Updates on the pandemic in the Northwest
This post will be updated with information about the Covid-19 pandemic in Washington state. Scroll down for daily updates.
As of Friday, March 5, the Washington State Department of Health reports:
- 5,041 Covid-19 related deaths; 324,469 confirmed cases; 19,399 probable cases; and a 1.5% death rate among positive cases.
- 19,566 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 75% of hospital beds taken, with 10% of the ICU beds occupied by Covid-19 patients; Pierce County has 90% of beds taken, with 11% occupied by Covid-19 patients; and Snohomish County has 65% of beds taken with 5% 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, 1,865,640 Washingtonians have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
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FRIDAY, MARCH 5
Great apes get Covid-19 vaccine
10 a.m. — They aren't local, but these bonobos and orangutans are making pandemic history.
Four orangutans and five bonobos at the San Diego Zoo recently received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine specially designed for apes.
The vaccine is not the same as the option developed for humans, National Geographic reports.
One of the orangutans, named Karen, also made history in the 1990s as the first of her species to have open heart surgery.
And technically, humans are considered great apes, too, so these aren't the first great apes to get a shot — we were.
— Dyer Oxley
Washington GOP wants to reopen state by end of the month
9 a.m. — Republicans in the state Legislature want Washington to fully reopen by the end of March. But the state’s top public health official is warning against such rapid reopening.
Under the Republican plan, all Washington state businesses could immediately begin to operate at 50% capacity. All schools would also have to resume in-person learning. Then, after three weeks, all Covid restrictions would be lifted, barring a spike in hospitalizations, says Republican state Senator Sharon Brown.
“I trust the people of Washington to demonstrate personal responsibility and do what is necessary to get children back in school, people back to work and our businesses reopened completely," Brown said.
But on TVW’s Inside Olympia program Washington’s Secretary of Health, Dr. Umair Shah, said the state is still in a very precarious situation.
“We want to make sure that we do this methodically and correctly before we get to a point where you have to dial forward and now you dial back," Shah said.
— Austin Jenkins
Why Gov. Inslee opened up vaccines to school staff
8 a.m. — Governor Jay Inslee had resisted pressure to expand vaccine eligibility to school and childcare employees for weeks, until President Joe Biden ordered states to do so earlier this week.
“This was a decision by President Biden, I disagreed with it," Inslee said Thursday. "I thought it was imperative we keep access to these vaccines to the group that’s in the most dangerous category and that’s older folks.”
Inslee says he complied with Biden’s order because it was legally binding. The compliance came even though Washington state often sued the Trump administration over decisions it disagreed with.
And while Inslee said school employees became eligible about 2.5 weeks sooner than other essential front line workers, such as grocery store employees, he hopes getting education staff vaccinated will build confidence about students returning for in-person learning.
— Andy Hurst
One year later, there's still snafus with Washington's unemployment department
7 a.m. — Waves of pandemic-induced layoffs swamped Washington's unemployment offices a year ago this month.
To this day, it is still hard to get through to the claims hotlines, especially on Mondays.
"We routinely receive more than 100 calls per second at the beginning of a week," said Cami Feek, acting commissioner of the Washington State Employment Security Department.
"In the month of January, just after the Continuing Assistance Act passed, which created a ton of confusion, we had 550,000 calls in a month."
State senators questioned Feek Thursday about the ongoing complaints. She said the agency has several new fixes in the works to keep the number of snafus and delays down.
But one unhappy unemployment applicant is drumming up interest on social media for an unpermitted protest rally in Olympia this Sunday.
— Andy Hurst
THURSDAY, MARCH 4
Washington adds grocery workers, law enforcement to eligible vaccine groups this month; sets eligibility timeline through April
2:50 p.m. — Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced Thursday an expansion of groups eligible to receive a vaccine and a timeline for them to get a shot.
On March 22, Washington will open vaccines to the next tier in vaccine phase 1B. This group will now include people who work in congregate settings, such as: agriculture; grocery stores; food processing facilities; public transit; law enforcement; detention centers and corrections staff; and fire fighters. Also, people over the age of 16 who are pregnant or have a disability that puts them at high risk for the virus.
On April 12, vaccine eligibility will open up to people 50 years or older with two comorbidities.
On April 26, vaccines will open to people ages 16 and older with two or more comorbidities, and people living in congregate settings, such as detention centers and homeless shelters.
A comorbidity is a health condition that could put someone at higher risk should they get Covid-19, such as diabetes.
Timelines are tentative and rely heavily on vaccine supplies coming into Washington state. Inslee said he has "high confidence" that vaccines supplies will continue to increase.
"I am thrilled at the progress our federal government is making with manufacturers to increase supplies," Inslee said.
Read more details here.
— Dyer Oxley
Facebook to bring staff back to Puget Sound offices at 10% capacity
2 p.m. — Facebook, one of the Seattle area's large tech employers, is planning to start bringing employees back into their offices.
Facebook plans to bring back employees to offices in Seattle, Bellevue, and Redmond, starting at 10% capacity, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal. The offer will be for staff who have more difficulty working from home. Remote work will still be offered through July.
Other large employers in the region aren't as quick to invite employees back to the office. Starbucks has planned to stay remote through October 2021. Even then, it has altered its headquarters to operate largely on a work-from-home basis. The coffee company will eventually offer office space to employees at its Seattle HQ, but staff must first reserve desk space for the day.
REI is ditching its Bellevue HQ altogether and converting to a primarily work-from-home model. Though it will have satellite offices for employees. REI has said its new working flexibility will allow for its employees to live and work outside the Puget Sound region.
Microsoft has told its employees that the company now views working from home part-time (50%) as "standard." It is also considering work times as being more flexible. The company, however, is not abandoning its offices entirely and has not committed "to having every employee work from anywhere, as we believe there is value in employees being together in the workplace."
— Dyer Oxley
Museum of Flight reopens
1 p.m. — After being forced to shut down because of the pandemic, the museum of flight reopened Thursday.
Tickets can be purchased online, before people arrive in person. Capacity will be limited and visitors will need to undergo what the museum calls a "brief contactless health screening." And of course all Covid-19 protocols (masking and social distancing) will be enforced.
— Angela King
State scrambles as educators move up in vaccine eligibility phase
12:50 p.m.~ Washington is scrambling to respond to a new federal directive that now adds teachers and childcare workers to the group of people eligible for Covid vaccine.
Deputy Secretary of Health Lacy Fehrehnbach says teachers were originally planned for the next eligibility group under Phase 1b2.
“This directive just speeds up that process and immediately adds about 260,000 people to our eligibility list here in Washington state,” she said.
She recommends that teachers and childcare workers go to one of six participating pharmacy groups. They include Safeway-Albertson’s, Kroeger, and Costco.
Even with the newly eligible group, Fehrehnbach said the state will continue to vaccinate highly vulnerable communities, including older adults. By late March the state is expected to receive more than 330,000 doses per week.
~Ruby de Luna
Moment of silence for 5,000 who passed from Covid-19
Noon —A moment of silence was observed at noon Thursday to mark 5,000 people who have died from Covid-19 in Washington state.
The 5,000 marker was passed Wednesday.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee said, in a statement, that each person lost was a unique individual and has now left an empty chair in the lives of family, friends, and community.
"As we recognize the loss of 5,000 Washingtonians to Covid-19, let us both mourn for the families who have lost loved ones and be thankful for the Washingtonians who have pitched in to prevent further passing," Inslee said.
“At the same time, it is fitting and proper to be thankful for the efforts of our citizens to fight Covid-19. Our residents have kept each other safe. If we had suffered the same death rate as other states, such as South Dakota, we would be mourning an 11,000 additional Washingtonians right now. Washingtonians do right by each other. We will continue to do all we can to help reduce infections, hospitalizations and deaths, so that more Washingtonians can emerge from this pandemic to enjoy healthy lives.”
— Angela King
Suquamish Tribe to vaccinate North Kitsap School District staff
10 a.m. —The Suquamish Tribe plans to vaccinate staff in the North Kitsap School District.
The tribe will use its established drive-thru vaccine clinic to provide first doses to 600 of the district's 950 staff members on March 10.
“Suquamish has a tradition of hospitality, and that extends to our commitment to the health of all that live around us,” said Suquamish Chairman Leonard Forsman. “Having vaccinated the majority of our Tribal citizens and their families, and government and enterprise employees, we expanded to offer shots to essential Kitsap 911 dispatch staff and to other American Indians living in Kitsap County who are not Suquamish Tribal members.”
“And today, we’re announcing a joint project with the North Kitsap School District to vaccinate teachers and staff, assuring that our community’s schools can reopen safely," he said.
The tribe is also providing vaccines for the Cedar Glen Mobile on the nearby Port Madison Indian Reservation.
Suquamish officials note that the current Covid-19 pandemic is not the first time the tribe has faced a viral threat. The tribe points to the work of historian Robert Boyd, stating that "an estimated 30 percent of the Northwest Coast native population died from smallpox in the 1770s at a time when the Tribes were first in contact with European explorers. By the time settlers arrived in the 1850s, waves of measles, influenza, and additional outbreaks of smallpox had devastated tribal communities, reducing populations to an estimated quarter of their previous size."
— Dyer Oxley
Western states approve J&J vaccine. But when will it arrive in Washington?
7 a.m. — The Western States Scientific Safety Review Work Group has approved the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine for use in Washington and other West Coast states.
The group analyzes Covid-19 data for California, Oregon, Nevada and Washington and also provides a second analysis for any vaccines approved at the federal level.
Director of Public Health Seattle & King County Patty Hayes spoke during a virtual town hall meeting Wednesday night, and said King County is not expected a significant supply of the J&J vaccine soon.
"What I found out in the last day or two is that the limited doses Washington state got, I'm not even sure if (King County) is going to get any of them at this point," Hayes said, noting that the initial shipment of doses is the only shipment expected for the month.
Tacoma Pierce County Health Department, however, says on its website that it could start receiving doses as soon as next week.
— Angela King
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 3
King County one step closer to hazard pay law
2:59 p.m. ~ Hazard pay could soon be coming to unincorporated King County. A King County committee supports a proposal that would require grocery stores with at least 500 workers to pay $4 an hour extra during the pandemic.
Council member Claudia Balducci says expressing gratitude to essential workers is meaningless without compensation.
“Regardless of what kind of (safety) protocols you put in place, there’s a risk that somebody’s taking on who’s out in public working all the time that those of us who get to work from home are not taking on.”
The ordinance is similar to a hazard pay law in Seattle and Burien. And the pay increase would be temporary—it would be in effect until the County Executive’s Covid-19 emergency declaration ends.
The bill now heads to the full council for consideration next week.
~Ruby de Luna
8% of Washingtonians have received both vaccine doses
1 p.m. — President Biden says most Americans should be able to get a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine by May.
So far, approximately 14% of Washingtonians have gotten at least one shot of the two-shot vaccine; around 8% have received both doses.
And to put that second figure into perspective, that's like having everyone in the cities of Everett, Bellevue, Renton, and Tacoma fully vaccinated.
Still no firm date on when the new Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine will arrive in Washington state.
— Angela King
2-day vaccine clinic to open in White Center March 4-5
11 a.m. — A partnership between local grocery stores and business organizations is bringing a two-day vaccine clinic in White Center.
The vaccine clinic will be open March 4-5 at Evergreen High School (830 SW 116th Street, Seattle). The site will have language translations services for Somali, Spanish, Vietnamese, Khmer, and English. The clinic will be providing the Pfizer vaccine.
The two-day vaccine effort is a partnership between QFC, Fred Meyer, Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Business Health Trust, Comcast, White Center Community Development Association, and Evergreen High School. The vaccines are behind provided through Kroger Health.
“The partners truly came together in an impactful way to vaccinate hundreds of eligible people in the White Center community. We are committed to doing our part to bring businesses together to help get people vaccinated in a way that brings equity and access to all. We are so grateful for the dedicated teams at QFC, Fred Meyer, Comcast, White Center CDA and Evergreen High School who have been working hard to make this a reality,” said Sarai Childs, Executive Director of Business Health Trust.
Organizers said the site was chosen to better serve the diverse community in White Center.
The clinic is open by appointment only. A Kroger spokesperson said that the organizers are working with a local housing authority to reach potential participants.
— Dyer Oxley
Some Renton teachers return to in-person class
10 a.m. — Teachers in Renton will be on hand Wednesday to welcome some of their preschool, kindergarten, and special education students back to the classroom.
The union and the district reached a last minute agreement Tuesday night after teachers said they wouldn't return to class because they didn't feel it was safe to do so.
The union had previously voted to continue with remote learning despite being called back. The district was going to call in substitutes, but the union says the new agreement gives educators and families trust and confidence that school buildings will be as safe as possible.
— Angela King
King County opening vaccine availability to ages 65 and older
9 a.m. — Next in line for Covid-19 vaccinations is anyone 65 and older. Two of Seattle’s mass vaccinations sites had previously focused on those 75 years and older in Black and Indigenous POC communities.
King County Executive Dow Constantine says sites are now ready to expand.
"We are excited that we have really increased the percentage of those over 75 who have received a dose, but now, as of today, two thirds of King Country residents 75 and over have received at least one dose, 56% of those between 65 and 74."
Dow says essential workers are next in line. That group includes grocery clerks, teachers and bus drivers over 50.
Although, the racial balance of those vaccinated has improved greatly, Constantine says that percentages in Black and Hispanic communities still lag. He says King County will continue to partner with trusted community leaders to improve these percentages.
— Sonya Harris
Teachers, childcare providers now included in current vaccine phase
8 a.m. — Teachers across Washington state are now able to receive a Covid-19 vaccine. According to an announcement from Governor Jay Inslee, childcare workers will also be included in the widening group of eligible vaccine recipients.
Educators and childcare workers will get their doses through the federal government’s pharmacy program. They can go to VaccineFinder.org or they can contact their local pharmacy to see if appointments are available. Or, they’re expected to hunt for a dose through the state’s system or their health care provider.
Washington state's Phase Finder will take a little while to update to reflect these changes.
Governor Inslee also said he will release details soon about making workers in other professions eligible, such as those at grocery stores, jails and farms.
Read more details here.
— Anna Boiko-Weyrauch
DOH warns about water risks at idle buildings
7 a.m. — Washington's Department of Health is looking ahead to buildings potentially opening and warning people about health concerns as a result of idle buildings.
In particular, DOH is saying that buildings that have sat for nearly a year are at higher risk of Legionella exposure. Having little or no water flow through a building's pipes increases the risk for this bacteria.
In a blog post, DOH states: Legionella bacteria occur naturally in the environment, usually in water. Legionella can cause a type of pneumonia called Legionnaires’ disease, and a flu-like illness without pneumonia called Pontiac Fever. People are exposed by breathing tiny water droplets contaminated with Legionella from water fixtures such as showers, hot tubs, and decorative fountains. Building users may be at higher risk of exposure because of stagnant water conditions during the COVID-19 related shutdown and when full use resumes.
The risks are heightened in buildings that have sat for months amid pandemic restrictions and as many people have worked from home.
DOH recommends opening up pluming and water flow for 2-3 weeks before people are present and routinely testing for Legionella.
— Dyer Oxley
TUESDAY, MARCH 2
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee moves up teachers, childcare workers in the vaccine queue
4:41 p.m. -- Teachers in Washington state can now get vaccinated following a directive from President Joe Biden and an announcement by Governor Jay Inslee Tuesday aftternoon.
In addition to pre-K through 12th grade teachers, school staff and licensed childcare workers are now also eligible for vaccinations.
Tuesday afternoon the governor said they are NOW part of the state’s 1B-1 vaccination group.
The educators and others are expected to get their doses through the federal government’s pharmacy program – by going on the website vaccinefinder.org or contacting their local pharmacy. Or, they’re expected to hunt for a dose through the state’s system or their health care provider.
The state’s website – called Phase Finder – will take a little while to update to reflect these changes.
Governor Inslee also said he will soon release details about making more professions eligible, which includes people who work at grocery stores, jails and farms.
-- Anna Boiko-Weyrauch
President Biden says US will have enough vaccine for everyone by May
3 p.m. — The United States will have enough vaccine for all adults by the end of May, according to President Joe Biden.
In a statement Tuesday, Biden said the country was "on track" to produce enough vaccine. The president is also pushing for teachers and educational staff to be next in line for a shot.
Biden also evoked the Defense Production Act Tuesday in order to produce greater quantities of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The act gives the president authority to designate materials and production facilities for specific uses during times of emergency. It also provides the president some control over the private market and the ability to pressure businesses to accept contracts to get the job done.
More details here.
— Dyer Oxley
House passes Covid data privacy bill
2:45 p.m. ~ A bill to protect health data privacy in Washington has passed the House. Many digital tools are being used to help public health officials monitor the virus, such as contact tracing and exposure tracking.
It exempts healthcare providers and public healthcare agencies.
The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.
~Ruby de Luna
Lawmakers urge vaccinating teachers next
Noon — Some Seattle lawmakers are calling on Mayor Jenny Durkan and Governor Jay Inslee to fast-track vaccinations for teachers.
Right now, most won’t be able to get vaccinated until this spring. School employees 50 and older are next on the priority list.
The Seattle Times reports more than a dozen lawmakers representing Seattle in the state Legislature wrote a letter to the governor, calling on him to set up vaccine clinics on campuses to help speed up the school reopening process.
Data from the state superintendent's office shows approximately only a third of students in Washington are receiving some form of in-person instruction.
Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau also wrote to state health officials last month urging them to open vaccinations to all teachers.
— Angela King
People show up on first day of Seattle vaccine clinics
11 a.m. — Seattle's two new permanent vaccination clinics at Rainier Beach and West Seattle welcomed their first patients Monday.
The sites are designed to attract seniors from minority groups that have much higher risk of exposure to Covid-19.
James Roberson got his shot Monday at Rainier Beach after he received an email from a community group he trusted.
"Well, before, I was thinking it may take a while for me to get in," Roberson said. "I’m over 60, but it’s been so hard to get in so I’ve been waiting a bit. However, I found out that Rainier Beach wanted to get people of color vaccinated – so I took another stab at it, was able to get in.”
Officials expect an increasing flow of vaccines throughout the summer.
Meanwhile, all adults age 65 and older are eligible to get their covid-19 shots ... at the mass vaccination sites in Kent and Auburn.
— Joshua McNichols
Washington's new international travel restrictions
10 a.m. — Governor Jay Inslee's office has announced updated restrictions for anyone flying into Washington state from another country.
Previously, travelers were required to quarantine for 14 days after their arrival in the state if they are traveling from countries that detected coronavirus variants.
Now, international travelers must get tested for Covid-19 no more than three days before their flight and will have to show a negative test result or proof from their doctor or public health official they've been cleared to travel.
The changes were announced Monday and better align state rules with current CDC requirements.
The CDC also recommends travelers get tested 3-5 days after they travel and they should stay home and self-quarantine for seven days.
— Angela King
Low vaccine supply at UW Medicine halts new appointments
9 a.m. — As people throughout the state await the arrival of the new Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine, UW Medicine has announced it is holding off on scheduling first-dose appointments for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
UW Medicine says it's dealing with a lack of supplies right now and will get back to scheduling appointments once its inventory levels rebound.
“We understand that this is disappointing for those who are waiting to receive their vaccination. However, we want to ensure we have a reliable vaccine supply before continuing to schedule more appointments,” UW Medicine said on its website.
It's not the first time UW Medicine has had to hold off on scheduling new appointments for vaccine doses. Last month, it held off when vaccine supplies were low, too, and only provided second doses.
As for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, many are wondering when it will arrive in Washington state. Last week, state health officials said we could start receiving nearly 61,000 doses as soon as this week.
They're also advising if you're eligible to get vaccinated now, do so, don't wait.
— Angela King
Seattle teachers union files complaint against the school district
8 a.m. — Seattle's teacher's union has filed unfair labor practice complaints against Seattle Public Schools over coronavirus concerns.
The complaints are over actions the school district took to try to return some students to classrooms during the pandemic. Specifically, allegations that the district interfered with the rights of employees to collectively bargain.
The complaints are filed with the state's Public Employment Relations Commission.
Seattle Public Schools is the state's largest district and its approximately 47,000 students haven't had access to in-person learning in almost a year.
— Paige Browning
Potential reasons why Covid-19 case numbers are going down
7 a.m. — A new analysis from public health officials finds that King County has the second lowest rate of Covid-19 cases per capita compared to other major counties in the United States. And Snohomish County has the third-lowest.
Case counts, deaths, and hospitalizations are on the decline statewide. Dr. Helen Chu with the University of Washington says researchers don't know for sure why this is happening. But they have some good guesses.
One factor could be the fact older people are getting vaccinated in greater numbers. But there are other possible reasons, too.
"There's also the possibility that there was this winter surge that happened as a result of holiday gathering, and just because of the seasonal component of all respiratory viruses, and we are coming onto the end of that surge," Dr. Chu said.
Chu also says another possibility is people are getting better at following public health guidelines, like wearing masks and physical distancing.
But she says, the declining case counts are likely a combination of several factors.
— Andy Hurst
MONDAY, MARCH 1
Notable tweets today, so far
3 p.m. —
— Dyer Oxley
King County has second lowest Covid-19 rate in nation
Noon — King County officials are celebrating data that shows the region has the second lowest rate of Covid-19 infections in the nation.
The data covers the most populous counties in the United States. Oahu in Hawaii is the only county ahead of King County.
In a statement, King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said that "despite the fact that our situation remains precarious and with significant uncertainty, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter and the path to a more normal life is becoming clearer. Despite the uncertainty and the real and significant challenges that remain, I think there is cause for cautious optimism."
Dr. Duchin notes that the pandemic has highlighted societal inequities. And despite the seemingly positive data, "21 King County residents lost their lives to Covid-19 last week – one death every eight hours." A person is also hospitalized every 2.5 hours (70 per week) in King County. Currently, more than 1,400 people have died from Covid-19 in the county since the pandemic began.
About 60% of all deaths in the county have been associated with long term care facilities; 85% have been among ages 65 and older. Last week, however, was the first time in a year that Washington did not report a new Covid-19 case at a long term care facility.
"We have many reasons to be encouraged as a community," Duchin stated. "Although this has been a dreadful year in many ways, King County and our region has, until this point, weathered this storm relatively well compared to most of the rest of the country. King County has among the very lowest Covid-19 case and death rates among the 100 largest counties in the US, ranking 2nd from lowest in our total Covid-19 case rate and 6th from lowest in our Covid-19 death rate."
— Dyer Oxley
Bremerton hospital fined nearly $18K for safety violations
11 a.m. — The Kitsap Sun is reporting St. Michael Medical Center in Bremerton has been fined $17,800 for safety violations that occurred during a major outbreak in August.
More than 70 people were sickened during that outbreak and three patients died. The paper says the hospital was cited for things like not having enough barriers in place to ensure social distancing among staff, patients, and those entering the hospital.
According to a January report, St. Michael Medical Center was cited for having no written plans for using respirators. It also stated that the hospital did not properly store respirators, which are used for severely ill Covid-19 patients.
Workers at the Bremerton campus raised concerns over the summer about a lack of personal protective equipment. The Sun reports that Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, which owns St. Michael, is appealing the state’s decision.
— Angela King
School Covid-19 testing program begins today as more students return to class
10 a.m. — A new partnership to offer 300,000 rapid Covid-19 tests to students and teachers in Washington state gets underway in Auburn today.
Congresswoman Kim Schrier announced the program with Seattle Children's last week.
The hospital will analyze the results to determine the prevalence of Covid-19 in schools. The goal is to reach 139 schools, in 10 districts, across the state over the month of March.
Taking a test if voluntary. Schrier says that, ideally, the testing will be done at home to catch potentially contagious children before they return to campus.
More local students are returning to the physical classroom across the state. Teachers in Renton will welcome back some preschoolers, kindergartners, and those in special education programs on Wednesday, March 3.
Meanwhile, Seattle Public Schools has now pushed back its in-person start date for special education and some preschool students to March 11, with those teachers returning for in-person training March 8. Class sizes will be limited to 15 students or less and the classes will be distanced from each other.
According to the conservative think tank Washington Policy Center, the state is falling behind the rest of the country when it comes to in-person classes. About 28% of Washington students are in a classroom. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction also says that about 33% of students are participating in in-person classes on a weekly basis.
— Angela King
Washington waving liquor license fees for hard hit businesses
9 a.m. — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says he's signed a bill that will waive certain liquor license fees for restaurants, breweries, wineries and other venues. The governor notes that these businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic.
KXLY-TV reports the licenses can cost from just over $100 for beer and wine specialty shops to more than $2,200 for restaurants serving beer, wine and spirits.
— Angela King
Mass vaccination site slated for Seattle's Lumen Field
8 a.m. — The vaccine effort in Seattle is getting a major boost, increasing the region's ability to provide doses for thousands of people.
The mass vaccination clinic at Lumen Field (formerly CenturyLink Field) is expected to open sometime mid-March. It will be open two days a week, and officials say it will be able to provide 5,000 doses each week.
Seattle is also adding two other vaccination clinics in Rainier Beach and West Seattle. The sites have already operated as Covid-19 testing locations. The city piloted a program in February to test them as vaccination clinics. As of Monday, they are officially open. The sites are expected to provide 1,000 doses a week, each.
The city notes, however, that with adequate vaccine supplies, the sites could offer thousands more doses each week.
— Dyer Oxley
One year since first Covid-19 death in Washington, US
7 a.m. — It's been one year since the first Covid-19 death in the United States, which was reported in Western Washington.
It's one tragic milestone that could soon be followed by another as the state is on the cusp of recording 5,000 Covid-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Variants of the virus are also emerging throughout Washington state, which has experts concerned about yet another wave.
Despite somber markers, new Covid-19 infection rates continue to trend downward in Washington state. And more and more people are getting vaccinated against the coronavirus; approximately about 7% of Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated thus far. More than 1.5 million doses have been given out.
And state officials say the newly-approved, single-dose, Johnson & Johnson vaccine could start arriving locally in the coming weeks.
— Angela King
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 26
More counterfeit N95 masks confiscated
10:30 a.m. — Federal authorities have confiscated 460,000 counterfeit N95 masks that were slated for medical staff on the front lines in Washington state.
KING5 reports that the masks were seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the FBI. They were purchased by seven organizations, and were valued at $587,000.
N95 masks are used by doctors and nurses and are heavily relied upon as part of pandemic measures.
As with previously-discovered counterfeit masks, these fakes also appeared as if they came from the company 3M, which makes verified N95 masks used by medical officials. About two million counterfeit N95 masks were previously distributed in Washington state.
The recent seizure adds to the nearly 10 million fake 3M N95 masks that the feds have intercepted in recent weeks; 12 states have been affected.
— Dyer Oxley