Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, July 29 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

The pause on Washington counties further relaxing coronavirus-related restrictions is extended indefinitely, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday, citing steadily climbing COVID-19 cases in the state.

Inslee’s new requirements for restaurants, breweries, recreational centers, card rooms and movie theaters go into effect Thursday.

Meanwhile, a group of local governments around the Puget Sound region announced Tuesday their thousands of employees will continue working remotely until 2021.

Throughout Wednesday, 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 Tuesday can be found here, and all our coronavirus coverage can be found here.

Live updates:

UN urges SE Asia to build back better from COVID-19 crisis

BANGKOK — The United Nations advised Southeast Asian nations to tackle inequality and green their economies to build a more resilient and inclusive future as they strive to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The policy report released Thursday said other critical missions for the region’s governments should be bridging the digital divide and upholding human rights and good governance practices.

“One pathway could lead to a prolonged, deep recession, exacerbated by closed borders and characterized by rising social tensions, vulnerabilities and a return to environmentally unsustainable development,” the report said. “The second pathway involves adopting globally and regionally coordinated policies that recognize the imperative of an inclusive, resilient and sustainable approach to development.”

It said the pandemic has highlighted problems in Southeast Asia despite the region’s strong economic performance before the pandemic hit. It cited high inequality, low social protections, a large informal working sector, regressions in justice and governance, and environmental concerns like biodiversity loss and air quality.

—Associated Press

WIAA fine-tunes plan for sports to be played in 2020-21

A week after the Washington Interscholastic Activites Association reorganized its sports calendar, it did some fine tuning.

Last week, the executive board turned the three-season academic year into four, shorter seasons and moved football to the spring because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Tuesday, the WIAA’s Executive Board announced a few changes to the plan in the wake of spiking coronavirus cases across the state, including moving start dates for winter sports, football, cross country and girls swimming.

Read the full story here.

—Nathan Joyce

Half of Washington state students live in counties where health experts warn against reopening school buildings

Schools in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties were the first places affected by Gov. Jay Inslee’s school shutdown order. Now, with Wednesday’s news that Snohomish County officials are suggesting schools stay closed, it’s possible that they could be the among the last to reopen their buildings.

With just over a month until most schools begin, health experts in the state’s most populous counties cautioned against reopening school buildings, which means that nearly half of the Washington state’s 1.1 million students could be learning online in the fall.

County health officials and researchers from the Bellevue-based Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM) all came to the same conclusion based on the data at hand: transmission rates are too high to safely bring students back to classrooms without risking the spread to the wider community, even with proper precautions such as masks, lower class sizes and social distancing.

Read the full story here.

—Dahlia Bazzaz

Zillow offers employees option to work from home indefinitely

Zillow is now offering its 5,400 employees the option to work from home indefinitely in order to stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic, the Seattle-based real estate company announced Wednesday.

The company initially told workers in April that they should plan to work from home through the end of 2020, but has since changed its policy.

"Effective immediately, we will offer about 90% of our employees the flexibility to work from home as an ongoing option, at least part time, allowing them the ability to work where they are most productive, whether that is in the office, their home, or a combination of both," Zillow said in a statement.

The offices have been closed since March, the statement said. Since then, the company has brought on about 500 new employees, who are all working remotely.

"These past few months have shed light on the resilience of Zillow employees; their unflagging drive and commitment to innovate and serve our customers and partners at the highest levels, regardless of changing work conditions," the statement said. "It’s been incredibly gratifying to see our community’s rapid and widespread adaptation to this new work reality."

—Elise Takahama

Washington confirms 780 new coronavirus cases

State health officials reported Wednesday an additional 780 COVID-19 cases and seven deaths in Washington.

The update brings the state’s totals to 54,985 cases and 1,555 deaths, meaning that 2.8% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the state Department of Health (DOH). The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.

So far, 958,307 tests for the novel coronavirus have been conducted in the state, per DOH. Of those, 5.7% have come back positive.

In King County, the state most populous, state health officials have confirmed 14,856 diagnoses and 648 deaths in King County, accounting for a little less than half of the state’s COVID-19 death toll. 

—Elise Takahama

New coronavirus infections in Washington may be leveling off, but hospitalizations are rising, health officials say

New coronavirus infections in Washington may be starting to decrease at the same time testing levels remain fairly high, health officials said Wednesday.

But hospitalizations for COVID-19 have roughly doubled from about 20 a day in mid-May to about 40 a day, state health officer Dr. Kathy Lofy said in a briefing. The number of hospitalizations is increasing in almost all age groups —including younger people, she added.

“In summary, while we may be seeing a few positive signals in our data, our disease activity remains very high in Washington and the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 continues to increase every day.”

Officials also warned of an increasing number of scams related to COVID-19, with callers — perhaps posing as health officials — asking people for financial information.

“We want to make sure people understand … public health will never ask for money or banking information from you, or for your password,” said Lacy Fehrenbach, of the Washington Department of Health. “We also do not ask about immigration status.”

People targeted by apparent scammers can notify their local health departments or the state DOH, Fehrenbach said.

New restrictions imposed by Gov. Jay Inslee to reduce physical interactions and slow the spread of the virus will go into effect Thursday for restaurants, breweries, recreational centers, card rooms and other businesses — but fitness centers have received at least a temporary reprieve.

After receiving “a lot of feedback from stakeholders” the state is working with business owners to develop clearer guidelines, Lofy said.

—Seattle Times staff

Trump administration wants $377 million added to virus bill for West Wing remodel

The Trump administration wants $377 million in the next coronavirus relief bill for a long-delayed modernization of the West Wing, but the timetable for construction is yet to be determined.

The sum, included in the draft aid legislation from Senate Republicans, would also cover a new security screening facility for the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the White House complex.

While lawmakers, including Republicans, have balked at the administration’s request for more than $1 billion in the bill for a new FBI headquarters in Washington, the West Wing plan has drawn relatively little scrutiny. The administration says the White House work would “increase the White House campus’s ability to detect, mitigate and alleviate external security and pandemic threats.”

The West Wing has not had a full modernization since 1933, according to the General Services Administration, which maintains most of the White House complex and would handle the upgrades. Renovations have been planned and delayed by previous administrations — most recently by President Barack Obama in 2013 — in part because no president has wanted to temporarily give up the Oval Office for months or longer to allow for the substantial work to be done.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

No COVID-19 copays or 'surprise' lab bills, says state insurance commissioner

Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler extended two emergency orders requiring health insurers to waive COVID-19 copays and deductibles and barring labs from issuing "surprise" bills to patients.

The extensions are effective until Aug. 27, according to a statement released Wednesday by Kreidler's office.

Washington's insurance commissioner can issue health care emergency orders to ensure access to care once the governor issues an emergency proclamation. An order lasts 60 days and can be extended by the commissioner for an additional 30 days, as long as the governor’s emergency proclamation is still in effect.

One emergency order extended by Kreidler this week requires all state-regulated health insurance plans and short-term, limited-duration medical plans to waive copays and deductibles for any patient who needs coronavirus testing.

During the extension, insurers also must continue to:

  • Allow a one-time early refill for prescription drugs.
  • Suspend prior authorization requirements for COVID-19 treatment or testing.
  • Allow testing and treatment by out-of-network providers at no additional cost if there aren't enough in-network providers around.

The other emergency order applies to both in-state and out-of-state laboratories used by providers ordering diagnostic testing for COVID-19.

“We know people are under tremendous stress as we fight this pandemic,” Kreidler said. “We want to make sure they're not worrying about receiving a surprise medical bill while trying to take care of their own or their loved one’s health.”

The order also encourages insurers to notify Kreidler's office if out-of-network laboratories don't publish their prices or won't accept the published cash price as final payment for COVID-19 diagnostic testing.  

—Christine Clarridge

Alaska requiring negative virus tests for nonresident travel

Nonresident travelers to Alaska will need to show they tested negative for COVID-19 shortly before arriving as part of an effort aimed at minimizing cases and preserving testing supplies and protective gear, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said.

“We’re not trying to make this difficult for folks to come here,” Dunleavy said during a Tuesday evening news conference. “We just want to make sure that we are taking care of Alaskans first.”

The changes take effect Aug. 11 and will require nonresidents arrive with negative results from a test taken 72 hours before arrival. Dunleavy said enforcement details are being worked out.

Currently, travelers have several testing options, including taking a test within three to five days of leaving for Alaska and being tested at an airport location when they arrive in Alaska.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

129 Vietnam virus patients repatriated; local spread widens

A plane carrying 129 Vietnamese citizens diagnosed with COVID-19 arrived in their homeland from Equatorial Guinea on Wednesday, with the patients immediately transferred to a hospital for treatment, the government said.

The patients, accompanied by four doctors and nurses, were in stable condition after the 12-hour journey from Bata, the Central African country’s capital.

For more than three months until recently, all confirmed coronavirus cases in Vietnam have come from overseas, like the Vietnamese repatriated from Africa. But the virus has recently resumed spreading within Vietnam, starting from a hospital in the popular beach city of Da Nang.

Thirty-four cases linked to the hospital have been confirmed over the past five days, including 12 on Wednesday, according to the Health Ministry.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Despite fewer virus cases, Hawaii hesitant to open schools

The principal of the only school on Lanai thought reopening with full, in-person instruction next month was a no-brainer: The Hawaiian island has had no confirmed coronavirus cases, and breezes flow through many of the school’s classrooms.

But even there, faculty pushed back, said Lanai High and Elementary School Principal Elton Kinoshita. In the end, only kindergartners and first-graders will meet face to face daily.

While Hawaii has one of the lowest rates of cases per capita in the country and many schools have open-air campuses, the challenges of returning kids full time to classrooms may still be insurmountable. Many residents live in multigenerational homes and fear for their elderly relatives, many schools lack the classroom space to allow for desks to be 6 feet (2 meters) apart, and the state is a major tourist destination and could see a rise in cases if restrictions are eased.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Guatemala burying dozens of unidentified COVID-19 dead

Guatemalan hospitals say they have had to bury dozens of COVID-19 victims who have never been identified, and one hospital is creating archives in hopes that once the pandemic passes, their relatives will come looking for them.

Workers at one of the country’s largest public hospitals have started photographing patients who arrive alone and too ill to give their personal details. Those who die unidentified are placed in body bags with transparent windows over the faces in case relatives finally arrive.

Protocols that call for rapidly burying the dead during a pandemic only make the situation more difficult, officials say.

The government has reported more than 47,000 confirmed infections and more 1,800 deaths nationwide.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Health experts in Washington's three most populous counties all caution against reopening school buildings

Snohomish County health officials recommended against reopening school buildings on Wednesday, citing the area's high COVID-19 transmission rates.

The news means health experts in the state's three most populous counties have all issued cautionary messages about bringing students back to school buildings, a month before the start of school.

“By making this recommendation now, I hope that provides our schools and their staff and families with as much time as possible to prepare for online learning," Dr. Chris Spitters, health officer for the Snohomish Health District, wrote in a news release.

A report from the Bellevue-based Institute for Disease Modeling earlier this month, based on transmission data from June, came to the same conclusions, prompting several of King County's largest school districts to scrap their in-person learning plans.

The director of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department relayed the same sentiments to the superintendents in his area last week, according to The News Tribune.

—Dahlia Bazzaz

Misinformation on the virus is proving highly contagious

As the world races to find a vaccine and a treatment for COVID-19, there is seemingly no antidote in sight to the burgeoning outbreak of coronavirus conspiracy theories, hoaxes, anti-mask myths and sham cures.

The phenomenon, unfolding largely on social media, escalated this week when President Donald Trump retweeted a false video about an anti-malaria drug being a cure for the virus and it was revealed that Russian intelligence is spreading disinformation about the crisis through English-language websites.

Experts worry that the torrent of bad information is dangerously undermining efforts to slow the virus, which has been blamed for about 150,000 deaths in the U.S. and over a half-million more around the world.

“It is a real challenge in terms of trying to get the message to the public about what they can really do to protect themselves and what the facts are behind the problem," said Michael Osterholm, head of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

He said the fear is that “people are putting themselves in harm’s way because they don’t believe the virus is something they have to deal with.”

Rather than fade away in the face of new evidence, the claims have flourished, fed by mixed messages from officials, transmitted by social media, amplified by leaders like Trump and able to mutate when confronted with contradictory facts.

“You don’t need masks. There is a cure,” Dr. Stella Immanuel promised in a video that promoted hydroxychloroquine. “You don’t need people to be locked down.”

The truth: Federal regulators last month revoked their authorization of the drug as an emergency COVID-19 treatment amid growing evidence it doesn’t work against the coronavirus and can have deadly side effects. Even if it were effective, it wouldn’t negate the need for masks and other measures to contain the outbreak.

Read the story here.

—David Klepper, The Associated Press

Texas Rep. Gohmert tests positive for virus, cancels Trump trip

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, tested positive Wednesday for the coronavirus, forcing him to abruptly cancel his plan to travel to his home state with President Donald Trump aboard Air Force One, a House Republican aide said.

Gohmert, 66, one of the House’s most conservative and outspoken members, tested positive at the White House and planned to isolate, according to the aide, who was not authorized to publicly discuss Gohmert’s test result and spoke on condition of anonymity.

It was not immediately clear where Gohmert was after he left the White House.

An eight-term lawmaker, Gohmert is often seen without wearing a mask. He participated in the House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday where Attorney General William Barr testified. Before the hearing, Gohmert was seen approaching the meeting room a few feet behind Barr, with neither man wearing a mask.

Gohmert also voted Tuesday on the House floor.

—Alan Fram, The Associated Press

Trump dismisses virus aid for cities, lashes out at GOP

President Donald Trump on Wednesday dismissed Democratic demands to include aid for cash-strapped cities in a new coronavirus relief package and lashed out at Republicans, saying they should “go back to school” if they reject money for a new FBI building in downtown Washington, D.C.

Trump, speaking alongside Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at the White House, signaled his interest in preventing an eviction crisis as a federal moratorium expires Friday on millions of apartment units.

“It’s a shame to reward badly run radical left Democrats with all of this money they’re looking for,” Trump said at the White House, complaining about the “big bailout money” for cities.

Trump was publicly critical of his GOP allies over the $1.7 billion for FBI headquarters included in the bill — a project that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell later said is not related to virus relief.

At the White House on Wednesday, Trump said the FBI building should remain in Washington, near the Justice Department, in part because he doesn't want his signature Trump International Hotel to face competition if the FBI moves and another hotel is developed there.

He added: “It’s the best piece of property in Washington. I’m very good at real estate."

“Republicans should go back to school and learn,” he said. ”You need a new building.”

Trump’s comments came a day after he dismissed the GOP’s COVID-19 package as “semi-irrelevant.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Hundreds wait hours for coronavirus care in Ecuador capital

Hundreds of people with breathing problems waited for hours in long lines in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, seeking medical attention and tests to determine if they were infected with the new coronavirus.

Hospitals and funeral homes have been overwhelmed for weeks in Quito, where city officials have reported 12,747 confirmed cases and 605 deaths so far in the pandemic.

The result is that long lines of people observing social distancing snake out from hospitals, with waits of up to four hours before they can undergo clinical examinations and a quick coronavirus test.

Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos on Tuesday said Quito is “in a critical situation.”

“There is a very big demand for hospital beds and beds that have been adapted to care for critical patients who require ventilation and intensive care beds,” he said. “We are in a position that doesn’t compare in any way to what is happening in the rest of Latin America.”

Infections have escalated since authorities decided to loosen social isolation measures at the beginning of June and eased up even more earlier this month.

For Ecuador as a whole, 82,279 confirmed cases have been reported since the end of February, when the first COVID-19 case was detected. COVID-19 has killed 5,584 people, by the official tally, though experts say 3,353 more deaths probably were caused by the virus.

—The Associated Press

U.S. officials: Russia behind spread of virus disinformation

U.S. officials say Russian intelligence officers are spreading disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic through English-language websites, trying to exploit a crisis that America is struggling to contain before the presidential election in November.

Two Russians who have held senior roles in Moscow’s military intelligence service known as the GRU have been identified as responsible for a disinformation effort meant to reach American and Western audiences, according to U.S. government officials. They were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday.

Russian officials on Wednesday rejected the accusations as “conspiracy theories” and a “persistent phobia.” One of the sites singled out by the U.S. posted a response denouncing as “categorically false” the American assertions that it was linked to the Russian military intelligence service or was involved in propaganda.

The information had previously been classified, but U.S. officials said it had been downgraded so they could more freely discuss it.

U.S. officials have warned before about the spread of disinformation tied to the pandemic. But on Tuesday, they went further by singling out a particular information agency that is registered in Russia, InfoRos. It operates a series of websites — InfoRos.ru, Infobrics.org and OneWorld.press — that have leveraged the pandemic to promote anti-Western objectives and to spread disinformation.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Gaps in federal oversight add to virus woes at state-run veterans homes

Big gaps in federal oversight of long-term care facilities for aging veterans may have contributed to rampant coronavirus infections and more than 200 deaths at state-run homes, according to a congressional watchdog agency.

The Government Accountability Office found the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs failed to require robust inspections at the 148 state-run veterans homes nationwide and to make sure all deficiencies were rectified, even as it regularly doled out federal dollars for the care.

That likely made a bad situation worse in places like the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, Massachusetts, one of 50 veterans homes nationwide where the V.A. is the only federal agency monitoring it, according to GAO. A recent investigation conducted for the state of Massachusetts found the superintendent there was not qualified to run a long-term care facility, and that officials with a state agency were aware of his “shortcomings,” but failed to do enough about it.

By law, the V.A. is barred from making federal payments until facilities meet standards of quality care.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Quarantine Corner: Making it easier to stay home

Where’s the best takeout food in Shoreline? Neighborhood Eats sampled pretty poke bowls, brimming barbecue platters and more on a quest to find out.

Need a new read? Seattle chef and author Molly Wizenberg seemed like she had all the basics as a happily married, heterosexual restaurant owner. That was all true, she writes in “The Fixed Stars” — until it wasn’t.

—Kris Higginson

COVID-19 deaths, positive tests vary dramatically across King County: See the hotspots

The impact of the coronavirus in King County has been felt differently from place to place. Data shows that the percentage of positive tests, and the rates of testing and death from COVID-19, vary tremendously across the county.

Read the full story and check the interactive graphic to see what's happening near you.

—FYI Guy Gene Balk

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Gov. Jay Inslee is extending the pause on reopening Washington counties indefinitely as COVID-19 cases rise. (On average, Washington confirmed one-third more deaths per day over the week ending July 27 than the week before.) Here's a county-by-county breakdown of what you can and can't do.

Thousands of local government employees around the Puget Sound region will keep working from home until 2021.

Russia is spreading disinformation about the pandemic to American audiences, U.S. officials say. It's an urgent concern heading into the presidential election.

It took only four days for a doomsday scenario to become reality as the coronavirus tore through the Miami Marlins, infecting 15 players. Carelessness and unconscionable decisions are putting the MLB season in peril, columnist Larry Stone writes.

Johnny Salinas Jr.'s Texas funeral home typically handles five funerals a week. But with the coronavirus tearing through his community, he saw that many grieving families in a single day. A sixth family was waiting, too: his own.

—Kris Higginson

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