Throughout Sunday, 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 Saturday 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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Trump announces plasma treatment authorized for COVID-19

President Donald Trump speaks, accompanied by Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn, center, during a media briefing in the James Brady Briefing Room of the White House, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in Washington.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Donald Trump speaks, accompanied by Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn, center, during a media briefing in the James Brady Briefing Room of the White House, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in Washington.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on announced emergency authorization to treat COVID-19 patients with convalescent plasma — a move he called “a breakthrough,” one of his top health officials called “promising” and other health experts said needs more study before it’s celebrated.

The announcement came after White House officials complained there were politically motivated delays by the Food and Drug Administration in approving a vaccine and therapeutics for the disease that has upended Trump’s reelection chances.

On the eve of the Republican National Convention, Trump put himself at the center of the FDA’s announcement of the authorization at a news conference Sunday evening. The authorization makes it easier for some patients to obtain the treatment but is not the same as full FDA approval.

The blood plasma, taken from patients who have recovered from the coronavirus and rich in antibodies, may provide benefits to those battling the disease. But the evidence so far has not been conclusive about whether it works, when to administer it and what dose is needed.

In a letter describing the emergency authorization, the chief scientist for the FDA, Denise Hinton, said: “COVID-19 convalescent plasma should not be considered a new standard of care for the treatment of patients with COVID-19. Additional data will be forthcoming from other analyses and ongoing, well-controlled clinical trials in the coming months.”

But Trump had made clear to aides that he was eager to showcase good news in the battle against the virus, and the timing allowed him to head into his convention with momentum. He and aides billed it as a “major” development and used the White House briefing room to make the announcement.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press
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Some states aren’t waiting for the feds to create COVID-19 worker safety rules

The Perdue poultry processing plant on April 29, 2020, in Accomac, Va. (Steve Helber / AP)
The Perdue poultry processing plant on April 29, 2020, in Accomac, Va. (Steve Helber / AP)

Ron Smith, a bus operator in San Mateo County, California, says at least six of his colleagues have tested positive for the new coronavirus. But until recently, he said, it was unclear whether bus operators should keep going to work if they were exposed to a sick colleague. The bus drivers union also wasn’t getting updates on the number of workers falling ill.

Smith said he’s worried about getting infected on the job and exposing his wife, who has Parkinson’s disease. “I would like to know the risk that I am taking coming to work, and the possibilities that I could expose my family member,” he said.

The transportation district has since told workers that if they’re exposed to an infected person, they should quarantine while waiting for coronavirus test results, Smith says. But he said it would be a good idea if the state laid out clear rules for all companies to keep workers safe during the pandemic.

In the absence of federal action, some states are creating safety rules to protect workers from catching the coronavirus while on the job. Rules went into effect in Virginia last month, and regulators in California and Oregon are now debating a similar move.

Unions and labor advocates have implored states to create coronavirus-specific safety standards. They say employers must be forced to provide protective equipment, create socially distanced break rooms, tell sick workers to stay home and take other steps to reduce infection risk.

“In our experience in enforcing wage and hour violations — until there’s a law, non-union janitorial contractors will not follow it,” said Yardenna Aaron, executive director of the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund, a Los Angeles-based janitorial watchdog that’s petitioning for a standard in California. “So issuing guidance, in our opinion, is not enough.”

Read the full story here.

—Stateline.org

Washington state DOH confirms 417 new COVID-19 cases, six more deaths

State health officials confirmed 417 new COVID-19 cases in Washington on Sunday, bringing the state case count to 71,012.

There have been 1,863 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. Six of those deaths were confirmed Sunday. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Saturday.

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 18,662 diagnoses and 713 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 5.6 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.

—Brendan Kiley

COVID-19 provides a powerful incentive for obese people to lose weight

COVID-19 is providing a powerful new incentive for health-driven weight loss. 

Obesity, a significant public health problem among American adults and children, is one of the risk factors for severe disease and death related to COVID-19. Others include older age and underlying medical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, both of them related to obesity.

Obesity grew from 30.5% to 42.4% among American adults between 2000 and 2018, while severe obesity rose from 4.7% to 9.2%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity contributes to heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes, which increase risk.

Researchers do not know why obesity worsens COVID-19. They are trying to discern the reasons, with several ideas under study. “It’s clear that we need to think more deeply about what it is about the obese state that makes COVID-19 more deadly,” Stephen O’Rahilly, a prominent expert on obesity and other metabolic disorders. 

O’Rahilly, who has struggled with his own weight, lost about 20 pounds in the six months before becoming ill with COVID-19. He believes the weight loss probably protected him from serious disease, and maybe even saved his life.

“My experience with the virus wasn’t so terrible,” said O’Rahilly, co-director of the Wellcome Trust-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science at the University of Cambridge in Britain. 

Modest diet changes and exercise helped him shed the weight and probably enabled him to escape the worst effects of COVID-19, he said.

Read the full story here.

—Washington Post
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In China, where the pandemic began, life is starting to look … normal

Attendees enjoy themselves during the Hello Chongli-Thaiwoo Midi Music Season in Chongli in northern China’s Hebei Province on Aug. 16, 2020. Life in many parts of China has in recent weeks become strikingly normal. After months of travel restrictions and citywide testing drives, locally transmitted cases of the virus in China are near zero, according to official data. (Ng Han Guan / AP)
Attendees enjoy themselves during the Hello Chongli-Thaiwoo Midi Music Season in Chongli in northern China’s Hebei Province on Aug. 16, 2020. Life in many parts of China has in recent weeks become strikingly normal. After months of travel restrictions and citywide testing drives, locally transmitted cases of the virus in China are near zero, according to official data. (Ng Han Guan / AP)

In Shanghai, restaurants and bars in many neighborhoods are teeming with crowds. In Beijing, thousands of students are heading back to campus for the fall semester. In Wuhan, where the coronavirus emerged eight months ago, water parks and night markets are packed elbow to elbow, buzzing like before.

While the United States and much of the world are still struggling to contain the coronavirus pandemic, life in many parts of China has in recent weeks become strikingly normal. Cities have relaxed social distancing rules and mask mandates, and crowds are again filling tourist sites, movie theaters and gyms.

“It no longer feels like there is something too frightful or too life-threatening out there,” said Xiong Xiaoyan, who works at a paint manufacturer in the southern province of Guangdong.

Xiong, who described the restrictions put in place to combat the virus as “suffocating,” recently visited a movie theater for the first time since the outbreak

“When the lights turned dark, I felt I had returned to my normal life,” she said. “I could forget about everything outside and have my own spiritual world.”

The return to normalcy has made China an outlier in the global economy.

Read the full story here.

—The New York Times

Trump plans emergency authorization of convalescent plasma as a COVID-19 treatment

President Donald Trump plans to announce the emergency authorization of convalescent plasma as a treatment for COVID-19, The Washington Post reported.

The Post cited officials who were familiar with the decision; an announcement was set for 2:30 p.m. Pacific time Sunday.

The treatment already has been given to more than 70,000 patients. 

Many scientists and physicians believe that convalescent plasma might provide some benefit but is far from a breakthrough. It is rich in antibodies that could be helpful in fighting the coronavirus, but the evidence so far has not been conclusive about whether it works, when to administer it and what dose is needed. 

On CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the blood product – derived from patients who have survived COVID-19 – is “probably beneficial” for COVID-19 patients. 

The issuance of an emergency authorization would make it easier to get in some settings. But he also said it already is widely available, so the change would be “incremental.”

Convalescent plasma has long been used for other infectious diseases, including Ebola. Its effectiveness for COVID-19 has appeared promising but has remained unsettled because scientists don’t yet have results from rigorous clinical trials.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the issue. The White House declined comment.

Read the full story here.

—Washington Post

Tech grads enter altered job landscape in COVID-19 era

Eric Lee, computer science graduate from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, at his family’s house in the suburbs of Boston this month. As a new Microsoft employee, he feels disconnected from his colleagues in a way he wouldn’t if they were sharing an office.  (Kayana Szymczak / Bloomberg)
Eric Lee, computer science graduate from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, at his family’s house in the suburbs of Boston this month. As a new Microsoft employee, he feels disconnected from his colleagues in a way he wouldn’t if they were sharing an office. (Kayana Szymczak / Bloomberg)

The pandemic has had an immediate impact on college graduates who aimed to work in the tech industry, even as it has so far largely avoided the steep challenges faced by retailers, airlines and other businesses. 

Some students who had gotten job offers from Uber Technologies, International Business Machines and other companies had them rescinded or lost their jobs soon after starting, Bloomberg reported. Others received delayed start dates.

The impacts of entering the workforce during the pandemic may be long-lasting. 

Joseph Altonji, a professor of economics at Yale University, co-authored a study that found that workers graduating during the 2008 financial crisis had earnings as much as 10% lower in their first year working than they would have otherwise. 

The initial setbacks were often permanent. He expects to see a similar dynamic with this year’s graduates. 

He also said that new graduates who begin work remotely are likely to take more time picking up both technical and soft skills. 

A Microsoft spokesperson said the company is aware that bringing young employees into the workforce remotely isn’t ideal. It is working on various ways to improve the experiences of working from home, like giving managers specific training on how to manage remote workers, and how to aid employees in times of crisis.

Read the full story here.

—Bloomberg
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Three temporary King County library closures prompted by suspected COVID-19 cases among staff

The King County Library System's temporary closures of three libraries came in response to suspected COVID-19 cases among at least two staff members, a spokesperson said Sunday.

Spokesperson Julie Acteson stressed that there is no danger to the public after the decision Friday to close the Kent, Bellevue and Valley View libraries until Tuesday. 

The libraries have not been open to the public amid the pandemic, with the facilities allowing for only no-contact pickups and drop-offs for books. All materials that are returned by readers are isolated for at least three days before they can be checked out again, Acteson said. 

Library officials have not said how many staff members may have been infected.

But library protocols require 72-hour closures when there are at least two suspected cases within a 14-day period, Acteson said. 

Employees have been told not to report to work at the three libraries until Tuesday. 

While the libraries are closed, book drops aren't unavailable and curbside pickup appointments have been halted, the library system said. Those with pickup appointments through Tuesday should reschedule, the system said.

—Mary Hudetz

Emails show Brown Bear Car Wash, other businesses' reopening push with governors

As COVID-19 spread across the country, governors received a flood of emails from a wide range of businesses with reopening plans and advice, according to records provided to The Associated Press. 

In Washington state, landscapers, dog walkers and carwash operators all had a role in the rules affecting their businesses, emails from Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration showed. 

For example, Lance Odermat, vice president of Brown Bear Car Wash in Seattle, said he was frustrated that carwashes were not exempt from Inslee’s order shutting down many businesses in March. But he pressed his case, sending the administration — as part of a carwash reopening group — the company’s internal plan for reopening with precautions. 

In May, The Seattle Times reported that an email Brown Bear Car Wash sent to customers criticized the governor for not allowing it to reopen. 

That same week, Inslee’s office issued guidance allowing Brown Bear and other carwashes to reopen with safety protocols.

Governors often work with business leaders to craft policy. But the emails obtained by AP under public records laws offer another window into their decisions early in the pandemic. 

Read the full story here.

—Associated Press

How do we make public transit safe amid COVID-19?

A Metro bus driver in 
April. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)
A Metro bus driver in April. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

Public transit — a system at its most efficient when buses and trains are full — has been remade by COVID-19. Ridership has plummeted and agencies have scrambled to keep drivers and passengers safe as tax revenues evaporate.

Six months into the local outbreak, transit workers and riders wonder how they will be protected as the virus rages on and parts of the economy reopen. 

Like reopening schools, making public transit safe will be key to managing the spread of the virus and ramping up reopening. And like schools, restaurants and other facets of once-normal life, transit could look dramatically different if the pandemic stretches on. 

Agencies around the globe are examining ideas for safety precautions, like plexiglass shields to wall off drivers and vending machines to sell masks, and more novel efforts like ultraviolet light to zap the virus and artificial intelligence to spot transit stations with low mask use.

Read the full story here.

—Heidi Groover