Editor’s note: This is a live account of updates from Thursday, March 19, as the events unfolded. Click here to see updates from Friday, March 20. 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. Public gatherings are restricted, and places of entertainment and recreation are closed statewide.
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 189 new cases Thursday, bringing the state total to 1,376 cases, including 74 deaths. The bulk of cases remain in King County, which has seen 693 people fall ill and 60 of them die, according to the county’s public health department.
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 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 Thursday afternoon.
How and where to be tested for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19
More labs around the Puget Sound region are gaining the capacity to test specimens for the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Getting those specimens to the labs has been another story.
The official advice, if you believe you’ve been exposed to the virus and you’re experiencing a fever, cough or difficulty breathing — some of the most common symptoms — is to call your doctor so they can determine whether testing is necessary. In reality, many patients have called their doctors only to be told there’s no way for them to get tested and they should just stay home and take care.
Read the full story here.
Washington’s unemployment system flooded with claims as coronavirus fallout grows
Like many of the thousands of Washington residents who have recently received pink slips, Darcy Wytko has gotten little reassurance from the state’s unemployment insurance system.
On Monday, the 38-year-old temporarily lost her job as a server at Mkt, a restaurant in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood, and quickly filed an unemployment claim. But on Wednesday, when Wytko logged in to the state Employment Security Department’s website, she found her claim had been denied without explanation. She called the state helpline repeatedly, but failed to get through.
“And rent is due in less than two weeks,” Wytko said.
Wytko’s experience may be the new norm, at least for a while, as the state faces a rising wave of layoffs amid the coronavirus epidemic.
Nationally, unemployment claims jumped by a third last week over the prior week, according to the labor department. But the increase has been even sharper in Washington.
Read the full story here.
City of Snoqualmie to close playgrounds as part of social distancing practices
The city of Snoqualmie announced Thursday evening that it is temporarily closing its playgrounds to follow social distancing measures and slow the spread of coronavirus.
Parks and athletic fields will stay open for groups fewer than 10 people, according to a tweet from the city.
"Please remind children and teenagers of these guidelines," the tweet said. "Stay safe."
Sound Transit, Metro facing big drops in funding as coronavirus downturn takes hold
Sound Transit will see a sharp decline in funding as the coronavirus outbreak erodes tax revenue and keeps transit riders at home, CEO Peter Rogoff warned Thursday.
The sudden downturn appears far worse than the 2008 Great Recession that forced the agency to delay some projects, including the light-rail extension to north Federal Way, officials said.
The agency doesn’t have enough information yet to consider spending or project reductions, beyond temporary cuts to train and bus service announced Thursday, Chief Financial Officer Tracy Butler told board’s finance committee.
But Sound Transit’s looming drop in sales taxes, which provided 58% of its revenue last year, could jeopardize the agency’s ability to sustain the largest transit expansion in the country, executives said.
“What we are currently experiencing is nothing like we have ever experienced before, because some of the industries simply came to a halt in a matter of days,” Butler said.
Read the full story here.
We took your coronavirus questions to Seattle’s mayor and two UW experts. Here’s what they said
In less than 24 hours, Seattle Times readers submitted more than 400 questions for our video interview Thursday with our three panelists:
- Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, who has been overseeing the city’s response to the crisis.
- Hilary Godwin, the dean of the University of Washington’s School of Public Health.
- Seth Cohen, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine who specializes in infectious diseases.
Read the full story here.
In a SoDo warehouse, Seattle opens first coronavirus testing site for first responders
Inside a Seattle police warehouse just south of downtown, next to a bomb-squad truck and parking-enforcement vehicles, a 6-foot wide rectangle has been marked with yellow tape on the concrete floor.
Inside the rectangle — the potential exposure area — an EMT in a hooded Tyvek suit with a filtered gas mask wields a long nasal swab, ready to take samples from drivers who pull into the warehouse but never leave their car. Every driver who pulls in is either a police officer, firefighter, medic or dispatcher.
This, according to the City of Seattle, is the first COVID-19 testing site in the country dedicated to first responders.
Read the full story here.
Emergency order postpones criminal hearings across Washington due to coronavirus, expedites release of some jail inmates
With the goal of keeping people out of courtrooms and jails to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, a state Supreme Court emergency order issued Wednesday evening postponed hearings for out-of-custody criminal defendants and provided a mechanism to expedite the release of some jail inmates whose health is especially vulnerable.
In an order issued last week, Chief Justice Debra Stephens authorized trial-court presiding judges to modify or suspend court rules to address the public health crisis. Presiding judges in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties suspended all criminal jury trials until at least April 24.
But not all courts followed suit, so Stephens’ Wednesday order also requires all civil and criminal jury trials pending in superior courts across the state to be pushed back until April — and provides a provision for a future emergency order to extend that time frame if necessary.
Read the full story here.
Eviction measures offer some help for small businesses during coronavirus crisis, but not long-term relief
Seattle’s 60-day halt to evictions for small businesses, announced Wednesday by Mayor Jenny Durkan, alleviates some immediate anxiety but doesn’t provide long-term relief, commercial tenants say.
Seattle’s moratorium, which was tacitly endorsed by the City Council on Thursday, is in addition to a King County eviction moratorium, announced Tuesday, which applies to both residential and commercial tenants.
In King County outside of Seattle, commercial landlords will still be able to file for eviction during the moratorium, but King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht has declined to serve or enforce those evictions “until we are confident the threat of COVID-19 has dissipated and we have sufficient resources to resume civil evictions,” she wrote in a letter to the King County Superior Court’s presiding judge.
Within Seattle, landlords cannot file for eviction if their tenant is a nonprofit group or employs fewer than 50 people, including sole proprietorships.
Read the full story here.
South Lake Union streetcar will not run, many bus routes to be scaled back
Starting Monday, most King County Metro bus routes will run fewer trips as the agency scales back service in response to the coronavirus outbreak and decreasing ridership.
Metro revealed details Thursday evening about which routes would be cut, naming more than 100 routes that will have fewer trips or reduced hours. Nineteen routes will be cut completely, and the South Lake Union streetcar and Via to Transit shuttle will not run, Metro said. The Access paratransit program will continue normal operations.
The reduced schedule begins Monday.
Starting Saturday, a Reduced Schedule page on Metro’s website will allow riders to see further details. Passengers will also be able to check whether a bus is coming by texting their stop ID to 62550.
Metro warned riders to be careful about using planning apps like One Bus Away and Google maps, which may not have up-to-date information about the reductions.
California governor issues statewide order for home isolation
The entire state of California will be under a stay-in-place order starting Thursday evening, marking the most stringent U.S. effort yet to stymie the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“This is a moment where we need some straight talk,” Governor Gavin Newsom said Thursday in a press conference. “As individuals and as a community we need to do more to meet this moment.
By the time Newsom announced the move, about 21.3 million residents of the most populous U.S. state were already in a community with stay-in-place mandates or similar efforts. The order allows people to leave their homes for needed items like groceries and essential jobs.
The announcement came shortly after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti issued the order for his city.
Los Angeles mayor orders residents to stay in their homes unless 'absolutely necessary'
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Thursday that he's ordering all residents to stay in their homes and limit all non-essential movement.
The order will go into effect for all LA residents at 11:59 p.m. Thursday and last until March 31, according to the order. Workers of impacted businesses have an additional 24 hours, he said.
I’m issuing a Safer at Home emergency order — ordering all residents of @LACity to stay inside their homes and immediately limit all nonessential movement. We’re taking this urgent action to limit the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. https://t.co/4yVdjXMEJ0 pic.twitter.com/QscQUbqkaC
— MayorOfLA (@MayorOfLA) March 20, 2020
Community Transit will suspend collecting fares
Community Transit in Snohomish County will not collect fares from riders beginning Friday morning after four transit operators tested presumptively positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, said CEO Emmett Heath in a news release.
"These changes will help ensure that our drivers remain safe and healthy and better able to practice social distancing as advised by our public health professionals," Heath said in the release.
Waiving fares also means riders will have less contact with high touch points such as fare boxes or ticketing machines, said agency spokesperson Nashika Stanbro.
Each employee self-quarantined for several days before notifying the transit agency. It has been five to 13 days since they've been at work, and it does not appear that the cases are directly related.
A disease investigator is looking into any close contact, including spending 10 or more minutes within 6 feet of an individual, the workers may have had and will notify those people, if needed.
In addition, beginning Friday at 5 a.m., all Community Transit passengers will board and exit buses through the rear doors. The front door will only be accessible for riders with disabilities, according to the release.
Community Transit is also developing a supplemental paid-leave program for all employees. Details will be shared Friday.
Fare revenue provided about 11% of Community Transit's 2020 operating budget. "It's too soon tell what the impacts of COVID-19 will be in the mid-term and long-term," and how the lost revenue will be backfilled, Stanbro said.
The Snohomish Health District has advised against shutting down operations, Heath said in the release. The transit agency will continue disinfecting vehicles and promoting good hygiene practices, social distancing and other recommendations.
As of Wednesday, fixed-route boardings were down 57% compared to Wednesdays before the outbreak began in Washington state.
Community Transit does not currently have plans to make service cuts as King County Metro and Sound Transit have done.
"Our hope is to continue to offer service at normal levels for as long as possible," Stanbro said.
Buses will remain fare free "until further notice and continue to evaluate as the pandemic solution evolves," she said.
Sen. Patty Murray asks for investigation into coronavirus testing, cites failures by Trump administration
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is demanding a government watchdog investigate delays and mismanagement by the Trump administration in rolling out testing for the novel coronavirus.
In a letter Thursday to Christi Grimm, principal deputy inspector general at the Department of Housing and Human Services (HHS), Murray requested an immediate investigation into the agency’s effort to develop, deploy and analyze diagnostic tests for COVID-19.
“It is clear HHS’s grave errors in managing every aspect of the testing process — from development to deployment to analysis to communication — have undermined the country’s ability to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Murray wrote.
Read the full story here.
Inslee requests U.S. Navy hospital ship to help with potential coronavirus patient surge
OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee this week requested the hospital ship U.S.S. Mercy be sent to the Puget Sound to help prevent Washington’s medical system from being overwhelmed by the coronavirus crisis.
In a letter Tuesday to President Donald Trump, Inslee said he anticipates that Washington’s hospitals “will be in crisis by the end of this month.”
“With each day that passes, the number of available physicians and nurses in Washington decreases as illness and fatigue take their toll,” Inslee wrote, adding later: “As the number of available medical professionals decreases, we do not have the ability to handle the surge in new COVID-19 patients on our own. “
The ship is fully staffed with doctors, nurses and other health care professionals, and “comes completely equipped as a functioning hospital,” according to the letter.
Coronavirus begins to chill homebuyer interest, and Redfin pauses its instant offers
As late as last week, the mounting number of coronavirus cases in King County seemed to be having a negligible affect on the housing market. The “spring frenzy” predicted by brokers earlier this year was in full swing — and even if not quite as frenzied as some had hoped, buyers were still crowding into open houses by the hundreds.
But uncertainty — over the stock market meltdown, the timeline for the pandemic to run its course and rising mortgage rates, to name just a few factors — has started to creep in to the housing market.
Interest in homebuying nationwide has contracted sharply in recent days, according to new data from the National Association of Realtors. Nearly half of the agents it surveyed said homebuyer interest has decreased due to the coronavirus outbreak, up from 16% the previous week.
Seattle-based brokerage Redfin, citing market uncertainty, announced Wednesday in an SEC filing that its home-flipping division would temporarily stop buying new homes.
Read the full story here.
‘Tax Amazon’ group, Sawant announce ballot initiative for tax on big businesses
Boosters of a new Seattle tax on large corporations such as Amazon, including City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, have filed a petition to put an initiative on the ballot this year, they said Thursday.
They’re aiming for the November ballot and say the tax could raise $300 million a year, though those calculations were made before coronavirus disrupted the economy, spokeswoman Eva Metz said.
Sawant recently teamed up with Councilmember Tammy Morales to unveil legislation and start trying to push a tax through the council. But “Tax Amazon” advocates have for weeks also been meeting to discuss a potential initiative, with Sawant saying a ballot measure would be needed to exert pressure on City Hall and to serve as a backup plan.
In recent days, Sawant and Morales have suggested their tax on big businesses could initially fund coronavirus relief efforts, and Sawant has argued it should raise even more — as much as $500 million a year.
Read the full story here.
Doctor decries Bellingham hospital’s coronavirus response, saying it puts health care workers at risk
BELLINGHAM — Veteran emergency room doctor Ming Lin is in the business of saving lives, not pointing fingers. But with numbers of coronavirus patients expected to crash like a wave at Puget Sound area hospitals, he’s making a public plea for better preparation and safety precautions at his own hospital, PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center.
While taking some precautionary steps, St. Joseph has lagged behind other emergency facilities in preparing for what could quickly become a crush of patients needing critical care from COVID-19 sickness, says Lin, an emergency room doctor with experience in health crises such as the 9/11 terror attacks.
And the hospital’s ongoing failure to take steps to protect staff from the virus might heighten it, he says.
Read the full story here.
Washington State Department of Natural Resources office to close to the public
The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced Thursday that it would close to the public in an attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The office will be closed starting Friday, though all DNR divisions will be accessible by phone and email, according to a statement from the department. Nonessential DNR employees have already started telecommuting and canceling or postponing in-person public meetings.
“At the Department of Natural Resources, we are taking the extraordinary measure of closing offices to the public in order to protect both staff and the public by limiting in-person contact," said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz in the statement. "DNR remains open for business. But we are encouraging residents to interact with our agency via the phone and internet as much as possible."
The department also canceled the last two weeks of the geoduck harvest period, which was scheduled to end March 27. Affected harvesters will be refunded for lost fishing days, the statement said.
Seasonal campgrounds will remain closed until further notice, and groups at open campgrounds are limited to a capacity of 10 people.
After first ignoring coronavirus order, Tesla will shut down California factory
Tesla, the luxury electric carmaker, said Thursday that it would shut down production at its San Francisco Bay Area factory, which has remained open for several days in apparent defiance of a local county order.
The carmaker had caused an uproar by continuing production even after Alameda County officials issued a shelter-at-home order that applied to businesses and individuals. Tesla did not qualify as an “essential business,” which would have exempted it from the order.
Production at the factory, in Fremont, California, will stop at the end of the day Monday to allow for an “orderly shutdown,” the company said. It will also temporarily suspend production at a factory in Buffalo, New York. Work elsewhere, including at its Gigafactory in Nevada, will continue, it said. Tesla also said that it had continued operating out of its Fremont factory at the “federal government’s direction.”
Before virus outbreak, a cascade of warnings went unheeded
Last year, a scenario imagining an influenza pandemic was simulated by the Trump administration. It drove home how underfunded, underprepared and uncoordinated the government would be for an outbreak. The failure to address these shortcomings is now playing out across the country.
Seattle team gets funding to start human trials of potentially groundbreaking coronavirus treatment
Seattle’s Infectious Disease Research Institute has received seven-figure funding to begin human trials on a potentially groundbreaking novel coronavirus treatment.
The study could launch within weeks, take about 11 months to complete, and enroll about 100 patients diagnosed with a COVID-19 infection that’s causing moderate to severe pneumonia. It would deploy cancer-fighting NK-cells as an immunotherapy treatment for the coronavirus rather than the current approach of antiviral medication.
Read the full story here.
Funerals prohibited in Washington state amid coronavirus fears
Add funerals to the list of prohibited social gatherings under the state's "social-distancing" order intended to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Sports and arts events had already shuttered after Gov. Jay Inslee's March 16 proclamation shutting down restaurants, bars, theaters and other places where people congregate.
On Thursday, the Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL) clarified the proclamation, adding funeral and memorial services.
Read the full story here.
Inslee orders suspension of “non-urgent medical and dental procedures” to save protective gear for medical workers
OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday announced statewide restrictions on “non-urgent medical and dental procedures” so healthcare workers can save up protective equipment needed to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.
The order, according to Inslee’s office, “applies to any non-urgent procedure that requires medical professionals to wear personal protective equipment” in all hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, and dental, orthodontic and endodontic offices.
The restriction doesn’t apply to treatment on patients who have emergency or urgent situations, according to a news release. Elective surgeries can still take place if not doing them would cause harm to a patient within the coming three months.
The order also doesn’t apply to situations involving motor-vehicle accidents, or patients with strokes or heart attacks.
“Hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers may perform surgery as long as a delay or cancellation would worsen the patient’s condition,” according to the news release. “For example, the prohibition would not apply to a patient who needs a serious cancerous tumor removed, or a patient who needs their dentist to relieve pain or manage an infection.”
Procedures that are restricted under the governor’s executive order include:
- most joint replacements
- most cataract and lens surgeries
- non-urgent cardiac procedures
- cosmetic procedures
- some endoscopy
- some interventional radiology services
Inslee’s office is encouraging medical practitioners to contact their specific associations, boards or commissions if they have questions.
State has 1,376 COVID-19 cases, including 74 deaths, officials say
Officials have confirmed an additional 189 cases and eight deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in Washington state.
The numbers released Thursday by the Washington State Department of Health bring the total of confirmed cases to 1,376, including 74 deaths. About half of the confirmed cases are in King County.
Benton, Island and Pierce counties each reported their first death. A woman in her 90s died in Snohomish County, while four more deaths were confirmed in King County among people ranging from their 6os to their 90s.
Most of the state's deaths from COVID-19 have been in King County, where 60 people have died. Of those, 35 were associated with Life Care Center of Kirkland.
The numbers of confirmed cases have risen as the state has increased its testing capacity, but also as COVID-19 spreads. King County officials said they expect case counts to double every five to seven days unless people follow social-distancing recommendations.
Seattle-area Amazon workers say they’re not checked for coronavirus symptoms, despite CDC recommendation, as an employee in New York tests positive
Amazon confirmed its first U.S. case of an hourly employee with COVID-19 while workers at two of the company’s major fulfillment centers in the Seattle area said they were not being screened for coronavirus symptoms as recently as Wednesday.
That’s despite U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations issued March 11 for every workplace in the region calling for daily temperature and respiratory symptom checks of all staff and visitors entering buildings, and a statement from Amazon’s top operations executive on Monday saying the company was taking “all recommended precautions in our buildings and stores to keep people healthy.”
Amazon employees, gig workers and job applicants who spoke to The Seattle Times in recent days described a company straining to meet an unprecedented surge in demand while struggling to consistently apply the safety practices described in its corporate pronouncements in response to the pandemic.
Read the full story here.
Sound Transit to reduce rail, bus service
Sound Transit will soon run fewer rail and bus trips as the coronavirus outbreak drives down ridership.
Light-rail trains will run every 14 minutes, Sounder commuter rail will offer fewer trips each day and ST Express bus service will be cut by 15%.
The reductions are a response to a 69% decrease in Sound Transit ridership and “the fact that the outbreak has led to operations and maintenance staff staying home in higher numbers, making it difficult to maintain existing service,” the agency said.
Riders can find information about specific canceled trips on Sound Transit's website or via rider alerts. Be cautious with trip planning tools like Google maps and One Bus Away because they may not have updated information about service reductions, Sound Transit warned.
Read the full story here.
Pacific County cancels clam digging season
Pacific County health officials canceled clam digging until further notice to slow the spread of COVID-19, according to a Thursday press release from the county's Sheriff's Office.
The ban on clam digging will go into effect Friday, the statement said.
"Although no cases are confirmed in Pacific County at this time, the increasing instances of community spread in Washington State have influenced the decision," the statement said.
While Pacific County hasn't seen any confirmed COVID-19 cases, county health officials ordered the ban to decrease the likelihood that people would gather in large groups, the statement said. The county's health officers also were concerned about the difficulty in tracing exposure to the virus and ensuring attendees follow adequate hygienic and social distancing practices.
The order does not ban access to public beaches.
Saints coach Sean Payton says he tested positive for the coronavirus
New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said Thursday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus.
His is the first known positive test within the NFL.
Payton told ESPN that he has no fever or cough but didn’t feel well Sunday, so he was tested the following day.
Payton, who led the Saints to a Super Bowl victory following the 2009 season, said he’s feeling fatigued but also upbeat.
“I was fortunate to be in the minority, without the serious side effects that some have,” said Payton, 56. “I’m lucky. Younger people feel like they can handle this, but they can be a carrier to someone who can’t handle it. So we all need to do our part. It’s important for every one of us to do our part.”
WWU announces online instruction through spring quarter
Western Washington University has joined other state institutions in announcing online classes for the entirety of spring quarter, which begins April 6, on a delayed schedule.
The online-only dictate extends through June 12, university President Sabah Randhawa said in an email to faculty.
“We are committed to maintaining essential operations, so this means that we want to encourage all employees who are able to work remotely to continue to do so,” he wrote. “We will continue to use Monday, April 27 as an expected return to campus date for employees, consistent with Governor Inslee’s executive order on K-12 school closures.”
That could change as impacts of the COVID-19 illness prompt new statewide restrictions, Randhawa said.
The university had up to now maintained it would resume in-person classes April 27.
“Western’s Incident Response Team will continue to monitor local and national guidance daily to determine when employees can safely return to campus, even as we continue to deliver classes remotely until the end of spring quarter,” Randhawa wrote.
The message did not address plans for June commencement ceremonies. University officials canceled winter-quarter commencement services and had indicated that graduates would be honored in a combined graduation at the end of spring quarter.
The University of Washington on Wednesday made a similar announcement about online classes throughout the entire spring term.
State Department warns Americans against all overseas travel; urges those abroad to get home
The Trump administration has upgraded its already dire warning to Americans against all international travel as the coronavirus outbreak spreads.
The State Department on Thursday issued a new alert urging Americans not to travel abroad under any circumstances and to return home if they are already abroad unless they plan to remain overseas.
“The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19,” it said in the new advice.
“In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period. U.S. citizens who live abroad should avoid all international travel.”
Until the this announcement, the department’s advice to U.S. citizens was to “reconsider” all international travel under what is known as a “level three” alert.
The global “level four” warning was unprecedented, as such alerts are generally reserved for specific countries embroiled in conflict, natural disasters, or where Americans face specific risks.
However, the upgrade will likely have little practical effect because it is not mandatory and there are now limited transportation options for international travel.
Goodwill stores closed through April 2; some donations sites open
Seattle Goodwill and Goodwill of the Olympics & Rainier Region have temporarily closed retail stores through April 2 due to COVID-19.
Employees will be paid during the closure, Seattle Goodwill said in a statement on Thursday.
The online store and some donation centers will remain open, including the ones at Ravenna, Woodinville, Martha Lake, Crown Hill, North Transfer Station and the donation site outside of the store on 700 Dearborn Place S.
Third confirmed COVID-19 case at West Seattle senior complex
A third confirmed case of COVID-19 has been reported by management at Bridge Park, a senior-living complex in High Point, according to the West Seattle Blog.
The three Bridge Park cases, and one affecting a South Seattle College student, are the only known cases in West Seattle at this time, the blog reports.
Residents of the Bridge Park complex are sheltering in place, according to a letter from management posted on the blog.
Two Sound Transit employees test positive for coronavirus
Two Sound Transit employees have informed the agency in the last week they tested positive for the novel coronavirus, CEO Peter Rogoff told a Sound Transit Board committee Thursday.
Sound Transit has contacted other employees the two people had been in close proximity with and has cleaned work spaces, Rogoff said.
The employees are “doing well at this time,” said Sound Transit spokesman John Gallagher. Neither had contact with riders, Gallagher said.
“We are obviously thinking of these valued team members daily. We have been in touch with them,” Rogoff said.
Many members of Sound Transit staff had already been instructed to work from home, Rogoff said.
Coronavirus ravages 7 members of a single family, killing 3
A close-knit, sprawling Italian American family is quarantined at their separate homes, praying in isolated solitude, unable to mourn their deep collective loss together after the 73-year-old matriarch of their family was killed by the coronavirus.
Grace Fusco, the mother of 11 and grandmother of 27, died Wednesday night after contracting COVID-19 — hours after her son died from the virus and five days after her daughter’s death, a relative said.
Four other children who contracted coronavirus remain hospitalized, three of them in critical condition, said the relative, Roseann Paradiso Fodera.
Grace Fusco’s eldest child, Rita Fusco-Jackson, 55, of Freehold, New Jersey, died Friday; after her death, the family learned she had contracted the virus. Fusco’s eldest son, Carmine Fusco, of Bath, Pennsylvania, died Wednesday, said Paradiso Fodera, who is Grace Fusco’s cousin and is serving as a spokeswoman.
Fusco, of Freehold, died after spending Wednesday “gravely ill” and breathing with help from a ventilator, unaware that her two oldest children had died, Paradiso Fodera said.
The large, active New Jersey family gathered frequently. “A party to most people was a regular dinner to them,” Paradiso Fodera said. A routine Tuesday dinner is believed the outbreak source, and information about the number of people infected there led to a new intensity in warnings against even small get-togethers.
Read the whole story here.
State Department of Health temporarily suspends routine inspections in health care facilities, including hospitals
OLYMPIA — The Washington Department of Health (DOH) is temporarily suspending routine compliance inspections in all health care facilities regulated by the agency, including hospitals, according to a news release.
This change is intended to allow those facilities to focus resources and staff on caring for patients and responding to the outbreak of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.
The suspensions will also free up DOH staff to “focus our work on technical assistance, resolution of on-going enforcement actions, and investigations of complaints that pose the greatest risk to patients,” according to the release.
The agency plans to continue the following compliance activities:
- Investigating complaints that concern any immediate risk to a patient’s safety, or allege patient neglect or abuse.
- Investigating complaints alleging risk to patient safety because of infection control, including any facilities that have confirmed or potential cases of COVID-19 or other respiratory illnesses.
- Performing visits to facilities that are necessary for resolving enforcement actions.
- Conducting initial state licensing inspections of new or remodeled facilities.
The changes are “consistent with guidance published by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services,” according to DOH.
Additional federal guidance can be found here.
Ballard Locks are closed for visitors
The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard closed to visitors Monday night in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The closure includes the north gate near Northwest 54th street and the south gate near West Commodore Way.
The locks will remain open for maritime traffic.
"We understand it's an inconvenience to community," said Dallas Edwards, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson. "It is a decision we made with safety in mind of everybody who goes down there."
Edwards recommended pedestrians and cyclists who are seeking to cross Salmon Bay and the Lake Washington Ship Canal use the Ballard Bridge instead.
Steve Shulman, longtime grocer at Leschi Market in Seattle, died Wednesday night from COVID-19
Steve Shulman, longtime grocer and community figure at Leschi Market along Lake Washington in Seattle, died Wednesday night from the effects of COVID-19, his family says.
“We all mourn the passing of this generous man who has been a pillar of the Leschi community and beyond for many years,” wrote his nephew Yousef Shulman, co-owner of the store.
Shulman said his uncle’s death was especially wrenching because he was kept in quarantine at the hospital, and because the community can’t gather to mourn or celebrate his life due to the coronavirus social-distancing restrictions.
Steve Shulman was 67. He began working in the store along Lakeside Avenue in Seattle when he was a teenager, and his family has owned it since the 1970s. He also was a co-founder of the Seattle Police Foundation and served on numerous community group boards.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said Shulman “was the heartbeat of Leschi -- he knew everyone, what wine they loved & how they were doing in their lives.”
Yousef Shulman said the store, which was closed last weekend for a deep cleaning after Steve Shulman was diagnosed, is open and stocked to serve the community during the coronavirus crisis.
The impact of Steve Shulman and his illness on Leschi was featured in a Seattle Times column Wednesday.
Woman with coronavirus who flew from Massachusetts to LA to China faces criminal investigation
A woman who flew last week from Massachusetts to Los Angeles — then to Beijing, where she tested positive for coronavirus — is under investigation on allegations of concealing her symptoms and putting fellow travelers at risk of infection.
The woman took fever-reducing medication before boarding a plane and lied to flight attendants, according to Beijing’s disease control center and an Air China representative, who held a news conference on Monday.
The woman, who was hospitalized and is receiving treatment, is under investigation for the crime of “impeding prevention of infectious diseases.” According to Chinese law, she could face up to three years of imprisonment or detention with possible forced labor, or up to seven years of prison if there are “serious consequences.”
According to Chinese health officials, the woman, a Chinese citizen living in Massachusetts, became ill this month, with symptoms consistent with the coronavirus. She went to a local hospital and asked to be tested three times but was denied. Frustrated, she flew to China — and tested positive upon arrival.
According to Chinese officials, who provided details on the imported case from Massachusetts at a news conference Saturday, she is one of the nation’s 114 imported coronavirus cases, the newest concern for the country where the coronavirus global pandemic began.
Seven weeks ago, 5 million people fled Wuhan and an unknown number left the country as China went into lockdown in a move to combat the deadly virus’ spread.
Some Chinese living abroad are now returning to China for testing and medical help.
Several Seattle police officers self-quarantined after coronavirus exposure
A janitor who worked at a Sodo office park that houses several Seattle Police Department training and support units recently tested positive for COVID-19, potentially exposing multiple officers to the novel coronavirus, according to sources and police communications disclosed to The Seattle Times.
The Police Department hired a doctor to screen the potentially exposed officers early Wednesday, the communications show.
Two sources with the department said five officers have been self-quarantined as a result of possible exposure.
First head of state with coronavirus: Monaco's Prince Albert II
The palace of Monaco says its ruler, Prince Albert II, has tested positive for the new coronavirus, making him the first head of state who has publicly said he contracted the virus.
In a statement today, the palace said the 62-year-old is being treated by doctors from the Princess Grace Hospital, named after his late mother, the former American actress.
The statement said Albert's health is not worrying and he is continuing to work from his home office in the palace and is in contact with members of his government.
In the statement, Albert urged residents of his tiny Mediterranean principality to respect confinement measures.
Albert is the second child of Princess Grace — formerly Grace Kelly — and Prince Rainier of Monaco. Albert became a five-time Olympic bobsledder and in recent years has been a global environmental campaigner.
Skagit Transit will not collect fares during the coronavirus outbreak
Skagit Transit will not collect fares from riders during the coronavirus outbreak, according to an announcement on the agency's website.
Going fare-free will help safeguard drivers who typically handle money or transit passes from customers and will give crews, who also count money at night, more time to conduct deep cleanings, said Skagit Transit Executive Director Dale O'Brien.
Fares provided about 8% of operating expenses for the agency in 2018, and none of the capital costs, according to the Federal Transit Administration's National Transit Database. On an average year, fares cover about 6-8% of operating expenses and none of capital expenses, he said.
If the coronavirus outbreak continues for several months, the agency could need to take money out of its reserves to back fill revenue loss.
"Hopefully, it's a short-term deal," O'Brien said.
Skagit Transit began operating in 1993 and enacted fares in 2005, he said. There are no plans to continue without fares after the outbreak in Washington state slows.
Ridership on fixed-route buses typically averages about 50-55,000 passengers per month. Paratransit, a service for people with disabilities, averages around 7,000 customers, O'Brien said.
As of today, fixed-route ridership fell by 31% and paratransit ridership declined by 50%.
Coronavirus confirmed in worker at Seattle cargo terminal
A worker at the region’s largest cargo container terminal, Terminal 18 in Seattle, has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, terminal operator SSA Marine said in a letter to employees yesterday.
The individual worked in the terminal’s container equipment maintenance shop, and had not been at work since March 9, according to the letter.
“While this may be concerning, we believe the risk of you becoming ill is low,” the company wrote. SSA Marine said it would disinfect surfaces in the shop before the start of business today.
Being rich and famous may help in getting a coronavirus test
Politicians, celebrities, social media influencers and even NBA teams have been tested for the new coronavirus. But as that list of rich, famous and powerful people grows by the day, so do questions about whether they are getting access to testing denied to other Americans.
Some of these high-profile people say they are feeling ill and had good reason to be tested. Others argue that those who were found to be infected and then isolated themselves provided a good example to the public.
But with testing still in short supply in areas of the country, leaving health care workers and many sick people unable to get diagnoses, some prominent personalities have obtained tests without exhibiting symptoms or having known contact with someone who has the virus, as required by some testing guidelines. Others have refused to specify how they were tested.
Such cases have provoked accusations of elitism and preferential treatment in a testing system that has already been plagued with delays and confusion, and now stirred a new national debate that has reached the White House — with President Donald Trump being asked at a Wednesday news conference whether “the well-connected go to the front of the line.”
“You’d have to ask them that question,” he replied. “Perhaps that’s been the story of life. That does happen on occasion, and I’ve noticed where some people have been tested fairly quickly.”
Read the whole story here.
Drive-thru coronavirus screening opens Friday in Spokane but you need a doctor’s note
Starting Friday, medical personnel wearing protective equipment will be ready to screen hundreds of people referred by doctors for COVID-19 testing as they drive through a four-car-wide white tent set up in the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center parking lot.
You must have a doctor's referral to get in.
“It’s all the local health care providers collaborating together,” said Kelli Hawkins, Spokane regional health district spokesperson. “And they’re working with us.”
The collaborative screening site will divert traffic from, and lessen the threat of exposure at, local emergency departments and urgent care facilities, Hawkins said. It will also give public health officials a better idea of how many samples are being sent to labs for COVID-19 testing.
The site will be equipped to see about 300 cars each day, with up to two people in each car.
“This doesn’t mean go ahead and come on out” to be tested, Hawkins said.
Only people who are referred by their doctor will be sent to the site for a screening, where they will be asked about their symptoms, travel history and contacts with people during the previous two weeks, according to Hawkins.
Read the full story here.
In desperate survival mode, Europe's biggest airline cuts 95% of seats
Three of the world’s leading airlines laid bare the devastation the coronavirus is inflicting on air travel, with Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Delta Air Lines parking a total of 1,500 planes and Qantas Airways laying off close to 30,000 employees in some of the industry’s deepest cuts to date.
The measures at Lufthansa, Europe’s biggest carrier, go furthest, with Chief Executive Officer Carsten Spohr saying today he’ll eliminate 95% of seats, shrinking the timetable to a level last seen in 1955. Delta is grounding half the fleet to wipe out 70% of capacity, while Qantas, which has been idling planes weeks, is ceasing international operations.
“The coronavirus has placed the entire global economy and our company in an unprecedented state of emergency,” Spohr said. “No one can foresee the consequences. We have to counter this extraordinary situation with drastic and sometimes painful measures.”
The cuts highlight the desperation gripping airlines as they shrink operations amid a collapse in demand and moves to close national borders. For many operators that means mothballing the business and taking draconian steps to stop cash draining away while the virus retains its grip. Even then, the sector may need $200 billion in support to weather the pandemic, according to the International Air Transport Association.
Read the whole story here.
Trump calls himself a "wartime" president in the battle against virus
Describing himself as a “wartime president” fighting an invisible enemy, President Donald Trump invoked rarely used emergency powers to marshal critical medical supplies against the coronavirus pandemic. Trump also signed an aid package — which the U.S. Senate approved earlier Wednesday — that will guarantee sick leave to workers who fall ill.
Trump tapped his authority under the 70-year-old Defense Production Act to give the government more power to steer production by private companies and try to overcome shortages in masks, ventilators and other supplies.
Yet he seemed to minimize the urgency of the decision, later tweeting that he only tapped the Defense Production Act “should we need to invoke it in a worst case scenario in the future.”
Patient at Western State Hospital tests positive for COVID-19
OLYMPIA -- A patient at Western State Hospital, Washington’s largest psychiatric facility, has tested positive for COVID-19.
The patient developed a fever on Friday after having outpatient surgery at a Pierce County hospital, according to a news release late Wednesday night by the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).
State medical staffers are working with Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department to start tracing people the patient had contact with, according to the release.
“All visitors to Western State Hospital between March 13 and 16 are also encouraged to monitor for symptoms,” according to the news release. “If they experience any symptoms consistent with COVID-19, they are encouraged to contact their healthcare provider for further direction.”
The approximately 850-bed hospital is located in Lakewood and is a crucial piece of the state’s mental-health system. The hospital houses patients who were civilly committed by a judge or who were charged with a crime but found incompetent to stand trial.
The patient returned to Western State on Sunday, still with a fever, and the hospital put in place infection-control measures. On Monday, the patient returned to the Pierce County hospital and tested positive for COVID-19. The patient remains at that hospital and is expected to recover, according to the news release.
The hospital plans to screen all those currently residing on the same ward as the infected patient for virus symptoms several times a day, according to the release. The hospital is also limiting some movement of patients, and restricting some movement of staff between wards.
Next up: Trump's $1 trillion plan to stabilize economy
By a sweeping bipartisan tally, the U.S. Senate approved a $100 billion-plus bill to boost testing for the coronavirus and guarantee paid sick leave for millions of workers hit by it — and President Donald Trump quickly signed it.
By the time the measure became law Wednesday, the White House and lawmakers had turned their focus to the administration’s far bigger $1 trillion plan to stabilize the economy as the pandemic threatens financial ruin for individuals and businesses.
Details on Trump’s economic-rescue plan remain sparse — and it’s sure to grow with lawmaker add-ons — but its centerpiece is to dedicate $500 billion to start issuing direct payments to Americans by early next month. It would also funnel cash to businesses to help keep workers on payroll as widespread sectors of the $21 trillion U.S. economy all but shut down.
Happening today: Get your questions answered
We're sitting down (virtually) with Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and two UW experts to record a video interview that we'll share with you. You can submit questions before 9:30 today.
How long will coronavirus live on surfaces or in the air around you? It depends. This is what's known about the risks.
What to do if you might have COVID-19: Call your doctor and stay home unless you have these "emergency warning signs."
Some grocery stores have set aside certain hours for seniors and at-risk shoppers. Here's a partial list.
Families rely on schools for more than just learning. We've been updating this list of ways to get food, child care, education, mental health support and more.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
The virus spread in a Kirkland nursing home for weeks while the response stalled: The outbreak that has sickened at least 81 of Life Care Center's residents may have begun weeks before it was reported. Interviews with family members and 911 calls show a tragedy slowly unfolding amid confusion over who was responsible for testing residents. Read the Times Watchdog story, explore the timeline and listen to the 911 calls as Life Care turned into the nation's largest source of COVID-19 deaths.
Travelers are reporting a "disturbing" lack of screening after their international flights land at Sea-Tac Airport — even as the people around them cough and sneeze. When we asked why, agencies pointed fingers at each other.
Boeing's Everett factory workers are increasingly angry and worried as infections rise among employees. They're describing dangerous conditions that are at odds with Boeing's official guidance.
Who can cross the U.S.-Canada border, and who can't? Families are worried about being divided, nearby residents are wondering about their jobs, and businesses and cities are bracing for a big hit.
Now is not the time for a "shelter in place" order, Gov. Jay Inslee says, but not all the experts agree. Inslee took steps yesterday to help workers and businesses, including a temporary halt on evictions.
A Shoreline soccer field will host a field hospital with 200 beds for people who can't isolate and recover from COVID-19 in their own homes. More quarantine sites are planned. This comes as state health officials race to find more medical gear and a Bothell ventilator maker revs up production with "the weight of the world on our shoulders."
About 40% of Puget Sound-area jobs are likely to be hit by wage reductions or layoffs as a result of the crisis, according to a study that breaks down which workers may be in the biggest trouble.
King County Metro is cutting bus service by as much as 25%, and Sound Transit is looking at reductions, too.
Should college students go home for spring break? In Washington, it's a complicated gamble.
Postcards from Seattle's possible future: People who have been under lockdown for weeks in China and Italy are sharing their stories — and lessons learned.
How will the pandemic affect the food supply? One of the first problems could be a labor shortage that ripples through grocery-store produce sections.
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.
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