Editor’s note: This was a live account of updates from Wednesday, April 1, as events unfolded. Click here to see updates from Thursday, April 2. And click here to find the latest 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.

While staying at home and keeping away from others helps, the White House says the U.S. could still see a rough next couple of weeks and between 100,000 to 240,000 deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Hospitals are preparing for an onslaught of patients. While Washington state has so far received 500 ventilators from the federal government’s Strategic National Stockpile of medical supplies, it might not get all the gear it requested.

Another recent hurdle for our state: Technical difficulties. The Department of Health confirmed 5,984 COVID-19 cases and 247 deaths Wednesday evening, though it was the first time in several days it had reported new numbers. The department blames a flood of data swamping the state’s disease-reporting system. The problems are partially blinding health officials and the public to the latest information about the disease’s spread.

Throughout today, on this page, we’ll be posting updates from Seattle Times journalists and others on the outbreak and its effects on the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest and the world. Updates from Tuesday 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 Wednesday night.

Live updates:

Renton grocery store receives 60 cloth masks from Seattle backpack company

Employees in grocery stores shoulder some of the highest exposure to people who might be carrying COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. At Grocery Outlet in Renton, for instance, about 2,000 daily customers pass through the two stores, said co-owner Erin McNeil.

So she is glad to report Tom Bihn, the backpack and bag maker in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood, has given the Renton business 60 cloth, surgical-style masks for grocery employees.

Tom Bihn converted its factory to maskmaking March 22, after its CEO, Darcy Gray, learned from The Seattle Times about how Kaas Tailored in Mukilteo was producing thousands for Providence Medical Group.

McNeil says she was heartened by Gov. Jay Inslee’s speech Wednesday encouraging  state companies to manufacture more personal protective equipment. She hopes soon, everyone who needs PPE will have it.

“Those of us in the grocery industry are exposed to so many people daily. I'm grateful we were able to help protect our employees,” she said late Wednesday.

—Mike Lindblom

State unemployment agency tries to ramp up as coronavirus-related claims pour in

For the tens of thousands of newly jobless residents wondering how to pay April’s rent or cover other expenses, this week brought a mix of good and bad news about state unemployment benefits.

The good: State officials say federal emergency funds will supercharge Washington’s existing unemployment insurance system, including weekly payments for previously uncovered workers; an extra 13 weeks of benefits; and a $600 weekly payment, on top of the regular weekly benefits, for anyone who qualifies under either the state or federal program.

The bad: Washington residents probably won’t see the new dollars before April 18 as the state Employment Security Department upgrades an already overworked system to handle the new federal money and the continued flood of jobless claims.

Read the full story here.

—Paul Roberts

A look inside the Army field hospital at CenturyLink Field, designed to help medical centers swamped by coronavirus patients

Inside the cavernous CenturyLink Field Event Center, an exhibition space that would normally play host to home, RV and dog shows, hundreds of U.S. Army soldiers are hustling to erect an emergency, 250-bed field hospital to handle a potential overflow of non-COVID-19 patients from area medical centers that could soon be overwhelmed amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The facility, which will include intensive care beds, surgical services, a pharmacy, laboratory and radiological unit, is expected to be up and running within days, though it’s uncertain when any patients will arrive.

On Wednesday, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville flew in for an inspection, walking the hall and getting updates from officers building out the hospital. Last week, when Gov. Jay Inslee and other local officials visited the site, it was virtually empty. By the time McConville showed up, dozens of evenly spaced beds were lined up next to portable oxygen tanks and medical sensors, and convoys of heavy Army trucks were delivering cargo containers full of supplies to the 200,000-square-foot facility.

Read the full story here.

—Jim Brunner

Councilmembers Sawant, Morales say Seattle big business tax could finance coronavirus relief payments to many

Seattle City Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Tammy Morales, who have proposed a new tax on big businesses like Amazon, say they intend to introduce the legislation Monday and say the tax could help finance coronavirus relief payments for many vulnerable families.

Seattle should spend $200 million this year on emergency cash payments to individual households for needs like groceries and medical bills, Sawant and Morales said in a telephone news conference Wednesday. That would allow the city to send $500 each month for four months to 100,000 households, the council members said, not accounting for potential administration and distribution costs.

Under their plan, a tax requiring big businesses to pay 1.3% of their payroll to the city would take effect in June, but wouldn’t be collected until 2021 or 2022. In order to send emergency relief payments to households this year, Seattle would borrow $200 million from other, existing funds and repay the money with interest later on, they said.

Read the full story here.

—Daniel Beekman

A boatyard servicing yachts, house cleaners and pool installer among ‘essential’ firms operating amid coronavirus pandemic

In a March 20 Facebook post, CSR Marine boatyard in Ballard described donating two cases of stockpiled N-95 masks to Swedish Medical Center the previous day after it asked the company for any available.

But five days later, a company-wide email warned employees to be “conservative’’ using personal protective equipment – or PPE, including N-95 masks, safety gloves and Tyvek suits — because suppliers were limiting orders.

Boatyard workers often use PPE during paint and repair jobs, though CSR Marine employees say the company these days services mainly private yachts and power boats, rather than the emergencies or specialized government agency vessels it was kept open to handle. Three times since Friday, The Seattle Times witnessed workers tending to private luxury boats, including Wednesday afternoon as they serviced a 47-foot Beneteau 437 yacht.

CSR Marine is among a growing list of gray-area businesses deemed essential that are operating under Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order.

Read the full story here.

—Geoff Baker, Katherine Khashimova Long and Jim Brunner

Seattle has booked an entire downtown hotel for first responders to isolate and quarantine during coronavirus pandemic

Seattle officials have booked an entire downtown hotel for three months to house first responders and other essential city employees who’ve been exposed to the novel coronavirus and can’t isolate or quarantine at home.

The city is set to spend at least $2.8 million on the 155-room Executive HotelPacific as more firefighters, police officers and other crucial workers in Seattle and across Washington are contracting the COVID-19 illness caused by the virus.

Only six rooms at the Executive Hotel Pacific were occupied by first responders as of Tuesday, though officials expected that number to grow. Seattle has begun offering rooms to essential transportation and utilities employees and also may coordinate with other cities to house their first responders. Independent journalist Erica Barnett first reported the hotel contract.

Read the full story here.

—Daniel Beekman and David Gutman

Community Transit promises drivers masks, gloves

Community Transit, where a driver who had tested positive for COVID-19 died last week, has ordered more masks and gloves for drivers, the agency said Wednesday night.

Community Transit has given each driver a bottle of hand sanitizer and has ordered gloves, masks and more hand sanitizer, according to a statement Wednesday night. Community Transit bought the sanitizer from local distilleries and expects other supplies to arrive within the next week to 10 days,  spokeswoman Nashika Stanbro said.

Masks  eventually will be supplied to drivers and other employees who work with the public, the agency said. Drivers will get one mask per week.

“We secured these masks in collaboration with local public health officials, while being mindful to ensure that we are not ordering levels of supplies that could negatively impact those working in industries such as healthcare,” Stanbro said in a statement.

The measures were being developed before the death of driver Scott Ryan, Stanbro said. The union representing drivers has called for better protections and more cleaning of buses. Ryan, 41, was otherwise healthy before testing positive for COVID-19, but he worried about the hazards of his job as a bus driver, his wife said.

—Heidi Groover

Washington State Department of Health confirms 5,984 cases, 247 deaths from COVID-19

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) confirmed 5,984 cases and 247 deaths from COVID-19 Wednesday evening, marking the first time in several days that it's updated its numbers. This count is accurate as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, the department said.

The state's totals for confirmed cases and fatalities had last been updated to reflect counts accurate as of 11:59 p.m. Saturday. On Wednesday, it released numbers for the past three days.

DOH confirmed an additional 166 cases in Washington as of Sunday; 453 more cases as of Monday; and 469 more cases as of Tuesday.

"Due to incomplete data for date of deaths on a number of deaths we are unable to provide the daily death counts for March 29th and 30th," the department said on its website.

The new Wednesday totals reflect an additional 1,088 cases and 52 deaths since Saturday.

The bulk of the cases remain in King County, which is reporting 2,468 confirmed cases and 165 deaths. The state also confirmed 1,221 cases and 38 deaths in Snohomish County.

The department has attributed the lag in updates to a flood of data swamping the state’s disease-reporting system. The problems are partially blinding health officials and the public to the latest information about the disease’s spread.

—Elise Takahama

Brown Paper Tickets, facing claims by many artists who are owed money, says coronavirus pandemic led to systems failure

On top of all the other difficulties artists are facing — gigs canceled, day jobs evaporating — some have made another unpleasant discovery. Money they’d already earned, from performances that had already happened, was disappearing from their bank accounts.

On March 21, for example, Seattle musician and producer Erin Jorgensen deposited a $1,935 check from Brown Paper Tickets, a Seattle-based ticket broker. That was box-office money from Weather, an eclectic evening of classical and experimental music she’d put together at Washington Hall in late February.

Five days later, Jorgensen got a text from her bank saying $1,935 had been withdrawn from her account — the check she had deposited from Brown Paper Tickets (BPT).

Later that day, she got an email from BPT: “We are sorry to inform you that given the current unprecedented situation with COVID-19, outstanding Brown Paper Tickets checks will not be honored.”

This was a widespread problem.

Read the full story here.

—Brendan Kiley

Starbucks to donate more than $3 million to coronavirus relief efforts

The Starbucks Foundation announced Wednesday that it's planning to donate more than $3 million to support global coronavirus-response efforts.

The foundation said it would contribute $1 million to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, which strengthens the World Health Organization's efforts to track the spread of the virus, helps patients get the care they need, provides workers with essential supplies and accelerates the development of vaccines and treatments, according to the statement.

It also will donate $1 million to Give2Asia, which supports front line medical workers, provides training to doctors in less developed areas on the prevention and educates local communities on disease prevention.

Nationally, the Starbucks Foundation is supporting United Way Worldwide’s COVID-19 Community Response and Recovery Fund, and in Canada, it's sending funding to United Way Centraide Canada’s COVID-19 Community Response and Recovery Fund, as well as hospital foundations across the country.

And locally, the foundation is contributing to several Seattle nonprofits -- including Mary’s Place, Wellspring Family Services, United Way of KingCounty, Catholic Community Services and FareStart -- to support vulnerable populations in need of services.

In New York, where COVID-19 deaths continue to rapidly increase, the Starbucks Foundation is sending funds to Robin Hood’s COVID Response Fund, United Way of New York City, the city's police foundation and one of the city's food banks, the statement said.

“As the world grapples with an issue of enormous scale and human impact, we are dedicated to serving communities through the lens of Our Mission and Values: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time,” said John Kelly, foundation board member, in a statement. “We believe that together we can make a difference and, together, we will overcome this unprecedented challenge.”

—Elise Takahama

Gun background checks smash records amid coronavirus fears

Background checks required to buy firearms have spiked to record numbers in the past month, fueled by a run on guns from Americans worried about their safety during the coronavirus crisis.

According to figures from the FBI, 3.7 million background checks were done in March — the most for a single month since the system began in 1998. It eclipsed the previous record, set in December 2015, when 3.3 million checks were conducted.

Background checks are the key barometer of gun sales, but the FBI’s monthly figures also incorporate checks for firearm permits that are required in some states. Each background check also could be for the sale of more than one gun.

The rush has inflamed tensions between Second Amendment advocates and gun control supporters.

—Associated Press

Feds: Man intentionally derailed LA train near hospital ship

A train engineer intentionally drove a speeding locomotive off a track at the Port of Los Angeles because he was suspicious about the presence of a Navy hospital ship docked there amid the coronovirus crisis, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

The locomotive crashed through a series of barriers and fences before coming to rest more than 250 yards (230 meters) from the U.S. Navy Hospital Ship Mercy on Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a release.

Nobody was hurt.

Eduardo Moreno, 44, was charged with one count of train wrecking, prosecutors said.

“You only get this chance once. The whole world is watching. I had to,” Moreno told investigators, according to the complaint. “People don’t know what’s going on here. Now they will.”

—Associated Press

Leaders of largest U.S. unions call out Amazon's coronavirus response in letter to Bezos

Leaders of America’s largest labor unions, 45 New York elected officials and a group of Amazon employees called on Amazon to change its warehouse policies and practices in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Their letter, to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and other senior executives, amplifies calls made by Amazon warehouse workers, including some who went on strike in New York on Monday to protest the company’s handling of the outbreak. An unknown number of Amazon employees around the company’s fulfillment and delivery network — including a confirmed coronavirus case at a Seattle-area warehouse last week — have fallen ill with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, as the pandemic has strained its operations like never before.

The letter marks a new level of focus on Amazon by organized labor, which previously has had little success organizing the company’s workers outside of Europe, and comes amid growing unrest among gig economy and warehouse workers whose services have taken on new importance amid widespread stay-at-home orders and economic disruptions.

Read the full story here.

—Benjamin Romano

Port of Seattle offers financial relief for Sea-Tac Airport businesses and other tenants

As restaurants struggle to stay afloat amid mandated closures, restaurants at airports face the added challenges of a loss of foot traffic from travelers and inability to offer delivery like other restaurants are doing. Other airport-based businesses have taken a hit during the pandemic as well.

The Port of Seattle, which operates Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, is offering some relief by approving an emergency financial-relief package for airport-based businesses.

The Port also barred evictions of tenants at its facilities, including live-aboard residents, who are unable to pay rent through June 30.

The relief package includes "a two-month deferral of rent and fees for airport tenants and concessionaires facing a severe collapse of economic activity due to COVID-19 related social distancing and travel restrictions," according to a Wednesday announcement from the Port. "The Port will review information from tenants and concessionaires to assess the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic before considering an extension for additional two months."

Read the full story:  Port of Seattle defers rent for airport and marina tenants hit by coronavirus shutdown 

—Gina Cole

Which DIY mask pattern should you use? Even experts can’t pick one to recommend.

Up to this point in the coronavirus pandemic, public health officials in the United States have advised healthy civilians against wearing face masks, despite a growing grassroots masks-for-all movement. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering altering those guidelines.

For those interested in making and wearing a nonmedical mask, the choice can be overwhelming. There are thousands of DIY mask tutorials online, relying on everything from paper towels to men’s underwear to bras. Some take a few minutes to make, while others are more complex. More are posted daily, and some have millions of views. Which template should we follow? What material is best?

There's no consensus on a best design. But some experts have offered guidelines based on existing research and their knowledge of virus transmission. Read their recommendations here.

—The Washington Post

Trump declines to issue nationwide stay-home order, preferring a state-by-state approach

In a Wednesday afternoon press briefing, President Donald Trump encouraged people to keep distance between each other to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Asked by a reporter why, if social distancing is so important, he doesn't issue a stay-home order for the whole country, the president deferred to the states and said, "We have to have a little flexibility."

"There are some states that are different," he said. "There are some states that don't have much of a problem. They don't have thousands of people that are positive."

It is unknown how many people in each state have the virus. States have each reported the number of cases they've been able to confirm by testing individual people, but widespread testing of entire populations has not been done.

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Tuesday, March 31, 2020, in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence listens. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) DCAB301 DCAB301
Trump resists national shutdown, leaving it up to states

—Gina Cole

Some Washington gun dealers keeping stores open, defying Inslee’s order

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency stay-home order didn’t deem firearms dealers essential — like grocery stores and pharmacies — and necessary to stay open as much of society closes down to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

But that isn’t stopping some gun shops from keeping their doors open. Owners are pointing to the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and to recent guidance from President Donald Trump that deemed firearms dealers essential.

The defiance is the latest escalation between gun-rights advocates and a state that has steadily moved toward more firearms restrictions. After state voters in 2018 approved a sweeping package of gun restrictions with Initiative 1639, many law-enforcement officials said they would not enforce it due to constitutional concerns.

The situation could get more contentious. The Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) has prepared a lawsuit against the state if gun stores are forced to close, according to the organization’s founder, Alan Gottlieb.

Read the full story here.

—Joseph O'Sullivan

Pandemic prompts extended enrollment time for Washington state health insurance marketplace

Because of the pandemic, Washingtonians without health insurance will still be allowed to get coverage through the state's health insurance marketplace despite regular enrollment having closed at the end of last year.

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange introduced a special enrollment period for people who are uninsured. It began March 10 and was set to end April 8, but has now been extended through May 8.

"We continue to see a steady number of people seeking health coverage," said Exchange Chief Executive Officer Pam MacEwan. "Washington has been hit hard by the pandemic and the next several weeks will be challenging. We want to be sure that health insurance is available for those who need it."

Since March 10, more than 2,500 people have enrolled to get coverage beginning April 1. Coverage will begin May 1 for people who enroll after April 8.

Health insurance plans can be found through the exchange's Healthplanfinder website.

The exchange launched in 2013, after the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 was passed. The rate of uninsured Washingtonians aged 18-64 dropped from 14% in 2013 to about 6% in 2017. In King County, the rate dropped from about 16% to 8% in that time. Nationwide, it dropped from 15% to 9%.

—Ryan Blethen

Washington state buys a former nursing home in Seattle's Central District

The state of Washington has purchased a shuttered Seattle rehabilitation and nursing home and plans to repurpose it for use by hospital patients who need long-term care and have tested negative for COVID-19.

The former Paramount Rehabilitation and Nursing home in Seattle's Central District was purchased for $13.5 million by the state's Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). The facility can house up to 165 people.

DSHS bought the building in an effort to free up beds at nearby hospitals that are dealing with the demands of the new coronavirus pandemic.

"Increasing hospital bed capacity is crucial during this crisis," said Aging and Long-Term Support Administration Assistant Secretary Bill Moss. "We are committed to ensuring these patients continue to receive quality care, while at the same time helping to relieve some of the strain on hospitals and health care workers on the front lines."

DSHS wants to have the facility open by early May and is looking for a health care provider to operate the home.

—Ryan Blethen

Seattle indefinitely extends suspension of 72-hour parking rule

The city of Seattle has indefinitely extended a two-week moratorium on some kinds of parking enforcement during the coronavirus pandemic.

Two weeks ago, the city announced a temporary ban on enforcing its 72-hour parking rule, which included enforcement on RVs. Advocates for people living in vehicles had previously called on the city to suspend this rule to protect people who have nowhere else to go.

In addition to the 72-hour rule, the city also will limit towing only to “situations which create safety hazards, block access or create other major issues” and won’t boot vehicles with unpaid tickets. All in-person hearings for traffic infractions are suspended and will instead be conducted by mail, the city said.

More than 2,100 people live in vehicles in King County, according to the 2019 annual point-in-time count of homelessness.

—Sydney Brownstone

Inslee: Stay-at-home order will likely be extended

While state and health officials have acknowledged that social distancing measures have helped slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday that it’s likely he’ll extend his stay-at-home order for at least the next 30 days.

“We may have reduced the rate of increase of the disease and that is gratifying,” Inslee said in a press conference. “But … we don’t know if the virus will spring back up.”

He said the state isn’t ready to announce an official extension yet, but promised he’d have more guidance for Washingtonians in the next couple of days.

In the meantime, officials are continuing to track the state’s hospitalization rate, traffic rate and fatality rate, among other factors. Any decisions will be shaped by the data, he said.

Inslee's current stay-at-home order is effective through April 6, while non-essential businesses closures are effective through April 8.

—Elise Takahama

Inslee calls on businesses to make personal protective equipment

Gov. Jay Inslee is now calling on businesspeople, skilled workers and community leaders in Washington to consider focusing their energies on manufacturing personal protective equipment that medical professionals desperately need during the coronavirus outbreak.

He said in a Wednesday press conference that the state has distributed more than a million pieces of personal protective equipment in the last few weeks, but nurses, doctors and first responders still need more.

“What we have done so far is not enough,” Inslee said. “We rather urgently need to increase the stocks of, specifically, personal protective equipment. Our nurses deserve to be protected. They are on the front line and they are heroes.”

If workers are building plastic products, Inslee said he’s asking them to consider instead making face shields. If workers are handling cloth-related products, the governor is asking them to think about switching to surgical masks.

“That is a request that requires disruption of existing business supply lines,” Inslee said. “But this is a moment that counts.”

Click here for more information on how to donate supplies or shift gears and re-purpose manufacturing operations.

—Elise Takahama

Capitol building temporarily closed to the public

OLYMPIA – The Capitol building is temporarily closed to the public as another measure against the new coronavirus.

The state Department of Enterprise Services, which oversees the Capitol campus, on Wednesday announced it had gotten permission from Gov. Jay Inslee to restrict access to the building for now.

State lawmakers, legislative staff, and other personnel are working remotely can reached by phone or email during regular business hours, according to the announcement.

—Joseph O'Sullivan

Seahawks say they will work with season-ticket holders on deferred payment plans during outbreak

As have many other major professional sports teams around the country, the Seahawks confirmed on Wednesday they will work with season-ticket holders whose ability to pay may be impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

"We are working with each season ticket holder to accommodate those who need personalized payment plans, which includes deferment," a team spokesperson said Wednesday via email.

The team has also added a section to its website addressing questions related to the outbreak, noting that refunds will be granted for any games paid for in advance that are not played. Thus far, there are no plans to cancel or postpone games due to the pandemic.

Read the full story here.

—Bob Condotta

WSP loans COVID-19 testing units to the UW

The Washington State Patrol (WSP) Crime Laboratory Division last week provided the University of Washington (UW) Medical Center with critical equipment to increase COVID-19 testing.

The WSP gave two ThermoFisher '7500' testing units to the UW Virology department, which currently processes nearly 3,000 COVID-19 clinical samples a day -- a number that is expected to increase.

Last week, the ThermoFisher company contacted the WSP's Vancouver Crime Lab DNA Section, which found two available units and loaned them to the UW. The testing units were slated for the WSP High-Throughput Laboratory, but they are not scheduled to be placed in service until June, so there will be no impact to current operations at the lab.

“It is important that WSP helped to enhance the public health of our citizens during this time of crisis,” said WSP Chief John Batiste. “Our Crime Laboratory teams are committed to making a difference every day for the health and safety of all Washingtonians, and this partnership is a great example of their dedication.”

—Seattle Times staff

Nearly 3,000 sailors to leave carrier amid virus outbreak

Nearly 3,000 sailors aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier where the coronavirus has spread will be taken off the ship by Friday, Navy officials said Wednesday as they struggle to quarantine crew members in the face of an outbreak.

So far, fewer than 100 of the nearly 5,000 sailors assigned to the USS Theodore Roosevelt, now docked in Guam, have tested positive for the virus, but the Navy is moving sailors into various facilities and probably will begin using hotel rooms in the coming days. Navy leaders are talking with government officials in the U.S. territory to identify rooms for the crew members.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, however, made it clear that while several thousand will leave the ship, other sailors will remain on board in order to continue to protect the ship and run critical systems.

“We cannot and will not remove all sailors from the ship,” Modly told Pentagon reporters. He said officials will send as many sailors off the ship as possible while still maintaining safety. He said about 1,000 have gone ashore, and that number will grow to at least 2,700 in a couple of days.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Facing $3 million in losses, Pacific Northwest Ballet furloughs dancers, musicians and staff

Pacific Northwest Ballet, after canceling two programs and closing both branches of its school due to the coronavirus pandemic, stands to lose approximately $3 million through the end of April, according to executive director Ellen Walker.

The company has currently furloughed many of its employees, including all of its dancers and musicians. Those who are furloughed are unpaid, but continue to receive health benefits. Of the small operating staff still working (less than 40), most are on reduced salaries.

Read the full story here.

—Moira Macdonald

'He is very perky': 104-year-old Oregon veteran survives coronavirus

An Oregon veteran who turns 104 today could be one of the oldest people in the world to survive the new coronavirus.

William Lapschies, among the first Oregonians known to have the disease, has been declared free of the virus, said daughter Carolee Brown.

“He is fully recovered. He is very perky,” Brown said. “And he is very excited.”

Not only is Lapschies thriving, he’s celebrating Wednesday with Brown and other immediate family members. They planned to gather outside his window at the Edward C. Allworth Veterans’ Home in Lebanon with balloons and a double-layered cake.

Read the full story here.


Protective gear in national stockpile is nearly depleted, DHS officials say

The government’s emergency stockpile of respirator masks, gloves and other medical supplies is running low and is nearly exhausted due to the coronavirus outbreak, leaving the Trump administration and the states to compete for personal protective equipment in a freewheeling global marketplace rife with profiteering and price-gouging, according to Homeland Security officials involved in the frantic acquisition effort.

As coronavirus hotspots flare from coast-to-coast, the demand for safety equipment – also known as PPE – is both immediate and widespread, with health officials, hospital executives and governors saying their shortages are critical and that health care workers are putting their lives at risk while trying to help the surging number of patients.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

Free art kits keeping Orcas Island students busy while schools are closed

An idea from artist Brook Meinhardt is helping Orcas Island students stay busy while their schools are closed due to the novel coronavirus.

Meinhardt, an Orcas Island art teacher and program director of Art for Orcas Kids, which brings artists into classrooms to work with kids, has been handing out free, age-appropriate art kits to students in all grades.

“The minute schools closed, I thought of things I would do with my kids to keep them busy when they came home, and I thought of all my students and thought I could easily put together some kind of an art kit for school kids,” Meinhardt said. “Almost immediately, I got the OK to do it, so I was thrilled.”

Read the full story here.

—Scott Hanson

UW seeks plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients

UW Medicine and Bloodworks Northwest are seeking adult volunteers who have recovered from documented cases of COVID-19 to donate blood as a possible treatment for the disease.

Donated plasma can be used to make medicine containing antibodies to treat people who are fighting severe infections. Doctors in China used it to treat some patients, and initial results, while limited and preliminary, are encouraging.

Plasma, the liquid component of blood that contains antibodies, will be collected from qualified volunteers via plasmapheresis, a process that separates plasma and returns red blood cells to the donor.

Interested people, who are in good health and have recovered from COVID-19 can email their names and contact information to covidplasma@uw.edu, or call 206-520-4212 and leave a message.

—Sandi Doughton

Transit remains a lifeline in the Seattle area

While ridership on King County Metro is down, buses aren't deserted.

Essential and exempt from stay-home orders, grocery store staff, health-care providers and airport workers are among those who continue to commute to work amid the coronavirus outbreak. Others, now working from home, still need groceries or health care.

For the thousands of Seattle-area residents who rely on transit, rides once marked by shoulder-to-shoulder commuting now bring a mix of isolation and worry about exposure.

Read the full story here.

—Heidi Groover

UW Medicine changes mask policy

UW Medicine announced changes to its mask policy Wednesday after employees objected to its directive that disallowed or discouraged health care workers from using surgical masks when they were not interacting with patients suspected of infection with the virus that causes COVID-19.

“Last night, we began a roll-out of extended-use masking for health care workers at UW Medicine. We began in the Emergency Departments with plans to then expand to other clinical areas over the next 24 hours,” the health system wrote in a note to employees.

The message said the health care systems' leaders understood that employees felt uncomfortable coming to work without additional personal protective equipment (PPE).

“We want our health care workers to feel safe and confident as they continue to respond to this pandemic,” the message says. “This change is made based on the continued expansion of the local COVID-19 epidemic and is contingent on our ability to maintain adequate PPE supplies. Please note that the ability to receive additional supplies of masks is not assured …”

The medical system asked employees to ration and conserve masks, asking in a policy document that they “take and use only one mask per shift.”

—Evan Bush

No joke: truck hauling toilet paper catches fire on interstate

A tractor-trailer hauling toilet paper crashed and caught fire near Dallas, Texas, Wednesday, spilling the hot commodity all over an interstate.

The driver of the truck is OK, officials said. The load of toilet paper “burned extensively.”

The toilet paper appeared to be large rolls typically used in stores, restaurants and other businesses. Toilet paper has been in high demand amid the coronavirus pandemic.

(And no, this isn't an April Fools' Day story). Read the story here:

—Elouise Schumacher

Worker at Sound Transit construction site tests positive

A worker at the site of Sound Transit’s new University District light-rail station tested positive for COVID-19, but work at the site continues for now.

Two employees for a contractor at the site had symptoms and were tested, said Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick, who would not name the contractor, citing privacy concerns.

The contractor notified Sound Transit about the tests last week and the agency learned of the positive test Monday, Patrick said. Work continues at the site, said spokesman John Gallagher.

Although transportation work is allowed to continue under Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-home order, the Washington State Department of Transportation has stopped most construction work, saying “it is not possible to meet (public health) guidelines while maintaining construction”

Sound Transit plans to begin halting work at some sites but will continue at other sites. The shutdown of “noncritical work” will begin Thursday, Sound Transit said in a memo to contractors.

—Heidi Groover

Here's help

Should you wear a mask? The CDC is "looking at new data" as it weighs whether to advise the public to use face coverings or homemade masks. But don't hog the kind that medical workers need, experts say.

Disinfect your car before you put those hands on the steering wheel. The right disinfectants, applied in the right places (not just the obvious ones), can kill the coronavirus.

How to get your government stimulus check: They'll arrive automatically for some people, but others — including senior citizens and low-income people who might not traditionally file tax returns — need to take action.

Small business owners, too, can get help under the federal relief package. Here's who qualifies and how to apply for a loan.

But watch out for scams. As the stimulus rolls out, fraudsters are already trying to take advantage, Washington's attorney general says.

—Kris Higginson

Limited testing leaves senior care facilities 'flying in the dark'

Careage of Whidbey discovered a widespread outbreak — at least 27 residents and 20 employees — because, unlike other nursing homes, it tested everyone there.

As nursing home residents' families raise concerns about a lack of testing, a Seattle Times analysis identified at least 90 facilities in the state with outbreaks, and more than 500 cases among their residents and employees.

Read the Times Watchdog story.

—Kris Higginson

Catch up on the past 24 hours

The virus is spreading on a Navy aircraft carrier. The USS Theodore Roosevelt's captain is begging commanders to take the warship out of duty to save lives.

All cruise ships must remain at sea "indefinitely," the Coast Guard has ordered. Thousands of passengers are aboard, many of them ill.

Gas sales are plummeting as coronavirus hits hard — yet pump prices aren't dropping much. Why? It has to do with a bit of psychology amid the upheaval that local stations are seeing.

An 8-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer for $40? The state has warned five Washington businesses to stop price-gouging on Amazon.

A Bellevue dentist is accused of setting fire to masks and medical gowns in an attempt to burn down his office. The dentist, who was being evicted over a failure to pay rent, has been charged with arson.

Are the coronavirus closures good for the environment, at least? In some ways, yes, but efforts to "flatten the curve" by staying home haven't dented a different curve that's also of great importance to humanity.

Washington is No. 1 in voter turnout so far, despite our coronavirus outbreak. And it's for a reason the president thinks is "crazy," columnist Danny Westneat writes.

How one country is keeping deaths low: Germany sprang into action long before most people had heard of COVID-19.

Here's what else is happening as the virus spreads around the nation and world.

—Kris Higginson

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.