Editor’s note: This is a live account of updates from Saturday, March 14, as the events unfolded. Click here to find extended coverage of the outbreak of the 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.
The Puget Sound region is adjusting to a new normal as most people practice “social distancing” to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by a new coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2. Schools are closed, large gatherings are banned, businesses are struggling and an already-strained health care system has been pushed to its limits.
As Washington gains the capacity to test more people for the virus, more cases of COVID-19 are confirmed every day. The state Department of Health announced 60 new cases Saturday, bringing the state total to 643. In total, 40 people in Washington state are known to have died from the disease. The bulk of cases remain in King County, which has seen 388 people fall ill and 35 of them die.
Throughout Saturday, 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 Friday can be found here, and all our coronavirus coverage can be found here.
The following graphic includes the most recent numbers from the Washington State Department of Health, released Saturday afternoon.
Inslee: I am not planning to quarantine or seal off Washington
Seeking to quash rumors amid public anxiety over the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Jay Inslee on Saturday night said he is not planning on sealing off or quarantining any part of Washington.
In a post on Twitter, Inslee said while fighting COVID-19, "We must also fight against rumors and false information." He said neither he nor his staff "are engaged in conversations to quarantine or seal off any part of Washington state."
Inslee added he has been in regular contact with Vice President Mike Pence, and "this has not come up."
I am in regular contact with @VP Pence and this has not come up.
We are focused on saving lives by slowing COVID-19’s spread and caring for those that need it.
Fueling rumors does not help that cause.
— Governor Jay Inslee (@GovInslee) March 15, 2020
Flouting coronavirus restrictions, Tim Eyman promotes 250-plus gathering to 'stick our finger in the eye of Jay Inslee'
Tim Eyman, the initiative promoter leading early polls to be the Republican candidate for governor this fall, spent Saturday rooting for a political rally of 250+ people to "stick our finger in the eye of Jay Inslee."
In an email blast to supporters, Eyman flouted public health restrictions and advice on slowing the spread of coronavirus, saying "251 is the # of patriots I hope will join me @ Oak Harbor today. I'm bringing a 6-pack of Corona!"
As with some other of Eyman's publicity gags, it was more bluster than reality. In a phone interview Saturday, he said actual turnout at the event was "about 60."
Using emergency powers, Gov. Inslee this week expanded a ban on social gatherings of more than 250 people to cover the entire state. He had initially ordered the ban in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, which have been at the epicenter of the coronavirus spread locally.
The move was in line with social distancing policies recommended by public health experts to combat the virus known to have killed at least 40 people in Washington as of Saturday. President Donald Trump this week declared a national emergency over what the World Health Organization has labeled a pandemic.
Eyman said he wanted to provoke a debate about government authority in a time of crisis. "I am very concerned that during situations like this or 9/11 or other fear-intensive events that the government infringes on basic constitutional rights without sufficient questioning," he said in a text message, adding the media was failing to adequately challenge such restrictions.
While Eyman was promoting his fantasy Oak Harbor crowd, the Island County Republican Party has taken a more cautious stance. Citing coronavirus concerns, the party recently postponed its annual Lincoln Day Dinner, which also had been set for Saturday — and which was to feature Eyman and other GOP candidates.
Eyman, one of five Republican candidates for governor who were set to appear at the dinner, was found by a Thurston County judge last month to have violated Washington campaign laws for the previous seven years, by concealing nearly $800,000 in political contributions. He was also in the news last year for swiping a chair from a Lacey Office Depot.
Don't hog all the sanitizer and toilet paper at the store — leave some for your neighbors, Health Department begs
Hey, you! Yeah, you with the seven 12-packs of toilet paper, and all the dried beans, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes your shopping cart can hold.
The Washington State Department of Health has a request: leave some for your neighbors.
In a news release Saturday, the health agency is asking the public to think twice before sweeping store aisles clean of such items.
From the release:
"The more you overstock those supplies, the less is available for your sick neighbors, and for doctors, dentists, and emergency response personnel. Doing our part to keep vulnerable people healthy includes making sure they have access to necessary supplies.
Grocers say consumer overstocking — not a disrupted supply chain — is the main reason their store shelves are empty of many supplies and food items, especially hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, toilet paper, and plastic gloves."
The department adds that while some consumers perceive a need to stock up on certain items such as bottled water, health officials say water supplies are fine, and the best way to protect yourself from infection is through good hygiene and limiting contact with others, not by overstocking your cabinets.
DOH has created a call center to address questions from the public. Call 1-800-525-0127 and press #.
Stevens Pass, Whistler and Crystal Mountain to suspend operations due to novel coronavirus pandemic
Popular Seattle-area ski resorts Stevens Pass and Crystal Mountain Resort, and Whistler, in British Columbia, are shutting down temporarily, effective Sunday.
Vail Resorts and Alterra Mountain Co., owners of several Northwest ski properties, announced Saturday that they will suspend operations in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
The announcement marked a drastic turnaround after both companies said last week they would stay open, even though Crystal Mountain had a customer who had visited on March 5 test positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.
Seattle Municipal Court closed next week after employee tests positive for coronavirus
Seattle Municipal Court will be closed to the public next week after a court employee tested positive for COVID-19.
Leadership at the court was informed Friday of the test result for the employee, who had not been to work at the courthouse since March 6, according to a news release.
The closure will run from Monday, March 16, through Friday, March 20, allowing time for employees who were in close contact with the affected person to follow public health recommendations and self-quarantine for 14 days.
Eligible in-custody defendants booked at King County Jail under Seattle Municipal Court charges will still have the opportunity to be released under personal recognizance during the closure. Court staff are working with the Seattle City Attorney's Office and King County Department of Public Defense to protect the rights of such defendants, the release stated.
"Public health and safety are our top priorities during this extraordinary time. We are maintaining close contact with our partners at the City of Seattle and King County to ensure that we are doing everything we can to limit the risk of exposure for our staff, court participants and visitors," said Acting Presiding Judge Willie Gregory, in a statement.
The municipal court handles all criminal cases involving misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors, as well as civil infractions in the city.
After this week’s closure, Seattle Municipal Court will resume significantly limited operations starting on Monday, March 23, effective through April 12. More information is available at the court's website.
Trump tests negative for coronavirus, White House doctor says
President Trump has tested negative for coronavirus, the White House said Saturday.
Sean Conley, the physician to the president, said Trump agreed to testing Friday night and the test came back negative Saturday evening, according to the memo released through the White House press office.
Trump had hosted a gathering last week at Mar-a-Lago attended by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his chief communications officer, Fabio Wajngarten. A few days later, Wajngarten tested positive for the coronavirus.
Others who met with the Brazilian delegation self-quarantined, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Trump, who has at times downplayed the significance of the coronavirus outbreak, did not change his routine and declined to be tested for days before Saturday's test.
"One week after having dinner with the Brazilian delegation in Mar-a-Lago, the President remains symptom-free," Conley wrote in his memo. "I have been in daily contact with the CDC and White House Coronavirus Task Force and we are encouraging the implementation of all their best practices for exposure reduction and transmission mitigation."
King County to use airport, other sites for people who can't self quarantine
The arrivals section of the King County International Airport, an Eastgate parking lot and the newly acquired Issaquah Motel are three properties owned by King County that will become host sites for people who are homeless or who can't quarantine without infecting the people they live with, the county said in a news release Saturday.
The airport began providing shelter for men on Friday night. They will be "typically older adults," who usually live at St. Martin De Porres in Seattle.
"This action will help prevent people from becoming ill in the first place," the release said.
In a week, a heated tent with flooring will be set up at a parking lot at 13620 Eastgate Way in Bellevue. It will be used for isolation and recovery, and have round-the-clock security and health services.
The county also just finalized a lease on the Issaquah Motel. The county is considering to use this site as a place for expanded "medical support for vulnerable populations or isolation for people who do not require significant social support services," the release said. The space could also host people in recovery to free up beds in local hospitals and medical facilities.
The county also added it will use its isolation and quarantine location in Kent for people with lower level service needs. That announcement follows an incident where a person unexpectedly left emergency quarantine at a Kent motel while awaiting COVID-19 test results. The test results came back negative, but not before releasing a wave of worry and anger in the south King County city about the siting of the emergency quarantine facility.
King County is currently fencing the Kent motel, where no one is currently staying, and evaluating staffing changes.
During a Friday interview with reporters, Leo Flor, director of the King County Department of Community and Human Services, said officials were anticipating "hundreds or thousands" of people needing to use quarantine facilities who could not isolate at home or did not have homes.
In order to create more social distancing inside typically crowded shelters with vulnerable residents, Seattle opened Exhibition Hall at Seattle Center this week as an overflow shelter for healthier residents of Downtown Emergency Services Center shelters.
40 deaths, 642 confirmed coronavirus cases, Washington state says Saturday
The Washington state Department of Health on Saturday updated the number of coronavirus deaths to 40 and said there were 642 confirmed positive cases.
About 60% of confirmed cases and 88% of deaths in the state are connected to King County.
On Saturday, Public Health - Seattle & King County reported 388 confirmed cases — up 60 from the day before — and 35 deaths — up three from Thursday — that are connected to COVID-19. Of those 35 deaths, 27 are associated with the Life Care Center of Kirkland. The department said the numbers were tallied as of midnight on Friday.
The deaths reported in the county today include a woman in her 70s, who died at Swedish First Hill on Thursday, and two men in their 80s who were residents at Life Care.
Four people have died in Snohomish County and one in Grant County, the Department of Health reports.
Less crowded than usual, but still signs of life at Pike Place Market
Though Pike Place Market had nowhere near the crowds that a bright day in Seattle typically attracts, at lunch hour on Saturday the area still had signs of life.
Tourists wandered slowly through the stalls in the Market, taking selfies in front of the iconic red sign; 10 feet from the famous fish-tossing seafood stall, a violinist enthusiastically played "Sweet Home Alabama."
Michell Perez and her boyfriend, Luis Custodio, stood on a sunny patch of sidewalk on the Market's main drag, toward the end of a dependably long line outside the original Starbucks.
They drove from Oregon last night, and said they were undeterred by news of the outbreak in the city.
"I think people are being dramatic," said Perez. But even she, a first-time visitor to Seattle, sensed that the area was emptier than usual.
Right now, the Market looks the way it normally does in January, said Cody Cecil, an employee at Choice Produce and Peppers.
"Yesterday, I could count on my hands the number of sales we made," said Cecil, who's worked at the stall for four years.
Today was better, he added, but as he offered slices of plum to passersby, his co-worker, Aldritch Reyes, said people have been taking fewer samples than usual.
"I'm trying to drop the pieces directly into people's hands instead of letting them take directly from mine," said Reyes, who was wearing blue surgical gloves.
Portland alternative biweekly temporarily lays off staff, ceases printing
In a statement posted online by Editor in Chief Wm. Steven Humphrey, the Portland Mercury, the Portland alternative biweekly with the same Seattle-based ownership as The Stranger, announced it would be temporarily laying off 10 employees and ceasing print publication.
"Since the state government has been forced to declare bans on gatherings of over 250 people, our stream of revenue has virtually disappeared overnight—largely because our primary advertising base caters directly to the act of 'gathering,' whether it be music venues, theaters, restaurants, bars, or shops," wrote Humphrey.
"Make no mistake, the state is absolutely right to take these drastic measures in order to save peoples' lives. So while this crisis may have severely limited our ability to bring in enough revenue to operate as we've been successfully doing for the past 20 years, the Mercury is 100 percent committed to supporting our community in its efforts to slow down this deadly virus."
The Mercury is owned by Index Newspapers, whose other media property is Seattle's alternative biweekly The Stranger, which on Friday announced it was also suspending print publication and temporarily laying off 18 staffers.
The layoffs at the Mercury affected the paper's editorial, sales, circulation, calendar and production departments. The Mercury's news team, editor Alex Zielinski and reporter Blair Stenvick, will stay put and continue their coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Humphrey said he hoped both the layoffs and the change to online-only publishing would be temporary. "Will the Mercury be back in full force after all this has returned to normal? I think so. I hope so. You can bet your ass we'll be trying and fighting as hard as we can—because this city, and everyone in it, is worth it," he said.
Seattle Mayor Durkan signs order halting rent-related residential evictions in wake of coronavirus outbreak
Due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has signed an emergency order temporarily halting residential evictions for non-payment of rent, her office said Saturday, outlining how the moratorium will work.
Durkan’s order will be sent to the City Council for ratification, modification or rejection, but the moratorium will be in effect in the meantime. The council is very likely to support the moratorium, possibly with some adjustments. Citywide Councilmembers M. Lorena González and Teresa Mosqueda issued statements backing the move.
The moratorium will last for 30 days or until Seattle’s coronavirus emergency ends, pending the council’s approval. Durkan declared an emergency in the city earlier this month.
The mayor’s order applies only to residential evictions, not commercial evictions, and only to cases involving non-payment of rent, not other causes for eviction.
The order says landlords may not issue termination (pay-or-vacate) notices for non-payment of rent, may not initiate eviction actions in court and may not advance termination notices already posted. For existing eviction cases, Durkan’s order should be a defense in court. In cases where a tenant doesn’t appear for a hearing, the court may postpone the case to a later date.
Tenants must continue making rent payments, to the extent they can, the mayor’s office said, and those struggling with money should work with their landlords on payment plans. But Durkan’s order prohibits late fees and other charges for late rent payments.
Durkan’s order cites her emergency powers, saying they authorize “extraordinary measures to protect the public peace, safety and welfare.” It also cites the city’s police and regulatory powers under the state constitution.
The order says the evictions moratorium “will protect the public health, safety, and welfare by reducing the number of individuals and families entering into homelessness during this epidemic, which means lowering the number of people who may develop the disease or spread the disease.”
In the past two weeks, “there has been a significant 50% drop in the number of tenants appearing in court for their eviction hearings in King County, resulting in default judgments being entered and tenants losing substantial rights to assert defenses or access legal and economic assistance,” the order says.
The Durkan administration is exploring options to provide more rent assistance to low-income tenants and to support landlords who may be financially impacted by reduced rental income, the mayor’s office said.
Seattle expert estimates 20,000 people in U.S. infected with coronavirus, 10 times the confirmed cases
A Seattle expert is estimating about 20,000 people in the U.S. are now infected with the new coronavirus, nearly 10 times more than the roughly 2,300 currently confirmed cases.
Trevor Bedford, a computational biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, posted his estimates in a series of 13 tweets Friday night. “I could easily be off 2-fold in either direction, but my best guess is that we're currently in the 10,000 to 40,000 range nationally,” he wrote.
This is a thread about how to interpret the seemingly sudden appearance of #COVID19 across the much of the US in the past week with some back-of-the-envelop calculations for number of current infections. 1/13 pic.twitter.com/QbzRbRVheS
— Trevor Bedford (@trvrb) March 14, 2020
The estimate is based on evidence that about 60 cases were imported to the U.S. from the Wuhan area of China from Jan. 15 to Feb. 15, only a quarter of which were detected. Of those other 45 cases, which were probably mild, many might have fizzled out, leading to no new infections. Bedford makes a rough guess that about 20 of those “sparks” caught hold and began to spread to other people. Those transmission chains have been percolating quietly for four to eight weeks and are now starting to result in exponential growth of new infections, he writes.
Bedford suggested in tweets that most of the new infections in the U.S. are being spread by people who are already here.
47 Life Care Center of Kirkland employees test positive for coronavirus, public health says
Public Health Seattle & King County on Saturday released updated numbers for Life Care Center of Kirkland employees tested for COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus.
As of Saturday morning:
47 employees tested positive
24 tested negative
1 test inconclusive
5 pending results
The nursing home has been the center of the outbreak in Washington state.
There are a total of 95 out of 180 employees showing symptoms of the illness. The health department said it still needed to collect 18 more samples for testing.
Dragons player tests positive for coronavirus
A Seattle Dragons player has tested positive for coronavirus, the XFL said in a statement released Saturday.
The league said the unidentified player competed in Saturday’s game against the Houston Roughnecks and that he was “asymptomatic at that time. He self-reported to medical staff on Tuesday and has been in quarantine since. A test was administered as early as possible with the results received March 13.”
The league said the player also participated in the previous week’s game at the St. Louis BattleHawks.
“The league is alerting players, staff, vendors and partners associated with the Dragons, Roughnecks, and BattleHawks. … The XFL is monitoring the situation closely and taking every measure necessary in accordance with recommendations set forth by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].”
The XFL suspended play Thursday, stopping its first season since a one-year run in 2001. The league has said it is committed to returning in 2021 and beyond.
Seattle closing in-person city service counters for at least one week
To slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, Seattle will temporarily close its in-person public service counters for at least one week, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Friday.
The closures will start Monday and will affect counters run by Seattle Finance and Administrative Services, Seattle City Light, Seattle Public Utilities, Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections, Seattle Department of Transportation and Seattle Police Department, according to a news release.
The city’s neighborhood customer service centers also will be closed.
The city currently expects to reopen the counters March 23 with new public health protocols, but that date could change, the news release said.
During the closures, the city will provide service by email and phone, and most business can be done that way, the release said.
Under an agreement between Seattle and Wells Fargo, according to the release, customers who usually make payments to the city in cash will be able to obtain money orders. The money orders will be free of charge, up to $1,000, and will be available at any Wells Fargo bank branch in Western Washington, Durkan's release said.
Customers should make the money orders payable to the City of Seattle, the release said. The money orders can be mailed to the departments where payments are owed, placed in a drop box in the lobby of the Seattle Municipal Tower (700 Fifth Avenue in downtown Seattle) or placed in drop boxes at one of the city's seven customer service centers.
More information on how to reach departments and access services is available online.
Spokane County identifies first cases of coronavirus
Spokane County announced its first three cases of the novel coronavirus on Saturday, according to a news release from the county's health department.
Officials there will hold a press conference at noon. This was first reported by The Inlander.
Inbox: Three cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Spokane County residents, per a Spokane Regional Health District news release. pic.twitter.com/7CDicGlGax
— Josh Kelety (@Josh_Kelety) March 14, 2020
Trump takes coronavirus test, awaiting results
After days of resistance, President Donald Trump said Saturday that he was tested for the coronavirus as the White House stepped up precautions after his direct and indirect exposure to the coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2.
Trump also told reporters at a White House briefing that he had his temperature taken before stepping into the room and it was “totally normal.”
Trump had held out on testing for days, despite his interactions with at least three people who have since tested positive. Trump had said Friday that he would probably take the test at some point, but the White House doctor said as recently as Friday night that no test was called for because he wasn’t exhibiting symptoms.
Trump adds U.K. and Ireland to travel ban, says limitations to domestic COVID-19 hot spots still possible
President Donald Trump added the United Kingdom and Ireland to his European travel ban and confirmed at a news conference with Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday that he is considering domestic travel limitations in certain areas.
Earlier this week, he said he would consider restricting domestic travel to states such as Washington and California, if those areas get “too hot.”
When asked by reporters at the conference about the decision of companies like Apple and others to close, Trump said, "I think what Apple did was fine."
Apple announced this week it would be closing all retail stores outside of China, including several in the Seattle area.
4th person in Whatcom County tests positive for COVID-19
A fourth person known to live or work in Whatcom County was reported to have tested positive for COVID-19 illness late Friday by health department authorities.
The latest case is a woman in her 40s who had self-isolated after being notified she was a close contact of a lab-confirmed positive case from another county, according to a release from the Whatcom County Health Department.
Earlier Friday, authorities announced the positive test of a Snohomish County-based worker who has been commuting to a residence-hall construction site at Western Washington University.
The project has been temporarily shut down as three college employees known to be in contact with workers there are in isolation.
Earlier, an employee of the Lummi Indian Business Council was reported to have tested positive by the Lummi Health Board. That case sparked a public health alert after it was disclosed that the infected person spent lunch hours at the buffet of the tribal Silver Reef Casino on March 10.
Whatcom’s first reported positive case, earlier this week, was a woman in her 60s who had received care at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center and was said to be recovering at home. County health officials have not revealed any known links between the patients testing positive.
Test results, meanwhile, are pending for 19 college students who reported flu-like symptoms to the Student Health Center at Western Washington University, which is now on spring break.
Questions about the COVID spread or contact with infected individuals can be addressed to the health department at 360-778-6100.
17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer and nowhere to sell after Amazon crackdown
When Amazon cracked down on coronavirus price gouging, some sellers were left with their stockpile and nowhere to sell it.
Among such people are Tennessee brothers Matt and Noah Colvin, who set out in a silver SUV across Tennessee and Kentucky to load up on hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial wipes when the outbreak started, the New York Times reported.
They were successfully selling the sanitizer online for between $8 and $70 each before Amazon and other online stores cracked down.
Then Amazon pulled their items and thousands of other listings for sanitizer, wipes and face masks. The company suspended some of the sellers behind the listings and warned many others that if they kept running up prices, they’d lose their accounts. EBay soon followed with even stricter measures, prohibiting any U.S. sales of masks or sanitizer.
The Colvins are among probably thousands of sellers who have amassed stockpiles of hand sanitizer and crucial respirator masks that many hospitals are now rationing, according to interviews with eight Amazon sellers and posts in private Facebook and Telegram groups from dozens more.
Apple closing all retail spots outside China
Apple said late Friday it is closing all its retail locations outside China — among them four local stores in Seattle's University Village, Bellevue Square, and Alderwood and Southcenter malls — until March 27 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a post on the company's blog signed by CEO Tim Cook, Apple said those workers who can work remotely will do so.
"All of our hourly workers will continue to receive pay in alignment with business-as-usual operations," it continued. "We have expanded our leave policies to accommodate personal or family health circumstances created by COVID-19 — including recovering from an illness, caring for a sick loved one, mandatory quarantining, or childcare challenges due to school closures."
The computer maker said product support would continue to be available via its website.
Apple's 42 China stores were closed earlier during the outbreak that began there December. It announced this week those stores would all be reopened by Friday.
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