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caption: A UW Medicine patient is tested for coronavirus by a UW Medicine nurse on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, at the University of Washington Northwest Outpatient Medical Center on Meridian Avenue North in Seattle.
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A UW Medicine patient is tested for coronavirus by a UW Medicine nurse on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, at the University of Washington Northwest Outpatient Medical Center on Meridian Avenue North in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Updates on the coronavirus pandemic in the NW (September 14-18)

This post is archived. Read the latest here.

As of Friday, September 18, the Washington State Department of Health reports:

  • 2,037 Covid-19 related deaths; 81,602 confirmed cases (2.5% death rate among positive cases). Note that tests have been limited, so there are likely more unreported cases.
  • Compared to white people, the rate of Covid cases is nearly three times higher for Black people, seven times higher for Latino/x people, and nearly seven times higher for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders.
  • While the pandemic initially struck older populations hard, more recent surges in case numbers (June/July) have been driven by younger people -- ages 40 and below. One of the worst outbreaks in the nation during August/September was in Pullman, around Washington State University.


Canada keeps US-Canada border closed another month

11 a.m. -- Canada has extended its border closure with the United States until October 21. The border has been closed to non-essential travel since March.

The Associated Press reports that the decision is based on limiting the spread of Covid-19 while the US has more cases, and Covid-19 related deaths, than anywhere else in the world.

-- Dyer Oxley

Bainbridge considers bringing students back to classrooms

8:50 a.m. -- The Kitsap Sun reports the Bainbridge Island School district is thinking about resuming some in-person learning for its younger students as soon as October 12.

The district says that as long as trends in coronavirus transmission numbers stay favorable, they could start gradually bringing kids back to the classroom. Superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen says that they are considering starting with kindergarten through first or second grade, then later bringing in third and fourth grades. Grades 5-6 could start a hybrid model of instruction in November. And high schoolers may come back at the start of the second semester.

Earlier this week, Tacoma Public Schools let parents know it could resume some in-person learning by the end of the month. And the Peninsula School District will offer in-person learning for kindergartners and first graders on September 28.

-- Angela King

Covid-19 cases found at SoDo shelter

8:30 a.m. -- Two people who had been staying at a King County clean air shelter in SoDo have tested positive for Covid-19.

And now the county's Department of Community and Human Services is notifying those who were there between September 12-14 about their possible exposure.

The space was set up last Friday to help those experiencing homelessness escape unhealthy wildfire smoke. It's set to close today, but those who agreed to get a coronavirus test can stay until Saturday when they receive their test results.

Those who may have been exposed, exhibit symptoms or test positive for coronavirus will be able to quarantine at a King County isolation facility.

The 24/7 shelter — located at 1045 6th Avenue South — was completely full Sunday night through Tuesday. It can accommodate about 100 people at a time, and offers each person their own cot, meals and on-site health care if needed.

-- Angela King

Potential exposure at Evergreen Health in Kirkland

8:15 a.m. -- At least 100 workers at Evergreen Health in Kirkland are being warned they may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus.

The hospital says two of its patients tested positive for Covid-19 and officials believe they might have been infected while undergoing care there.

Now the hospital is contacting 100 employees and is testing those who may have been exposed.

-- Angela King

Pandemic practices will likely be needed for much, much longer

8 a.m. -- The good news is that case numbers are moving in the right direction -- slowly down.

The not-so-good news is that all the safe practices that help prevent the spread of virus, will need to stay for a while.

King County Health Officer Jeff Duchin recently told the Health Board that having a vaccine is not going to make the outbreak disappear. For starters, the vaccines are going to be available in limited quantities.

“It will take quite a while to get enough people immunized, should they decide to do that, to suppress transmission,” Duchin said.

Read more details here.

-- Ruby de Luna


The pandemic is taking a toll on people's mental health

6:15 p.m. Lauren Rigert of Crisis Connections, says the non-profit saw a surge in calls they were getting in a day, beginning in March.

“So in 2019, we averaged around 780 calls (a day), but in the beginning of Covid-19, around March, we were seeing about 2,280 calls a day.”

At a briefing with the King County Board of Health, Rigert says between March and May, many of those calls were from people who lost their jobs and need help navigating the system for social services. But as the months went by, and especially in the summer, calls to the Crisis Line started to go up.

“We believe this is because individuals that have been now isolated because of Covid-19 over a few months, their emotions and behavioral health emotions are surfacing.”

Rigert says the calls are often about loneliness, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

If you or someone you know needs help, the 24-Hour Crisis Line is 866-427-4747.

-- Ruby de Luna

QFC donates $230K to address food insecurity amid the pandemic

10 a.m. -- QFC announced that it's parent company Kroger has made $229,815 in financial donations to Northwest food banks to help with food insecurity that has spread alongside the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an incredible amount of stress on families and on the nonprofit organizations trying to assist them,” said Chris Albi, president of QFC. “Now more than ever, QFC is committed to strengthening our local communities and we hope these donations will help provide relief for local families that are struggling to put food on the table.”

Northwest organizations receiving donations from Kroger's Zero Hunger campaign include:

  • Food Lifeline ($175,546)
  • The Oregon Food Bank ($10, 213)
  • Solid Ground Washington ($12,000)
  • Northshore Senior Center ($2,500)
  • Jubilee Reach ($5,000)
  • Kent Community Center ($2,000)
  • Boys & Girls Club of King County ($5,000)
  • Boys & Girls Club of the Olympic Peninsula ($5,000

-- Dyer Oxley

UW student sues university

9 a.m. -- A University of Washington graduate student has filed class-action lawsuit against the university, arguing that UW is reaping financial benefits despite closing down campuses and services.

They say the UW should reimburse students their tuition and other fees now that its campuses and services are closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. They argue the university is in breach of its contract and continues to financially benefit as if nothing has changed.

The university has said it won't comment on the pending litigation. It did switch to remote learning so it could stay in line with the state's pandemic orders.

The law firm that's representing the student, Hagens Berman, has brought similar suits against Boston University, Rutgers, USC, and Harvard.

-- Angela King

New rules for wedding and funeral receptions

Gov. Inslee issues new guidelines for weddings, funerals

Gov. Inslee issues new guidelines for weddings, funerals

8:30 a.m. -- Governor Jay Inslee has unveiled new guidelines for wedding and funeral receptions in Washington state.

Under the new rules:

  • Wedding and funeral receptions can take place in counties that are in phase two and phase three of the state’s reopening plan.
  • Attendance must be capped at 30 people, or 25% of the venue’s occupancy, whichever is less.
  • All tables at the reception must be seated by household with a maximum of five people at each table.
  • Facial coverings and social distancing are required.

The rules apply whether the venue is indoors or outdoors. Previously, weddings and funerals were allowed with restrictions, but receptions were prohibited. The new rules come even as the state of Maine reports seven deaths indirectly linked to a wedding reception that’s been described as a superspreader event.

-- Austin Jenkins

Some refusing to cooperate with contact tracing

Some refuse to cooperate with contact tracing, and help stop the spread of Covid-19

Some refuse to cooperate with contact tracing, and help stop the spread of Covid-19

8 a.m. -- Contact tracing is key when it comes to trying to contain the spread of coronavirus in Washington state.

But the state health department and some local public health agencies say large numbers of people -- who’ve just been diagnosed with Covid-19 -- aren't calling them back or disclosing their close contacts.

"Pick up the phone please or call back if you get a message," said Washington Secretary of Health John Wiesman. "The info we ask for in these conversations is critical to helping prevent the spread of Covid-19 to others and really stopping the viral transmission."

Another hiccup -- state investigators don’t always have a phone number to call because testing labs fail to pass along people's contact information when the results come back positive.

-- Deborah Wang


US-Canada border to remain closed longer

9 a.m. -- Reuters Canada is reporting that the border between the United States and Canada could remain closed to non-essential traffic through Thanksgiving.

The current closure was set to expire next week.

But the news outlet says some Canadian officials have expressed little interest in relaxing some of the restrictions despite suggestions from the U.S. to do so.

The border has been closed since March 21 in an effort to help slow the spread of Covid-19. The pandemic has struck the US side of the border much harder. British Columbia, for example, has recorded 7,376 cases and 219 deaths from the virus. Washington state has recorded 80,465 cases, and 2,015 deaths.

Overall, Canada has recorded 139,000 cases and 9,193 deaths. The United States currently has recorded 6.61 million cases, and 196,000 deaths.

-- Angela King and Dyer Oxley

Tacoma schools could start hybrid learning by end of month

8:30 a.m. -- The Tacoma News Tribune reports that Tacoma public schools could resume some in-person learning by the end of the month. The district sent out a message to families Tuesday.

The distract told parents that it might introduce a hybrid plan where students would split their time between learning at home and on campus. But that all depends on whether the current Covid transmission rates remain the same in Pierce County.

The county has had fewer than 75 cases per 100,000 people for at least two weeks. That's the marker set by the state for when schools could start resuming some in-person learning.

-- Angela King

Gov. Inslee speaks on 2,000 Covid-19 deaths, outbreaks at colleges

8 a.m. -- Governor Inslee is speaking out about Washington state now recording more than 2,000 Covid-19 deaths.

"We mourn every single one of those lives, every single one of those lives is not just a number, they’re a family that has suffered because of this pandemic. And those families are in our hearts and will be in the months to come."

During a press conference Tuesday, the governor called 2020 a “year of tragedy” for so many in the state. He also warned of a possible uptick in cases. In Eastern Washington, the transmission rate shows that one infected person is spreading it to more than one other person. Health officials want to keep that transmission rate below one.

Governor Inslee said he hopes colleges and universities will learn from the recent rapid spike in Covid-19 cases at Washington State University in Pullman.

He's meeting with campus administration officials and student body presidents on what he calls “pretty aggressive actions” to keep the coronavirus from spreading on other campuses and nearby communities.

"I’m looking forward to all of us pitching in to encourage students to act responsibly and socially distance. And not allow the desire to party overcome our desire not to kill people in our family and in our community."

More than 900 Covid-19 cases have been diagnosed in Pullman since August and most were among the college-age population.

The Pullman Police Department has issued more than 10 tickets to people hosting parties amid the local outbreak — including the coach of WSU’s women’s basketball team.

-- Deborah Wang


Deaths from coronavirus not spread equally across all populations

8 a.m. -- The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Washington state, since the start of the pandemic, has now surpassed 80,000 and the number of deaths is more than 2,000.

About half of those who've died were ages 80 or older and approximately half were linked to long-term care facilities.

The pandemic is also killing Pacific Islanders, Latinos and Native American at the highest rates in the state.

At the peak between March and April, approx 30 people were dying daily. But by July, that number dropped to around 15, and since then that figure has started falling again. State health officials are waiting to see how Labor Day weekend impacted case numbers.

-- Angela King


Washington's Covid death toll reaches more than 2,000

2:49 p.m. -- According to the latest numbers from the Washington State Department of Health, the state has now suffered more than 2,000 deaths related to Covid-19.

As of Monday afternoon, there have been 2,006 recorded deaths from Covid-19, and 80,138 confirmed cases since the pandemic began in early 2020.

Read more details here.

-- Dyer Oxley

Could new case numbers help spur in-person classes?

10 a.m. -- The number of Covid-19 cases in King County per 100,000 people has dropped below 75. This is an important marker because the state health department says counties can start reopening schools for some forms of in-person learning if that number is below 75.

According to the last data, that number in King County has been sitting around 65 for the past two weeks.

But health officials also note that we need to wait a couple of weeks to see how much the coronavirus spread during the Labor Day weekend.

-- Angela King

Covid-19 testing sites closed during unhealthy air conditions

9:30 a.m. -- With ongoing poor air quality Monday morning, the free Covid testing sites in Seattle are closed. So is the drive-thru site at 3900 Broadway in Snohomish County.

The sites at Civic Field in Bellingham and the main site in Skagit County are also closed because of the smoky air quality.

-- Angela King

"Slight decline" in Washington Covid-19 case numbers

9 a.m. -- Cases of Covid-19 have been on the decline as of late August, according to state health officials. Officials note that the lower numbers have come as people have been more mobile across the state, and credit a change in habits as the primary cause. The Washington State Health Department says that increased mask wearing, limited group sizes, and people meeting in safer settings (while avoiding more risky settings) has led to the slight decline in cases.

According to the state's recent situation report: Data "...through August 24 shows an overall plateau and potentially slight decline in cases. As a result, we find in both eastern and western Washington that Re is still hovering around 1. We estimate that in western WA, Re was likely between 0.50 and 1.21 on August 17, with a best estimate of 0.86 (down from the estimate of 0.97 in our last report). In eastern WA, our best estimate is that Re on August 14 was likely between 0.65 and 1.18, with a best estimate of 0.91 (down from the estimate of 0.98 in our last report). More time will tell if the downward trend of the estimated transmission rate in western WA is real."

A transmission rate of one means that each infected person only infects one other person. Health officials aim to have the transmission rate below one, meaning that spread of the virus is going down along with case numbers.

Health officials also note that while the numbers are going down or leveling off across the state, there are still pockets of outbreaks and spikes, such as correctional facilities. In Pullman, around Western Washington University, there has been a considerable outbreak with hundreds of cases. The National Guard was called in to set up a testing station in that area.

According to the state department of health: "The decrease in cases we continue to see in some counties remains encouraging. However, this is tempered by the plateaus and upticks in cases in other counties. Taking King County as one example, a continued plateau of cases will not be enough to safely open schools as case counts in the current situation are too high relative to guidelines. As of August 15, according to the WA State COVID-19 Risk Assessment Dashboard, 4 counties have low, 15 counties have moderate, and 20 counties have high COVID-19 activity. In addition, recent outbreaks are likely to lead to wider community spread as has been seen with previous outbreaks. Finally, with 10-15 deaths per day across the state, if we remain in this current pattern, Washington will experience approximately 1,250-1,875 additional COVID-19 deaths by the end of 2020. With the roughly 1,870 deaths that have already occurred, this would likely make COVID-19 a top five cause of death in Washington this year."

-- Dyer Oxley

"Mass casualty" for Native Americans

8 a.m. -- The latest numbers show Covid-19 is killing American Indians and Alaska natives at rates more than three times than that of white people in Washington state.

Emily Washines is a Yakama Nation tribal member, historian and adjunct faculty member at Yakima Valley College. She says that deaths from the pandemic will have effects that linger for years to come.

"What we're experiencing is more on the level of a mass casualty. But it's happening in very slow pace. The amount and the range that tribes have been impacted is something that we're going to be dealing with for a long time."

-- Gil Aegerter


Smoke blankets Seattle

Thick smoke coming from wildfires in California and Oregon now blankets Seattle. That makes it harder for everyone to breathe but it is especially hard on folks who already dealt with the coronavirus this year.

Lizette Wendy Martinez lives in Renton with her family. Two of them got sick with Covid-19 back in the March.

"Simplemente ahorita traigo dolor de cabeza. Con esto que nos dio lo del coronavirus, pues nos ha afectado en los pulmones. Con cualquier cosita se nos dificulta respirar," she said in Spanish.

Martinez has a headache after heading to the grocery store earlier today. Ever since the virus, she can tell her lungs are different. Even little thing makes it harder to breathe. She can't exercise the same as before. Her teenage son who also got sick can't ride his bike for long without running out of air. Now with the smoke, he's developed a cough.

Medical experts are still figuring out the long term effects of Covid-19 on the body but believe it can take months for a patient’s lungs to recover.

-- Esmy Jimenez

Read previous updates here.