Editor’s note: This was a live account of updates from Saturday, March 28, 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.

President Donald Trump signed into law an unprecedented $2.2 trillion aid package Friday, which will speed up government payments to Americans, support struggling business and rush resources to overworked health care workers amid the growing coronavirus pandemic. But while state and local leaders confirmed federal support — including a new field hospital in Seattle’s CenturyLink Field Event Center — is on its way, health science experts continue to raise questions about how the virus first began spreading in Washington.

More COVID-19 diagnoses are made in Washington state every day, an indication both of the virus’ spread and of expanded testing capacity. The state Department of Health announced 587 newly confirmed cases Saturday, bringing the state total to 4,310 cases, including 189 deaths. The bulk of Washington’s cases remain in King County, which has seen 2,077 people fall ill and 136 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 Friday can be found here, and all our coronavirus coverage can be found here.

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

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Live updates:

Ballmers' charity gives $10 million to UW Medicine to speed up coronavirus testing

Former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer's charity has donated $10 million to UW Medicine so it can expand and speed up testing of patients for the novel coronavirus — the largest gift in $25 million of pledges his group so far has made to respond to the ongoing pandemic.

Ballmer Group, the philanthropic organization co-founded by Ballmer and his wife, Connie, also has committed an additional $4.75 million in donations to three other Seattle-area organizations, a spokeswoman for the charity said in an email Saturday.

The Ballmers' philanthropy has "already made some initial grants to address urgent, emerging needs related to the COVID-19 crisis — and [is] committed also to helping long-term, as we know that families and kids will need support for many months or years," Ballmer Group spokeswoman Megan Davies said in an email Saturday.

The $10 million gift to the UW Medicine Emergency Response Fund will allow its virology lab to expand capacity for COVID-19 patients, spokeswoman Susan Gregg said. As of Friday, the UW lab had tested nearly 34,000 patients — more than 70% of all tests performed in Washington.

“Testing is the most immediate priority right now as we try to reduce community spread of COVID-19," UW Medicine CEO Dr. Paul Ramsey said in a statement Saturday. "Private philanthropy, like Connie and Steve Ballmer’s extraordinary gift, is critical to expanding testing at the speed and scale required to save lives. We are incredibly grateful for their leadership during this crisis.”

Other donations given by the Ballmers' charity include $3 million to the Seattle Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund, which provides emergency assistance grants to nonprofits serving vulnerable populations in Washington; $1 million to All In Seattle, which directs grants to at-risk people and businesses impacted by the pandemic; and $750,000 to the Boys & Girls Club of King County and Bellevue to provide child care for essential workers.

—Lewis Kamb
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54 Boeing employees in the Puget Sound area have cororonavirus, company says

According to a Boeing update Saturday, there are 73 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Boeing’s total workforce as of Friday, March 27.

Of those, 54 cases are among Puget Sound-area employees.

The total number of confirmed cases in the workforce has jumped 87% from a previous update three days earlier, when there were 39 total cases. The number within Puget Sound was not provided on that day.

Boeing also said that “out of an abundance of caution,” it has informed production workers at the Renton site who were sent home this week that a Boeing shuttle bus driver at that site has tested positive for COVID-19.

Boeing has established that he drove workers from the gate into the site during the second and third shifts on the evenings of Tuesday through Friday of last week. All those workers are now at home because Boeing this week shut down almost everything and only a couple of hundred workers doing essential maintenance remain in Renton, none of whom traveled with that driver.

Boeing said it had already been taking precautions the previous week: the first two rows of the bus were taped off to maintain a 6-foot separation between the driver and employees, who entered and exited through the rear doors, away from the driver. Boeing said health officials therefore consider the exposure of the employees to be low risk.

Nevertheless, after discussion with Public Health - Seattle & King County, Boeing is recommending that employees who rode the Blue shuttle route between 8:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. on those days self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and practice social distancing.

The company is also asking any employees who had close contact with the bus driver to call the company’s Emergency Coronavirus Reporting Hotline so as to be placed on company-issued quarantine through April 3.

—Dominic Gates

GM and Ventec relying on Woodinville supplier in venture to rapidly make more ventilators for coronavirus patients

While a worldwide supply chain is helping Bothell-based Ventec Life Systems and General Motors rapidly find parts to build thousands of ventilators for coronavirus patients, the most critical component needed for the machines is made in Woodinville.

That’s one of the first places GM dispatched its Michigan-based personnel to after agreeing to the “Project V’’ venture with Ventec. The city is home to the headquarters of Cascadia Custom Molding, which makes about two dozen of the more than 700 parts needed for Ventec’s VOCSN ventilator, including the main chassis inside the machine.

Read the full story here.

—Geoff Baker

Handling anxiety during the coronavirus outbreak

Seattle Times reporter Paige Cornwell speaks with mental health professional Jaya Ramesh about managing mental health while staying at home during the coronavirus outbreak. (Paige Cornwell & Ramon Dompor / The Seattle Times)

Seattle Times reporter Paige Cornwell speaks with mental health professional Jaya Ramesh about managing mental health while staying at home during the coronavirus outbreak. (Paige Cornwell & Ramon Dompor / The Seattle Times)

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King County could detain people with symptoms of COVID-19 not in quarantine

King County's public health officer signed an order Saturday making it mandatory for anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 to stay home or in a recovery facility, as well as anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 but is waiting for test results.

"If an individual who has COVID-19 symptoms (fever, cough, and/or difficulty breathing) with a test pending is not remaining self-quarantined," Dr. Jeff Duchin said in a press release, "they may be subject to enforcement actions, which could include legal actions for involuntary detention."

On March 14, a man in quarantine who was waiting on test results for COVID-19 left the county's motel in Kent designated for people who don't have a home to isolate and quarantine in. His test results later came back negative.

—Scott Greenstone

King County announces four cases of COVID-19 among the homeless population

Public health officials in King County announced the first positive COVID-19 cases among the county's homeless population Saturday: Four positive cases in four shelters, according to an email from public health officials Saturday afternoon.

One of those tests was administered by the Seattle Flu Study, a research project being conducted in several of Seattle's shelters. Public health confirmed one positive case was among 77 tests by the researchers.

"Additional information is not being publicly released by Public Health at this time to protect the privacy of the individuals, shelter staff, and clients," an email from public health said.

Of the four confirmed cases, two were previously hospitalized but have been discharged, a public health spokesperson said via email. One of these patients was discharged to an isolation and quarantine facility for recovery.

Public health staff are still investigating the other two cases: The person tested by the Seattle Flu Study had the sample taken over two weeks ago and has since left the shelter where they resided, according to the spokesperson; there was no indication of hospitalization. Upon learning of the positive result Friday night, public health staff visited that shelter, tested all residents and staff, and sent a medical team to look for symptoms among staff and residents.

The first confirmed death of COVID-19 in a homeless person was last week in California; in Washington, the first positive test was reported in Tacoma on March 18 by the Tacoma News Tribune.

Public health and local providers have ramped up testing of homeless populations in Seattle this week, but shelter providers have complained that they've had trouble getting homeless-shelter clients with symptoms of COVID-19 into the county's isolation and quarantine units.

—Scott Greenstone

Part of terminal will support field hospital coming to help with surge in coronavirus cases

Part of a sprawling marine cargo terminal on Elliott Bay will be turned into a support station for a temporary field hospital expected to be set up in SoDo next week amid the surge of coronavirus cases overwhelming the region’s hospitals, regional port officials announced Saturday.

The Port of Seattle and The Northwest SeaPort Alliance will make sections of Terminal 46 available for “trailers, container equipment and storage needs,” in support of the U.S. Army’s Field Hospital 10, which is slated to occupy the nearby CenturyLink Field Event Center, according to a joint statement from Port of Tacoma Commissioner John McCarthy and Port of Seattle Commissioner Peter Steinbrueck.

Foss Maritime, the firm now holding the cargo operations license for Terminal 46, is both qualified and prepared to serve military, hospital, health and other stakeholders, the statement said.

“We greatly value the opportunity to work with all entities to protect the health and safety of our region during this time of crisis,” the commissioners’ statement said.

Earlier Saturday, Gov. Jay Inslee and other officials announced the Army planned to deploy 300 soldiers to staff the field hospital in the event center next to CenturyLink Field with at least 148 beds. The hospital is expected to treat patients with medical conditions and illnesses not related to the novel coronavirus, which, as of Saturday, had infected 4,310 people in Washington and led to 189 deaths.

The pandemic has overwhelmed hospitals and healthcare resources in Washington and other states. Another field hospital has already been set up on an athletic field in Shoreline, and the state is assessing other potential sites in Pierce and Snohomish Counties.

—Lewis Kamb
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State announces almost 600 new positive cases, and 14 new deaths

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of new confirmed cases and deaths of COVID-19 in Washington state.

Washington state's COVID-19 positive case count rose to 4,310, the state Department of Health (DOH) announced Saturday, nearly 600 more than Friday's tally. The state also announced 14 deaths Saturday, putting the official state total at 189 deaths.

Two hundred and forty-nine of the new cases are from King County, bringing the county's total to 2,077 positive cases, the most in Washington state, according to the DOH on Saturday afternoon.

The state's health department has struggled to accurately update cases on its website over the past week. A spokesman attributed the problem earlier this week to capacity upgrades made to the DOH system so it could handle the higher-than-anticipated volume of reports coming from laboratories.

—Scott Greenstone

Washington State Nurses Association decries firing of Bellingham ER doctor

The union representing 900 nurses at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham is “appalled” at Friday’s firing of Dr. Ming Lin, a veteran emergency room physician who had publicly criticized the hospital’s practices to prevent coronavirus infections, a spokesperson said Saturday.

The Washington State Nurses Association also has filed a complaint with the state Department of Labor over what it believes is a failure to provide a safe work environment at the hospital, where Lin was fired Friday.

“At a time when our state faces a critical shortage of frontline caregivers — as we are appealing for volunteers and trying to reactivate retired nurses and doctors and pressing nursing students into service — it is outrageous that hospital management could retaliate against health care professionals for speaking the truth,” the union said in a statement.

Lin, the association said, “has been the voice for many nurses and other health care workers who are afraid to speak up out of the very real fear that they could be disciplined or fired. We salute his courage, and we demand that he be reinstated so he can continue his life-saving work.”

The union, which represents 19,000 nurses statewide, said other front-line health care workers attempting to speak out about unsafe conditions are being “muzzled” by hospital administrators during the COVID-19 crisis. Nurses at the Bellingham hospital report being out of paper gowns, and said they are being directed to reuse and share protective equipment, the statement said.

Lin, a 30-year emergency room veteran and 17-year employee of St. Joseph, was informed Friday by an administrator from TeamHealth, the Tennessee-based, national medical subcontracting firm that employs him, that he was fired.

Both TeamHealth and PeaceHealth declined to respond to questions about reasons for Lin’s removal from St. Joseph. A public-relations firm representing TeamHealth confirmed Saturday that Lin had been removed from his post at St. Joseph, but said he remained under contract with TeamHealth, which hoped to help him “find a path forward.”

Lin responded that, because he was paid by TeamHealth only for shifts at St. Joseph, the distinction was irrelevant.

—Ron Judd

Some staff and one resident test positive at long-term care facility in Burlington

One resident and five staff members at a long-term care facility in Burlington have tested positive for COVID-19, Skagit County officials announced in a press release Saturday.

Skagit County Public Health is working with the facility, Prestige Care and Rehabilitation, and the Washington State Department of Health to test the remaining staff and residents, the press release said.

"We ask the community to offer only respect and support during this difficult time," the county said in a press release. "This will allow the facility to focus its attention on protecting residents and staff."

—Scott Greenstone
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Gun dealers should be ‘essential businesses,’ say some legislators and law enforcement officials

Dozens of legislators and law enforcement officials signed letters delivered to Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday, asking him to declare firearm dealers “essential businesses” that can remain open during the novel coronavirus crisis.

By forcing the dealers to close with a recent stay-at-home order, the governor is violating the Constitution and jeopardizing public safety, the letters said.

“Some things don’t stop because of COVID-19 and, unfortunately, one of those is crime,” said state Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, in a news release.

Forty-five other legislators signed one letter, while 15 law enforcement officials, including 11 county sheriffs, signed another.

The similar letters said law enforcement and security businesses rely on gun dealers for ammunition.  What’s more, the letters said: “Local law enforcement officials have also seen a significant increase in background checks in this time of crisis, when thousands of Washingtonians have decided to purchase firearms for personal protection."

Many of these residents are first-time gun buyers in rural areas, where law enforcement might not be able to respond immediately, the letters added.

Others have argued there are risks in sanctioning a rash of first-time, untrained and perhaps panicky gun buyers.

The issue is being debated across the country.

In California, gun-rights advocates filed suit Friday against the governor, the Los Angeles sheriff and health officials seeking to keep firearm shops there open.

Unlike officials here and in California, Texas’ attorney general has said gun dealers should be considered essential businesses.

—Nina Shapiro

Metro will restore some cut bus routes so riders can keep their distance

With bus ridership dropping significantly amid the coronavirus outbreak, King County Metro this week began to cut bus service. But Metro now says it will restore some of those cut trips "to help riders distance themselves from one another."

Metro will restore some weekday trips on more than a dozen routes, including restoring all trips on the RapidRide A between Tukwila International Boulevard Station and Federal Way, the agency announced Saturday. Overall, Metro ridership is down 70%, but some routes serving downtown have seen less of a drop than others, Metro said, which could make it harder for riders and drivers to practice social distancing.

Other routes that will have some trips restored include the RapidRide C, D and E lines and routes 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 10, 12, 13, 14, 36, 43, 44, 49, 70 and 180, Metro said.

When taking transit during service reductions, be wary of apps like Google Maps and One Bus Away, which may not have updated information. Check Metro's website, text your stop ID to 62550 or call 206-553-3000 on weekdays for customer service.

At least two Metro employees, one of them a bus driver, have tested positive for COVID-19, but Metro said it does not plan to regularly update each new case among its employees because of privacy concerns.

In response to the outbreak, Metro said crews would spray buses with a sanitizing solution nightly. The King County ombudsman's office has now started a preliminary investigation into Metro's bus cleaning procedures after receiving complaints that date back to before the local coronavirus outbreak.

—Heidi Groover

Press conference on Army hospital at CenturyLink Field Event Center

Read more about the plan to create a 148-bed hospital to treat patients who don’t have COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, thereby freeing up space in local hospitals for more virus patients.

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Inslee eases funeral ban, provides guidance for real estate transactions

Gov. Jay Inslee is lifting a ban on funerals that was part of his coronavirus emergency stay-at-home order Monday, although strict restrictions still apply to funeral services. The governor also announced additional guidance for real estate transactions, clarifying that they can continue "as essential activities,” also with limitations meant to maintain social distancing.

Inslee said that none of the provisions of his emergency order apply to tribal lands.

Read the full story here.

—Daniel Beekman

Girls Scouts of Western Washington cancels all camps, plans staff reductions

The Girl Scouts of Western Washington is canceling all camp programs for the 2020 season and reducing staff as the coronavirus pandemic continues exacting its toll.

Washington’s stay-at-home compounded earlier setbacks in the group’s cookie-sales program, said Megan Ferland, the group’s CEO, in an email Saturday to Girl Scout families. She described the “excruciatingly difficult decision” to cancel camps, which, with the lost cookie revenue, “brought major financial impacts to our council in the last couple of days.”

Of the group’s approximately 160 employees, Ferland said, 81 positions will see reductions, shifts to part-time, eliminations and salary reductions – including her own – effective April 10.

Ferland said that even if the outbreak eases by late May, it would be too risky to convene girls, young people and staff for camps in June.

“Given that other places have seen infections spike as soon they’ve relaxed mitigation efforts, we’d have to prepare any camp we held for a possible outbreak,” Ferland wrote.

“Our girls and staff are not worth the risk. Also, most of our camp properties aren’t prepared for it, which means it would be prohibitively costly — and a procurement nightmare given the scarcity of the necessary supplies and equipment.”

—Benjamin Romano

Trump raises idea of quarantines affecting N.Y., N.J. and Connecticut

President Donald Trump floated the idea of a quarantine as early as Saturday affecting residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut for a short time to stop the spread of coronavirus from reaching states with fewer infections.

But Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., who has criticized the federal government’s response as his state became the country’s virus epicenter, said the issue had not come up in a conversation he had with Trump earlier Saturday.

The federal government is empowered under the law to take measures to prevent the spread of communicable diseases between states, but it’s not clear that means Trump can order state residents to stay put.

Read more here.

—Associated Press
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Coronavirus hits U.S. police

An increasing number of police departments around the country are watching their ranks get sick as the number of coronavirus cases explodes across the U.S.

Nearly 690 officers and civilian employees at police departments and sheriff’s offices around the country have tested positive for COVID-19, according to an Associated Press survey this week, with the number of those in isolation as they await test results is far higher in many places.

The growing tally raises questions about how laws can and should be enforced during the pandemic, and about how departments will hold up as the virus spreads among those whose work puts them at increased risk of infection.

Read the story here.

—Associated Press

U.S. hotspots grow as virus cases surpass 620,000 globally

The number of worldwide infections surpassed 620,000 Saturday with more than 28,000 deaths as new cases also stacked up quickly in Europe.

While the U.S. leads the world in reported cases, five countries exceed its roughly 1,700 deaths: Italy, Spain, China, Iran and France.

New York remained the worst-hit U.S. city. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said defeating the virus will take “weeks and weeks and weeks.” And cities such as Detroit, Chicago and New Orleans grew as hotspots Saturday.

Read more here.

—Associated Press

What’s essential? In France: pastry, wine. In U.S.: guns, ganja

The coronavirus pandemic is defining for the globe what’s “essential” and what things we really can’t do without, even though we might not need them for survival.

In some U.S. states, golf, guns and ganja have been ruled essential, raising eyebrows and — in the case of guns — a good deal of ire. Several states where marijuana is legal, such as California and Washington, deemed pot shops and workers in the market’s supply chain essential.

In France, shops specializing in pastry, wine and cheese have been declared essential businesses.

Read the story here.

—Elouise Schumacher
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Seattle elected officials urge Trump administration to re-close immigration court due to coronavirus pandemic

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, City Council President M. Lorena González and U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal are urging the U.S. Department of Justice to close Seattle’s immigration court during the novel coronavirus pandemic and Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order.

Seattle’s immigration court was shut earlier this month after a “reported second-hand exposure” to the virus. But the court reopened Thursday for filings, and hearings for those held at the Northwest detention center in Tacoma are ongoing.

In a news release Friday, Durkan described the court’s reopening as “a public health violation and a human rights issue.”

“It is reckless and irresponsible for the Trump administration to allow immigration courts to operate despite an active pandemic,” she said.

Durkan also said the Department of Justice (DOJ) should “extend immigration court filing deadlines in light of this global health emergency, so immigrants and their legal representatives do not have to choose between protecting their health and meeting a deadline.”

González said immigration detention centers also should release detainees “so they can return home and be healthy and safe with their families.”

In a letter Thursday, Jayapal, D-Seattle, similarly urged the DOJ to “immediately close immigration courts across the country” and to extend deadlines to at least three months after emergencies end in each state.

Her letter was signed by the members Washington’s Democratic congressional delegations, including Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.

—Daniel Beekman

Fact check: Trump a rosy outlier on science of the virus

Groundless assurances keep coming from President Donald Trump, a rosy outlier on the science of the coronavirus pandemic.

It's been that way since before the virus spread widely in the U.S., when he supposed that the warmer weather of April might have it soon gone, a prospect the public health authorities said was not affirmed by the research. Now he's been talking about a country revved up again by Easter, while his officials play down that possibility from the same White House platform.

Here's a look at some recent statements during a week when the U.S. death toll reached about 1,700 and America rose to No. 1 globally in the number of people infected by COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

—Elouise Schumacher

Amazon employee at Kent fulfillment center tests positive for COVID-19

An employee in Amazon's Kent fulfillment center tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus, the company confirmed Saturday morning.

Employees there were told during their shifts on Friday. The building was not closed. Amazon said employees who had close contact with the individual who tested positive were being notified and told to stay away from work and in quarantine for 14 days, with pay.

The local case adds to a growing tally across Amazon’s fulfillment and logistics network in the U.S. and Europe, and in its Whole Foods Market grocery stores.

Amazon warehouse and delivery employees and contractors have repeatedly raised concerns about the company’s policies and practices in response to the pandemic, which has strained its systems as demand for delivery skyrockets with hundreds of millions of people staying home to slow the spread of the virus.

Read the whole story here.

—Benjamin Romano
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Catch up on the past 24 hours

Trump signed a $2.2 trillion bill to support business, rush resources to overburdened health care providers and help struggling families during the deepening coronavirus epidemic.

As COVID-19 took hold inside the Life Care Center of Kirkland last month, the disease likely spread from the facility to at least three other nursing homes, according to a New England Journal of Medicine report.

A driver for Snohomish County's Community Transit died Thursday after testing positive for COVID-19 less than two weeks ago. Ten Community Transit employees have now tested positive or presumptive positive for COVID-19, and while it's not known whether they caught the virus at work or somewhere else, they fear they’re at the center of an outbreak.

After complaints alleging that workers were exposed to unsanitary conditions, even before the novel coronavirus outbreak, the King County ombudsman’s office has started a preliminary investigation into Metro Transit’s bus cleaning procedures. Friday night, King County Metro said in a statement that driver has tested positive for COVID-19.

An ER doctor who criticized Bellingham hospital’s coronavirus protections has been fired.

Bothell-based Ventec Life Systems is ramping up ventilator production in a venture with General Motors. Trump's invocation of the Defense Production Act capped a strange day, but in any case, plans are advancing to begin producing as many as 10,000 ventilators a month starting next week.

Some landlords are offering rent relief, others not so much.

 

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