Throughout Sunday, on this page, we’ll be posting updates on the outbreak and its effects on the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest and the world. Updates from Saturday can be found here, and all our coronavirus coverage can be found here.


UW warns its COVID-19 researchers to beware of threatening mail

The University of Washington has warned 500 medical researchers to beware of suspicious packages or letters, after an incident on the East Coast.

The university issued the alert in an Aug. 31 e-mail after being notified by the FBI about the out-of-state case, said Susan Gregg, UW Medicine spokesperson.

"It's precautionary. We don't have any suspicious mail that has come," she told The Seattle Times on Sunday night.

Researchers are advised not to handle suspicious items, but to call 911 instead. Possible clues are excess postage, excess tape, no return address, misspellings, oily stains, odors, or a lopsided weight. The substance in the suspicious East Coast mail has not been identified yet, the UW's alert says.

The UW is one of the world's prominent centers for scientific research to solve the coronavirus pandemic, from genomic research to blood sampling and vaccine trials. Last week, the university's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecast that the U.S. toll from COVID-19 could double to 410,000 by year's end, while widespread mask-wearing could reduce mortality by 30%.

But university officials haven't heard specific threats or circumstances that would make UW a target, Gregg said.

The FBI inquiry and UW message were first reported by BuzzFeed News on Saturday.

—Mike Lindblom

State DOH confirms 399 new COVID-19 cases in Washington

State Department of Health officials reported 399 new COVID-19 diagnoses, bringing Washington's total number of cases to 77,235. The state is no longer reporting new deaths on the weekend.

In all, 1,953 Washingtonians have died from the virus, or about 2.5% of confirmed cases. About 6,860 have been hospitalized and 1,563,053 people have been tested.

In King County, the state’s most populous county, state health officials have confirmed 20,237 diagnoses and 736 deaths, or 3.6% of confirmed cases. A total of 496,228 people in the county have been tested.

—Brendan Kiley

Seattle keeps four roads reserved for spread-out walking and biking

Three miles of Lake Washington Boulevard South, and two-thirds of a mile of steep Golden Gardens Drive Northwest, will stay as "Keep Moving Streets" where cars are restricted in favor of walking, bicycling and skating, until Oct. 5, in a Seattle city program that aids social distancing.

West Green Lake Way North near the rowing shellhouse, and Beach Drive Southwest near the Alki Point lighthouse, will keep their signs and barricades until further notice. Green Lake changes may last until winter.

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) changed the four roadways this summer and marked an additional 25 miles of residential side streets as "Stay Healthy Streets," so people can easily stay at least six feet apart outdoors.

The COVID-19 epidemic also afforded SDOT an opportunity to promote zero-carbon transportation and safer routes near parks, two longstanding city goals.

Lake Washington Boulevard is city park property, dating back to a master plan by the Olmsted Brothers, and it's historically reserved for bikes several Sundays per year.

Some neighbors at Alki Point, where signs allow local traffic only, launched a small petition drive to make their quieter Keep Moving Street permanent. On the other hand, more drivers than usual are congregating a mile south next to Me-Kwa-Mooks Park, which also provides a curbside view of Puget Sound.

—Mike Lindblom

Seattle closes Gas Works Park in advance of prayer rally

Seattle Parks and Recreation closed Gas Works Park in advance of a planned rally there by Christian worship leader and musician Sean Feucht. The closure, announced Friday, lasts from 8 p.m. Saturday through 6 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 8.

Feucht had planned a #LETUSWORSHIP rally at the park on Labor Day. The California-based pastor had led a similar event at Cal Anderson Park on Aug. 9, which drew hundreds of people, most of whom were not wearing masks or practicing social distancing. After that rally Gov. Jay Inslee’s office confirmed that it had violated the governor’s orders on gathering — including for religious services — during the pandemic.

Seattle Parks and Recreation did not specifically cite Feucht’s event as the reason for the Labor Day closure, but issued a statement saying Gas Works Park would be closed “due to anticipated crowding that could impact the public health of residents.” Read the full story here.

—Brendan Kiley

As virus cases drop, governors may gamble on bars. Again.

Thousands of bars forced to close after massive virus outbreaks swept across the U.S. this summer could be starting to see an end in sight as cases drop off and the political will for continuing lockdowns fades, The Associated Press reports.

For some states, it is a gamble worth trying, only a few months after a rush to reopen bars in May and June ended in disaster. Experts say outbreaks nationwide have proven otherwise. Even in recent weeks, new outbreaks tied to college students returning to campus have resulted in bars shutting down again from Alabama to Iowa, undermining confidence that the time is right.

Still, governors are looking for a way. Read the full story here.

—Paul J. Weber, The Associated Press

A New Front in America’s Pandemic: College Towns

At Washington State University and the University of Idaho, about eight miles apart, combined coronavirus cases have risen since early July to more than 300 infections. In the surrounding communities — rural Whitman County, Washington, and Latah County, Idaho — cases per week have climbed from low single-digits in the first three months of the pandemic, to double-digits in July, to more than 300 cases in the last week of August, The New York Times reports.

The findings come from a review by The Times of 203 counties in the country where students comprise at least 10% of the population. About half of these counties experienced their worst weeks of the pandemic since Aug. 1. Despite the surge in cases, there has been no uptick in deaths in college communities, data shows. This suggests that most of the infections are stemming from campuses, since young people who contract the virus are far less likely to die than older people.

It’s unclear precisely how the figures overlap and how many infections in a community outside of campus are definitively tied to campus outbreaks. But epidemiologists have warned that, even with exceptional contact tracing, it would be difficult to completely contain the virus on a campus when students shop, eat and drink in town, and local residents work at the college. Read the full story here.

—The New York Times

During pandemic, number of U.S. adults with mental health issues jumps to 53 percent

A growing number of U.S. adults are struggling with mental health issues linked to worry and stress over the novel coronavirus, increasing from 32 percent in March to 53 percent in July, according to a new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Those experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, for example, reached 40 percent this summer, up from 11 percent a year ago. In addition, a similar assessment from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that, by late June, 13 percent of adults had started or increased alcohol consumption or drug use to help cope with pandemic-related woes, and 11 percent had seriously considered suicide in the past month – a number that reached 25 percent among those ages 18 to 24.

Social isolation, loneliness, job loss and economic worries as well as fear of contracting the virus are among factors cited as contributing to people’s mental health problems. Kaiser researchers found that 59 percent of those who have lost income because of the pandemic experienced at least one adverse effect on their mental health and well-being, as did 62 percent of those with higher-than-average risk for COVID-19 because of such chronic conditions as lung disease, asthma, diabetes or serious heart disease. Read the full story here.

—Linda Searing, The Washington Post

States plan for cuts as Congress deadlocks on more virus aid

Spending cuts to schools, childhood vaccinations and job-training programs. New taxes on millionaires, cigarettes and legalized marijuana. Borrowing, drawing from rainy day funds and reducing government workers’ pay.

These are some actions states are considering to shore up their finances amid a sharp drop in tax revenue caused by the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

With Congress deadlocked for months on a new coronavirus relief package, many states haven’t had the luxury of waiting to see whether more money is on the way. Some that have delayed budget decisions are growing frustrated by the uncertainty. Read the full story here.

—David A. Lieb, The Associated Press

More than 18,000 people have tried to visit, shop, sightsee in Canada despite border closure

More than 18,000 foreign nationals — most of them American citizens — have been turned back at the border after trying to enter Canada to shop, sightsee or visit people due to travel restrictions imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19, CBC News reports.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is reminding people about the ban on non-essential travel before the Labour Day weekend — traditionally a busy time for cross-border visits.

According to statistics from the CBSA, 18,431 people were denied entry to Canada between March 22 and Sept. 2 because their trips were deemed "discretionary." Of those, 16,070 were U.S citizens and 2,361 were citizens of other countries arriving from the U.S. Read the full story here.

—Kathleen Harris, CBC News

University dismisses 11 students who gathered in hotel room, won’t refund $36,500 tuition

Northeastern University says it has dismissed 11 students who gathered in a hotel room in violation of the school’s coronavirus policies and will not refund their tuition, marking one of the most severe punishments that college students have faced for breaking pandemic rules.

University staff members found the first-year students hanging out last week in a room at the Westin Hotel in downtown Boston, which Northeastern is using as a temporary dorm for about 800 students, according to a university statement. Officials instructed them to take a coronavirus test, then leave campus within 24 hours.

The students, who were part of a study abroad program that was held in Boston this semester, will not be refunded their $36,500 tuition payments, according to the university. Read the full story here.

—Derek Hawkins, The Washington Post

Colleges combating coronavirus turn to stinky savior: sewage

Colleges across the nation — from New Mexico to Tennessee, Michigan to New York — are turning tests of human waste into a public health tool. The work comes as institutions hunt for ways to keep campuses open despite vulnerabilities like students’ close living arrangements and drive to socialize. The virus has already left its mark with outbreaks that have forced changes to remote learning at colleges around the country.

The tests work by detecting genetic material from the virus, which can be recovered from the stools of about half of people with COVID-19, studies indicate. The concept has also been used to look for outbreaks of the polio virus.

Sewage testing is especially valuable because it can evaluate people even if they aren’t feeling sick and can detect a few cases out of thousands of people, experts say. One wastewater-flagged quarantine of 300 students at Arizona State University, for example, turned up two cases. Both were students who were asymptomatic, but they could potentially still have spread the virus. Read the full story here.

—Lindsay Whitehurst, The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Gates Foundation's COVID-19 mission: The world's richest charity is taking aim at the pandemic by committing $650 million for treatments, vaccines and other health measures, but its prominence and the politicized environment has also made it a target of conspiracy theories. “A lot of what we depend on is the credibility that our voice and our mission does not have any ulterior motives other than wanting to save lives and provide opportunities for those in need,” the foundation's CEO tells The Seattle Times.

Schools and unions: Beyond the traditional back-and-forth over hours, pay and class sizes, union leaders have tried to position themselves as key decision-makers amid the pandemic — not only on redesigning school, but also on when and how to offer in-person classes again. Union members have much at stake: Almost 5% of Washington state's educators are 65 and older, the age demographic at the highest risk for serious complications from the coronavirus, according to a Seattle Times analysis.

Virginia Mason outbreak: Four employees and a patient at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle have tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.The four employees and the patient have been quarantined, and every patient and employee who works on that floor has been tested, with no new infections discovered, a hospital spokesman said. It's the second COVID-19 outbreak Virginia Mason has had since June, when four employees who worked in or near the hospital’s operating rooms contracted the virus.

Empty office space: As many employers extend work-from-home policies in response to the coronavirus pandemic, a vast amount of vertical space in downtown Seattle is leased but empty — more than 700 football fields, by one estimate. Tenants are scrambling to find flexibility in their leases while building owners and developers are examining options to convert offices into space that can be used in other ways, such as biomedical research.

White House fixation: President Donald Trump is so fixated on finding a vaccine for the novel coronavirus that in meetings about the U.S. pandemic response, little else captures his attention, according to administration officials. Trump has pressed health officials to speed up the vaccine timeline and, in recent days, he has told some advisers and aides that a vaccine may arrive by Nov. 1, which just happens to be two days before the presidential election.

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