Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Monday, Aug. 17, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated. Click here to see all the most recent news about the pandemic, and click here to find additional resources.
Throughout Monday, on this page, we’ll be posting Seattle Times journalists’ updates on the outbreak and its effects on the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest and the world. Updates from Sunday can be found here, and all our coronavirus coverage can be found here.
Southeast Asia, detecting mutated coronavirus virus strain, is now studying it
Southeast Asia is facing a strain of the new coronavirus that the Philippines, which faces the region’s largest outbreak, is studying to see whether the mutation makes it more infectious.
The strain, earlier seen in other parts of the world and called D614G, was found in a Malaysian cluster of 45 cases that started from someone who returned from India and breached his 14-day home quarantine. The Philippines detected the strain among random Covid-19 samples in the largest city of its capital region.
The mutation “is said to have a higher possibility of transmission or infectiousness, but we still don’t have enough solid evidence to say that that will happen,” Philippines’ Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a virtual briefing on Monday.
The strain has been found in many other countries and has become the predominant variant in Europe and the U.S., with the World Health Organization saying there’s no evidence the strain leads to a more severe disease. The mutation has also been detected in recent outbreaks in China.
There’s no evidence from the epidemiology that the mutation is considerably more infectious than other strains, said Benjamin Cowling, head of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Hong Kong.
First US virus cases in mink found at 2 Utah farms
SALT LAKE CITY — Officials on Monday confirmed the first U.S. cases of mink infected with the coronavirus following outbreaks in Europe.
Five infected mink have been identified at two large farms in Utah, the Department of Agriculture announced. Testing began after the farms reported unusually high mortality rates among the small animals raised for their fur prized in coats and other clothing.
The Utah mink farms have also reported cases among workers. Infected humans can spread the virus to animals during close contact, but there is no current evidence that animals spread the disease to humans, authorities said. Officials are investigating how the disease spread to the farms.
The impacted farms in Utah have been quarantined to stop the spread of the virus. The state is one of the top mink breeders in the country, said state veterinarian Dr. Dean Taylor.
Seattle City Council approves land-use changes to make it easier to create new child care centers
Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, parents in Seattle struggled with a scarcity of child-care centers and wait lists for open spots that stretched beyond a year.
But the global pandemic put an exclamation point on an already tough problem.
Some parents are struggling to work from home amid the outbreak, while others will have to rely on child care centers to help their children with remote school classes. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 child care centers across the state shut down — some permanently — amid the virus.
With those troubles in mind, the Seattle City Council Monday unanimously approved legislation intended to make it quicker and less expensive to create child care centers within the city.
“Since I began working on this, the COVID-19 pandemic has made addressing child care even more urgent,” said Councilmember Dan Strauss, the main sponsor of the legislation, during Monday’s meeting.
The proposal — expected to be signed by Mayor Jenny Durkan — would allow child care centers as a permitted use in neighborhoods zoned for single-family development. That eliminates the need for a conditional permit, a process that Strauss said can add an average of five additional months to get a child care center approved.
300 Pizza Huts, mostly dine-in locations, to close
Up to 300 Pizza Hut restaurants will be closed, most of them dine-in locations not well suited for carryout and delivery at a time when millions of people are sheltering and eating at home.
Pizza sales have exploded during the pandemic. Domino’s last month reported a 30% spike in quarterly profits. On Monday, it said that it was hiring more than 20,000 people to handle surging orders.
Franchisee NPC International said Monday in documents filed in bankruptcy court that it had come to an agreement with Pizza Hut to close hundreds of locations. The Leawood, Kansas, company filed for bankruptcy protection last month.
NPC owns 1,225 Pizza Huts and 385 Wendy’s restaurants in 27 states. There are currently 7,000 Pizza Hut restaurants in the U.S.
FDA flags accuracy problem with widely used coronavirus test
WASHINGTON — Potential accuracy issues with a widely used coronavirus test could lead to false results for patients, U.S. health officials warned.
The Food and Drug Administration issued the alert Monday to doctors and laboratory technicians using Thermo Fisher’s TaqPath genetic test. Regulators said issues related to the equipment and software used to run the test could lead to inaccuracies.
The warning comes nearly a month after Connecticut public health officials first reported that at least 90 people had received false positive results for the coronavirus. Most of those receiving the false results were residents of nursing homes or assisted living facilities.
A spokeswoman for Thermo Fisher said the company was working with FDA “to make sure that laboratory personnel understand the need for strict adherence to the instructions for use.”
The FDA said one possible problem was related to equipment that rapidly spins samples in preparation for processing. The agency’s letter tells lab workers to follow new instructions developed by the company for this step.
State confirms 260 new COVID-19 cases and 4 new deaths
State health officials reported 260 new COVID-19 cases in Washington on Monday afternoon, and four new deaths.
The update brings the state’s totals to 67,721 cases and 1,785 deaths, meaning that 2.6% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the state Department of Health (DOH).
According to DOH, routine maintenance disrupted data processing yesterday at 4:30 p.m., which may explain why today’s case counts are markedly lower than in previous days; DOH’s usual cut-off time for processing labs is 11:59 p.m.
The DOH is also 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 17,745 diagnoses and 694 deaths. The rate of deaths is 3.9%.
How will online K-12 schooling this fall affect your work and finances?
With most school districts doing online instruction for elementary, middle and high school students this fall, many parents have had to make changes in their own work schedules, often with financial consequences.
How is your family coping? Will having your kids out of the classroom affect your work? Is it likely to reduce your work hours, and if so, how are you adjusting to the lost income? Are your employers helping and, if so, how?
‘Horrifying’ data glitch skews key Iowa coronavirus numbers
A state agency in Iowa says it is working to fix a data error on its coronavirus website that lowers the number of new confirmed cases and therefore downplays the severity of the current outbreak, just as schools are deciding whether to reopen.
The glitch means the Iowa Department of Public Health has inadvertently been reporting fewer new infections and a smaller percentage of daily positive tests than is truly the case, according to Dana Jones, an Iowa City nurse practitioner who uncovered the problem.
It’s particularly significant because school districts are relying on state data to determine whether they will offer in-person instruction when school resumes in the coming days and weeks.
Potentially thousands of coronavirus infections from recent weeks and months have instead been erroneously recorded as having happened in March, April, May and June, Jones said Monday.
“It’s just horrifying. We have no idea what’s going on, really,” said Jones.
Virus clusters erupt at U.S. universities as semester begins
From the dorms at North Carolina to the halls of Notre Dame, officials at universities around the U.S. scrambled Monday to deal with COVID-19 clusters at the start of the fall semester, some of them linked to off-campus parties and packed clubs.
At Oklahoma State in Stillwater, where a widely circulated video over the weekend showed maskless students packed into a nightclub, officials confirmed 23 coronavirus cases at an off-campus sorority house. The university placed the students living there in isolation and prohibited them from leaving.
“As a student, I’m frustrated as hell,” said Ryan Novozinsky, a junior from Allentown, New Jersey, and editor of the student newspaper. “These are people I have to interact with.” And, he added, “there will be professors they interact with, starting today, that won’t be able to fight this off.”
OSU has a combination of in-person and online courses, and students, staff and faculty are required to wear masks indoors and outdoors where social distancing isn’t possible.
South Korea pastor tests positive amid virus spike at church
A conservative South Korean pastor who has been a bitter critic of the country’s president has tested positive for the coronavirus, health authorities said Monday, two days after he participated in an anti-government protest in Seoul that drew thousands.
More than 300 virus cases have been linked to the Rev. Jun Kwang-hun’s huge church in northern Seoul, which has emerged as a major cluster of infections amid growing fears of a massive outbreak in the greater capital region.
Officials are concerned that the virus’s spread could worsen after thousands of demonstrators, including Jun and members of his Sarang Jeil Church, marched in downtown Seoul on Saturday despite pleas from officials to stay home.
Coronavirus hasn’t devastated the homeless as many feared
When the coronavirus emerged in the U.S. this year, public health officials and advocates for the homeless feared the virus would rip through shelters and tent encampments, ravaging vulnerable people who often have chronic health issues.
They scrambled to move people into hotel rooms, thinned out crowded shelters and moved tents into designated spots at sanctioned outdoor camps.
While shelters saw some large COVID-19 outbreaks, the virus so far doesn’t appear to have brought devastation to the homeless population as many feared. However, researchers and advocates say much is unknown about how the pandemic is affecting the estimated half-million people without housing in the U.S.
In a country that’s surpassed 5 million identified cases and 169,000 deaths, researchers don’t know why there appear to be so few outbreaks among the homeless.
“I am shocked, I guess I can say, because it’s a very vulnerable population. I don’t know what we’re going to see in an aftermath,” said a San Francisco public health official.
Seahawks’ opener in Atlanta will have no fans in the stands
The Seahawks are about to find out what it’s like to play a game in front of an empty stadium.
The Atlanta Falcons, who had been holding out hope of having at least 20,000 fans at games this season, announced Monday morning they will have no fans at events through the end of September at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
That includes Seattle’s regular-season opener on Sept. 13 at Atlanta.
Many teams are still waiting to announce their plans for fans at games this season, including the Seahawks.
New Zealand delays election after virus outbreak in Auckland
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has delayed New Zealand’s elections by four weeks due to the coronavirus outbreak in Auckland.
The election had been scheduled for Sept. 19 but will now be held on Oct. 17. Opposition parties had sought a delay after the virus outbreak prompted the government last week to put Auckland under a two-week lockdown and halted election campaigning.
Before the latest outbreak, New Zealand had gone 102 days without any known community transmission of the virus, and life had returned to normal for most people, with restaurants and schools open and sports fans back in stadiums.
Officials believe the virus was reintroduced to New Zealand from abroad but haven’t yet determined how.
U.S. virus money is slow to reach local public health departments
As the novel coronavirus began to spread through Minneapolis this spring, Health Commissioner Gretchen Musicant tore up her budget to find funds to combat the crisis. Money for test kits. Money to administer tests. Money to hire contact tracers. And yet even more money for a service that helps tracers communicate with residents in dozens of languages.
While Musicant diverted workers from violence prevention and other core programs to the COVID-19 response, state officials debated how to distribute $1.87 billion Minnesota received in federal aid.
As she waited, the Minnesota Zoo got $6 million in federal money to continue operations, and a debt collection company outside Minneapolis received at least $5 million from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, according to federal data.
It was not until Aug. 5 — months after Congress approved aid for the pandemic — that Musicant’s department finally received $1.7 million, the equivalent of $4 per Minneapolis resident.
“It’s more a hope and a prayer that we’ll have enough money,” Musicant said.
Since the pandemic began, Congress has set aside trillions of dollars to ease the crisis. A joint Kaiser Health News and Associated Press investigation finds that many communities with big outbreaks have spent little of that federal money on local public health departments for work such as testing and contact tracing. Others, like in Minnesota, were slow to do so.
Why did the Minneapolis health department have to wait so long for CARES Act money?
Once-mundane social choices are creating stomachaches
Does it feel right to go to the birthday party, wedding or other event, even with social distancing measures?
If not, how do you back out without damaging relationships?
Here's what etiquette coaches advise about saying no in the nicest possible ways.
'We didn't want to hide under our PPE until this was over'
Seattle firefighters are trained to deal calmly with life-or-death situations, and that's taken on new meaning as they staff free COVID-19 testing sites.
“Every person who shows up is very nervous,” says firefighter and paramedic Alan Goto, above. Watch him and his colleagues at work.
Need a test? Here's where to get one. You can also find a site near you by texting COVIDTEST to 1-855-212-2411.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Health experts are fearing a "twindemic" with a severe flu season if large numbers of people skip flu shots. You'll be hearing warnings about getting the vaccine as soon as possible, perhaps in an empty school building or a parking lot.
It's a wildly challenging time to be a parent as kids head back to school at home. Here's our survival guide, with advice from experts on how to help your children — and yourself. As Seattle-area districts lay out what this complicated fall will look like, schools are wondering whether kindergartners will even show up. And with some parents pooling their money for private instruction, columnist Naomi Ishisaka writes, Seattle-area families are wrestling with concerns over who might be left behind.
One of the nation's largest school districts is launching a massive COVID-19 testing and tracing initiative for all students and staff, aiming to create a path to safe reopenings.
Across the nation, college students are horrifying communities with their lack of virus precautions. As Gonzaga and Whitworth universities welcome students back on campus, Spokane County's worried public health leader has warnings for them. It's a drastically different approach from many other universities in Washington.
You need to get through airport security faster, because “airports are major hubs for pandemic viral spreading.” Travel Troubleshooter has tips and strategies.
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