Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, Sept. 17, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated. Click here to see all the most recent news about the pandemic, and click here to find additional resources.

Nearly seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, confusion is swirling around when a vaccine might be approved in the United States.

Meanwhile, the virus continues to spread. In Washington, a Department of Health report released Wednesday showed the agency isn’t meeting its COVID-19 contact tracing goals.

Throughout Thursday, on this page, we’ll post updates on the pandemic and its effects on the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest and the world. Updates from Wednesday are here, and all our coronavirus coverage can be found here.

(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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Moderna, Pfizer reveal secret blueprints for coronavirus vaccine trials

Two drug companies that are leading the race to develop coronavirus vaccines bowed to public pressure Thursday, abandoning their traditional secrecy and releasing comprehensive road maps of how they are evaluating their vaccines.

The companies, Moderna and Pfizer, revealed details about how participants are being selected and monitored, the conditions under which the trials could be stopped early if there were problems, and the evidence researchers will use to determine whether people who got the vaccines were protected from COVID-19.

Moderna’s study will involve 30,000 participants, and Pfizer’s 44,000.

Companies typically share these documents after their studies are complete. The disclosures while the trials are still underway, a rare move, are aimed at addressing growing suspicion among Americans that President Donald Trump’s drive to produce a vaccine before the election on Nov. 3 could result in a product that was unsafe.

The plan released by Moderna on Thursday morning included a likely timetable that could reach into next year for determining whether its vaccine works. It does not jibe with the president’s optimistic predictions of a vaccine widely available to the public in October.

—The New York Times
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EvergreenHealth reports two patients likely became infected with COVID-19 at hospital

Two patients on the same medical unit at EvergreenHealth in Kirkland likely became infected with COVID-19 after receiving care in the hospital, according to hospital leaders. 

“We do not know what the actual transmission source is, despite analysis,” said Dr. Ettore Palazzo, Chief Medical & Quality Officer of EvergreenHealth, who added that the virus could have been transmitted to the patients by a health-care worker, family member or visitor. 

Palazzo said the two patients tested positive on Sept. 12 and Sept. 13. Both patients were admitted in late August, Palazzo said. One tested negative for COVID-19 upon admission. The other did not have symptoms at the time and was not tested, but enough time had passed that it was unlikely the patient had become infected with the virus before receiving care at Evergreen.    

The two patients represent the first recorded hospital-acquired infections at EvergreenHealth. Palazzo did not share any demographic details about the infected patients, citing their privacy.  

Read the full story here.

—Evan Bush

2 people test positive for COVID-19 after staying at King County clean-air shelter

Two people who were staying at King County's temporary shelter in Sodo to escape the poor air quality have tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, the county Department of Community and Human Services said in a Thursday statement.

The county opened its clean-air shelter on Sept. 11 to bring people who are homelessness inside, to protect them from the wildfire smoke that's polluted Washington air for the past week. Thursday, the county said the two people were at the shelter while potentially contagious.

Shelter staff are in the process of notifying all guests, staff and visitors about their possible exposure from Saturday to Monday, the statement said. Anyone who was at the shelter during that period was tested for coronavirus on Thursday.

Read the full story here.

—Elise Takahama

Washington health officials have received CDC vaccine development 'playbook'

Washington health officials confirmed Thursday they recently received a "playbook" from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), detailing the agency's proposal for vaccine development.

The CDC has chosen five regions — four states and a city — to launch its vaccine pilot project, according to a statement from the Washington state Department of Health (DOH). While Washington isn't one of the pilot states, our health officials will develop plans based on lessons learned from the CDC project, the statement said.

DOH officials have 30 days — until Oct. 16 — to review the federal government's playbook and respond with Washington's plan.

"We want to remind people that when a coronavirus vaccine is approved and released, we will not have enough at first to offer it to everyone," the statement said. "Prioritization will happen at the federal level first. Because there won’t be a lot of vaccine available in the first round, the state will work on further prioritization."

First priority groups could include essential workers, health care workers and residents and workers at long-term care facilities, the statement said.

"We will watch the FDA approval process closely to make sure it is thorough and transparent," DOH said. "The department is committed to science and the need to critically evaluate these new vaccines for their safety and efficacy in an unbiased way before their use."

While the federal government will cover the cost of the vaccine once it's been approved, it's possible health care providers could charge a fee to administer it to patients and/or for the cost of an office visit — though health insurance will most likely cover those fees, according to the statement. The state will also work with those without health insurance, DOH said.

—Elise Takahama
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CDC testing guidance was published against scientists’ objections

A heavily criticized recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month about who should be tested for the coronavirus was not written by CDC scientists and was posted to the agency’s website despite their serious objections, according to several people familiar with the matter as well as internal documents obtained by The New York Times.

The guidance said it was not necessary to test people without symptoms of COVID-19 even if they had been exposed to the virus. It came at a time when public health experts were pushing for more testing rather than less, and administration officials told The Times that the document was a CDC product and had been revised with input from the agency’s director, Dr. Robert Redfield.

But officials told The Times this week that the Department of Health and Human Services did the rewriting itself and then “dropped” it into the CDC’s public website, flouting the agency’s strict scientific review process.

“That was a doc that came from the top down, from the HHS and the task force,” said a federal official with knowledge of the matter, referring to the White House task force on the coronavirus. “That policy does not reflect what many people at the CDC feel should be the policy.”

The document contains “elementary errors” — such as referring to “testing for COVID-19,” as opposed to testing for the virus that causes it — and recommendations inconsistent with the CDC’s stance that mark it to anyone in the know as not having been written by agency scientists, according to a senior CDC scientist who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of a fear of repercussions.

—The New York Times

Coronavirus cases in Oregon top 30,000

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Oregon Health Authority reported no additional deaths and 215 more COVID-19 cases as the total number of Oregonians with confirmed or suspected infections topped 30,000 since the start of the pandemic.

State officials did not report any fatalities Thursday. It’s the first time since Aug. 23 that health authorities reported no deaths, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

The state Thursday reported 109 Oregonians with confirmed infections are currently in the hospital, down five from Wednesday. Oregon remains well below its capacity, with hundreds of hospital beds and ventilators available.

Oregon has reported 30,060 confirmed or presumed infections and 521 deaths, among the lowest totals in the nation. To date, 624,164 Oregonians have been tested.

—Associated Press

Another landlord group sues Seattle over eviction moratoriums

An apartment building on  Thomas Street in Seattle.  A group of landlords is suing the city over restrictions on eviction proceedings during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)
An apartment building on Thomas Street in Seattle. A group of landlords is suing the city over restrictions on eviction proceedings during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)

Seattle’s moratorium on residential evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic is facing yet another legal challenge — this time from the Rental Housing Association of Washington (RHAWA), a lobbying group representing nearly 3,000 small landlords across the state.

But like a similar complaint filed earlier this month, this suit may not get far.

In a sharply worded complaint, the landlord organization and four of its members Thursday asked the King County Superior Court to declare the city’s eviction moratorium null and void, on the grounds that it unconstitutionally deprives landlords of property without due process.

Seattle’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium expires six months after the city’s coronavirus state of emergency ends. Right now, the state of emergency ends in December — meaning the eviction ban lasts through June.

Read the full story here.

—Katherine K. Long
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Seattle Opera eliminates six jobs, continues furloughs, citing COVID revenue losses

Seattle Opera cut six administrative positions, citing losses of revenue due to the pandemic. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)
Seattle Opera cut six administrative positions, citing losses of revenue due to the pandemic. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

Seattle Opera has cut six administrative positions from its workforce, and has dozens of employees still on furlough, citing losses of revenue from the pandemic.

“The global pandemic has been a painful and challenging time for arts and cultural workers,” said Kristina Murti, the opera’s director of marketing and communications. “Seattle Opera is no exception.”

In late April, the company received a $2.3 million federal loan under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), but it had to furlough 46 administrative staffers after that money ran out in June. Seattle Opera canceled its performance of “La bohème,” scheduled for May, so was unable to hire a planned 250 musicians, crew, singers, costumers, and hair and makeup artists; it has since canceled the first operas for this fall, instead putting together a fall season of online programming.

Before the pandemic, Murti said, Seattle Opera had 72 full-time administrative positions and 16 part-time administrative staffers.

Read the full story here.

—Brendan Kiley

Report: Much needs doing to shield nursing homes from virus

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is claiming “resounding vindication” from an independent commission’s report on the coronavirus crisis in nursing homes, but some panel members say that’s a misinterpretation of their conclusion that much remains to be done to safeguard vulnerable residents.

People in long-term care facilities represent less than 1% of the U.S. population but more than 40% of the coronavirus deaths, according to the COVID Tracking Project, which has tallied 77,000 deaths among residents and staff. Those harsh numbers are a sensitive political issue for President Donald Trump, who is trying to hang on to support from older voters.

Vice President Mike Pence met with some of the commission members Thursday and called their report “a significant contribution to our ongoing effort to ensure the health and well-being of our seniors in nursing homes and long-term care facilities around the country.”

The commission was set up by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS. Agency administrator Seema Verma called its findings “an invaluable action plan for the future and a resounding vindication of our overall approach to date.”

But with 27 major recommendations in the commission report, it’s not time for for officials to take a bow, several members noted.

“There’s an enormous to-do list in front of us,” said Terry Fulmer, a commission member and president of the John A. Hartford Foundation, which works to improve care for older adults.

—Associated Press

Washington confirms 386 new coronavirus cases

Health officials confirmed 386 new COVID-19 cases and 11 additional deaths in Washington Thursday.

The update brings the state’s totals to 81,198 infections and 2,031 deaths, meaning that 2.5% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the state Department of Health (DOH). The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

Health officials also reported that 7,196 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus.

In King County, the state’s most populous, state health officials have confirmed 21,148 infections and 750 deaths.

—Elise Takahama
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What do Pacific Northwesterners do when COVID nixes wedding plans? Elope, outdoor adventure-style

When Katelin Kennedy had her final wedding dress fitting in early August, she sheepishly revealed that hiking boots would complement her gown. Without skipping a beat, the seamstress quipped, “Oh, honey, you are not even the first bride today to tell me that.” 

Such is a sign of the times — and the place — here in the Pacific Northwest. With COVID-19 derailing so many life events, meticulously planned weddings have fallen among the wreckage, too. Yet innovative, resilient couples have transitioned to safer alternatives, and with such a large outdoors community in the Greater Seattle area, it’s no surprise that many have found unexpected silver linings among the region’s peaks and pines.

Lindsey Ganahl, an Issaquah-based photographer who specializes in adventure elopements, saw inquiries surge by as much as 75% this summer. 

Local wedding planner and floral designer Kiara Hancock appreciates this shift to elopements and microweddings. 

“Big celebrations are fun and totally have their place. But small celebrations tend to really pack a meaningful punch,” Hancock said, suggesting that couples maintain a few small details they had been really counting on. 

Click here to see how some Seattle-area couples switched gears to entirely rewrite their wedding plans in the last six months.

—Corinne Whiting, Special to The Seattle Times

Whitmer: Mask order applies to Big Ten, but may be changed

LANSING, Mich — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office said Thursday her requirement that athletes wear masks applies to Big Ten football in Michigan, but a face shield will suffice for players and the administration is open to potentially changing the order.

Her office said it will talk to the conference about the mandate, which covers organized sports in which athletes cannot keep distance “except for occasional and fleeting moments.” The state measure exempts professional sports and amateur sports like tennis, golf, cross country, baseball and softball.

The Big Ten announced Wednesday it plans to open its football season the weekend of Oct. 23-24, reversing a decision to push fall sports to the spring in the name of player safety during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Democratic governor’s order covers both training and competition.

Mark Totten, Whitmer’s chief legal counsel, said pro athletes do not face the mask requirement because of their sports’ “very rigorous protocols.”

Asked if the order could be revised before Big Ten football starts, he told The Associated Press: “This development just came yesterday from the Big Ten. I think we’re certainly open to having conversations.”

—Associated Press

Washington’s prisons may have hit pivotal moment as they eye deep cut in their population

Twyla Kill is not used to agreeing with the state prison system. Her husband, serving time at the Monroe Correctional Complex, sued the state seeking the release of inmates due to COVID-19. She picketed outside the prison.

But she found herself shocked, in a good way, when she saw what the Department of Corrections (DOC) is proposing to save money as the pandemic eats into the state budget.

Needing to show the governor how it could cut 15%, the department drafted a strategy that had Kill from the first line. “There must be a significant and permanent reduction in prison population,” it read. Permanent, Kill stressed.

The state’s prison system now appears ready to lead the type of changes supported for years by activists and some legislators to counter increasingly long sentences, startling racial disproportionality and what is often termed mass incarceration. While the state’s incarceration rate has dipped roughly 9% over the last decade, and is lower than the national average, it is still more than double what it was in 1980.

The changes would shrink the prison population in the next fiscal year by about 30%, according to a letter last week from Sinclair to the Office of Financial Management.

Read the full story here.

—Nina Shapiro
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Barr under fire over comparison of virus lock-in to slavery

WASHINGTON — Attorney General William Barr drew sharp condemnation Thursday for comparing lockdown orders during the coronavirus pandemic to slavery.

In remarks Wednesday night at an event hosted by Hillsdale College, Barr had called the lockdown orders the “greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history” since slavery.

His comments, at a Northern Virginia event hosted by the school, also criticized his own prosecutors for behaving as “headhunters” in their pursuit of prominent targets and for using the weight of the criminal justice system to launch what he said were “ill-conceived” political probes.

Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the No. 3 House Democratic leader, told CNN that Barr’s remarks were “the most ridiculous, tone-deaf, God-awful things I’ve ever heard” because they wrongly equated human bondage with a measure aimed at saving lives.

“Slavery was not about saving lives. It was about devaluing lives,” Clyburn said. “This pandemic is a threat to human life.”

—Associated Press

NYC again delays in-person learning for most students

NEW YORK — New York City’s ambitious attempt to be among the first big cities to bring students back into classrooms closed by the coronavirus suffered another setback Thursday, as the mayor announced he was again delaying the start of in-person instruction for most students due to a shortage of staff and supplies.

De Blasio announced a new timeline that will keep most elementary school students out of their physical classrooms until Sept. 29. Middle and high school students will learn remotely through Oct. 1.

“We are doing this to make sure all of the standards we set can be achieved,” de Blasio said.

The plan, which has now been delayed twice since it was announced in July, is for the majority of the more than 1 million public school students to be in the classroom one to three days a week and learning remotely the rest of the time. About 42% of families have opted for remote-only instruction.

The delay came just days before students across the nation’s largest school district were set to resume in-person instruction Monday. Now, only pre-kindergarten students and some other special education students will be going back into physical classrooms next week.

—Associated Press

Twisted Sister singer to anti-maskers: Don’t use our song

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Twisted Sister singer Dee Snider took to social media to condemn anti-maskers who went into a Florida Target store blaring the group’s hit “We’re Not Gonna Take It” while ripping off their masks.

In a tweet Wednesday, Snider called the stunt “moronic,” and shared a video that was recorded by an upset customer inside the Target at Coral Ridge Mall in Fort Lauderdale. The video had more than 30 million views.

Snider said the group doesn’t have his “permission or blessing to use my song for their moronic cause.”

The stunt drew quick action from Broward County officials. Target was fined for not enforcing the county’s mask law and citations were mailed to the protesters, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.

—Associated Press
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Reopening phases by county: What you can and can’t do as Washington state reopens from coronavirus lockdown

Slowly but surely, Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase Safe Start plan to reopen Washington is taking effect throughout the state. As of Friday, June 19, almost all of Washington’s 39 counties had advanced at least somewhat beyond the first phase.

Each county can apply to State Secretary of Health John Wiesman for advancement through the different phases on a case-by-case basis, and Wiesman can modify the Safe Start plan to address the needs of different counties.

Counties can also apply to enter a “modified Phase 1,” which eases some restrictions in counties that don’t yet qualify for Phase 2. King County was approved for modified Phase 1 on June 5, then was approved for Phase 2 on June 19.

Click here to see an interactive map that shows the progression of each county through the various phases in real time, as well as what is and isn't allowed in each phase.

—Yasmeen Wafai

Food campaign gets culturally relevant foods to needy families

In order to address existing structural racism and inequities that result in families going hungry, a group of churches and community organizations in the Highline area of King County have kicked off a new campaign called Alimentando El Pueblo -- or Feeding El Pueblo -- to distribute culturally relevant food items to needy families.

The campaign is a partnership with Lake Burien Presbyterian Church, Southwest Youth & Family Services, Para Los Ninos and Colectiva Legal Del Pueblo.

In announcing the campaign, Seattle & King County Public Health cited a recent King County report that showed that -- even before COVID-19 -- 12% of King County adults experienced food insecurity. By June of this year, the report said, 18% more households in King County received food assistance, compared to January 2020 -- an additional 17,300 households.

Lake Burien Presbyterian, Global to Local in Tukwila and other community organizations have regularly provided food to Highline residents. But COVID-19 and its economic impacts have exacerbated “existing structural racism and inequities that result in families going hungry,” Public Health said. 

Since many families in the Highline area are Latinz and have cultural ties throughout the Americas and the Caribbean, partners in Alimentando El Pueblo started raising funds and determining how to source culturally relevant food in bulk to give to their neighbors.

The groups initially raised over $10,000 for bulk food and produce, and, since late July, have distributed 450 boxes to over 1,200 community members.

Alimentando El Pueblo has increased its fundraising goal to $25,ooo and is accepting donations for a second round of food distribution.

Families throughout King County can access emergency food assistance at kingcounty.gov/covid/emergency-food.

—Nicole Brodeur

As India’s virus cases rise, so do questions over death toll

When Narayan Mitra died July 16, a day after being admitted to a hospital for fever and breathing difficulties, his name never appeared on any of the official lists put out daily of those killed by the coronavirus.

Test results later revealed that Mitra had indeed been infected with COVID-19, as had his son, Abhijit, and four other family members in Silchar, in northeastern Assam state, on India’s border with Bangladesh.

But Narayan Mitra still isn’t counted as a coronavirus victim. The virus was deemed an “incidental” factor, and a panel of doctors decided his death was due to a previously diagnosed neurological disorder that causes muscle weakness.

Anindita Mitra, 61, flanked by her sons Satyajit Mitra, right, and Abhijit Mitra, poses with portraits of her husband, Narayan Mitra, at her house in Silchar, India, on Sept. 13. Narayan Mitra, wasn’t listed among those killed by the coronavirus, although he tested positive. (AP Photo/Joy Roy)
Anindita Mitra, 61, flanked by her sons Satyajit Mitra, right, and Abhijit Mitra, poses with portraits of her husband, Narayan Mitra, at her house in Silchar, India, on Sept. 13. Narayan Mitra, wasn’t listed among those killed by the coronavirus, although he tested positive. (AP Photo/Joy Roy)

Such exclusions could explain why India, which has recorded more than 5.1 million infections — second only to the United States — has a death toll of about 83,000 in a country of 1.3 billion people.

“We are undercounting deaths by an unknown factor,” said Dr. T. Jacob John, a retired virologist.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Infection rates soar in college towns as students return

 Just two weeks after students started returning to Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, last month, the surrounding county had become that state’s coronavirus epicenter.

Out of nearly 600 students tested for the virus, more than half have been positive. Dozens of infections have been blamed on off-campus parties, prompting university officials to admonish students.

University President Geoffrey Mearns wrote that the cases apparently were tied not to classrooms or dormitories but to “poor personal choices some students are making, primarily off campus.”

Masked students walk through the campus of Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., earlier this month. College towns across the U.S. have emerged as coronavirus hot spots in recent weeks as schools struggle to contain the virus. Out of nearly 600 students tested for the virus at Ball State, more than half have returned been found positive. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, file)
Masked students walk through the campus of Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., earlier this month. College towns across the U.S. have emerged as coronavirus hot spots in recent weeks as schools struggle to contain the virus. Out of nearly 600 students tested for the virus at Ball State, more than half have returned been found positive. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, file)

“The actions of these students are putting our planned on-campus instruction and activities at risk,” he said.

Similar examples abound in other college towns across the nation. Among the 50 large U.S. counties with the highest percentages of student residents, 20 have consistently reported higher rates of new virus cases than their states have since Sept. 1, according to an Associated Press analysis.

On average, infection rates in those 20 counties have been more than three times higher than their states’ overall rates.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

COVID-19 contact tracing, hailed as a key part of slowing the virus, is falling short in Washington state. This has health officials pleading with the public to cooperate. A lack of clear data on antigen test results is also leaving the state "blind to the pandemic," a public health leader says.

Funerals, weddings and receptions may resume under the state's second and third reopening phases as long as they meet certain requirements, Gov. Jay Inslee announced yesterday.

Vaccines won’t be widely available until the middle of next year, the CDC's director testified yesterday. Then Trump publicly slapped him down, saying a vaccine could arrive in weeks for the general public. They also clashed over masks.

If your university campus closes, should you get your money back? A student has filed a class-action lawsuit against UW, demanding tuition reimbursement.

Should you still wipe everything down to protect yourself from the virus? The answer is probably no, but that doesn't mean surfaces present no risk. Infectious-disease specialists are sharing guidelines on the most important things to wash, and how.

Hawaii will let travelers skip its two-week quarantine if they test negative under its new program.

In this file photo from June 5, 2020, a surfer walks on a sparsely populated Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. Hawaii’s governor says that, starting Oct. 15, travelers arriving from out of state may bypass a 14-day quarantine requirement if they test negative for COVID-19. (Audrey McAvoy / The Associated Press)
In this file photo from June 5, 2020, a surfer walks on a sparsely populated Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. Hawaii’s governor says that, starting Oct. 15, travelers arriving from out of state may bypass a 14-day quarantine requirement if they test negative for COVID-19. (Audrey McAvoy / The Associated Press)
—Kris Higginson

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