Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, May 6, as the day unfolded. Click here to see updates from Thursday, May 7, and click here to find resources and the latest extended coverage of the pandemic.
As Washington state launches into its four-phase reopening plan — starting with state parks, whose closure ended Tuesday — a group that includes four Republican state lawmakers is suing Gov. Jay Inslee, asking a federal court to strike down the stay-home order altogether.
Preliminary numbers show Washington state could lose $7 billion through 2023, making a special legislative session likely this year to adjust the state’s budget. Meanwhile, some of the least populous states in the U.S. have few infections but scored big when Congress pumped out federal aid.
Throughout Wednesday, on this page, we’ll be posting 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.
Frontier Airlines abandons plan to sell $39 social distancing upgrade
Faced with widespread outrage from Democratic lawmakers, Frontier Airlines said late Wednesday it was abandoning its plan to sell passengers a $39 upgrade that would guarantee they could sit next to an empty middle seat while flying during the coronavirus outbreak.
Prominent Democrats on Capitol Hill had criticized the program, scheduled to start Friday, saying it was taking advantage of people’s fear during the pandemic.
And late Wednesday night Frontier Chief Executive Barry Biffle did an about face, outlining the reasons for the change of course in a letter to three Democratic lawmakers that the company also shared with The Washington Post.
Airlines have been grappling with how to keep passengers and their employees safe during the pandemic. Many have taken steps to spread passengers out onboard, but Frontier stood out for offering guaranteed social distancing as a paid-for upgrade.
As hunger swells, food stamps become partisan flashpoint
As a padlocked economy leaves millions of Americans without paychecks, lines outside food banks have stretched for miles, prompting some of the overwhelmed charities to seek help from the National Guard.
New research shows a rise in food insecurity without modern precedent. Among mothers with young children, nearly one-fifth say their children are not getting enough to eat, according to a survey by the Brookings Institution, a rate three times as high as in 2008, during the worst of the Great Recession.
The reality of so many Americans running out of food is an alarming reminder of the economic hardship the pandemic has inflicted. But despite their support for spending trillions on other programs to mitigate those hardships, Republicans have balked at a long-term expansion of food stamps — a core feature of the safety net that once enjoyed broad support but is now a source of a highly partisan divide.
Democrats want to raise food stamp benefits by 15% for the duration of the economic crisis, arguing that a similar move during the Great Recession reduced hunger and helped the economy.
Seattle-based labor group spearheads motorcade in support of essential workers this weekend
A Seattle-based labor group called Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS) is planning to hold an emergency motorcade Saturday to bring attention to the safety demands of essential workers.
The motorcade will begin at noon at First Avenue South and South Lander Street in Seattle's Sodo district, led by bus drivers, custodians, grocery store workers and others, according to an OWLS statement.
The group will stop at "strategic" locations in Seattle, including Amazon and Harborview Medical Center, to "highlight specific workplace struggles," the statement said.
The public and all essential workers are invited to join, the statement said.
Coronavirus wallops Seattle-area home market, knocking down sales and prices
“Spring 2020 is going to be a perfect time to sell your house!”
That’s the advice public-school employees Kristine Nelson and her husband, Will, received when they decided late last year to sell their Vashon Island home.
Typically, housing-market activity strengthens through the spring before peaking in May. But last month, many metrics of housing-market activity fell by double digits, compared both with last month and with last year, according to new data from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service (NWMLS).
Next month’s data will be more telling of the coronavirus’ effect on the housing market, said Windermere chief economist Matthew Gardner, who cautioned against interpreting April’s figures as a trend.
Amazon engineering elites engage in rare public debate over company’s coronavirus safety response, worker treatment
Tim Bray’s resignation from Amazon in protest of its firing worker activists has sparked a rare public debate among the company’s engineering elite, with at least two other top engineers posting responses online Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Amazon confirmed that one of its warehouse employees in New York died of COVID-19 — the fifth known pandemic death among the company’s U.S. workforce — and an employee in Oregon sued the company, alleging she was fired after falling ill with the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
This public back-and-forth about a controversial, high-profile topic is unusual for a company that has lately enforced policies limiting what employees can say publicly without authorization, and for the seniority of those involved. Amazon has about 20 distinguished engineers, according to Porter, out of 935,000 employees.
Coronavirus canceled his Mount Everest climb, so this Seattle man will climb his porch steps 5,683 times to ‘summit’ #AtHomeEverest
Adventurer Andrew Hughes has spent most of his time during Washingon’s stay-home order preparing for one of the most ambitious endurance challenges of his career.
For weeks, he has been running staircases in his Fremont neighborhood while wearing a weighted vest, training to tackle the daunting steps of his front porch that, this Friday, he will climb 5,683 times.
To the recreational hiker, this undertaking may seem absurd, but to endurance athletes, it’s about adapting to the circumstances and redefining the art of the sufferfest.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Hughes was forced to cancel both a marathon and an attempt to climb Mount Everest and Lhotse back-to-back within 24 hours, a conquest only 40 people have achieved.
Washington golfers thrilled to be back on links after coronavirus shutdown
After being shut down for nearly two months because of the coronavirus pandemic, golf courses in Washington state reopened Tuesday to a picturesque day.
Folks were teeming with joy at Bellevue Golf Course, which booked out within minutes of Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement last week that it was OK to play golf.
“It was like I was getting Taylor Swift tickets,” said Tony Miller, who had to cancel two golf vacations between the start of the shutdown and Tuesday. “The minute the governor said we could play on the 5th, it was like getting Seahawks playoff tickets.”
Tony and his wife Stacey were among the dozens of twosomes at BGC finally allowed to get their fix.
507 coronavirus deaths in Washington linked to long-term care facilities
The majority of deaths from COVID-19 in Washington state have been linked to long-term care facilities, according to new numbers from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH).
Officials had linked 2,894 cases, including 507 deaths, to long-term care facilities by Saturday. These deaths made up about 60% of the total deaths the state was then reporting and continue to represent a majority of the state's updated death toll.
The cases include residents, employees and visitors who were at nursing homes, assisted living facilities or adult family homes around the time they were exposed. Officials cannot definitively say that long-term care facilities were the source of infection for all the cases they identified, as some people visited multiple places around the time they were exposed.
About 250 long-term care facilities in the state have now reported at least one case of COVID-19 among residents or staff, according to the state Department of Social and Health Services.
State officials have provided infrequent updates on the number of cases and deaths linked to these facilities and last provided these numbers about a month ago. DOH plans to have running totals on its online data dashboard soon.
State confirms 15,905 COVID-19 cases
State health officials confirmed 311 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, including eight more deaths.
The recent update brings Washington's totals to 15,905 cases and 870 deaths.
So far, 224,813 tests for the illness have been conducted in Washington, according to the state. Of those, about 7.1% have come back positive.
King County, the state's most populous, has had 6,704 positive test results and 474 deaths, accounting for 54.5% of the state's death toll.
Quest for a coronavirus treatment involves door-to-door blood collection and a llama named Winter
The global search for a treatment targeting the novel coronavirus has led to an unlikely potential savior: a cocoa-colored llama named Winter, whose blood could hold a weapon to blunt the virus.
She lives at a research farm in Belgium with about 130 other llamas and alpacas. And like all of them, she produces a special class of disease-fighting antibodies — tiny, even by antibody standards — that show early promise in laboratory tests in blocking the novel coronavirus from entering and infecting cells.
In a paper published Tuesday in the journal Cell, an international team of scientists reports that these petite antibodies, harvested from Winter’s blood, were used to engineer a new antibody that binds to the spiky proteins that stud the surface of the novel coronavirus, “neutralizing” its insidious effect. The study, though preliminary, points to a possible treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, if the results hold up in animal and human studies.
Princess Cruises and Holland America cancel remaining cruises out of Seattle
Princess Cruises and Holland America Lines have canceled all Alaska itineraries for the rest of the year, slashing by nearly half the number of ships still planning to call at Seattle in the latter half of the summer.
The announcement followed close on the heels of Carnival Cruises' decision Monday to cancel Alaska voyages on the Carnival Spirit, which left the number of scheduled Seattle ports of call at 125, down from 232 before the coronavirus pandemic. The Port of Seattle estimates nearly $4 million in economic activity is generated each time a cruise ship docks at Seattle.
Both companies attributed the cancellations to ongoing travel restrictions in place to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.
In a statement that did not mention the COVID-19 pandemic by name, Princess said the cancellations were due to "reduced flight availability, the closure of cruise ports in regions around the world and other factors impacting international travel."
At least 65 people who have traveled on cruise ships have died of the novel coronavirus, and outbreaks have been recorded on at least 55 ships, according to The Washington Post. Federal health officials barred cruise ships from sailing until late summer after finding infected passengers transmitted COVID-19 to communities far from shore.
Bellevue will close 1.5 miles of street to create more space for pedestrians, bicyclists
Two residential streets in Bellevue will close Thursday until further notice to allow more space for people to walk and bike while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The two streets, totaling about 1.5 miles, are in the Lake Hills and Northeast Bellevue neighborhoods.
Southeast Fourth Street between the Lake Hills Greenbelt and 164th Avenue Southeast as well as portions of the 165th and 166th avenues between Northeast Fourth Street and Northup Way will be closed to nonessential traffic.
More streets could be closed in the future, according to the city’s website.
Residents and emergency response vehicles; garbage and recycling pickups; delivery vehicles and other essential services may continue to drive on the streets.
The closures follow several other cities, including Seattle, which have transformed vehicle traffic space for pedestrians, bicyclists and other users to provide more room for recreation and to reach essential services.
Signs will be placed on the streets to notify drivers of the closures. Information will be mailed to residents who live on and near the closed streets informing them of the closures, according to the city.
National parks start to reopen as agency ‘worst case scenario’ projects staff hospitalizations
Across the country, several major national parks are taking steps toward reopening after shutting down to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Officials this week are beginning to unlatch the gates and let visitors in at some parks that shuttered, trying to balance efforts slow spread of the virus and President Donald Trump’s desire to reopen the parks amid a broader push to reinvigorate the economy.
But some park employee advocates are pointing to the agency’s own projections of a “worst case scenario” that predicts the hospitalization of staff members who live at the parks if they reopen when the virus is unchecked. Advocates worry the Trump administration may be putting rangers and other employees at risk of serious illness for a short-term political gain.
“This is serious business,” said Phil Francis, head of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, a group of current and former park employees and volunteers. “It really calls for a really serious commitment to mitigating the risk.”
Read the full story here.
Millions of Americans will refuse to get a coronavirus vaccine when it becomes available, polls say
Scientists across the globe are working hard to develop a COVID-19 vaccine as worldwide deaths from the coronavirus illness push toward 300,000.
But there’s no guarantee these vaccine efforts will succeed — and millions of Americans seem to be fine with that.
The results from a new set of surveys by Morning Consult found that 14 percent of American adults would not get a COVID-19 vaccine if one were available and 22 percent aren’t sure if they would. In a separate recent survey, currently undergoing peer review, political scientists Kristin Lunz Trujillo and Matt Motta found that 23% of U.S. respondents said they would not get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Anti-vaccine activists have participated in many of the protests across the U.S. against governors’ stay-at-home orders, which are meant to slow the coronavirus pandemic. Anti-vaccine leaders tend to argue that fear of COVID-19 is being manufactured by corrupt governments and corporations. Various false claims are being spread, such as “the idea that a vaccine has existed for years and has been kept from public consumption,” write Trujillo and Motta.
Morning Consult’s latest data shows that 64% of American adults overall say they would get a COVID-19 vaccine. That rises to 80% among those 65 and older.
The age group most likely to take a pass on a vaccine: those between 35 and 44. In the Morning Consult polls, only 53% of Americans in this age group said they’d get vaccinated, and 18% said they wouldn’t. Twenty-eight percent said they don’t know if they would.
How Kushner’s volunteer force led a fumbling hunt for medical supplies
This spring, as the United States faced a critical shortage of masks, gloves and other protective equipment to battle the coronavirus pandemic, a South Carolina physician reached out to the Federal Emergency Management Agency with an offer of help.
Dr. Jeffrey Hendricks had longtime manufacturing contacts in China and a line on millions of masks from established suppliers. Instead of encountering seasoned FEMA procurement officials, his information was diverted to a team of roughly a dozen young volunteers, recruited by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and overseen by a former assistant to Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump.
The volunteers, foot soldiers in the Trump administration’s new supply-chain task force, had little to no experience with government procurement procedures or medical equipment. But as part of Kushner’s governmentwide push to secure protective gear for the nation’s doctors and nurses, the volunteers were put in charge of sifting through more than a thousand incoming leads, and told to pass only the best ones on for further review by FEMA officials.
As the federal government’s warehouses were running bare and medical workers improvised their own safety gear, Hendricks found his offer stalled. Many of the volunteers were told to prioritize tips from political allies and associates of President Donald Trump, tracked on a spreadsheet called “VIP Update,” according to documents and emails obtained by The New York Times. Among them were leads from Republican members of Congress, Trump youth activist Charlie Kirk and a former “Apprentice” contestant who serves as the campaign chair of Women for Trump.
Few of the leads, VIP or otherwise, panned out, according to a whistleblower memo written by one volunteer and sent to the House Oversight Committee. While Vice President Mike Pence dropped by the volunteers’ windowless command center in Washington to cheer them on, they were confused and overwhelmed by their task, the whistleblower said in interviews.
The search for new supplies — heralded by Trump and Kushner as a way to pipe private-sector hustle and accountability into the hidebound federal bureaucracy — became a case study of Trump’s style of governing, in which personal relationships and loyalty are often prized over governmental expertise, and private interests are granted extraordinary access and deference.
Read the story here.
The second virus wave: How bad will it be as lockdowns ease?
From the marbled halls of Italy to the wheat fields of Kansas, health authorities are increasingly warning that the question isn’t whether a second wave of coronavirus infections and deaths will hit, but when — and how badly.
As more countries and U.S. states chaotically re-open for business — including some where infection rates are rising — managing future cases is as important as preventing them.
In India, which partly eased its virus lockdown this week, health authorities scrambled Wednesday to contain an outbreak at a massive market. Experts in hard-hit Italy, which just began easing some restrictions, warned lawmakers that a new wave of virus infections and deaths is coming. They urged intensified efforts to identify possible new victims, monitor their symptoms and trace their contacts.
Germany warned of a second and even a third wave, and threatened to re-impose virus restrictions if new cases can’t be contained. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was meeting Wednesday with the country’s 16 governors to discuss further loosening restrictions that have crippled Europe’s largest economy.
“There will be a second wave, but the problem is to which extent. Is it a small wave or a big wave? It’s too early to say,” said Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at France’s Pasteur Institute.
Read the story here.
‘We were at a COVID party’: People hold coronavirus gatherings in Walla Walla area
Some people are intentionally flouting health recommendations by exposing themselves and others to COVID-19 in Walla Walla County, officials said.
Meghan DeBolt, director of the county’s Department of Community Health, told the Union-Bulletin that contact tracing has revealed that some are attending parties with the idea that it is better to get sick with the virus and get it over with.
New positive test results in the county have resulted from such gatherings, she said.
“We ask about contacts, and there are 25 people because: ‘We were at a COVID party,’ ” DeBolt said.
She called the parties irresponsible and unacceptable.
Walla Walla Police Chief Scott Bieber noted that disobeying Gov. Jay Inslee’s March 23 “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order is illegal.
Read the story here.
Home-sale activity dampened by COVID now edging up
Both new listings and pending sales took a beating as COVID-19 infections spread in Western Washington. The Northwest Multiple Listing Service blocked use of its search tools for open house listings on March 16, a week before Gov. Jay Inslee announced the statewide stay-at-home order barring all nonessential business activities.
Restrictions on home-sales activities have been loosened in subsequent weeks, allowing showings by appointment. Still, agreements to buy and new listings remain well below last year's level heading into the traditionally busy spring home-buying season, though they appear to be rebounding now.
Quarantine Corner: Making it easier to be stuck at home
Everyone’s been cooking like crazy. Here's what Seattle-area residents have been making, and how our flour storms differ from those across the rest of the nation.
Fancy a spot of tea? A Capitol Hill bakery is sharing a recipe for a sweet, comforting British snack to go with it.
Nobody’s doing game nights in person, but you'll find a new dimension of fun and friendship in the virtual version.
'I'm back from the dead': How a Seattle man survived a 62-day battle with COVID-19
Michael Flor, 70, choked out what he believed was a final goodbye to his wife, as a nurse held a phone to his ear.
"He was as sick as you can get," his doctor says.
But yesterday, dozens of doctors and nurses clapped him out of the hospital after a two-month stay. Watch that emotional moment, and read the story of how Swedish's longest-hospitalized patient fought off the coronavirus, emerging into a stunning new era.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
State parks seemed "busy ... but not unmanageable" as they reopened yesterday, but the true test will come in the days ahead when temperatures flirt with 80 degrees. Here are some things to keep in mind if you're heading out.
Washington state faces painful cuts to parks, schools, social-service programs and more as preliminary numbers show a possible $7 billion hit to revenue through 2023. A special legislative session is likely.
Health officials are increasingly warning of a second wave of infections and deaths around the globe. The question isn't whether it will hit, they say: It's when, and how badly.
The president has resumed travel, touring an Arizona mask factory. Nearly all workers there wore masks; the president and Honeywell executives did not.
A top federal vaccine official says he was ousted for prioritizing "science and safety" over politics. Rick Bright had raised concerns over a drug touted by Trump.
Nordstrom is permanently closing 16 full-line stores and changing how other ones function as it adapts to new realities.
Starbucks is reopening most of its coffee shops by the end of this week. Customers can expect changes, from ordering to paying and picking up drinks.
Some tribes have reopened casinos in Washington, and more will soon follow. At least one tribe is checking every customer's temperature.
People are holding coronavirus parties in Walla Walla County, thinking it's better to get COVID-19 over with. Local officials are saying this is a bad idea.
Four Republican lawmakers sued Gov. Jay Inslee in federal court yesterday, arguing "the emergency has been contained" and the stay-home order should be struck down.
Alaska Airlines is facing significant cuts after its parent company's first quarterly loss in more than a decade.
Renton leaders are pushing King County to move 200 homeless people out of a hotel where they've been sheltering against the spread of coronavirus. First responders are strained and businesses are anxious, officials say.
Didn’t get your stimulus payment yet? Here’s what to do.
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