Editor’s note: This is a live account of updates from Saturday, April 18, as the events unfolded. 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.
It’s been nearly a month since Gov. Jay Inslee announced his initial stay-at-home order in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus, and University of Washington researchers are starting to tackle one of the questions on everyone’s mind: When will it be safe to begin easing up on social-distancing measures? The UW team confirmed Friday that some evidence shows the state could possibly begin easing up on social distancing restrictions the week of May 18.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump continues to push states to reopen their economy sooner rather than later. On Friday, Trump tweeted encouragements of those in Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia who were protesting their governors’ stay-home orders.
The most recent count of COVID-19 cases in Washington totals 11,802 infections and 624 deaths, according to the state Department of Health.
Throughout today, on this page, we’ll be posting updates from Seattle Times journalists and others on the pandemic 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 evening.
As crush of Washington’s jobless residents seek unemployment benefits, website and phones struggle to keep up
Independent contractors, gig workers and others previously denied state benefits can now apply for federal unemployment-assistance benefits, but the Employment Security Department’s website Saturday evening wasn’t loading for some applicants.
The ESD’s unemployment benefits phone and eServices system was unavailable Saturday until 8 p.m. so the department’s website could be updated to allow people who are self-employed or part-time workers with fewer than 680 hours to apply for benefits. There was a spike in visitors immediately, ESD spokesman Nick Demerice said, causing pages to load slowly.
Demerice said the website should work more smoothly as applicant volumes even out.
Coronavirus killed hundreds at the state's long-term care facilities. Widespread testing may finally be near
Six weeks after long-term care facilities first emerged as a deadly front of the coronavirus pandemic, Washington state says it’s now aiming for widespread testing in the facilities.
The state’s goal is to get enough supplies to allow for universal masking of staff and to test all residents and employees in facilities with COVID-19 cases. The state has thousands of test kits ready, with more on the way. But it’s unlikely the supply will cover the approximately 200 facilities with cases, much less all 4,100 group care facilities in the state, and it’s unclear when the state will receive enough.
Across the country, officials have focused on the rising death toll at the facilities, where residents live in close proximity and are often at high risk because of age or medical conditions. In Washington, around 300 people from these facilities had died as of Friday, making up half the total deaths in the state, according to data from county health departments.
The full scope of the crisis is unclear, as no agency is tracking the number of cases in facilities across the state. The state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) has made errors tracking which facilities have infections, and it only recently began gathering information about the number of cases to help the state distribute supplies. And the state Department of Health infrequently releases counts of deaths from these facilities.
Read the full story here.
Nearly 12,000 COVID-19 cases confirmed in Washington
State health officials have confirmed 357 new COVID-19 cases and 21 additional deaths in Washington.
The numbers released Saturday evening bring the state's totals to 11,802 infections and 624 deaths.
Nine of the deaths occurred in King County, which has accounted for more than half the deaths in the state, according to the state Department of Health.
As of Friday, 135,706 tests have been conducted in Washington. Of those tests, 8.7% came back positive.
Tribes sue over distribution of coronavirus relief funding
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Several Native American tribes sued the federal government Friday, seeking to keep any of the $8 billion in federal coronavirus relief for tribes kept out of the hands of for-profit Alaska Native corporations.
The U.S. Treasury Department is tasked with doling out the money by April 26 to help tribes nationwide stay afloat, respond to the virus and recover after having to shut down casinos, tourism operations and other businesses that serve as their main moneymakers.
The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation and the Tulalip Tribes in Washington state, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians in Maine, and the Akiak Native Community, Asa’carsarmiut Tribe and Aleut Community of St. Paul Island in Alaska filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
Read the full story here.
Seattle School Board to vote Monday whether to change high school grading system
The Seattle School Board will vote Monday on whether to change its grading policy so that high school students would only receive “A” or “incomplete” grades for the spring 2020 semester to reflect the hardships many students have faced related to remote learning and school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
District Superintendent Denise Juneau has recommended the proposal, which states that the change would minimize the negative impacts of the closures and keep students engaged in learning.
Under the proposed change, students who receive incompletes will be able to finish work during the summer and fall 2020 semester, according to the district.
Since waves of school closures began in early March, districts across the U.S. have grappled with how to grade students during an unprecedented shutdown. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction did not direct school districts on how to grade students, but did recommend that they consider adopting a pass-no credit grading system or similar grading method.
The meeting will be livestreamed here.
Tech companies add parental controls amid coronavirus-fueled surge in screen time
SAN FRANCISCO — It's the era of coronavirus screen time, and some tech companies are rolling out new tools to help parents better monitor what their kids are watching and doing online.
TikTok, a social media video app heavily used by teens, this week introduced ways for parents to limit time on the app, while Google rolled out a new Play Store tab to highlight apps approved and rated by teachers. Last week, Netflix introduced a way to add a PIN code to access content.
Any safety controls are helpful, experts say, and the new tools are a step in the right direction. But tech companies should be thinking through these issues and launching tools to better protect children with the advent of the app, not after.
“Unfortunately a lot of these things happen in retrospect, as a Band-Aid,” said Christine Elgersma, senior editor of social media and instructional resources at Common Sense Media, an advocacy organization for kids’ safe use of technology.
Seattle is closing some streets to cars to make safer routes for pedestrians and bicyclists
Seattle's Department of Transportation (SDOT) plans to close about 15 miles of streets to nonessential vehicle traffic so that pedestrians and bicyclists can have more space to maintain social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.
The closures will be rolled out beginning Saturday, with most drivers banned from two-and-a-half miles of residential streets in the Central District and West Seattle.
Those initial closures will occur on 25th Avenue South between East Columbia Street and South Dearborn Street in the Central District and along portions of 34th Avenue Southwest, Southwest Graham Street, Southwest Holly Street and High Point Drive Southwest in West Seattle.
The city is looking at additional street closures in coming days, including possibly Lake Washington Boulevard.
The so-called Stay Healthy Streets closures will remain in place for the duration of Washington’s stay-at-home order, or until otherwise announced, according to SDOT. People who live along the streets will still be able to drive to their homes, and delivery workers can still operate on the streets. Through traffic will not be permitted.
Lacking US coordination, states team up on when to reopen once coronavirus threat subsides
President Donald Trump, in a roller-coaster week of reversals and contradictions, told governors to “call your own shots” on lifting stay-at-home orders once the coronavirus threat subsides. But then he took to Twitter to push some to reopen their economies quickly and tell them it was their job to ramp up testing.
“This is mayhem,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday. “We need a coordinated approach between the federal government and the states.”
In the absence of one, Cuomo and 16 other governors representing half the nation's population have organized three separate clusters of states each committed to working together on the details of relaunching businesses, schools and events while avoiding a resurgence of infections.
The pacts have formed among states mostly with Democratic governors on the West Coast, around the Great Lakes and in the densely populated Northeast, covering several big metropolitan areas that cross state lines, including New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.
Canada, US extend border restrictions for another 30 days
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Saturday the U.S. and Canada have agreed to keep their border closed to nonessential travel for another 30 days and he said it will be undoubtedly longer before the restriction is removed.
Trudeau said it will keep people on both sides of the border safe amid the pandemic.
“The agreement is the same terms. It’s just extended for another 30 days. It will ensure we continue to get essential goods and services back and forth across the border,” Trudeau said.
King County Metro bus driver dies from COVID-19 complications
A King County Metro bus driver has died from complications of COVID-19, the agency said.
The driver, 59-year-old Samina Hameed, died Thursday at Overlake Hospital, Metro told drivers in a poster placed at some transit bases.
"With this news, we encounter the grief and pain of loss so many have tragically experienced during this pandemic," Metro General Manager Rob Gannon said Friday in a separate message to employees.
Hameed had been employed by Metro since 2017 and worked out of Bellevue Base and East Base, Gannon’s message said. Her husband is also a Metro operator and the two have three children and a daughter-in-law. The death is the first reported COVID-19 fatality for Metro.
Stimulus checks and other coronavirus relief hindered by 1960s technology and rocky government rollout
The national effort to get money to Americans is at risk of being overwhelmed by the worst economic downturn in 80 years, as understaffed and underfunded agencies struggle to deliver funds to all the people who need help.
Three weeks after Congress passed a $2 trillion package to lessen the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, millions of households and small businesses are still waiting to receive all the help promised under the legislation, according to government data and firsthand accounts.
The bulk of the challenges have occurred with three initiatives designed to get cash to struggling Americans: a $1,200 per adult relief program that launched this week, $349 billion in Small Business Administration loans, and $260 billion in weekly unemployment benefits for the more than 22 million people – and growing – out of work.
The SBA ran out of money to make small business loans this week, almost no unemployment aid has reached eligible self-employed and gig workers, and a significant number of Americans who were due to receive relief payments this week went on the IRS.gov website only to see a message that “payment status not available.”
Catch up on the past 24 hours
After closing parks last weekend, Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan is taking a different approach. Seattle's parks are staying open Saturday and Sunday, but with restrictions. Residents will be required to keep moving through parks. That means you aren't allowed to grill, picnic or play sports.
A UW coronavirus model says Washington state can start safely reopening the week of May 18. Experts caution that this timeline will be safe only if testing is widely available to test new cases, health departments have the capacity to isolate infected people and their contacts, and large gatherings remain prohibited.
Seed shortages? Yup. The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a run on seeds as more people in the Seattle area have begun planting their own vegetable gardens. And raising their own chickens. And starting some pollination gardens. All in the name of self-sufficiency.
Washington state's schools have been closed for about a month now in response to the pandemic, but the results of a new survey show that the services districts are providing for students vary widely.
China revised its official coronavirus death toll in Wuhan, the original epicenter of the outbreak, by around 50% on Friday, citing new statistical evidence that has emerged as the city begins to reopen following months of lockdown.
Gov. Jay Inslee rebuked President Donald Trump on Friday after Trump appeared to encourage Americans to rebel against statewide stay-at-home orders.
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