Editor’s note: This was a live account of updates from Tuesday, March 31, as events unfolded. Click here to see updates from Wednesday, April 1. 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.
It’s been about a month since Washington state’s first COVID-19 death turned the nation’s attention to a fast-moving outbreak. In a glimmer of hope, data is showing that social distancing — though resulting in massive economic disruptions — is making a significant difference in slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. But “the outbreak will come roaring back, big time” if we ease up on social distancing, health officials say. Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday that he’s prepared to get tougher when enforcing his stay-home order; cases could be referred to the state Attorney General’s Office for possible charges.
COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Washington, although not as quickly. The state Department of Health announced 586 new cases on Sunday, bringing the state total to 4,896. The state’s confirmed death toll rose to 195, up six from Saturday. The health department hasn’t updated these counts since Sunday, citing technological issues with a vendor, but it has started showing new graphs and charts on its COVID-19 information page to give the public a better understanding of the spread of the disease.
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 Monday can be found here, and all our coronavirus coverage can be found here.
The White House is holding a news conference this afternoon. You can watch it here:
The following graphic includes the most recent numbers from the Washington State Department of Health, released Sunday night.
Inslee clarifies list of essential workers for stay-home order and lifts restrictions on some public workers returning to jobs
OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday evening updates around who is considered essential under Washington’s emergency stay-home order.
In a memo, Inslee said automotive-repair shops are considered essential, as are nannies taking care of children of workers deemed essential.
The governor also stated that some automotive sales and leasing activities are also now considered essential, as are renewable energies, commercial fishing and commercial geoduck operations.
The order clarifies that private campgrounds are deemed essential, but recreational activities like fishing and golf are not.
The updated guidance can be found here.
The stay-home order is intended to reduce the amount of people interacting with each other to slow the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. Businesses such as groceries and pharmacies, for example, are deemed essential, and can continue to operate.
The governor is soon expected to extend the order.
Inslee on Tuesday evening also waived post-retirement work restrictions for some people with state employee pensions. The move is aimed at allowing workers with needed experience — such as health care or law enforcement — to fill essential jobs.
The move also allows employees in essential jobs who are close to retirement to stay in their positions, according to the news release.
That waiver can be found here.
Flood of coronavirus data overwhelms state’s disease-reporting system, leading to lag in data
Even as the novel coronavirus has spread from Washington’s cities to its small towns and rural communities, Department of Health (DOH) officials acknowledged Tuesday they’re wrestling with another thorny problem from the pandemic’s fallout: A flood of case data is overwhelming the disease-reporting system.
As a result, statewide public reporting of new coronavirus cases has ground to a halt. As of Tuesday, Washington’s last data update posted to the DOH website came from lab results reported three days earlier — as of midnight March 28.
The lag, in turn, has partially blinded both health officials and the public to the latest information about the disease’s spread statewide.
Officials blame the troubles largely on a volume issue. As Washington’s coronavirus testing has ramped up dramatically over the past month — with 21 labs in Washington now testing patient samples — thousands of new data reports, with positive and negative test results, have flooded into the Washington Disease Reporting System (WDRS).
Hourly Amazon workers, fearing coronavirus risks, wonder why they must staff empty office buildings
A receptionist at one of Amazon’s deserted corporate headquarters buildings spent part of a recent shift roaming empty offices, counting untouched boxes of Kleenex and bottles of hand sanitizer.
Most of the time, the receptionist said, she was assigned to sit uncomfortably close — certainly closer than the six feet of social distance recommended to minimize the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus — to a co-worker also staffing the building’s front desk.
Many of those workers said that despite the nearly empty buildings, they have been told by managers that Amazon considers them essential and, as such, they have to show up for their shifts to get paid. Many ride public transportation to the company’s South Lake Union and Denny Regrade headquarters campus and are concerned that this elevates their risk, the receptionist said.
“We couldn’t go home with pay because we’re considered essential,” the receptionist said, adding that there are about 130 people in her situation whose wages start at about $17.50 an hour. “I feel like they’re putting, at least within my company, hundreds of people at risk.”
Washington National Guard could soon be deployed to help coronavirus response efforts
OLYMPIA — Washington National Guard members could soon be deployed to assist with coronavirus response efforts, officials said Tuesday.
“I expect that they will be deployed in a supportive way very soon,” said David Postman, chief of staff for Gov. Jay Inslee, in a question-and-answer session with reporters.
Washington Military Department spokeswoman Karina Shagren said Tuesday evening as many as 140 National Guard members could be deployed to help area food banks pack and distribute food.
That would help make sure food banks that depend on volunteers can remain in operation, said Shagren.
The Washington Military Department has previously said the National Guard could be sent out to assist with logistics for the state's coronavirus response.
In those instances, Guard members could be deployed to unload and assemble field hospitals, or transport people or medical supplies, or assist with traffic-control points or mobile-testing sites.
Postman said the state wouldn’t send the Guard into a community without a request from local officials.
CDC weighing new advice on masks in fighting coronavirus; experts say don’t take them from medical workers
As health care workers face shortages of medical-grade masks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is weighing whether to advise the public to use face coverings or homemade masks in an attempt to prevent transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19.
CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield told a National Public Radio affiliate that the government body was “looking at new data” on whether these kinds of masks offer valuable protection to individuals or those around them, particularly with regard to asymptomatic spread. The CDC did not respond to a Seattle Times request for comment.
Medical masks, when worn and used properly, have demonstrated efficacy, said Jared Baeten, an infectious-disease physician and epidemiologist at the University of Washington.
But with homemade masks or other face coverings, “the science here is limited,” Baeten said, adding that “the data that supports everyone wearing a mask to prevent transmission isn’t as strong as it could be.”
West Pierce Fire & Rescue confirms one of its firefighters has tested positive for COVID-19
West Pierce Fire & Rescue in Pierce County announced Tuesday that one of its firefighters has tested positive for COVID-19.
The agency said it believes the firefighter, who worked in two West Pierce stations before exhibiting symptoms, was exposed while off duty. Both stations have been cleaned and are still operational, a statement from West Pierce Fire & Rescue said.
The fire department has quarantined 19 employees who came in close contact with the affected firefighter, and the agency has adjusted staffing to maintain full response from all six West Pierce fire stations, the statement said. Employees who don’t show any symptoms are scheduled to return to work April 10.
“This is very unfortunate, but something we have anticipated and planned for since the outbreak began," said Chief Jim Sharp in the statement. "Fortunately, we were able to get all of the affected employees into quarantine quickly and keep all of our stations open.”
Snohomish County to use downtown Everett arena as quarantine facility for people exposed to coronavirus
With no hockey games, concerts or other events to host, the Angel of the Winds Arena in downtown Everett is serving a new role: A place for people who have COVID-19, or have been exposed to it, to be quarantined if they have nowhere else to go.
The arena, which will be able to accommodate 100 people, will be ready to start operating as a quarantine site on Wednesday. It could have half a dozen people by the end of the week, said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, the retired Snohomish Health District health officer who will be heading up the facility.
The county decided to transform the arena so it could be ready if the number of cases continues to climb and the need for isolation and quarantine options grows, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said during a teleconference with reporters to discuss the facility.
For people under quarantine at the arena, who either can’t be isolated in their homes or don’t have shelter, the county will provide basic medical services, behavioral health care, treatment for opioid use disorder and other services, Somers said.
As national parks remain open during the novel coronavirus pandemic, seven workers are now infected
At least seven National Park Service employees have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, yet the Trump administration continues to operate the park system that attracts thousands of Americans each day.
In response to questions from The Washington Post, the agency said Tuesday that as of Monday, seven Park Service employees have tested positive for covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. That figure, which had not been previously reported, doesn’t include workers in the park who are not federal employees.
“The NPS is working with our contractors and concessionaires to track reported cases of their employees as well,” Stephanie Roulett, a spokeswoman, wrote in an email.
The Park Service, a division of the Interior Department, will not identify where the affected employees are to protect their identities. The infections came to light in a Wednesday teleconference when Park Service Director David Vela told workers, “this week, sadly, we received word of the first confirmed cases of NPS employees with covid-19.”
King County Council approves $2.2 million for emergency childcare services for essential workers
The King County Council approved emergency legislation Tuesday that will send $2.2 million in relief to first responders and other essential workers struggling with child care needs during the coronavirus outbreak.
The measure provides funding for free child care to eligible families and workers, which include front-line essential medical professionals and support staff, first responders, child care emergency providers, grocery and pharmacy employees and transit workers, according to a Tuesday statement. Many of these families have had difficulty finding child care services because providers and early learning facilities have closed due to declines in enrollment, the statement said.
"The legislation is a first step to ensure that first responders and critical essential personnel who live or work in King County outside the City of Seattle have access to safe, consistent and uninterrupted care, while supporting a network of (child care) providers that need to fill vacant slots," the statement said.
The county will work with child care resources to identify providers and match families with open spots. Providers will be reimbursed at higher rates to reflect start-up costs associated with new health and safety guidelines and health insurance offsets, the statement said.
King County’s Department of Community and Human Services will oversee the program, and the city of Seattle will administer service agreements and payments.
"We all owe so much to our front-line responders, from the health care providers to the bus drivers to the grocery clerks," said King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles in the statement. "Supporting them with their (child care) needs as well as our childcare providers is the right thing to do and in reality helps all of us. I just wish we could do more.”
Authorities warn Washingtonians of scams related to coronavirus stimulus checks
Authorities are warning Washington residents to be wary of scammers taking advantage of economic anxiety amid the coronavirus shutdown, with schemes related to federal stimulus checks expected to be issued in the coming weeks.
The $2 trillion stimulus package approved by Congress and President Donald Trump includes $1,200 checks for most adults, and $2,400 for married couples. But the Washington State Attorney General’s Office said Tuesday it will likely take several weeks for the Treasury Department to start mailing checks, and any purported refund checks arriving now are not authentic.
The federal government won’t ask Americans to confirm personal or banking details by email, phone or text message, nor demand a “processing fee” to receive or rush a stimulus payment, the Attorney General’s Office said. The office advises people to not click on links in email or text messages about stimulus checks, and to avoid providing personal information to anyone who contacts them.
The Seattle area’s blood supply is OK for now but will thin out soon due to coronavirus isolation
There is nothing to be afraid of here. The place is full of space. Hand sanitizer. Rubber gloves and people in medical gowns. There’s a deep clean every night.
But what should make anyone nervous about the Bloodworks Northwest blood centers is what could happen in the days ahead, when the blood supply — currently stable — starts to thin out.
Days after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee closed schools statewide on March 11, Bloodworks Northwest stopped on-site school and corporate blood drives and bloodmobiles, which meant a 25% drop in donations “right out of the gate,” Bailey said.
And because of social distancing, Bloodworks is scheduling fewer appointments at its 12 donation centers around the region. The decision has halved the number of appointments they are able to take per day.
"If this continues, the blood supply will collapse without intervention from the community," said Bloodworks Northwest President and CEO Curt Bailey.
Local caterer, propped up by Amazon, serves new clientele: public housing residents
Alissa Leinonen’s catering company in Seattle, Gourmondo, was projecting record sales at the beginning of March.
Then, the first deaths of coronavirus in the U.S. hit in neighboring Kirkland, and a wave of event cancellations and work-from-home announcements hit Seattle businesses.
Leinonen took herself off payroll, put her savings into the business to shore up losses, and told 22 of her employees they were laid off, at least temporarily.
Then, one of her biggest contracts —Amazon, whose campus is home to nine Gourmondo grab-and-go cafes — called with a proposition. The company would pay Gourmondo to prepare and deliver catered meals for 2,700 seniors and people with disabilities in public housing run by Seattle and King County housing authorities.
“It was the first time I broke down since this all happened,” Leinonen said. “This is a project where not only can we do something that we love, but we can serve a need. And I can keep my doors open.”
Seniors living in public housing in King County are in a predicament: Many of them rely on food banks, which are experiencing shortages and even shutdowns locally, or bus trips to the grocery store. Housing authorities want to help their residents shelter in place, but don’t have the resources for food.
Seattle Public Library offers digital library cards to Seattle residents
The Seattle Public Library announced Tuesday that it's offering Seattle residents digital library cards, which gives readers immediate access to e-books and e-audiobooks while all its locations are closed due to coronavirus concerns.
“We are working hard to find new ways to support Seattle residents during this unprecedented public health crisis,” said circulation-services manager Bo Kinney in a statement. “Whether you’re a parent looking for a just-right chapter book, a telecommuter brushing up on skills or a senior who wants a light read after a heavy day of news, we have resources for you.”
To be eligible, you must be at least 13 years old, live in Seattle and have a mobile phone to verify your account, the statement said.
More than 600 people have signed up for the digital cards since the service was launched last week.
Coronavirus closures reduce Seattle-area air pollution, but not global warming
Seattle-area air quality is a bit better as the novel coronavirus shuts down economic activity and travel.
Levels of nitrous oxide (NOX), a pollutant produced by tailpipe emissions and other sources, are being detected at generally lower values in local air-monitoring devices. And a satellite that detects emissions in the atmosphere linked to cars and trucks shows declines in pollution over the Seattle area in March 2020 compared with March 2019.
But these improvements don't even make a dent in global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, which remain at record levels even as public life grinds to a near standstill.
What you need to do to get your government stimulus check
The IRS and the Treasury Department say Americans will start receiving checks in the next three weeks, as part of a $2.2 trillion rescue package aimed at combating the economic ravages of the coronavirus outbreak.
Most people don’t need to do anything to get the money. But some — including senior citizens and low-income people who might not traditionally file tax returns — do need to take action. People behind on filing their taxes might also want to get caught up.
The IRS and Treasury have provided more details on how to ensure you get paid. Here are the basics.
State attorney general warns 5 businesses to stop price-gouging of sanitizer, masks on Amazon
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has sent “cease and desist” letters to five Washington businesses, ordering them to stop selling protective masks, hand sanitizer and similar items at vastly inflated prices through Amazon.com, or face lawsuits and fines.
The crackdown comes as Ferguson’s office says it has received more than 300 consumer complaints of coronavirus-related price gouging by businesses across the state, from online and brick-and-mortar retailers, to gas stations and pharmacies.
White House projects 100,000 to 240,000 U.S. deaths from virus
WASHINGTON — The White House on Tuesday projected 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus pandemic if current social distancing guidelines are maintained. President Donald Trump called American efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus “a matter of life and death” and urged the public to heed his administration’s social distancing guidelines.
Trump called on Americans to brace themselves for a “rough two-week period” but predicted the country would soon see a “light at the end of the tunnel” of the global catastrophe that has killed more than 3,500 Americans and infected 170,000 more.
As Census Bureau postpones field operations again, some say participation is more important than ever
Census Day is Wednesday, April 1, but field operations are still on pause and will be for two more weeks.
At least until April 15, census staffers will not be going out to count people experiencing homelessness or those living in shared housing such as nursing homes, dormitories or prisons. Nor will Census Bureau employees travel to areas not served by the U.S. Postal Service to hand-deliver invitations to fill out questionnaires.
The novel coronavirus has also thrown a wrench into elaborate plans to encourage participation among communities of immigrants and others historically hard to count. Officials and organizations are doing what they can.
The Washington Census Alliance, working in communities of color around the state, sent out a news release Tuesday urging people to fill out questionnaires online to help “keep Census workers safer amid the virus, as fewer home visits later this year will be needed to help people complete the Census.”
“Coronavirus reminds us just how valuable completing the Census is — a more accurate count ensures that communities are represented to get the future resources they need.”
So far, almost 40% of Washington households have completed the census — beating the national average of 36% and putting this state’s response rate among the top quarter in the country.
Washington may get only a fraction of the ventilators it requested from federal government to fight coronavirus outbreak
OLYMPIA — Washington may get only a fraction of the ventilators it requested from the federal government’s national stockpile of medical supplies, Gov. Jay Inslee’s chief of staff said Tuesday.
As the state prepared for hospitalizations of people with the new coronavirus, Washington’s emergency responders requested 500 ventilators from the Strategic National Stockpile, according to David Postman.
The state was told Monday night it would get 100 of those, Postman said, “And now there’s some question of whether that’s going to happen right now.”
“It’s unclear at this point how many we will get, so we’re trying to clarify that,” he added later.
Postman said that, “One of the things that we’ve heard because there are some ways where we’ve been able to flatten the curve,” potentially slowing the spread of the coronavirus, “the federal government looks at that and says we have more pressing needs elsewhere.”
While Postman said he understands the demand in other states for such gear, “we need to make sure that doesn’t stop us from getting what we think we need.”
DOH's reporting program overwhelmed by coronavirus numbers
In a statement posted to its website on Tuesday, the state Department of Health addressed the trouble it's been having posting daily updates on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths. While the department had been publishing new numbers each day, that has stopped; the most recent state data is as of 11:59 p.m. Saturday, March 28, and the department has no estimate for when the numbers will update next.
The department said the reporting program it's using, the Washington Disease Reporting System (WDRS), has previously been used only to report on numbers of people who test positive, but the current pandemic requires that the system also track negative test results. "This volume is overwhelming the tool," according to the statement.
The health department reported that it is working with the vendor to increase capacity and is investigating additional solutions, which may include a separate reporting tool for negative results, which account for roughly 93% of the current data, and the automatic removal of duplicated results.
The statement said 2,000 duplicated results had to be removed manually in one 24-hour period last week.
Captain of U.S. Navy aircraft carrier seeks to isolate most of crew ashore as virus spreads
The captain of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier facing a growing outbreak of the coronavirus with up to 200 sailors infected is asking for permission to isolate the bulk of his roughly 5,000 crew members on shore.
Navy Capt. Brett Crozier, the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, said in a memo to Navy leaders that the spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating and that removing all but 10% of the crew is a “necessary risk” to stop the spread of the virus.
“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset our sailors,” said its Navy Capt. Brett Crozier, in a memo obtained by The Associated Press.
A U.S. Navy official said Crozier alerted commanders on Sunday evening of the continuing challenges in isolating the virus. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said Crozier wants more isolated housing for the crew and that Navy leadership is reviewing options to ensure the health and safety of the crew.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that a senior officer onboard the San Diego-based carrier said 150 and 200 sailors had tested positive for the disease.
The ship is currently docked in Guam. If the captain's request for isolation is granted, the warship would be temporarily out of duty.
U.S. Navy leaders on Tuesday were scrambling to determine how to best respond to the extraordinary request as dozens of crew members tested positive.
Read the story here.
Ferry teller who died had tested positive for COVID-19
A longtime employee of Washington State Ferries, who most recently worked as a teller at the Seattle terminal, tested positive for COVID-19 before she died, the ferry system said.
Her death was announced on Sunday.
Relatives of Esther Bryant-Kyles said she had initially tested negative but later tested positive for the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, spokesman Ian Sterling told The Kitsap Sun.
She had worked for Washington State Ferries since 1995, Sterling said.
Jump, Zipcar still renting bikes and cars
Labeling rentable bikes and cars "options for essential travel," the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) says Jump and Zipcar will continue renting during the state's stay-home order.
While the companies are cleaning bikes and vehicles, they "cannot guarantee that every car and bike will be disinfected between every use," SDOT said in a blog post. SDOT advised riders to wash their hands before and after use and to disinfect handlebars and steering wheels when possible.
Zipcar is waiving cancellation fees through April 30 and asking members to disinfect cars.
Essential businesses like hospitals and grocery stores can contact Jump to receive free 30-minute rides for their employees, SDOT said.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Schools' first day of mandated remote learning brought confusion, uncertainty — and some fun. Monday was the first day schools were required to provide education services during their closure, and across the region, teachers, parents and students wrestled with this new juggling act. But there are stories of hope and connection, too. We'd like to hear from K-12 students about how the school closures are affecting them.
Thousands of callers are reporting stay-at-home violators in Washington state. The state will turn up the heat on individuals and businesses, Gov. Jay Inslee says. Don't call 911 if you see a business acting badly, though; there's an online complaint form to use instead.
"Please come help us in New York now." The governor there is begging for a million medical workers after deaths topped 1,000. Across the U.S., hospitals that look and run very differently are rising on soccer fields and in state parks' cabins. Here's what's happening as the virus spreads around the nation and world.
King County has extended this spring's property-tax deadline for individuals who don't pay through mortgage lenders. That's roughly half of homeowners.
"There's no road map" for helping the dying and their families, isolated from each other at a time where that last human contact is vital. Local doctors and social workers who are trained to help at this moment are doing what they can, and urging families to talk about end-of-life care now.
If there was ever a time that could thaw the Seattle Freeze, this may be it. Seattleites are finding community in powerful ways amid the social distancing. One that's creating an especially fuzzy feeling: a teddy bear scavenger hunt through local neighborhoods. (You can still join in.)
This time is bringing out the best in many people, and readers are showing appreciation for them in our Rant & Rave column.
As rent and mortgage payments come due, many Washingtonians are teetering close to the financial edge. If you're a tenant, know your rights and take some proactive steps. (The Seattle City Council unanimously urged the state and federal governments to cancel rent and mortgage payments, but the maneuver doesn't change conditions on the ground.)
Know the symptoms of COVID-19, and how to protect yourself and others.
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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