Updates on the coronavirus pandemic in Seattle and Washington state (March 22-16)
This post is archived. Read the latest here.
As of Friday, March 26, the Washington State Department of Health reports:
- 5,218 Covid-19 related deaths; 337,475 confirmed cases; 22,191 probable cases; and a 1.5% 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.
- So far, 3,012,719 doses (not total number of people) of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered to Washingtonians.
Need a vaccine?
FRIDAY, MARCH 26
Phase Finder no longer needed to verify vaccine eligibility in Washington state
4 p.m. — Starting Wednesday, March 31, vaccine providers in Washington state will no longer have to use Phase Finder to verify whether vaccine recipients are eligible or not.
That’s according to an email the state Department of Health sent to vaccine providers Friday. Phase Finder is the state’s online tool that helps users find out if they're eligible for a Covid vaccine.
It acts as a quiz, asking a series of questions to determine eligibility. Many vaccine providers required people to show a printout or screenshot of their results from the tool before getting a shot.
The email said the department hopes removing Phase Finder from the vaccine appointment process will remove a technological hurdle for those who don’t have access to a printer, or the technical know-how to grab a screenshot.
The email also said the department trusts most people will continue to wait their turn.
And that the state’s priority now is vaccinating as many vulnerable people as possible before May 1, when everyone 16 and older will become eligible.
58% of Seattle families say they will return their kids to school buildings
3:30 p.m. — Seattle schools begin to reopen on Monday, with elementary students returning the following week, on Monday, April 5.
Of families responding to a district survey in the past week, 58 percent of students — more than 14,000 — plan to return in-person by April 5, said district spokesperson Tim Robinson. School staff will contact the 17 percent of students' families who did not respond to the survey over the next few days to determine whether they intend to return or stay remote.
Seattle Education Association vice-president Uti Hawkins said that more than 80 percent of union members voted to approve the agreement.
“Knowing that there is just as much variety of opinion in our educators as there is in the whole community right now, it just feels very reassuring to know that we really honored their voices with health and safety and some other things that they needed to hear in order to make this transition,” Hawkins said.
Concerns rising along with new Covid cases in Washington
1 p.m. — Washington health officials are sounding an alarm as Covid cases are starting to rise yet again, shortly after plateauing at a higher level than ever before.
“I am increasingly concerned about the signs we’re seeing in our data. Previous declines have stopped, and disease activity may be increasing,” said Acting State Health Officer Scott Lindquist, MD, MPH. “We all need to recognize that the pandemic is not over and significant risk remains, even as we vaccinate more and more people. We need to limit the spread of the virus by actively making good choices in our communities, including wearing masks, keeping our distance, avoiding gatherings and delaying travel.”
Use of hospital beds had previously been on the decline, and have flattened since January. Hospital bed counts have started going back up since mid-March.
According to the Washington State Department of Health: "The latest DOH statewide situation report shows the state's progress in fighting COVID-19 since early January is slowing. These trends are cause for significant concern as variants of the virus that spread more easily and cause more serious illness become more widespread in the state."
— Dyer Oxley
Seattle focusing on vaccinations, less on testing at two sites
Noon — Next week, two of Seattle’s coronavirus testing sites will transition into full-time vaccination hubs. The Fire Department has been operating the sites in West Seattle and Rainier Beach.
The change means they’ll be able to vaccinate an extra 3,000 people per week, according to the city.
Mayor Jenny Durkan says vaccinations have lagged behind in both communities and the city hopes to boost those numbers.
“In the south end, because we’ve seen in our communities of color disproportionally impacted by Covid, both the health and economic impacts," Durkan said. "And in West Seattle, both the communities of color, but also because West Seattle, the mobility is so much harder with the bridge out.”
Durkan says if they see case numbers rise they’ll pivot back to testing again.
The city’s other free testing sites will remain open.
— Kate O'Connell
"Breakthrough cases" are happening in Washington state
10 a.m. — Here's a new pandemic phrase to learn: "breakthrough case."
That's the term doctors use to describe when someone gets Covid-19 despite being fully vaccinated. And it's happened in the Northwest.
The Washington state Department of Health says "a few" breakthrough cases have been reported to the agency among the roughly one million Washingtonians who are now fully vaccinated.
It won't say exactly how few while it looks for any commonalities between the cases, such as maybe there was a bad batch of vaccine or maybe there's a troublesome new virus variant.
"Breakthrough infections happen, but they are rare," said State Health Secretary Umair Shah. "We do not want people to feel that this is a reason for them not to get vaccinated. Vaccines absolutely work."
Shah says his department will release a report on the so-called breakthrough cases and vaccine effectiveness in the near future after doing some more investigating.
— Tom Banse
Students can sit closer
8 a.m. — Students will be able to sit closer in the classroom now that Washington Governor Jay Inslee is changing social distancing requirement for schools.
Desks can now be spaced three feet apart instead of six, according to new guidance announced by the CDC last week.
This change will make it easier for schools to open to more students at a time.
"I am so convinced that having more children back into school to have those magic relationships with their tremendous educators that that is absolutely necessary, to their well being," Inslee said. "And these are decisions we made for the benefit of our children. And I'm very confident that they are the right ones."
The rule change goes into effect immediately, but districts can maintain their current six-foot requirements until the end of the school year.
— Ann Dornfeld
THURSDAY, MARCH 25
Mariners tickets on sale for in-person games
Noon —There will be no more cardboard cutouts at T-Mobile Park as the Mariners start their next season. It's been 542 days since they had a fan in the seats.
Tickets to see the Seattle Mariners went on sale Thursday morning. But you won't be able to buy any for the home opener on April 1 - those are already sold out.
Up to 9,000 fans will allowed to sit in the stands. They will be placed in pods that can accommodate up to six people. Those pods will be places six fee apart.
This will be the first big test of a big local sporting event resuming, amid the pandemic.
— Angela King
Spike in Covid cases in King County jails
10 a.m. — King County Corrections says it's recorded 46 positive Covid-19 cases among those in custody over the past two weeks.
Seven staff members have also tested positive.
Most of the infected in-custody are in Seattle. The others are in Kent. And most of the cases have been detected within the past five days; 19 were detected on Monday alone.
A spokesperson says all the patients have been transferred to the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, which houses the county’s “medical isolation” beds.
The facility noted that most individuals in detention are not eligible for vaccination until the end of the month. In a written statement Jail Health staff said they had already vaccinated inmates age 65 and over.
Corrections officials say as of this week they are testing all inmates and distributing surgical masks, rather than cloth masks, to everyone in custody.
— Angela King
Vaccines to open to all Washingtonians (16 and older) May 1
7 a.m. — All Washingtonians 16 and older will be eligible to sign up to get a Covid-19 vaccine by May 1.
The state announced the move Wednesday.
While eligibility will open up to more people, vaccine demand still outweighs supply. It is likely that not everyone will get a shot immediately and there may be some wait.
Check the links at the top of this blog for help finding vaccine appointments.
About two million more people in Washington can start signing up for their shots March 31. That group includes those 60 and older, people with two or more medical conditions (aka co-morbidities), and those who work or live in congregate settings.
And altogether, approximately 80% of Washingtonians will be able to get the shots in just over a month.
— Angela King
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 24
Effort emerges to start Seattle-Alaska cruise season
2 p.m. — Two senators have introduced legislation to reopen the cruise industry between Alaska and Washington state — skipping Canada.
Cruise ships have been anchored ever since the pandemic began, limiting travel, especially between the United States and Canada. Even if cruise ships could start back up between Alaska and Washington, they often stop in British Columbia along the way. But Canada has kept its border closed to US traffic.
So two senators from Alaska are proposing that cruise ships sail between Washington state and Alaska, bypassing British Columbia. The proposal is being pushed by Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both are Republicans from Alaska.
“Canada’s recent decision to prohibit Alaska-bound cruise ships from operating in Canadian waters creates legal hurdles that will hamstring the Alaska cruise season, creating additional economic strain on Alaska’s entire economy, especially in our Southeast communities. Alaskan communities are already facing severe economic hardship and uncertainty from missing one tourism season as a result of Covid-19," Murkowski said in a statement. "We have seen double-digit employment declines in Southeast and a more than 30% drop in revenue statewide. Missing another cruise season would only compound the economic fallout that has been devastating for so many families."
— Dyer Oxley
City of Seattle to vaccinate 6,000 more people weekly by March 31, end Covid testing at Rainier Beach and West Seattle sites
12:45 p.m. — City officials say they will stop conducting Covid-19 testing at Rainier Beach and West Seattle hubs by March 31 to increase vaccination capacity at each site.
The change will increase the weekly number of shots given at the locations by 3,000 each, and will ramp up the city's overall weekly total by 6,000 shots.
The Seattle Fire Department currently administers 1,000 shots per day either hub. That number will increase to 1,500 shots each on March 31. The city says it is approaching 40,000 shots administered thus far.
City officials cited a "continually dropping" demand for Covid-19 testing alongside the increasing demand for vaccinations as the reason for the change. Walk-up and drive-thru Covid-19 testing will remain available at various other city-operated hubs, appointments for which can be found here.
Eastern Washington schools ask for relaxed 6-foot rule
Noon — Dozens of school superintendents east of the Cascade Mountains are asking Governor Jay Inslee to relax the 6-foot distancing requirement on school campuses.
They sent a letter with the request last month, stating that the 6-foot requirement makes it nearly impossible to bring all students back to the classroom.
They said reporting from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows some countries have been successful reopening classes with a 3-foot distance between students and asked the governor to consider allowing for that change.
A total of 32 public schools, eight private schools, and two charter schools signed the letter.
— Angela King
Health officials try to fill vaccination appointments in Eastern Washington
11:30 a.m. — There's plenty of vaccine appointments in part of Eastern Washington, but health officials are having some difficulty filling them.
KOMO reports that vaccination sites in Kennewick and Walla Walla are finding that they plenty of open Covid vaccine appointments, despite people being eligible for them.
Health officials say that those who wanted a shot likely got them already, and now it's about those who are "still eligible but haven't been begging for it yet."
— Dyer Oxley
Students sue colleges for remote-learning experiences during pandemic
11 a.m. — A group of students is suing Oregon State University and the University of Oregon, arguing that they were charged full-price for online classes. They say those lessons were of poorer quality than in-person classes.
The University of Oregon says on its website that in order to provide quality education, it cannot discount tuition.
The universities did agree to refund portions of their room and board.
A similar class action lawsuit was filed against University of Washington last fall. A student argued that his tuition covered a variety of services and campus access, yet those things were closed during the pandemic.
This week, a King County Superior Court judge dismissed UW's request to toss the case out. It is moving forward.
— Paige Browning
$92M approved for King County pandemic relief
10 a.m. — The King County Council has approved $92 million in pandemic-relief funding.
This is the county's sixth round of relief money. The Council expects a seventh round will be needed in the coming weeks.
The money's coming from a combination of federal and state funding and most most of it will be spent on housing and rental assistance.
The rest will go toward vaccinations efforts, PPE supplies, and community-based organizations including one that serves those experiencing homelessness during the pandemic.
The Seattle Times further reports that $2 million from the county's general fund is now slated for a new gun violence prevention program. It will have a focus on younger people.
King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, told the Times that such violence has increased throughout the pandemic. The King County Prosecutor's Office has tracked gun violence over the past four years, and says that 3/4 people who are shot, and are charged with shootings, are young people of color.
— Angela King
Variant is spreading in Washington state
9 a.m. — Two more cases of the B.1.351 coronavirus variant have been found in Washington state.
B.1.351 was first identified in South Africa and has been labeled a variant of concern by state health officials. This variant is more concerning because it's easier to spread between people, and some of the current vaccines may be less effective against it.
The two newest cases of the variant were found in Thurston County. Up until now, eight cases had been reported statewide.
As for other variants, B.1.1.7 (first identified in the UK) is still the most prevalent Washington state with 146 cases reported thus far.
Health officials are urging people to mask up and not let their guard down. Also, get vaccinated, especially as more businesses (allowed at 50% capacity) and points of contact are opening up to the public.
— Angela King
SW Washington city fined for council members not wearing masks
8 a.m. — Washington state is fining the city of Woodland because its council members haven't been wearing face masks during their meetings.
Woodland, in southwest Washington, has been fined $1,200.
The Department of Labor and Industries says council members exposed their staff and other employees to the potential spread of Covid-19.
The Council has held mostly in-person meetings since June 1, after voting unanimously to do so on May 20 “regardless of Gov. (Jay) Inslee’s stay-at-home order.”
The city has 15 work days from March 19 to pay the $1,200 fine, or it can appeal the citation.
— Angela King
TUESDAY, MARCH 23
Status of nursing homes, care facilities and vaccines
9 a.m. — People who live and work at nursing homes and other senior living facilities were among the first in line for Covid vaccines in Washington state.
However, officials don't know how many of them have been fully vaccinated. Instead, the state Department of Health says they know how many facilities have had vaccinations. In other words, they know the places, not the people.
Data indicates that vaccinations have occurred at around 85% of places like nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Hundreds of places still need vaccines, especially adult family homes (houses where a handful of people live together and get care).
Around 150 facilities have refused vaccinations.
Reports of positive Covid cases in long-term care facilities have recently fallen to their lowest level since the pandemic began.
— Anna Boiko-Weyrauch
Microsoft will start bringing employees back into Redmond office
7 a.m. — Microsoft is going to start bringing workers back to its main campus in Redmond on Monday, March 29.
The company says it's been monitoring local heath data, and has decided it's time to make the change.
Employees can chose to return or continue to working remotely.
Microsoft says the hybrid working-from-home model will continue indefinitely. More than 50,000 people normally work at the Redmond campus.
— Angela King
MONDAY, MARCH 22
FEMA to bring new mass vaccination site to Yakima Valley
Noon — The federal government has approved a new mass-vaccination site for Yakima Valley.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to operate a six-week vaccination site that could administer more than 1,000 doses each day.
FEMA will set up a drive-thru vaccination site at the Central Washington State Fair Grounds. It will also operate mobile unit to bring vaccines to people who cannot get to a fixed site. Together, they should be able to administer 1,200 doses each day.
The vaccine supply for the Yakima Valley operation will come from the federal supply and draw on the state's supply.
"We are so appreciative to FEMA and our other federal partners for working with the state to make significant additional resources available to the people of the Yakima Valley,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement Monday. “This will be a tremendous boost to our vaccine equity efforts and will also reach out directly to Washingtonians who don’t have the means of transportation to a fixed vaccination site.”
— Dyer Oxley
Northshore students return to class today
10 a.m. — One of the first school districts in our area to stop in-person learning because of the pandemic is welcoming students back to the classroom today.
Kindergarten through third graders in the Northshore School District will start hybrid learning this morning.
Fourth and fifth graders can start returning in April.
Meanwhile, Seattle Public Schools (the state's largest school district) will start welcoming some pre-K and students with special needs next Monday, March 29. All other elementary school students will be allowed to return a week later on April 5.
— Angela King
Colleges make pandemic precautions for Spring Break
9 a.m. — College students around the country, and right here in Washington, are on spring break this week.
The University of Washington is discouraging its students from taking non-essential trips during this time. As for Washington State University, it's forgoing its traditional Spring Break and will spread out the vacation days over three long weekends this semester.
Places like Miami Beach, Florida have announced mandatory nightly curfews because of the large crowds gathering there for the break,
— Angela King
Washington state enters Phase 3
8:30 a.m. — All of Washington is moving into Phase 3 of the state's reopening plan today.
That means restaurants, gyms, and bowling alleys can operate at 50% capacity
Sports stadiums, like T-Mobile Park, can be 25% full, and up to 400 people can attend things like high school graduations and other gatherings, depending on the size of the venue.
Masks and social distancing are required.
The state is also reverting to a county-by-county basis, rather than a regional approach.
Counties that see an increase in cases could revert to Phase 2, where things like restaurants can only operate at 25% capacity.
— Angela King
Covid cases rising in King County as region opens back up
8 a.m. — Restrictions on sporting events, gyms, restaurants, and many other businesses are easing up today. At the same time, cases of Covid-19 are ticking up in King County.
An increasing number of outbreaks are tied to restaurants, bars, and travel.
That's why King County's Public Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin says he hopes people will continue to take precautions and avoid indoor spaces where people aren't wearing masks, or where the ventilation is bad.
"The vast majority of the population remains susceptible to Covid-19," Duchin said. "The viruses (variants) that are currently circulating are more effective at spreading from person-to-person. So I think those factors are going to drive transmission up. It would be a shame if many people became infected over the next month or two just as vaccines are about to become available to most of the population."
Dr. Duchin says cases among those 65 and older are down thanks to vaccines, but cases are up among people in their 20 and 30s.
Read more details here.
— Eilis O'Neill
345K vaccine doses expected to arrive in Washington this week
7 a.m. — Washington state is expecting to get another 345,000 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine this week. A little more than half of those doses are are for first-dose shots; the rest are second doses.
And approximately 8,000 doses are the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Washington is in the middle of the pack, compared to other states, when it comes to the percentage of people who are already vaccinated.
About 23% of Washingtonians are partially vaccinated (they've had at least one dose).
The states with the highest rates are at about 30% — that's New Mexico, Alaska, and South Dakota. Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee are at the lower end at about 16%
Washington launched a new website last week where people can search different sites at once, to see where doses are available in real time.
Check Washington state's vaccine locator here.
— Paige Browning