Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, Sept. 18, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Efforts to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 continue. Washington state health officials received a vaccine “playbook” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this week. And on Thursday, two drug companies working on a vaccine revealed details on how they’re monitoring the process.
Throughout Friday, 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 Thursday are here, and all our coronavirus coverage can be found here.
COVID-19 testing decrease due wildfires and poor air quality
SALEM, Ore. — The availability of coronavirus testing in Oregon decreased this week due to the massive wildfires and the hazardous air quality that stretched across the state.
Despite this, officials said Friday that data continues to show a decline in the rate of COVID-19 transmission in the state. Many outdoor testing sites in Oregon and the state’s laboratory that processes and holds tests were closed this week.
In August, Oregon performed an average of 32,000 tests per week. Last week, as thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes because of wildfires, Oregon tested 19,465 people, officials said.
To date, Oregon has tested approximately 616,600 people for COVID-19.
Snohomish County health department restarts COVID-19 testing after closing because of air quality concerns
The Snohomish County health department, which halted its drive-thru COVID-19 testing in Everett last week because of the poor air quality, is restarting its testing operations this weekend.
The new schedule for testing, which will take place at 3900 Broadway in Everett, is as follows:
- Saturday, Sept. 19, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Monday, Sept. 21, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Tuesday, Sept. 22, from noon to 7 p.m.
- Wednesday, Sept. 23, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Thursday, Sept. 24, from noon to 7 p.m.
- Friday, Sept. 25, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Snohomish Health District will also offer testing at the Lynnwood Food Bank at 5320 176th St. Southwest on Tuesday, Sept. 22. Appointments there will be available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information about testing in Snohomish County, click here.
Native Americans feel double pain of COVID-19 and fires ‘gobbling up the ground’
When the first fire of the season broke out on the Hoopa Valley Reservation in Northern California in July, Greg Moon faced a dilemma.
As Hoopa’s fire chief and its pandemic team leader, Moon feared the impact of the blaze on the dense coniferous forests of the reservation, near Redwood National and State Parks, where 3,000 tribal members depend on steelhead trout and coho salmon fishing. He was even more terrified of a deadly viral outbreak in his tribe, which closed its land to visitors in March.
Eventually, the three major blazes that burned nearly 100,000 acres around Hoopa were too much for the tribe’s 25-member fire team. Moon had no choice but to request help from federal wildland rangers and other tribal firefighters.
Native American tribes are no strangers to fire. Working with flames to burn away undergrowth and bring nutrients and biodiversity back to lands is an ingrained part of their heritage. But epidemics are also a familiar scourge. With the devastation that pathogens like smallpox and measles brought to Native populations following the arrival of Europeans, tribes are especially wary of COVID-19’s impact.
“When thinking about the potential of COVID-19 repeating history and wiping out entire communities and tribes, there is concern,” said Vernon Stearns, who, as the fuels manager for the Spokane Tribe in Eastern Washington, is responsible for organizing controlled burns.
King County property taxes will be due Nov. 2; no COVID-19 extension this time
King County property owners who pay their property taxes themselves, rather than through mortgage lenders, must pay their taxes for the second half of 2020 by Nov. 2, the county announced Friday.
There won’t be a deadline extension this fall, like there was this past spring, the county said, describing the tax revenue as necessary to keep cities, schools, hospitals and fire departments running.
Pierce and Snohomish counties also are maintaining their Nov. 2 deadlines.
Property taxes for the first half of 2020 were going to be due on April 30, but King County extended that deadline to June 1 after the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, giving property owners more time amid an economic crisis.
“Many homeowners are facing extraordinary financial challenges during this public health emergency,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said at the time, issuing an emergency order he said would provide “short-term relief.”
There was no extension in the spring for banks and other financial institutions that pay property taxes on behalf of their customers. About 55% of King County homeowners pay through lenders, according to the county.
China and Russia lead the coronavirus vaccine race, bending long-standing rules as they go
SEOUL — China and Russia have begun a mass rollout of their coronavirus vaccines before clinical tests are complete, in what is emerging as an unexpectedly complex geopolitical challenge for the United States.
China’s Sinopharm announced this week that it would provide emergency doses of one of its two trial vaccines to the United Arab Emirates, prioritizing the U.S. ally over the vast majority of Chinese. China is now the sole supplier of coronavirus vaccine to the Middle East.
Meanwhile, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund signed a deal this week to supply India with 100 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine.
These moves have thrown Western policymakers off balance. American health-care experts say the United States should not rush out its own vaccine in response. But that leaves China and Russia as the only countries wielding this valuable diplomatic tool for potentially months to come.
The upshot is that by next year, China and Russia may have purchased significant geopolitical power by having bent the rules and rushed out their vaccines. It’s also possible their vaccines may fail, at enormous human cost.
“It’s really insane and a terrible idea,” said Arthur Caplan, head of the division of medical ethics at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, of China and Russia not waiting for the results of Phase 3 trials. “It’s staggeringly hard to comprehend.”
Washington confirms 404 new coronavirus cases
Health officials confirmed 404 new coronavirus cases and six additional deaths in Washington on Friday.
The update brings the state’s totals to 81,602 infections and 2,037 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. Thursday.
Health officials also reported that 7,215 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus.
In King County, the state’s most populous, state health officials have confirmed 21,264 infections and 751 deaths.
How wildfire smoke driving people inside lately could affect the spread of the new coronavirus
The outdoors has been a lifeline for many people during our COVID-induced lockdown. It gave us somewhere to go when gyms and restaurants were closed, and gathering (in small numbers, distantly, with masks) outdoors is much safer, coronavirus-wise, than doing so indoors.
But that outlet has been choked off over the past week and a half by wildfire smoke.
The acrid air smothering the Puget Sound region was rated “unhealthy,” “very unhealthy,” at times even “hazardous” by the state Department of Ecology. The advice for avoiding it: stay indoors.
Assuming people followed that advice, what effect might it have had on the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19?
Several Seattle Times readers submitted variations on this question, so we’re exploring it in this week’s FAQ Friday — along with how COVID-19 compares to the flu.
NYC tries $50 fines to get scofflaws to don masks on subway
NEW YORK — The young man slouched against the inside of the subway doors as the No. 3 train headed south along Broadway. Across the aisle, another young man lay asleep, sprawled across three seats.
In ordinary times, it would be the snoozing seat hog who got angry glares. But in the age of COVID-19, it was the other guy who drew silent notice because he, unlike the oblivious napper, wore no face covering.
The agency that runs New York City’s subway and bus systems implemented a $50 fine this week for the scofflaws who, even in a region with more than 25,000 coronavirus dead, refuse to follow rules requiring masks to be worn at all times on public transit.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials have promised to enforce the rule with a light touch — certainly far lighter than the city’s famously zero-tolerance approach to parking violations. And they have dismissed criticisms that the fines are aimed at easing what officials have called an existential budget crisis brought on by the pandemic.
When recalcitrant riders are identified, MTA employees and New York City police have been instructed to provide a mask first and issue a ticket only as a last resort. Through Thursday, none had been issued, but MTA police reported about 1,700 instances of riders being given a mask, or of people being cautioned that they were wearing their mask improperly.
Still, even some riders who are irritated by masklessness on buses and trains were unsure about the idea of getting compliance through fines.
Counselor at Fort Knox school holding in-person classes dies of COVID-19
FORT KNOX, Ky. — A school counselor at a central Kentucky Army post that started in-person classes in August died this week after being diagnosed with the coronavirus, officials said.
The Federal Education Association, which represents educators and support professionals at schools on military bases, said in a statement that it had repeatedly warned management about the dangers of opening schools for in-person learning and advocated for online lessons.
Fort Knox switched to remote learning in early September, but only after Ms. Harris and several other school employees reported COVID symptoms, the statement said.
The school is scheduled to resume in-person classes on Sept. 21, the education association said.
State DOH issues hazard guidance for Washington health care workers and facilities to curb spread of COVID-19
The Washington State Department of Health and the state Department of Labor & Industries released a joint hazard alert Friday aiming to provide "guidance and clarification" for health care workers to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Washington in the health care facilities.
Citing a rise in transmission of COVID-19 among hospital workers, the state issued a refocused set of preventative measures for health care professionals, who have treated more than 80,000 cases of the coronavirus in Washington.
The measures include strict social distancing of at least 6 feet from co-workers "outside of direct patient care," and distance from patients as treatment allows; clear demarcations of rooms hosting patients with positive coronavirus tests; respirator guidance, like a mandate against using disposable respirators and masks for more than one shift; cleaning procedures, infection control and more.
When health care workers interact with a patient who has a "suspected or confirmed" COVID-19 infection, the state mandates the use of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Standard Precautions and a higher-level respirator, like an N95, plus a medical gown, gloves and eye protection.
For more information and resources, visit doh.wa.gov.
Big wedding in fictional home of ‘The Godfather’ fuels virus
ROME — The Sicilian town of Corleone, made famous by the fictional Mafia clan in “The Godfather,” has ordered schools closed and a limited lockdown after a spate of coronavirus infections were tied to a big wedding there last week.
The city administration told all 250 guests at the Sept. 12 wedding and anyone who lives with them to self-isolate and inform their doctors and city health authorities while awaiting virus tests. In a Facebook post, Mayor Nicolò Nicolosi said he expected “maximum cooperation to overcome the current crisis.”
The town, which is part of the province of Palermo, has reported at least seven positive cases in recent days. Nicolosi said Friday that schools in Corleone and nearby towns were ordered closed because 30 of the wedding guests were students. Italian schools reopened for the first time since March on Monday.
Pandemic shrinking Europe’s monitor of U.S. vote
Europe’s largest security organization said Friday that it has drastically scaled back plans to send as many as 500 observers to the U.S. to monitor the Nov. 3 presidential election and now will deploy just 30 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe — better known for monitoring elections in countries such as Belarus or Kyrgyzstan than the U.S. — has spent months trying to figure out how to safely keep tabs on an election it worries will be “the most challenging in recent decades” as Americans pick a president in the throes of a global health crisis.
The OSCE’s mission originally was to have involved 100 long-term and 400 short-term observers to the U.S. starting this month, but health concerns and restrictions on travel prompted the Vienna-based organization to pare that back to 30 observers, spokesperson Katya Andrusz told The Associated Press.
“While we had planned to send a full-fledged election observation mission, the safety fears as well as continuing travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are creating challenges,” Andrusz said in an email. The 30 are expected to head to the U.S. early next month and will stay through Nov. 3, she said.
After Sturgis superspreader, Missouri hosts thousands at Lake of the Ozarks bike rally
Thousands of motorcycles have converged around the Lake of the Ozarks, where local officials are bracing for more than 100,000 visitors for the 14th annual Bikefest Lake of the Ozarks.
The event is one of the last and largest of the season in the lake area. Lake Ozark Mayor Gerry Murawski said in years past they’d see about 100,000 bikers spread over the entire lake area over five days of events, scenic rides and concerts.
The mayor said he hopes everyone wears masks when appropriate, but he realizes that’s not likely to happen.
“Bikers don’t wear masks,” he said. “It’s just that’s the way they are.”
The festival follows South Dakota’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August. With nearly a half million visitors, the 80th annual gathering was deemed a coronavirus “superspreader.” One study estimated the rally added more than 250,000 virus cases across the United States.
Canada extends U.S. border restrictions to Oct. 21
TORONTO — Canada is extending the agreement to keep the U.S. border closed to non-essential travel to Oct. 21 during the coronavirus pandemic.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said Friday they will continue to base the decision on the best public health advice available to keep Canadians safe.
The restrictions were announced on March 18 and have been extended each month since.
Many Canadians fear a reopening. The U.S. has more confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 than any country in the world.
CDC drops controversial testing advice that caused backlash
NEW YORK — U.S. health officials on Friday dropped a controversial piece of coronavirus guidance and said anyone who has been in close contact with an infected person should get tested.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention essentially returned to its previous testing guidance, getting rid of language posted last month that said people who didn’t feel sick didn’t need to get tested. That change had set off a rash of criticism from health experts who couldn’t fathom why the nation’s top public health agency would say such a thing amid a pandemic that has been difficult to control.
Health officials were evasive about why they had made the change in August, and some speculated it was forced on the CDC by political appointees within the Trump administration.
The CDC now says anyone who has been within 6 feet of a person with documented infection for at least 15 minutes should get a test. The agency called the changes a “clarification” that was needed “due to the significance of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission.”
A teenager tested positive for the coronavirus. His parents sent him to school anyway.
Six students tested positive for the novel coronavirus days before Attleboro High School in Massachusetts reopened its doors for the first day of school this week. Only five of them stayed home, the city’s mayor told WJAR.
The parents of the sixth student who tested positive sent him to class anyway, the mayor said. Now, 28 students who were in close contact with that young man have to quarantine for two weeks.
“It was a reckless action ... It was really poor judgment,” Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux told WHDH.
It's also not the only case. As the new academic year begins, schools nationwide have had to cope with students coming to school despite knowing that they have the highly infectious virus.
Quarantine Corner: Things to do while staying home
First smoke, then rain. Good thing we have plenty of ideas for at-home fun this weekend.
Sunday’s Emmy Awards show brims with Seattle ties. Here's what to keep your eye on.
Blast from the past: Remember longtime Seattle Symphony maestro Gerard Schwarz? You can catch him again as KCTS airs the latest performances by Schwarz and the All-Star Orchestra.
Mental health experts warn of hitting rock bottom in COVID-induced disillusionment
It's been nearly six months since Gov. Jay Inslee issued his first stay-home order. We've lived through the stress of the pandemic, economic woes, police brutality, and devastating wildfires that have fouled our air.
The perfect storm will soon worsen as "COVID brain" sets in, mental health experts warn.
Know how to recognize who needs help, and bookmark this extensive list of places to find it.
Warning signs of suicideIf you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or have concerns about someone else who may be, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You will be routed to a local crisis center where professionals can talk you through a risk assessment and provide resources in your community. The more of the signs below that a person shows, the greater the risk of suicide.
- Talking about wanting to die
- Looking for a way to kill oneself
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings
Catch up on the past 24 hours
The outdoors, a lifeline during the pandemic, has been choked off by smoke. With more people staying inside, will the virus spread faster? Our Friday FAQ tackles that and how COVID-19 compares to the flu.
Who should be tested for the coronavirus: A heavily criticized recommendation on the CDC's website said it's not necessary to test people without symptoms, even if they've been exposed. But it was published against CDC scientists' strong objections, and new guidance expected today also is raising concerns. (Here's where to get a test in the Seattle area.)
Two EvergreenHealth patients likely got infected with the coronavirus at the Kirkland hospital, officials say. Another two people tested positive after staying at a King County clean-air shelter to escape the wildfire smoke.
Moderna and Pfizer have revealed their secret blueprints for coronavirus vaccine trials. The drug companies' rare move is meant to ease suspicions that President Donald Trump's push to produce a vaccine before the election could result in an unsafe product.
He's not gonna take it: After anti-maskers blared a Twisted Sister song while ripping off their masks in a Target store, the singer had a message — and so did law enforcement officers.
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