Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, June 5, as the day unfolded. To find resources and the latest extended coverage of the pandemic, click here.
George Floyd protests have continued for a full week in Seattle and throughout Washington state, and — despite the increased risks of the new coronavirus — local public health professionals and leaders have supported the protests, both tacitly and explicitly.
Gov. Jay Inslee, who for months has been both pleading with and ordering people to stay home to slow the spread of the virus, is now asking that people instead wear masks and try to keep some distance amid the crowds. However, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told a House panel Thursday that demonstrators need to get tested for the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the city of Seattle and the state of Washington are expanding testing for the coronavirus, the governor and mayor’s office announced Thursday. In Seattle, two new drive-thru sites are opening soon, one of which will be accessible starting Friday.
Throughout Friday, 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 Thursday 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 Friday.
Washington’s Employment Security Department commissioner sued for halting benefits during fraud investigation
Lawyers for two workers whose unemployment benefits were halted during a fraud investigation have asked the Washington state Supreme Court to force the state Employment Security Department to restart those payments as quickly as possible.
In a petition for a “writ of mandamus,” filed late Friday afternoon, attorneys say Suzi LeVine, commissioner of the Employment Security Department (ESD), lacked the “express authority” to stop unemployment benefits payments while the agency investigated a massive fraud.
As a result of the fraud, which was disclosed several weeks ago and is believed to have involved an estimated $550 million to $650 million in fraudulent benefits payments, ESD paused payments to tens of thousands of claimants so it could carefully document their identities.
But that process has delayed legitimate payments to thousands of workers in Washington.
Public health officials worry tear gas, pepper spray could contribute to coronavirus spread as Seattle protests continue
As Seattle police officers blasted a crowd of demonstrators with pepper spray and tear gas on Capitol Hill on Monday night, the effects were unmistakable.
“[Protesters] were screaming, their eyes were closed … they were spitting,” said Kara Sweidel, a trained street medic who treated people in Cal Anderson Park when the mayhem began. “Someone was brought over to us completely doused. … He couldn’t open his eyes.”
Concerns about the use of tear gas and pepper spray as the region battles the coronavirus pandemic boiled over this week as civilian watchdog groups criticized the absence of clear police policy on using tear gas for crowd control. Public Health – Seattle & King County, meanwhile, raised concerns about such tactics for health reasons, saying tear gas “and other respiratory irritants” could increase the spread of COVID-19.
U.S. military research showing increased risk of respiratory infections after exposure to tear gas has gained new attention with demonstrations across the nation over the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed last week by a white Minneapolis police officer.
“If you’re irritating the respiratory system and there is coronavirus in that system, it could cause someone to cough and that would lead to spread of those droplets,” said Allison Agwu, an associate professor of adult and pediatric infection diseases at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Now cleared to reopen in some capacity throughout the Seattle area, restaurants wrestle with how quickly to embrace the return
For the first time in three months, residents in several of western Washington’s most populous counties can dine out again, but you might not be able to score a table or even find a restaurant opening in your neighborhood.
Some diners and corner haunts are too small to open with the crowd restrictions in place, their owners said. As for those that have large outdoor patios and sidewalk seating? Good luck snagging a table. You’d better make a reservation or prepare to wait in line.
More than a dozen veteran restaurateurs said Friday that most small restaurants around King County with less than 40 seats likely won’t reopen since the economic arithmetic doesn’t add up due to limited seating and the high cost of staffing. Your best bet to shed cabin fever in Seattle is to find a large restaurant with outdoor seating.
Here’s what Seattle sports teams are allowed to do under Washington state’s new coronavirus guidelines
Local sports took a major step toward returning to a new normal Friday, as Gov. Jay Inslee announced that pro sports can resume practices and activities in all counties, regardless of phase, but cannot have fans in stadiums.
In total, 14 counties were approved to move into the next phase of Inslee’s Safe Start plan Friday. King County, home to the Mariners, Seahawks, Storm, Sounders and Huskies, was approved to move into a modified version of Phase 1 (or Phase 1.5). Under the new phase, outdoor gatherings of five people or fewer are allowed.
Snohomish and Pierce counties were approved for Phase 2, which among other things allows youth-sports practices to resume outdoors as long as players are spread five feet apart and are in groups of no more than five people, Inslee said.
Trump signs bill updating forgivable loans program for small businesses
President Donald Trump on Friday signed into law a new version of the small business loan program known as PPP.
The new law, called the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act, reshaped the forgivable loans Congress created in late March as the coronavirus pandemic forced many businesses to shut down and layoff workers.
It now lets businesses qualify for loan forgiveness up to $10 million if they meet certain criteria. And it extended the period in which business can spend funds in order to have them forgiven.
As well, businesses forced to shut down during the pandemic now have more leeway to pay rent, mortgages and other operating expenses with proceeds from the loans. Previously, a sizable portion of the loans were directed toward worker pay.
The law also suspends payroll taxes for small businesses.
The bill passed the House of Representatives with just one dissenting vote and passed the Senate unanimously.
Peru is running out of oxygen for COVID-19 patients
In the far stretch of northern Peru where Edda Marchan and her family lives, medicinal oxygen to treat the coronavirus has become a scarce commodity.
Eventually, they could not find any.
“It’s the greatest desperation in the world,” said her daughter, 39-year-old Fiorella Sorroza. “We are praying to God not to abandon us.”
In the South American nation wracked by COVID-19, one of the world’s most abundant elements is now in short supply. Exasperated relatives are racing to fill overpriced tanks. Long neglected hospitals are running empty. And President Martín Vizcarra has issued an emergency decree ordering industrial plants to ramp up production or purchase oxygen from other countries.
“Peru, with the Amazon, has the lungs of the planet,” said Iván Hidalgo, academic director of the Institute of Government and Public Management in Peru’s capital of Lima. “And we’re dying because of lack of oxygen.”
Citing jobs, Trump claims victory over virus, econ collapse
President Donald Trump effectively claimed victory over the economic crisis and COVID-19 on Friday as well as major progress against racial inequality, heartily embracing a better-than-expected jobs report in hopes of convincing a discouraged nation he deserves another four years in office.
In lengthy White House remarks amid sweeping social unrest, a still-rising virus death toll and Depression-level unemployment, the Republican president focused on what he said was improvement in all areas.
He was quick to seize the positive jobs report at a time when his political standing is at one of the weakest points of his presidency less than five months before the general election.
The president also addressed the protests, which have calmed in recent days, that followed the death of George Floyd, the black man who died last week when a white police officer knelt for minutes on his neck.
Claiming improvements everywhere, Trump said, “Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country. … This is a great, great day in terms of equality.”
State DOH confirms 22,993 coronavirus cases in Washington
State health officials confirmed 264 new COVID-19 cases in Washington on Friday, as well as 11 additional deaths.
The update brings the state’s totals to 22,993 cases and 1,149 deaths, according to the state Department of Health’s (DOH) data dashboard. The dashboard reports 3,639 hospitalizations in Washington.
So far, 390,863 tests for the novel coronavirus have been conducted in the state, per DOH. Of those, 5.9% have come back positive.
King County, the state's most populous, has reported 8,371 positive test results and 576 deaths, accounting for 50.1% of the state's death toll.
Amid reopenings and street protests, coronavirus transmission remains high in much of the U.S.
The coronavirus appears to be in retreat in regions that moved decisively to contain it after being hit hard, including New York and New Jersey. But the virus is persisting — and, in some places, spreading aggressively — in parts of the South, Midwest and far West, including in states that were among the last to impose shutdowns and the first to lift them.
Now, public health officials across the nation are warily eyeing caseloads and hospitalizations to see if there is a spike in infections resulting from mass protests against racism and police violence.
The protests, sparked by the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis and other recent instances of violence against African Americans, have been outdoors. The virus is most easily transmitted in closed spaces with poor ventilation. Even so, the massing of protesters for hours on end in chaotic circumstances, along with police use of chemical agents, could lead to a spike in cases in coming days and weeks.
“One person can infect hundreds. If you were at a protest, go get a test, please,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said in a briefing Thursday. “The protesters have a civic duty here also.”
Senator Cantwell, House Democrats reveal legislation on transportation worker safety amid COVID-19 crisis
WASHINGTON, D.C. — At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Friday in Washington, D.C., concerning the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on transportation and infrastructure, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington joined fellow Democrats Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Sen. Edward J. Markey in unveiling their Essential Transportation Employee Safety Act.
The legislation aims to “address workplace safety for essential transportation workers,” per a release from the Cantwell’s office, and would require the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to work in tandem with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies to facilitate local testing of transportation workers, among other requirements. Those include personal protective equipment and heightened sanitation practices for equipment and facilities used by transportation workers.
According to an estimate from the Washington Employment Security Department, there are more than over 84,800 transportation workers in Washington state. That figure includes 11,600 aviation workers and 20,400 truck drivers.
The legislation is endorsed by several major transportation sector unions, most notably the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Transportation Trades Department–AFL-CIO (TTD), which represents 33 transportation labor unions.
“Transportation workers are critical for getting people to and from work, getting life-saving goods out to hospitals and first responders, moving food for our kitchen tables, and essential goods to stock our stores,” said Cantwell, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
Just 18 COVID-19 patients at UW Medicine hospitals
The number of COVID-19 patients at UW Medicine hospitals has fallen to its lowest mark in months, according to a news release from the health care system.
“A couple of our hospitals have zero or one COVID-19 patient," said Lisa Brandenburg, president of UW Medicine hospitals and clinics.
Just 18 COVID-19 patients are being treated at UW Medicine hospitals, including Harborview Medical Center, UW Medical Center - Montlake and UW Medical Center - Northwest.
A month ago, the hospital was treating 82 COVID-19 inpatients at its hospitals.
Sports can resume in parts of the state
Outdoor youth and adult recreational sports teams can start playing together again in some parts of the state. The governor's office issued new guidance that's effective today.
If a county is in Phase 2, teams can resume practice but players are limited to groups of five who must be at least five feet apart and not have contact with each other. Teams can have multiple small groups but they need to be separated on the fields by buffer zones. Parents and others can't congregate on the sidelines to watch.
For counties in Phase 3, teams can start playing games in front of small crowds with no more than 50 people total per field. Some complexes have multiple fields and can have 50 people at each one.
Leagues, organizations and clubs must publish and adhere to safety plans as well, and facilities are not required to reopen.
Professional teams can start practicing and having games without spectators in all counties but they need to develop safety plans that are approved by players' unions.
Community Transit to restore some bus service this summer
Community Transit will restore some of its bus service starting this summer to meet expected ridership increases as King and Snohomish Counties move into the next steps of a phased reopening of the state.
The transit agency will reinstate several trips on high-ridership routes, bringing service up to 75% of pre-pandemic levels, beginning July 6. In September, Community Transit will add more service up to 85% of pre-pandemic levels. That service level will be maintained through spring 2021, according to a news release.
More details about routes will come in July.
Community Transit cut service by 30% in April after ridership fell by more than 70%. The cuts were aimed at bus routes that “are seeing little or no ridership at certain times of the day,” CEO Emmett Heath had said in a prepared statement.
Community Transit also suspended its fare collection until May 31 after transit operators had tested positive for COVID-19. One Community Transit bus driver, Scott Ryan, died from complications related to COVID-19.
Idaho offers $1,500 bonus for people to return to work
BOISE, Idaho — Idaho residents on unemployment could receive a one-time bonus of up to $1,500 to return to work under a plan Gov. Brad Little announced Friday.
The Republican governor said the incentive is intended to help get the state’s economy going again. Part-time workers would receive $750.
“Now is the time for us to provide Idahoans with the financial incentive to return to work and ensure our economic rebound is swift and robust,” Little said.
The state’s unemployment rate has rocketed to 11.5% with more than 100,000 unemployed. But Idaho is in the third stage of Little’s four-stage plan to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic, and there are signs the economy is turning around. Nearly all businesses can now open under the guidelines.
Read the full story here.
Bellevue to expand Healthy Streets pilot project, freeing roads for walking and bicycling
A total of 4.1 miles of mostly residential streets will be temporarily closed to non-local vehicle traffic in Bellevue to create more space for pedestrians and bicyclists.
The closures begin Friday in Northwest Bellevue and next week in Newport Hills.
Portions of Northeast Fifth Street, 98th Avenue Northeast and Northeast First Street between Northeast Eighth Street and 100th Avenue Northeast will close. In addition, a section of 121st, 122nd and 123rd Avenues Southeast, from Southeast 46th Place to Southeast 56th Street, will close.
Last month, Bellevue closed about 1.5 miles of streets to most drivers in the Lake Hills and Northeast Bellevue neighborhoods.
The closures will remain in place for "pending further guidance on social distancing" from Gov. Jay Inslee and public health officials, or until otherwise announced.
Bellevue’s initiative follows efforts in other cities, including Seattle, Denver, New York and Philadelphia, to provide more space for pedestrians and bicyclists.
14 Washington counties approved to move forward in coronavirus reopenings
The state Health Department approved applications from 14 Washington counties on Friday to move to new phases of reopening the economy.
Pierce and Snohomish counties, as well as Clark, Okanogan, Skagit and Whatcom counties can move to Phase 2 of reopening, which allows restaurants to offer indoor dining at half-capacity.
Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens and Wahkiakum counties were approved to move to Phase 3, which allows restaurants to operate at 75% capacity, movie theaters to reopen at half-capacity and lets libraries and museums reopen.
King County was allowed to move to what is being described as a "modified" Phase 1 reopening.
In total, 34 of Washington’s 39 counties have now been approved for some level of reopening.
To progress in reopening, counties must have declining infection levels, adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, space in hospitals, ample testing capacity and a contact tracing system in place to try to contain the virus.
King County approved to move into next step in reopening
The Washington State Department of Health has approved King County's request to move into the next step in a multiphase reopening under the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the new regulations from state health officials, restaurants and retailers can resume operations, serving customers in a limited capacity. Public Health – Seattle & King County will oversee the impacts of this step, monitoring transmission trends, medical capacity and other indicators to inform further reopening decisions.
Here is what this next step means for various industries:
Restaurants: Restaurants serving customers outside may operate at 50% of their available capacity, with people at all tables and chairs maintaining 6 feet of distance. Restaurants will need to seek approval to expand outdoor seating. Establishments with indoor dining are allowed to operate at 25% of their capacity, with the same conditions.
In-store retail: Stores may reopen, but the number of patrons inside may not exceed 15% of their capacity. Businesses must display signs "encouraging" customers to keep visits under 30 minutes, including face-to-face interactions. Retail considered essential may operate under the existing state regulations. "This is not meant to be timed to the second – no one is expected to have a stopwatch – but customers should be informed why it is important to limit close interactions," according to the news release.
Services: The following professions may operate but must limit clients to 25% of capacity: cosmetologists, hairstylists, barbers, estheticians, master estheticians, manicurists, nail salon workers, electrologists, permanent makeup artists, tattoo artists, accountants, architects, attorneys, engineers, financial advisers, information technologists, insurance agents, tax preparers and other office-based occupations. Cosmetology schools and esthetics schools are also included.
Construction: All existing and new construction — including projects that do not allow maintenance of social distancing — is authorized to resume.
"This important step in our COVID-19 response reflects all the sacrifice and hard work that our community has put into fighting this disease. The success of this guidance depends on business owners and community members embracing public health best practices, and understanding that one size doesn’t fit all," said King County Executive Dow Constantine, in a news release.
COVID-19 outbreak at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center expands to 40 inmates and 12 staff
The largest outbreak of COVID-19 cases in Washington’s prison system is expanding at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Franklin County.
As of Thursday, 40 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19, as well as 12 staff, according to the state Department of Corrections.
A spokesperson for DOC said in an email the facility is trying to contain the outbreak through a 10-day quarantine and contact tracing of persons who may have had close contact with infected individuals.
According to the spokesperson, the prison had tested 74 incarcerated people as of Thursday, in both the medium- and minimum-security units. Thirteen people have been transferred to Monroe Correctional Complex’s medical isolation area and 20 to Airway Heights Corrections Center. Three others have been sent to a local medical center.
All inmates at the prison are required to wear a protective mask when they leave cells during the quarantine, and the prison has implemented social-distancing protocols, according to the DOC spokesperson.
In all, 68 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed among people incarcerated in state prisons and work-release facilities since the start of the pandemic.
In addition, 53 DOC staff have had confirmed cases of the virus. One corrections officer, Berisford Anthony Morse, died last month due to COVID-19.
Worried about spread of COVID-19, local public health officials oppose use of tear gas
King County public health officials are worried that the use of tear gas and other respiratory irritants could increase risk of the spread of COVID-19.
As thousands of people have gathered in Seattle over the past week to protest racial injustice and police brutality, Seattle police have several times deployed pepper spray and tear gas into large groups of demonstrators, sending people into fits of coughing and gasping and leaving their eyes and skin burning.
Public Health - Seattle & King County has “shared information with the city about the risk of using any agent that would cause coughing, as it increases the risk of transmission,” spokeswoman Sharon Bogan said in an email. “We did this as part of our advisory role as Public Health.”
Research conducted by the U.S. Army in 2012 indicated a risk of acute respiratory illness in the days after exposure to tear gas and has attracted new attention as police deploy gas amid a pandemic. “It is also possible that tear gas increases the risk for respiratory infection as reported in the U.S. Army research,” Bogan said.
“Public Health — Seattle & King Co opposes the use of tear gas & other respiratory irritants based on the potential to increase COVID-19 spread,” Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health wrote in a tweet Thursday evening.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Washington’s unemployment fraud may have hit $650 million. Tens of thousands of jobless people are still waiting for benefits as the state scrambles to root out the scammers, clawing back a little more than half of the money so far. Those workers face a tough road: When it comes to new job openings, the Seattle area lags much of the rest of the nation, our daily Coronavirus Economy chart shows. Nationwide, many jobs lost to the virus aren't coming back.
If you’re missing libraries, take heart: Gradual reopenings are on the way in Seattle and King County. But you won’t be getting lost in the stacks anytime soon. Here’s what bookworms can expect, and the latest county-by-county look at when other slices of life are expected to resume. Plus, drive-in theaters are open again, with new limits.
Bad news for the region’s seafood industry: Seattle-based American Seafoods has 25 new cases of COVID-19 aboard two factory trawlers, following a bigger outbreak on a third vessel.
Families concerned about COVID-19 protested conditions at a Seattle work-release facility; now they're accusing the state of retaliating by sending six men at the facility back to prison.
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