Updates and news on the Covid-19 pandemic across Washington state (June 8-21)
This post is archived. Read the latest here.
As of Friday, June 19, the Washington State Department of Health reports:
*1,265 Covid-19 related deaths; 28,225 confirmed cases (6.1% positive rate among those tested, and 4.5% death rate among positive cases). Note that tests have been limited, so there are likely more unreported cases.
*The most heavily hit counties have been King (601 deaths), Snohomish (163 deaths), Pierce (92 deaths), and Yakima (136 deaths).
SATURDAY, JUNE 20
'We are at the breaking point' in pandemic, Inslee says of Yakima County
2:00 p.m.-- Governor Jay Inslee announced today that masks will be legally required in Yakima County.
The move comes as Yakima recorded an alarming increase in cases over the past day.
"This is, frankly, a desperate situation for public health, for our ability to reopen Yakima which we want to do, and for the health and safety of the entire state of Washington, because as Yakima County goes, so goes the rest of the state."" Governor Jay Inslee said in a Saturday press conference.
The spike of 200+ cases in one day is an extraordinary jump for a rural county, and has happened twice in June in Yakima. By comparison, King County saw an increase of 62 cases in the latest one day count from Friday, which was also an uptick.
ICU patients are now being sent to Seattle hospitals because there's not enough medical staff in Yakima for the surge.
Along with announcing the state's first legal requirement that people wear face coverings outside the home, Inslee told businesses to refuse service to anyone who refuses to follow the law. "No mask, no service," he said.
Inslee says the increase is partly due to the high number of essential workers in Yakima, in industries such as agriculture..
[WEB:Yakima County has seen 10 percent of all coronavirus deaths in the state, though it only makes up 3 percent of the population.]
FRIDAY, JUNE 19
A Seattle spike in coronavirus cases as King County enters Phase 2
Seattle and King County were approved to move into Phase 2 of the pandemic reopening plan today, Friday, despite a new uptick in cases.
Sixty-two new cases were tracked in the county on Thursday – half of those from Seattle.
That’s a number that hasn’t been seen since early May. It’s a one-day uptick, so not a trend at this time.
This spike does not appear to be linked with the protests. Fewer than 15 people who said they attended the protests tested positive over the last two weeks.
-- Paige Browning & John Ryan
More Latinos have contracted Covid-19 over any other race in the state
12:30 p.m. -- More Latinos have contracted Covid-19 than any other race in the state, according to data published by Washington State Department of Health. As of June 17, 8,673 Latinos contracted the coronavirus -- 43 percent of all confirmed cases.
For context, 7,152 white patients were confirmed to have the virus in the state, 1,521 less than Latinos, despite the Latino population only accounting for 13% of the state’s total population.
Locally, an analysis completed by Seattle and King County Public Health found that Covid-19 is disproportionately impacting communities of color. Latinos, Native Hawaiians and Blacks had significantly higher rates of infection and hospitalizations, when compared to white people.
And in King County, while the total number of Covid-19 deaths is highest among white people, the rate of death for Latinos and Native Hawaiians is more than double than whites.
-- Ashley Hiruko
State eases restrictions on King County businesses
11 a.m. -- King County, home to Seattle, was approved by Washington state on Friday morning to move to Phase 2 of reopening from the coronavirus shutdown. What does this mean?
Restaurants may reopen with less than 50 percent capacity and table sizes no larger than 5.
High risk populations must continue to “stay home, stay healthy.” High risk includes those ages 65 and older and those who are immunocompromised (i.e. diabetes, heart disease).
Offices may reopen but telework remains strongly encouraged.
Hair and nail salons reopen.
All outdoor recreation opens involving fewer than five people outside one’s household (camping, for example).
Nannies and housecleaners may resume work.
Retail re-opens: in-store purchases are allowed with restrictions.
Gatherings with no more than five people outside your household per week.
Limited non-essential travel within proximity of your home.
9 a.m. -- King County has the OK to move to Phase 2 under the state's plan for reopening from the pandemic shutdown.
State Secretary of Health John Wiesman delivered the news this morning.
The decision means restaurants can serve at 50 percent capacity ... with limited table sizes.
And stores, salons, tattoo parlors and other businesses can also welcome more customers inside.
The state also said Island, Lewis, and Mason counties could move to Phase 3 of the reopening plan.
-- Gil Aegerter
Front-line health care workers in Seattle not contracting Covid as much as feared
9 a.m. -- University of Washington health workers contracted coronavirus at a rate comparable to those with no patient contact, and lower than overall community members, according to a recent study.
Dr. Nandita Mani, a UW Medicine fellow in infectious diseases, said they wanted to know if employees who had “direct contact with patients had a higher risk of developing Covid-19 than employees who did not interact with patients.”
They found that 5.2 percent of front-line medical staff who were symptomatic tested positive for Covid. Among other employees with symptoms, 5.5 percent test positive.
Mani said, according to a statement from UW, that suggested that the workers’ safety gear – masks, gowns, also known as PPE – have protected staff who tend to patients.
THURSDAY, JUNE 18
King County Board of Health passes resolution declaring racism a public health crisis
3:55 p.m.-- King County joins more than 20 cities and counties across the country with similar declarations. Three decades of research shows Blacks overall have higher rates of negative health outcomes such heart disease and diabetes. Life expectancy for Blacks is four years lower compared to the rest of the American population.
In a statement following today's vote, Board of Health Chair Joe McDermott said, "The strain of racism that Black, indigenous and other people of color in our community live with every day leads to differences in health and well-being, opportunities for employment, education, and housing, and truly is a public health crisis. Our action today places anti-racism, already a cornerstone of the work of Seattle-King County Department of Public Health, at the foundation of the Board’s policies and programs that reach across every community in Martin Luther King Jr. County.”
-Ruby de Luna
New map resources for food assistance
10:53 a.m. -The demand for food assistance continues to rise, a result of the fallout from Covid-19. Public Health Seattle & King County, along with the City of Seattle, and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction created a resource map to help families find emergency food programs.
According to King County data, housing and food were the top two social service needs during the pandemic. In addition, more than 112,000 households received federal food assistance in May, a 12.8 percent increase from last year.
Hunger relief advocates expect the situation to peak in the coming months.
-Ruby de Luna
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 17
Wash. Gov. Inslee orders furloughs, cancels pay raises. Majority Democrats talk about tax increases and state cuts.
5:03 p.m. -- It feels like the Great Recession again. Washington Governor Jay Inslee Wednesday cancelled some state employee pay raises and ordered widespread furloughs. The move came as state leaders got a dire new revenue forecast.
It’s been a decade since Washington state employees were last furloughed. But as the fallout from the COVID-19 recession comes into focus, Governor Inslee is announcing recession-era austerity measures.
“That will include furlough of most state employees," Inslee said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
Inslee is also halting three percent pay raises for nearly six thousand higher paid state employees. Another 55-thousand mostly unionized state workers will still get their raises. But Inslee says the furloughs will effectively cancel out those pay hikes this year. The cost savings come as the state’s new revenue forecast shows a nearly nine billion dollar drop in tax collections over the next three years.
Washington state forecaster Steve Lerch echoed the fed chairman this week when he told state lawmakers: “Until the public is confident that COVID 19 is contained, a full recovery is unlikely.”
The bad revenue news didn’t come as a surprise. But it immediately laid bare the differences between majority Democrats and minority Republicans in the Legislature. Senate budget chair Christine Rolfes won’t rule out taxes.
“I’m saying everything is on the table right now. The goal is do no harm," Rolfes said Wednesday.
While Senator John Braun, her Republican counterpart, says taxes should be off the table.
“I strongly disagree that there is revenue required or is a good idea to solve this problem," Braun said.
Republicans are also re-upping their call for a special session this month to head off nearly a billion dollars in new spending set to take effect July 1st. Democrats say a special session later this year makes more sense.
-- Austin Jenkins
Amtrak reduces service in the Pacific Northwest
5:02 p.m. -- Train passengers in the Pacific Northwest will have fewer options this fall under a service reduction plan announced by Amtrak this week.
Every day, the Coast Starlight zips through the Willamette Valley on its way to Los Angeles or Seattle.
For generations, this train has connected the Pacific Northwest and California every day. But with rail ridership across the country plummeting due to the coronavirus, Amtrak says it’s forced to cut service. It says that starting October 1st, the Coast Starlight will run just three days a week.
The same fate awaits most of Amtrak’s other long-distance trains, including the Empire Builder, which runs from Chicago to both Portland and Seattle.
The service cuts don’t affect the state-funded Cascades trains, which run between Eugene and Vancouver, BC. Service along that route has been reduced, but still runs daily.
-- Chris Lehman, KLCC-Eugene
Fewer negative tests than believed: Dept. of Health corrects the record
3 p.m. -- “We’ve discovered that we’ve made a mistake in reporting negative test results,” says a press release from the state Department of Health.
The state conflated numbers from two types of tests: One for Covid-19, to see if an individual has the disease, and a second for antibodies to Covid-19, to see if an individual was sick with the virus in the past.
The state included negative antibody tests in its negative test result count.
This inflated the state’s reporting of people who tested negative by 13 percent.
“These negative test numbers, while inflated, have not impacted decision-making as it pertains to counties advancing through phases,” the statement says.
As a result, the state has amended its numbers to show that 6.2 percent of people taking the coronavirus test have had positive results, versus the 5.5 percent previously recorded.
Lime scooters return to Bothell
11 a.m. -- Lime is bringing its scooters to the streets of Bothell. According to a statement from the company, the "scooters were approved unanimously by the Bothell City Council last week as a way to help residents get around safely while remaining socially distant."
According to Jonathan Hopkins, Lime Government Affairs for Pacific Northwest & Canada: “Micromobility will play a key role in helping Bothell reopen safely. We are excited to help people visit the great local businesses Bothell has to offer as our communities seek to recover from COVID. Scooters will help reduce the need for driving and parking, and provide more space for people to enjoy their favorite local businesses with ease.”
Lime is noting that the primary spread of the novel coronavirus is not through touching surfaces (it's from people being with other people). Still, there is potential of spread through touching surfaces, so the company is implementing more strict cleaning procedures, and increasing the frequency of scooter cleanings. Customers will also be reminded to wash or sanitize their hands prior to using a scooter, or to wear gloves.
Gov. Inslee orders furloughs and halts pay raises
8:45 a.m. -- Governor Jay Inslee is cancelling a scheduled 3% pay raise for state employees, in addition to furloughs. The move is expected to save approximately $55 million over the coming year as the state faces a massive shortfall in revenue.
The pay raise was approved by the Legislature last year and was slated to begin July 1 for executives and managers earning more than $53,000 -- about 5,600 employees. Union-represented employees will still receive planned raises.
“Covid-19 has hit our state hard and our economy has taken a severe hit as a result," Inslee said. "These are very difficult decisions but they are necessary to address the financial shortfall that we are facing."
Furloughs are ordered to start no later than June 28. They will affect more than 40,000 state employees, who will take one unpaid day per week through July 25. Starting in August, those workers will be required to take one unpaid day each month through the fall.
Employees will also be allowed to take voluntary unpaid furloughs.
Inslee is encouraging other state agencies to take similar actions, such as the courts, higher education, or the Legislature. If they do, the governor's office estimates savings could go as high as $91 million.
Inslee visits Yakima
8:30 a.m. -- Washington Governor Jay Inslee made his first trip to Eastern Washington since the start of the pandemic with a visit to Yakima on Tuesday.
Yakima County has the most Covid-19 cases per capita on the West Coast. There are nearly 6,000 cases there and at least 111 people have died.
Despite the rapidly rising numbers, Inslee expressed optimism for Yakima businesses looking to to reopen. But he said that depends on the community's effort to social distance.
"We ought to be able to do smart things to give us a really good shot of bending this curve down potentially while we are opening some of these businesses," Inslee said. "But we’ve got to have that buy-in, we’ve got to have that intense commitment, of people getting together to do this."
A survey by the Yakima Health District found only 35% of residents wear masks in public. That spurred the Health District to issue a masking directive, hoping to get 80% of residents to use face coverings.
The state has given the county a supply of masks to distribute to businesses and their employees.
-- Enrique Perez de la Rosa, Northwest Public Broadcasting
Washington ferries to continue to operate on a reduced schedule
Washington state ferries will remain on a reduced schedule as summer begins
Washington state ferries will remain on a reduced schedule as summer begins
8:15 a.m. -- Washington State Ferries will stick to a reduced schedule as summer begins and that's creating uncertainty for communities that count on tourists.
During the past three summers, advance reservations for the Coupeville-Port Townsend ferry crossing sold out pretty much every weekend all through the summer. Tom Thiersch of Port Townsend guesses this year will be different because of the coronavirus pandemic.
"No jazz or blues festival, no film festival, no wooden boat festival, and so forth," Tiersh said.
Thiersch serves on a citizen advisory committee to the state ferry system. The route serving his hometown currently operates with just one ferry instead of two, making 44% fewer daily crossings than last summer.
"I expect that ferry traffic will stay at fairly low levels compared to our usual summer season," Thiersch said.
With ridership way down, service is reduced throughout the nation's biggest ferry system. Washington State Ferries says it's keeping options open to restore service if justified by demand. But that will require crews to be available too, and the funding to pencil out.
Some counties aim for Phase 3, King County applies for Phase 2
8 a.m. -- As King County waits to see if it can move into Phase 2 of the state's Safe Start Plan, Pacific County along the coast has become the 11th to move to Phase 3.
Health officials there got the green light Tuesday. Now restaurants can increase their capacity and gyms can start limited reopenings.
A total of 22 counties -- including Pierce, Snohomish, and Thurston Counties -- are still in Phase 2. King County hopes to hear if it is approved for Phase 2 by the end of the week.
TUESDAY, JUNE 16
King County Executive: County must weigh public health and economic impact when reopening
3:40 p.m. -- King County executive Dow Constantine said Tuesday the risk to public health must be weighed against economic impact in reopening the county after pandemic restrictions.
The county has applied for Phase 2 of the state's reopening plan. That phase, among other things, allows more people in restaurants and stores.
The move comes as a new report shows an uptick in Covid-19 cases in both Western and Eastern Washington.
It also comes at a time when the county’s reproductive number, the figure used to indicate how many additional people will become infected by a single person with Covid-19, is at 1.2. Public health officials generally want to see that number at or below 1 to indicate the outbreak is shrinking.
Still, Constantine said the county is holding steady in the safe zone, or at the edge, under the state’s public health indicators.
And he said other things also need to be taken into account.
“We understand that the economy has to function, society has to function, families have to be able to function alongside these public health protections,” Constantine said.
“If it was only an issue of stopping all spread of the virus everyone would be ordered locked in their homes. But that is not a realistic answer for America so we have to ask people to be more careful even as they’re getting out and circulating,” he said.
Constantine said the county’s public health officials see few public health downsides in moving King County to the next phase.
"But there's a lot of upside in terms of places like restaurants and barber shops and others being able to function and for people being able to make a living, which is also a significant issue."
Constantine said people need to be more vigilant about face masks, distancing and staying home when sick as more activity resumes.
-- Kate Walters
King County could order millions of face masks to help with reopening efforts
3:21 p.m. -- King County executive Dow Constantine wants the county to distribute millions of face masks to help with reopening efforts.
An emergency supplemental budget recently submitted to the County Council includes more than $12 million to purchase 25 million face coverings.
Constantine said Tuesday he wants to make it possible for people to be more diligent about preventing the spread of Covid-19 as more activity resumes. He said the county would order a mix of cloth and disposable masks.
“We wanted to kind of front-load the system to make sure everybody had access and create the sort of social expectation that you will be covering your face to protect others,” Constantine said.
Constantine said the plan is to distribute masks through local cities, chambers of commerce and other community groups.
The emergency supplemental budget request must still pass the county council. This is the third emergency supplemental budget Constantine has sent to the council during the pandemic. The other two were passed.
King County is currently in a modified Phase 1 of the state's four-phase reopening plan, allowing a limited number of patrons back into restaurants and stores.
The could move to Phase 2, increasing activity, by the end of the week.
-- Kate Walters
Americans' perceptions of working from home are changing
8:30 a.m. -- A recent poll indicates that the Covid-19 pandemic has people rethinking working from home. But while many are favoring the option, some report lost productivity.
According to a poll by WalletHub, 60% of Americans say that the pandemic will change how people work moving forward, and for the better. A third of those polled said that working at offices will be on the decline as work-from-home situations become more normal.
Parents, however, have mixed feelings. About half of polled parents with children in the home said their productivity went down while working from home.
Perceptions of fairness also differ. A total 41% of people said those who work at offices should be paid more. And a third of respondents said people who do not return to the office after working from home should be fired.
A few other takeaways from the poll:
- 32% of office workers miss their co-workers the most, which is the leading aspect people miss from the office; the second most-missed aspect of the office (27%) is "nothing."
- 61% of people feel their co-workers are more productive while working from home.
- It's 50/50 whether people feel they are more productive at home.
- 53% of people feel businesses should be held accountable if workers get sick.
- If proximity to work was not a factor, people would choose to live closer to family (33%); followed by "other" (15%) and "outdoor activities" (14%).
Gig workers to get hazard pay in Seattle
8 a.m. -- Seattle gig workers who deliver food during the Covid-19 emergency will now get hazard pay.
The City Council signed off on a measure Monday that will result in gig workers getting an extra $2.50 per delivery.
The measure also prevents companies from passing that expense on to customers. Drivers for outfits like GrubHub, Postmates, Instacart, and UberEats will get the additional pay immediately and will continue to do so for at least the duration of the coronavirus crisis.
MONDAY, JUNE 15
King County applies to move to Phase 2 reopening
6:35 p.m. -- King County is applying to move to Phase 2 of reopening. The county’s Board of Health voted Monday afternoon to send the application to the state for approval. It was formally submitted after the meeting.
Officials said the application could be approved by the state within 24 to 72 hours. The county would move into Phase 2 as soon as the application is approved.
Moving to Phase 2 will mean indoor capacity limits will double in many cases, according to Kirsten Wysen, policy analyst with Public Health - Seattle & King County.
As long as they meet requirements set out by the state, stores are currently allowed 15% capacity. That would move to 30% under Phase 2.
Likewise, restaurants would move from 25% to 50% indoor capacity, Wysen told the board Monday.
Barbers, hair and nail salons, tattoo parlors and pet groomers would also be allowed to reopen at 50% client occupancy.
Counties across the state are in differing stages of reopening. Each county is allowed to apply to the state to move to a new phase as they meet criteria around case numbers, testing, contact tracing and health care system capacity.
The vast majority of counties are already in Phase 2 or above.
King County’s application to move from a modified Phase 1 to Phase 2, easing restrictions slightly, comes as the region continues to see thousands of people gathering to protest police violence against Black people. It also comes as the state has seen an uptick in Covid-19 cases.
A recent report indicates an increase in transmission in both Western and Eastern Washington. The report notes that the results include possible increases in transmission due to activity over Memorial Day weekend, but not increases that may have occurred from protests.
In King County, one measure closely watched by public health officials is above the desired level. The reproductive number, which indicates roughly how many people become infected by every one person with Covid-19, is currently at 1.2, up from previous weeks. Officials like to see that number at or below 1, an indication the outbreak is shrinking.
In a statement Monday evening, King County Executive Dow Constantine said after two weeks in a modified Phase 1 the county’s case counts, health care system capacity and other metrics are holding steady.
“But make no mistake – successful economic recovery will depend on everyone in King County carefully following the recommendations of our Public Health experts, including wearing face coverings and avoiding unnecessary contacts, so together we can keep re-opening our community while holding the line on the pandemic,” he said.
If King County's application is approved, the county would remain in Phase 2 for a minimum of three weeks.
-- Kate Walters
Lyft has new rideshare policies for the pandemic
10 a.m. -- Working with the CDC, rideshare company Lyft says it has developed new rider policies for during the pandemic.
According to a statement from Lyft, "All riders and drivers are now required to agree to a few simple rules before they can use Lyft."
- Wear a face covering
- Wash hands or use hand sanitizer before entering a car
- Sit i n the backseat
- If possible, leave car windows open
- A video produced by Lyft also says that riders should not expect some aspects of a ride that some drivers have offered in the past, such as phone chargers, candy, or water.
Lyft is also pausing its shared ride program. And drivers and riders can cancel a ride if they feel there is a safety or health risk.
Southcenter reopens in Tukwila
9:30 a.m. -- The Westfield Southcenter Mall is reopening Monday after being closed since March because of the pandemic.
The doors will be open between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. And also noon to 6 p.m. Sundays.
Mall managers will be monitoring the number of people coming into the facility and will be enforcing what they call relevant policies related to social distancing, face masks, and other preventative measures
UW virtual graduation
9 a.m. -- The University of Washington held its first virtual graduation ceremony over the weekend with 18,000 graduates from the Seattle, Bothell, and Tacoma campuses.
Students were honored during a ceremony that was broadcast on the university's website and Youtube page. The in-person event was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
What happens to that Kent quarantine motel?
8 a.m. -- What's going to happen to the Kent motel that King County bought as a quarantine site once the pandemic is over?
Some activists want to see it turned into housing for trans people of color once the pandemic is over. People like Mikaela Wright, an intern with the Washington Black Trans Task Force, who says they've experienced homelessness on three separate occasions.
"For too long we've been policed and we've been pushed away from our homes. We've been gentrified out. We don't deserve to have to worry constantly about our housing and our safety. Why can't the council donate this motel to us, defund the police, and invest in support for trans people of color?"
King County Council members were noncommittal about the idea when it was presented to them Friday.
Some said they support a housing-first approach, but they would need to work with the city of Kent to decide the final fate of the motel.
SATURDAY, JUNE 13
Increased cases in eastern Washington, possibly from Memorial Day travel
11:56 a.m. -- Washington state officials warned Saturday of increased cases of Covid-19, specifically in Benton, Franklin, Spokane and Yakima counties. In a statement, the Washington State Department of Health said those counties are of the "greatest concern" and that "these counties are in a comparable position to King County at its peak in March."
If Covid-19 continues to spread at current levels in those counties, officials said they expect cases and deaths to "increase substantially." Hospital capacity and testing may need to be expanded, they said.
A state issued situation report said the "results include possible transmission over Memorial Day weekend but not increases that may have occurred from protests."
Officials said case counts in western Washington are trending flat but that "small increases are being observed."
Meanwhile in Oregon, Governor Kate Brown paused her state's reopening plans on Friday, just as the Oregon Health Authority announced the most new cases in a single day since the start of the pandemic.
- Derek Wang