Editor’s note: This was a live account of updates from Thursday, March 26, as events unfolded. 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.
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday night unanimously passed an unprecedented $2 trillion measure that expands unemployment benefits and aids businesses struggling with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The House has yet to vote on the legislation, which was approved by the White House on Tuesday, but Washington transit, businesses and hospitals are already debating whether the funding would serve as a lifeline or dry up too quickly.
More COVID-19 diagnoses are made in Washington state every day, an indication of both the virus’ spread and of expanded testing capacity. The state Department of Health announced 627 newly confirmed cases Thursday, bringing the state total to 3,207 cases, including 147 deaths. The bulk of Washington’s cases remain in King County, which has seen 1,577 people fall ill and 109 die.
Throughout today, on this page, we’ll be posting updates from Seattle Times journalists and others 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.
Trump: Inslee is 'a failed presidential candidate' who shouldn’t rely on the federal government for coronavirus help
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee “shouldn’t be relying on the federal government” for help with the coronavirus, President Donald Trump said Thursday night.
In remarks on Fox News, the president said that his administration was delivering needed medical supplies from federal stockpiles to Washington and other states.
“But remember, we’re really a second line of attack,” Trump said. “The first line of attack is supposed to be the hospitals and the local government and the states, the states themselves.
“I mean, we have people like Gov. Inslee, he should be doing more, he shouldn’t be relying on the federal government,” Trump said.
“He was a failed presidential candidate, and you know, he’s always complaining,” Trump said, adding later: “We’ve really had some trouble with the state of Washington, the governor.”
Trump’s remarks came after Inslee confronted the president earlier in the day.
Comparing the president’s role to that of a New England quarterback, the governor asked Trump and his administration to be “more assertive and aggressive and more organized” in assisting states to get badly-needed medical equipment and to require manufacturers to help out.
The spat came as the United States on Thursday set a record for the most coronavirus cases anywhere in the world.
Meanwhile, Trump said the federal stimulus package to respond to the coronavirus pandemic would help save Boeing.
“A lot of this money is going to save Boeing, it’s going to save the airline industry,” said the president. “You know, that means not only does it mean what it says, it means tremendous jobs.”
UW model says social distancing is starting to work — but still projects 1,400 coronavirus deaths in the state
A new analysis from the University of Washington projects that even with strict social distancing from coast to coast, more than 81,000 people in the U.S. — and more than 1,400 in Washington state — could die from COVID-19 by the first of July.
Hospitals and intensive care units across the country are likely to be overwhelmed beginning in the second week of April.
Modeling from the UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) forecasts that hospitalizations will generally peak in mid-April, with 64,000 more patients than licensed beds nationwide. The shortfall in ICU beds is estimated at more than 17,000.
Demand will be much higher if all states do not adopt and maintain social distancing, says the report, which also examines the anticipated strain on medical systems for every state.
Army Corps of Engineers reportedly considers putting a temporary hospital at CenturyLink Field
The U.S. Army, which sent more than 300 medical personnel to Washington state this week, is considering setting up a field hospital at either CenturyLink Field or a state fairground, The Hill reported Thursday.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville told reporters at the Pentagon that Army personnel are in the process of deciding where to place the 248 beds they'll support, The Hill reported.
A source with knowledge of the situation said the space would be used for non-coronavirus patients, so hospitals can be used for those who test positive for COVID-19. But plans haven't been finalized.
Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, commanding general of the Army Corps of Engineers, told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow on Thursday that the next hospital site his team is looking to design would be at CenturyLink Field -- or "Seattle's Seahawks stadium," as he called it.
The plan is "to be able to put hospitals back in there around the underneath part of that stadium," Semonite told Maddow.
The 300-plus Army personnel sent to Washington are coming from Colorado's Fort Carson, the Army base announced in a statement earlier this week. They're planning to provide routine and emergency medical care so local providers can focus on treating patients believed to have been exposed to COVID-19, the statement said.
Business impacts of coronavirus leave Olympic Peninsula’s West End without a print newspaper
The West End of the Olympic Peninsula has lost its only local newspaper reporter and its only local paper, the Forks Forum, has suspended print publication.
The paper, published since 1931, has converted to an online-only edition as the novel coronavirus reaps another victim among the state’s print media.
Business shutdowns due to the coronavirus have bled critical advertising from local publications all over the state. Staffs are being slashed and some publications are fighting for their lives just as local news surges in importance.
The Forks Forum is the only print newspaper locally reported from some of the state’s most remote logging, fishing, farming and reservation communities. The paper’s only staff member, Editor Christi Baron, has been furloughed until April 24 until a final decision is made about whether to continue locally produced publication.
Some doubted print publication would ever resume.
Coronavirus shutdown order halts construction on many projects, but not all
Builders weren’t at the KeyArena construction site Thursday as Gov. Jay Inslee’s order requiring all nonessential workers stay at home for two weeks took effect.
But they’ll be back on the job starting Monday, said Tim Leiweke, CEO of the Oak View Group, the company leading the $930 million arena renovation of the stadium into a much larger arena for Seattle’s new National Hockey League team.
If you’re left wondering why building an NHL arena qualifies as “essential” during a deadly coronavirus outbreak, you’re not alone.
But Leiweke pointed to exemptions in the order that he said will allow work to continue Monday. And the city, which is financing the project, has given its blessing for construction to go on so long as the contractor ensures workers maintain six feet of social distance and sanitizes their shared tools and workspaces.
KeyArena is not the only construction project to fall into a gray area.
Coronavirus testing troubles persist as patients are turned away, even as labs capacity in Seattle expands
She started coughing on a Sunday, woke with a fever the following Monday, and by that afternoon, Alex Leuzzi was trying to get her doctors to test her for coronavirus.
But her doctors, in a phone call from the Swedish Medical Center clinic in Bellevue, informed Leuzzi “that because my fever wasn’t 100.4 degrees, they weren’t able to test me. I was only at 100 degrees.”
After another Swedish clinic denied her, Leuzzi drove on Friday from her Maple Leaf apartment to a naturopathic clinic in Mukilteo, where a staffer swabbed her nose through her car window. Test results came back this week: positive for COVID-19. But why was it so hard to find out, Leuzzi wonders.
Even as Washington’s coronavirus testing capacity continues to ramp up, complaints persist that it’s a struggle to get tested. The problems now seem to lie squarely on the front end — with doctors, hospitals and clinics that make judgment calls about who should be tested and when.
One-man protest at T-Mobile Park
Robert Hordon has been coming to T-Mobile Park for every Opening Day for a decade to protest against war, and demand investment in health care. Hordon knew there would be no baseball today but came anyway.
The class of 2020 may get a reprieve from some graduation requirements because of coronavirus closures
Washington high school seniors who are out of class because of the spread of the novel coronavirus may catch a break from certain graduation requirements.
The Washington State Board of Education is considering emergency rules giving school districts and private schools power to waive statewide course requirements for students who are on track to graduate this spring. The rules wouldn’t excuse students from completing a High School and Beyond Plan or local graduation requirements.
Schools in Washington are closed until at least April 24. Although state officials have asked educators to continue instruction remotely, school closures have raised concern that remote instruction will be uneven — and that some students may lose out on learning entirely. School districts are now considering changing grading systems and weighing whether it’s appropriate to require students to complete assignments while buildings are closed. Such changes may affect credit students earn for their work.
High school seniors could be particularly hard hit.
How are Sounders staying fit during the coronavirus crisis? Creative workouts are required
The Sounders met for a yoga class last Friday.
Don’t worry. They practiced social-distancing while practicing three-part breathing by using Zoom, the video conferencing website/app.
“It was really nice, honestly to see each other’s face and talk again and make fun of each other and laugh a little bit,” said Sean Muldoon, the club’s head strength and conditioning coach. The session, led by certified yoga instructor and staff massage therapist Jake Bronowski, was another creative way Muldoon worked to keep the players fit through Major League Soccer’s moratorium on training.
This past week, Muldoon sent the players individualized nutrition plans along with upper and lower body workouts to complete on alternating days and running to do either outside or on a treadmill. None required equipment as players are in different phases of securing housing in the Seattle area. Columbian defender Yeimar Gomez Andrade has only been in Seattle for three weeks.
Pierce Transit to reduce bus service amid coronavirus outbreak
Pierce Transit will reduce weekday bus service by about 28% beginning March 30 until further notice, the agency said Thursday, following similar decisions from King County Metro, Sound Transit and Community Transit.
Buses on weekday routes will run less frequently but trips will start and end around the same timeframe. Weekend route schedules will not change.
Route 102 in Gig Harbor has been canceled.
The transit agency has also suspended fares on buses until further notice, and riders are being asked to board buses using rear doors, except for people with disabilities who need assistance.
Pierce Transit has closed its administrative lobby and customer-service lobby to the public.
Passengers who would like to check their route can go to PierceTransit.org/Pierce-Transit-Routes or text 253-533-7084 from their bus stop and enter the bus stop number found on the pole.
“Our goal is to continue providing public transportation services while approaching reductions in a measured, thoughtful way,” Pierce Transit CEO Sue Dreier said in the news release.
Durkan and 39 other mayors urge Census Bureau to extend 2020 census deadline
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and mayors from other large cities are urging the U.S. Census Bureau to extend the 2020 census deadline from Aug. 14 to Sept. 30 to account for disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Durkan and mayors from 39 other cities, including Portland and San Francisco, made the ask in a letter Thursday, noting bans on gatherings have forced the cities and their partners to cancel meetings, workshops, neighborhood events and door-to-door canvassing operations.
People working to ensure an accurate count in the Seattle area already have been trying to rethink their strategies in recent weeks.
“We know that none of these tried and true outreach methods are possible in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that any Census count that occurs without this outreach will cause (a) historic and extremely damaging undercount,” they wrote. “If the Census Count is rightly delayed, we will be able to fully activate our network to connect with our community, in particular our historically undercounted communities.”
The Census Bureau is accepting responses online this year, but “large swaths of our communities do not have access to the internet at home,” the mayors wrote.
“Racial minorities, older adults, rural residents, and those with lower levels of education and income are less likely to have broadband service at home,” they added.
Durkan co-led the effort on the letter, along with the mayors of New York City, Chicago and San Jose, her office said in a news release.
Snohomish County announces $500,000 will go toward putting homeless people in hotels
In an effort to get homeless Snohomish County residents out of shelters and off the streets, the county government and local funds are putting half a million dollars into paying for hotel rooms.
About $250,000 of county money will go to move people currently in shelters into 44 units in an Everett motel. Another $250,000 will come from the Community Foundation of Snohomish County and the Providence Institute for a Healthier Community to get people who are living on the street into hotels.
Mary Jane Brell Vujovic, director of Snohomish County Human Services, said the county isn’t in the position to buy a hotel like King County did in Kent.
“But we’re certainly working with a number of business partners who are being very helpful, and certainly recognize the need,” Vujovic said.
The county is also putting $137,000 to support a temporary shelter in Everett's historical Carnegie building run by the Salvation Army.
The REAL ID compliance deadline for domestic travel has been extended through fall 2021 due to coronavirus
Many Seattleites were dreading the prospect of standing in line at the Department of Licensing this year to make sure their IDs were compliant with the federal REAL ID act by the Oct. 1 deadline.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security has extended the deadline for full REAL ID compliance by a year. Adults aged 18 and older now have until Oct. 1, 2021, to ensure their driver’s license is REAL ID-compliant, or acquire another accepted form of identification — like a passport — in order to fly within the United States.
Seattle offers free on-street parking for workers at several hospitals
Staff at several Seattle hospitals will get free on-street parking, following concerns raised by Harborview Medical Center and Seattle Children’s hospitals, Mayor Jenny Durkan's office said Thursday.
The city has created a 30-day permit program that will start Monday for hospital staff to allow them free parking on streets near hospitals and testing sites, Durkan’s office said in a news release. The city will also temporarily suspend some restrictions in parking garages near health care providers.
“Healthcare workers needed to change how they get to work in order to reduce their exposure to COVID-19 and facilitate different work schedules,” Seattle Department of Transportation Director Sam Zimbabwe said in a statement.
Staff at Harborview, Kaiser Permanente, Seattle Children's Hospital, Swedish Medical Center on Cherry Hill and First Hill, and Virginia Mason Medical Center will have access to the new program. Workers can get the passes from their employer.
Washington State Department of Health reports a total of 3,207 COVID-19 cases and 147 deaths
State health officials confirmed 627 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, including 15 additional deaths.
The newly released numbers bring the total of confirmed cases in Washington to 3,207, with 147 fatalities, according to the Washington State Department of Health.
Benton, Clark, Pierce, Whatcom and Yakima counties reported new deaths Thursday. The bulk of the cases has landed in King County, which has confirmed 109 deaths and 1,577 infections.
The number of cases across Washington has increased as the virus spreads and as testing capacity expands. King County public-health officials have said the number of cases could double every five to seven days and have urged people to follow social-distancing measures to slow the spread.
Metro installs dividers on buses to encourage rear-door boarding
New temporary dividers will separate drivers and riders on King County Metro buses.
The transit agency said in a blog post Tuesday it was installing a “safety strap” to section off the front portion of buses for passengers who require priority seating to reinforce that most riders should board and exit buses through the rear doors.
Seniors and people with disabilities may continue to use the front doors.
Safety straps are also being installed on Sound Transit Express routes and the First Hill streetcar, which have both seen service cuts in response to reduced ridership.
Those who need to speak with a driver should signal or “speak loudly enough that they can hear you,” according to the blog post.
KeyArena construction set to resume Monday amid coronavirus work stoppages, Tim Leiweke says
Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke said Thursday that construction work will resume next week on the KeyArena rebuild because its roof must be put backon to its permanent support posts.
Leiweke said via text message that the $930 million project at what his company for now is calling the “New Arena at Seattle Center” has been temporarily halted to take additional steps during the coronavirus outbreak to ensure worker health and safety. But he expects work to resume Monday.
“Seattle Arena is covered as a public project and as a critical path project,” said Leiweke, whose California-based company is spearheading the rebuild with project contractor Mortenson. “We are dropping the roof back on to the permanent support, and we need to get it off the temporary support system.”
The 44 million-pound roof has been held up by temporary posts since late last year so crews can dig down 15 feet farther below ground and excavate outward to double the arena’s square footage. To do that, the permanent concrete-encased steel rebar posts had to be cut and left suspended in mid-air so crews could remove some of the 600,000 cubic yards of soil being excavated all around them.
The U.S. now leads the world in confirmed coronavirus cases
Scientists warned that the United States someday would become the country hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. That moment arrived Thursday.
In the United States, at least 81,321 people are known to have been infected with the coronavirus, including more than 1,000 deaths — more cases than China, Italy or any other country has seen, according to data gathered by The New York Times.
With 330 million residents, the United States is the world’s third-most populous nation, meaning it provides a vast pool of people who can potentially get COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Shortages of protective gear mean state can’t fulfill all requests to health care workers for coronavirus response
OLYMPIA — As medical staffers scramble for urgently needed equipment for the coronavirus response, Washington officials say they are only able to send gear right now to the health care workers with the highest priority need.
State officials have been working to find and acquire protective equipment like gloves, gowns, thermometers, hand sanitizer, N95 and other masks, to keep health care workers safe from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.
“Unfortunately, whatever we bring into our system is not enough to satisfy the needs of our community,” said Jerrod Davis, assistant secretary for disease control and health statistics at the state Department of Health.
In a news conference with reporters, Davis said state officials acquiring the gear have only been able to distribute it to health care workers considered the highest priority for protection. State officials haven’t been even able to deliver the full requests of health care workers requesting them in those high-priority places, Davis added.
“There is significant global demand,” he said.
Linda Kent, spokeswoman for the state Department of Enterprise Services, said the state still badly needs hand sanitizer and medical gowns.
“And we really need more test kits,” said Kent, whose agency is helping track down and acquire medical supplies.
When asked Thursday, Davis and Kent declined to break down how much personal protective equipment is coming from the federal government’s Strategic National Stockpile, compared to how much gear is being acquired through other channels.
Second person dies of COVID illness at Bellingham nursing facility
An outbreak of the COVID-19 illness at a Bellingham nursing facility has claimed its second victim, as well as another elderly person who recently resided at a local assisted-living facility, the Whatcom County Health Department said Thursday.
One individual, a female in her 90s, was a resident at Shuksan Healthcare Center, and died there Wednesday.
The other, a man in his 90s, was a previous resident of Summit Place Assisted Living, also in Bellingham. He died in the hospital while being treated for COVID-19, the Health Department said.
Authorities also “learned of additional confirmed cases at a small number of long term care facilities in the county,” the Health Department stated in a release. County health workers are “working with each of the facilities to determine further testing needs and conduct contact investigations,” the release states. No further details were provided.
County officials previously said they would not compel testing of nearly 100 workers from the Shuksan Healthcare facility unless they showed COVID-19 symptoms.
Eleven Shuksan workers who were symptomatic now have tested positive, in addition to 27 of the 38 residents of that facility. Workers who tested positive were barred from working at other health care facilities, as of of late last week.
Another former resident of Shuksan, a man in his 80s, died at home March 20 after release from Shuksan on March 10.
Local authorities said a team of nurses from nearby PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center have volunteered to assist patients at Shuksan, all of whom are being treated in place. The hospital also is providing meal service to the facility, in Bellingham’s York neighborhood.
Whatcom County has now registered four deaths from the coronavirus, as well as 86 residents testing positive.
Third Sound Transit employee tests positive; construction will continue
A third Sound Transit employee has tested positive for COVID-19 and is recovering, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff said during a board meeting Thursday. The employee is an office worker, a spokesman said.
Rogoff also said Thursday that Sound Transit will likely continue construction on some of its rail expansion projects.
Gov. Jay Inslee has ordered many construction workers to stay home, but exempted construction related to transportation. The Washington State Department of Transportation suspended most construction work for at least two weeks.
Rogoff said in an interview Thursday that Sound Transit does not yet “have a clear, defined picture of what construction is going to look like next week,” but some projects have time-sensitive work. Sound Transit has ordered contractors to submit extra safety plans, he said.
The agency is now considering halting work at “a number of sites that are not on the critical path in terms of timing” and redirecting inspectors to the remaining sites, Rogoff said at the board meeting. That could halt work at “well more than half” of Sound Transit’s sites, he said.
“This is a concept right now, not a hard and fast plan,” Rogoff said.
Seattle Indian Health Board launches over-the-phone health care services
The Seattle Indian Health Board launched over-the-phone health care services for its patients amid increasing community closures and Gov. Jay Inslee’s recent stay-at-home order, the board said in a statement Thursday.
Patients have access to the same health professionals as they would if they were to visit the clinic in person and can consult with licensed medical, behavioral health and substance use disorder professionals by phone for assessments and appointments, the statement said.
Patients will also have access to traditional Indian medicine practitioners and case workers offering access to domestic violence and homelessness services and resources.
Because of social distancing and staffing concerns, the board has had to close its clinic on Saturdays and suspend visits from its mobile dental van to Pioneer Square and Tukwila.
However, patients will still be able to see providers in person if the provider believes it's necessary, the statement said.
“The safety of our relatives is our number one priority, and we are doing everything we can to support the community by maintaining access to health care,” said Dr. Emily Ashbaugh, chief medical officer of Seattle Indian Health Board. “Telehealth services allow our care teams to stay connected with our relatives and offer them the best possible care and support during this difficult time.”
Union demands better protections for Western State Hospital workers as coronavirus cases increase
OLYMPIA – As the number of coronavirus cases rise at Western State Hospital, the union representing workers there is demanding stronger protections.
The announcement by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare 1199NW comes as Washington’s largest psychiatric facility has now seen five staffers and two patients test positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.
Located in Lakewood, the approximately 850-bed hospital is overseen by the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).
The hospital’s patients include those sent from the criminal court system to determine if they are competent to stand trial, and those who have been deemed not guilty by reason of insanity. Other beds are for patients who have been involuntarily committed through the civil courts because of psychiatric illnesses.
SEIU is calling on Western State to:
- Dedicate a hospital ward specifically for patients with COVID-19.
- Assign a voluntary COVID-19 staff team specifically for that ward.
- Train hospital staffers on how to properly use medical protective equipment and make that equipment more available to workers.
- Provide “immediate testing” for hospital workers with COVID-19 symptoms, or who were exposed to or working near COVID-19 patients.
- Hire a COVID-19 expert for the hospital to help with developing and implementing policies regarding the virus.
In a news release, the union said it has been asking to sit down with DSHS, the state Department of Health and the Department of Children, Youth and Families to discuss health care worker protection.
“We expect our employers to provide the protections and support we need to be able to work safely, and in public hospitals we expect state agencies to set a high standard for the health and safety of all of our employees,” according to the SEIU news release. “That five workers at Western State Hospital have tested positive for COVID-19 is ample proof that the Department of Social and Health Services, Department of Health, and Department of Children, Youth and Families need to do more to protect our members.”
Coronavirus outbreak tests limits of remote work in Seattle area
Elected officials and public health experts encouraged companies to make remote work an option weeks before Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday ordered everyone but those in essential businesses to stay home.
Prior to the outbreak, local leaders had been encouraging telework as the Puget Sound region experiences significant population growth, and with it heavy traffic congestion.
Now, the novel coronavirus outbreak is forcing a large-scale shift. Last year, fewer than 6% of people who worked in Seattle’s central area reported telecommuting at least one day a week, according to the nonprofit group Commute Seattle.
Employees who are working remotely for the first time, or the first extended period of time, amid the outbreak say they like the flexibility and convenience of working from home. However, video chatting, email and other online communication tools don’t compare to the relationships built and ideas exchanged through in-person social interaction, many say.
For parents, working from home means dividing time between professional work and caring for children, after Inslee ordered schools to close to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
And in an economy as diverse as Seattle’s, not all jobs lend themselves to remote work, and some geographic areas can present challenges.
Read the full story here.
Gov. Inslee says Washington's stay-at-home order may need to be extended beyond two weeks
Washington state appears to be achieving some “very modest improvement” in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, but the state has not “turned the corner” and its stay-at-home order may need to be maintained beyond two weeks, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday.
In a live televised news conference, Inslee said Washington recently has been able to slightly slow the “rate of increase” for cases of the COVID-19 illness caused by the virus.
“The good news is our system is not overwhelmed today,” he said.
Yet the overall caseload is still rising and hospital capacity remains a serious concern, particularly with respect to intensive-care beds, Inslee stressed repeatedly.
“We are only in the first two weeks” of the stay-at-home order Inslee issued Monday, he said. “This order may need to be extended, and the reason is we simply cannot allow this virus to be slowed and then spring back upon us. We’ve gotta pound it and we’ve gotta pound it until it’s done … We shouldn’t be within 10,000 miles of champagne corks on this.”
Health experts have said two weeks is not a magic number for slowing the spread of infection.
The governor said the best way to help Washington’s economy recover from damage caused by the pandemic and mandated shutdowns will be to beat the virus comprehensively.
To do that, the state needs more medical and testing supplies, he noted. Though Washington has received shipments of personal protective equipment for health workers from the federal government, various supplies are still desperately needed, he said.
Ventec and GM hoping to produce 'up to 20,000' ventilators a month amid coronavirus crisis
Bothell-based Ventec Life Systems and General Motors are scrambling to secure the last of more than 700 parts needed to begin producing what one supplier said will be “up to 20,000” life-saving ventilators a month.
The partnership would be launched in early April at the automaker’s electronics assembly plant in Kokomo, Indiana, in what one source close to the process described as a “historic” effort to rapidly meet escalating demands as hospitals become overwhelmed by patients with COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
Read the full story here.
Seattleites encouraged to make 'joyful noise' at 8 p.m. tonight in thanks for front-line workers in the coronavirus pandemic
Members of Seattle's cultural community, along with the city's Office of Arts & Culture, are encouraging residents to open windows, go to their balconies, yards or porches at 8 p.m. Thursday to make a joyful noise in appreciation of health care workers and other front-line workers in the coronavirus pandemic.
Recommended joyful noises include clapping, singing, hollering, banging pots and pans and playing instruments.
Others are saying on Twitter that Seattleites and neighbors ought to go out every night at 8 to make happy noises and let others know none of us are alone.
Seattleites are asked to take a picture or make a video and post it to social media with the hashtags #MakeAJoyfulNoise and #SeattleTogether.
OK. Seattle, please spread the word. Every night at 8pm, go outside and clap and cheer and whistle for our healthcare workers. Capture it and post it so they don't miss it. We will spread the word. We’ll do the same at @kexp. #youarenotalone
— John Richards (@djjohnrichards) March 26, 2020
WSDOT suspends its construction work due to coronavirus concerns
The Washington State Department of Transportation is suspending most construction work for at least two weeks following Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order, according to a news release from the agency.
Construction projects related to essential activities like health care, transportation, energy, defense and critical manufacturing were exempted from the stay-at-home rule, according to a memo issued by the governor’s office Wednesday.
However, the number of workers available for projects has dropped. This week, between 25% and 40% of a given crew could not work on a WSDOT construction project.
Bart Treece, a spokesperson for WSDOT, would not confirm whether any of those workers were sick or had tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
And despite efforts to follow recommendations from public health officials to enact social distancing measures and increased sanitization resources, “it is not possible to meet the guidelines while maintaining construction,” WSDOT said in the release.
WSDOT is asking its contractors to safely secure construction job sites by the end of Thursday.
In the meantime, WSDOT said the agency will work to secure appropriate protective equipment and ensure procedures and training are in place when projects resume.
The projects that will continue include the fish passage culvert work, to meet federal court injunction deadlines.
Design work will also continue, although field work to support design will be suspended.
“We believe it is critical that we take every appropriate step available to protect the lives and health of our loved ones, families, our friends, coworkers and neighbors,” WSDOT said in the news release. “These are important projects to Washington, and we remain committed to restarting them when safe to do so.”
Treece said “it’s too soon to tell” what impact the construction halt will have on WSDOT projects in terms of timelines, funding, or future work.
Sound Publishing and other local news media lay off staff due to coronavirus
Sound Publishing, which owns 43 titles across the state, including The Daily Herald in Everett and the Peninsula Daily News, announced furloughs and layoffs Tuesday across its 350-person staff and said it would stop printing nine of its 13 free community papers.
Six part-time reporters were left producing 11 Seattle-area papers, including the Renton Reporter and Federal Way Mirror, publisher Josh O’Connor confirmed on Thursday.
The statewide shutdown of most businesses and a halt to events, ordered to slow the virus’s spread, have dried up advertising revenues at news outlets across the state, leaving almost no paper in Washington unscathed.
Tennessee-based Adams Publishing Group, which owns nine Washington papers, including dailies The Skagit Valley Herald and The Ellensburg Daily Record, on Tuesday reduced the workweek to 30 hours for all employees and executives, according to a letter Adams sent to its workers.
In Spokane, The Inlander temporarily laid off eight of its 35 employees, including two editorial staff.
Seattle Met, The Stranger and Leafly, among others, have also seen layoffs due to the coronavirus.
Read the full story here.
Seattle's Sawant asks Gov. Inslee to suspend rent and mortgage payments, freeze rent hikes
Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant is urging Gov. Jay Inslee to “suspend all rent, mortgage and utility payments” during the coronavirus pandemic and to “immediately institute a statewide rent freeze through the end of year” to ban rent increases.
The governor has special powers while a state of emergency is in effect. It wasn’t immediately clear that he could do everything Sawant is requesting.
In a letter to Inslee Thursday, Sawant said some tenants are starting to receive notices of rent increases.
“This is shockingly unconscionable,” she wrote, citing health and economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis. “During this pandemic, the consequences of unaffordable rent increases will be even more devastating.”
Utilities have temporarily halted shut-offs for nonpayment. Inslee last week ordered a 30-day moratorium on rent-related residential evictions, and some cities also have adopted eviction moratoriums.
Washington state law has banned rent control since 1981.
More service cuts coming to Sound Transit bus routes
Sound Transit will reduce service on ST Express bus routes in Snohomish and Pierce counties starting Monday, following reductions announced last week to other rail and bus routes.
Ridership on trains and buses is down 83%, Sound Transit said Thursday.
The newly reduced routes are operated by Community Transit and Pierce Transit and "take into account current and potential future reductions in available staffing," Sound Transit said in a news release. At Community Transit, nine employees have tested positive or presumptive positive.
Three Pierce County routes — 567, 586, 592 —will be cut. The following routes will run less frequently: 544, 560, 566, 574, 578, 580, 590, 594, 595 and 596 operated by Pierce Transit and 510, 511, 512, 513, 532 and 535 operated by Community Transit. Riders can find more information about when buses are running at Sound Transit's website.
Was your elective procedure canceled or rescheduled in Washington state because of the coronavirus pandemic? We want to hear from you.
Health providers across the region have canceled or rescheduled elective procedures to make room in hospitals for those who might be suffering from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Did your procedure get canceled or postponed? We'd like to hear from you.
Please fill out the form below; we may be in touch to learn more about your situation.
Washington’s jobless claims jump ninefold as coronavirus hammers economy
More than 133,000 Washington residents filed for jobless benefits last week as government efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak continued to slow the state’s economy.
For the week ending March 21, the state received 133,478 claims for unemployment insurance benefits, up from 14,240 the previous week, according to newly released data from the U.S. Department of Labor.
The spike in Washington’s claims mirrors similar increases across the United States, which saw total claims jump to 2,898,450 from 119,238 a week earlier, according to labor department figures.
The new jobs data adds considerable urgency to congressional efforts this week to enact emergency legislation, including a large increase in funding to pay for rising state unemployment claims.
Austrian scientists developing faster, cheaper COVID-19 test
Nuclear scientists in Austria are closing in on coronavirus testing kits that could dramatically lower the cost and time it takes to diagnose people for the disease.
With COVID-19 tests in short supply in many places, some individuals have turned to private laboratories that can genetically detect the pathogen. That process, called reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction, or RT-PCR, can cost as much as $400 in some private facilities.
But the International Atomic Energy Agency expects it can procure those COVID-19 tests at a cost of as little as $10.83, which can yield a diagnosis within hours, according to a spokesperson, who stressed that labs have been using RT-PCR diagnosis methods for decades. The IAEA’s COVID-19 detection kits are close to being shipped, according to the agency, which didn’t specify where they are being manufactured.
Read the full story here.
Seattle monorail is closed for now as well
The Seattle Center Monorail will be out of service until at least April 6 due to the coronavirus but could be closed longer, according to the agency that runs the monorail.
Seattle Center Monorail said in mid-March that it had served only about 5 percent of its normal expected ridership.
"We normally carry over 9,000 passengers on a Saturday in March, but had less than 550 passengers this past Saturday," the agency said on its webpage.
Seattle Monorail Services employees will use the time to complete maintenance and facilities work to prepare for reopening, the agency said.
School in Washington state is supposed to resume (remotely) by Monday. Will it?
The deadline is nearly here: Washington schools have two business days to figure out how they intend to remotely teach the state’s about 1.1 million students.
School districts are hurrying to get something – anything – prepared to satisfy state education department’s recent instructions to begin remote instruction by Monday.
Now that the the state is requiring instruction, what will “school” look like next week?
It's hard to say, exactly. On Wednesday, several Puget Sound school districts weren’t ready to discuss their plans in detail. Read the full story here.
WSU postpones traditional commencement but will host online ceremony May 9
Washington State University President Kirk Schulz announced that the traditional May commencement ceremonies would be delayed until at least August on all of the school’s campuses.
Schulz said there will, however, be an online commencement for all campuses on May 9.
Washington State’s main campus is in Pullman, and it also has campuses in Vancouver and the Tri-Cities.
In France, fight against COVID-19 waged one baguette at a time
The French custom of buying fresh bread daily has become loaded with moral, civic and public health considerations that could never have been imagined before the new coronavirus turned life upside down.
In a country under lockdown, popping out for a fresh baguette is proving a handy excuse for people to get out of the house.
But eschewing the crusty comfort of a fresh-baked baguette has become significant, too — a small sacrifice in this new era where sacrifices are being asked of many. For some, not buying bread daily and instead staying indoors to try to stay healthy has become an act in itself, a gesture of solidarity with the doctors and nurses fighting to save lives in stressed emergency wards.
Trying to steer a path between their love of bread and beating the virus, some in France are now buying baguettes by the armful and freezing them, a big no-no in normal times. But defrosting and reheating is now a pragmatic, civic-minded and health-conscious compromise, certainly better than no baguette at all.
Read the full story here.
Alaska has 59 confirmed coronavirus cases
Alaska state officials said the number of reported coronavirus cases had grown to 59.
The figures released Wednesday included 17 new cases: 11 from Anchorage, three from Ketchikan and one each from Homer, Fairbanks and North Pole, said Alaska’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink.
The state health department, in a release, said the individual in the Homer case was tested in Anchorage after returning from a trip to the Lower 48.
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is off due to coronavirus, organizers say
The vast majority of events at the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, which typically brings more than 300,000 visitors and millions of dollars to Skagit County each spring, have been canceled.
The month-long festival was scheduled to start April 1, but Gov. Jay Inslee's order to stay home has organizers concerned about swarms of people driving up, gathering in fields, using portable toilets and potentially spreading the deadly virus.
"The tulip gardens are closed. This is devastating to the tulip industry in Skagit Valley and there is a very good chance it may not survive," Cindy Verge, the festival's executive director, told KING-5. "Right now, with the timing of this virus and the very necessary restrictions on people and movement, it is a distinct possibility."
The owners of Tulip Town and RoozenGaarde told KING they expect the season to be a total loss.
"We've had floods and freezes but nothing like this," Brent Roozen said.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
What Congress’ massive coronavirus package means for Washingtonians: The mammoth, $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package passed by the U.S. Senate last night could unlock billions of dollars for Washington state governments, transit, businesses and hospitals — and you could get a direct payment, too. Here's what we know about the effects on our region's economy and daily life. The fine print includes special deals for some companies, but Boeing might balk at the strings that are attached.
School in Washington is supposed to resume (remotely) by Monday. Will it? Here's how local districts are hurrying to get something — anything — prepared.
Gov. Jay Inslee is halting most construction work on commercial and residential sites, in a major clarification to the statewide stay-home order.
You're going to be hearing Rocky Bono's name a lot. The former Navy vice admiral, more formally known as Dr. Raquel Bono, is sailing into a daunting battle as Washington state's new coronavirus czar. She's described as a "relentless fighter."
Some Seattle community centers are turning into homeless shelters to facilitate social distancing, and King County is opening a new center in Sodo for COVID-19 patients who can't recover at home.
Alaska Airlines is slashing its flight schedule by 70% for the coming months. It's been burning more than $14 million a day.
Far from home, two Seattle newlyweds are on a strange honeymoon. They're among the Washington residents who are trying to stay positive while they're stuck abroad, due to coronavirus-related lockdowns and travel bans.
Did you commute in pajama pants today? The coronavirus outbreak is testing the limits of remote work (and simultaneous homeschooling) in the Seattle area. Here's how it's going, and what managers and employees are doing to make it work better.
The best ways to protect yourself and others: Wash hands the right way. Try a few tricks to stop touching your face. And make sure your food is safe. There's more helpful coronavirus prevention advice here.
What you can and can't do under the stay-home order: Keep this infographic handy as a quick reference on what Washington state is allowing.
Laid off? You're not alone. Here are resources for unemployment benefits, help with the rent or mortgage, emergency food programs and more.
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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