Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, May 27, as the day unfolded. Click here to see updates from Thursday, May 28. To find resources and the latest extended coverage of the pandemic, click here.
State health officials are allowing more Washington counties — 24 as of Wednesday morning — to proceed to the second phase of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-part reopening plan. But King County still has far too many new infections to meet the criteria to reopen. A new study shows COVID-19 could come roaring back without comprehensive testing, contact tracing and quarantines.
Scientists continue trying to pin down when and how the coronavirus was introduced to the United States; a new genetic analysis is rewriting that timeline. Around the globe, the pandemic shows no signs of subsiding, according to the executive director of the World Health Organization.
Throughout Wednesday, 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 Tuesday 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 Wednesday.
A numbers-obsessed Trump is uncharacteristically silent on this bleak milestone
President Donald Trump has spent his life in thrall to numbers — his wealth, his ratings, his polls. Even during the deadly coronavirus pandemic, he has remained fixated on certain metrics — peppering aides about infection statistics, favoring rosy projections and obsessing over the gyrating stock market.
But as the nation approaches a bleak milestone this week — 100,000 Americans dead from the novel coronavirus — Trump has been uncharacteristically silent. His public schedule this week contains no special commemoration, no moment of silence, no collective sharing of grief.
Instead, Trump’s most direct comments so far on the number came in a pair of tweets Tuesday, amounting to a preemptive rebuttal.
“For all of the political hacks out there, if I hadn’t done my job well, & early, we would have lost 1 1/2 to 2 Million People, as opposed to the 100,000 plus that looks like will be the number,” he wrote. “That’s 15 to 20 times more than we will lose.”
Seattle officials feud over the future of tent encampments during coronavirus pandemic
An emergency city council bill to restrict homeless encampment removals has generated harsh backlash from Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office and neighborhood organizations as tent encampments have grown during the spread of the novel coronavirus.
After nearly two hours of public comment at a Wednesday city council meeting, deputy mayors Mike Fong and Casey Sixkiller as well as Police Chief Carmen Best and Fire Chief Harold Scoggins argued against the legislation, saying it would restrict their ability to remove encampments for public safety reasons. Advocates and workers from the homeless services community criticized the encampment removals as harmful – and not in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that generally advises against removing encampments.
An online petition opposed to the bill has drawn thousands of signatures, many of them from Chinatown-International District residents, while local public health workers, homeless service providers and academics have signed a letter of support for the legislation.
But little clarity around what the city’s policies on encampments should be has come from Public Health – Seattle & King County.
Why did the pig and the polar bear cross the road?
They pumped themselves up with air in the nearby empty parking lot of a Ravenna pub and then carefully crossed Northeast 65th Street. The group of mostly animals and birds that has dubbed itself “The Puffy Pandemic Parade” marched around Ida Culver House Ravenna for half an hour on Wednesday, led by a retirement home staffer Lisa Mawhinney — not in costume — holding a small speaker blaring tunes like Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” and Los del Río’s “Hey Macarena.”
The animals encountered only one small glitch, after a penguin lost some air and needed a refill. Parade organizer Jean Bryant (that penguin) describes the group as all Northeast Seattle friends, “mostly moms.” The group has marched one other time and the goal is to spread cheer during the coronavirus outbreak. Fourteen turned out for this march, but others have participated, including kids.
Many residents and staff waved back at the group. “I was tearing up when I was doing this,” said Bryant, who saw “lots of smiles, dancing and waving.” The group plans to keep marching. In a follow-up text Bryant said “We will definitely continue as long as the pandemic is around.”
Scared Americans desperate to travel are buying up ‘COVID campers’
Floor traffic at Mike Regan’s two RV dealerships outside Austin, Texas, is up 30% compared with last May. And the reason is fear.
Cooped-up Americans desperate to get out after months of lockdowns are dreaming of doing something — anything — that resembles a vacation. But a majority of them worry a second wave of the coronavirus is coming, and think politicians have pushed too fast to reopen. Unsurprisingly, when it comes to getting out of Dodge, the close quarters of an airline cabin are a no-go.
After a six-week hiatus, Regan said business has been so brisk that he may not have enough trailers and motor homes to meet demand.
“The minute the campgrounds opened on May 1 and the governor turned everyone loose, our business went through the roof,” said Regan, whose sales at his Crestview dealerships were down about 50% just last month.
Sonny Quitlong, grocery store and Post Office employee who ‘saw the best in everyone,’ dies of coronavirus
Thanksgivings at Sonny Quitlong’s house were the stuff of legend. There was rarely a sit-down meal. Instead, he’d set up the buffet line around noon and people would come and go throughout the day and late into the night.
There was, of course, turkey, stuffing and the standbys. There was also lechon — a whole roast pig — pancit, adobo, lumpia and other Filipino fixtures.
Upward of 100 people would trickle in and out of the South Seattle home Mr. Quitlong shared with his wife, Zenaida. Roughly half the guests would be from his large extended family, but there were also friends and co-workers who he knew didn’t have anywhere else to go.
“They invited and welcomed them to their home,” said his sister, Queenie Quitlong-Bruan. “The food was endless, it was an eating marathon.”
Mr. Quitlong, who had worked as a Safeway checker and mail handler, died on April 6 of COVID-19. He was 70.
History in the making as House casts proxy votes in pandemic
It’s a day for the history books on Capitol Hill: For the first time, House lawmakers were voting by proxy, an unprecedented move to avoid the risk of travel to Washington during the pandemic.
To mark Wednesday’s history-making moment, House Republicans sued to stop the majority party from going ahead with the new system, in which absent lawmakers can instruct those present to vote on their behalf.
The House, with 431 current members and four vacancies, is trying to strike a balance between working from home during the coronavirus outbreak and honoring the Constitution’s requirement to be “present” and voting.
The House returned to Washington for an abbreviated two-day session as the city remains under stay home orders. Republicans in the Senate, which is on recess after spending much of May in the capital, have knocked the decision by top Democrats to largely stay out of session during the pandemic.
Major COVID-19 virtual relief concert to feature Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews, Brandi Carlile and other Seattle stars
With the livestream fundraising boom raising millions for COVID-19 relief efforts across the globe, it seemed only a matter of time before Seattle music’s heavy hitters pooled their collective muscle for a home-state rendition.
All In WA, a coalition of public officials, nonprofits and philanthropic organizations and business leaders, has announced a stacked virtual concert to raise money for relief work across the state.
The lineup includes Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews, Brandi Carlile, Macklemore, Ciara and Russell Wilson, Wilson’s Motown-loving coach Pete Carroll, Death Cab for Cutie’s lord of the livestream Ben Gibbard, Sir Mix-A-Lot, comedian Joel McHale, blue-eyed soul singer Allen Stone, Mary Lambert and blues-rockers The Black Tones, with others to be announced later.
The Amazon-backed concert will broadcast on Amazon Music’s Twitch channel and local NBC affiliates KING 5 and KONG at 7 p.m. June 10.
Dozen inmates test positive for coronavirus at prison in Eastern Washington
CONNELL, Franklin County — A dozen inmates and four employees have tested positive for the coronavirus at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in the Eastern Washington town of Connell.
In response, the Department of Corrections is shutting down the food factory at Coyote Ridge, where inmates produce meals for the entire prison system and dozens of external customers.
The Spokesman-Review reports Wednesday that all the prison’s inmates will be quarantined in their units for 10 days. All classes and other programming will be suspended.
Loved ones reunite at Blaine’s Peace Arch Park with U.S.-Canada border closed by coronavirus
BLAINE — Alec de Rham sat with his back against a stone obelisk marked “International Boundary” as he and his wife visited with a daughter they hadn’t seen in 10 weeks.
Hannah Smith took a bus and a bicycle from Vancouver, B.C., to the border to meet her “main person,” Jabree Robinson, of Bellingham.
And beside a large, white arch symbolizing U.S.-Canadian friendship, Lois England and Ian Hendon kissed giddily, reunited for a few hours after the longest separation of their three-year relationship.
Families, couples and friends — separated for weeks by the pandemic-fueled closing of the border between the U.S. and Canada — are flocking to Peace Arch Park, an oasis on the border where they can reunite, and touch, and hug.
It’s a frequent site of picnics and sometimes weddings, not to mention an area for travelers to stretch their legs when holiday traffic clogs the ports of entry. And for now it’s one of just a few areas along the along the entire border where those separated by the closure can meet.
‘What good is panic?’: CNBC hosts get into shouting match over pandemic response
CNBC’s “Squawk Box” hosts Andrew Ross Sorkin and Joe Kernen got into a shouting match in a Wednesday segment about the road to economic recovery.
Sorkin accused his co-host of downplaying the dangers of the pandemic, including the loss of 100,000 American lives. Kernen retorted that Sorkin was being alarmist and sparking undue concern, and maintained that his goal was to help investors keep a cool head.
The exchange highlights the deep divide in how to respond to what is both a public health and financial crisis.
Business and social activity was suspended in much of the country to contain the spread of the deadly virus to devastating results for the economy. Some believe the economic damage is worse than the pandemic itself.
Vulcan to close its Arts + Entertainment division, which includes Cinerama and Seattle Art Fair
In a move that keeps one of Seattle’s most beloved movie theaters shuttered and leaves the fate of one the city’s biggest arts events up in the air, Vulcan on Wednesday said it is closing its Arts + Entertainment division, as well as its filmmaking entity, Vulcan Productions, by the end of the year.
Seattle Art Fair, already canceled for 2020 due to COVID-19, “will take some time to see how the situation and art world calendar evolve before deciding any further plans,” the statement says.
Two museums under the Vulcan wing, closed because of the pandemic, will also remain shuttered: the Living Computers: Museum + Labs and the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum. For both, the Vulcan statement said, the coming months will be a time to evaluate “if, how and when to reopen.”
The company declined to say how many employees would be affected by the closures.
State officials confirm 20,406 COVID-19 cases
State health officials confirmed 225 new COVID-19 cases in Washington on Wednesday, as well as 17 additional deaths.
The update brings the state’s totals to 20,406 cases and 1,095 deaths, according the Department of Health’s (DOH) data dashboard. The dashboard reports 3,394 hospitalizations in Washington.
So far, 335,801 tests for the novel coronavirus have been conducted in the state, per DOH. Of those, 6.1% have come back positive.
King County, the state's most populous, has reported 7,863 positive test results and 559 deaths (seven of which were confirmed today), accounting for 51.1% of the state's death toll.
Washington houses of worship allowed to hold services under Inslee’s coronavirus guidance plan
OLYMPIA — Washington’s churches and houses of faith can start to hold services again — with restrictions — under new coronavirus safety guidance from the state, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday.
The guidelines will allow up to 100 people — excluding religious staff — to meet outdoors at the property of a faith group anywhere in the state.
Then, in the second phase of the governor’s four-part reopening plan, faith organizations will be allowed to hold services indoors while capping attendance to 25% of building capacity or 50 people, whichever is less.
In that phase, faith groups will also be allowed to provide in-home services for up to five people.
Those second-phase steps will be able to start up immediate in the 24 counties now approved to reopen more quickly.
Those counties are: Adams, Asotin, Columbia, Cowlitz, Ferry, Garfield, Grant, Grays Harbor, Island, Jefferson, Kittitas, Lewis, Lincoln, Mason, Pacific, Pend Oreille, San Juan, Skamania, Spokane, Stevens, Thurston, Wahkiakum, Walla Walla and Whitman.
Wednesday’s guidance is the latest in a weeks-long string of guidelines issued by the governor’s office allowing different sectors of business and society to reopen.
King, Pierce, Snohomish and other counties with higher COVID-19 infections rates are still in the first phase of the governor’s plan.
The shutdown of religious services has frustrated conservatives, and the new guidelines did not satisfy some in the faith community.
Mark Miloscia, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, on Wednesday said the relaxed restrictions still violate constitutional protections on worship.
“And that’s completely unacceptable, and I think it’s clearly against the First Amendment,” said Miloscia.
US deaths from coronavirus surpass 100,000 milestone
The U.S. surpassed a jarring milestone Wednesday in the coronavirus pandemic: 100,000 deaths.
That number is the best estimate and most assuredly an undercount. But it represents the stark reality that more Americans have died from the virus than from the Vietnam and Korea wars combined.
“It is a grim milestone,” said Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy with the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington. “It’s a striking reminder of how dangerous this virus can be.”
Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 5.6 million people and killed over 350,000, with the U.S. having the most confirmed cases and deaths by far, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Europe has recorded about 170,000 deaths, while the U.S. reached more than 100,000 in less than four months.
The true death toll from the virus, which emerged in China late last year and was first reported in the U.S. in January, is widely believed to be significantly higher, with experts saying many victims died of COVID-19 without ever being tested for it.
Embracing a new reality: Coronavirus may never go away, even with a vaccine
There’s a good chance the coronavirus will never go away.
Even after a vaccine is discovered and deployed, the coronavirus will likely remain for decades to come, circulating among the world’s population.
It is a daunting proposition — a coronavirus-tinged world without a foreseeable end. But experts in epidemiology, disaster planning and vaccine development say embracing that reality is crucial to the next phase of America’s pandemic response.
With so much else uncertain, the persistence of the novel virus is one of the few things we can count on about the future. That doesn’t mean the situation will always be as dire. There are already four endemic coronaviruses that circulate continuously, causing the common cold. And many experts think this virus will become the fifth — its effects growing milder as immunity spreads and our bodies adapt to it over time.
For now, though, most people have not been infected and remain susceptible. And the highly transmissible disease has surged in recent weeks even in countries that initially succeeded in suppressing it. Left alone, experts say, it will simply keep burning through the world’s population.
Thurston, Kittitas and Walla Walla counties move to second phase of Washington’s coronavirus reopening plan
OLYMPIA – Washington Secretary of Health John Wiesman on Wednesday cleared Kittitas, Thurston and Walla Walla counties to move into the second phase of the state’s four-part coronavirus reopening plan.
Under the second phase, a host of businesses can start reopening, including hair stylists, barbershops and nail salons, along with some restaurant dining and in-store retail purchases.
Kittitas County’s application to move to the second phase had been paused after a COVID-19 outbreak there. But “over the past three weeks, the Kittitas County Public Health Department demonstrated their ability to quickly and thoughtfully respond to an outbreak in their community,” according to the statement.
With Wednesday’s announcement, 24 counties are now approved for the second phase: Adams, Asotin, Columbia, Cowlitz, Ferry, Garfield, Grant, Grays Harbor, Island, Jefferson, Kittitas, Lewis, Lincoln, Mason, Pacific, Pend Oreille, San Juan, Skamania, Spokane, Stevens, Thurston, Wahkiakum, Walla Walla and Whitman.
Wiesman and other health officials had originally set June 1 as the date that counties would move to the second phase, provided public-health data surrounding the virus was favorable.
But it remains to be seen whether King, Pierce, Snohomish and other counties with high infection rates will be allowed to proceed to the second phase by that date.
Inslee’s stay-at-home emergency order, intended to slow the COVID-19 outbreak, is in effect through May 31.
How might Seattle’s live performance scene come back post-coronavirus shutdowns?
While Washington state slowly turns toward reopening from lockdowns, it’s still far too early to try to imagine what theater and dance will look and feel like in the coming year — whether actors will wear masks and stand 6 feet apart, or how directors will try to stage fights, kisses and other dramatic stuff.
Instead, Seattle-based artists like Jay O’Leary (associate artistic director of Sound Theatre Company) are thinking about what they can do now, like outdoor microplays performed near restaurants as people wait for their takeout — dinner and a show for the quarantine age.
“When I think about this time of pause, of crisis, it reveals possibility,” she said. “If you are seeking where the aliveness is.”
But for many venues and individuals, just staying alive tops the priority list.
Performing arts organizations were among the first to close their doors in the pandemic shutdown and will likely be among the last to reopen. Even when they are allowed to turn on the lights — by July 13, at the very, very earliest, and still socially distant, according to Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase reopening plan — the unknown far outweighs the known. When will it be safe? When will artists and audiences feel safe? Could venues continue while selling tickets below capacity?
Read more about the questions to which nobody knows the answers here.
An ‘avalanche of evictions’ could be bearing down on America’s renters
The United States, already wrestling with an economic collapse not seen in a generation, is facing a wave of evictions as government relief payments and legal protections run out for millions of out-of-work Americans who have little financial cushion and few choices when looking for new housing.
The hardest hit are tenants who had low incomes and little savings even before the pandemic, and whose housing costs ate up more of their paychecks. They were also more likely to work in industries where job losses have been particularly severe.
Temporary government assistance has helped, as have government orders that put evictions on hold in many cities. But evictions will soon be allowed in about half of the states, according to Emily A. Benfer, a housing expert and associate professor at Columbia Law School who is tracking eviction policies.
“I think we will enter into a severe renter crisis and very quickly,” Benfer said. Without a new round of government intervention, she added, “we will have an avalanche of evictions across the country.”
That means more and more families may soon experience the dreaded eviction notice on the front door, the stomach-turning knock from sheriff’s deputies, the possessions piled up on the sidewalk. They will face displacement at a time when people are still being urged to stay at home to keep themselves and their communities safe.
That fear has been eating away at Sandy Naffah ever since she lost her income as the virus led to economic shutdowns. Naffah, who had been juggling two part-time jobs — teaching elementary school students how to read and working as a beauty consultant at a mall — quickly fell behind on the $800 she pays in rent each month for a one-bedroom apartment in Euclid, a suburb of Cleveland in Ohio.
Read more here.
Even astronauts’ jobs have changed because of coronavirus
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley have trained for years for this moment.
They spent, at minimum, hundreds of hours learning the intricacies of the SpaceX capsule they’ll ride to the International Space Station. And they got used to the craft’s touch-screen flight system, a major change from the 2,000 switches and circuit breakers used to fly the space shuttle.
On Wednesday, all of that preparation will be put to the test.
Behnken and Hurley will be the first people ever to launch in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule. During that test flight, slated for liftoff from Florida at 4:33 p.m. EDT (1:33 p.m. Pacific), the astronauts will make sure all the systems work before NASA certifies the spacecraft to regularly transport its astronauts to the space station.
But just two months before the mission, during a time when they were learning crucial skills for everyday space-station living, the coronavirus outbreak hit. Without close, interpersonal training, it can be hard to learn those routine tasks, like using — and fixing — the complex piece of machinery that is the station’s toilet.
“You want to be able to do the things you’re going to have to do every day without having to think too much about them,” said Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut who retired in 2018. “Those are the things that are going to waste time if you aren’t pretty familiar going in.”
Read the story here.
Sea-Tac air traffic has a long way to climb to prior levels
Passenger traffic though Seattle-Tacoma International Airport fell by more than half during one week in mid-March, then fell again by more than half the next week. The global decline in air travel, unmatched since 9/11, has left airlines on the ropes and added to the problems at Boeing.
Passenger volume has started to bounce back, but it has a long way to go. Airlines, meanwhile, are cutting their schedules, filling planes with cargo and looking at cuts to their staffs once the federal bailout money runs out.
New poll shows only half of Americans would get a COVID-19 vaccine
Only about half of Americans say they would get a COVID-19 vaccine if the scientists working furiously to create one succeed, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
That’s surprisingly low considering the effort going into the global race for a vaccine against the coronavirus that has sparked a pandemic since first emerging from China late last year. But more people might eventually roll up their sleeves: The poll, released Wednesday, found 31% simply weren’t sure if they’d get vaccinated. Another 1 in 5 said they’d refuse.
Health experts already worry about the whiplash if vaccine promises like President Donald Trump’s goal of a 300-million-dose stockpile by January fail. Only time and science will tell — and the new poll shows the public is indeed skeptical.
“It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
“The unexpected looms large and that’s why I think for any of these vaccines, we’re going to need a large safety database to provide the reassurance,” he added.
Among Americans who say they wouldn’t get vaccinated, 7 in 10 worry about safety.
“I am not an anti-vaxxer,” said Melanie Dries, 56, of Colorado Springs, Colorado. But, “to get a COVID-19 vaccine within a year or two … causes me to fear that it won’t be widely tested as to side effects.”
Read the story here.
Will you go back to the gym when the shutdown ends? Here are some things to consider
With gyms closed, exercise enthusiasts across the nation have kept up with their fitness regimens by switching to online workouts, running and making use of household objects. Now gyms are preparing to reopen, and some fitness buffs will be able to return to in-person instruction and commercial-grade equipment. But should they?
Right now, the gym is a “high-risk environment,” says Jose Jimenez, a University of Colorado at Boulder chemistry professor who studies coronavirus transmission. Being in a densely populated space for a significant period increases your risk, he says, particularly if the ventilation is suboptimal.
Many Americans, too, remain leery of the gym; a recent Washington Post-University of Maryland national poll found that 78% of respondents think gyms should remain closed.
White House guidelines permit gyms to operate “if they adhere to strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols.” However, the details are unclear, leaving much room for interpretation by state and local governments. In Florida, for example, gyms can operate only at 50% capacity and as long as they adopt “appropriate social distancing measures”; in Arkansas, there is no capacity rule, but patrons must be 12 feet apart.
In Washington state, gym reopenings will be gradual. Personal training and small-group fitness classes of five people or fewer can resume in the second phase of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening. The instructor must, however, conduct a safety briefing or show a safety video at the beginning of every session that asks everyone to maintain social distancing and enforce new safety protocols. Starting in the third phase, gyms can open at less than 50% capacity.
But the decision is personal based on each person's own cost-benefit analysis. Among the factors to consider are the number of cases in your area, your health, the density of people at the gym and the ventilation.
To see the other factors that should be considered, read the story here.
Quarantine Corner: Making it easier to stay home
J.K. Rowling has begun publishing a free new story online for children in lockdown. "The Ickabog" has 34 daily installments.
Get the kids outside to save their mental health, and yours, as time wears on. Here are a few fun, creative ways to do that.
Want to know what Phase 2 looks like? See Skamania County — and its new fears
Skamania County, on Washington's southern border, was among the first to move ahead in Gov. Jay Inslee's reopening plan, and Memorial Day crowds soon flocked in. Many residents worry that the rural isolation that has shielded them now threatens to turn their home into a virus hot spot.
New sights inside the zoo
As some of Woodland Park Zoo's nearly 1,000 animals notice the lack of a human audience, keepers are taking them on little field trips outside their exhibits to see each other.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
The coronavirus will come roaring back in King County without comprehensive testing, contact tracing and quarantines, a new report says. The soonest the county could move to the next phase of reopening is Monday, but it’s nowhere near the criteria for that. Here’s where things stand.
A hundred thousand American lives, wiped out by a disease we'd never heard of just six months ago. The U.S. will hit that official milestone this week, and though the number is flawed, it raises fundamental questions. In Washington state, the death toll is 1,078. Track the spread of the virus as it expands its grip on the world.
The “Patient Zero” who wasn’t: A new genetic analysis is rewriting the history of Washington’s coronavirus outbreak, busting beliefs about how the virus first hit the U.S. — and showcasing the power of quick action.
Boeing layoffs may come as soon as today. As workers brace for the hit, the company is taking a tentative step toward stability by controlling the spread of coronavirus. It isn’t easy.
“I’m hiding from the bank.” Washingtonians’ increasingly desperate struggles to get the aid that was promised to them show how the bottom may be falling out of the pandemic response, columnist Danny Westneat writes. Nationwide, millions of children are still waiting for help from an emergency hunger program created months ago.
Don't stop with the social distancing, even when your community opens up, the CDC warns. These are the measures it recommends for the indefinite future.
When can people safely visit their grandchildren? Scientists are outlining strategies and questions to ask. One crucial one: whether everyone involved can seal the leaks in their quarantine bubble.
Do as I say, not as I do: Public officials don't always set the best coronavirus examples, and their perceived missteps are going viral.
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