Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, Aug. 20, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

State and federal officials continue to discuss the risk of reopening college campuses during the pandemic. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump blasted universities that have canceled in-person classes amid virus outbreaks, saying the move could cost lives rather than saving them, and that students pose a greater safety threat at home with older family members than on college campuses.

In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday that he’s rolling out new COVID-19 testing rules for agricultural workers, reflecting the continued concern about the spread of the disease among the farm-labor force.

Throughout Thursday, 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 Wednesday 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, 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, 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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Unemployment claims keep falling in Washington state, but many are still waiting for benefits

Unemployment claims in Washington state dropped for the fifth consecutive week — but the number of people filing remains at historic levels and many of those seeking benefits still haven’t received any weeks and even months after losing their jobs.

Nearly 60,000 workers who have filed for jobless benefits are waiting for the state Employment Security Department (ESD) to resolve those claims, according to data from the state and from an advocacy group.

Much of the state’s job market seems caught in a pandemic-induced limbo. 

Although the 21,942 new jobless claims received by the ESD for the week ending Saturday represented a 0.9% drop from week before, it was still four times the number filed in the same week last year. Nationally, initial claims for jobless benefits rose nearly 14%, to 1.1 million, the U.S. Labor Department reported. 

Read the full story here.

—Paul Roberts
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Chinese mining company used COVID-19 vaccine in PNG

CANBERRA, Australia — A Chinese mining company in Papua New Guinea claims to have immunized employees against COVID-19 in an apparent vaccination trial, a newspaper reported on Friday.

The South Pacific island nation’s Health Minister Papua Jelta Wong said his department was investigating the claim by Ramu NiCo Management (MCC) Ltd., The Australian reported.

National Pandemic Response Controller David Manning banned COVID-19 vaccine testing or trials in Papua New Guinea on Thursday and later noted the National Department of Health had not approved any trials.

“Any vaccines imported into PNG must be approved by NDoH and must go through vigorous vaccine trials, protocols and procedures” and must be pre-qualified by the World Health Organization, Manning said in a statement on Friday.

—Associated Press

35 music venues receive King County coronavirus relief grants

Six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s still no telling when Washington music venues will be able to reopen. Good news has been scarce for local club owners, but this week nearly three dozen received a bit of financial relief.

King County announced Tuesday the recipients of $750,000 in grants to help soften some of the blow to shuttered music halls, ranging from neighborhood hangouts the Royal Room and Clock-Out Lounge to mid-sized hot spots the Crocodile and Neumos, up to the larger Neptune Theatre. The money is designed to be used for covering expenses such as rent or mortgage payments, payroll and utilities during a time when venues have little to no money coming in.

“We must do everything possible to help our small businesses and arts and cultural organizations emerge from the crisis alive, well, and ready to put thousands of people back to work,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said in a news release. “By carefully and thoughtfully helping with rent, payroll and other expenses, we can help ensure that more of our cultural touchstones survive and continue to contribute to the vitality of our region.”

The funds are part of a $2 million pot of federal CARES Act money the county steered toward music venues and other arts, culture and science organizations

Read the full story here.

—Michael Rietmulder

Inslee ‘cautiously pleased’ as confirmed COVID-19 cases dip in Washington state

OLYMPIA — After a summer in which Washington health officials often announced as many as 800 or 1,000 new confirmed COVID-19 cases daily, Gov. Jay Inslee Thursday said he was “cautiously pleased” the state’s situation is now improving.

Tallies for new daily confirmed cases have trended down, which has also brought down the average number of cases per 100,000 state residents over a recent two-week span.

In a news conference, the governor also cited a model showing a dip in the rate of transmission, which estimates how many people an infected person goes on to sicken.

“I am cautiously pleased to tell you that we have seen a decline in diagnosed cases in the last two weeks and that some of our other data shows some positive trends,” said Inslee.

Not long after his remarks, however, state health officials announced 700 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, as well as 15 deaths. That brings Washington’s total number of diagnoses to 69,389, including 1,837 deaths, according to the state Department of Health.

Read the full story here.

—Joseph O'Sullivan
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As wildfires rage, Californians fear the virus at shelters

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — A wildfire was raging outside, but inside the evacuation centers there were risks, too.

More than 25,000 people have been forced to evacuate from the rural areas of San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, Cal Fire said, and many have struggled to find a place to go, especially with the pandemic still limiting indoor gatherings.

At least five hotels in Santa Cruz said they were filled to capacity Wednesday night as evacuees sought refuge from the smoke outside. And midday Thursday, Santa Cruz County urged tourists and other visitors to leave so displaced residents could find a bed to sleep in. Even places set up specifically to house evacuees were forced to turn people away because of the need for social distancing, which Jessi Bond, the Civic Auditorium supervisor, called “heartbreaking.”

“There’s really two emergencies happening, and we need to address both,” she said.

The wildfires, caused by an extraordinary period of lightning strikes, continued to rage Thursday throughout other parts of California as well, burning more than 300,000 acres in the state. One group of fires, the LNU Lightning Complex in Napa Valley, grew to 131,000 acres and destroyed more than 100 homes and other buildings, many of them in Vacaville, near Sacramento. Fire officials said Thursday that they were hopeful they had stopped the fire from spreading further into the city, but more than 30,000 buildings remained threatened.

—The New York Times

Trump administration bars FDA from regulating some laboratory tests, including for coronavirus

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration this week blocked the Food and Drug Administration from regulating a broad swath of laboratory tests, including for the coronavirus, in a move strongly opposed by the agency.

The new policy stunned many health experts and laboratories because of its timing, several months into a pandemic. Some public health experts warned the shift could result in unreliable coronavirus tests on the market, potentially worsening the testing crisis that has dogged the United States if more people get erroneous results. They argued the change is unlikely to solve current testing problems, which at this point are largely due to shortages of supplies such as swabs and chemical reagents.

But supporters cheered the change as long overdue, saying it could help get new and more innovative tests to market more quickly. They said that the FDA review process sharply slowed testing at the beginning of the pandemic and that the new policy could ensure such bottlenecks don’t recur.

Administration officials said the decision, announced Wednesday on the website of the Department of Health and Human Services, was made for legal reasons. 

—The Washington Post

Museums in Phase 2 counties such as King allowed to reopen if they follow safety guidelines

As part of updated guidance announced Thursday by Gov. Jay Inslee, museums in King and other counties in Phase 2 of the governor’s reopening plan will be allowed to reopen as long as they follow safety guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“We continue to balance the need for activities that contribute to physical, mental, and emotional well-being with the steps needed to control the virus,” Inslee said in a news release Thursday. “Our ability to reopen depends on every Washingtonian doing their part to ensure fewer, shorter and safer interactions.”

Museums in counties currently in Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan, including Pierce and Snohomish in addition to King, will be able to open their doors to the public with several caveats. Patrons over the age of 2 must wear face coverings, capacity must be kept to 25% (with monitoring), frequently touched surfaces must be regularly sanitized, gallery traffic must travel in one direction, and exhibits that utilize touching surfaces must be altered.

The guidelines also extend to museum ticketing, which must be conducted online or over the phone, with timed ticketing or staggered entries to limit capacity. Dining services and gift shops must comply with Phase 2 guidelines for dine-in and retail service. No events will be allowed.

Read the full story here.

—Megan Burbank
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City of Seattle expands free COVID testing sites to West Seattle

The City of Seattle has added a new, walk-up COVID-19 testing facility at the Chief Sealth High School Athletic Complex for residents impacted by the closure of the West Seattle Bridge.

The new site expands the number of free, citywide testing sites to four, through which the City expects to administer some 4,000 tests a day, and 75,000 tests per month.

In announcing the site at Chief Sealth on Thursday, Mayor Jenny Durkan noted that the bridge closure has presented a challenge for residents on the peninsula, and that the new location -- which be language-accessible -- will advance testing equity for the community and City.

Testing is free at the City of Seattle sites, and clients are not billed, whether or not they have health insurance. For those with insurance, UW Medicine will handle  the billing of Medicaid, Medicare, or individuals’ private insurance.

Under Washington state law, insurance companies cannot charge co-pays for COVID-19 testing.

For uninsured clients, UW Medicine will seek reimbursement directly from the federal, Families First Coronavirus Response Act Relief Fund for the cost of the test.  

Since testing began on June 5, the City of Seattle has administered more than 128,000 tests, yielding a high percentage of the overall tests statewide, accounting for more than 15 percent since June.

With these sites, the City of Seattle has nine of the ten highest per capita testing areas in King County.   

Public Health – Seattle & King County hosts several testing sites across the County, including Seattle, that are accessible without a registration request or requirement. Visit Public Health – Seattle King County’s website or call 206-477-3977 for more information.   

—Nicole Brodeur

State confirms 700 new COVID-19 cases and 15 new deaths

State health officials reported 700 new COVID-19 cases in Washington as of Wednesday night, and 15 new deaths.

The update brings the state’s totals to 69,389 cases and 1,837 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. Wednesday.

At least 6,400 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus. 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 most populous, state health officials have confirmed 18,297 diagnoses and 707 deaths.

—Nicole Brodeur

1 in 5 U.S. nursing homes short on PPE and staff in virus rebound

WASHINGTON — One in five U.S. nursing homes faced severe shortages of protective gear like N95 masks this summer even as the Trump administration pledged to help, according to a study released Thursday that finds facilities in areas hard-hit by COVID-19 also struggled to keep staff.

Significantly, there was no improvement from May to July in the shortages of personal protective equipment, known as PPE, or in the staffing shortfalls, according to the analysis of federal data by academic researchers. The summer has seen the coronavirus surge across the South, and much of the West and Midwest.

People living in long-term care facilities represent less than 1% of the U.S. population, but account for 43% of coronavirus deaths, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Similar glaring disparities have been seen with nursing home residents in other countries, but in the U.S. the issue has become politically sensitive for President Donald Trump, who is trying to hang on to support from older voters in his reelection bid.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press
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Some ferry service to be restored after COVID staffing shortages

After pandemic-related service cuts, some ferry routes will slowly start getting back toward pre-coronavirus levels this month, according to Washington State Ferries.  

This weekend, WSF will bring back two-boat service on the Edmonds/Kingston and Mukilteo/Clinton routes after operating with only one boat since mid June.

Two-boat service will also return seven days a week to the Seattle/Bainbridge route on Aug. 30.

Ferry riders have felt the crunch this summer as service has been reduced and some routes have had long waits. More than 100 Ferries employees are high-risk and have been unavailable to work, according to WSF. A lack of crewmembers can make boats unable to meet Coast Guard safety requirements. 

WSF recently hired 26 new employees, but new hires could not go through training until June, the agency said. 

Ferry ridership is at about 60% of pre-pandemic levels, according to WSF. The state asks riders to stay in their vehicles, keep distance from others and wear masks.

—Heidi Groover

COVID-19 spread at state penitentiary alarms loved ones

Family members and friends of inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary say the Department of Corrections is not showing enough effort in combating the novel coronavirus.

On the heels of an ombudsman calling for the state’s prison system to make changes to protect staff members and prisoners, the loved ones looking from the outside have felt in the dark and have only heard bad news from their imprisoned friends and family on the inside.

As of Wednesday evening, the penitentiary has had 114 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 since mid-July, all in one wing of the complex. Sixty-nine people imprisoned currently have the virus, and 10 staff members have it as well. The prison currently has a population of 2,284.

Read the full story here.

—Jedidiah Maynes, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

Across U.S., working families enlist grandparents to help with the kids during pandemic

Mary Pupko, a 64-year-old retired seamstress with multiple sclerosis, moved from Seattle to Brooklyn to be closer to her family. She is seen here with her granddaughter Evelyn. Pupko. (Courtesy of Elisa Pupko via AP)
Mary Pupko, a 64-year-old retired seamstress with multiple sclerosis, moved from Seattle to Brooklyn to be closer to her family. She is seen here with her granddaughter Evelyn. Pupko. (Courtesy of Elisa Pupko via AP)

Gone, for now, are the days when retirees Bill and Mary Hill could do whatever they please. Since school started for their only grandchild, they’re not leisurely reading the morning newspaper, dawdling over a sudoku or staying holed up in their Colorado cabin to beat the Arizona heat.

Instead, they greet 8-year-old Will at the gate of their residential community in suburban Phoenix every school day, often rolling up in their golf cart.

The 72-year-old Bill, a former college sports administrator, and 70-year-old Mary, who worked as a nurse practitioner, volunteered to keep Will five days a week and oversee distance learning after their son and daughter-in-law were required to report in person to the school where they teach.

“At first it was like, we’d love to be a part of this and get to see our grandson more, really get to know him a little better,” Mary said. “At the same time, we were going, `Oh my gosh.’ We knew it would change our lives and it has. It’s much busier.”

Whether students are learning at school or at home, or are not yet school age, more grandparents have jumped into daily caregiver roles. Many are happily working without pay, for the love of family, while others have accepted offers of money from their frazzled, eternally grateful adult children.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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South Korea COVID-19 infections 'in full swing' after protest outbreak

South Korea’s coronavirus infections are back “in full swing” and spreading nationwide after members of a church attended a political demonstration, authorities said on Thursday, threatening one of the world’s COVID-19 success stories.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 288 new cases as of midnight on Wednesday, marking a week of triple-digit daily increases, although down slightly from the previous day’s 297.

“This is a grave situation that could possibly lead to a nationwide pandemic,” Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told a briefing.

“Consider the COVID-19 pandemic now to be in full-swing,” said KCDC deputy director Kwon Jun-wook.

The latest outbreak is driven by hundreds of infections among members of a church run by a far-right preacher, Rev. Jun Kwang-hun, who has since tested positive for the infection, Reuters reported.

The pastor, a bitter critic of the country’s president, participated in an anti-government protest in Seoul that drew thousands.

More than 300 virus cases have been linked to the ’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.

—Reuters

Evidence grows that children may play larger role in transmission than previously believed

As schools reopen in parts of the United States, a paper published Thursday found that some children have significantly higher levels of virus in their airways than the most severely ill adults — suggesting their role in community spread may be larger than previously believed.

The study in The Journal of Pediatrics comes on the heels of two others that offer insights about children and COVID-19 transmission. On July 30, researchers reported in JAMA that children younger than 5 with mild or moderate illness have much higher levels of virus in the nose compared to older children and adults. Shortly before that, investigators in South Korea found in a household study that older children passed on the virus as readily as adults, while younger children did not.

All three studies were small and contradicted each other in some details so researchers said they could not draw any definitive conclusions based on any one of them alone. But taken together, they paint a worrisome new picture of children’s role in the pandemic.

Read the story here.

—The Washington Post

Pandemic pushes expansion of ‘hospital-at-home’ treatment

As hospitals care for people with COVID-19 and try to keep others from catching the virus, more patients are opting to be treated where they feel safest: at home.

Across the U.S., “hospital at home” programs are taking off amid the pandemic, thanks to communications technology, portable medical equipment and teams of doctors, nurses, X-ray techs and paramedics. That’s reducing strains on medical centers and easing patients’ fears.

Nurse practitioner Sadie Paez uses a stethoscope to listen to the chest of William Merry, who is recovering from pneumonia at his home, Thursday, July 9, 2020, in Ipswich, Mass.  As hospitals care for people with COVID-19 and try to keep others from catching the virus, more patients are opting to be treated where they feel safest: at home. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Nurse practitioner Sadie Paez uses a stethoscope to listen to the chest of William Merry, who is recovering from pneumonia at his home, Thursday, July 9, 2020, in Ipswich, Mass. As hospitals care for people with COVID-19 and try to keep others from catching the virus, more patients are opting to be treated where they feel safest: at home. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

The programs represent a small slice of the roughly 35 million U.S. hospitalizations each year, but they are growing fast with boosts from Medicare and private health insurers. Like telemedicine, the concept stands to become more popular with consumers hooked on home delivery and other Internet-connected conveniences.

Eligible patients typically are acutely ill with — but don’t need round-the-clock intensive care for — common conditions including chronic heart failure, respiratory ailments, diabetes complications, infections and even COVID-19.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Quarantine corner

See what you and your kids can learn outside. If you look carefully, you'll see math and science all around.

From "Fame" to "The Half of It," our movie critic is sharing 10 back-to-school favorite flicks.

Cheers! Beachy drinks are among three top cocktail to-go deals this month.

—Kris Higginson

Catching up on the past 24 hours

Will Washington's apple harvest worsen COVID-19 outbreaks? The state is putting new testing rules in place as concerns grow about the toll on agricultural workers.

More than a million U.S. workers were laid off last week, and they're getting far less aid now that the $600-a-week federal benefit has expired.

There's an alternative to the invasive nasal swab. To take one new COVID-19 test, all you have to do is spit. In another scientific advance, a trail of burbling bubbles has led researchers to a clue about how the virus attacks the body.

What you should know about COVID-19 in children: Scientists are still trying to figure out why kids react differently to the virus than adults. Here's the research, the most common symptoms and detailed preventive measures you can take.

An aggressive push to reopen schools has descended into chaos in Iowa, an extreme example of the tensions across the nation. When is it safe to reopen? School leaders are trying to juggle a cacophony of advice from the CDC, White House and state officials.

The FDA has slammed the brakes on blood plasma as a COVID-19 treatment, hailed by President Donald Trump as a “beautiful ingredient” donated by people who have survived the virus.

Local officials in China hid the virus' dangers from Beijing as it spread, U.S. intelligence agencies have found.

Prepare now in case you get COVID-19. Coronavirus survivors are offering practical advice. (And here's where to get tested in the Seattle area.)

Mexico is acting to ban junk food for kids, and the reason has to do with the coronavirus.

—Kris Higginson