Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Monday, June 15, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated. Click here to see the most recent news about the pandemic, and click here to find additional resources.

As Washington counties slowly begin to reopen, coronavirus infections are on the rise throughout the state, according to a new report from the Department of Health. State epidemiologists have seen large increases in Benton, Yakima, Spokane and Franklin counties.

COVID-19 cases are rising in nearly half of U.S. states. More than 2 million cases have been reported in the U.S., including more than 115,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Experts at top medical centers are questioning the accuracy of coronavirus tests being used in the United States and are calling for new studies to look into how well the virus is being detected here.

Throughout Monday, on this page, we’ll post updates from Seattle Times journalists and others on the pandemic 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.

The following graphic includes the most recent numbers from the Washington State Department of Health, released Monday.

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Resources to help you track the coronavirus pandemic and get through it more easily

Live updates:

Coronavirus breaches Chinese capital, rattling officials

Authorities in Beijing placed a swath of the city under lockdown Monday and tested tens of thousands of people as they rushed to contain a new coronavirus outbreak that marked an unnerving breach in China’s capital.

President Xi Jinping had said from the outset that Beijing, the seat of Communist Party power and a crowded metropolis, should be a fortress against the pandemic, and local officials have imposed strict measures to keep infections low. Until now, the efforts appeared to have protected the capital against the virus after it emerged late last year in Wuhan, a city in central China.

While the dozens of new cases in Beijing seem slight compared to the hundreds and even thousands of infections reported daily in other countries, the fresh outbreak has jolted China, prompting the government to fire local officials and reinstate some recently relaxed restrictions.

The resurgence of cases points to the challenges that governments around the world face as they reopen economies while the virus persists.

—The New York Times

Inslee calls for national aviation screening program for new coronavirus

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday called on the federal government to create a national aviation screening system to protect airline passengers against the new coronavirus.

In a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Transportation, Inslee wrote that a federal response is necessary for people to be protected from COVID-19 and to have confidence in the safety of air travel.

“It is clear that if we hope to restart the U.S. economy in a manner that is safe and responsible, without significant interstate spread of COVID-19, we will need a comprehensive national aviation screening system,” wrote the governor. “I respectfully request that you prioritize implementation of guidance, regulations, and resources to implement this system.”

Inslee in the letter laid out what he considered to be minimum standards for such a system. They include temperature checks for passengers and symptom screenings for passengers, as well as a requirement that both workers and passengers wear face coverings.

Other suggestions include frequent cleaning at airports, and the collection of contact information for passengers and travel details. That information could later be used by contact tracers to inform a passenger if someone in close contact tested positive for the virus.

Read the full story here.

—Joseph O'Sullivan

Seattle firm designs air-flow shield around aircraft seats to protect against COVID-19

A leading Seattle design firm has unveiled a concept it claims will help stop the spread of the coronavirus in aircraft passenger cabins by redirecting the air that flows from above each seat to create an invisible barrier around each passenger.

As airlines struggle to restore confidence in the safety of air travel, the design firm Teague is heavily promoting its idea even though it remains an unproven and unapproved concept. “The AirShield concept is now entering its engineering development phase in anticipation of rapid deployment,” the company said in a statement.

In current airliners, the air that flows from the passenger unit above each passenger passes through a High Efficiency Particulate Air filter that removes 99.9% of airborne viruses and bacteria. That air stream, a mix of outside fresh air and recirculated air, forces the air breathed out by passengers downward toward the floor, and all the cabin air is recirculated every three minutes or so.

Both Boeing and airlines have argued this makes the risk of transmission low.

However, World Health Organization guidelines suggest that anyone seated within 2 meters (about 6 feet) of an airline passenger suspected after take-off of having COVID-19 should be kept under observation after landing until their risk is assessed.

Read the full story here.

—Dominic Gates

King County applying for Phase 2 of Gov. Inslee’s four-phase reopening plan

King County’s barbers, tattoo artists and pet groomers could soon be mostly open to customers if the state approves the county’s application to move to Phase 2 of reopening.

King County is applying to move ahead to the second phase of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase reopening plan, which would relax restrictions on things like restaurants, barbers and retail. The King County Board of Health voted unanimously (with three members absent) at about 5 p.m. Monday to send its application to the state.

County officials, expecting an immediate signature from County Executive Dow Constantine, said the application would be sent after the Monday meeting. While they gave no exact timetable for an expected response from the state, it has typically taken 24 to 72 hours for an application to be approved, said Rachel Smith, the county’s deputy executive.

Phase 2 would begin immediately upon state approval.

There is always risk when moving from one phase to another, according to Jeff Duchin, Public Health – Seattle & King County’s public health officer, who cautioned that King County residents should continue to stay at least six feet apart, wash their hands and wear masks.

Read the full story here.

Reopening phases by county: What you can and can’t do as Washington state reopens from coronavirus lockdown

—Ryan Blethen

State confirms 324 new COVID-19 cases and 4 more deaths

State health officials confirmed 324 new COVID-19 cases in Washington on Monday, as well as four additional deaths.

The update brings the state’s totals to 26,158 cases and 1,221 deaths, meaning about 4.7% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the state Department of Health’s (DOH) data dashboard. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Sunday.

So far, 471,265 tests for the novel coronavirus have been conducted in the state, per DOH. Of those, 5.6% have come back positive. The rate of positive tests in Washington has hovered just under 6% in recent weeks, even as case numbers have been climbing.

The state has confirmed 8,785 diagnoses and 592 deaths in King County, the state's most populous, accounting for a little less than half of the state's death toll.

—Gina Cole

Blame game breaks out over harrowing virus toll in nursing homes

A grim blame game with partisan overtones is breaking out over COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents, a tiny slice of the population that represents a shockingly high proportion of Americans who have perished in the pandemic.

The Trump administration has been pointing to a segment of the industry — facilities with low federal ratings for infection control — and to some Democratic governors who required nursing homes to take recovering coronavirus patients.

Homes that followed federal infection control guidelines were largely able to contain the virus, asserts Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, which sets standards and pays the bills. “Trying to finger-point and blame the federal government is absolutely ridiculous,” she says.

Verma says data collected by her agency suggest a connection between low ratings on safety inspections and COVID-19 outbreaks. But several academic researchers say their own work has found no such link.

Advocates for older people say the federal government hasn’t provided needed virus testing and sufficient protective gear to allow nursing homes to operate safely. A White House directive to test all residents and staff has been met with an uneven response.

“The lack of federal coordination certainly has impeded facilities’ ability to identify infected persons and to provide care,” Eric Carlson, a long-term care expert with the advocacy group Justice in Aging, told lawmakers. “That absence remains important as facilities are attempting to open up, which requires an extensive reliance on testing.”

Read more here.

—The Associated Press

Academy delays 2021 Oscars ceremony because of coronavirus

For the fourth time in its history, the Oscars are being postponed. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the ABC Television Network said Monday that the 93rd Academy Awards will now be held April 25, 2021, eight weeks later than originally planned because of the pandemic’s effects on the movie industry.

The Academy’s Board of Governors also decided to extend the eligibility window beyond the calendar year to Feb. 28, 2021, for feature films, and delay the opening of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures from December until April 30, 2021.

“Our hope, in extending the eligibility period and our Awards date, is to provide the flexibility filmmakers need to finish and release their films without being penalized for something beyond anyone’s control,” said Academy President David Rubin and Academy CEO Dawn Hudson in a joint statement.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

U.S. revokes emergency use of malaria drugs against coronavirus

U.S. regulators on Monday revoked emergency authorization for malaria drugs promoted by President Donald Trump for treating COVID-19, amid growing evidence they don’t work and could cause deadly side effects.

The Food and Drug Administration said the drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are unlikely to be effective in treating the coronavirus. Citing reports of heart complications, the FDA said the drugs’ unproven benefits “do not outweigh the known and potential risks.”

The decades-old drugs, also prescribed for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, can cause heart rhythm problems, severely low blood pressure and muscle or nerve damage.

The move means that shipments of the drugs obtained by the federal government will no longer be distributed to state and local health authorities for use against the coronavirus. The drugs are still available for alternate uses, so U.S. doctors could still prescribe them for COVID-19 — a practice known as off-label prescribing.

Dr. Steven Nissen, a Cleveland Clinic researcher who has been a frequent FDA adviser, agreed with the decision and said he would not have granted emergency access in the first place.

“There has never been any high-quality evidence suggesting that hyrdoxychloroquine is effective” for treating or preventing coronavirus infection, he said, but there is evidence of serious side effects.

Read the story here.


—The Associated Press

UW Medicine shuts psychiatric unit amid financial shortfall

UW Medicine will close Seven North, a psychiatric facility at UW Medicine — Montlake, laying off staffers and reducing the number of inpatient beds available to those in need of mental-health care amid the state’s coronavirus crisis.

“They are going to officially close the unit,” said Tina Mankowski, a UW Medicine spokesperson. Twenty-three jobs are being cut, though employees could fill open roles elsewhere in the UW Medicine system.

The Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA), which represents Seven North nurses, issued a statement calling for UW Medicine to “reverse course and reopen this facility.” Negotiations over layoffs will begin Monday, said Heather Vargas-Lyon, a nurse who will participate in bargaining.

The financial upheaval that has accompanied COVID-19 prompted the closure of the facility, which serves people who admit themselves voluntarily. UW Medicine announced last month it faced a $500 million shortfall.

Read more here.

—Evan Bush

Loyal Heights Elementary employee saw a need during the coronavirus and helped deliver

Kathy Katzen, office manager at Loyal Heights Elementary School in northwest Seattle, saw a need during the coronavirus, and she helped deliver.

Literally, as she takes bags of groceries and gift cards every week to families of students in need.

“When school was in session, the kids (of families in need) would get a bag of food to take home over the weekend,” Katzen said. “When we stopped going to school because of COVID-19, we decided that that program could still be carried out. I knew a lot of families depended on that. It would just take a team of people to go to the food bank and deliver the food.”

Editor’s note: This is one in a periodic series called Stepping Up, highlighting moments of compassion, duty and community in uncertain times. Have a story we should tell? Send it via email to newstips@seattletimes.com with the subject “Stepping Up.”

Read the full story here.

—Scott Hanson

Poll: Black Americans most likely to know someone who's died from COVID-19

Black Americans are disproportionately likely to say a family member or close friend has died of COVID-19 or respiratory illness since March, according to a series of surveys conducted since April that lays bare how Black Americans have borne the brunt of the pandemic.

Eleven percent of Black Americans say they were close with someone who has died from the coronavirus, compared with 5% of Americans overall and 4% of white Americans.

The findings are based on data from three COVID Impact surveys conducted between April and June by NORC at the University of Chicago for the Data Foundation about the pandemic’s effect on the physical, mental and social health of Americans.

While recent surveys conducted by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research have found that Black Americans are especially likely to know someone who had the virus, the new data from the COVID Impact research further details the toll the pandemic has taken on Black Americans.

Pre-existing conditions and limited access to health care have been identified as reasons Black Americans have been particularly susceptible to the virus.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

What virus? Parisians pack cafes as city gets its magic back

Paris is rediscovering its joie de vivre, as cafes and restaurants reopen for the first time since the fast-spreading coronavirus forced them to close their doors on March 14.

Many customers seemed to shrug off masks and social distancing as they streamed back to their neighborhood bistros for a morning espresso or a three-course lunch Monday, free to resume their lifestyles by a surprise announcement from the French president himself.

“We will rediscover … the art of living, our taste for freedom,” President Emmanuel Macron said in a televised address to the nation Sunday night, citing progress in fighting the virus. “We will rediscover France.”

At the Café Des Anges in the heart of the Bastille neighborhood of Paris, customers seemed happy to reconnect and talked about the need to remain careful — yet almost no one wore a mask. France has the world’s fifth-highest recorded toll from the virus, at 29,410 dead.

“It’s like a renaissance, but with caution,” said customer Marie-Elisabeth Vilaine.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Gargling bleach and spraying self with disinfectant: 39% in U.S. use cleaners unsafely, says CDC

People have been amping up the use of cleansers and disinfectants in their homes to guard against the novel coronavirus. But 39% of U.S. adults are doing so in risky ways, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 20% say they have washed fruits and vegetables with bleach or used household cleansers or disinfectants on their hands.

Other reported risky practices included misting the body with a household cleaning or disinfectant spray and drinking or gargling with bleach solutions, soapy water or other cleaning and disinfectant solutions.

Based on survey data from a panel of 502 adults, determined to be a representative sampling of the U.S. population, the CDC says that people who used at least one of these unsafe practices were more than twice as likely to have a subsequent health issue – irritation of the nose, sinuses, skin or eyes, nausea or an upset stomach, dizziness, headaches or breathing problems – than were those who did none of these things (39% vs. 16%).

Read more here.

—The Washington Post

Mass testing in Beijing as coronavirus spreads in Chinese capital

Beijing has set about testing hundreds of thousands of people for coronavirus in an exhaustive effort to stamp out a new eruption of the disease in the Chinese capital.

After dozens of new cases were reported over the weekend, continuing into Monday, Chinese authorities mobilized almost 100,000 community workers to carry out tests on everyone who has worked in or visited the Xinfadi market in the southwest of Beijing.

Xinfadi is the largest fruit, vegetable and meat market in the capital, which is home to some 21 million people, and supplies 70% of the city’s fresh vegetables and 80% of its fruit.

After discovering more than 90 new infections linked to the market over the weekend, and a further 36 being reported Monday, Beijing’s health authorities are taking military-style action to try to ensure the virus doesn’t spread further.

The sudden appearance of scores of new infections, both symptomatic and asymptomatic, highlights the resilience of the virus and its rapid spread despite tight social controls. It also underscores the dangers of markets as the virus is believed to have originated in the Huanan food market in the city of Wuhan before it spread across the globe.

Read more here.

—The Associated Press

Quarantine Corner: Things to do while staying home

In times of crisis, kids need honest conversations and perspective on the turmoil around them. Yet there are also moments when they (and all of us) need fun diversions ... like elephant toothpaste. The Weekly Wonder brings you help with both of those needs.

Comfort food: One-pan chicken with mushrooms, bathed in white wine and family lore, is a braise for all seasons. Check out the recipe here.

—Kris Higginson

Rush to disinfect offices has some environmental health experts worried

Businesses across the U.S. have begun intensive COVID-19 disinfection regimens, exposing returning workers and consumers to some chemicals that are largely untested for human health, a development that’s alarming health and environmental safety experts.

The rush to disinfect is well-intended. Executives want to protect employees while abiding by guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (and to avoid liability).

But as offices are cleaned and sanitized more frequently, the use of toxic chemicals is “creating another problem for a whole group of people,” said Dr. Claudia Miller, an immunologist, allergist and co-author of Chemical Exposures: Low Levels and High Stakes.

Read the full story here.


Catch up on the past 24 hours

Washington health officials reported 296 new cases of coronavirus yesterday, after Gov. Jay Inslee warned that a new report shows “cases and deaths will soon increase substantially if COVID-19 continues to spread at the current levels.” Tracking patients' contacts is vital to Inslee's reopening strategy, but his administration can’t tell you if it’s meeting its own goals for this. Read the Times Watchdog story.

Scientists are finding that how long a person feels COVID-19 symptoms varies, with some people remaining sick for months.

What does it cost to survive COVID-19? More than $1.1 million, the longest-hospitalized patient found when he opened his 181-page bill. Columnist Danny Westneat catches up with West Seattle's Michael Flor and the bizarre economics of American health care.

The first COVID-19 vaccines may not prevent you from getting the coronavirus. A knock-out blow against the virus is the ultimate goal, but a weaker punch may come first.

European countries reopened their borders today — but not to Americans just yet. And in Beijing, a new outbreak is underscoring the virus' continued threat. Track its spread around the world.

As poor countries fight the new coronavirus, they are unintentionally contributing to the spread of other diseases that are readily prevented by vaccines. A mutated strain of poliovirus has been reported in more than 30 countries, and measles is flaring around the globe. We're looking at “an epidemic in a few months’ time that will kill more children than COVID,” said Chibuzo Okonta, president of Doctors Without Borders in West and Central Africa.

A bicycle boom: Fitness junkies, commuters fearful of public transit and families eager to get out are driving the biggest spike in bike sales in the U.S. since the oil crisis of the 1970s.

—Kris Higginson and Nicole Brodeur