Coronavirus pandemic updates for the Northwest (December 6-13)
This post is archived. Read the latest here.
As of Sunday, December 13, the Washington State Department of Health reports:
- 2,879 Covid-19 related deaths; 202,063 confirmed cases; a 1.4% 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.
MONDAY, DECEMBER 14
Covid vaccine--the fine print
10:33 am. --- With all the excitement surrounding the vaccine, states are required to share data with the feds.
The CDC had originally asked states to provide the name, birthdate and other personal information of people receiving the vaccine. The data would help monitor adverse reactions and pockets of undervaccination, and to determine vaccine allocation.
But that got some pushback from states like Washington.
Michele Roberts, Acting Assistant Secretary at the state Department of Health, says after some back and forth with the CDC, they've reached a revised agreement.
"One of the pieces is, we will not be sharing identifiers like names," she said.
The state will provide limited data like zip codes instead of addresses.
To address hesitancy or distrust, Roberts adds that they're reaching out to groups who've been hit hard by the virus, like communities of color, to ask what questions they might have and tailoring messages to address their concerns.
-Ruby de Luna
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 13
Declaring he's 'joyous,' WA governor announces Covid-19 vaccine distribution begins this week
12:40 p.m. — The first doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine should start arriving in Washington on Monday, with the first vaccinations of front line health care workers beginning as early as Tuesday.
An upbeat Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced that timeline at a rare Sunday news conference.
“We are ready to go,” Inslee said. “We now know there will be an end to this turmoil and this trauma and this challenge.”
Inslee’s announcement, which he called “joyous,” came on the heels of a safety review by a coalition of four western states, including Washington and Oregon, that unanimously determined Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine, which is received in two doses 21 days apart, is “safe and efficacious.”
“Hope is on the way,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said in a statement accompanying that approval.
Two Washington doctors who served on that multi-state panel joined Inslee for his news conference and expressed their confidence in the safety of the vaccine.
“I think its benefits greatly outweigh any potential risks,” said Dr. John Dunn, a Seattle pediatrician.
The multi-state review group did caution that a number of unknowns about the vaccine remain, including how long the vaccine will be effective and its safety for pregnant women and children under 16. Nonetheless, Dr. Edgar Marcuse, another pediatrician who served on the review team, said pregnant women can still get the vaccine.
Read more about the state's vaccine distribution plan here.
Number of hospitalized Covid-19 in Seattle surges
10 a.m. — Officials with the University of Washington say its hospital campuses are seeing more Covid-19 patients than they did during the spring coronavirus surge, which saw 122 patients at its peak. There are currently 124 Covid-19 patients at UW hospitals, as of Friday.
Lisa Brandenburg, president of UW Medicine Hospitals and Clinics, said that the instiution is prepared for the surge, but is urging people to continue social distancing to the greatest extent possbile and wearing masks.
Even with a vaccine around the corner, this holiday season is poised to see an especially deadly wave of coronavirus if people don't avoid traditional, in-person gatherings.
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 11
DOH changes how it counts Covid-19 deaths; removing some deaths from the count
1 p.m. — Washington's Department of Health is changing how it counts deaths related to Covid-19 in order to more accurately reflect the pandemic's death toll. According to a statement from DOH Thursday, the change will result in the "removal of some deaths from figures made public."
KUOW previously reported this week that the state's Covid-19 death toll had reached more than 3,000. Under the updated counts, the DOH was reporting 2,850 Covid-19 deaths as of Friday afternoon.
The changes to how the state counts Covid-19 deaths come as officials attempt to more accurately determine the pandemic's effects. In many cases, the virus could have been a contributing factor, but also could have exacerbated underlying conditions that were already leading to a person's death.
The changes mean that 214 deaths will be immediately removed from the count, however, some of those could be added back upon further inspection. Other deaths could also be removed from the count as officials further look over the data.
A couple changes include:
- The state will not longer include Covid-19 as a related factor when a positive test result for coronavirus occurred more than 28 days prior to the death. Previously, it counted deaths with a positive result up to 60 days prior to death. This will result in 68 deaths being removed from the total count.
- The count will also no longer include deaths in which a positive coronavirus test was registered, but later tests indicate a negative result.
On December 10, the Department of Health also noted that there could be 300 duplicate deaths among its data that it is working out.
— Dyer Oxley
Fake sheriff letter ordering businesses not to require masks floating around Lewis County
Noon — Lewis County's sheriff is speaking out after a fake letter with his name on it was found circulating among businesses in his jurisdiction.
In a statement, Sheriff Robert Snaza said: On December 8th, I would learn a letter entitled “Sheriff’s Order to Cease and Desist Harassment” was circulating purporting to be sent by me on behalf of the Washington State Sheriff’s Association. The letter included Washington State Sheriff’s Association letterhead and was dated November 23, 2020.
The sheriff says that he knows where the letter came from. He explains that in November, he met with a group who was concerned about mask requirements in Washington state. The group was opposed to being barred from businesses for not wearing masks. The group wanted the sheriff and other officials to sign a letter ordering businesses to cease mask requirements.
Sheriff Snaza said he told the group he would discuss such concerns with other sheriffs but did not sign onto the effort. He further notes: As Sheriff, I often meet with citizens who express concerns and offer a variety of views. I appreciate the views of others, but do not support the use of my name, or that of my office, to further agendas I have not lent my support to.
The issue has risen at the same time the state's Department of Labor and Industries has fined Spiffy's, a restaurant in Lewis County, $67,473 for not complying with pandemic restrictions against dining indoors. The Daily Chronicle reports the fine is comprised of $9,639 for every day Spiffy’s has hosted indoor dining after being told to stop by state officials. The conflict has grown into armed protests outside the restaurant.
Sheriff Snaza has made headlines for his opposition to Washington's pandemic restrictions and shutdowns. He previously targeted Gov. Jay Inslee with his words, telling people not to be "sheep" by wearing masks.
In regard to the Spiffy's conflict, The Daily Chronicle quotes Sheriff Snaza “We continue to put restrictions on, and we try to use law enforcement to shut them down, and it’s not going to happen,” Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza said Tuesday. He said the Sheriff’s Office will review complaints on a case-by-case basis, and may enforce COVID-19 restrictions, “but those will be few and far between. … Sometimes we all need to stand up for what is right … when we’re taking away people’s civil liberties, their first amendment rights, and saying you can’t go to church anymore, you can’t go eat somewhere because of this, which is 99.8 percent recoverable, where do we stop?” he said.
— Dyer Oxley
Washington and Oregon falling short of contact tracing goals
10 a.m. — Rapid contact tracing has been considered one of the keys to controlling the spread of the coronavirus. But in recent weeks, an overwhelming surge in new cases has let thousands of Covid-positive people and their close contacts fall through the cracks.
Contact tracers play an important role in breaking the chain of virus transmission because they call close contacts of a newly diagnosed person and tell them to self-quarantine. Early on, the Washington State Department of Health set a goal of interviewing 90% of cases within 24 hours of diagnosis. Oregon's goal is 95%. Neither state is anywhere close at this point.
Todd Myers studied contact tracing performance for the Washington Policy Center think tank.
"If we're not doing it right, what happens is the state has to resort to more drastic measures, more serious lockdowns, more economic impact," Myers said.
In Washington state, 100 National Guard members are being called up to help with contact tracing, again. In Oregon, some county health officials are now encouraging people who test positive to notify their close contacts right away — DIY style.
— Tom Banse
Hundreds of inmates at Washington prison positive for coronavirus
9 a.m. — Nearly 800 inmates at the Airway Heights Correction Center just outside of Spokane have tested positive for Covid-19.
That's at least a third of the population at the facility; 53 staff members there have also tested positive.
The outbreak reportedly started on Dec. 1 with four inmates and spread to 779 inmates in just over a week, making this the biggest outbreak at a Washington state prison right now.
As for Washington's other prisons:
- Coyote Ridge Corrections Center: 340
- Monroe Correctional Complex: 69
- Stafford Creek Corrections Center: 242
- Washington Corrections Center: 402
- Washington Corrections Center for Women: 8
- Washington State Penitentiary: 346
— Angela King
Seattle vaccine distribution expected to be "complicated"
8 a.m. — As Washington state waits for the first Covid vaccine doses to arrive (hopefully by early next week), the city of Seattle is working with the state health department on the distribution plan.
Mayor Jenny Durkan told KING 5 News that information is limited right now, but she expects it's going to be "enormously complicated."
Meanwhile, the University of Washington says it's ready for the rollout. It has already prepped the special freezers needed to store the doses.
Washington State University will help with vaccine distribution efforts east of the mountains.
— Angela King
Pandemic calls off UW vs Oregon State game
7 a.m. — Saturday's football game between the University of Washington and Oregon State University has been called off because of the coronavirus.
The UW Athletics Department said Thursday that it had paused all team-related activities due to an increase in infections.
And all this could affect the Huskies chances of making it to the Pac-12 Championship game on the 18, with all the 14 day quarantine recommendations plus the team hasn't played the minimum number of games to be eligible for the championship match.
We'll see if the Pac-12 makes an exception.
— Angela King
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 10
When UW plans to vaccinate certain groups of people
1 p.m. — Vaccines for the coronavirus have yet to be approve (though they are close), but officials at the University of Washington are already prepped to start distribution.
UW Medicine already has specially-designed freezers for Pfizer's vaccines, which needs to be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius, at its Seattle hospitals.
"The initial rollout of vaccines, nationally, in phase 1A, which will start next week or later this week, is to provide vaccine to all health care workers ... specifically health care workers who are patient facing," said Dr. Shireesha Dhanireddy with UW Medicine.
Dr. Dhanireddy said that the next phase — phase 1B — will include people who are high risk in the community.
"We're thinking people who are 65 and older, people with significant comorbidities, so that is a big chunk of people," she said. "That is going to start, hopefully, end of January, early February. In terms of general population, who don't have any risk, we are thinking later on .... toward the middle, end of 2021," Dr. Dhanireddy said.
"We are very hopeful with the arrival of these vaccines to bring an end to this pandemic ... it's really important during this time to continue our social distancing recommendations, and masking, to continue to prevent spread of infection while we work through our community to get people vaccinated."
— Dyer Oxley
Pandemic striking Idaho worse, on per capita basis
12:45 p.m. — Idaho, on a per capita basis, is currently experiencing the pandemic much worse than its Northwest neighbors.
Last February, Washington recorded the country’s first known coronavirus death. Now, the death toll has passed 3,000 Washington residents. An additional 49 deaths were reported Wednesday.
But Idaho, with nearly 6 million fewer residents than Washington, has more than a third the number of deaths — at least 1,100. For total confirmed cases this year, Washington has seen about 190,000, while Idaho has more than 116,000.
Compared to his Washington counterpart, Idaho Governor Brad Little has taken a much less statewide approach. He has deferred policies like school closures and mask mandates to local and regional districts.
— Scott Leadingham
Vaccines coming to Washington state this month, including JBLM
Noon — Even more doses of coronavirus vaccines are expected to arrive in Washington state by the end of December.
The state's health department estimates Washington will receive 180,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine (which was partially developed in Seattle).
That's on top of the more than 200,000 doses of Pfizer's vaccine that are also expected in the state this month.
A total of 17 sites across 13 counties will be the first to get the vaccines in Washington.
The US Department of Defense says that Joint Base Lewis-McChord, located in western Washington, will be one of the first military bases in the country to get the Covid-19 vaccine.
We still don't know how many doses will be sent to the military base, but the DOD says uniformed service members, dependents, the National Guard, retirees, and civilian employees will get first dibs on the vaccine.
— Angela King
Grim milestone in Washington state
11 a.m. — More than 3,000 people have now died of the coronavirus in Washington state.
The state health department confirmed 49 deaths on Wednesday, one of the largest daily totals since the pandemic started.
— Angela King
New Covid-19 testing site opens in Enumclaw
10:30 a.m. — A new free Covid-19 testing site opens Thursday in Enumclaw.
It's right across the street from the Enumclaw Municipal Building and will be open three days a week — Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday starting at 10:30 a.m.
Recent Covid-19 rates and hospitalizations are higher in Enumclaw compared to King County as a whole.
People are encouraged, but not required, to register for an appointment.
— Angela King
First vaccines slated for 17 sites, in 13 counties
10 a.m. — We're still waiting to find out exactly where initial vaccine doses will be distributed in Washington state.
Michele Roberts is leading vaccine planning for the state and says one reason for the limited information is security concerns.
"There is just so much interest on where this vaccine is going, but also really just helping manage the pressure around that, helping make sure we’re getting those doses to the right people," Roberts said.
Healthcare workers and first responders caring for Covid-19 patients, and residents and staff at long-term care facilities, will be among the first to get vaccinated.
The first doses, expected to arrive as soon as next week, will be spread across 17 sites in 13 counties.
More information here.
— Anna Boiko-Weyrauch
Nurses could be called back to the front lines as pandemic worsens in Washington
9 a.m. — Nurses with desk jobs in Washington state could be called back to the front lines if the Covid-19 situation continues to get worse.
That’s the word from the chief medical officer of Providence Southwest Washington in Olympia. Doctor Kevin Caserta says nurses in his quality control and clinical documentation departments are being trained this week in case they’re called up.
He hopes that isn’t necessary and is urging the public to mask up and avoid gatherings this holiday season.
"You’ll be able to keep your loved ones safe, keep yourself safe and quite frankly give an awesome Christmas gift to our caregivers if you do the things we know that help to prevent the spread of the virus," Caserta said.
Caserta says in recent weeks the number of Covid-19 patients in the two hospitals he oversees has nearly doubled. Intensive care beds are also filling up.
For the first time since this spring, Providence and other Washington hospitals are now canceling some non-emergency surgeries and procedures.
— Derek Wang
Funeral procession for incarcerated Covid-19 deaths
8 a.m. — More than 2,000 people incarcerated in Washington state have come down with Covid-19. Three of them have died.
On Wednesday, some of their relatives held a symbolic funeral procession on the steps of the state capitol in Olympia.
"There have been staff members and ... for the ones that are at the risk of dying because it is so heavily spreading through the prison," said Ginny Parham, a member of Washington CAN, which is urging Governor Jay Inslee to release more inmates.
But a spokesperson for Inslee's office says there are no plans to have additional releases at this time.
— Paige Browning
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 9
Rural Washington care facilities being hit hard by pandemic
11 a.m. — Some of the hardest hit areas have been long-term care facilities in rural areas like Okanogan County. Many of these areas were relatively less impacted compared to cities earlier this year.
The health officials that I'm talking to said, yes, the disease maybe was delayed by a month or several weeks in coming to their community. But, once it took root it's really hard to get out of these smaller communities.
They're really having a hard time translating the urgency of "we still need to wear masks; we still can't see our friends; we still need to be careful at the grocery store." These messages are just getting old and worn out even though it's still very urgent. And now these rural systems are at the breaking point.
— Anna King
Coronavirus vaccines expected to arrive in Washington next week
10:30 a.m. — Washington State Health Secretary John Wiesman says more than 62,000 doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine are expected to arrive in the state next week (by Tuesday).
The first doses will go to those in nursing homes and high-risk health care workers. Wiesman noted that there are around 300,000 health care workers, by the state’s estimate, who fall into the high-risk category.
Wiesman says the health department will spend this week and next deciding exactly where the first doses will go. The state expects to receive approximately 219,000 total doses by the end of December.
— Angela King
As Covid-19 cases rise, a "light at the end of the tunnel"
10 a.m. — Washington state's target is to have fewer than 25 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people. That number has been 423 in King County over the past couple of weeks. More than 80% of hospital beds are currently occupied in King County.
On Tuesday, 587 people tested positive for Covid-19 in King County, and two people died.
Shortly after Governor Jay Inslee announced that statewide pandemic restrictions were being extended by three weeks, King County Executive Dow Constantine said more help is on the way for individuals and businesses, but added that people have to remain diligent to minimize the viral spread.
"We know the light is there at the end of the tunnel," Constantine said. "The first vaccines are arriving in the next couple of weeks. We are going to need a sustained effort to prevent the infection from running out of control, before we reach critical mass in terms of people who have been immunized against this virus."
— Sonya Harris
More than 1,000 restaurants, bars have closed in King County
9:30 a.m. — More than 1,000 restaurants and bars in King County have permanently closed since the start of the pandemic, according to the Washington Hospitality Association.
Now the group fears the extended restrictions on indoor dining through January 4 will lead to even more closures and more layoffs.
Prior to Tuesday's extension of the state's pandemic restrictions, the WHA had already predicted the previous restrictions would result in up to 100,000 people losing their jobs.
Earlier this week, the National Restaurant Association released findings from its own survey that showed more than 110,000 restaurants have closed permanently during the pandemic.
— Angela King
$50 million more in pandemic grants to help Washington
9 a.m. — To help businesses weather the now extended closures Washington Governor Jay Inslee has freed up another $50 million in grants.
Inslee is also promising the state will step in and temporarily cover unemployment benefits for freelancers and gig workers, if Congress fails to renew that program by Christmas.
Governor Inslee recently announced a three week extension of pandemic restrictions, which will not last until January 4.
Covid-19 cases continue to spike and 80% of the state’s ICU beds are occupied.
“And we’ve got some bright light right now which is this vaccine that we’re very, very excited about," Inslee said Tuesday. "However, at the moment we have to face reality and the reality is that we are suffering a very dire situation with the pandemic.”
— Austin Jenkins
Unemployment requirement suspended another month
8 a.m. — Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that the job search requirements for those on unemployment will remain suspended through next month.
That means applicants will have to indicate on their weekly claim whether they've actively looked for work through the week of January 24. Until then, they can continue to answer “no” to the job search question.
— Angela King
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 8
King County jail outbreak: 16 new cases of Covid confirmed at downtown Seattle jail
11:30 a.m. — There have been 16 new cases of Covid-19 confirmed at the King County Jail, as of December 6, according to health care staff with the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention.
Inmates who tested positive have been transferred to the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, where they remain in medical isolation, a press release on the outbreak reads. Those who tested negative, and living in the same wing as those who tested positive, are under quarantine at the Seattle jail.
Before this most recent outbreak, King County jails had confirmed 47 cases of Covid-19 in total.
“This is the first time we have confirmed cases of Covid-19 from coronavirus exposures that occurred within our jails,” the county detention department wrote. “In earlier cases of inmates or staff testing positive, it is considered likely that infection occurred outside our facilities.”
— Ashley Hiruko
Gov. Inslee extends current Covid restrictions for three more weeks
10:45 a.m. —Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that he would be extending Covid restrictions already in place, that prohibit most non-essential indoor gathering.
Inslee said the restrictions were extended for three more weeks due to continued concerns over Covid activity, and an unclear picture following the Thanksgiving holiday.
Inslee’s announcement comes after a continued climb in Covid-19 cases during November, and before December holidays in which families would typically gather.
The Washington State Department of Health has reported 184,404 total cases and 2,941 total deaths, as the result of coronavirus, as of Monday, Dec. 7.
Hospitalizations are on the rise, Inslee said. About 80 percent of intensive care unit beds are occupied in the state.
Inslee also announced an additional $50 million in grants for businesses, those hit hard by restrictions. The package is on top of the $135 million dollars in economic relief that Inslee announced two week prior.
“We know this will not eliminate all of the economic suffering that people are experiencing, and we’re continuing to push Congress as hard as we can for the ultimate source of relief,” Inslee said.
Small businesses impacted by current restrictions will be prioritized in this round of funding, said Lisa Brown, director of the Department of Commerce.
Inslee will work with legislators early in the next session, to consider additional help, he said.
— Ashley Hiruko
Top Seattle schools official wants in-person classes to start in March
10 a.m. — The head of Seattle Public Schools wants in-person school to restart in March for many students.
Superintendent Denise Juneau said the students in pre-K through second grade could return then, along with others who receive special education services.
The president of the teachers union says she was “shocked and blindsided” by the announcement, which came at a Saturday school board retreat. The district and union had agreed to work together to assess when schools can reopen in-person.
The district said the plan relies on a drastic improvement in the number of Covid-19 cases in the county, to levels not seen since June.
Union president Jennifer Matter said the union has not taken a position on the merit of the proposal. But she said the district is taking a "top-down" approach in announcing a plan that has not been discussed with the union. The proposal must also be approved by the school board.
— Ann Dornfeld
Seattle rent is ... falling
9:30 a.m. — You don't hear this too often, but rents in Seattle are actually falling. The drop comes after years of considerable rent increases in the city, driving the cost of living higher and higher.
November data from online rental service ApartmentList shows rents falling by 20% since the start of the pandemic. They’re down 5.6% month-over-month.
Senior Zillow Economist Cheryl Young told KUOW's Seattle Now podcast that there are a variety of factors colliding to drive down the rental prices, not just in Seattle, but across the nation.
"Well, we do know that rents are softening everywhere in the country, especially in these really expensive markets that have had really strong rent growth in the past several months," Young said. "Seattle is no exception to places like the Bay Area or New York."
"Especially since the start of the pandemic, a lot of people have actually moved home, especially young people -- we're talking about people 18-25. And then of course the other issue, people that are in the position that they cannot pay their rent, or back rent, because of an illness or what is going on with the economy. They are in a particularly tough situation. All these forces have put a damper on rent prices."
Young said that in the Seattle metro area, currently, average rent for for a one bedroom apartment is about $1,900. And some Seattle neighborhoods are seeing increases in rents, such as North Beacon Hill, Mount Baker, and Judkins Park, as well as Shoreline.
— Kim Shepard
Online crimes against children spiking in King County
Online crimes against children spike in King County
9 a.m. —Since the pandemic began in 2020, online crimes against children have reached a new high in King County.
Laura Harmon from the King County Prosecutor's Office says that means more sexual predators are talking to minors online about sharing photos of themselves.
"There's been a huge increase of just the trading of these pictures online between offenders and uploading them to public websites and forums where they're seen and visible," Harmon said.
There were 48 such cases in King County last year. So far in 2020, the number is 63. Harmon expects this rate to continue to rise.
"Based on what I'm hearing from experts in the field and the industry, I do expect this to continue until lockdowns subside and kind of like goes back to normal so to speak," Harmon said.
Across Washington state, Harmon says there are up to 150 cases reported every day.
— Casey Martin
How the pandemic is affecting Washington's child welfare system
8 a.m. — Reports of abuse and neglect to Washington state's child welfare system dropped 42% when the pandemic hit and schools closed. Those numbers have since increased, but they haven’t returned to pre-pandemic levels according to an annual report issued this week by Patrick Dowd, the state’s family and children ombuds.
"The bottom line is a lot of these children are not being seen by teachers, by school nurses, by counselors as well as other community mandated reporters, and that’s had an impact on individuals having an eye on children and assuring child safety and reporting concerns to child protective services," Dowd said.
Dowd’s report also finds the pandemic has further strained the state’s foster care system.
There’s been a sharp increase in hotel stays for youth with complex behavioral needs.
And some families have complained they haven’t been able to have face-to-face visits with infants and toddlers as part of the family reunification effort.
— Derek Wang
MONDAY, DECEMBER 7
Pierce County Council considers big change to local health department
Noon — For nearly four decades, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has been a joint operation overseen by county and city officials along with community leaders. But a controversial proposal would give control over to the County Council.
The proposal caught city officials by surprise. Some are questioning the timing which comes amid a pandemic.
But Councilmember Pam Roach, who is sponsoring the bill, says it’s a matter of direct representation. She says county residents would have more control and influence, if the health board were elected members of Pierce County.
The bill goes before the Council on Monday. It would dissolve the county’s partnership. The bigger question over who controls the health department will be taken up later this month.
— Ruby de Luna
Seattle gets 2 self-serve Covid-19 testing kiosks
11 a.m. — Seattle now has two coronavirus testing kiosks, where people can self-administer a test.
The city launched the kiosks on Saturday; one in the Northgate Community Center, and one near the Garfield Community Center in the Central District.
At the kiosks, people swab inside their mouth under observation from a professional. Results come back electronically within 48 hours.
City leaders say it will increase the daily testing capacity by about 1,000 tests.
The kiosks are open in partnership with the company Curative, which will staff the units.
Seattle and King County, together, also still have nine free testing sites open.
— Paige Browning
Washington's new health secretary is stepping in
10 a.m. — Washington state's new Secretary of health will start on the job later this month.
Doctor Umair Shah has worked as a public health expert for decades in Texas. He says much of his focus in coming to Washington state will be bringing people together, to fight the coronavirus collectively.
"I really think about this as a football game or a soccer match," Shah said. "2020 was the first half, and the holidays, we're approaching halftime. What we do over the next several weeks and holidays is really going to help us with what's happening in the second half in the upcoming year."
"You hear about the three W's: wear a mask, wash your hands, keep your distance. I actually believe that there's a fourth W: the will. It's this collective will to work together," he said.
Shah is replacing Washington's current secretary of health, who had already planned to step down from the role.
— Kim Shepard
Even with a vaccine, people still need to social distance
9 a.m. — Washington state health officials expect to start administering the first coronavirus vaccines locally in the next couple of weeks — if it is approved and distributed by that time.
The state expects to receive 200,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of December, and more regular shipments in January.
Dr. Jeff Duchin, public health officer for Seattle and King County, says a vaccine is good news, but we're still not out of the woods. Health officials like Dr. Duchin are stressing vigilance, even as the vaccine starts to make an appearance.
"Regardless of when a vaccine becomes available, we will need to continue all the personal protective and community measures to prevent spread of Covid-19," Duchin said.
Dr. Duchin adds that the county needs more money to administer the doses.
Right now, he says they're considering having to downsize their coronavirus response.
"The failure of Congress to pass a stimulus package is hurting us at a time when we need resources more than ever."
Washington saw a slight dip last week in new cases, but Duchin says that was likely because test sites were closed over Thanksgiving. The state is still reporting thousands of new cases every day.
— Casey Martin and Paige Browning
Fallout from Ritzville wedding that went on despite pandemic restrictions
8 a.m. — A wedding in Ritzville, Wash. made headlines last month after it hosted more than 300 guests despite pandemic restrictions on large gatherings. The results of that gathering are just now becoming apparent.
Some of the guests worked at long term care facilities for elderly and vulnerable residents. And while Grant County health officials have not specifically tied deaths at those facilities to the wedding, there have been six Covid-related deaths at two separate facilities where the wedding guests worked, the Washington Post reports. Officials are attempting to contact trace to determine any connections.
At least two other outbreaks, and multiple other cases, have been tied to the rural wedding.
At the time of the wedding, Covid-19 cases were beginning to rise, leading to the massive wave the state is currently experiencing.
— Dyer Oxley
AG warns delivery companies about hidden fees
7 a.m. — Washington's Attorney General has issued new guidance for delivery companies in the state, particularly those who deliver restaurant food. The services have become highly relied upon amid pandemic restrictions and people are staying home more and more.
AG Bob Ferguson warns that delivery services that hide fees or list restaurants without their permission could violate the Consumer Protection Act.
Ferguson recommends companies disclose all fees for delivery, give accurate descriptions of food sources, only list restaurants who agree to be on the delivery list, and more.
It comes as consumer complaints have increased against delivery companies amid the pandemic.
— Paige Browning
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 6
A pandemic safe way to visit Santa this year
5 P.M. -- The Seattle Santa, Dan Kemmis, greeted families from inside of a pandemic safe snow globe on Sunday, December 6, 2020, at the intersection of Greenwood Avenue North and North 76th Street in Seattle. Until December 23rd, The Seattle Santa can be found at this intersection daily from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m
More than 1 million sign up for WA Notify app to track Covid-19 exposures
Noon — Washington health officials are touting swift success of the new WA Notify app, which helps track coronavirus exposures using smartphones.
More than 1 million people have activated the app on their phone. In fact, more Washingtonians activated the app within 24 hours than other states with their own respective Covid-tracking apps. As of Friday, about 19% of Washington's adult population had started using the app (when health officials first announced the app, they were hoping to get 15% participation).
“Opting into exposure notification is something almost every Washington resident with a smartphone can do to help stop the spread of Covid-19, so we are gratified to see so many people adopting it quickly,” said Secretary of Health John Wiesman. “If you haven’t activated WA Notify yet, please consider doing so. Studies from Oxford University and Stanford show that the more people who use a tool like WA Notify, the more effectively it will protect our communities.”
WA Notify is a smartphone app that helps notify people when they have been exposed to a positive Covid-19 case. Without tracking a person's private information, smartphones with the app will communicate with each other using Bluetooth signals. An anonymous log is kept of all the phones that have come into proximity of each other. When someone gets a positive test for Covid-19, they notify the app, which in turn notifies anybody who could have been exposed to the virus.
The goal is to more-quickly notify people who have been exposed to the virus so they can quarantine immediately. Otherwise, they could be spreading it without knowing.
To use Wa Notify:
- iPhone: Go to settings > Exposure notifications > Click “Turn On Exposure Notifications.”
- Google/android: Download from the Google Play store.
— Dyer Oxley