Six months into the pandemic, Washington health officials are still struggling with COVID-19 data, which has slowed reporting of the statewide positivity rate for 10 days straight, among other delays — though they’ve insisted that the technical problems haven’t hurt the state’s public health response. Meanwhile, researchers continue to study the virus, with some recently reporting there’s strong hints — but no proof — that blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors could help other patients recover.

Throughout Saturday, on this page, we’ll be posting 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 state Department of Health has stopped releasing the number of tests that have come back negative. The agency, which initially cited technical difficulties for the lack of data, announced Aug. 12 it is changing its test-tracking methodology and won’t report testing totals or the state’s positivity rate again until its new data reporting system is operational.
The state Department of Health has stopped releasing the number of tests that have come back negative. The agency, which initially cited technical difficulties for the lack of data, announced Aug. 12 it is changing its test-tracking methodology and won’t report testing totals or the state’s positivity rate again until its new data reporting system is operational.
(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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South Korea reports 279 COVID-19 cases, highest in 5 months

South Korea has reported 279 new coronavirus cases in the highest daily jump since early March, as fears grow about a massive outbreak in the greater capital region.

The figures released by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Sunday brought the national caseload to 15,318, including 305 deaths.

The number of new cases is the highest since 367 on March 8, when the country was concentrating public health tools and personnel nationwide to bring an outbreak in the less populated southern region under control.

Read the full story.

—The Associated Press
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State confirms 746 new COVID-19 cases and 11 new deaths

State health officials reported 746  new COVID-19 cases in Washington on Saturday afternoon, and 11 new deaths.

The update brings the state’s totals to 66,885 cases and 1,766 deaths, meaning that 2.6% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the state Department of Health (DOH). The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Friday.

The DOH is in the process of changing its methodology for reporting testing numbers and isn't currently reporting the percent of tests in the state that have been positive.

In King County, the state’s most populous, state health officials have confirmed 17,491 diagnoses and 688 deaths. The rate of deaths 3.9%.

—Megan Burbank

Fear, language barriers hinder immigrant contact-tracing

Dr. Michelle LaRue wears a face mask as she stands for a portrait in Hyattsville, Md., on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2019. LaRue is a manager at CASA de Maryland, an immigration advocacy group that has partnered with health officials in Prince George’s County just outside of Washington. D.C., to make the calls to Spanish speakers. She said earning trust begins with hiring contact tracers who not only speak Spanish but also intimately understand immigrant communities. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Dr. Michelle LaRue wears a face mask as she stands for a portrait in Hyattsville, Md., on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2019. LaRue is a manager at CASA de Maryland, an immigration advocacy group that has partnered with health officials in Prince George’s County just outside of Washington. D.C., to make the calls to Spanish speakers. She said earning trust begins with hiring contact tracers who not only speak Spanish but also intimately understand immigrant communities. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Only a handful of contact tracers working to slow COVID-19 in 125 communities near Chicago speak Spanish, despite significant Hispanic populations. Churches and advocacy groups in the Houston area are trying to convince immigrants to cooperate when health officials call. And in California, immigrants are being trained as contact tracers to ease mistrust.

The crucial job of reaching people who test positive for the coronavirus and those they’ve come in contact with is proving especially difficult in immigrant communities because of language barriers, confusion and fear of the government.

The failure of health departments across the U.S. to adequately investigate coronavirus outbreaks among non-English speakers is all the more fraught given the soaring and disproportionate case counts among Latinos in many states. Four of the hardest-hit states — Florida, Texas, Arizona and California — have major Spanish-speaking populations.

And the language barriers go beyond Spanish. Read more here.

—The Associated Press

FDA authorizes COVID-19 saliva test partly funded by NBA

A COVID-19 test that processes saliva samples and doesn’t require special swabs or collection devices received emergency-use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Saturday.

Research for the test was done by Yale University’s School of Public Health and was partly funded by the National Basketball Association and the union representing NBA players.

The rapid detection test, known as SalivaDirect, “is groundbreaking in terms of efficiency and avoiding shortages of crucial test components like reagents,” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a statement.

Read the full story here.

—Bloomberg
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Doctors see rise in limb-threatening blood clots during COVID-19 crisis

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Health experts are now encountering a rare and terrifying COVID-19 complication: plug-like blood clots in the limbs of coronavirus victims that strangle circulation.

And that means you could lose a limb to COVID-19, even if you don’t lose your life.

After querying 10 major hospital networks in Florida, the South Florida Sun Sentinel has found 26 previously unreported examples of these coronavirus-caused limb clots. These clots contributed to the death of at least six of the patients who had them.

And in at least one instance, surgeons at the University of Miami report having to amputate the leg of a Miami-Dade man in his mid-50s who lost circulation to the limb after contracting the virus.

Health laws bar the release of more information about the man who lost his leg, and data is scarce on amputations in Florida since the pandemic started. A spokesman for Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, which keeps track of amputated limbs, says they don’t expect to have clear statistics about amputations until April next year because of the way that hospitals report data on the procedure.

And doctors say they still don’t understand how or when or why the virus causes these clots.

Read the full story here.

—Sun Sentinel

Allen Institute for Immunology to study immune response to coronavirus

 When Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen put up $125 million in seed money for a Seattle institute focused on human immunology shortly before his death in late 2018, no one had any inkling a viral pandemic would strike within a year.

The Allen Institute for Immunology’s emphasis was on cancers and diseases linked to a haywire immune system – like irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple myeloma.  Allen himself died of complications of another immune-related cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

But now, the fledgling institute has taken on a new challenge: Unraveling the immune response to the novel coronavirus in hopes of speeding development of treatments and vaccines. Another goal is understanding why infection is mild for many people, but fatal for others.

“We all agreed there wasn’t anything more important than this to study right now,” said institute director Tom Bumol. “This is exactly the kind of project Paul would have wanted us to take on.”

Read more about the research here.

—Sandi Doughton

Americans are waiting on a new economic stimulus — but Congress is in recess until Labor Day

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Capitol is mostly dark and quiet these days, and is likely to stay that way until after Labor Day — even though millions of people like Brianne Torres remain out of work and are getting far less in unemployment payments than they were two weeks ago.

“I don’t get to take a recess from my life. I don’t get to take a recess from paying my bills,” the frustrated Fresno cosmetologist said.

Congress gets a recess. The Senate, which last took votes Aug. 6, is likely to be gone until Sept. 8. The House at the moment plans no votes until Sept. 14. Members have been told they can be recalled to return with 24 hours notice.

As roughly 1,000 people die from the coronavirus each day, and the nation suffers through its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s, no one from Congress or the White House tried to formally negotiate an economic relief plan last week, and nothing is planned.

Instead, before leaving town, Democrats and Republicans each blamed the other side for the impasse.

Read the full story here.

—McClatchy Washington Bureau
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Six months in, testing remains major obstacle in America’s fight against coronavirus

For months, public health experts and federal officials have said that significantly expanding the number of coronavirus tests administered in the United States is essential to reining in the pandemic. By some estimates, several million people might need to be tested each day, including many people who don’t feel sick.

But the country remains far short of that benchmark and, for the first time, the number of known tests conducted each day has fallen.

Reported daily tests trended downward for much of the last two weeks, essentially stalling the nation’s testing response. Some 733,000 people have been tested each day this month on average, down from nearly 750,000 in July, according to the COVID Tracking Project. The seven-day test average dropped to 709,000 on Monday, the lowest in nearly a month, before ticking upward again at week’s end.

The troubling trend comes after months of steady increases in testing, and may in part reflect that fewer people are seeking out tests as known cases have leveled off at more than 50,000 per day, after surging even higher this summer. But the plateau in testing may also reflect people’s frustration at the prospect of long lines and delays in getting results — as well as another fundamental problem: The nation has yet to build a robust system to test vast portions of the population, not just those seeking tests.

Six months into the pandemic, testing remains a major obstacle in America’s efforts to stop the coronavirus. 

Read the full story here.

—The New York Times

Demand for testing drops in Texas as schools reopen and football returns

Thrall High School football player Hayden Stefek wears a face mask as he goes through a practice, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, in Thrall, Texas. Coronavirus testing in Texas has dropped significantly, mirroring nationwide trends, just as schools reopen and football teams charge ahead with plans to play. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Thrall High School football player Hayden Stefek wears a face mask as he goes through a practice, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, in Thrall, Texas. Coronavirus testing in Texas has dropped significantly, mirroring nationwide trends, just as schools reopen and football teams charge ahead with plans to play. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

With hundreds of deaths reported each day, students returning to class and football teams charging ahead with plans to play, Texas leaders who grappled with testing shortages for much of the pandemic are now facing the opposite problem: not enough takers.

“We’re not having enough people step forward,” Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said.

The number of coronavirus tests being done each day in Texas has dropped by the thousands in August, mirroring nationwide trends that has seen daily testing averages in the U.S. fall nearly 9% since the end of July, according to The COVID Tracking Project. The problem is dwindling demand: Testing centers like CentroMed are no longer inundated by long lines that stretch for blocks, or closing hours early because tests run out.

The dropoff comes as the U.S. has surpassed 5 million confirmed coronavirus cases and is closing in on 170,000 deaths. It threatens to put the U.S. even further behind other countries that have better managed the pandemic, in part, through more aggressive testing.

The trend worries health experts who fear that Texas risks flying blind into the fall if it doesn’t increase testing. 

Read more here.

—The Associated Press

Mexican workers describe COVID-ridden cherry season: ‘It was like we were disposable’

These quarters are part of Gebbers Farms’ seasonal labor camp in Okanogan County. This photo was taken before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and masks were required. (Courtesy of Gebbers Farms)
These quarters are part of Gebbers Farms’ seasonal labor camp in Okanogan County. This photo was taken before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and masks were required. (Courtesy of Gebbers Farms)

Numerous former workers at Gebbers Farms in Okanogan County cut their harvest season short and went home because of concerns about COVID-19. In interviews, three workers described a disturbing breakdown in oversight amid a growing outbreak of illness in their Okanogan County camp, where one of their friends — Juan Carlos Santiago Rincon — died in early July.

Rincon’s death spurred an investigation of work conditions at Gebbers Farms by the state Department of Labor & Industries that now includes the circumstances surrounding the July 31 death of a second worker, Earl Edwards, who was from Jamaica.

In the camp where the guest workers resided, safety gaps described by the three Mexican workers included problems with a daily temperature check intended to identify sick people who needed to be sent to isolation cabins in a separate area.

A supervisor who did that task grew ill and passed the job to a guest worker, who — even when someone’s temperature was high — would often record a normal temperature instead, according to Dimas and the other two workers who spoke with The Seattle Times. 

Read the full story here.

—Hal Bernton
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Homes with grandparents weigh coronavirus risk as school starts

PHOENIX (AP) — Zita Robinson, who's 77 and diabetic, has been careful around her granddaughter since the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

A door connects Robinson's apartment in Phoenix to the main house where 8-year-old Traris “Trary” Robinson-Newman and her mother live, but it mostly stays shut. Their only physical contact is if Trary walks in with her back toward Grandma. Then Robinson will kiss her own hand and lightly touch Trary's back — "like I’m sending her a kiss with my hand.”

“It's very hard,” Robinson said. “We live together, but we live apart.”

Not hugging Grandma is hard for Trary, too: “It's like I can't see her anymore."

The separation Trary and her grandmother experience in their home is becoming a bigger issue as children go back to school. Many public schools nationwide are starting remotely in the fall, but if classes resume in person later this year, the chasm could grow between generations who live together.

Millions of seniors 65 and up, one of the populations most vulnerable to the virus, live with a school-age child. For those households, the new school year means reconsidering interactions from family dinner to bedtime hugs.

While studies so far suggest children are less likely to become infected with COVID-19 or only experience mild symptoms, data isn't conclusive on whether infected kids easily spread the disease. In a Georgia school district that has reopened classrooms, possible exposure has forced more than 1,200 students and staff into quarantine and two high schools to close.

If a grandchild does bring the virus home, grandparents of color are at higher risk than their white counterparts, experts say.

As of 2018, the U.S. had 51 million seniors, with 3.3 million, or 6%, living with at least one child between 5 and 18, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study. The situation is far more prevalent among communities of color: 19% of Asian and Pacific Islander seniors live with a school-age child, 17% of Hispanics, 13% of American Indian or Alaska Natives, and 11% of Black people. Just 4% of older whites live with a school-age child.

“I think there hasn’t been a lot of attention to the ripple effects on older people who may live in the same household,” said Tricia Neuman, one of the report’s authors.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Mom Casey Osborn-Hinman, husband Nate Hinman, son Tappan, 6, and daughter Lucy, 2.  How is COVID-19 iimpacting working parents, and women in particular?

Friday Aug 7, 2020- 214680
Mom Casey Osborn-Hinman, husband Nate Hinman, son Tappan, 6, and daughter Lucy, 2. How is COVID-19 iimpacting working parents, and women in particular? Friday Aug 7, 2020- 214680

COVID-19 pits parenting against work, and the outbreak has cast into sharp relief the persistence of gender inequality in the United States.

No crowd scenes, few real-world locations and less romance: TV and movies will look different due to the pandemic.

Seattle Public Schools may delay the start of the school year as negotiations with the teachers union continue.

A mass eviction in the midst of the pandemic is underway at a Seattle motel often used by homeless people.

—Heidi Groover