Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, June 17, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 new coronavirus continues to have calamitous impacts throughout the world. Canada, Mexico and the U.S. have extended their border restrictions. Beijing has canceled more than 60% of commercial flights and raised the alert level amid a new outbreak. Unemployment in the U.K. is widely expected to soon hit levels not seen since the mid-1980s. And a recent study shows Americans are the unhappiest they’ve been in 50 years.
In Seattle, the pandemic-induced recession continues to hit the city’s arts and entertainment community hard, with new or continued layoffs at Seattle Art Museum, ACT Theatre, Chihuly Garden & Glass and the Space Needle. And new job opportunities for those left unemployed in Seattle have come back only slowly.
Throughout Wednesday, 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 Tuesday 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 Tuesday.
Coronavirus study shows why it’s important to wear a mask that covers your nose
One of the most confusing aspects of COVID-19 is its tendency to spread when people don’t have symptoms, but a new study from researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill may explain why that happens and help doctors prevent the worst cases of the disease.
The study found that the coronavirus infects the cells in the nose much more easily than those in the throat and lungs.
Scientists are still working to understand the ways people can catch COVID-19. An important clue to Dr. Richard Boucher, one of the senior researchers at the UNC School of Medicine, is that many people with COVID-19 lose their sense of smell. Previous research suggests that over half of patients with COVID-19 partially or completely lost their sense of smell while sick.
This suggested that the coronavirus could be especially active in the nose even when people don’t show classic nasal symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, or congestion.
State reports 253 new COVID-19 cases, adjusts death count
State health officials reported another 253 COVID-19 cases in Washington on June 17, bringing the statewide case total to 26,784.
The accounting of deaths attributed to COVID-19 statewide dropped as health officials fix problems with the state’s data.
The state removed seven people from its list of deaths because, while those people had COVID-19, it did not contribute to their deaths, said Department of Health (DOH) spokesperson Lisa Stromme Warren. Four of those deaths were reported in King County and three in Yakima County, Stromme Warren said.
The update adjusts the death total to 1,226 in data recorded as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, June 16. On Tuesday, before the data fix, that number was 1,231. It was unclear where the additional two deaths counted came from.
Based on this most recent data from DOH, about 4.6% of those diagnosed with COVID-19 in Washington have died.
The state reports 435,016 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Washington and that 6.2% of tests have been positive.
In the coming weeks, the state will expand how it reports deaths to better characterize COVID-19's role in a person's death. The state will report whether COVID-19 can be confirmed or ruled out as a contributing cause of death and also identify additional deaths in which COVID-19 was a probable or suspected cause.
A clearer picture of COVID-19's toll might well reflect that the pandemic has caused more fatalities than have been counted so far. The state has identified dozens of death certificates in which physicians listed COVID-19 as a cause, but there was no record of the deceased having a positive test in the state’s system. Those deaths were not yet counted in state numbers in early June.
The state on Wednesday also reported that the number of negative tests it was reporting had been wrong for about eight weeks, until Wednesday, because negative antibody tests had been mistakenly included in a public dashboard that conveyed molecular testing data.
The error caused the state to report incorrectly the percentage of positive test results in Washington. That number was corrected Wednesday afternoon from 5.5% to 6.2% in data reported as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.
Washington state’s coronavirus testing data has overcounted negative tests for two months
Washington state has been recording incorrect COVID-19 testing numbers for eight weeks.
In the latest example of problems with the state's testing data, its dashboard has shown 13% more people testing negative since April 21 than actually have, the state Department of Health (DOH) revealed Wednesday.
The inflated numbers were a result of a workaround that was used to handle the high volume of negative tests, according to a DOH news release. The state dashboard was supposed to display negative molecular tests (which detect a current coronavirus infection), but accidentally also included negative antibody tests (which show whether a person has antibodies that indicate a past infection).
DOH spokesperson Lisa Stromme Warren was not immediately able to explain how the department discovered the problem or whether it means the trend line of the virus' spread in Washington may be worse than previously thought.
“We understand that we made a mistake and we own it,” she said.
Biden to Trump: “Wake up” and prevent further harm from COVID-19
Former Vice President Joe Biden criticized President Donald Trump over COVID-19, accusing Trump of having “surrendered the fight” even as the pandemic continues to kill people and affect the economy.
The United States has more than 2 million COVID-19 infections. Some states are reporting surges in cases as economies open, including Florida and Arizona, which are likely to be closely contested in the presidential election this November. Biden is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
Trump, a Republican, and Biden have taken different approaches to campaigning during the pandemic.
Biden has limited public appearances and required masks and social distancing for any events, whereas Trump has avoided masking and is holding a rally Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma despite local public health officials’ concerns.
Metro will restore some bus service cut during coronavirus closures
King County Metro will begin ramping up bus service Monday after months of reduced trips because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Starting Monday, 23 bus routes that had been canceled will be restored and other routes will have trips restored, Metro said Wednesday. These changes will return Metro to about 85% of its pre-coronavirus service levels on weekdays and 99% on weekends, Metro said.
Ridership remains only about 30% of what it was before COVID-19, but because of social distancing guidelines, fewer riders are allowed on each bus.
Some services, like the South Lake Union streetcar and Trailhead Direct, will remain suspended. Water taxi service to Vashon Island and West Seattle will be partially restored.
Riders can find updated schedules on Metro’s website.
Metro and Sound Transit are both facing dire financial pictures as a result of the pandemic. Metro plans to cut service by 15% this fall. Sound Transit leaders are considering how to delay or cancel projects to offset expected losses.
Both systems plan to return to charging fares on July 1. Fares were suspended to reduce hand-to-hand interactions between drivers and passengers. Fares on ST Express buses will be a flat $3.25, rather than the previous two-zone system.
Pacific County approved to move to third phase of Washington’s four-part coronavirus recovery plan
OLYMPIA – State health officials this week cleared Pacific County to move to the third phase of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-part coronavirus reopening plan.
In the third phase, counties can allow nonessential travel and some indoor sports activities to resume, along with gatherings of as many as 50 people. Libraries, museums and government offices can also begin to reopen.
Meanwhile, bars can reopen to 25% capacity, movie theaters can start up at 50% crowd capacity and restaurants can expand their indoor seating to as much as 75% capacity.
As of Tuesday, three of Washington’s 39 counties remained in the first and most restrictive phase of the four-part plan.
Another three counties — including King County — are in a modified version of the first phase that allows some businesses to lift restrictions. King County earlier this week applied to move to the second phase, which is now under review by the state Department of Health.
Meanwhile, 22 counties are in the second phase and 11 counties are in the third phase.
Businesses cleared to reopen under new phases must follow health and safety guidance issued by the state, which can be found here.
Germany: 657 virus cases at slaughterhouse in new outbreak
Regional officials in western Germany said Wednesday that the number of new COVID-19 cases linked to a large meatpacking plant has risen to 657, a significant regional spike for a country that has recorded nationwide infections in the low hundreds lately.
Health officials in Guetersloh said they have received a total of 983 test results from workers at the Toennies slaughterhouse in Rheda-Wiedenbrueck. Of those, 326 tests were negative.
Since the start of the outbreak, Germany has recorded 188,474 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 8,844 deaths. The infection rate declined sharply after authorities imposed nationwide social distancing rules in March and the daily case increase had averaged between 300 and 400 in June.
News of the outbreak in Guetersloh came as Chancellor Angela Merkel was meeting with Germany’s 16 state governors to discuss progress in tackling the pandemic.
There have been several outbreaks at German slaughterhouses in recent weeks, prompting the government to impose stricter safety rules for the industry and ban the practice of using subcontractors.
Read more here.
Kremlin installs special antiseptic tunnels to protect Putin
The Russian government built special tunnels to protect President Vladimir Putin from the coronavirus at home and at work, Putin’s spokesman said Wednesday.
Reports about tunnels where anyone passing through gets sprayed with germ-killing antiseptics appeared in Russian media on Tuesday night. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that one tunnel was installed at the president’s home outside Moscow and two at the Kremlin.
“When it comes to the head of the state, additional precautionary measures are justified,” Peskov said, adding that the tunnels were put in when Russia’s coronavirus “was in full swing.”
Read the story here.
‘Of course not’: Fauci says he won’t attend Trump’s Tulsa rally, citing coronavirus
Days before he is scheduled to take the stage in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the first “Keep America Great” rally since the novel coronavirus pandemic altered everyday life, President Donald Trump and his campaign are already expecting a roughly 19,000-seat arena to be packed with supporters. But one notable public figure won’t be in attendance on Saturday: Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert.
“No,” Fauci responded when the Daily Beast asked if he would be appearing at the rally.
“I’m in a high-risk category. Personally, I would not. Of course not,” Fauci, 79, said in an interview published Tuesday night. He added that in the case of Trump’s rallies “outside is better than inside, no crowd is better than crowd” and “crowd is better than big crowd.” It is unclear whether Fauci had been asked to attend or whether he ever planned to do so.
Saturday’s gathering, which is slated to be held indoors at the BOK Center, has alarmed health officials and local leaders in Tulsa. Some worry that it could not only further inflame racial tensions as protests over racism and police brutality continue nationwide in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing but also contribute to the spread of the virus as Oklahoma sees a surge of new cases.
Read the story here.
Furloughs imposed, raises halted with state shortfall worse than expected
OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee Wednesday announced he would cancel raises for more than 5,500 state workers and impose unpaid furlough days, as Washington officials grapple with a looming budget shortfall brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
Inslee’s announcement came as an official state forecast Wednesday projected a roughly $8.8 billion state budget shortfall through 2023 — worse than previously expected.
Early estimates had projected a $7 billion shortfall in the state operating budget — which funds schools, parks, prisons and social services — through 2023. The hit is due to lower state tax collections, as businesses and society largely shut down amid the COVID-19 pandemic and have since early May been gradually reopening.
The projections by the Washington Economic and Revenue Forecast Council now predict a $4.5 billion budget shortfall for the current, two-year $53.3 billion state operating budget.
Read more here.
Tiny Tenino, Wash., helps residents, merchants with wooden money
The blue-cheese salad dressing, butter, ground turkey, cans of grain-free dog food and new toothbrush came to $24.97.
Laurie Mahlenbrei handed the cashier a slice of wood marked $25, and walked out.
The wooden currency is good only in the small city of Tenino, Washington, part of an effort to help residents and local merchants alike get through the economic fallout of the pandemic. Decades after it created a similar program during the Great Depression, the Thurston County city is dipping into its emergency accounts to give people in need up to $300 per month in wooden currency to spend.
Just about every business in town, from the gas station and auto-body shop to Don Juan’s Mexican Kitchen, is accepting the wooden scrip. The currency, made of maple veneer, is about the thickness, size and flexibility of an index card and printed on the same 1890s-era press that once printed the Depression currency and the local newspaper. It can’t be used for alcohol, tobacco or marijuana.
The businesses can redeem the scrip for real dollars at City Hall — or sell them on the side. Some merchants said they’ve been offered three times the face value from coin collectors around the country.
“The city could have given out debit cards or cash, but we don’t know where that money is going to go,” said Tyler Whitworth, past president of the local chamber of commerce. “This is one of the ways we could keep the money here in the community.”
Read the story here.
As soldiers deploy amid pandemic, they fight 2 battles
Edward Brown has always found a way to deal with his husband’s military deployments in the past, but the most recent one felt different. Instead of an endless parade of family visits and last-minute errands, Brown and Staff Sgt. James Clyde were holed up inside their Fayetteville, North Carolina, apartment watching Netflix and making TikTok videos.
When his mandatory two-week quarantine ended Friday, Clyde made the short drive to Fort Bragg and boarded a plane for a nine-month deployment in the Middle East.
The 34-year-old is among 2,200 paratroopers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team deploying to Iraq and Syria amid the coronavirus pandemic. They’ll be supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S military battle to defeat the Islamic State.
In 2016, Brown learned ways to keep his worries at bay during his husband’s first stint in Iraq. The then newlywed ignored headlines and prayed without ceasing for Clyde’s protection. But the virus has added yet another worry that is hard to ignore.
“He’s going to be fighting two wars at the same time,” Brown said.
Read the story here.
Biggest one-day case spike worries Iran
Months into Iran’s fight against the coronavirus, doctors and nurses at Tehran’s Shohadaye Tajrish Hospital still don a mask, a disposable hazmat suit and a double layer of latex gloves every day to attempt to contain a pandemic that shows no signs of slowing.
Iran reported its first coronavirus cases and deaths on the same day in February — the Middle East’s first and biggest outbreak of the virus — yet it only recently saw its highest single-day spike in reported cases, followed soon by the highest daily death toll in months.
The spikes, which came after a major Muslim holiday last month, have renewed fears about a potential second wave of infections sweeping across Iran. As businesses open and people begin to move around more after weeks of closures of most stores, offices and public spaces, health experts worry that growing complacency among the country’s 80 million people may further allow the virus to spread.
Read the story here.
Oregon sees record daily number of COVID-19 cases
The Oregon Health Authority reported on Tuesday a record-breaking 278 cases of COVID-19 across the state.
The report shows the continuation of an upward trend, with more than 1,000 new cases being reported since last Wednesday, when the state’s total stood at 5,060.
Linn and Benton counties did not add to their totals.
The steady climb in cases, according to the agency, is being attributed to workplace outbreaks and community spread. The majority of Oregon counties entered Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan this month before Gov. Kate Brown paused such efforts, citing an increase in cases.
Of Tuesday’s 278 new cases, 119 of them were in Union County. Officials there said a number of cases are being linked to the Lighthouse Pentecostal Church. A since-deleted video posted to social media on June 15 showed the church’s members seemingly violating state orders by gathering for a service with more than 100 individuals dancing and singing as part of their worship.
Read more here.
The new drive-in experience
Going to a drive-in is less about the movie and more about the gathering, as the Miller family found before a showing of "The Goonies" at the Skyline Drive-In in Shelton.
When drive-ins reopened, our critic rediscovered their charm and came back with a description of what you can expect, masks and all.
Here’s what else you can and can’t do, broken down by county, as Washington reopens from lockdown.
Quarantine Corner: Things to do while staying home
Philly cheesesteaks, oh-so-juicy BBQ and more: Don't miss these takeout options in Rainier Valley.
Remember snail mail? Get inspired by Seattle artists and writers who are rediscovering the joys of connecting through the ol’ Postal Service.
A more wicked letter-writing art: One faculty member who's all too familiar with typing letters of recommendation has written a novel about a put-upon prof who's “an evil little version of me.” Read about the latest pick for Moira’s Seattle Times Book Club.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Concerns are growing locally and around the globe amid spikes in coronavirus. U.S. deaths have surpassed the number of Americans who died in World War I. Skagit County is seeing an "ominous" rise in infections, and Oregon this week reported a record number of daily cases. In China, Beijing has closed schools and canceled more than 60% of inbound flights amid "extremely grave" signs of a resurgence. Track the virus's spread here.
"Getting sick has gotten political." Yakima County is a hot spot for coronavirus, with the number of cases soaring far above the threshold for reopening. So why is one woman struggling to convince residents that the pandemic's hurt is real? Perhaps it's because America suffered from a pre-existing condition, columnist Danny Westneat writes.
Layoffs are hitting Seattle Art Museum, ACT Theatre, Chihuly Garden & Glass and the Space Needle amid coronavirus shutdowns. Pike Place Market is reeling, too. It's hoping to boost its businesses with a livestreaming fundraiser tomorrow that will showcase the Market's people and performers.
Amtrak is cutting two Seattle routes sharply and ending daily service to hundreds of stations, blaming the pandemic.
You might get a tax break for going on vacation. The White House is considering a coronavirus stimulus plan that would boost tourism by providing breaks for Americans who travel inside the U.S.
A COVID-19 vaccine could come via the same smart science that produced "the AIDS vaccine," President Donald Trump says. But there is no AIDS vaccine. Here's more fact-checking.
Seattle-area home sales are on a hot streak as they surge back after lockdown, our Coronavirus Economy daily chart shows.
Flushing the toilet may fling coronavirus-contaminated aerosols all over, scientists have found, highlighting the need to rethink some of the common spaces people share. Ick.
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