Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, June 4, as the day unfolded. To find resources and the latest extended coverage of the pandemic, click here.
As George Floyd protests continue in Seattle and throughout Washington state, experts and public health officials worry that the first large gatherings since the pandemic was declared could set back the region’s recovery from the novel coronavirus.
In King County, which applied to enter a modified Phase 1 of coronavirus recovery soon, health officials recommend that anyone who attends a group gathering should monitor their health for 14 days afterward. While they encouraged the public to continue staying home whenever possible, several top health officials said they understood the outrage communities of color are feeling and did not ask the public to refrain from attending protests.
In Washington, state health officials confirmed 245 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, as well as three additional deaths. The update brings the state’s totals to 22,729 cases and 1,138 deaths, according the state Department of Health’s (DOH) data dashboard.
Throughout Thursday, 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 Wednesday 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 Wednesday.
American Seafoods has 25 new cases of COVID-19 among crew aboard 2 factory trawlers
Test results released Thursday evening have identified 25 COVID-19 cases among the crew of two factory trawlers operated by Seattle-based American Seafoods.
These cases aboard the American Triumph and the Northern Jaeger were confirmed Thursday evening as the vessels moored in Bellingham to offload frozen fish. They were announced by the Whatcom County Department of Health, and follow test results last week in Bellingham that confirmed a larger COVID-19 outbreak among 86 of 126 crew aboard a third American Seafoods vessel — the American Dynasty.
This is more bad news for the region’s seafood industry, which is struggling to keep COVID-19 off fishing vessels and also limit its spread among shore-based processing workers employed in Northwest and Alaska coastal communities.
The large number of cases aboard the American Dynasty underscores how easily the virus can spread aboard a fishing vessel, where many workers labor long hours in close quarters to one another. That vessel returned to Seattle earlier this week, and most of the crew who tested positive are housed in lodging acquired by King County for COVID-19 patients.
With more test supplies on hand, Inslee announces expanded testing for new coronavirus
OLYMPIA — The city of Seattle and the state of Washington are expanding testing for the coronavirus, the governor and mayor’s office announced Thursday.
The state now has enough supplies for COVID-19 tests that it would expand testing to new populations, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday.
In a news conference, Inslee said the shift marked a “significant broadening of our testing strategy” that could better detect the new coronavirus around Washington. The expansion also would allow health officials to better monitor Washington’s 39 counties as they lift restrictions on businesses and activities under his four-part reopening plan, the governor said.
The first part of that expansion, Inslee said, is strong encouragement for people with even mild symptoms to get tested for the new coronavirus.
“If you think you’re sick, please get tested,” Inslee said. “We strongly encourage people to do this, even if people are mildly symptomatic.”
Seattle to open two new coronavirus testing sites
The city of Seattle and UW Medicine will offer free testing for the new coronavirus at two locations, an announcement that comes as public health officials encourage people who have been out protesting to be tested if they have been in contact with others ill with COVID-19 or if they are experiencing symptoms.
The two drive-thru sites, one in Sodo and the other in North Seattle, could expand the number of tests, which will be processed at the UW Medicine Virology Lab, by about 1,600 a day.
The testing locations are open to anyone who lives in Seattle and works or spends time in the city. Public Health — Seattle & King County suggests anyone with mild symptoms should be tested for COVID-19. Appointments can be made online or by calling 206-684-2489.
The Sodo testing site, at 3820 6th Sixth Ave. S., opens Friday, and the North Seattle location, at 12040 Aurora Ave. N., opens Monday.
Department of Corrections accused of retaliating against inmates at Seattle work-release facility over coronavirus protests
Families who protested conditions at a Seattle work-release facility are accusing the state Department of Corrections of retaliating by sending six men at the facility back to prison.
The six men had been housed at the Reynolds Work Release facility downtown, but had their work-release status revoked on what supporters describe as bogus infractions, after a peaceful demonstration last month by family members concerned about an outbreak of COVID-19.
Supporters of the “Reynolds Six,” including King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay and Seattle attorney and activist Nikkita Oliver, joined the families on a media call Thursday, demanding Gov. Jay Inslee immediately release the six men, saying most had been singled out as Black, Muslim or indigenous people.
In an emailed statement, DOC spokeswoman Janelle Guthrie said the department “takes very seriously any allegations of racism or racial bias” and has launched “a comprehensive internal review,” while disputing some of the claims of the families.
Washington commercial landlords could get coronavirus relief on tax bills under new Assessor proposal
As pandemic-stricken business tenants fall behind on rent, the King County Assessor has a new proposal that could help commercial and multifamily landlords get some much-desired relief on their property tax bills.
Assessor John Wilson asked the State Legislature Thursday to allow counties to move more quickly to lower the taxable value of commercial properties whose owners have been unable to collect rent since the statewide stay-at-home order shuttered most storefronts.
If the proposal passes in a special legislative session later this year, it could reduce King County property tax collections by 2.5%, or nearly $155 million.
The reductions would apply to the second half of 2020 property taxes, due in October. The specific impact on individual properties would depend on how much rent they’ve missed out on.
Seattle Opera cancels first opera of 2020-21 season, announces job losses and furloughs
Seattle Opera announced on Thursday the cancellation of the first opera of its 2020-21 season: The double bill of “Cavalleria rusticana” and “Pagliacci,” which was to have opened the season Aug. 8 at McCaw Hall. Not only will that mean a loss of jobs for more than 220 singers, crew and musicians, but much of the administrative staff has been furloughed.
“It is a deeply painful moment for us as a company, region, and world,” said Seattle Opera general director Christina Scheppelmann, in a statement.
In anticipation of the loss of its Paycheck Protection Act funding by June 16, the company is furloughing almost 60 percent of its administrative staff. Of those who remain, all are on reduced salaries or hours (with the exception of full-time workers making less than $50,000 annually).
After months of pleading for social distancing, health officials support Seattle protests. Black Lives Matter calls them ‘too dangerous.’
Just a couple weeks ago, it would have been the stuff of public health professionals’ nightmares: Thousands of people clustered together amid a pandemic, chanting, shouting, and, after police hit them with tear gas, coughing.
But that was before Minneapolis police officers killed George Floyd, and before the week of protests against police violence and institutional racism that have erupted in Seattle and across the nation.
Since then, local public health professionals and leaders have supported the protests, both tacitly and explicitly, despite the increased risks of new coronavirus outbreaks and despite the protests violating their own guidelines.
Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County, which said it has not been involved in planning the protests, published a protest safety guide for those that do participate.
“Ultimately, we decided that the situation is too dangerous for us to encourage greater attendance at these in-person protests,” said Marlon Brown, a board member of Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County. “While we have not led or organized direct protests at this time, we understand why people are marching for Black lives. We see you. We hear you. We appreciate you.”
COVID-19 cases in Alaska arising in seafood industry, care home
Eighteen nonresident workers in the state and eight more Alaskans tested positive for COVID-19, according to new numbers published by the state’s health department on Thursday, continuing a recent rise in daily cases.
The updated numbers show that 12 seafood industry workers in the Kenai Peninsula Borough tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, as did three seafood workers in the Aleutians West Census Area, one in Anchorage and one in the Kodiak Island Borough.
Additionally, a worker from an unlisted industry in the City and Borough of Sitka is among the new nonresident cases announced Thursday.
So far, 41 people from out of state have tested positive for COVID-19 in Alaska, including 32 seafood industry workers.
Race, ethnicity data to be required with coronavirus tests starting Aug. 1
Federal health officials announced Thursday they will require laboratories to report race, ethnic and other information about each person tested for the novel coronavirus, following months of criticism that the Trump administration has been insensitive to the pandemic’s profound demographic disparities.
The new guidance compels all labs running tests to diagnose the coronavirus or determine whether someone might have antibodies to the virus to collect and submit information on people’s age, sex, location, and test result, as well as on race and ethnicity. There are 18 required data pieces in all. The rules take effect Aug. 1.
Labs must submit that information within 24 hours to a state or local health department, which must, in turn, forward it to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stripping off the person’s identity when sending to the government.
Drive-in theaters in Western Washington are open again — under certain restrictions to slow coronavirus spread
Drive-in theaters in Western Washington are back in business, after being closed all spring due to coronavirus restrictions. The Skyline in Shelton, the Blue Fox in Oak Harbor, the Wheel-Inin Port Townsend and the Rodeo in Bremerton will all be open this weekend. All are in counties — Mason, Island, Jefferson and Kitsap, respectively — that are currently in Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening guidelines.
Regulars, though, will notice that things look a little different.
Two of the theaters — Wheel-In and Blue Fox — are now requiring reservations, and all of them are operating at approximately half-capacity, with cars parked at least 10 feet apart. Moviegoers are requested to wear masks when not in their cars, and to stay in their cars unless visiting the concession stands or restrooms; children’s play areas are closed. Lawn chairs are not allowed. Sanitation measures are heightened, and bathroom traffic (other than parents with children) is limited.
Some workers fearful of the coronavirus are getting fired and losing their benefits
As people across the United States are told to return to work, employees who balk at the health risks say they are being confronted with painful reprisals: Some are losing their jobs if they try to stay home, and thousands more are being reported to the state to have their unemployment benefits cut off.
The coronavirus pandemic continues to strain the economy.
On Thursday, the Labor Department reported 1.9 million Americans filed new claims for state unemployment insurance last week. Businesses want to bring back customers and profits. But workers now worry about contracting the coronavirus once they return to cramped restaurant kitchens, dental offices or conference rooms where few colleagues are wearing masks.
Some states with a history of weaker labor protections are encouraging employers to report workers who do not return to their jobs, citing state laws that disqualify people from receiving unemployment checks if they refuse a reasonable offer of work.
CDC director says protesters should consider getting tested for COVID-19
WASHINGTON — The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told a House panel Thursday that demonstrators protesting racial injustice need to get tested for the coronavirus, and that crowds at a Missouri tourist hot spot and the SpaceX launch showed that public health messages about masks and social distancing are not resonating with the public.
Referring to mass protests against police violence that have taken place throughout the country, CDC Director Robert Redfield said demonstrators in regions that have not yet controlled the outbreak should “highly consider” getting tested. He noted that Minneapolis and the District of Columbia are two metropolitan areas where significant transmission of the virus is still taking place. The protests were sparked by the death last week of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man whose neck was pinned to the ground by a police officer.
“I do think there is a potential, unfortunately, for this to be a seeding event,” Redfield said. “And the way to minimize it is to have each individual to recognize it’s to the advantage of them to protect their loved ones to (say), ‘Hey, I was out. I need to go get tested.’ You know, in three, five, seven days, go get tested. Make sure you’re not infected.”
State officials confirm 22,729 COVID-19 cases in Washington
State health officials confirmed 245 new COVID-19 cases in Washington on Thursday, as well as three additional deaths.
The update brings the state’s totals to 22,729 cases and 1,138 deaths, according to the state Department of Health’s (DOH) data dashboard. The dashboard reports 3,615 hospitalizations in Washington.
So far, 383,587 tests for the novel coronavirus have been conducted in the state, per DOH. Of those, 6% have come back positive.
King County, the state's most populous, has reported 8,318 positive test results and 574 deaths, accounting for 50.4% of the state's death toll.
Ferries will stay on reduced schedule
Washington State Ferries will continue operating on current reduced schedules, citing a steep reduction in ridership, funding constraints and a shortage both of vessels and crew.
A maintenance shutdown earlier this year and limits on U.S. Coast Guard inspections mean fewer boats are available for service. And more than 150 crew members have been taken out of the staffing rotation due to the pandemic.
Those constraints will continue to restrict sailings, said Washington State Ferries head Amy Scarton, even as the ferries enter what is typically their peak season.
The state's "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order is costing the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) millions in lost revenue from the gas tax and ferry fares, among other sources. Ridership is down more than 60% compared to this time last year, according to WSDOT.
Deaf, hard of hearing say face masks cut off communication
Even for hearing people, muffled conversations through a mask can be frustrating.
But deaf and hard-of-hearing people are confronting new challenges with the widespread use of face masks. The masks make lip reading impossible and hide some of the facial expressions that signers use to convey emphasis, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.
And some people who are deaf and hard of hearing say that they feel newly lost navigating spaces like grocery and hardware stores where everyone's face is half-hidden.
South Africa’s hotspot limits most testing to above age 55
South Africa’s worst hotspot for the coronavirus is no longer testing most people under age 55 as it tries to clear a backlog of 27,000 tests amid a shortage of kits.
Western Cape province, centered on the city of Cape Town, will test people under 55 only if they have serious health conditions, have been admitted to a hospital or are a front-line health worker, Premier Alan Winde said.
“If you’re younger than 55 and you have symptoms, assume you have COVID-19 … After 14 days, you’ll be fine. There’s no purpose in getting a test,” Western Cape head of health Keith Cloete told radio station Cape Talk this week. People who are younger than 55 and generally healthy are advised to isolate themselves if they show symptoms.
“We want to preserve tests for where it makes the most difference,” Cloete said.
Pandemic and racial unrest test Black clergy on dual fronts
For Black clergy across the United States, the past 10 days have been a tumultuous test of their stamina and their skills.
For weeks, they had been striving to comfort their congregations amid a pandemic taking a disproportionately heavy toll on African-Americans. Then came a coast-to-coast upsurge of racial tension and unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd, the Minneapolis Black man who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck as he pleaded for air.
“We’ve got a coronavirus and a racism virus,” said the Rev. Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.
For a look at what McKissic and three other Black clergymen have been doing and how they’ve been coping, read the full story.
7 more Washington state counties apply for Phase 3 in coronavirus recovery plan
Seven more counties have applied to move to the third phase in Washington state's four-stage reopening recovery plan that relaxes some COVID-19 restrictions and allows some businesses to reopen with limits on capacity.
The state Department of Health said applications to advance to Phase 3 have been submitted by Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille, Lincoln, Columbia, Wahkiakum and Garfield counties. They are among the counties that have been in Phase 2 for three weeks and are eligible to apply for the third phase.
Skamania County is also eligible to apply as of Wednesday, and Whitman County will be eligible to apply for Phase 3 on Friday, according to the state.
Counties approved for the third phase can reopen libraries and museums; open pools, gyms, movie theaters and other recreational facilities at 50% capacity; reopen restaurants at less than 75% capacity and bars at up to 25 % capacity; allow gatherings of up to 50 people, and resume nonessential travel.
Pandemic could mean a silent June at Supreme Court
It’s the time of the year when U.S. Supreme Court justices can get testy. But now they might have to find a new way to show it.
The court’s most fought-over decisions in its most consequential cases often come in June, with dueling majority and dissenting opinions. But when a justice is truly steamed to be on a decision’s losing side, the strongest form of protest is reading a summary of the dissent aloud in court. Dissenting justices exercise what a pair of scholars call the “nuclear option” just a handful of times a year, but when they do, they signal that behind the scenes, there’s frustration and even anger.
The coronavirus pandemic has kept the justices from their courtroom since March and forced them to change their ways in many respects. Now, in their season of weighty decisions, instead of the drama that can accompany the announcement of a majority decision and its biting dissent, the court’s opinions are being posted online without an opportunity for the justices to be heard.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has said that an oral dissent “garners immediate attention.”
“It signals that, in the dissenters’ view, the court’s opinion is not just wrong, but grievously misguided,” she has said.
Read more here.
What does it take to reopen the world to travel?
After months of locked-down borders, countries that have stifled the coronavirus are trying to choreograph a risky dance: how to bring back visitors without importing another burst of uncontrolled contagion.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania dropped restrictions for one another May 15 while keeping out everyone else. Australia and New Zealand are planning to revive unrestricted flights within their own “travel bubble,” which Fiji, Israel and Costa Rica are clamoring to join.
In China, cities are fast-tracking corporate charter flights, although Beijing remains sealed off. In Cyprus, tourists can get in only if they carry health certificates proving they tested negative for COVID-19.
International travel has always been a proxy for trust among nations and people, but the pandemic has poisoned the air. Now, relationships are being rebuilt under enormous economic pressure, with a wary eye on a pathogen that is not going away anytime soon.
Read the story here.
Las Vegas reopening after coronavirus closure
The casino coronavirus closure is ending, with cards to be dealt, dice to roll and slot jackpots to win again starting Thursday in Las Vegas and throughout Nevada.
Hotel-casinos in suburban Sin City planned to be first to open at 12:01 a.m., followed later in the morning by a restart of the iconic Bellagio fountain and reopenings of many neighboring resorts on the Las Vegas Strip.
Wynn Resorts pushed back its planned opening to daylight hours in a nod to ongoing nighttime protests over George Floyd’s death in Minnesota. Floyd, a Black man, died after a white officer pressed his knee into his neck.
There are big hopes for recovery from an unprecedented and expensive shutdown prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“There’s a tremendous amount on the line, not only for casinos but for the community and the state,” said Alan Feldman, a longtime casino executive now a fellow at the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “This is an extremely important moment.”
Casino resorts that had been famously always open were shuttered in mid-March after Gov. Steve Sisolak’s emergency order closed nonessential businesses to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Read more here.
1.9 million seek jobless aid even as reopenings slow layoffs
Nearly 1.9 million people applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week, evidence that many employers are still cutting jobs even as the gradual reopening of businesses has slowed the pace of layoffs.
The total number of people who are receiving jobless aid rose slightly to 21.5 million, down from a peak of nearly 25 million two weeks ago. It shows that scattered rehiring is offsetting only some of the ongoing layoffs, with the economy mired in a recession. Thursday’s latest weekly number from the Labor Department is still more than double the record high that prevailed before the coronavirus outbreak.
Still, the number of people who applied for benefits last week marked the ninth straight decline since applications spiked in mid-March. The job market meltdown that was triggered by the coronavirus may have bottomed out as more companies call at least some employees back to work.
Many economists said they were disappointed, though, that the number of first-time applications for jobless aid and the total number of people receiving benefits remain so high. And 15 states still aren’t reporting the number of self-employed and contract workers who have applied for aid, meaning that the data is incomplete.
“The big question is whether millions are still filing for unemployment due to separations that happened a while ago or because of separations still happening today,” said Adam Ozimek, chief economist at Upwork. “The latter is far more problematic” because it would point to ongoing business closures and cutbacks.
Read the story here.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
UW Medicine patients and staff are worrying about care as furloughs begin for 5,500 workers. Officials say they've designed this to have minimal impacts, but some services are paused, and the furloughs could be a prelude to other cuts.
Can the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine prevent COVID-19? "That dog won't hunt," one scientist says after a major trial indicated the drug touted by President Donald Trump is no more effective at this than a vitamin.
Sea-Tac Airport is getting busier — but travelers are still far, far below last year’s level, our daily Coronavirus Economy chart shows. What will it take to reopen the world to travel? The baby steps that are happening show how different this will be for everyone involved.
School’s almost out — then what? Families are confronting the lack of Seattle-area summer camps. Some camps are going online, while others are attempting to run very differently in person. Is it safe for kids to go? Doctors and the CDC have guidance on this.
AMC movie theaters may not survive the pandemic, the chain is warning. The cinema business was in trouble even before coronavirus, but another major U.S. chain plans to start reopening theaters this month.
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