Editor’s note: This is a live account of updates from Sunday, May 24, as the 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.
Twenty-one of Washington‘s 39 counties have now been approved to move into the second stage of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase coronavirus recovery plan following the governor’s expansion of criteria this week that allowed more counties to apply for reopening. The second phase of recovery allows several kinds of businesses, including hair salons and restaurants, to welcome back customers two months after Inslee’s stay-at-home order went into effect, albeit with some with restrictions.
The coronavirus may still be spreading at epidemic rates in 24 states, particularly in the South and Midwest, according to new research that highlights the risk of a second wave of infections in places that reopen too quickly or without sufficient precautions.
Throughout Sunday, on this page, we’ll post updates from Seattle Times journalists and others on the pandemic and its effects on the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest and the world. Updates from Saturday 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 Saturday night.
State health officials confirm 19,828 cases of COVID-19 in Washington
State health officials confirmed 243 new COVID-19 cases in Washington Sunday, as well as six additional deaths.
The recent update brings the state’s totals to 19,828 cases and 1,061 deaths, according the state Department of Health’s (DOH) data dashboard. The dashboard reports 3,287 total hospitalizations in Washington.
So far, 326,593 tests for the novel coronavirus have been conducted in the state, per DOH. Of those, 6.1% have come back positive.
State colleges and universities are girding for a tough financial future after the coronavirus pandemic
Washington’s public colleges and universities are bracing for a money crisis this fall that is likely to decimate higher education budgets.
Not only will schools likely lose some students — and the tuition money that comes with them — but the state is expected to slash funding, since higher education dollars aren’t protected by the state constitution in the same way K-12 dollars are.
With the coronavirus pandemic raging this spring, universities lost hundreds of millions in residence hall rents, meal plans, parking fees and sports tickets. At community colleges, many hands-on vocational programs were canceled. And at the state’s flagship University of Washington, which runs a medical center that has been key to keeping people alive, the hospital is expected to lose a staggering $500 million through September. On Monday, it announced it would furlough 1,500 workers.
The virus lockdown has also struck at the heart of what makes college years so satisfying — the intellectual rewards of wrestling with new ideas, developing a passion for a subject, building friendships with people from other states and countries, living on one’s own. In March, most college students were forced to return home, trying to make what they could of the college experience through the blue light of a computer screen.
When — or if — they return, campus is likely to feel quite different, with big lectures taught online, dorm rooms reconfigured to keep people apart and social distancing measures that will discourage parties.
“I’m a little worried people don’t understand quite how bad this is going to be,” said Western Washington University English professor Bill Lyne, president of United Faculty of Washington State, a faculty union for four Washington public schools (Eastern, Western and Central Washington universities and The Evergreen State College). A veteran of the 2008 recession, he believes a pandemic-induced economic downturn will be particularly hard on higher education.
Nowhere near White House testing goal for nursing homes, some states aren't even trying
Nearly two weeks ago the White House urged governors to ensure that every nursing home resident and staff member be tested for the coronavirus within 14 days.
A review by The Associated Press found that at least half of the states are not going to meet the White House’s deadline and some aren’t even bothering to try.
Only a handful of states, including West Virginia and Rhode Island, have said they’ve already tested every nursing home resident.
Many states said the logistics, costs and manpower needs are too great to test all residents and staff in a two-week window. Some say they need another week or so, while others say they need much more time. California, the most populous state, said it is still working to release a plan that would ensure testing capacity for all residents and staff at skilled nursing facilities statewide.
And still other states are questioning whether testing every nursing home resident and staff, regardless of any other factors, is a good use of time and money.
The varying responses by states to nursing home testing is another example of the country’s patchwork response to the pandemic that also underscores the Trump administration’s limited influence. The president has preferred to offload key responsibilities and decisions to states and governors, despite calls for a coordinated national response.
How Washington state missed 'red flags' that could have detected unemployment fraud earlier
A Nigerian fraud ring and other criminals filed thousands of bogus applications with Washington state’s Employment Security Department (ESD) earlier this spring. By the time the fraud was recognized, scammers had made off with “hundreds of millions of dollars,” ESD Commissioner Suzi LeVine acknowledged Thursday.
The monumental pilfering of public dollars has left Washington as the largest known victim of the fraud that also has hit at least six other states, according to a May 14 U.S. Secret Service bulletin. The federal Department of Justice is investigating.
It may have political recriminations: Republicans are already citing the losses to slam Gov. Jay Inslee’s record of managing state government as he seeks a third term this fall.
But the biggest victims may be the innumerable Washingtonians who now have had their legitimate and urgently needed claims for jobless benefits delayed as the state tries belatedly to halt the fraud. Others who have already received money say their claims are being investigated for “possible overpayment.”
Read more in this watchdog story about how Washington state missed red flags that might've detected the fraud earlier, according to security experts.
Inside Seattle's pandemic response with Mayor Jenny Durkan
Pressure is building at Seattle City Hall.
As the city tentatively enters recovery mode from the coronavirus outbreak, Mayor Jenny Durkan is working to distribute masks and boost testing capacity, drawing sharp criticism for her approach to homelessness from some corners, staring down a monster budget hole and contending with a push to tax big businesses.
“There was no playbook for this,” the mayor said in an interview. “My job has changed dramatically.”
To read more about Durkan's handling of this and other crises, and Seattle's prospects for reopening, read the full story.
Memorial Day will look different this year in and around Seattle
Like cemeteries around the country, many Seattle area memorial parks are canceling Memorial Day events to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus, though they’re still urging the public to honor veterans independently.
At Edmonds Memorial Cemetery, an annual program usually draws 300 to 500 people and welcomes a number of speakers, a color guard performance and rifle salutes, said Cliff Edwards, who has worked there for 47 years. This year, the cemetery is skipping the program to avoid gathering large crowds per the state’s social-distancing measures.
Because he still wanted to show respect for fallen veterans on Monday, he and a handful of employees from the city’s parks department spent Friday placing about 650 white crosses and American flags at each veteran’s grave.
The cemetery, which has remained open as one of the state’s essential businesses, will be closed Monday.
“It’s kind of strange,” Edwards said. “Usually I’m the only one in the city that’s working on (Memorial Day).”
Seattle’s Evergreen Washelli Cemetery, usually filled with music, activities and community members on Memorial Day, is also scaling back its annual traditions to follow Gov. Jay Inslee’s distancing orders, said Taylor Ostman, the cemetery’s office manager.
“But we fly an Avenue of Flags every year, and those will still be up,” Ostman said.
Coast Guard Crew tests negative after detaining suspects with COVID
The Coast Guard cutter Active is returning to Port Angeles following a bust of three suspected smugglers and seizure of $37 million worth of cocaine.
The suspects all tested positive for COVID-19 and are in custody in a hospital in San Diego. All crew members on the cutter were tested and found negative for the disease, according to a May 22 press release from the Coast Guard.
The Active was on a 47-day narcotic patrol in the Eastern Pacific when the crew detained the smugglers from a boat approximately 200 miles off the coast of El Salvador.
Ohio prisons top in COVID-19 deaths but taking more prisoners anyway
Ohio has lost more inmates to COVID-19 than any other state, but its prisons nonetheless must begin reopening to accommodate a slow return to business — and to crime, the prisons director said.
The department has begun accepting new inmates from jails again and must soon resume the normal process of transferring inmates when necessary, Annette Chambers-Smith, head of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said in an interview this week.
“We need to get to what is the new normal going to look like, what is this agency going to look like, and live with COVID,” Chambers-Smith said.
State health officials confirm 19,585 cases of COVID-19 in Washington
State health officials confirmed 320 new COVID-19 cases in Washington late Saturday night, including five more deaths.
The recent update brings the state's totals to 19,585 cases and 1,055 deaths, according to the state Department of Health’s (DOH) data dashboard. The dashboard reports 3,256 total hospitalizations in Washington.
So far, 316,276 tests for the novel coronavirus have been conducted in the state, per DOH. Of those, 6.2% have come back positive.
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