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Pandemic updates: Seattle Public Schools going mask optional on March 14

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

As of Friday, March 11, 2022, the King County and Washington state departments of health report:

  • Cases have declined by 23% in King County over the last seven days. An average of 226 daily cases.
  • Hospitalizations are down 40% in King County since a week ago, with a daily average of six new hospitalizations.
  • Deaths have decreased by 49% over the past week in King County, with an average of four people dying each day.
  • 84.8% of King County residents ages 5 and older are fully vaccinated; 67.1% of Washington's total population is fully vaccinated; 58% of eligible Washingtonians have received a booster shot.
  • 12,133 Covid-19 related deaths across Washington state; 1% death rate since the beginning of the pandemic.
  • 92 Covid cases per 100,000 people across Washington state; 12% of state hospital beds occupied by Covid patients.

Status check on Covid in Washington state

Covid cases, deaths, and hospitalizations have dropped significantly in Washington state. Currently, the state has a Covid case rate of 92 cases per 100,000.

Vaccination rates have also risen with 84.8% of King County residents ages 5 and older being fully vaccinated. A total of 67.1% of all Washingtonians are fully vaccinated.

And 58% of eligible Washingtonians (ages 12 and older) have received a booster shot.

— Dyer Oxley

Washington DOH will pay you $50 to start Covid vaccine process

The Washington State Department of Health has organized popup Covid vaccine clinics between March 11-13, and is offering $50 gift cards for people getting their first or second dose.

— Dyer Oxley

Sick with Covid? Washington has a hotline for that

— Dyer Oxley

Seattle Public Schools going mask optional in March

Seattle Public Schools announced Wednesday that it will be going mask optional at all of its schools starting March 14 (five days after the announcement).

"While masking will now be optional, the district welcomes and encourages staff and students to continue mask wearing through the end of the year if that is their preference."

Unlike other schools that are going mask optional, such as the University of Washington, SPS says that masks will be option on its buses as well as on its campuses. UW is still requiring masks on its own transit system, as well as within health care settings.

SPS notes that if Covid transmission levels rise again, it may bring back "effective mitigations."

— Dyer Oxley

Seattle students protest district's mask requirement lift

Students across Seattle Public Schools are threatening to walk out of their classrooms if the district follows through on lifting its masking requirement on March 14.

The Seattle Student Union, a group representing high school and middle school students in the district, is organizing the protest.

Natalya McConnell is a sophomore at Franklin High School and a member of the Seattle Student Union. She said she's worried for the health of students and their families.

"This is a highly political move that ignored safety, made by people who aren't in our buildings with 1,300 students," she said. "They are not putting their own lives at risk but they are putting other people's lives at risk."

McConnell also said the mask requirement lift is premature, especially as students prepare for spring break in a month.

The district has said it encourages students and staff to continue masking. But McConnell says that is not enough, because personal choices can impact others' health.

The Seattle Student Union is planning the walkout for March 21, a week after the mask requirement is scheduled to end.

Natalie Newcomb

UW to go mask optional in spring quarter

Starting the first day of spring quarter, March 28, the University of Washington will be mask optional inside most of its buildings, according to an email sent to staff and students Tuesday.

Masks will still be required inside the university's health care facilities and on public transportation around campuses.

Still, the university is urging students and staff to choose to mask up for the first couple weeks after spring break, after many are likely to go traveling. Officials are also encouraging people to mask up over the quarter, despite it being optional. UW will continue to hand out free masks on campus.

The message further states: "The relaxing of the indoor mask requirement is possible thanks to high vaccination rates in the UW and broader communities, as well as the dramatic decline in the number of hospitalizations and infections."

Washington State University in Pullman is also slated to nix its masking requirement inside campus buildings on March 12. Like UW, WSU will still require masks on public transit and inside its medical facilities. As of March 1, WSU stopped requiring proof of vaccination to attend classes on campus.

Masks are still required inside campus buildings at Central Washington University until at least March 18, the end of winter quarter. The same goes for Western Washington University, though updated mask policies are expected for spring quarter.

— Dyer Oxley

Covid cases waning in Seattle area hospitals

The number of Covid patients across UW Medicine's hospital system amounts to 2.11% of all admissions, according to a message to the UW Medicine community from its leadership this week.

The March 1 email to staff states that there were 24 Covid patients being cared for across its hospitals. Its Emergency Operations Center labels the current level of activity as "mid" (things are still tight, but Covid cases are fewer than 10%). The EOC expects to shift down to low-mid next week as cases continue to plummet in the region.

In addition to the low case numbers, UW Medicine is also reporting that the number of staff who are out-of-office due to Covid is extremely low with about 33 out, as of earlier this week. The numbers are so low, the EOC has stopped collecting data on it this week.

The number of positive Covid cases in King County is 90.2 cases per 100,000 people, according to the latest statistics from Public Health — Seattle & King County. According to the Washington State Department of Health, the state's overall level is 143 cases per 100,000.

Dyer Oxley

Google is bringing employees back into offices in Seattle and Kirkland

Google is the latest company making the move to bring its employees back into the office after two years of pandemic shutdowns and remote work.

GeekWire reports that Google is using the month of March to ease its Seattle and Kirkland employees into new work habits. By April 4, employees will convert over to a hybrid work schedule with three days spent in the office. They can work more days at the office if they choose. This will affect about 7,000 Google employees in Seattle and Kirkland.

Last month, Microsoft announced that it is also using the month of March to have its Washington state employees phase back into the office. According to the company's blog, "employees will have 30 days to make adjustments to their routines and adopt the working preferences they’ve agreed upon with their managers."

Moving forward, Microsoft says it is embracing an "evolving hybrid workplace" with "schedule flexibility." Even with hybrid work, this means that Microsoft is fully reopening its campuses and facilities throughout the region. The company has already reopened its California campus.

Microsoft said that current pandemic conditions and the fact that more than 80% of King County is fully vaccinated played into its decision to reopen.

Dyer Oxley

Washington households can get two free Covid-19 test kits per month

Washington state has expanded its program providing free Covid-19 home tests.

Department of health officials said Wednesday that each household can order two free Covid-19 test kits per month while supplies last. Each kit contains multiple tests.

"Home tests are an excellent public health tool that help us know quickly and conveniently if we have Covid-19 so that we can take action to care for ourselves, protect our families and communities, and prevent onward transmission," said Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary for prevention and health with he state Department of Health.

Fehrenbach urges households to keep a box or two on hand in case they are needed. Rapid tests can be used before social gatherings, or if someone feels sick or has been exposed.

But she said people don't need an excessive stockpile, especially while resources are still somewhat limited.

Tests can be ordered online:

Fehrenbach said the website will be available in 37 languages by mid-March to bridge equity gaps.

The state is also distributing free tests to local organizations to reach those who may not order online.

According to state data, Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations have plummeted in recent weeks but remain above December levels.

Kate Walters