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Coronavirus In Seattle
caption: Jesus Aguirre Medina, a Covid-19 patient, looks on as a nutritionist looks over paperwork in his room in the acute care unit of Harborview Medical Center, Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, in Seattle.
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Jesus Aguirre Medina, a Covid-19 patient, looks on as a nutritionist looks over paperwork in his room in the acute care unit of Harborview Medical Center, Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, in Seattle.
Credit: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Pandemic updates for Seattle: Washington state mask mandate to be phased out

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

According to data from King County and Washington state departments of health, as of Thursday, February 10, 2022:

  • +2,567 new cases since Wednesday in King County. That's a 41% decrease over the last seven days. An average of 1,402 new cases are emerging each day.
  • +19 new hospitalizations since Wednesday in King County. That's a 34% decrease over the past seven days.
  • 5% decrease in deaths over the past two weeks, with eight people dying every day in King County. The county reports 6 new deaths since Wednesday.
  • 78.5% of King County residents are fully vaccinated.
  • 11,194 Covid-19 related deaths across Washington state; 1% death rate since the beginning of the pandemic.

Washington schools chief says it’s time to end the mask mandate for K-12 students

Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said it’s time to start shifting from pandemic to endemic mode with so many students now vaccinated, or temporarily immune after omicron infection.

Reykdal called on Governor Jay Inslee and Department of Health to let local health departments decide whether kids need masks at school.

“There’s definitely growing tension of trying to enforce it. It's creating a relationship challenge between a lot of educators and students," Reykdal said.

Governor Jay Inslee said in a news conference that “the day is coming” for masks to become optional in schools and he expects to have a better picture next week based on case counts.

But the head of the state’s largest teachers union warned that lifting mask mandates would likely worsen staff shortages and affect student learning.

— Ann Dornfeld, KUOW

Testing wastewater for Covid in two Washington towns

Researchers are testing wastewater in two western Washington towns, including Lynden in Whatcom County and Shelton in Mason County.

They aim to protect agricultural workers and the food supply chain from Covid-19. The laborers are especially vulnerable to the virus. They often live and work in cramped indoor settings and lack health insurance.

Scientists are hunting for Covid variants in the sewers beneath food-producing areas in a total of 21 states.

“It's getting a bigger picture rather than relying on those who feel sick or have been exposed going in to get tested," said Amber Betts with the Washington Department of Agriculture.

Researchers have been monitoring wastewater in the Seattle area for nearly two years. But health agencies have had limited success acting on the scientific findings.

The Food and Drug Administration expects results from the new studies in May.

— John Ryan, KUOW

Washington state begins removing mask mandates, starting with outdoors

As states from Oregon to New York announce plans to end mask mandates, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday announced that he’s lifting outdoor masking requirements and plans to announce a date for ending mask requirements for public indoor spaces and schools sometime next week.

"We did not require masks for symbolism," Inslee said said during a press conference in Olympia. "We required them because they work. And now we believe we're in a place to transition to a different state."

The announcement means the state's requirement that masks be worn at outdoor events with 500 or more people will expire on February 18.

The Democratic governor also announced that the deployment of the National Guard to overwhelmed hospitals and the pause on non-emergent procedures will end on February 17.

Inslee’s reluctance to immediately announce when the indoor mask mandate will end stands in contrast to a batch of other states that, in domino fashion in recent days, have announced plans to end indoor masking.

They include California, Oregon, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Delaware. On Wednesday, Illinois also joined that list as Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced his state’s mask requirement for most indoor spaces will sunset on February 28.

California will still require people who are unvaccinated to wear masks after its mandate expires on February 15. Some of the states, including Oregon, will also allow school children to stop wearing masks. Oregon’s mask mandate will lift at the end of March.

Read the full story here.

Austin Jenkins, Northwest News Network

Food distribution companies fined for putting workers at risk

Washington's Department of Labor and Industries says three Centralia businesses knowingly put hundreds of workers at risk of getting Covid.

The Tacoma News Tribune reports that more than 250 people who work at United Natural Foods Inc. distribution center in Centralia got infected between July and October. Workers reportedly walked to a local hospital for help and feared being fired if they called in sick and missed a day.

Now, L&I is fining United Natural Foods Inc., Capstone Logistics LLC, and Prime 360 a total of $285,000.

Officials say United Natural Foods specifically told them they closed most operations in July even though employees continued to work there. The company is also accused of failing to provide contact information for anyone who tested positive for Covid, and let others continue to work there even though they tested positive.

According to L&I, at least one worker was told to report to work because they did not test positive for Covid, however, that worker actually had tested positive. No one notified co-workers that they had been exposed.

The distribution companies plan to challenge the fine.

Angela King, KUOW