Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, Aug. 22, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

While schools around the country continue to weigh the risk of broader coronavirus infections if they reopen this fall, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security declared this week that teachers are considered “essential workers,” in hopes of pushing school districts toward in-person instruction. Here’s what that label means for teachers.

In the higher education world, U.S. colleges — including Syracuse University, Purdue University and Virginia Tech — are cracking down on students flooding back onto campus and suspending those who violate social distancing and mask rules.

Throughout Saturday, 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 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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Bremerton hospital gives few details on COVID-19 outbreak

Public health officials and officials at a Bremerton hospital still haven’t reported the extent of a COVID-19 outbreak among hospital patients and staff that was initially described as involving more than 30 cases. 

Late Friday afternoon, officials announced an outbreak of “more than 30 cases” at St. Michael Medical Center, formerly known as Harrison Medical Center, in a joint statement by the Kitsap Public Health District and the state Department of Health. 

The statement said the outbreak had struck “multiple” units at the 260-bed hospital, and that patients who had been discharged from those units had been notified. 

But by Saturday night, neither St. Michael nor the two health agencies would give a more precise figure for the number of cases in the outbreak, and one health official indicated that investigators were still trying to determine the outbreak’s scale.

Read the full story here.

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Washington state DOH confirms 816 new COVID-19 cases, seven more deaths

State health officials confirmed 816 new COVID-19 cases in Washington on Saturday, bringing the state case count to 70,595.

There have been 1,857 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Washington, according to the state Department of Health (DOH) coronavirus dashboard, meaning 2.6% of people diagnosed here have died. Seven of those deaths were confirmed Saturday. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Friday.

At least 6,500 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the novel coronavirus. The DOH is changing its methodology for reporting testing numbers and isn't currently reporting the percent of positive tests.

State health officials have confirmed 18,546 diagnoses and 712 deaths in King County, the state's most populous; this figure constitutes 38.3% of statewide deaths. In the earlier stages of the pandemic, King represented more than half of all COVID-19 deaths in Washington.

More than 5.5 million coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the United States since the stateside coronavirus outbreak, per the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

—Daniel Beekman

Three King County libraries closed temporarily due to suspected COVID-19 case

The King County Library System has closed the Bellevue Library, Kent Library and Valley View Library through Monday "due to a suspected case of COVID-19."

The system made the announcement Friday. No details about the suspected case were included; the system didn't say whether the suspected case was associated with an employee or a patron and didn't say why three libraries were affected.

Spokespeople didn't immediately provide additional information Saturday.

Book drops will be unavailable while the three libraries are closed and curbside pickup appointments will be canceled, according to the system's announcement. The libraries are expected to reopen Tuesday. Patrons with pickup appointments before Tuesday should reschedule for Tuesday or later, the announcement said.

"All service has been contactless and returned materials are quarantined 72 hours," the announcement added, promising the libraries would be "thoroughly disinfected" while closed. "We do not believe there to be any danger to the public," the announcement also said.

—Daniel Beekman

10,000 face coverings will be distributed Monday to businesses in Seattle's Chinatown International District

Community members will hand out 10,000 face coverings Monday afternoon to businesses in Seattle’s Chinatown International District that are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, said David Cho, a Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce board member.

The distribution will take place from 2 to 3 p.m. at Hing Hay Park, said Cho, who organized the event with the Chamber. Some of the face coverings will be disposable and some will be reusable.

Business groups worked with King County last month to provide about 2.3 million face coverings and 30,000 bottles of hand sanitizer, according to the Chamber.

The “Safe Start Kits” program was meant to help businesses reopen safely. Many Chinatown ID businesses weren’t aware of the program in July and missed out at that time, Cho said.

Hing Hay Park is located at 423 Maynard Ave. S.

—Daniel Beekman
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Sen. Murray criticizes Trump tweet about COVID-19 vaccines, treatments

President Donald Trump on Saturday baselessly accused the Food and Drug Administration of impeding — for political reasons — enrollment in clinical trials for coronavirus vaccines and therapeutics.

“The deep state, or whoever, over at the FDA is making it very difficult for drug companies to get people in order to test the vaccines and therapeutics. Obviously, they are hoping to delay the answer until after November 3rd,” Trump wrote on Twitter, referring to Election Day. “Must focus on speed, and saving lives!” He tagged FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn in the tweet.

U.S. Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., issued a statement Saturday condemning the president’s tweet and urging the FDA to publicize information about its decision-making process.

“This is dangerous. The American public needs to have absolutely no doubt FDA is basing its decisions on science, not the President’s conspiracy theories,” Murray said in a news release.

“But instead of listening to the experts and encouraging them to do their job and follow the science, President Trump is attacking them. The President’s misinformation campaign makes it more important than ever that FDA engage in a transparent and rigorous process in its review of the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and therapies, including making public clinical data and information underlying any decision to approve or authorize a COVID-19 vaccine.”

Until recently, Trump praised the FDA for moving quickly on coronavirus treatments and vaccines. But on Wednesday, he claimed the agency was delaying authorizing convalescent plasma, an old treatment used for other infectious diseases but the effectiveness of which for COVID-19 has not been proved. “You have a lot of people over there that don’t want to rush things,” he said at a White House briefing. “They want to do it after Nov. 3.”

Trump’s Saturday tweet drew swift criticism from scientists, former FDA officials and representatives of the drug industry.

Read more here.

—The Washington Post and Daniel Beekman

How does coronavirus spread at a concert? Germans do a test

German researchers studying COVID-19 held a pop concert Saturday to see how those attending could spread coronavirus if they had it.

About 1,500 people took part in the experiment run by the University Hospital in Halle, each taking a coronavirus test ahead of time, testing negative, and having to wear protective masks throughout the day’s testing.

Researchers equipped each volunteer with contact tracers to record their routes in the arena and track the path of the aerosols — the small particles that could carry the virus — they emitted as they mingled and talked. Fluorescent disinfectants were used to highlight which surfaces at the mock concert were touched most frequently.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Pullman sees ‘substantial increase’ in cases around WSU's Greek Row

Whitman County Public Health announced 30 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday. Many were traced back to gatherings around Washington State University’s Greek Row, said a spokesperson for the Pullman university. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times, 2011)
Whitman County Public Health announced 30 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday. Many were traced back to gatherings around Washington State University’s Greek Row, said a spokesperson for the Pullman university. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times, 2011)

Health officials have noticed a "substantial increase" in coronavirus cases among Washington State University students living off campus in Pullman, according to university officials.

On Saturday, Whitman County Public Health announced 30 new COVID-19 cases, all among people between the ages of 20 and 39, one of whom lived in a house on Greek Row. The majority of the cases were among WSU students, and many were traced back to gatherings around Greek Row, said university spokesperson Phil Weiler.

WSU decided in July to hold classes virtually, but some students have returned to Pullman, primarily to live off campus. Pullman police Chief Gary Jenkins said officers have responded to a dozen complaints about parties violating health directives in the College Hill area in the past two weeks, including one that had more than 50 attendees. Jenkins expects the problem to worsen as more students return.

"We are very displeased and disappointed that students were not following the state guidelines to stay safe and healthy," Weiler said.

Andrew Thomas, spokesperson for WSU’s Interfraternity Council, said he doesn’t think Greek life students are solely responsible for recent cases, as students outside the system live in the College Hill area as well.

"Yes, there are Greek students who are not doing what they should be doing," Thomas said. "It's part of this, but it's not the whole... I think College Hill in general needs to do a better job."

Read the full story here.

—Asia Fields
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Students demand tuition cuts as colleges go virtual

People remove belongings at the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill in March. As more universities keep classes online this fall, it’s leading to conflict between students who say they deserve tuition discounts and college leaders who insist remote learning is worth the full cost. (Gerry Broome / The Associated Press, file)
People remove belongings at the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill in March. As more universities keep classes online this fall, it’s leading to conflict between students who say they deserve tuition discounts and college leaders who insist remote learning is worth the full cost. (Gerry Broome / The Associated Press, file)

As more universities abandon plans to reopen and decide instead to keep classes online this fall, it’s leading to conflict between students who say they deserve tuition discounts and college leaders who insist remote learning is worth the full cost.

In petitions started at dozens of universities, students arguing for reduced tuition say online classes fail to deliver the same experience they get on campus. Video lectures are stilted and awkward, they say, and there’s little personal connection with professors or classmates.

Many schools, however, respond that they have improved online classes since the spring. Some have instituted decreases of 10% or more, but many are holding firm on price.

In Washington state, four of the five public universities and one college, The Evergreen State College, are planning to teach remotely this fall. Some students circulated petitions in the spring, including one calling on the University of Washington to issue partial tuition refunds that was signed by more than 15,000 people.

The state's public colleges and universities are bracing for a financial crisis because of the pandemic, and some regional colleges are expecting drops in enrollment.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press and Seattle Times staff

Pandemic complicates response to wildfires, extreme weather in U.S.

A Cal Fire air attack plane flies over the Walbridge blaze near Healdsburg, California. (Stuart W. Palley / The Washington Post).
A Cal Fire air attack plane flies over the Walbridge blaze near Healdsburg, California. (Stuart W. Palley / The Washington Post).

Tens of thousands of people are trying to escape wildfires and extreme heat in the United States at a time when they are also asked to wear masks and keep a distance from strangers.

Climate change is driving extreme weather across the country. Eighty million U.S. residents are under excessive heat advisories. More than 35 wildfires are raging in California, burning 125,000 acres in the San Francisco Bay Area alone and threatening 25,000 businesses and homes this week.

Conditions are made even more perilous by the worst pandemic in a century. As a hurricane season turbocharged by heat gets underway, the virus promises to complicate responses.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

Catch up on the past 24 hours

A coronavirus outbreak at a Bremerton hospital has affected multiple units, and more than 30 employees and patients have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Staff at St. Michael Medical Center had previously criticized the hospital's parent company, claiming it did not provide adequate personal protective equipment.

The pandemic's disproportionate impact on people of color has become more clear as the death toll has climbed. People of color make up more than half of the nation's "excess deaths" during the pandemic, according to one analysis.

The King County Archives in the Central District are a year-round graffiti gallery, thanks to the annual Off the Wall mural battle organized by the nonprofit 206 Zulu. This year’s Off the Wall, on Aug. 29, is being livestreamed due to coronavirus concerns. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)
The King County Archives in the Central District are a year-round graffiti gallery, thanks to the annual Off the Wall mural battle organized by the nonprofit 206 Zulu. This year’s Off the Wall, on Aug. 29, is being livestreamed due to coronavirus concerns. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

Street art in Seattle has boomed during the pandemic and protests, as blank plywood facades were plentiful and protesters expressed their hopes, dreams and rage. Even a Seattle police detective said he was impressed by the graffiti in the former Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone.

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has been connected to COVID-19 cases, and health officials expect the number to grow. At least 15 Minnesotans who attended the South Dakota rally have been diagnosed, with cases also reported in other states.

The culinary equivalent of the Oscars is putting awards on a hold until 2022, as the pandemic continues to challenge the restaurant industry. Multiple Seattle restaurateurs were named finalists for the James Beard Awards.

As COVID-19 has spread, so has misinformation. Here's a roundup of some prominent coronavirus myths and what the research actually shows.

—Asia Fields
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