Editor’s note: This is a live account of updates from Wednesday, March 18, as the events unfolded. Click here to see updates from Thursday, March 19. And click here to find the latest extended coverage of the outbreak of the coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2; the illness it causes, COVID-19; and its effects on the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest and the world.

Life is different in the Puget Sound region as most people — by choice or by order — practice “social distancing” to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the new type of coronavirus that causes a disease called COVID-19. Gov. Jay Inslee said late Sunday he would further restrict public gatherings and temporarily close places of entertainment and recreation statewide. He made the order official Monday morning.

As Washington gains the capacity to test more people for the virus, more COVID-19 diagnoses are made each day. The state Department of Health announced 175 new cases Wednesday, bringing the state total to 1,187 cases, including 66 deaths. The bulk of cases remain in King County, which has seen 562 people fall ill and 56 of them die, according to the county’s public health department. A Seattle-based expert estimates the U.S. could have 10 times as many cases as have been confirmed.

Throughout today, on this page, we’ll be posting Seattle Times journalists’ updates on the outbreak and its effects on the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest and the world. Updates from Tuesday can be found here, and all our coronavirus coverage can be found here.

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

Live updates:

Redmond City Hall to close until April 30

Redmond City Hall will remain closed until May and other city facilities are closed until further notice, the city of Redmond said Wednesday.

The public safety building, maintenance and operations center, fire stations, Redmond Community Center at Marymoor Village, Old Firehouse Teen Center and the Farrel-McWhirter Barnyard are also closed. City employees will work remotely, the city said.

The Redmond police and fire departments remain fully operational. The courthouse is closed until March 27; civil orders of protection hearings and in-custody criminal matters are being conducted by video.

—Paige Cornwell

Washington Supreme Court issues sweeping order to protect courts from COVID-19

The Washington Supreme Court issued a sweeping order Wednesday evening, which, among other things, postpones all civil and criminal jury trials as well as all “non-emergency civil matters,” until after April 24, citing the COVID-19 pandemic.

The order also says the courts must allow telephone and video appearances for all criminal matters scheduled within that timeframe.

Another part of the order expedites pre-trial release hearings and makes it easier to release pre-trial defendants who are vulnerable to COVID-19 infections. It explicitly states that the novel coronavirus pandemic for these people constitutes a “material change in circumstances” -- one of the factors that can change a bail order that has already been set.

“The most important implication is we can move for the release of in-custody defendants without having to risk our health by showing up in person,” said defense attorney Cathy Gormley.

—Sydney Brownstone

Bright Horizons closes most locations as child care workers statewide express concerns about their safety

Late Wednesday, national child care chain Bright Horizons decided to close most of their centers by the end of the week until April 27. They have about 20 locations in the Seattle area and will keep some centralized centers open. In a letter to employees, workers were given the option to continue working for increased pay at a nearby center if it is possible or to work through the company’s back-up in-home caregivers program. Others will receive two weeks of pay and benefits.

The state’s Department of Children, Youth and Families is encouraging “child care facilities to continue serving their communities and to make their educated decisions based upon what information and recommendations are coming from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH).”

DOH issued new guidelines this week, which suggested having kids do activities together in groups of 10 or less — and keeping those groups consistent from day-to-day. Among the other long list of recommendations, they suggest staggering pickups, dropoffs, and meals to avoid having many people in one area.

Many child care workers have expressed concerns about their safety but feel they need to continue working to get a paycheck. They are not eligible for unemployment benefits unless they are officially laid off.

Read the full story here.

—Anne Hillman

Health officials want Congress to re-allocate emergency stockpiles to Washington

Health officials say Congress must change the rules for the allocation of personal-protective equipment and other medical materials from national stockpiles or the state, hard-hit by the coronavirus, "will never get what we need.”

Public Health Seattle and King County Director Patty Hayes said Wednesday the current system allocates supplies from the national emergency stockpiles based on state populations, which she said doesn’t take into account the ferocity with which the disease has attacked the Evergreen State.

Hayes said pandemic planning exercises had been undertaken with the belief that an outbreak would occur in a specific area or region and that equipment and supplies needed from the federal government’s strategic reserves of medical supplies and equipment could be allocated in that area.

The novel coronavirus, however, “swamped” the entire country and overtook the government’s ability to respond to it. Now, Hayes said, local supplies of materials that are desperately needed -- particularly personal protection equipment such as masks and gloves – are dwindling and the method used by the feds to allocate those supplies by population isn’t taking into account how hard Washington has been hit. Hayes said the county has approached the state’s congressional delegation with the problem.

Hayes and Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, the public health officer, on Wednesday provided reporters with an overview of the first days of the emerging world health crisis, describing a growing sense of unease and concern as the state that reported the first U.S. case of COVID-19 became the first to report a death.

That same day, Duchin said, the health department received a call from Life Care reporting an unusual number of respiratory illnesses. About the same time, he said, Evergreen Hospital contacted the health department to report two odd pneumonia cases, one of whom had been a patient at Life Care.

Duchin sent a public-health nurse into the center even as tests on the Evergreen Hospital patients were hand-delivered to the state laboratory. What they found at the center was 20 sick residents, six with suspected pneumonia, and 18 Life Care workers sick. Most concerning, he said, was that Life Care had tested 30 residents for influenza – suspecting that was the cause – but the tests came back negative.

“That’s when we became concerned that we needed to look at what was happening at Life Care more closely,” he said.

—Mike Carter

Feds on the lookout for Coronavirus fraud

U..S. Attorney Brian T. Moran has asked federal state and local law enforcement to be on the lookout for frauds preying on concerns over COVID-19.

“In a time of high stress and fear it is critical that for the public to know that law enforcement at all levels remains dedicated to protecting them from harm – whether it is from scams, frauds or violent crime,” Moran said in a release. “We will remain vigilant in detecting, investigating and prosecuting wrongdoing related to the crisis."

Moran said the Western District of Washington has extensive expertise in cybercrime and is already monitoring issues related to phishing attempts and efforts to infect emails, links and postings with malware. Members of the public need to be wary of emails or online posts that could be infected with malware that could then infect their electronic devices and steal personal and financial information.

“The pandemic is dangerous enough without wrongdoers seeking to profit from public panic and this sort of conduct cannot be tolerated,” Attorney General William Barr said in his communication to the U.S. Attorneys.

—Mike Carter

Officials: 66 deaths, 1,187 COVID-19 cases in Washington state

Officials have now confirmed that 1,187 people in Washington state have COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and that 66 have died.

The numbers released Wednesday by the Washington State Department of Health include 175 more cases than identified previously. King County reported an additional 10 deaths earlier Wednesday, and an additional death was confirmed in Clark County.

Most of the deaths in the state have been in King County, where 56 people have died. Of those reported deaths, 35 have been associated with Life Care Center of Kirkland.

Franklin and Mason counties saw their first confirmed COVID-19 cases, while other counties saw a rise in confirmed cases: 56 in Snohomish, 11 in Pierce and five in Skagit.

The numbers of confirmed cases have risen as the state has increased its testing capacity, but also as COVID-19 spreads. King County officials say they expect case counts to double every five to seven days unless people follow social-distancing recommendations.

—Asia Fields

UW classes to be remote through end of spring quarter

University of Washington classes will be remote through the end of spring quarter, the school announced Wednesday afternoon.

The quarter will start as scheduled on March 30, but there will be no written assignments due the first week as students and instructors continue to adjust to remote learning, President Ana Mari Cauce wrote in a letter to the UW community.

Students who left before spring break are encouraged to stay off-campus, and those living on campus will have time to get their possessions. Residence halls will remain open but all students who stay in campus housing will be required to live in buildings or apartments with private bathrooms, the university said.

There will be no change in financial aid for full-time students, the university said.

Related: The coronavirus is forcing many colleges to go online only. But will it work for everyone?

—Paige Cornwell

Five Kirkland firefighters in quarantine; 37 others released after completing isolation

Five Kirkland firefighters remain in quarantine and 37 others have been released after completing their recommended isolation period, the City of Kirkland said Wednesday.

The first responders had contact with people at Life Care Center in Kirkland, where more than 100 residents and staff members have since tested positive for COVID-19, and were quarantined shortly after.

All firefighters and police officers who had symptoms are being tested for coronavirus, the city said. One person has tested positive, and 21 others tested negative.

—Paige Cornwell

Washington Democrats move all party activities online, postpone annual dinner until August

The Washington State Democratic Party says it will move all party events online in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The party's upcoming April 26 legislative district caucuses, which are used to pick delegates to its state convention, will shift to "an entirely digital voting process," as will congressional district caucuses set for May 30, according to a news release. The state party also is recommending that all county party organizations remake their county conventions, scheduled for May 3, as digital-only events.

The party also announced it will reschedule its annual Magnuson Award Dinner — which already had been postponed from March 7 to May 9 — to Aug. 8. The event will be held at the Washington State Convention Center.

"As Governor Inslee has told us, we all have a responsibility to do what we can to slow the spread of this virus that could overwhelm our healthcare system and result in thousands of deaths if we don’t all pull together and follow public health officials’ advice," said Washington State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski, in a statement.

—Jim Brunner

School Board waives rules around big Seattle Public Schools expenditures during closures

In a teleconference Wednesday afternoon, the Seattle School Board unanimously granted Superintendent Denise Juneau broad powers to spend without its approval until schools reopen. These powers include the ability to hire vendors without a formal bidding process, and the ability to make purchases in excess of $250,000 without a vote from the School Board.

It may not end up being necessary, said the district's lead attorney, but the resolution allows the district to react quickly without going through the normal process of approving large expenses, which requires scheduling a public meeting and the presence of at least four of seven Board members.

The resolution the Board passed also waives the requirement for in-person School Board meetings as long as they are made available to the public in other ways, such as by phone or internet.

—Dahlia Bazzaz

Seattle International Film Festival canceled due to coronavirus pandemic

The 46th annual Seattle International Film Festival, scheduled to run May 14 though June 7, has been canceled. Organizers announced the news in an email Wednesday.

"While the core of the Festival takes place mid-May into early June, pre-events and activities begin up to six weeks earlier," the email said. "The looming uncertainty of this crisis, and the huge amount of work that would have to be done now, makes it impossible to continue as scheduled."

The majority of the staff, SIFF announced, would be furloughed.

Read the full story here.

—Moira McDonald

Department of Revenue will have authority to 'suspend penalties and interest on certain late tax payments'

The state Department of Revenue will now have the authority to “suspend penalties and interest on certain late tax payments,” according to Gov. Jay Inslee’s office.

Washington state will implement payment plans “on the core amount businesses owe without filing tax liens in federal courts” and will suspend “enforcement actions such as forced collections by seizing bank accounts.” Those measures are expected to be in effect for at least 30 days.

The tax-collection measures also waive late-filing fees for property tax exemption renewals, business license renewals, as well as excise tax interest on Business & Occupation taxes, real estate sales, and some other taxes administered by the department. Those include interest related to tax preferences for medical device manufacturing biotechnology.

The tax-related measures are retroactive to Feb. 29, the date the governor first declared a state of emergency for the COVID-19 outbreak.

Read the full story here.

—Daniel Beekman, Sydney Brownstone and Joseph O'Sullivan

Inslee announces 30-day statewide moratorium on evictions for residential tenants

OLYMPIA — As workers brace for the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Jay Inslee Wednesday announced a 30-day statewide moratorium on evictions for residential tenants.

The governor also announced several other measures intended to help workers and businesses cope with the impacts of the outbreak of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

Those include an order waiving the one-week wait period for people signing up to get unemployment insurance, according to the governor’s office. That order is retroactive for claims filed up to March 8.

And Inslee will release as much as $5 million from a reserve fund in order to give micro-grants to small businesses around the state to prevent them from closing. That process will be coordinated by the state Department of Commerce.

Read the full story here.

—Daniel Beekman, Sydney Brownstone and Joseph O'Sullivan

Third Department of Corrections employee tests positive for COVID-19

The Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) says a third employee has tested positive for COVID-19.

The employee works at a work-release facility in Port Orchard and was last in the office on March 5, the agency said in a news release. The employee will not return to work until they recover and will be screened before being cleared to work, the agency says.

Employees at the work-release site have been directed to report to work and return home only, limit exposure to others and monitor symptoms. Individuals housed at Peninsula Work Release are quarantined there until the end of the 14-day quarantine period, which is in seven days, the agency said.

Two other DOC employees previously tested positive for COVID-19: an employee at Monroe Correctional Complex and an employee at the agency headquarters in Tumwater.

As of Wednesday, DOC has had no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among incarcerated individuals or those under community supervision, the news release said. Still, a coalition of advocacy groups is pushing for the release of thousands of potentially vulnerable inmates. In a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee this week, the groups requested that inmates older than 56 or within six months of the end of their sentences be immediately released.

—Jim Brunner

Health care systems for vulnerable communities face unique challenges

Health care systems that serve vulnerable communities regardless of patients’ ability to pay, including those who are uninsured, those who need translation services or those who might be lower income or experiencing homelessness, face unique challenges as coronavirus infections climb.

Michael Erikson, chief executive officer of Neighborcare Health, said the community health care system was dealing with medical calls “well above expected volumes.” Meantime, the demand for its dental services has declined.

Neighborcare — which serves about 75,000 patients each year, offers 16 clinic locations in the Puget Sound region and is a safety net provider — has suspended routine dental work, Erikson said.

Dental procedures, like drilling, could aerosolize viral pathogens, Erikson said, creating risk. Halting some dental work also would conserve desperately needed personal protective equipment.

Neighborcare will continue urgent and emergency dental services, Erikson said.

Neighborcare also is embracing care by telephone and asking medical patients to delay some in-person visits until “it’s a safer time to access health care.”

Read the full story here.

—Evan Bush

King County Metro reportedly plans to cut bus service amid coronavirus

King County Metro is considering cutting bus service by about 25% amid the spread of the novel coronavirus and social distancing measures that have contributed to plummeting ridership, Metropolitan King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski said Wednesday.

The changes are expected to take effect Monday.

Dembowski said he learned of the plans from Metro’s general manager. Metro would review the equity impacts to ensure cuts were not disproportionately hurting people in low-income and transit-dependent areas, Dembowski said.

A Metro spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

The cuts are “the right thing to do,” Dembowski said. “I think everyone is seeing we’re running a lot of empty buses [but] we want to make sure we have enough service to keep people’s ability to get around … and honor distancing recommendations. We don’t want to reduce service to such a degree where you end up with crowded buses.”

Read the full story here.

—Heidi Groover

U.S. Customs and Border Protection to close enrollment centers for Trusted Traveler Programs until May 1

All U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler Program enrollment centers will be temporarily closed starting March 19 until May 1 to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirues, CBP announced in a press release Wednesday.

This includes Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, and FAST enrollment centers.

Travelers can still apply for Global Entry through the “Enrollment on Arrival” program that allows previously approved travelers to enroll in Global Entry without an interview upon arrival via. international flight at one of the participating airports. All other applicants who were planning to interview at an enrollment center will have to reschedule for a date after May 1

—Crystal Paul

King County to put 200-bed field hospital on Shoreline soccer field

A temporary field hospital for use by people unable to isolate and recover from COVID-19 in their own homes will be located at a soccer field in Shoreline, a city spokesman said.

The Shoreline Temporary Field Hospital, at 19030 First Ave N.E., will provide up to 200 beds, according to the city’s website. It will house “people exposed to, at risk of exposure, or becoming ill with the novel coronavirus,” according to the city website.

“It’s basically to relieve pressure on the hospitals and to free up beds for critical patients,” said Eric Bratton, a city spokesman. The hospital will be on a turf soccer field that is on school district property but is leased by the city, Bratton said.

“My understanding is they’re setting it up now, but they’re not anticipating using it or occupying it for another week or so,” Bratton said.

Read the full story here.

—Evan Bush

Trump taps powers to boost virus response; Senate OKs bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — Confronting twin health and economic crises, President Donald Trump announced Wednesday he will invoke emergency powers to marshal critical medical supplies against a coronavirus pandemic threatening to overwhelm hospitals and other treatment centers. The Senate acted on the economic front, approving legislation to guarantee sick leave to workers sickened by the disease.

Trump described himself as a “wartime president” as virus cases surged and the markets fell, and he took a series of extraordinary steps to steady a battered nation, its day-to-day life fundamentally altered.

Most immediately, Trump said he would employ the Defense Production Act as needed, giving the government more power to steer production by private companies and try to overcome shortages in masks, ventilators and other supplies.

Trump also said he will expand the nation’s testing capacity and deploy a Navy hospital ship to New York City, which is rapidly becoming an epicenter of the pandemic, and another such ship to the West Coast.

Read the full story here.

—Associated Press

Costco encourages employees who can to work from home

Costco workers, who have technological capability, are being encouraged to work from home, after an employee died Sunday from COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, according to an email sent to IT employees Wednesday morning.

"If your job does not require you to be on site, we encourage you to work from home. This includes all members of management," Costco Vice President of Global Supply Chain Terry Williams wrote in the email.

Managers are recommended to have daily conference calls and use chats, hangouts and phone calls to keep employees feeling productive and connected.

The retail company will stream its weekly "Fireside Chat" Friday to provide employees with updates and answer questions from staff.

On Tuesday morning, Costco CEO Craig Jelinek said in an email to all employees that efforts were underway to increase the spacing between warehouse workers.

"As we all know, not everyone can perform their job responsibilities away from the office, but we now feel we can and should increase the number of employees who are doing so," he said in the email.

—Michelle Baruchman

10 more deaths and 44 new cases reported in King County

There were 44 new reported cases of COVID-19 in the past day in King County and 10 more people died from the virus, Public Health – Seattle & King County reported Wednesday.

That brings the county's totals to 562 confirmed cases and 56 deaths. Of those reported deaths, 35 are associated associated with Life Care Center, the Kirkland senior-living facility that was at the heart of the outbreak.

All of the 10 new reported deaths were people over 60 years old, the age-range most endangered by the virus.

They are: A woman in her 90s, who died at Life Care Center on March 6; a woman in her 60s, who died at Life Care on March 16; a man in his 90s, who died at Life Care on March 17; a man in his 70s, who died at Life Care on March 17; a man in his 80s, who died at Life Care on Feb. 28; a man in his 90s, who died on March 15; a woman in her 70s, who died at Overlake Medical Center on March 16; a man in his 70s, who died at University of Washington Medical Center on March 17; a man in his 60s, who died at Harborview Medical Center on March 16, and a man in his 70s, who died on March 16.

Three people have been admitted to an isolation and quarantine facility in Kent for people suspected of having the virus who do not have a home where they can safely self-quarantine.

—David Gutman

The UW invites you to watch its cherry blossoms from home

It's cherry blossom season, but the University of Washington wants you to stay home to maintain social distancing and slow the spread of the new coronavirus. It’s part of the UW’s overall changes, which include moving courses online.

But classes aren't the only UW offerings going remote. You can still keep an eye on the quad's famous trees, via webcam. Learn more about that here.

—Joy Resmovits

Pierce County reports first COVID-19 death of woman in 50s

A woman in her 50s with underlying health conditions became the first person to die of complications from COVID-19 in Pierce County, according to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

The woman was admitted to MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup on March 6, the department said in a statement today. The department did not specify what day the woman died.

“Our hearts go out to the woman’s friends, family and the many people who know and cared about her in the Puyallup community,” said health director Anthony L-T Chen in the statement.

“This underscores the threat COVID-19 poses to our county, our state and the world. We all must do our part to prevent the spread.”

—Christine Clarridge

COVID-19 claims UW pathologist Stephen Schwartz

A longtime member of the University of Washington's Department of Pathology has died after being hospitalized with COVID-19 infection.

The news was shared with faculty members in an e-mail from the interim chair of the department, Charles E. Alpers, on Wednesday.

"It is with extreme regret that I share with you the news that a member of our faculty, Professor Stephen Schwartz, died yesterday after being hospitalized with COVID-19 infection," the message said.

Alpers wrote in the email that Schwartz did his residency in the Department of Pathology from 1967-1972, and then was a postdoctoral trainee in the laboratory of Earl Benditt.

He joined the faculty as an assistant professor in 1973 and has been on the faculty since, becoming a full professor in 1984.

Schwartz was also was an adjunct professor in the Departments of Bioengineering and Medicine, "reflective of his many collaborative relationships with faculty and other departments in our medical school and in the world.

"Steve had a distinguished career as an investigator in the field of vascular biology. He is rightfully considered a giant amongst investigators of the biology of smooth muscle cells and the structure of blood vessels,"  Alpers said in his e-mail.

Schwartz was an investigator of the American Heart Association, a founding Chair of the Gordon Research Conference on vascular biology, a co-founder of the North American Vascular Biology Organization — the leading organization for investigation in vascular biology — and he chaired numerous meetings both national and international in the field of vascular biology, Alpers said.

University of Washington

Medical Center Box 356100

Seattle, WA 98195-6100

—Christine Clarridge

Portland's beloved Powell's City of Books closes, lays off majority of staff

Powell's City of Books, the sprawling bookstore beloved to many who live in or visit Portland, Oregon, has temporarily closed its five locations; the e-commerce site remains open.

Its owner and CEO, Emily Powell, wrote in a message on the store website that it had been necessary to lay off "the vast majority" of the store's staff.

"Please know none of our choices were made lightly," Powell wrote, "and our slow communication has masked our desperate efforts to find a different possible path." The stores will be closed for at least eight weeks, "and very likely longer."


—Moira Macdonald

More than 400,000 Puget Sound-area workers are in industries facing immediate risk due to coronavirus, study says

More than 400,000 workers in the Puget Sound region are in industries facing immediate risk due to impacts resulting from the coronavirus pandemic and more than 500,000 additional workers are in industries facing near-term risk, says a white paper commissioned by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and released Wednesday.

Read the full story here

The region's economy is experiencing "an economic shock that will take many months and beyond to recover from," with impacts likely to result in wage reductions or temporary layoffs in about 40% of all jobs in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, says the study by the Seattle-based research firm Community Attributes Inc. (CAI).

"Many of these jobs will start again once the virus threat has passed and the economy starts up again," the study says. "Not all businesses will survive this challenge."

The CAI study says the Puget Sound economy is in trouble due to declines in consumer and business spending, event cancellations, tourist visit reductions, supply-chain and trade disruptions, real estate and economic uncertainty and government tax challenges.

Because Washington and its cities rely heavily on sales taxes, they should pursue new revenue sources, the white paper says.

"Washington state's dependency on retail spending and business revenues will see immediate impacts in March and throughout the second quarter of 2020," the study says. "State and local revenues will decline in 2020, as government spending increases to serve immediate needs. Difficult budget choices will play out in Q3 and Q4."

CAI and Boston Consulting Group identified industries at immediate and near-term risk due to the coronavirus crisis, such as the restaurant sector and the retail sector.

They estimated there are 419,000 immediate-risk workers, including retail salespersons and supervisors, cooks, waiters and waitresses, cashiers, dishwashers, bartenders and stock clerks, mostly making $15 to $25 an hour.

Most workers facing immediate and near-term risks work in King County, as opposed to Pierce and Snohomish counties, the CAI white paper says.

Nearly all qualify for state unemployment insurance benefits, but there also are large numbers of gig workers who, as independent contractors, may not be eligible for the same benefits.

—Daniel Beekman

King County Superior Court suspends residential eviction cases until the end of the month

An emergency order from King County Superior Court Presiding Judge Jim Rogers has suspended and stayed all residential eviction cases until March 30.

Following Seattle and Burien’s emergency bans on rent-related residential evictions because of the economic disruption caused by coronavirus, Rogers wrote in his order that the cities’ legislation “creates a patchwork of procedures and stays that will create great confusion for the parties in these cases.”

“This greatly impacts access to justice for tenants and landlords,” Rogers wrote.

Starting Wednesday, all hearings, motions and trials on residential eviction cases are on hold until after March 30, Rogers’ order reads, when the court will set new procedures for these cases.

Commercial eviction filings, however, will continue as usual.

—Sydney Brownstone

Census suspends field operations for two weeks

The U.S. Census has suspended field operations for two weeks, to try to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The once-a-decade count of every person in the United States, which began in earnest last week, will continue to accept online, phone and mail responses.

"We encourage everyone to respond online today at 2020Census.gov," the Census Bureau wrote. "With the flexibility and support of the American people, we will achieve a complete and accurate count which helps guide funding decisions for things like hospitals, roads and emergency services."

Census door-knockers, who go to households who have not responded, were not scheduled to begin making rounds until May.

—David Gutman

The coronavirus can be airborne and live for 3 days on plastic & steel, new research finds

The coronavirus can live for three days on some surfaces, like plastic and steel, and can become suspended in droplets smaller than 5 micrometers — known as aerosols — where it can stay suspended for about a half-hour, new research shows.

The finding on aerosol transmission, in particular, is inconsistent with the World Health Organization’s position that the virus is not transported by air, The New York Times reports.

The new study, published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggests the virus lives longest on plastic and steel, surviving for up to 72 hours, but the amount of living virus decreased sharply over this time.

On cardboard, it can survive up to 24 hours, which suggests packages that arrive in the mail should have only low levels of the virus unless the delivery person has coughed or sneezed on it or has handled it with contaminated hands.

Researchers said the risk of consumers getting infected from touching those materials is still low, although they offered additional warnings about how long the virus survives in air, which may have important implications for medical workers.

Read the full story here.

—New York Times

Seattle mayor orders coronavirus moratorium on evictions of small businesses, nonprofits

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has signed a coronavirus emergency order prohibiting evictions of small businesses and nonprofits.

The step comes after decisions by Durkan and the City Council to halt most residential evictions in Seattle and by the King County Sheriff’s Office to stop serving and enforcing evictions.

Seattle’s commercial evictions order, which Durkan signed Tuesday, says the moratorium will last 60 days or until the end of the city’s emergency.

It covers evictions related to nonpayment of rent and lease expirations, and it defines a small business as any entity with 50 or fewer employees, including sole proprietorships.

The moratorium took effect immediately, though Durkan’s order will go to the City Council for confirmation, modification or rejection.

The council is very likely to approve it. Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Teresa Mosqueda praised the move in statements today.

—Daniel Beekman

During coronavirus closures, Seattle schools try to provide pandemic-proof lunch

At a time of deep uncertainty for 1.1 million public-school students in the state, nearly half of whom rely on the resources their schools provide to stay afloat, a consistent place to get free food is critical. Seattle Public Schools and dozens more school districts in Washington are stepping up to provide a pandemic-proof version of this service at a select number of school sites while they’re closed.

On Tuesday, the first day of state’s mandated six-week school closure, Doree Fazio-Young and her colleague at David T. Denny International Middle School sported Leprechaun top hats for St. Patrick’s Day.

“We’ve got a lot of kids who are homeless and kids who get their only meals here,” said Fazio-Young, who manages the school’s kitchen. “I’ve been through earthquakes, fires, meningococcal scares — I’ve never seen anything like this.”

It’s a new type of lunchtime, one of the only gestures of normalcy schools can offer at time when issues like child care or academics are largely unsettled in many places. Read the full story — and watch the video — here.

—Dahlia Bazzaz

Bill Gates and his epidemic experts doing an AMA on reddit at 10 Wednesday

Bill Gates will be hosting an Ask Me Anything session on COVID-19 on his page at 10 a.m. this morning on Reddit.

Gates will be joined by experts on the novel coronavirus and epidemics, including Trevor Mundel and Dr. Niranjan Bose, who will answer questions about COVID-19, or epidemics and pandemics generally.

If you’d like to follow along, you can find the AMA on Gates’ page.


—Christine Clarridge

Trader Joe's on Roosevelt in Seattle reports COVID-19 case

Trader Joe's notified customers Tuesday that an employee of its store at 4555 Roosevelt Way N.E. in Seattle has tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The employee was last present in the store on March 7, according to the announcement.

Grocery workers are on the pandemic’s front lines, feeling vulnerable as the virus spreads. Coming to work is like “walking into a minefield,” one says. Read more on that here.

World virus infections pass 200,000; Europe’s borders jammed

BERLIN — Desperate travelers choked European border crossings Wednesday after countries implemented strict controls to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has now infected more than 200,000 people worldwide and killed more than 8,000.

In releasing the new figures, Johns Hopkins University also said more than 82,000 people recovered from the virus, which causes only mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough for most people, although severe illness is more likely in the elderly and those with existing health problems.

European leaders have closed borders to nonessential traffic, while leaving many frontiers open to cross-border workers and trucks carrying critical goods like food and medicine. That has led to massive backups of travelers and trucks alike.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

It's official: U.S., Canada closing border to nonessential travel

TORONTO — The U.S. and Canada have agreed to temporarily close their shared border to nonessential travel, President Donald Trump announced Wednesday as the two nations work to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Both countries are eager to choke off the spread of the virus but also maintain their vital economic relationship. Canada relies on the U.S. for 75% of its exports.

Trump made the announcement on Twitter, saying the decision would not affect the flow of trade between the countries.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

What's up with the toilet paper?

TP has become a weird symbol of safety, a good-luck charm. Here’s the psychology behind why even the most rational souls are getting pulled into the fray.

And there's a reason to think twice about hand-sanitizer hoarding: It's hurting homeless people.

—Kris Higginson

Stocks, oil sink again as recession fears batter markets

NEW YORK — The vicious swings keep coming for the stock market, and the S&P 500 sank more than 5% in early trading Wednesday to erase most of the prior’s day respite.

Markets have been incredibly volatile for weeks as Wall Street and the White House acknowledge an increasing risk of a recession due to the coronavirus outbreak. The typical day this month has seen the stock market swing by 4.9%. Over the last decade, the typical move was just 0.4%.

The selling pressure swept markets around the world. Benchmark U.S. oil fell more than 10% and dropped below $24 per barrel for the first time since 2002. European stock indexes lost 5% following broad losses in Asia. Even prices for longer-term U.S. Treasurys, which are seen as some of the safest possible investments, fell as investors flocked to the very shortest-term Treasury debt.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Here's help

If you're scrambling for childcare and at-home learning, dig into these useful resources.

Coronavirus is closing Social Security offices. Here’s how to get benefit help.

Can your kids go on a playdate? Is it safe to go to the store? This Q&A has advice on social distancing.

Keep your food clean and safe. Here are the latest recommendations on how to do that, plus eight tips on cooking cleanly at home.

—Kris Higginson

Catch up on the past 24 hours

A doctor from the Lummi Nation is in self-quarantine while he awaits test results for the novel coronavirus. Here's how Lane and other tribal members acted earlier and went further than many governments to safeguard against the pandemic.

Washington state is scrambling to prepare for a surge in patients with severe COVID-19 as the number of cases in the state surpasses 1,000. One big worry: Health workers keep testing positive.

The U.S. and Canada plan to ban non-essential travel between the countries, but with our economies tied so closely, the exemptions will be significant. Trump also will announce strict new controls at the southern border that include turning back all asylum-seekers.

The pandemic “will last 18 months or longer” and could include “multiple waves,” according to a federal plan that lays out how this grim scenario may unfold and what the government should do in response. A chilling scientific paper helped upend the U.S. strategy.

Mortgage lenders may suspend payments for millions of Americans.

Trump is pushing Congress to speed emergency checks to Americans and enlist the military for MASH-like hospitals — a package that could cost $1 trillion.

Many taxpayers will get a 90-day break on their payments. But you still need to file by April 15.

Seattle-area grocery workers are on the pandemic’s front lines, feeling vulnerable as the virus spreads. Coming to work is like “walking into a minefield,” one says. Supermarkets are starting to limit the number of shoppers and offer seniors-only hours. You can do a few things to make your shopping trips less stressful for everyone involved.

"We have to protect Boeing," Trump said as the company sought a massive bailout for the aerospace industry. Even critics of big business aren't seeing good alternatives.

Drive-through coronavirus tests have arrived in the Seattle area. Here’s who is eligible and what to expect.

“For me, it all started … with a fever.” A Seattle-area woman who recovered from COVID-19 has some things she wants the rest of us to know about it.

Whipping out thousands of pandemic-proof lunches: The sustenance goes beyond food in local schools' new lunchtime routines.

“Share this story for those who don’t believe this is real.” The pandemic suddenly becomes all too real when it sickens people we know, columnist Danny Westneat writes. One of them: a longtime fixture at Seattle’s tiny Leschi Market.

Expedia customers are stuck in a nightmare, struggling to get refunds as travel cancellations drag down the Seattle company's systems.

Gambling has gone dark in Las Vegas. Everything from casinos to convenience-store slot machines has shut down.

—Kris Higginson

How is the pandemic affecting you?

What has changed about your daily life? What kinds of discussions are you having with family members and friends? Are you a health care worker who's on the front lines of the response? Are you a COVID-19 patient or do you know one? Whoever you are, we want to hear from you so our news coverage is as complete, accurate and useful as possible. If you're using a mobile device and can't see the form on this page, click here.

Do you have questions about the coronavirus that causes COVID-19?

Ask in the form below and we'll dig for answers. If you're using a mobile device and can't see the form on this page, ask your question here. If you have specific medical questions, please contact your doctor.