Editor’s note: This is a live account of updates from Tuesday as the events unfolded. Extended coverage of the outbreak of a new coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2; the illness it causes, COVID-19; and its effects on the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest and the world can be found here.
Officials continue to confirm cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by a new coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2, around Washington state. In total, 24 people in Washington state are known to have died from the disease.
Residents around the Puget Sound region have faced an ongoing state of uncertainty about how the virus’ spread affects them and their daily lives.
Throughout Tuesday, on this page, we’ll be posting Seattle Times journalists’ updates on the outbreak and its effects on the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest and the world. Updates from Monday can be found here, and all our coronavirus coverage can be found here.
Western Washington University closes Bellingham campus due to COVID-19 concerns
Western Washington University, in the midst of its winter quarter finals week, issued an order Tuesday night to close its Bellingham campus and transition to online classes through March 20, due to COVID-19 concerns.
The email announcement from Western President Sabah Randhawa came in the wake of Whatcom County Health Department officials declaring a health emergency after confirmation of the first positive test for COVID-19 in a Whatcom County resident.
The closure affects all WWU locations, and is effective at 8 a.m. Wednesday, Randhawa wrote.
“Faculty will either provide exams online, or make other arrangements, including the possibility of a final grade based on work completed,” he said.
The campus will remain open, and students living on campus can remain there if they choose.
An email to the campus community earlier Tuesday from Melynda Huskey, vice president for enrollment and student services, said contingency plans for spring classes at the 16,000-student university included the likelihood of “brief interruptions to operations—perhaps 2 or 3 days—for targeted disinfection or other medical response.”
Randhawa apologized for the lateness of the message. “I know this disruption at the end of the quarter may cause some concern, but please know that we have been planning for this possibility," he wrote. "Your understanding and patience, and care for others, is greatly appreciated.”
Aegis Living Marymoor confirms another staff member tested positive for coronavirus
Another staff member at Aegis Living at Marymoor has tested positive for coronavirus, the Redmond facility said Tuesday night.
The facility previously confirmed the virus in a resident and another staff member.
The resident was taken to a hospital last Thursday for what health officials believed was an unrelated condition and was tested as a precaution. The test came back positive.
Aegis Living is restricting all nonessential visits to its Washington sites. In California, Aegis Living has asked all family members at all of its sites to reconsider visits and to not take residents offsite.
Each facility is also restricting vendors, entertainers and some service providers like massage therapists from visiting.
Inside a Seattle-area hospital on the front lines of the nation’s first major coronavirus outbreak
The staff at EvergreenHealth in Kirkland had been watching as tragedy unfolded in Wuhan, China, as the virus, SARS-CoV-2, swept through, devastating a society and prompting the Chinese government to lock down the city.
An Evergreen nurse regularly checked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, waiting. When the CDC changed its testing criteria on Feb. 27 to allow for the testing of severe pneumonia — even without travel to China — they sent two samples in immediately.
They picked two people — critical patients they thought fit the profile for the disease, known as COVID-19.
A day later, a hospital director got a phone call at 7:40 p.m. Both patients were positive.
“I think we all knew our lives had changed,” said Dr. Jeff Tomlin, the hospital’s chief executive officer.
Read the full story here.
Girl Scouts of Western Washington to offer cookie customers a discount on shipping
The Girl Scouts of Western Washington cookie program has taken a turn due to the coronavirus outbreak, according to a statement from the regional council.
The organization encouraged members to consider whether to continue participating in public cookie sales, but left the choice up to individual troops and their leaders. For those who might want to opt out of the public sales, however, Girl Scouts offered them the choice to continue their sales online.
Now, customers can buy their Thin Mints from a "digital cookie storefront," which would deliver boxes right to customers' doors, the statement said.
On Tuesday, the council also announced it would subsidize the digital cookie program from Friday to Sunday, meaning customers who buy eight or more boxes will receive $5 off on shipping costs, said Megan Ferland, CEO of Girl Scouts of Western Washington, in an email.
While the organization is encouraging troops to continue selling cookies, it will allow them to return unsold boxes on Thursday and Friday if they decide to withdraw from the cookie program because of COVID-19 concerns, the statement said.
The organization recently closed its offices in Seattle, Bellevue, Everett, Bremerton and Longview until further notice, among other prevention measures, the statement said.
Coronavirus facts in Spanish, Chinese, Amharic and other languages for Seattle-area residents
Public Health – Seattle & King County released recommendations for preventing COVID-19 infections in multiple languages, including Amharic, Chinese, Korean, Somali, Spanish and Vietnamese.
Read here for more information about the fact sheets.
‘It’s just everywhere already’: How delays in testing set back the U.S. coronavirus response
The failure to tap into a Pacific Northwest flu study was one in a series of missed chances by the federal government to ensure more widespread testing in the early days of the outbreak.
Instead, the crisis grew undetected — and exponentially.
2 more Boeing employees test positive for COVID-19
Over the past 24 hours, two more Boeing Everett workers have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to three cases at the site, Boeing Vice President Jeff Klemann informed all Puget Sound-area employees in an email Tuesday evening.
The affected employees will remain in quarantine and receive medical care until they recover and are no longer infectious. Klemann said Boeing Health Services will remain in contact with them throughout the recovery process to make sure they get the care they need.
To try to allay concern among employees, Klemann also laid out the steps Boeing is taking when employees are diagnosed with COVID-19 or are at risk of exposure:
- Boeing Heath Services interviews the infected employee to assess risk to others.
- Boeing Health Services directly contacts any employees determined to have been potentially exposed to the virus through the infected employee.
- Deep cleaning is performed in the work spaces of employees with the virus and those who may have been potentially exposed. Cleaning across the site has also been stepped up, focusing on high-touch areas.
- Boeing Health Services will clear the employee to return to work.
Some Boeing employees have been frustrated that they cannot find out precise details of who is infected or at least know the area in which those infected were working. One employee who called The Seattle Times expressed extreme worry about going to work in Everett because he has two elderly relatives at home who would be very vulnerable if he were to bring the virus to them.
To counter such fears, Klemann’s message told employees that “if you have not been contacted directly by Boeing Health Services, then our medical experts have determined that there was a low risk of exposure.”
He said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers “being in the same indoor environment, such as a classroom or factory, as a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19 as being a low risk for infection.”
Klemann cited public health officials as saying “it’s likely more cases will be confirmed in the days and weeks ahead,” though he insisted that “our team in Everett and across Puget Sound is well prepared.”
King County Council approves $28.2 million in funding for coronavirus response
The Metropolitan King County Council unanimously approved more than $28 million in emergency funding Tuesday to help the county build and operate four isolation and quarantine sites for people who show symptoms of the novel coronavirus.
The funding allows King County to purchase a vacant motel in Kent and to place trailers or modular dorms on three county-owned sites, in White Center, Interbay and North Seattle. The White Center site inspired impassioned protests from neighbors who argued it is too close to residential areas and would be placed in a diverse, low-income community.
Read the full story here.
Alaska, Southwest, battered by decline in air travel due to coronavirus, prepare to cut flights
Top executives at Alaska Airlines and Southwest said Tuesday the carriers are weighing cuts to their flight schedules in the next few months because of the precipitous drop in air traffic demand from concern about the novel coronavirus.
Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly said “the velocity and severity of the decline is breathtaking.”
Read the full story here.
Gov. Inslee to restrict gatherings of more than 250 people, including sports and concerts
OLYMPIA – To try to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Jay Inslee is expected Wednesday to restrict gatherings of more than 250 people, including at sporting events and concerts.
The measure, the most sweeping since the outbreak began in the state, will be announced during a Seattle news conference, according to a source involved in conversations with the governor’s office but who has not been cleared to discuss the issue.
Joining Inslee will be the mayors of Seattle, Everett and Tacoma and executives for King, Snohomish and Pierce counties.
Read the full story here.
Seattle's Cleveland High School announces Wednesday closure due to possible COVID-19 exposure
Seattle Public Schools announced that Cleveland High School will be closed on Wednesday and will reopen Thursday. The notification said a Cleveland staffer "was in contact with an individual who has since been diagnosed with COVID-19."
What life is like for people who choose to self-isolate to protect against coronavirus
As she talked about not being able to see her grandkids, Judith Kyle began to cry.
Due to her age and her underlying health conditions, Kyle, 74, is among those who are at particularly high risk of developing severe symptoms if exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus that is known to have killed 22 people in Washington state, most of whom were older people. So even though neither Kyle nor her husband, Jan, has exhibited any symptoms of the virus, they’ve chosen to isolate themselves in their Everett home over the past two weeks.
“I [used to] see my grandchildren every week or 10 days, and they yell and scream when I get there, ‘Grandma!’ and I miss that tremendously,” said Kyle, through sobs over the phone. “If I do get this disease, I might not see them again.”
Read the full story here.
Jails and courthouses across Washington look for ways to protect employees, jurors and inmates from coronavirus
For part of the day last Wednesday, staff at the King County Jail in downtown Seattle feared an inmate had been infected with the novel coronavirus. They sent the inmate to Harborview Medical Center and temporarily restricted the number of people entering and leaving the jail, but it turned out to be a false alarm. The inmate was treated for some other respiratory illness, according to the Department of Adult & Juvenile Detention.
While there have been no reports of anyone working or residing in the 50-plus jails across the state exhibiting symptoms of the virus, the incident showed that Washington jails are on heightened alert as the coronavirus outbreak worsens, given the close quarters inmates are confined to and the high turnover in the daily population as inmates are booked and released.
“It’s a venue where disease can get spread easily because it’s a congregate environment,” Dr. Marc Stern, a physician and affiliate professor in the University of Washington’s School of Public Health, said of the state’s jails. “It’s a double whammy — it’s a higher risk population (for contracting the virus) and you don’t have the freedom of sending them home. You can’t say, ‘Sorry, we’re not having jail today.'”
Read the full story here.
Seattle Public Schools to clean its central Sodo headquarters
Seattle Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, will clean its central headquarters in the city’s Sodo neighborhood Tuesday night after a staff member there had close contact with someone lab-confirmed with COVID-19.
The main offices, located near the intersection of Fourth Avenue South and South Lander Street, will reopen and resume normal operations Wednesday, March 11.
About 450 employees work at district headquarters, according to a spokesman.
“In an abundance of caution, we are following our emergency procedures and will clean common, high traffic areas including the bathrooms, door handles, etc.,” the district said in an email sent Tuesday afternoon to employees who work at the John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence (JSCEE).
“Please do your best to leave the JSCEE by 5 p.m. today so our custodial staff has access to all the spaces that need to be disinfected,” the district added. “This is the same procedure we are using to disinfect schools.”
Earlier Tuesday, the district announced the temporary closure of Aki Kurose Middle School in Rainer Valley starting Wednesday after an adult staff member there was diagnosed with COVID-19. It has continued to teach students in person at all other campuses.
Dick’s Drive-In urges customers to avoid paying with cash to slow spread of coronavirus
Dick’s Drive-In is asking customers to use debit or credit cards when paying for burgers, shakes and other fare, in order to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The policy, which the Seattle-based burger chain introduced Thursday, is voluntary: It’s still accepting cash at all seven of its locations. But according to signs posted at its restaurants and a statement on the company’s social media sites, Dick’s wants customers to pay with plastic “if possible” and is letting them know cash orders will take longer because “our employees have extra sanitization procedures for all orders that involve cash.”
There is no consensus among health authorities on whether cash can spread the coronavirus, which has caused outbreaks of the COVID-19 illness across the globe.
Read the full story here.
MLB prefers that teams flip sites if the coronavirus shuts ballparks, source says
If Major League Baseball can’t play in front of fans at a team’s home ballpark because of the virus outbreak, the sport’s first preference likely would be to switch games to the visiting team’s stadium if possible, a person familiar with the deliberations told The Associated Press.
MLB anticipates government officials will decide whether it is safe to play in front of fans in each city. If changes to the schedule are necessary, MLB would make determinations at the point when a ballpark has been ruled out.
Seattle businesses, government leaders set aside differences to team up on coronavirus response
As King County officials prepared to recommend that people work from home to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, they first consulted some of the area’s largest employers and business groups, seeking their feedback on the public health guidance.
The communication and collaboration among businesses and local government leaders who don’t always see eye-to-eye on other issues have helped smooth the response to the region’s coronavirus crisis. Businesses that may otherwise compete for employees or customer contracts are openly sharing information to help each other.
“The crisis has really brought us all together, and disagreements in the past, or competition, have all been set aside,” Gregoire said.
Read the full story here.
As Americans take virus precautions, Trump flouts advice
At the White House, President Donald Trump is flouting his own government's advice on how to stay safe. He continues to shake hands with supporters and visitors, hold large events and minimize the threat posed by a coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 115,000 people and killed over 4,000 worldwide.
Public health officials said Trump was sending the wrong message with his behavior and potentially putting the public at risk by sowing confusion and undermining efforts to keep people safe, especially if the situation grows worse.
Island County confirms first COVID-19 case
Island County health officials confirmed the county's first COVID-19 case Tuesday evening.
The patient is a man in his 50s who's being treated outside Island County, the county public-health department said in a statement.
Officials are now working to identify and contact all those who may have come in contact with the patient.
"At this time Public Health encourages practicing social distancing as a means to reduce the risk of exposure," the statement said. "Stay at least 6 feet away from each other, especially if someone may be sick."
Hazen High School in Renton announces it will remain closed through March 18
The Renton School District announced Tuesday that Hazen High School, which closed last week after a student stayed home with flulike symptoms, will remain closed through Wednesday, March 18, and re-open Thursday, March 19.
All other schools in Renton, which enroll about 16,000 students, will stay open, the district said in an email update. The district confirmed only one student at Hazen has tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by a new coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2.
“Hazen High School staff will return to school on Wednesday, March 18, in preparation for students returning on Thursday,” the district said in its email.
“While the school is still closed, Public Health recommends that students and staff should stay home as much as possible and avoid large social gatherings in order to help to reduce the potential for transmission,” the district added.
The district’s nutrition services will continue to provide breakfast and lunch to Hazen students, with adjustments made to learning plans.
“At this time, Public Health (- Seattle & King County) continues to recommend that schools stay open to provide important services to students,” the district said.
Is it allergies or coronavirus? How to tell them apart
Allergy symptoms can be debilitating: itchy, red, watery eyes; sneezing; runny nose and sometimes, coughing. This year, the coronavirus adds a layer of unease to the seasonal annoyance, especially in areas where pollen counts are already at moderate to high levels.
With fear rising in tandem with the number of cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, doctors worry that allergy sufferers will conflate their routine reactions to pollen with coronavirus symptoms and overwhelm an already-strained health care system with panicked visits.
But there are key differences between the virus and allergies that should help allay unnecessary panic. Allergies, which are an overreaction of the immune system to foreign particles, should not trigger chills, body aches or fevers, Bailey said. Those are the classic signs of a viral infection, such as COVID-19.
As coronavirus numbers grow, it’s time for officials to take some action with Seattle-area sports events
As the coronavirus crisis continues to dominate our world, the concept of “social distancing” is becoming an international catchphrase — not to mention a guiding principle of a safer way of life, Seattle Times sports columnist Larry Stone writes.
In so many ways, athletic events present the antithesis of social distancing (which is defined as a means of “separating communities so that people who are stricken by a contagious illness cannot pass it on to others who are not”).
Sports are intimate. They are crowded. They bring together masses of people for two or three hours of what can be unavoidably close contact. They are, to a certain extent, inherently unsanitary.
And, at this unique and fraught moment in time, they are extremely problematic.
Read the full column here.
Washington Department of Health confirms 267 COVID-19 cases, including 24 deaths
State officials have now confirmed 267 cases of novel coronavirus in Washington, including 24 deaths.
The numbers released by the Department of Health Monday afternoon are likely an undercount, as the state is working to confirm reports from local health agencies and other sources like hospitals and nursing home facilities.
Of the confirmed 24 deaths in the state, at least 19 are associated with Life Care Center of Kirkland, according to Public Health – Seattle & King County. The nursing home has been linked to at least 54 total confirmed cases in the state, although the number is likely much higher, as Public Health stopped releasing detailed information about each case days ago.
Here’s the breakdown by county from the state’s updated numbers:
- King: 190 cases, including 22 deaths
- Snohomish: 54 cases, including one death
- Pierce: 14 cases, no deaths
- Kitsap: two cases, no deaths
- Grant: one case, including one death
- Jefferson: one case, no deaths
- Clark: one case, no deaths
- Kittitas: one case, no deaths
- Skagit: one case, no deaths
The state also reported two cases that have not yet been assigned to a county.
Whatcom County also recently confirmed its first case of COVID-19, which was not included in the state's count.
First Seattle Public Schools campus, Aki Kurose Middle School, temporarily closes due to COVID-19 case
So far, Seattle Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, has continued to teach students in person. On Tuesday, the district said Aki Kurose Middle School in Rainier Valley will close temporarily starting Wednesday after an adult staff member there was diagnosed with COVID-19.
The school will be closed “until further notice,” according to a statement from district spokesman Tim Robinson. All activities at the school are also canceled until further notice while SPS Facility Operations workers “perform extensive cleaning,” a process that includes spraying disinfectants and wiping down all surfaces.
The district is working with public health officials to determine when the school will reopen. In the meantime, students who depend on meals at school will be able to pick up food on the campus’s north driveway on weekdays as long as the school is closed.
There were no other known COVID-19 cases in the school or district, Robinson said. While schools remain open, “all events that bring large groups … together have been cancelled … in an abundance of caution.”
Coachella and Stagecoach postponed due to COVID-19 concerns
Coachella and Stagecoach, two of California's biggest music festivals, are being postponed.
Coachella, originally scheduled for April 10-12 and April 17-19 will now take place in Oct. 9-11 and Oct. 16-18. Stagecoach, originally scheduled for Apr. 24-26 will now take place Oct. 23-25. Both music festivals are known for drawing hoards of fans, celebrities and huge headliners. This year's scheduled performers include Rage Against the Machine, Frank Ocean, Carrie Underwood and more.
— Coachella (@coachella) March 10, 2020
Is my school closed today? Here’s a list of coronavirus-related K-12 and college closures in Washington state
The Seattle Times Education Lab is tracking school closures at this page. We'll be updating it once daily, but if you see we're missing anything, please share closure notifications with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find the full list here.
With business dwindling, several Seattle restaurants are closing due to the novel coronavirus outbreak
The novel coronavirus outbreak in Seattle has already taken its toll on small businesses. Two Seattle restaurants announced Tuesday that they will be closing in the next week due to the drop in business they've experienced since the coronavirus hit the city.
Read the full story here.
Seattle will keep customers’ lights, water on during coronavirus emergency, defer taxes for small businesses
Seattle won’t shut off water and electricity service during the city’s novel coronavirus emergency, Mayor Jenny Durkan said Tuesday.
Also, City Hall will offer to defer city business-and-occupation tax payments for some small businesses and will set up a small-business recovery task force, the mayor said.
The utilities policy will apply to residential and commercial Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) water and Seattle City Light electricity customers, she said in a news release. It will cover SPU sewer, drainage and solid-waste services, as well.
Starting Tuesday, customers financially impacted by the outbreak will be able to request deferred payment plans, and their services will stay on as those plans are put together, said Durkan, who declared a city emergency last week.
Read the full story here.
2 more residents at Josephine Care Center in Stanwood have tested positive for COVID-19, prompting facility lockdown
Three residents of the Josephine Care Center, a nursing home in Stanwood, have tested positive for COVID-19 and have been hospitalized, according to officials with the facility and the Snohomish Health District.
The home is now under “lockdown” indefinitely, with a team of state and local health officials deployed to the nursing home this morning, said Dr. Chris Spitters, the district’s interim health officer.
Five other residents and two employees of the nursing home now have test results pending, Spitters added Tuesday.
“We anticipate that additional staff and residents will be tested and we will begin releasing updated counts linked to Josephine on our website starting tomorrow,” Spitters said.
The first nursing home resident to test positive was a woman in her 70s, who came to the nursing home for an “unrelated condition,” Spitters said. She tested positive late Sunday for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, after being admitted to a local hospital, Spitters said.
Test results for two more residents — a woman in her 90s and a man in his 80s – came back positive Tuesday morning and both residents are now hospitalized, Spitters said.
“The facility is in lockdown, so no visitor, no consultants and no families," Terry Robertson, the nursing home’s chief executive, said at a press conference Tuesday. “I can tell you that’s incredibly tough for families. You know, I had a lady in my lobby crying yesterday because she couldn’t see her husband, who she’s been married to for 64 years.”
The nursing home has locked all doors and assigned a “designated screener” to the front entrance, Robertson said. Staff members get their temperatures taken and are questioned upon arrival for their work shifts, he said. The home is being sanitized daily, group activities have been canceled and isolation rooms set up inside the home, Robertson added.
“We are monitoring the temperatures of residents every four hours, and if any resident has signs of symptoms that could be the COVID, then they are isolated,” Robertson said. Five residents are now isolated, he said.
Josephine Care Center, an Evangelical Lutheran service organization, is certified for 160 beds, according to 2019 Medicare records,
In all, Snohomish County reported 54 confirmed coronavirus cases and 60 patients with pending test results as of Tuesday morning. Seventeen of the confirmed cases involve patients who are now hospitalized, 13 others have recovered, seven are isolated in their homes and one has died, Spitters said.
UW lab reports they've completed 2,300 coronavirus tests
The University of Washington’s Department of Virology laboratory, which began testing for novel coronavirus last week, had tested about 2,300 specimens as of Monday, said Alex Greninger, assistant director of clinical virology.
That number included about 728 specimens that were processed on Monday alone, Greninger said. Physicians and hospitals from around Washington, as well as several other states, are now submitting specimens, with about 10 percent of all tests run so far yielding positive results for the virus, he said.
“We haven’t hit anywhere near our capacity yet,” Greninger said. The lab is expected to test about 1,500 specimens a day within the next few weeks with a target of “beyond 3000 per day,” once additional operating funds can be obtained, he said.
Madison Park Wells Fargo branch closes after COVID-19 exposure
The Wells Fargo branch at 4009 East Madison St. in Seattle has temporarily closed after being notified that an employee who had close and prolonged contact with other staff has tested positive for COVID-19.
Through a spokesperson, the bank confirmed the exposure and urged customers to visit other branches or bank online.
The bank said employees who may have been exposed to the virus are being asked to stay home but they will be paid for their time without having to use their paid time off or sick leave.
“We believe this is the right thing to do to support the health of our customers and employees in the Seattle community. We wish a full and speedy recovery and will provide our full support,” said Jim Foley, Pacific North lead region president. “We are in close contact with local authorities, including public health officials, and will return to normal business operations as soon as possible. Our first priority remains keeping our employees and customers safe and well informed, while continuing to meet the needs of our customers.”
Metro Access says man who died from coronavirus used the paratransit service last month
A man who died from the illness caused by the novel coronavirus had been previously transported on a King County Metro Access bus, a paratransit service for people with disabilities, according to a memo from the county’s contractor.
The memo posted at the King County Metro South Base in Kent and dated March 2 said MV Transportation determined that “an individual who perished [from the] coronavirus was a passenger on our vehicle in February.”
MV notified the 10 drivers and riders who directly interacted with the now-deceased passenger and ordered the employees to stay home, said Metro spokesperson Jeff Switzer. The quarantine period for the drivers has ended and they have returned to work, Switzer said, and none exhibited symptoms of the virus.
Access serves people with disabilities, seniors and others with health conditions that could make them particularly vulnerable to the virus.
Read the full story here.
Seattle movie theaters remain open amid new coronavirus outbreak; here are some of the safety measures they’re taking
Local movie theaters are upping their sanitation procedures and urging their staff and patrons to practice good hygiene — frequent handwashing/sanitizing, stay home if you are ill.
For instance, Ark Lodge Cinema in Columbia City announced via Twitter today that they will only sell half of the seats per screening to allow patrons to practice social distancing.
Read the full story here.
Sanders, Biden cancel Ohio rallies over coronavirus concerns
Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden abruptly canceled election-night rallies Tuesday night in Cleveland amid concerns over the spread of the new coronavirus — as public health fears began transforming the 2020 race.
Their decision to cancel events in Ohio, which votes next week and awards 136 delegates, suggests the coronavirus could upend the Democratic primary at a pivotal time in the race for both candidates.
Whatcom County confirms its first case of COVID-19
Whatcom County health officials announced Tuesday that a county resident has tested positive for COVID-19.
The patient is a woman in her 60s who was treated at PeaceHealth St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Bellingham. Her condition improved, the Whatcom County Health Department said in a statement, and she was discharged. She’s since self-isolated at home.
She has no known international travel history, the statement said.
“We understand that news of this first confirmed case in our community creates fear and uncertainty. Our public health team is working intensively to investigate the case, identify close contacts, and coordinate with our medical and community partners to protect public health,” said county health officer Dr. Greg Stern in the statement. “We are particularly thankful for the Whatcom County medical community, which has been in close communication with us about evaluating specific patients and implementing evolving guidelines.”
Grocery stores boost efforts to keep spaces clean
Some grocery stores are stepping up efforts to keep customers healthy. A Seattle Times reader submitted this to our regular Rant & Rave feature:
"A rave to the staff at Shoreline Central Market. What a surprise to be met at the entrance by a staff member who offered hand sanitizer and spray sanitized my grocery cart for me before I entered the store. At check out there was hand sanitizer available at every check stand and a sink had been installed nearby for hand washing on the way out. Making it easy to do the right thing!"
Two sisters faced separation after three-week cruise continues with two-week quarantine
The tags were slipped under the door of the cabin the two sisters had shared aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship for two weeks.
Bethel Mohseni, 87, and Belva Demaree, 78, had explored Hawaii, but after 21 people aboard tested positive for coronavirus, the 2,421 passengers were confined to their staterooms, where the two sisters spent their time talking, eating meals and following exercise videos.
As the ship prepared passengers to disembark at the Port of Oakland and go into a two-week quarantine, the two sisters learned — via those different-colored luggage tags — that they were going to be separated: Belva to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and Bethel to Travis Air Force Base in California.
The news so upset Mohseni that her blood pressure spiked quickly and the ship's EMTs were called to her room.
"She’s a pretty hard lady, she doesn’t get stressed, but she was shaking a little bit," said Mohseni's son, Charles, of Seattle, who has been speaking to his mother and aunt every day since the quarantine. "It’s anticipation of being separated.
"There was some anxiety; you could tell in their voices," he continued. "And they aren't simpering. They are strong people. They have been keeping each other's spirits up."
Separating them could change all that, which is why Charles Mohseni, a retired commercial real-estate broker, has been in touch with lawmakers in Colorado, where his mother lives; and Indiana, where his aunt lives with her husband, in the hopes that they can intervene and keep the two sisters together during the quarantine.
"Everyone agrees it's wrong," Mohseni said. "We're just trying to get the machine stopped before they are separated. Because once that happens, it will be really hard for them to be united again."
Despite their ages, the two women — who have nine grandchildren between them — don't fit the profile of an older person at risk of contracting coronavirus.
"They are both pretty high-functioning, energetic people," he said. "My mom still does 10Ks and her sister is much the same. Up until this point, they have been in really good spirits. They thought the ship was doing everything right."
They — and he — understand the need for the Grand Princess passengers to go into quarantine. But a potential separation raises new worries about the two sisters, Charles Mohseni said.
"Is it a government facility? Are they going to be with strangers?" he asked. "I hate to think of my aunt and mom being alone, without friends and families.
"I don't know how it came to pass," he said. "And everyone is sympathetic. It's just getting tracking and someone saying 'No, we have got to stop this.' It would be comforting to know they are together."
On Tuesday afternoon, word came from the office of Colorado Congressman Doug Lamborn that the family's efforts had paid off, and that the sisters would be quarantined together in Texas.
"It's pretty awesome that you can call your congressman and get help like that," Charles Mohseni said. "Sometimes the system works."
Public Health confirms 10 nursing homes with coronavirus on Tuesday
Public Health -- Seattle & King County confirmed Tuesday that is working with 10 nursing-home facilities where residents or employees have tested positive: Life Care Center, Issaquah Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, Emerald Heights, Aegis Living at Marymoor, Redmond Care & Rehabilitation Center, Ida Culver House Ravenna, Boulevard Park Place Active Retirement Community, Madison House Independent & Assisted Living Community, The Gardens at Juanita Bay (Kirkland), Columbia Lutheran Home.
In addition, the public health agency reported 74 new coronavirus cases today, bringing the total for King County to 190.
Two new deaths were reported, making a total of 22 coronavirus fatalities in the county. Of those, 19 have been associated with Life Care Center in Kirkland.
"We're going to see increasing cases for the forseeable future. It will not be unusual for us to see a doubling of cases on a weekly basis, if not even more frequently," said Patty Hayes, director of Public Health Seattle & King County. "I'm assuming that we have it occurring low-level throughout the county."
Hayes stressed that 80% of people who have the virus will experience only mild symptoms.
Life Care Center in Kirkland reports 55 total positive coronavirus cases
Life Care Center of Kirkland on Tuesday reported 55 total positive cases of COVID-19 among its residents, which include 21 who are still at Life Care and the rest who have been hospitalized.
Twelve tests came back negative and four were inconclusive. Life Care is awaiting 12 more results.
Four residents were taken to a hospital between Monday and Tuesday afternoons, media liaison Timothy Killian said.
Officials at the care center said that the 21 residents who tested positive are still at the center and that incorrect numbers of cases had been announced Monday. Life Care said it has had 15 residents die in hospitals since Feb. 19 and had 13 tested positive for COVID-19.
Thirty of the facility’s 180 employees have been tested off-site, and more will be tested Tuesday, according to Killian. A total of 64 workers have COVID-19 symptoms, and two have returned to work. Killian said Monday that five workers had returned, which was an error.
At a news conference outside the Life Care building, Killian handed out copies of letters from Public Health - Seattle and King County, stating that employees who test positive for COVID-19 should remain under home isolation for seven days or until 72 hours after a fever is gone and symptoms are better, whichever is longer. Life Care employees are following those guidelines, he said.
Two new deaths were also reported, making a total of 22 coronavirus fatalities in the county. Of those, 19 have been associated with Life Care Center.
Former U.S. Food and Drug commissioner says WA response to coronavirus lacks urgency
A former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner criticized Washington’s response to the novel coronavirus outbreak as lacking urgency Tuesday.
Scott Gottlieb, who led the FDA from 2017 to 2019, compared the situation here to that in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced a plan to activate the National Guard in an effort to slow down the spread of the virus.
“New York under the leadership of Governor Cuomo is taking some of the strongest and sensible mitigation steps in U.S. to slow spread of #coronavirus epidemic,” Gottlieb wrote on Twitter, citing a news story by Bloomberg. “It stands in stark contrast to Washington State, which has been slow to act forcefully in Seattle.”
At a news conference Tuesday, Cuomo said National Guard troops would be sent to New Rochelle, N.Y., to help close large public gathering spaces, Bloomberg reported.
New Rochelle is a New York City suburb where more than 100 novel coronavirus cases have been recorded.
Cuomo said schools, social clubs and religious institutions within a one-mile radius of a highly impacted area of New Rochelle would be shut down from March 12 to March 25, describing the one-mile radius area as a containment zone.
Cuomo said the National Guard troops would clean public spaces and deliver food to quarantined households.
“We are closing the large gathering places, schools, around this cluster,” Cuomo said. “This is a true geographic cluster.”
Washington leaders have been contemplating such steps for days.
On Sunday, Gov. Jay Inslee said he was meeting with other officials to discuss mandatory measures to keep people from infecting each other. He didn’t disclose details but said “social activities” could be curtailed.
On Monday, the director of Public Health – Seattle & King County said officials were “at the ready” to start ordering involuntary insolation and quarantines and were considering cancellation of major public events, with information coming soon.
On Tuesday, Inslee directed nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the state to limit their residents to one visitor per day, excluding end-of-life situations, and to screen visitors and staff for COVID-19 symptoms before allowing them to enter.
Coronavirus prompts Washington Health Benefit Exchange to offer special enrollment
In response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, the Washington Health Benefit Exchange announced Tuesday that there would be a limited-time special enrollment period for qualified individuals who are without insurance.
The special enrollment period will run through April 8 and will allow uninsured people to enroll in health insurance coverage, the Exchange said in a news release.
Individuals seeking to enroll must contact the Customer Support Center between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, by calling 1-855-923-4633 (TTY 1-855-627-9604) or enroll through a local certified broker or navigator. They must request the special enrollment period and select a plan by April 8.
“It is apparent that many in our state have been exposed to this virus and that health insurance will be critical to those seeking treatment,” said Pam MacEwan, Exchange chief executive officer.
People who experience other qualifying events, such as marriage or the birth or adoption of a child, also are eligible to shop for coverage. Additionally, people who qualify for Medicaid through Washington Apple Health can enroll at any time, year-round, using Washington Healthplanfinder, a health insurance marketplace created in accordance with the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Last week, Washington’s insurance commissioner directed health insurance carriers with state-regulated plans to provide health care provider visits and COVID-19 testing without copayments and deductible payments.
The state doesn’t have authority over self-funded employer plans, which are offered to workers at many major companies, such as Microsoft and Boeing.
Also last week, Gov. Jay Inslee said the state would help pay for COVID-19 testing for people without insurance. He didn’t share details about how that would work.
Central Washington University in Ellensburg moving online amid virus
Central Washington University in Ellensburg is the latest university to announce plans to go online in response to an outbreak of a novel coronavirus in Washington.
All winter quarter finals will be conducted remotely, officials said Tuesday. Students will take finals online or by email.
Officials said that students will still be expected to show up to in-person classes this week – the last week of the winter quarter. This may change for the spring quarter, which begins March 31, they said.
As of Tuesday, the university does not have any confirmed cases of COVID-19.
King County Treasury and Assessor's Office to move online
The King County Assessor's Office and King County Treasury will move their customer service operations to a virtual format on Wednesday until further notice to help slow the spread of novel coronavirus in the community.
Customers can access services at the Assessor's Office and Treasury online, via email, regular mail and by phone, the county said Tuesday.
This means Assessor's Office customers who arrive on site at the King County Administration Building on Fourth Avenue in downtown Seattle will not be served in person at the front counters but may be served via phone in the lobby.
King County Treasury customers who arrive on site will be greeted with a live-video Treasury customer service representative. Taxpayers who have a complex issue that requires a face-to-face meeting with staff will be provided a reception area for service on a first-come-first-served basis.
"The work of the office will continue, and customers will still be able to receive services. But, out of an abundance of caution for our customers and our staff, we are moving to a virtual environment for the time being," said King County Assessor John Wilson.
The customer service counters on the sixth floor for Treasury and the seventh floor for Assessments will be closed. but there are secure drop boxes on those floors for customers to leave documents that will be collected daily and then processed normally, the county said in a statement.
Some Whatcom County schools close for 2 days after employee possibly exposed
The Meridian School District in Whatcom County is closing schools for two days after a Meridian Middle School employee came into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 outside the county, according to a statement from the superintendent.
The possible exposure occurred on Feb. 29, and the employee continued to work until today. The employee is now at home with symptoms of a cold, according to the superintendent.
Sports and other activities are also canceled. The school district plans to resume a normal schedule Thursday, after schools undergo deep cleaning.
Whatcom County Health has not confirmed any COVID-19 cases in the county, although more than a dozen tests are pending.
JBLM service member tests 'presumptive positive' for COVID-19
A service member at Joint Base Lewis-McChord has tested presumptive positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, leading to the quarantine of a dozen individuals.
The service member's spouse has also tested positive, and both are in quarantine in their off-base home, according to a statement from the base on Monday.
The service member developed symptoms Thursday and self-quarantined. A "tracing team" determined that 12 other people were potentially exposed. They've been placed into quarantine and their conditions are being monitored by medical personnel and the chain of command.
COVID-19 death over weekend at Issaquah nursing home
A resident at Issaquah Nursing & Rehabilitation Center died of coronavirus over the weekend, according to the facility, which said an additional five residents and two employees have also tested positive for COVID-19.
Two residents are quarantined there, while three residents and two employees are quarantined offsite.
The facility is also awaiting results for two additional staff members and is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to notify people who may have visited the facility since Feb. 1. The CDC is providing the facility with personal protective equipment.
The facility had previously announced that three residents had tested positive.
COVID readerboard prank 'very poor idea,' says Boeing
Spurred by rumors, later confirmed, that an employee at Boeing’s widebody jet plant in Everett had tested positive for Covid-19, early Monday morning someone manipulated a large LED sign outside the factory’s west parking lot to read, “CAUTION. COVID19 OUTBREAK.”
Boeing spokesman Bernard Choi said this was “someone’s very poor idea of a prank.”
“Those machines can be manipulated,” Choi said via email. “It was not an employee assigned to this machine who did this.
“It was a Boeing readerboard outside of our fence line on Seaway Blvd. Confirmed that someone tampered with it,” he added. “The inappropriate message was up for a short time before our security team was notified.”
Later Monday, Boeing announced that an Everett employee had tested positive for COVID-19 and was in quarantine and receiving treatment.
Boeing asked all coworkers who were in close contact with the infected employee to remain home to self-quarantine, and conducted a thorough cleaning of work areas and common spaces.
The sign hijacked for the Covid-19 warning normally conveys simple messages to employees arriving for work. Recently, acknowledging those newly arrived from the shut-down 737 MAX production line in Renton, it read, “Welcome Renton Employees.”
Tuesday, the sign was back to its normal job and read, “Caution, Watch for Ice.”
Amid coronavirus crisis, workers' sick leave becomes national issue
Across the country, efforts to contain the coronavirus are complicated by the legions of low-wage workers who lack sick pay and often feel compelled to show up even when they’re showing symptoms.
Experts have a name for the phenomenon: “contagious presenteeism.”
For years, the difficulties of working without sick pay received only a smattering of attention, but with the coronavirus outbreak, the question of sick pay has risen to national prominence.
Today, about 24% of U.S. workers lack access to sick pay, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or more than 30 million people. Many of them are low-wage workers whose jobs involve working closely with the public – restaurant and retail workers, health-care aides – and this could conceivably make them virus “super spreaders.”
Walmart, the nation's largest private employer, Tuesday implemented an emergency-leave policy allowing its 1.4 million hourly workers to take time off without penalty if they fear spreading the virus.
The same geographic polarization apparent in presidential elections arises as well in debates over sick pay: Some states, most in the Northeast and on the West Coast, are requiring sick pay. Many other states, most in the South, are heading in the opposite direction: They are passing legislation explicitly forbidding any such mandates.
Since 2011, 13 states, including Washington, and the District of Columbia have required employers to offer sick pay, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In Washington state, the state’s unemployment insurance program will cover workers whose companies close due to the outbreak, Nick Demerice, spokesperson for the state employment security department, said in early March. Likewise, workers who require hospitalization or who must take care of a stricken family member may be covered under the state’s Paid Family and Medical Leave law, which went into effect this year, Demerice said. He said it's unclear whether quarantined employees would qualify.
Inslee directs nursing homes to limit visitors, stops short of announcing mandatory 'social distancing'
Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday morning directed nursing homes and assisted living facilities to restrict the number of visitors they let in and screen workers at the start of every shift.
"We are doing this to protect our patients," Inslee said.
These facilities have become a focus of the response to the coronavirus outbreak because COVID-19 hits older people hardest and most of the deaths in Washington state have been associated with one nursing home in Kirkland.
The governor also announced a rule that unemployment benefits will be available to workers in isolation or quarantine due to a COVID-19 diagnosis or suspected exposure to the virus. Meanwhile, the state is expanding leave and telework options for Washington state employees.
Inslee stopped short of announcing any "social distancing" measures, such as restricting large public events. That approach has also been discussed, but not yet implemented, in Seattle and King County.
However, Inslee said he "wouldn't be shocked" if such an announcement were to come in days.
Inslee also repeated the projections of potential spread that he discussed last night on MSNBC. While Washington has 162 confirmed cases, modeling shows the real number could be closer to 1,000 and -- if the virus is left unchecked -- the number of cases could balloon to 64,000 in weeks.
Proposal in King County to tap the power of volunteers in COVID-19 battle
A Metropolitan King County councilmember is looking to increase volunteer opportunities for members of the public who want to help battle the region's COVID-19 outbreak.
Council Vice Chair Reagan Dunn said in a statement Tuesday that he is introducing legislation to have the county identify places where volunteers can "use their time, energy and professional expertise to help with the global response to the outbreak in our region."
The proposed program is a response to the people who want to help but feel powerless, he said. “This program will empower those people with safe and productive avenues to share their expertise and make a difference as we fight COVID-19 and prevent its further spread.”
According to Dunn's statement, the proposal is backed by King County Executive Dow Constantine, who said, "The best way to make sure we get through this is for the community to pull together, to bring the spirit of volunteerism to bear. Let’s welcome all hands on deck and work through this crisis as one united community.”
The legislation will be before the King County Council next week.
Stocks climb, tentatively, following worst day since 2008
NEW YORK — U.S. stocks, oil and other financial markets around the world have clawed back some of their historic plunge from yesterday, amid hopes that the U.S. and other governments around the world will pump in more aid for a virus-weakened global economy.
Investors welcomed Tuesday’s reprieve but weren’t pretending that this is the end to the market’s huge swings, which took the S&P 500 on Monday to its worst day since the 2008 financial crisis. Even Tuesday’s big morning gains were tentative: After spurting to a gain of 3.7%, the S&P 500 quickly gave up more than half of it.
Dizzying swings have been relentless in markets the last few weeks. Stocks had a couple days last week where they rose more than 4%, only for the bottom to give out again.
Nonetheless, hope was rising that the big support efforts from global authorities that markets have been waiting for may be on the way, at least in a piecemeal way.
Harvard moves classes online, advises students to stay home after spring break in response to COVID-19
Harvard University advised its students not to return to campus after spring break and to expect to complete classwork remotely “until further notice,” in an effort to avoid the further spread of COVID-19.
The change marked another sign of the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on even the most iconic institutions, as a growing number of universities known for their intense classroom debates, crowded events and hands-on research are now moving to empty their campuses as much as possible.
The University of Washington's three campuses, Seattle University, Seattle Pacific University and Northeastern University’s satellite campus in Seattle all conducted classes remotely Monday. All four announced their plans Friday.
Burien declares state of emergency due to COVID-19
Burien City Manager Brian J. Wilson on Monday declared a state of emergency for the city south of Seattle due to public health impacts of the COVID-19, following similar declarations from Gov. Jay Inslee and King County Executive Dow Constantine.
"Because the City of Burien may require supplemental assistance if the severity of the event goes beyond the capabilities of local resources, the proclamation of emergency enables the city to call in additional resources," the city said in an emailed statement. It also allows the city manager to respond to the fast-changing crisis with flexibility, the statement said.
"We encourage community members to help protect yourself as you would during any cold or flu season," the statement said.
86-year-old Ida Culver House resident's death linked to COVID-19, son says
An 86-year-old Seattle man's death has been linked to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, according to his son.
Kenneth Robert Hunt died Monday, according to a Facebook post authored by his son, Ken Hunt Jr., of Seattle, and a statement from the Ida Culver House in the Ravenna neighborhood, a senior living facility where the elder Hunt was a resident.
"At 86 and with his underlying lung and kidney issues, he perfectly fit onto that at-risk population," Hunt Jr. wrote of his father Monday, "but the shock of him being one of the soonest deaths is staggering."
Hunt was hospitalized March 4 and received a presumptive positive test result for COVID-19 two days later, according to Albert Munanga, the regional director of health and wellness for Era Living, which runs the Ida Culver House.
Seattle-area health officials are 'at the ready' to order involuntary quarantines — and more to catch up on from the past 24 hours
For those who are at high risk if exposed to the coronavirus, life has taken a painful turn: self-isolation. "You have to manage loneliness," says Bedell, 55, who's been shut in at her Ballard home for more than a month. And you have to manage anxiety, dwindling supplies and too much time on your hands. Here's what this is like.
Seattle-area health officials are “at the ready” to start ordering involuntary quarantines and are considering cancellation of major events, a top official said as she outlined the potential actions ahead. Diagnosed cases have surpassed 160, with 22 deaths. Stay tuned here for live updates all day, and read about the effects on our region, from schools to businesses and nursing homes.
More to catch up on from the past 24 hours:
- Open the windows. Don't share food. The U.S. government has new prevention advice. Find more in our visual guide to the virus and how to protect yourself.
- The Gates Foundation today announced a big-bucks collaboration to speed development of treatments.
- The entire country of Italy is locked down under drastic curfews, bans and travel rules. Meanwhile, in China, President Xi Jinping declared, "We will certainly defeat this epidemic."
- Amazon will give $5 million to small businesses near its Seattle headquarters that are struggling as the giant's employees work from home.
- The ship scheduled to launch Seattle’s cruising season is the site of a major outbreak, and the season itself is looking awfully cloudy.
- Northshore schools had their first online-only day. Here's how that went.
- Pearl Jam has postponed the North American leg of its tour.
- Can you boost your immunity with food? Nutritionist Carrie Dennett has advice on steering clear of the frauds and supporting your immune system.
- Flashback: As local sports fans weigh their risks, Seattle remains the only place where a major pro sports championship didn't conclude due to a global pandemic. The year was 1919.
How is the pandemic affecting you?What has changed about your daily life? What kinds of discussions are you having with family members and friends? Are you a health care worker who's on the front lines of the response? Are you a COVID-19 patient or do you know one? Whoever you are, we want to hear from you so our news coverage is as complete, accurate and useful as possible. If you're using a mobile device and can't see the form on this page, click here.
Do you have questions about the coronavirus that causes COVID-19?Ask in the form below and we'll dig for answers. If you're using a mobile device and can't see the form on this page, ask your question here. If you have specific medical questions, please contact your doctor.
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