Editor’s note: This is a live account of updates from Wednesday, April 29, 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.
State officials are looking at reopening some regions sooner than others as Gov. Jay Inslee gets ready to reshape his stay-home order and extend it beyond May 4. One key difference: outdoor spaces, which will look and feel different as some limits are lifted. Here’s what to expect when parks and trails begin reopening.
Meanwhile, a group representing the state’s hospitals is asking Inslee to allow more elective health care procedures to resume, and President Donald Trump is ordering other industries — such as meat processing plants — to stay open.
Throughout Wednesday, 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 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 afternoon.
Seattle entrepreneur touting coronavirus vaccine caused uproar when San Juan Island mayor invited him to visit
Seattle entrepreneur Johnny Stine had admittedly grown tired of waiting for regulators to approve drugs his biotech company was developing, including one he promoted as a coronavirus vaccine.
So, last month he offered his COVID-19 solution on social media for $400 to buyers in Washington and beyond. One of those intrigued was the mayor of the San Juan Island town of Friday Harbor, Farhad Ghatan. He caused a social media stir this month by inviting Stine to visit him during a restricted travel period and perhaps have him try the unauthorized vaccine.
In an interview Wednesday, Ghatan, Friday Harbor’s mayor the past 2 1/2 years, said he and Stine postponed the planned visit because of the uproar and that he hasn’t tried the vaccine or helped promote it.
“This was a private, one-on-one thing between me and Johnny that got completely blown out of proportion,” Ghatan said. “Realizing this was during travel restrictions and all that, we decided to postpone it and he never came.”
But the fallout saw official complaints lodged with multiple Washington state government agencies, including the office of Attorney General Bob Ferguson — who sent Stine a cease-and-desist letter last week warning of possible lawsuits and heavy fines for making “false or unsupported claims’’ about a coronavirus vaccine that doesn’t yet exist.
Mariners announce ticket-refund process for games impacted by coronavirus shutdown
More than a month of a games have been postponed/canceled due to the spread of the novel coronavirus and the shutdown of Major League Baseball, and at least another month of games will join them in the never-played category.
On Wednesday, the Mariners sent out emails to season-ticket holders, groups who have purchased suites and single-game ticket purchasers to outline the process for tickets through May 31.
From the email: “While Major League Baseball continues to look at all options for the 2020 season, we do know that Mariners home games originally scheduled in March, April and May will not be played at T-Mobile Park.”
Studies leave question of ‘airborne’ coronavirus transmission unanswered
A growing number of studies, including one published this week in the journal Nature, have found evidence that the coronavirus can remain suspended in the air in aerosol particles.
That raises anew the question of whether and to what extent the virus can be transmitted as an aerosol – although the evidence is far from conclusive and no such infections have been documented.
The consensus so far is that the virus, although very contagious, spreads through respiratory droplets generated when people breathe, speak or cough and doesn’t infect people through particles that can linger in the air for hours, in the way that measles and some other viral diseases can.
But the research is fueling a scientific debate over one of the most basic questions about the novel coronavirus – how it spreads – and doing so at a time of high anxiety and rattled nerves.
Flying out of Paine Field in Everett? The airport will check your body temperature first
Paine Field Airport in Everett began screening passengers’ body temperatures with a thermal camera Wednesday because fever is a known symptom of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Passengers are screened before reaching the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint, according to an announcement by Propeller Airports, which operates Paine Field.
The machine used, an Elevated Body Temperature Detection System, never touches passengers and is noninvasive.
If the machine detects fever, the passenger will be screened again, and the passenger and airline will decide whether the person is well enough to travel, according to the statement.
Seattle City Council hears details on plan to borrow money for coronavirus relief from big business tax
Seattle City Council members were served more data and opinions Wednesday as they continued to chew over a tax on large corporations and a plan to borrow money for coronavirus emergency assistance.
The tax on companies with annual payrolls over $7 million would apply not only to traditional employers but also to gig-economy businesses, such as Uber, a council central staff analyst said during a budget committee meeting held remotely. Compensation paid to independent contractors, like Uber drivers, would, for the purposes of the tax, be treated like wages paid to employees, analyst Tom Mikesell said.
But franchises, such as McDonald’s, could avoid the 1.3% payroll tax championed by Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Tammy Morales, because each location would be treated as a separate business.
The central staff, which provides nonpartisan analysis for all nine council members, has estimated the tax could raise $500 million a year. Under the Sawant-Morales plan, the money would initially be used for emergency relief, then to build affordable housing and carry out green-building upgrades.
Lyft to lay off 17% of staff as coronavirus takes toll
Lyft is laying off 17% of its staff, the company announced Wednesday, after the coronavirus crisis wrought havoc on the ride-hailing business and cut substantially into its revenue.
The layoffs will amount to nearly 1,000 jobs. In an email to the company’s thousands of employees, chief executive Logan Green announced the “difficult news,” including the furloughing of 5% of the staff and reducing salaries for three months.
“The COVID crisis has taken an enormous toll on the entire world,” he wrote. “Our guiding principle for decision-making is to ensure we emerge from the crisis in the strongest possible position to achieve the company’s mission.”
Over 70% of tested inmates in federal prisons have COVID-19
The response from the federal Bureau of Prisons to the growing coronavirus crisis in prisons has raised alarm among advocates and lawmakers about whether the agency is doing enough to ensure the safety of the nearly 150,000 inmates serving time in federal facilities.
And even though officials have stressed infection and death rates inside prisons are lower compared with outside, new figures provided by the Bureau of Prisons show that out of 2,700 tests systemwide, nearly 2,000 have come back positive, strongly suggesting there are far more COVID-19 cases left uncovered.
At the same time, the Bureau of Prisons communication policies are leaving families in the dark about their loved ones’ potentially life-threatening condition.
Amazon prepares first earnings report from coronavirus era, as pandemic accelerates retail trends in its favor
Amazon is expected to report earnings Thursday for an unprecedented period in the history of the Seattle-based commerce giant and the world.
Several trends in retail were already moving in Amazon’s favor before the coronavirus pandemic. Malls and department stores were struggling and retail chains were shuttering stores by the thousands as shoppers steadily shifted more of their retail spending online.
The company’s first-quarter earnings report will provide a view of how the pandemic has accelerated those trends, and the extent to which coronavirus restrictions on businesses and consumers have boosted Amazon’s sales. Investors have bet that Amazon will be among the beneficiaries of the pandemic, boosting its share price 25% this year, while the S&P 500 index is down 10%.
Amazon’s report Thursday should also reveal the costs of adapting the business to the new coronavirus reality, with social distancing, enhanced cleaning, symptom screening and disruptions to the company’s logistics operation and the people who make it run.
Seattle schools seeks credit waivers for some high school seniors during coronavirus closures
Like dozens of other school districts around Washington state, Seattle Public Schools has begun seeking waivers for some seniors who haven’t met all state credit requirements to graduate amid coronavirus closures.
The district will also waive some of its own local requirements for graduation, such as community service and career and technical education coursework.
Schools will request state credit waivers on a case-by-case basis, and only when the district has exhausted all other options to help students recover the credits, including through summer school. The state will only approve waivers as a last resort because of concerns that students could graduate without critical coursework or skills.
Along with a new grading policy to award high school students either an “A” or “incomplete” for their work this spring, the district says it is trying to shield students from being penalized for circumstances beyond their control — such as a lack of access to technology — during the closures.
Gov. Inslee to extend coronavirus stay-at-home order, outline how Washington’s economy will reopen
OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee says he’ll extend his stay-at-home order for Washingtonians, but he will also outline what reopening the state’s economy will look like once he and state officials feel the threat from the new coronavirus has receded.
The governor said on Wednesday that public health data is leading him to extend the order, which has closed thousands of businesses and limited large gatherings for more than a month.
That order was scheduled to lift at the end of the day on May 4, though Inslee and state officials have been saying an extension was likely. More details are expected Friday.
State confirms 14,070 COVID-19 cases
State health officials announced 228 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, including 15 more deaths.
The recent update brings Washington's totals to 14,070 cases and 801 deaths.
So far, 187,800 tests for the illness have been conducted in Washington, according to the state. Of those, about 93% have come back negative.
The bulk of the cases remain in King County, with 6,103 positive test results and 438 deaths, accounting for 43.3% of the state's death toll. New deaths were also reported in Benton, Clark, Franklin, Pierce and Yakima counties.
U.S. coronavirus death toll is far higher than reported, CDC data suggests
Total deaths in seven states that have been hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic are nearly 50% higher than normal for the five weeks from March 8 through April 11, according to new death statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is 9,000 more deaths than were reported as of April 11 in official counts of deaths from the coronavirus.
The new data is partial and most likely undercounts the recent death toll significantly. But it still illustrates how the coronavirus is causing a surge in deaths in the places it has struck, probably killing more people than the reported statistics capture. These increases belie arguments that the virus is only killing people who would have died anyway from other causes. Instead, the virus has brought a pattern of deaths unlike anything seen in recent years.
Read the full article here.
Around 100 more sheltered homeless move to hotels
King County announced today that around 100 homeless shelter residents from three different shelters are moving or have moved to two hotels in Queen Anne and South Lake Union.
This move has emptied out the temporary shelter at King County Airport, according to Jennifer Newman, program director for Catholic Community Services, where 27 people have tested positive for coronavirus -- staff and residents -- as of April 27, according to numbers from Public Health -- Seattle & King County.
In addition, The Salvation Army will move 60 people out of shelters it operates in the King County Administration Building and a shelter at Fourth and Jefferson in downtown.
At the beginning of April, King County moved 400 people out of crowded shelters in Seattle, Bellevue, Kent, Federal Way and Renton and into hotel rooms.
King County will provide security at both hotels, the Inn at Queen Anne and the Civic Hotel, neither of which will be open to other guests.
This move will be done today, the announcement said.
Inslee says stay-at-home order will extend beyond May 4
In a press conference held Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee confirmed that Washington state's stay-at-home order would not be lifted May 4, even as some restrictions -- such as those on elective procedures and some outdoor recreation -- have been loosened. Inslee said that more information about steps to come would be available on Friday.
He also announced additions to the state's supply of personal protective equipment for health care workers and plans to expand testing. Inslee emphasized the need to reopen the state's economy with a phased approach focused on public health and informed by science, with the goal of avoiding lifting restrictions simply to impose them again due to spikes in infections. "Let's just do this once and get it over with," he said.
‘Second-week crash’ is time of peril for some COVID-19 patients
During the first week she had COVID-19, Morgan Blue felt weak, with a severe backache and a fever. The symptoms did not alarm doctors at her local emergency department, however. They sent her home after she showed up at the hospital.
But on Day 8, she abruptly felt like she was choking.
“That day, I suddenly couldn’t breathe,” said the 26-year-old customer service representative from Flint, Michigan. An ambulance took her to the hospital, where she spent eight days, four of them in intensive care, before she recovered and was able to go home.
Read the full article here.
Washington hospitals might begin some elective procedures, halted by coronavirus, under new Inslee guidance
Gov. Jay Inslee announced new guidance Wednesday that gives hospitals and health care providers a little more leeway as they seek to resume non-urgent medical procedures that the governor had halted in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Inslee’s actions don’t materially change his order, originally announced March 19, which banned all non-urgent medical and dental procedures. Instead, as circumstances have changed, the governor is issuing new guidance in how health care providers should interpret his initial order.
That order was an effort to conserve both hospital space and personal protective equipment, like gowns and face masks, for the flood of COVID-19 patients that experts were predicting. It applied to all procedures not expected to “cause harm to the patient” if delayed for three months. It did not define “harm.”
“The governor leaves assessment of harm up to the individual clinician,” the new guidance says, saying providers should consider how a patient’s illness or injury is causing pain and dysfunction in daily life.
‘Frostbite’ toes and other peculiar rashes may be signs of hidden coronavirus infection, especially in the young
As a dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Esther Freeman was prepared for things to be a bit quieter during the pandemic lockdown. But not too long after it began, she started getting urgent calls about odd frostbite-like patches showing up on people’s toes.
The rash itself was rather harmless.
While some complained of a burning sensation, the inflammation usually disappeared on its own in two to three weeks without treatment. What was striking is that many of those patients had tested positive for covid-19.
“My inbox and my telemedicine clinic are full of just toes. It’s all about toes. I have never seen so many toes,” Freeman said.
The curious phenomenon has also caught the interest of researchers in hot zones such as France, Italy and China. But the reports had been mostly limited to individual case studies and first-person observations, making it difficult to determine what these rashes mean, why they are occurring and how they are linked to the virus.
Now a U.S.-based group is preparing to publish the first in-depth look at covid-19’s dermatologic effects, based on a registry of nearly 300 patients confirmed or suspected of having the virus. The report, expected out as soon as this week, offers some tantalizing clues about the pathogen and its wildly different effects on different people.
Read the full story here.
BP says it will donate fuel from Washington to aid coronavirus effort
BP said Wednesday it is donating 3 million gallons of jet fuel from its Cherry Point refinery in Washington and a second refinery in Indiana.
The fuel will be used to support FedEx Express international charter flights that will deliver personal protective gear, and to support Alaska Airlines flights that will carry food, medical supplies and offer emergency passenger services to remote Alaska communities hard hit by the bankruptcy of a local air carrier.
The Cherry Point refinery fuel will be delivered to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and the Indiana fuel to Chicago O’Hare.
“We’re pulling together our global resources to ensure first responders, health care workers and patients know that they’re not alone,” said Susan Dio, chairman and president of BP America.
BP also is offering a 50-cents per-gallon fuel discount to first responders, doctors, nurses and hospital workers.
BP said it will offset the carbon emissions from the combustion of this fuel through a BP program called Target Neutral.
Winston the dog tests positive for coronavirus in North Carolina
A pug in North Carolina named Winston has tested positive for the coronavirus in what is apparently the first known case in which the virus was detected in a dog in the United States, researchers at Duke University said Tuesday.
The dog belongs to a Chapel Hill family participating in a research study at the university, in which researchers were trying to understand how humans respond to different types of infection. Three of the family members, Dr. Heather McLean, Dr. Samuel McLean and their son, Ben McLean, were also infected by the virus.
The dog’s symptoms lasted only a few days and were mild, according to members of the family — he was sluggish, sneezing and breathing heavily. Most telling of all, they said, he didn’t finish breakfast one morning.
Winston’s preliminary test results, if confirmed by the U.S. Agriculture Department, will raise broader questions about how susceptible animals are to the coronavirus. Experts have said that there is no evidence that pets can transmit the virus to people, and that people should not worry about giving the virus to their pets.
Read more here.
California biotech company claims drug appears effective against coronavirus
A California-based biotech company said Wednesday its experimental drug has proved somewhat effective against the new coronavirus in a U.S. government study.
The study of Gilead Sciences' remdesivir was run by the National Institutes of Health and evaluated the length of recovery for patients treated with remdesivir versus usual care in about 800 hospitalized coronavirus patients around the world. In addition, the study looked at whether five days of treatment with remdesivir were as effective as a 10-day plan.
"The study demonstrated that patients receiving a 10-day treatment course of remdesivir achieved similar improvement in clinical status compared with those taking a 5-day treatment course," the company said in a statement on Wednesday.
The National Institute for Health did not immediately reply to a request for comment and the Food and Drug Administration said only that the agency has been talking with Gilead “regarding making remdesivir available to patients as quickly as possible, as appropriate.”
The drug is given through an IV and is designed to interfere with the virus’s ability to copy its genetic material. In animal tests against SARS and MERS, diseases caused by similar coronaviruses, the drug helped prevent infection and reduced the severity of symptoms when given early enough in the course of illness.
Partial results from a separate study testing remdesivir in severely ill patients in China, however, showed the drug did not speed recovery in that study, which was stopped after only 237 of a planned 453 patients were enrolled. Researchers gave 158 people the drug and 79 others got usual care.
Remdesivir is not yet licensed or approved anywhere globally and has not yet been demonstrated to be safe or effective for the treatment of COVID-19.
Read more here.
3 nursing homes to have designated COVID-19 wings
Washington state officials are working with three nursing homes to establish wings for COVID-19 patients, as part of its effort to separate infected residents.
The facilities in King, Pierce and Whatcom counties will have a total of 150 beds available by next week, said Candace Goehring, director of residential care services for the state Department of Social and Health Services.
The facilities have residents who have not tested positive for COVID-19. To prevent spread to those residents, Goehring said the designated wings will have separate entrances and staff and that the facilities are able to prevent air from flowing into the rest of the building.
Gov. Jay Inslee issued a proclamation earlier this month allowing facilities to transfer nursing home residents even if they appeal.
"We don't want this to be enforced on someone. But this is a balance of public health and reducing the transmission of COVID while respecting individual rights," Goehring said. "It's a new place for us to go."
Coronavirus outbreak grows at Oregon frozen-food plant
A coronavirus outbreak at National Frozen Foods has grown to 18 cases at the Albany, Oregon, facility and temporarily halted processing.
The Public Health Director of Linn County said Tuesday there are 18 cases of COVID-19 at the plant and a total of 81 cases in the county, according to the Albany Democrat-Herald.
Processing remained shut at the facility, which processes beans, cut corn, squash, vegetable purées and cream-style corn, said Michael Beranbaum, secretary-treasurer for Teamsters Local Union No. 670, which represents about 270 workers at National Frozen Foods in Albany.
The company voluntarily shut down processing on Friday so a deep clean could be conducted.
“They’ve been cleared by the Health Department to restart operations. The only problem is, they really can’t start until all of the employees get tested. My understanding is that they’ve been calling everybody in to get tested. I don’t know how long it will take for results to be available,” Beranbaum said.
Read the story here.
Quarantine Corner: Making it easier to be stuck at home
Where is Seattle’s best roast chicken? Our food writers are hot on the case of that and other delights with their picks for three takeout spots to love. And we've been updating this list of places that offer takeout and/or delivery.
Need something new to watch? "Sonic the Hedgehog" and "Hollywood" are among the top new streams of the week.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Boeing today said it will slash more than 15% of jobs in its Seattle-based Commercial Airplanes division and some smaller units as it pares the total work force by 10%. The company also announced production cuts and a $641 million quarterly loss. Starbucks took a tumble, too, and warned that things will get worse before they get better.
Don't get fooled by fake coronavirus treatments, cures or vaccines. Companies in Seattle and Olympia are among those targeted in a growing crackdown nationwide by government agencies.
Doctors and hospitals are urging Inslee to let elective health care procedures restart, saying they have the capacity to treat patients who are suffering in the wait for care. The governor says he's working on a plan.
Telemedicine is free because of the coronavirus ... right? Patients are angry after getting billed for calling their doctor.
A new presidential order calls meat plants "critical" to keep them open amid concerns over shortages after thousands of workers fell ill. Here's a Q&A on what the supply-chain mess will mean for consumers. And are frozen foods next? An Oregon plant that processes millions of pounds annually has closed amid an outbreak.
Costco is requiring shoppers to wear masks and putting other new safety measures in place.
The Port of Seattle has delayed a controversial cruise terminal and shaved its budget. Revenue projections are worsening, including at Sea-Tac Airport.
Washington state's feel-good story of how everybody came together to let scientists take the lead is giving way, columnist Danny Westneat writes, and it’s starting to feel like Republicans want to have a "chickenpox party" for coronavirus in the whole state.
What happens when you emerge after 33 days in strict lockdown? A rush to indulge some serious cravings, New Zealand is finding.
How is this outbreak 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.
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