Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, Sept. 9, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

While Washingtonians battle the destruction wildfires bring this time of year, Gov. Jay Inslee said in a Tuesday news conference that the new season is also ushering in more coronavirus challenges, including the mass return of college students to some cities and indoor activities that could make social distancing harder.

Meanwhile, a team of researchers has come forward with a provocative new theory: that masks might help to crudely immunize some people against the virus. But the idea is unproven and comes with risks. Here’s what you should know.

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

The Washington state Department of Health (DOH) didn’t report updated COVID-19 numbers Tuesday afternoon, as it usually does each day. The agency says severe wind storm damage brought down its website, including its COVID-19 dashboard, as well as its phone lines.


Health official says science, not politics, will guide coronavirus vaccine approval

WASHINGTON — Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, took issue Wednesday with President Donald Trump’s suggestion that a coronavirus vaccine would be available by Election Day, as he sought to reassure senators and the public that a vaccine would not be made available unless it was safe and effective.

“Certainly, to try to predict whether it happens on a particular week before or after a particular date in early November is well beyond anything that any scientist right now could tell you and be confident they know what they are saying,” Collins told a Senate panel at a hearing on the effort to find a vaccine.

Wednesday’s hearing, before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, came amid growing concern over whether people would be reluctant to take a coronavirus vaccine and whether Trump would apply political pressure on his administration to quickly approve one to give him a boost in his reelection bid.

At a briefing Wednesday, Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, pushed back against that criticism.

“Our timing is not about the election,” she said. “It’s about saving lives.”

—The New York Times

8 deaths, 125 coronavirus cases reported in Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Oregon Health Authority on Wednesday reported 125 additional cases of the coronavirus and eight more deaths. 

The daily case count is Oregon’s lowest since June 25, when the state reported 124 infections, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. 

However, Wednesday’s tally of new cases is partly because of a paltry number of total tests reported over 24 hours when the state disclosed results for fewer than 2,600 people. 

As the number of identified cases drops, deaths continue to climb. More Oregonians with COVID-19 died in August, 130, than at any point since the pandemic began. September is on a slightly slower pace, with 18 fatalities.

The state also on Wednesday reported 106 Oregonians with confirmed COVID-19 infections are currently in the hospital, up one from Tuesday.

—Associated Press

Seattle is hiring a ‘director of recovery and equitable investment’ to lead on COVID-19

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan plans to hire a high-level point person to manage the city’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

“The Director of Recovery and Equitable Investment … will lead and coordinate citywide efforts related to economic and social recovery from the impacts of COVID-19,” according to an advertisement on Aug. 31.

The job is expected to last from 18 to 24 months, and the person selected will be paid $120,000 to $180,000 per year, according to the city’s ad.

The recovery director will serve in the mayor’s Cabinet, coordinating among departments on issues ranging from public health to homelessness, says the ad. The director also will head up a stakeholder panel with business, labor and community representatives.

“Seattle is facing three crises — a worsening pandemic, the largest financial downturn since the Great Depression and a movement to address systemic racism,” the ad says. “With this backdrop, the City is seeking an executive level leader to help the Mayor advance and achieve a post-COVID vision.”

Read the full story here.

—Daniel Beekman

Washington confirms 464 new coronavirus cases

State health officials reported 464 new COVID-19 cases and 25 additional deaths in Washington on Wednesday.

The update brings the state’s totals to 78,009 cases and 1,978 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. Tuesday. Death tallies may be higher early in the week, as DOH is no longer reporting COVID-19-related deaths on weekends. Additionally, DOH didn’t report any updated COVID-19 numbers Tuesday, citing severe windstorm damage that brought down its website.

Health officials also reported that 6,966 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus. Statewide, 1,583,903 COVID-19 tests have been administered as of Tuesday night.

In King County, the state’s most populous, state health officials have confirmed 20,413 infections and 743 deaths.

—Elise Takahama

Protection from wildfire smoke, preventing COVID-19 transmission sometimes at odds, state health officials say

The measures that protect best against COVID-19 can leave some susceptible to the ill effects of wildfire smoke, ratcheting up tension during the pandemic and leaving some weighing competing risks that also overlap, health officials said. 

“Wildfire season is especially challenging during COVID,” said Lacy Fehrenbach, the Deputy Secretary of Health for COVID-19 response for the state health department. “There are concerns about the health impacts of wildfire smoke overlapping with COVID.” 

Wildfire smoke could worsen symptoms for those infected with COVID-19 and also make people more susceptible to contracting the virus, Fehrenbach said in a Wednesday afternoon news conference. Both COVID-19 and smoke can harm the immune and respiratory systems. 

“Stay indoors and keep your indoor air clean,” Fehrenbach said. “When the air is fresh, open your windows.” 

Health officials aiming to slow the transmission of COVID-19 have preached keeping distance from others, wearing masks, and when socializing — doing so in small groups outdoors. 

But unhealthy air outdoors limits options, and some people might now be in situations where they are indoors and in groups — such as evacuation shelters.

“Some of these recommendations are in conflict with one another,” said state health officer Dr. Kathy Lofy, adding that people who are staying indoors to protect against wildfire smoke should keep masks on and maintain as much distance as possible. 

Health officials continue to encourage people to reserve N95 respirators for health care workers, who use these fitted devices to protect against aerosol transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19. But they noted that cloth masks — now commonplace and often required by law — do not offer protection against wildfire smoke. 

Reed Schuler, a senior policy advisor to Gov. Jay Inslee, suggested that people consider KN95 respirators, which could offer similar protection from wildfire smoke, but shouldn’t disrupt supply chains for federally-approved medical respirators. 

Despite recent complications, Lofy said the state is making progress against COVID-19 as cases, deaths and hospitalizations continue to decline from their peak in July. 

Lofy added that health officials are beginning to plan with the federal government for the rapid distribution of one or more vaccines against COVID-19. 

Lofy said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to use a centralized distributor operating similarly to the Vaccines for Children Program, a federal effort that distributes free vaccines to children without health insurance. 

The federal government also plans to distribute direct shipments to large pharmacy chains, health clinics and multi-state health systems. 

“When a safe and effective vaccine is available, we will deploy it in Washington in a way that is equitable and timely for the residents of our state,” Lofy said.

—Evan Bush

Gov. Whitmer’s virus-related powers reach top Michigan court

DETROIT — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s bold use of emergency powers during the coronavirus pandemic reached the Michigan Supreme Court on Wednesday as justices heard hours of arguments about whether she has illegally made far-reaching decisions without input from the Legislature

Whitmer, a Democrat, has repeatedly ordered virus-related restrictions under a 1945 law that grants power to declare emergencies “when public safety is imperiled” but makes no mention of public health or a pandemic.

Whitmer’s critics, especially Republicans who control the Legislature, instead point to a 1976 law that says lawmakers get a say in emergency declarations after 28 days.

For six months, Whitmer has imposed — and subsequently eased — restrictions on Michigan’s economy, K-12 school system, health care and even visits to state parks, all in a desire to reduce the risk of the highly contagious virus, which has killed more than 6,500 residents.

Critics argue that a lack of collaboration has crippled many businesses that had insisted they could safely reopen. The Supreme Court coincidentally heard arguments on the day that gyms in large metro areas were allowed to open for the first time since March.

—Associated Press

Woodward defends decision to withhold Trump’s virus comments

NEW YORK — Bob Woodward, facing widespread criticism for only now revealing President Donald Trump’s early concerns about the severity of the coronavirus, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he needed time to be sure that Trump’s private comments from February were accurate

In Woodward’s upcoming book on Trump, “Rage,” the president is quoted saying the virus was highly contagious and “deadly stuff” at a time he was publicly dismissing it as no worse than the flu. Woodward, the celebrated Washington Post journalist and best-selling author, spoke with Trump more than a dozen times for his book. 

“He tells me this, and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, that’s interesting, but is it true?’ Trump says things that don’t check out, right?” Woodward told the AP during a telephone interview. Using a famous phrase from the Watergate era, when Woodward’s reporting for the Post helped lead to President Richard Nixon’s resignation, Woodward said his mission was to determine, “What did he know and when did he know it?”

On Twitter and elsewhere online, commentators accused Woodward of valuing book sales over public health. “Nearly 200,000 Americans have died because neither Donald Trump nor Bob Woodward wanted to risk anything substantial to keep the country informed,” wrote Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce.

—Associated Press

Trump still visiting Nevada despite virus limits on rallies

LAS VEGAS — President Donald Trump is planning to travel to Nevada this weekend, though large airport rallies initially set for Las Vegas and Reno appear to have been scuttled after local officials warned they would violate Nevada’s coronavirus-related ban on gatherings of more than 50 people.

Adam Laxalt, the co-chair of Trump’s campaign in Nevada, said in a Twitter post Wednesday that both events to be held at airport hangars Saturday in Reno and Sunday in Las Vegas had been canceled.

Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said in a statement that the president would still be traveling to Nevada on the dates planned and the campaign would release additional details soon.

“Democrats are trying to keep President Trump from speaking to voters because they know the enthusiasm behind his re-election campaign cannot be matched by Joe Biden – a historically weak candidate controlled by the radical left who could hold a campaign event in a broom closet,” Murtaugh said.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, has limited in-person gatherings indoors and outdoors to 50 people since May, a recommendation based off White House reopening guidelines.

—Associated Press

White House looks at more executive actions as coronavirus-relief talks appear finished

WASHINGTON – With the Senate poised to vote Thursday on a slender GOP coronavirus relief bill that’s certain to fail, chances for a bipartisan deal on new economic stimulus look more remote than ever. This impasse has prompted top White House officials to consider a new round of executive actions that they hope could direct funding to certain groups amid fears that the nascent economic recovery could fail to gain momentum.

White House officials have discussed efforts to unilaterally provide support for the flagging airline industry while also bolstering unemployment benefits, according to two people aware of the deliberations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal policy discussions. The White House has also discussed moving without Congress to direct more money for school vouchers and changing President Donald Trump’s recent payroll tax changes to make it more effective.

Typically, such actions require congressional approval.

In August, Trump signed four executive actions meant to provide more unemployment aid, eviction protections, student loan relief and to defer payroll tax payments. The moves have had mixed success and came as political talks faltered on Capitol Hill.

Since then, the bipartisan urgency that propelled Congress to act with near-unanimity in March and April to approve an unprecedented $3 trillion in relief has eroded even further. In its place is bitter partisan bickering, with each side accusing the other of playing politics and acting in bad faith.

—The Washington Post

Booming Amazon looks to fill a record 33,000 U.S. job openings with career event

Amid high unemployment nationwide, Amazon says it has more U.S. job openings than at any time in its history and will try to fill many of them at its fall career day next week.

The Seattle commerce and technology company announced Wednesday that it has 33,000 open corporate and tech roles nationwide, and will hire thousands of hourly workers in its warehouses and delivery systems later this fall.

Online retail has boomed during the coronavirus pandemic as many other sectors, including restaurants and hospitality, tourism and physical retail, have been battered. E-commerce accounted for 16.1% of all U.S. retail spending in the second quarter, up from 11.8% in the first quarter, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released last month. Online shopping’s share of total retail spending increased in the first half of 2020 as much as it did in the prior five years combined.

Amazon ended the second quarter with 602,000 employees in the U.S., not including seasonal or temporary workers, or tens of thousands of others who work at contract delivery companies, air cargo operators and other businesses that make the giant company’s logistics machine run. The company’s global workforce exceeds 875,000 people.

Read the full story here.

—Benjamin Romano

‘We certainly didn’t expect a storm like this’: UW Athletics provides budget update, expects significant cuts to stay afloat

The financial update athletics director Jen Cohen and chief financial officer Kate Cullen will present to the University of Washington’s board of regents on Thursday does not resemble the original best-case scenario.

That scenario — featuring a full football season with fan attendance in the fall, outlined in a similar budget meeting in May — has been buried under a barrage of testing issues, long-term cardiac concerns and rising coronavirus cases. As a result, Pac-12 sports have been postponed through the end of the year and its athletics departments are facing an uncertain financial future.

All of which will be outlined in detail on Thursday, beginning with the opening paragraph of a document prepared to accompany the presentation:   

The updated FY21 budget included here reflects the following assumptions, as well as actions taken by ICA, which resulted from that decision:

  • A truncated football season in winter/spring;
  • Unlikely to have fans at events (however we are prepared to host fans if circumstances change);
  • Lower sponsorship revenue; and
  • Staffing and operational cuts equal to roughly $28 million.

But that’s just the beginning.

Read the full story here.

—Mike Vorel

Amtrak says it needs nearly $5 billion in federal aid

WASHINGTON – Amtrak chief executive William Flynn told lawmakers on Wednesday that the railroad needs nearly $5 billion in federal assistance to help make up for losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

In his first appearance at a congressional hearing, Flynn said the railroad anticipates needing up to $4.9 billion – including $2.8 billion in supplemental funding – to operate and invest in the rail network, and to address lawmakers’ concerns, such as avoiding employee furloughs and maintaining daily service on its long-distance trains.

Given the uncertainty of supplemental funding for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, Flynn said the railroad has no option but to reduce operations and its workforce next month.

The two-hour hearing before the House subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials was about Amtrak’s response to the pandemic and came days after the company announced that it would be furloughing 2,050 workers at the end of the month. The railroad also announced substantial service cuts beginning Oct. 1.

Amtrak is decreasing service on most of its long-distance trains to three times a week from daily. The carrier also is reducing train frequencies in the Northeast Corridor, the busiest in its network, and on its state-funded routes.

Congress is considering a request from the railroad for $2.84 billion – double the $1.475 billion in supplemental federal funding that Amtrak projected in May it would need to maintain service levels.

—The Washington Post

UN: COVID-19 could fuel more conflict, poverty, starvation

UNITED NATIONS — Top U.N. officials warned Wednesday that the COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated discrimination and other human rights violations that can fuel conflict, and its indirect consequences are dwarfing the impact of the virus itself in the world’s most fragile countries.

U.N. political chief Rosemary DiCarlo and U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock painted a grim picture to the U.N. Security Council of the global impact of the pandemic that has blanketed the world, with over 26 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 860,000 deaths.

Lowcock warned the council that the indirect economic and health effects from the crisis in fragile countries “will be higher poverty, lower life expectancy, more starvation, less education and more child death.”

He said roughly a third of the cases and fatalities are in countries affected by humanitarian or refugee crises, or those facing high levels of vulnerability. But the full extent isn’t known because testing in these fragile countries is very low and in some places many people are reluctant to seek help, perhaps fearing being quarantined or fearing they won’t get useful medical treatment, he said.

—Associated Press

COVID-19 cases plateauing nationwide

Nationwide coronavirus cases have dropped since peaking in July, but the decline appears to be plateauing

The number of new cases reported daily peaked at about 70,000 in July and has been falling since. That daily number has now been hovering near 40,000 for more than a week, according to nationwide data. 

Health experts fear a surge in cases following the Labor Day holiday and expect a long road ahead with cold weather and flu season soon to come.

—The Washington Post

New book: Trump deliberately minimized COVID-19’s threat and knew in February virus was more deadly than flu

President Donald Trump said he deliberately minimized the threat of COVID-19 and acknowledged in early February that the virus was “more deadly than even your strenuous flu” and was passed easily through the air, according to a new book by journalist Bob Woodward.

The newly published remarks contradict what Trump told the nation in February, when the president and aides said the disease was no worse than the flu and that the government had the situation under control. 

Advisers recognized the threat of COVID-19 in January.

“This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency,” national security adviser Robert O’Brien told Trump in an intelligence briefing on Jan. 28, according to a new book by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward. Another adviser compared the disease to the influenza pandemic of 1918, which killed some 50 million people worldwide.

More than 6.3 million people in the United States have become infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 and nearly 190,000 Americans have died, according to the New York Times.

—Seattle Times news services

NIH director: Public should be reassured by vaccine trial pause

The suspension of pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine trial to investigate a volunteer’s illness should be “reassuring,” a top National Institutes of Health official told Congress.

“When we say we are going to focus first on safety and make no compromises, here is Exhibit A of how that is happening in practice,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.

AstraZeneca paused its vaccine trial worldwide after a patient developed what Collins described as a “spinal problem.” The company is looking into whether the issue is a side effect or a coincidence.

The company last month began recruiting some 30,000 people for vaccine testing in the U.S.

—The Associated Press

Coronavirus tests are supposed to be free. The surprise bills come anyway.

For months, Americans have been told not to worry about the costs of coronavirus tests, which are crucial to stopping the pandemic’s spread. “It is critical that Americans have peace of mind knowing that cost won’t be a barrier to testing during this national public health emergency,” Medicare’s administrator, Seema Verma, said in April.

Congress passed laws requiring insurers to pay for tests, and the Trump administration created a program to cover the bills of the uninsured. Cities and states set up no-cost testing sites.

But patients, whether with or without insurance, are beginning to find holes in those new coverage programs. Nationwide, people have been hit with unexpected fees and denied claims related to coronavirus tests, according to dozens of bills that The New York Times has reviewed. Insurers have told these patients they could owe from a few dollars to thousands.

Read the full story here.

—The New York Times

Trump and Biden run vastly different pandemic campaigns

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — North Carolina caps outdoor gatherings at 50 people to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, but don’t tell that to President Donald Trump. He basked in a largely maskless crowd of several thousand supporters during a campaign rally in this critical state.

A day earlier in Pennsylvania, Trump’s Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, held a socially distanced meeting in a backyard. His team has been so attentive to local regulations that some staffers have left the room if they risked breaking the rules on crowd limits.

With less than eight weeks until the Nov. 3 election, Trump and Biden are taking diametrically opposite approaches to campaigning during a pandemic — and the differences amount to more than political theater. The candidates are effectively staking out different visions for the country.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Greece: Fire sweeps through refugee camp on virus lockdown

A notoriously overcrowded refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos was under coronavirus lockdown from an outbreak there when a major fire swept through and gutted much of the camp overnight.

The fire burned through container housing and left thousands of people in need of emergency shelter. Authorities scrambled to find a way to house now-homeless camp residents without creating more risk of the virus spreading.

“The combination of migration and the pandemic in these conditions is creating an exceptionally demanding situation,” Alternate Migration Minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos said. Civil protection authorities declared a four-month state of emergency for public health reasons on Lesbos.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

You may be hearing about a provocative new theory: that masks might help to crudely immunize some people against the virus. It has to do with an age-old concept that paved the way for the rise of modern vaccines, but even the idea has its risks. Here's what you should know.

A major vaccine study has been paused after one illness.

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has been linked to more than 265,000 cases of COVID-19, in a new study that puts a whopping price tag on the super-spreader event.

In one of the world's first coronavirus epicenters, the first wave is over, and the hospital is calling back the survivors to measure what the virus has left in its wake. What they're finding in Bergamo, Italy, serves as a stark warning about the virus' long aftermath.

England has banned gatherings of more than six people, even in private homes, as cases spike. Break the rules and you could be fined up to 3,200 pounds — or more than $4,000.

—Kris Higginson

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