Updates on the Covid-19 pandemic in the Northwest (February 16-19)
This post is archived. Read the latest here.
As of Friday, February 19, the Washington State Department of Health reports:
- 4,822 Covid-19 related deaths; 315,419 confirmed cases; 17,485 probable cases; and a 1.4% death rate among positive cases.
- 18,969 people have been hospitalized with Covid-19 in Washington state. According to the most recent data and NPR's hospital capacity monitor: King County has 73% of hospital beds taken, with 6% occupied by Covid-19 patients; Pierce County has 88% of beds taken, with 12% occupied by Covid-19 patients; and Snohomish County has 67% of beds taken with 7% occupied by Covid-19 patients.
- 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.
- So far, 1,270,425 Washingtonians have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
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FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 19
Covid cases dropping sharply in King County, Washington state
2:30 p.m. -- The number of new coronavirus cases is dropping sharply in King County and statewide.
That’s in part because people have been masking up in public and avoiding gatherings, in turn cutting down on transmission.
But we might also be starting to see some limited herd immunity in Washington state.
State epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist said enough people have been vaccinated that could be starting to cut down on new infections.
And King County’s public health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said that in some social bubbles, it’s possible so many people have already had Covid that very few people in those groups are still susceptible to the virus.
“Perhaps the virus is running into more dead ends, because people have developed previous infections, and they’ve got some immunity,” Duchin said.
That said, it’s possible for cases to start going up again if people let down their guard, especially now that a more transmissible variant is becoming widespread.
— Eilis O'Neill
Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee signs Covid-19 relief bill into law
1:46 p.m. — A fresh round of federal aid will soon be flowing to Washington businesses and individuals hit hard by the COVID pandemic.
On Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law a $2.2 billion relief package funded with money approved by Congress in December.
The package includes:
- $716M for schools to help return to in-person learning and address student learning loss
- $618M for public health, including vaccine administration
- $365M for rental assistance
- $290M for small business and childcare provider grants
- $70M to replenish the state’s immigrant workers relief fund
- $26M for food assistance
According to the Office of Financial Management, the business and rental assistance will be available beginning in mid-March.
Also Friday, Inslee signed into law a measure to exempt federal emergency assistance grants from the state’s business and occupation tax. That’s expected to save Washington businesses more than $200 million, according to the state Senate.
UW study finds lingering health effects after recovering from Covid-19
1:30 p.m. — Even if a person has mild Covid-19 symptoms, they can have a range of other health issues from loss of taste or smell, to fatigue that lasts for an extended period of time.
“This is what this post Covid syndrome is looking like, but up until now we have not had the numbers or proportions of people who have lingering symptoms,” said senior author Dr. Helen Chu, associate professor of medicine, Division of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
UW Medicine studied Covid patients for up to six months after they recovered from the illness. Many of the patients were not severely ill or hospitalized because of the virus. Researchers describe some lingering symptoms as "debilitating."
Researchers say it's a warning for young and healthy people who statistically face less risk from the coronavirus.
"The sense I get from the young and healthy people, this very young group, they get sick and they get better and they think it actually isn't that bad of a disease," Chu said. "What's clear is that you can do well initially but overtime develop symptoms that are quite crippling, in terms of fatigue ... or not being able to taste or smell."
“Lingering symptoms are common in those who were sick enough to be in the hospital, as well as in those who really weren’t sick at all when they were diagnosed. They didn’t even need to be seen in a clinic or an emergency department,” she said.
Lingering symptoms affect more people the older they are.
- 27% of ages 18-36
- 30% of ages 37-64
- 43% of ages 65 and older
- A total of 30% of patients reported having worse health after recovering than before they became ill; 8% could not handle daily chores or lift heavy objects.
Results of UW's research are published in a new study published in JAMA Network.
— Dyer Oxley
$2.2B in federal money being distributed in Washington state
Noon — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is slated to sign a Covid-19 relief bill at around 1 p.m. Friday which will activate $2.2 billion in federal money for Covid-19 relief. The money is aimed at bolstering businesses, vaccines, immigrants, and renters.
Approximately a half-billion dollars of that relief money is slated for schools.
But Governor Inslee says school districts that don't come up with a plan to resume in-person learning could lose out on some of their share of the relief funding.
The state superintendents office has said it's going to need those reopening plans by March 1 before handing out the money. Approximately 30% of students statewide are back in the the classroom. The state’s teachers’ union, the Washington Education Association, wants teachers vaccinated before sending them back into the classroom.
Inslee maintains health care workers and citizens over 65 need to receive vaccines before anyone else.
"I know teachers don't want to think we're going to throw grandmother under the bus here,” Inslee said. “We need to finish vaccinating our older population because they’re nine out of 10 fatalities we’ve experienced.”
Teachers are in the next phase of people set to receive the vaccine.
— Angela King
UW students told to isolate after large gathering
11 a.m. — The University of Washington is calling it a flagrant disregard for community standards. A scathing letter was sent to students who attended a large party in an alleyway north of the UW campus while being snowed in over the weekend. Many students from the university's Greek Row were reportedly present.
The letter states: “We are in a public health emergency and should this kind of flagrant disregard for community standards reoccur, we will consider additional disciplinary measures and a reevaluation of Greek chapters’ relationships with the University of Washington.”
The university says students who were there on February 13 were reckless and are now prohibited from attending any in-person class or other activities until February 28, providing enough time for them to isolate.
The university says this precaution is necessary since 47 Covid-19 cases have been confirmed since winter break ended. Add to that, the new and more contagious variant was found on campus last week.
The university has now started an investigation to determine if anyone or any organization helped to plan the party, saying those who attended could face disciplinary action.
It's not the first time UW's Greek Row has come under scrutiny. Fraternities and sororities were also scolded over 2020 after holding large gatherings, prompting outbreaks in multiple houses. The university posted a testing site along Greek Row to help mitigate the outbreaks.
— Angela King
Amazon mass vaccination event rescheduled for this weekend
10:30 a.m. — The mass vaccination event at the Amazon Meeting Center that was cancelled last weekend (because of snow) has been rescheduled for Saturday.
And those who couldn't get their second doses because of the weekend storm can go to a rescheduled event this Sunday.
Virginia Mason Franciscan Health is hosting the vaccine events.
— Angela King
Sen. Patty Murray pushing Covid relief in Washington DC
10 a.m. — Senator Patty Murray says her number one priority in Congress right now is passing a federal Covid relief bill.
The $1.9 trillion proposal, supported by Democrats, includes stimulus checks, additional unemployment benefits, and more money for vaccine distribution.
"But I also think we have to think about not just getting back to normal, but making sure that what we have in place keeps us from ever going down this road again," Murray said. "Making sure that we have the kinds of policies in place so that if you are sick you can take some time off and you're not spreading a disease like Covid. And that means paid sick leave."
Earlier this month, Murray introduced the FAMILY Act. It would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for those needing to recover from childbirth or an illness or who have to take care of an sick relative
— Andy Hurst
More pharmacies get permission to provide Covid-19 vaccine
9:30 a.m. — More local pharmacies will offer Covid-19 vaccines next week thanks to a special partnership with the federal government.
Walmart, Rite Aid, Fred Meyer, and QFC will join Safeway /Albertson's and Costco in giving out the shots at their stores.
— Angela King
Seattle gets 2,500 doses while vaccination supplies are short
9 a.m. — Some Covid vaccination sites in the state are temporarily shutting down because they're short on, or don't have any more, doses.
Winter storms across the country have kept bulk shipments of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines from getting to Washington state. That's why sites in Auburn and Kent are hitting pause for some appointments today.
But the sites in Seattle are still open, even though Mayor Jenny Durkan says things will have to change a bit at one location in West Seattle.
"We were kicking off a vaccination popup we have there for some Latinx seniors and some seniors from West Seattle and we're gonna have to bifurcate it into two days because our shipment didn't come in either," Durkan said.
That popup clinic opened Thursday.
Seattle was able to get about 2,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine this week from the state.
— Paige Browning
Popup vaccine clinic in West Seattle aims for older Latinos
8 a.m. — A popup clinic in West Seattle is targeting older Latinos and people in the area with 750 doses of Covid vaccine allocated just for them.
Isabel Quijano says that, in her family, the virus started with her adult son and his wife back in December. Then it infected her husband, her other adult children, and their families. Only she and her 7 year-old granddaughter didn’t get sick.
Now she’s working as a community health worker to get older Latinos signed up for the vaccine.
Despite being only 10% of the population, Latinos in King County make up almost 25% of Covid positive cases.
But the weather and technical logistics have some community partners worried about a low turn out for a highly coveted Covid shot.
The city of Seattle says they’ve vaccinated 390 people at this location so far. They’ll wrap up this weekend.
— Esmy Jimenez
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 18
Winter weather has stalled vaccine shipments into Washington this week
11:45 a.m. — Winter storms across the United States have prevented about 200,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine from reaching Washington state.
The Seattle Times reports that 90% of Washington's vaccine shipment this week has been delayed. As a result, the mass vaccination site in Benton County will be closed over the weekend.
Shipping companies like UPS and FedEx are struggling to overcome the icy weather, and air transportation has also been affected.
— Dyer Oxley
Counterfeit masks removed from shelves
8 a.m. — The head of the Washington State Hospital Association says retailers have removed approximately two million counterfeit N-95 masks from store shelves in the state after learning they don’t meet quality standards.
Cassie Sauer said her organization and 40 hospitals in Washington bought the masks to supplement their supplies, which appeared to be from 3M, a common N-95 manufacturer.
“It’s rather horrifying to have bought these masks," Sauer said. "They were about $4 apiece, so the hospital association spent $1.4 million on them, about $8 million totally from across the state.”
Sauer says her group has been working with 3M and the Department of Homeland Security to find the masks and keep them from getting to the public.
Samples have been sent off for testing.
Sauer says 3M will send a million masks to her agency over the next few weeks for hospitals to use
— Derek Wang
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 17
Snowstorms delay vaccine shipments expected in Washington state
5 p.m. — This week’s Covid vaccine shipments are delayed, so some of this week’s vaccine appointments might have to get rescheduled.
That’s because many airports across the country are closed due to record snowfall. Moderna shipments, in particular, seem to have been held up by the weather.
Washington’s vaccine providers hope the missing doses will arrive this evening, so that they won’t have to push off any appointments.
— Eilis O'Neill
Bothell faces lawsuit over $5 hazard pay
2 p.m. — The city of Bothell is being sued by the Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Food Industry Association over the city's mandated $5 per hour hazard pay for grocery workers.
The Bothell pay bump went into effect Wednesday. The lawsuit aims to have the court void it and prevent it from being implemented as the case moves forward.
“Our grocery members care about the safety of all essential workers and we have invested heavily in safety measures and benefits to our workers. This ordinance doesn’t do anything to make grocery workers safer. If the city council wants to make them safer, we ask them to help us in asking the Governor to prioritize vaccination for all essential workers now, regardless of age,” said Amanda Dalton, NWGA President. “Washington grocery stores have been safe throughout the pandemic and remain safe. Filing another lawsuit is the last thing we want to do, but the unequal application of this ordinance is unfair and illegal and needs to be challenged on its merits.”
The city of Seattle has also been sued over its $4 per hour required hazard pay. QFC announced Tuesday that it plans to close two of its Seattle locations, citing the pay requirement as a primary reason.
While Seattle's hazard pay is not its reason, Trader Joe's has implemented a $4 pay bump company wide.
— Dyer Oxley
Covid-19 cases heading down in King and Pierce Counties
10 a.m. — New Covid-19 cases continue to trend downward around Seattle and Tacoma.
The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department reports its 14-day case rate per 100,000 people has dropped from 465 on January 12, down to less than half that (196) as of Tuesday.
In King County, the same 14 day case rate is now down to 157, also less than half the cases seen in mid January.
That said, that number is still well above King County's stated goal of having less than 25 cases per 100,000 people over two weeks.
— Kim Malcolm
Gov. Inslee responds to criticism about vaccine rollout
8 a.m. — Washington Governor Jay Inslee has faced criticism for how slow the rollout of vaccines in the state have been.
He responded Tuesday, saying that Washington now ranks 12th in the nation for vaccine distribution. So far, more than a million doses have been provided in Washington state.
"A very rapid increase in acceleration in our rate, vaccinating Washingtonians. More than 81% of our supply is now in people's arms," Inslee said.
Many are still waiting for a shot. Inslee says the state is waiting on a new round of doses from the federal government.
"There's another 700,000 Washingtonians who are eligible right now and that's why we need more products," he said.
Inslee says the Biden administration has told him the number of doses sent to Washington each week will increase. He couldn’t say by exactly how many.
— Casey Martin
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY, 16
Washington K-12 schools can 'safely' reopen for in-person learning, Inslee says
2:54 p.m. — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday announced that K-12 schools across the state can reopen for in-classroom instruction.
The push to reopen schools comes amid fierce debates about the risks of sending kids and educators back into school buildings during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Inslee said that Tuesday's announcement is intended to "incentivize" Washington's school districts to return to in-person learning. It is not a requirement, however. Local school districts and their teachers unions have the final say.
Calling the announcement "good news for all of us," Inslee cited guidance published last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the impetus behind his recommendation to reopen schools.
“Our educators have been doing a superhuman job remotely, trying to get the attention of second graders, trying to keep third graders on task as creatively as possible," Inslee said during a press conference. "But all over the state of Washington, we are now returning to the way we know best, which is in-person instruction.”
Read more here.
Pregnant women in Washington had a 70% higher infection rate in 2020
1 p.m. — Researchers with UW Medicine are arguing that pregnant women should be moved to the front of the line for vaccines after a new study found the infection rate for this group was 70% higher than non-pregnant patients.
The study from UW Medicine further states that women of color faced more severe rates of infection, with the highest rates among the Hispanic community (half of all pregnant patients). It's the first study to look at infection rates across pregnancy. Watch the video below for more details.
“The higher infection rates in pregnant patients, coupled with an elevated risk for severe illness and maternal mortality due to Covid-19, suggests that pregnancy should be considered a high-risk health condition for Covid-19 vaccine allocation in Phase 1B all across the United States,” said Dr. Kristina Adams Waldorf, an ob-gyn with the University of Washington School of Medicine and senior author of the report.
“Our data indicates that pregnant people did not avoid the pandemic as we hoped that they would, and communities of color bore the greatest burden,” she said. “We were disheartened to see the higher infection rates in communities of color as well as in patients with limited English proficiency."
The study looked at data from 240 pregnant patients, across 35 hospitals, between March 1-June 30, 2020.
To put it in medical study speak:
A total of 240 pregnant patients with SARS-CoV-2 infections were identified during the study period with 70.7% from minority racial and ethnic groups. The principal findings in our study are: 1) The SARS-CoV-2 infection rate in pregnancy was 13.9/1,000 deliveries (95% confidence interval [CI], 8.3-23.2) compared to 7.3/1,000 (95%CI 7.2-7.4) in 20-39 year old adults in Washington State (Rate Ratio [RR] 1.7, 95%CI 1.3-2.3), 2) the SARS-CoV-2 infection rate reduced to 11.3/1000 (95%CI 6.3-20.3) when excluding 45 cases of SARS-CoV-2 detected through asymptomatic screening (RR 1.3, 95%CI 0.96-1.9), 3) the proportion of SARS-CoV-2 cases in pregnancy among most non-white racial/ethnic groups was 2-4 fold higher than the race and ethnicity distribution of women in Washington State who delivered live births in 2018, and 5) the proportion of SARS-CoV-2 infected pregnant patients receiving medical care in a non-English language was higher than estimates of limited English proficiency in Washington State (30.4% versus 7.6%).
— Dyer Oxley
Is there a Phase 3?
Noon — Lots of people are wondering what comes after Phase 2 in Washington, now that most of the state is out of Phase 1 of Governor Jay Inslee's Healthy Washington Plan.
Over the weekend, the South Central region became the last in the state to advance to Phase 2. Restaurants, gyms, theaters and other venues can operate at 25% capacity under Phase 2.
But there's still no clear picture as to what Phase 3 will look like. KUOW will be monitoring the governor's press conference at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. Inslee is expected to talk about school testing programs and the return of in-person learning.
— Angela King
Tacoma vaccine clinic begins taking appointments
11 a.m. — Starting Tuesday, people can start registering for another drive-thru vaccine clinic in Tacoma
There is still no word on where the clinic will be located, but it'll open on Wednesday.
You must be in Phase 1A and 1B Tier 1 to get a shot and it's preferred you live or work in Pierce County.
Last month, 1,700 people got vaccinated at the county's first drive-through vaccination clinic at Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood.
— Angela King
Seattle family's experience with the UK variant
10 a.m. — Sarah Abshire, her husband, and their daughter contracted the coronavirus a week before, and she hoped her body, could continue fending off Covid-19 without hospitalization.
But Abshire’s Covid pneumonia warranted a hospital stay, and doctors were able to confirm that she didn’t have the typical strain of coronavirus — she had the “UK” variant. It’s a form of the virus that scientists say is 30-50% more contagious and — according to a United Kingdom government report — may be more deadly. This report, however, was based on data collected from a small number of people within limited settings.
Abshire’s story offers a warning to others, as public health officials ask residents to remain vigilant and cautious as the new, more contagious Covid-19 variant spreads in the Pacific Northwest.
“It hits you like a truck,” Abshire said. “Once we started showing symptoms, it was pretty downhill from there, really rapidly.”
— Ashley Hiruko
QFC closing 2 Seattle stores; blames city's new pandemic pay
9 a.m. — Kroger companies, which owns and operates QFC in the Seattle area, said Tuesday that it plans to close two of its Seattle grocery stores. The company blames Seattle's new mandated $4 pandemic pay for pushing these two locations into closing.
The two locations, which QFC says are "underperforming" are: 416 15th Avenue East (Capitol Hill); and 8400 35th Avenue NE (Wedgwood).
The two locations will remain in operation until April 24. QFC notes that it is providing the required pay to employees.
In a statement, Kroger said:
“Our business provides affordable groceries, good jobs with growth opportunities to thousands of Seattle residents, and proudly supports thousands of local community organizations. We need a level playing field to deliver on these commitments. Unfortunately, Seattle City Council didn’t consider that grocery stores – even in a pandemic – operate on razor-thin profit margins in a very competitive landscape. When you factor in the increased costs of operating during COVID-19, coupled with consistent financial losses at these two locations, and this new extra pay mandate, it becomes impossible to operate a financially sustainable business."
“Seattle City Council’s misguided mandate targets one industry and not only oversteps our collective bargaining rights, but it altogether exempts several non-union competitors. City Council and the Mayor refuse to answer why their proposal does nothing to raise wages for the City’s own frontline workers, who are serving with the same dignity and determination as our own associates. Unfortunately, the irreparable harm that will come to workers and our Seattle community is a direct result of the City’s attempt to pick winners and losers among essential businesses and workers."
QFC is currently offering its employees a $100 incentive if they receive both vaccine doses.
The Seattle City Council passed a bill in January that required grocery stores to pay $4 extra per hour as pandemic conditions continue. The move by the Council prompted the Washington Grocery Association to sue over the requirement.
Trader Joe's recently decided to increase its own hazard pay up to $4 across its entire chain.
Also, two King County Council members want to take the $4 hazard pay countywide.
Councilmembers Girmay Zahilay and Dave Upthegrove say it's time that King County require the $4 per hour increase at large grocery chains. The proposal is scheduled to be moved forward to a committee this week, which will start to review it.
— Dyer Oxley and Paige Browning
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 12
Are you ready for schools to reopen?
4:55 p.m. — After a year-long absence from public schools, some students will return for in-person learning. This news comes with a sigh of relief for some families, but it also leaves them with concerns and plenty of questions. What is it like in the classroom during a pandemic? What steps are schools taking to prevent the spread of Covid-19?
Starting Tuesday, February 16, The Record is kicking off a weekly segment about schools during the pandemic, and we want to hear from you and address your questions. Email email@example.com or fill out this GOOGLE FORM Your responses may be used in an upcoming story.
Washington marks one million vaccine doses
3:35 p.m. — There have been more than one million Covid-19 vaccine doses administered in Washington state since they were approved in December.
The Washington State Department of health is celebrating the one million milestone, which took about eight weeks to accomplish.
The million doses includes both first and second doses.
DOH also states that it is over halfway to its goal of giving out 45,000 shots per day. And 1.2 million people have used the state's online Phase Finder tool to see if they are approved to get a shot.
— Dyer Oxley