cost restaurants and the industry about $800 million in labor and hard losses.
The group's CEO, Anthony Anton, says About 35% of the state’s hospitality businesses have closed permanently since the pandemic began.
The Washington Hospitality Association is asking state lawmakers to come up with a plan to support the industry before they convene for the next legislative session in January.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee also recently announced $135 million in aid to businesses during this time. But industry officials like Anton say they are grateful for the new assistance, but warn that it won't be enough.
Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, a business owner and hotel operator, says one idea is to suspend business and operating taxes.
"Lessening these taxes that are hitting us repeatedly, or any sort of a program that would help us with the cost of operating of our companies even when there’s no customer base," Mosbrucker said.
Some lawmakers have started talking about what's going on. But they say Congress and the White House need to step up as well.
-- Ruby de Luna, Angela King
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 23
Third Washington state inmate dies of Covid-19
10:30 a.m. — A third inmate held within a Washington state prison has died after contracting Covid-19. The Washington State Department of Corrections reported over the weekend that Michael Cornethan, 62, was taken to a medical facility for treatment on Nov. 20. He died one day later.
Within state prison walls, the number of coronavirus cases has continued to climb. The Washington State Penitentiary, where Cornethan was held, has had 217 confirmed coronavirus cases so far, according to the department of corrections.
Just one county north of the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla County, the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center has had 292 total confirmed coronavirus cases, and two inmate deaths as a result of Covid-19.
“The health and safety of the incarcerated individuals under our jurisdiction, our staff and the community remains our top priority,” said Corrections Secretary Stephen Sinclair, in a press release.
Cornethan was serving a life sentence without parole after he was convicted of aggravated murder out of King County. He had been within the state prison system since May of 1983.
He was most recently housed in long-term medium custody at the Washington State Penitentiary. The inmates within medium security units at the prison are currently on quarantine.
-- Ashley Hiruko
King County jury trials suspended
9:30 a.m. -- For the second time since the novel coronavirus spread in Washington state, a rise in Covid-19 cases has prompted the King County Superior Court to suspend all in-person jury trials.
According to a statement released Friday, the suspension will stay in place until at least Jan. 11, 2021. Civil jury trials will continue to be held virtually, along with others that don't have a jury.
The Snohomish County Superior Court also announced last week that it is suspending jury trials until January 8, 2021.
Criminal jury trials had been held in-person and are now suspended. In-person trials were halted in early March, too, in response to a Supreme Court order.
-- Angela King
No Apple Cup this week
9 a.m. -- The Apple Cup between the University of Washington and Washington State was supposed to happen this Friday, November 27. But it's been called off for now. If you were unaware the Apple Cup was even happening this year, you’re probably not alone. After all, the Pac-12 football season was canceled. Then it was back, three weeks ago, with a shortened six-game season with safety protocols. It required canceling games if a team couldn’t field a minimum number of scholarship players.
On Friday, WSU was on a plane, ready to take off to play Stanford. But with too many Cougar players testing positive for Covid-19, it was declared a no contest.
The Huskies had their first game of this shortened season canceled for the same reason with California players.
The cross-state Apple Cup began 120 years ago. It’s been played every year since 1945. But it’s not exactly equal -- the Huskies have won 74 times to the Cougars’ 32.
It is possible the game could be rescheduled for later next month.
-- Scott Leadingham, Northwest News Network
Spike in complaints about businesses not enforcing mask requirements
More Washington businesses facing fines for violating mask requirements
8:30 a.m. -- More Washington businesses are getting fined for not enforcing the state's mask mandate. The fines come as new restrictions take effect and complaints about violations increase.
Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries says in the last week, the number of new complaints it has received about Covid violations has tripled. That coincides with Governor Jay Inslee’s new orders that are once again closing some businesses and ending indoor restaurant service.
Over the past two months, eight Washington businesses have been fined for violations of the requirement that employees and customers mask up. They include the Agate Store in Shelton, the Hwy 99 Tire Center in Vancouver, and Skagit Arms in Burlington.
Meanwhile, in September and October three trampoline businesses were cited for operating in violation of the governor’s July Safe Start orders.
Earlier this month the agency announced fines against 20 farms for coronavirus violations since March. L&I says most cases don’t result in fines because the business agrees to follow the requirements.
-- Austin Jenkins
$135M in relief aid announced for Washington businesses
8 a.m. -- Washington businesses can start applying for a new round of Covid-19 relief later this week.
Governor Jay Inslee and the state commerce department have announced a new $135 million aid package amid pandemic shutdowns during the holidays.
"This is a significant relief effort," Inslee said. "We can't say it's gonna help every single business in the state of Washington, but we can say we're not done with this and we're happy we made real progress today."
About $70 million -- or half the money -- will be made available to businesses as grants. Another $35 million will go toward helping owners pay their rent and utility bills.
Those in leisure and hospitality will get priority. So will business owners who applied for relief before, but didn't get it.
-- Paige Browning
Best Thanksgiving plan is to not gather for Thanksgiving
7:30 a.m. -- With Thanksgiving around the corner, health officials in Seattle are asking people to not travel or gather outside of their home.
"Typically, I would either have Thanksgiving with my family, who I won't be seeing. My mom is on the East Coast, I haven't seen her in almost a year now. She's 92. She's living alone," said Dr. Jeff Duchin with Public Health Seattle & King County.
But Dr. Duchin says the risk is just too high.
"I'm just hoping that by minimizing the risk to one another and having a small in-house Thanksgiving this year, everybody will be healthy and alive next year to have an in-person Thanksgiving," he said.
He says while some people are trying to get tested so they can meet with family, that's no guarantee the virus won't spread. People can test negative one day, and positive the next. Testing doesn't catch all cases.
On top of that, flooding testing sites limits who can access testing now. Especially for front line workers like nurses and those who cannot work from home.
-- Esmy Jimenez
Multicare staff start two-day strike
7:15 a.m. -- Doctors, nurses, and clinicians at Indigo Urgent Care Facilities are set to start a two-day strike Monday. They say the clinic's parent company -- Multicare -- isn't doing enough when it comes to protecting workers from Covid-19 and providing them with enough PPE.
There are more than 20 Indigo Urgent Care clinics in the Puget Sound region. Multicare told the Everett Herald Newspaper that it does provide staff with the appropriate personal protective equipment. The physicians at Indigo Urgent Care clinics have been in the bargaining process with MultiCare for nearly two years, Crane said.
Since the pandemic hit, they’ve added Covid-19 safety issues to their list of grievances.
-- Angela King
Backlog of Covid-19 test results
Why health officials have halted the reporting of negative Covid test results
Why health officials have halted the reporting of negative Covid test results
7 a.m. -- The Washington State Department of Health has hit pause on reporting negative Covid-19 test results.
Heading into the holidays so many people are getting Covid tests which has led to a state backlog in reporting on the data. So officials have come up with a temporary fix.
The Department of Health is asking the biggest labs to keep sending all test data except individual negative results. That way they can catch up and report an accurate count of new cases.
The Department of Health expects the volume of testing to increase as more people get tested and as more test sites become available. So far Washington has had around 140,000 confirmed cases.
-- David Hyde
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 20
Just don't do it, weary health officials say
2:30 p.m. — Do not travel or meet up with others for the holidays, health officials warn.
In an appeal to King County residents on Friday, Jeff Duchin, the public health officer made a plea.
“If people travel or gather for Thanksgiving celebrations or other get-togethers, we could see an explosion in Covid-19 causing human suffering unlike anything we've experienced in modern times,” he said.
Duchin said that while some people are trying to get tested to then meet up with family, that doesn’t guarantee that will stop the spread.
Rather it limits who can access testing now – especially for front line workers.
“We reached a new peak with 581 new cases reported on average each day last week, which is about 200 percent higher than our previous peak in daily counts,” he said.
Officials encourage people to not risk it and avoid travel during the holidays.
They also warn that while death rates have not risen yet, there is typically a three-week lag between when cases peak, and when people are hospitalized.
More virus in the system could mean more likely death, research finds
Patients with more coronavirus in their system were four times more likely to die in the next month than those with lower levels of the virus, according to a University of Washington release.
The amount of virus is determined by how long it takes for the test to pick up on the virus.
Machines testing for the virus run in cycles.
Patients for whom the virus was detected in less than 22 cycles were four times more likely to die in the next 30 days than those whose positive status was detected in more than 22 cycles.