Editor’s note: This is a live account of updates from Tuesday as the events unfolded. Extended coverage of the outbreak of a new coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2; the illness it causes, COVID-19; and its effects on the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest and the world can be found here.
New cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by a new coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2, continue to pop up around the Puget Sound region. In total, 28 people in Washington state have been diagnosed, including 10 people who have died.
Throughout Wednesday, on this page, we’ll be posting Seattle Times journalists’ updates on the outbreak 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.
Amazon recommends Seattle and Bellevue employees work remotely until the end of March
Amazon is recommending all its employees based in Seattle and Bellevue work from home until the end of the month, according to an email sent to staff Wednesday.
"Every team is different and not all work may be conducive to working from home, so please talk with your manager and your team to establish expectations on working remotely," the email said.
The company previously told employees they may make arrangements with their managers to work from home, “where practical, through the end of March."
Sammamish Presbyterian Church cancels events until Sunday after someone in community tested positive for COVId-19
Sammamish Presbyterian Church announced Wednesday evening that someone who attended service in the past two weeks tested positive for COVID-19.
The church decided to close the campus, effective immediately, for deep cleaning and cancelled all activities Wednesday night, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, according to a letter sent to the community.
The church plans to hold services Sunday, though Sunday-school classes and meetings before or after worship have been cancelled.
"We want to come together as a community of faith to worship this Sunday," the letter said.
Church leaders said that Sunday's services will be different -- offering plates, friendship pads or bulletins will not be passed around. The community will also refrain from shaking hands when greeting each other.
The leadership team will decide Sunday afternoon what the campus closures will look like next week, the letter said.
Grant County resident tests presumptive positive for the virus
A Grant County resident hospitalized at Central Washington Hospital and Clinics has tested presumptive positive for COVID-19, the county health district announced Wednesday evening.
Health officials will provide more information Thursday morning.
Northshore School District closes all campuses for up to 14 days
All Northshore public schools will be closed beginning Thursday for up to 14 days, the district announced Wednesday evening.
"I have spent the past few weeks researching and monitoring the rapidly changing COVID-19 coronavirus health issue in our region and across the world ... Now, I believe that the time has come for our district community to make an important shift," Northshore School District superintendent Michelle Reid wrote in a Wednesday letter to families.
The school district will communicate plans to "transition instruction from classroom to cloud (online learning)" beginning next Monday, the statement said.
Read the full story here.
Response in China slowed outbreak of coronavirus — but experts caution against extreme measures in Seattle
As the state’s novel coronavirus crisis grows and Washingtonians take steps to reduce contact with one another, researchers look to the Chinese city of Wuhan, the starkest example of social distancing amid outbreak, to better understand the virus and how to stymie it.
China has managed to slow the virus’s spread, but only after draconian quarantine measures that halted travel there.
Read the full story here.
Washington state Senate approves $100 million funding to support outbreak response
The Washington state bill that asks for $100 million to help respond to the novel coronavirus outbreak passed unanimously, 47-0, in the Senate on Wednesday afternoon.
The legislation will return to the House, where it passed 96-0 Tuesday, with some amendments before landing on Gov. Jay Inslee's desk.
If signed into law, the bill would transfer money from the state “Rainy Day Fund” to the state disaster-response account, according to a statement from Washington House Democrats.
It would also allow the state Department of Social and Health Services to increase nursing-care-facility payments, which would move more patients into nursing-care facilities and free up beds for patients with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2.
Questions about patient costs stir concern amid Seattle area’s coronavirus outbreak
Some are wondering about testing and treatment costs that could dissuade uninsured people from obtaining care and thereby help the virus spread.
Local authorities have been talking about that concern. The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) laboratory in Shoreline isn’t billing for COVID-19 tests at this time. Swabs are taken at doctor’s offices or hospitals and then taken to the lab.
“Right now we don’t know how much each test costs, but the public health lab is not charging patients for these tests,” DOH’s website said Wednesday.
No steps have been taken to date that would help Seattle-area residents pay for care related to COVID-19, other than testing, said Stephanie Marquis, spokeswoman for state's Office of the Insurance Commissioner.
Read the full story here.
Health care centers offering virtual appointments to reduce 'unnecessary exposure'
The Everett Clinic, which treats patients in King and Snohomish counties, began offering video visits to those with potential COVID-19 symptoms, said a clinic spokesman Wednesday.
The goal is to “avoid unnecessary in-person exposure,” according to the clinic’s website.
Tacoma-based MultiCare Health System also starting providing free virtual care to anyone with symptoms. The online visits usually cost $25, but patients can use the promo code “COVID19” to waive the fee.
Facebook employee in Seattle diagnosed with COVID-19
Facebook said an employee in Seattle has been diagnosed with COVID-19, the first known infection within the company as the virus continues to spread in the region.
The employee, a contractor, was last in Facebook’s Stadium East office in Seattle on Feb. 21. The company alerted employees Wednesday night and said the Seattle office will be closed to all employees until March 9.
Employees in Seattle are also being encouraged to work from home until the end of the month.
No confirmed COVID-19 cases among Boeing employees
Boeing spokesman Bernard Choi said Wednesday there are no confirmed cases of infection among employees.
"I know we worked with a small number of employees who reached out to report potential second-hand exposure," Choi said. "For example, employees reported contact with asymptomatic people. We asked these employees to stay home out of an abundance of caution while we completed an assessment of the health risk they posed. We have since contacted several of these employees to ask them to return to work and self-monitor for any symptoms based on guidance from CDC and local public health departments."
King County Metro to use backpack sprayers to sanitize buses
King County Metro Transit workers will now spray all bus handrails, seats and windows each night with a sanitizing solution called Virex, in response to the area’s coronavirus outbreak.
The cleaning will occur after buses are fueled and vacuumed. The spray replaces bleach-soaked cloths that Metro used Tuesday.
In a demonstration Wednesday, equipment-service worker Larry Bowles hoisted a backpack over his shoulders and sprayed the bluish fluid from back to front of a bus. The mist settled on seats, and sometimes he sprayed them directly.
Read the full story here.
University of Washington lab given emergency approval to test for coronavirus
To combat the national shortage of diagnostic tests for the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) gave emergency authorization to the University of Washington to test patient specimens provided by physicians and health care providers, according to two UW scientists involved in developing the test and ensuring its accuracy.
The UW’s virology laboratory has the capacity to dramatically speed up the time it takes to determine if someone has the virus.
The lab got the green light to begin testing Saturday. As of Tuesday, scientists had tested about 200 specimens.
Read the full story here.
Faculty member at Lake Washington Institute of Technology confirmed to have COVID-19
A faculty member at Lake Washington Institute of Technology has tested positive for COVID-19, the college said in a statement Wednesday.
The faculty member had been under self-quarantine since recently visiting the nursing home Life Care Center in Kirkland, where at least eight people had died from the infection as of Wednesday evening.
The school had already been cleaned last weekend and was closed Monday and Tuesday. It reopened Wednesday. The school closed its campus again at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and will remain closed through the weekend, the statement said.
"We made this decision swiftly, to continue disinfecting the college while no students, faculty and staff were on campus, and to provide us time to get a clear sense of who could have been exposed," the statement said.
The school asked students to be in contact with their instructors throughout the closure.
New Jersey sees first presumptive positive case of COVID-19
New Jersey officials confirmed the state's first presumptive positive case of COVID-19 on Wednesday.
The patient, a man in his 30s, has been hospitalized in Bergen County since Tuesday, according to a statement from Gov. Phil Murphy's office.
Shoreline Public Schools postpone all after-school and evening events
Shoreline Public Schools announced plans to postpone all after-school and evening events that are open to the community that take place on school campuses until further notice, according to a notice sent to families Wednesday.
The school district has not had any confirmed COVID-19 cases, and classes and other "normal school day operations" will not be affected, the notice said.
The change follows an announcement from Public Health -- Seattle and King County officials, who recommended cancelling or postponing large community events to help stop the spread of the virus.
Starbucks switches to a "virtual only" annual shareholders meeting due to outbreak
In yet another financial ripple-effect of the COVID-19 outbreak, Starbucks says it will hold its March 18 annual meeting as a “virtual only meeting.” The meeting was originally planned as large event at the WaMu Theater at the CenturyLink Field Event Center.
“In consultation with local health officials and out of an abundance of caution during the Seattle-area COVID 19 outbreak, we are modifying the location and scope of our Annual Meeting of Shareholders,” a spokesperson said Wednesday. “At this point, a large meeting is simply not advisable.”
A request for comment by WaMu Theater staff had not been answered by press time.
Coronavirus and your dog: No need to panic yet
Hong Kong authorities on Wednesday updated their reports on the lone dog that appears to have a low-grade infection from coronavirus, saying it’s likely a case of a human transmitting it to the dog.
A government spokesperson said the dog, which has been tested several times, is still under quarantine but is not sick.
More than 3,000 people have died from the virus as it spreads around the globe.
But you should not be worried about the welfare of your pets, or other people’s pets, according to authorities.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to award $2.75 million to support state's COVID-19 response
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Wednesday that it would provide $2.75 million in "initial funding" to support Washington's COVID-19 response.
“State and local governments are the backbone of our public health system. They have been essential partners in the ongoing work to contain and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the United States,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. “The Trump Administration is acting swiftly through every avenue we have to ensure state and local governments have the support they need to combat this outbreak.”
The award will be sent through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the statement said.
Scrutiny of nursing-home infection control rises
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is ordering health inspectors to focus on infection-control practices at nursing homes and hospitals, particularly those where coronavirus infections have been identified among patients or in the community, CMS Administrator Seema Verma announced Wednesday.
In a call with reporters, nursing home industry leaders said they supported the inspection directive, but they asked White House officials in a Wednesday meeting to address other problems, including potential shortages of supplies, such as masks and gowns, if the contagion continues to spread.
Boeing cuts flying due to virus
As the coronavirus threat spreads in the U.S., even the jet set is cutting down on flying.
On Wednesday, Boeing announced it will reduce employee travel to “business-essential activities.”
In addition to restricting company travel, Boeing said it will reschedule some events; reduce face-to-face meetings in favor of virtual meetings; enable telecommuting where possible; and encourage employees to take appropriate health and safety measures.
Read the full story here.
Coronavirus anxiety outpacing virus itself in the U.S.
COVID-19, the disease caused by novel coronavirus that originated in China and recently arrived in the United States, has already transformed our personal worlds. A subway pole is now a memento mori. An itchy eye is a trap. A cough is a harbinger.
Snohomish County declares state of emergency
Snohomish County officials declared a state of emergency Wednesday afternoon due to the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by a new coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2, according to a statement from the county health district.
“We know people are concerned, and this declaration will help us work together to keep people safe,” Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said in the statement. “Collaboration with all of our partners is what makes Snohomish County resilient. The public can be assured we are responding as quickly and decisively as possible.”
Snohomish County health officer Chris Spitters, who simultaneously declared a public health emergency for the county, added that these proclamations make it easier for health officials to work with community partners and carry out the best medical strategies.
More information will be available at a Thursday morning press conference.
Fred Hutchinson's South Lake Union office implements mandatory remote work policy
The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center announced Wednesday that almost all its South Lake Union (SLU) campus employees will be required to work remotely starting Thursday.
This includes all SLU staffers, except "those whose presence on campus is deemed essential," according to a statement from the company. The policy will remain in place through the end of the month.
"All staff are expected to continue working to the same extent as before the mandatory remote work policy," the statement said.
All on-campus events and in-person meetings and gatherings of more than five people also have been cancelled, the statement said.
Q&A: When to stay home, when to see a doctor, when to get a coronavirus test
By now, you may have memorized some of the most common symptoms of coronavirus: fever, cough and a runny nose. In other words, many of the same symptoms as the common cold or the flu.
But as the coronavirus outbreak progresses, experts say it’s increasingly likely that you might have the new illness.
So how do you know if you have coronavirus, and when should you see a doctor? Here are answers to some of your most common questions regarding symptoms, medical care and testing.
Gov. Jay Inslee says he will cancel large events if medical evidence shows it could slow the spread of the virus
CENTRALIA, LEWIS COUNTY – Gov. Jay Inslee Wednesday said he would use his legal authority to cancel large events if medical evidence shows it can prevent or slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“If we reach the point where the medical evidence … suggests that this is necessary to incur whatever disruption would be required, we’ll make that decision,” Inslee said.
Read the full story here.
Cleaning continues for King County Metro buses
Kent officials protest county's decision to buy motel for coronavirus quarantine site
Joined by city council members and the police chief, Kent Mayor Dana Ralph protested a King County plan to buy a motel along a key downtown corridor to be used as an emergency public-health quarantine facility for coronavirus patients, contending city officials weren’t informed or consulted about the decision that could put their community at risk.
“We are very concerned about the public health and safety implications this has for our community,” Ralph said. “They are replicating and bringing a situation similar in scale to the Life Care Center of Kirkland and dropping it off in Kent.”
Read the full story here.
King County recommends avoiding large groups, working remotely when possible
Officials are recommending (not mandating) that people at higher risk of developing serious symptoms from COVID-19 stay home and avoid large groups (10+ people).
They’re also advising companies to allow remote work. County employees who can will work remotely for the next 3 weeks.
Public Health is not recommending school closures at this time unless there is a confirmed case, because children have not been shown to be a high risk group, unless they have compromised immune systems.
WA attorney general investigating coronavirus-related price gouging
Attorney General Bob Ferguson says he "is investigating price gouging in the wake of the COVID-19 public-health emergency." Ferguson asks that anyone who sees price gouging file a complaint with his office.
"We do not identify the targets of our investigations, but we are taking formal investigative actions," Ferguson said in a statement released Wednesday.
Washington state tells voters not to lick mail-in ballots
In an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus, officials in Washington are asking voters not to lick the envelopes used for mail-in ballots in the state, which has become the epicenter of the nation’s COVID-19 outbreak.
Washington, which will hold its primary next Tuesday, offers only mail-in ballots. That means officials don’t have to contend with germ-ridden polling booths, but vote-by-mail comes with its own concerns.
“We are recommending that voters, instead of licking their envelopes, they use a wet sponge or cloth to seal them,” said Kylee Zabel, spokeswoman for the Washington secretary of state’s office.
Jefferson County health officer: Contrary to school district's warning, no schools have been exposed
The Chimacum School District sent out a false statement saying two students had been exposed to the virus, and the public health officer near them went on the record and said they were wrong.
No Jefferson County schools have been exposed, health officials said.
6 Kitsap County residents being tested for coronavirus
Six Kitsap County residents are being tested for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, according to the Kitsap Public Health District. The tests were sent to the state Public Health Laboratory in Shoreline.
Bellevue School District: Announcement about school closures is false
On its Facebook page, the Bellevue School District said someone impersonating the district superintendent sent a false announcement saying schools would be closed March 5-19.
"We want to reiterate that any decisions made about school closures or other actions related to COVID-19 will be shared via official district communication channels," the district wrote. "If there are any decisions made to close schools, we will inform our community immediately via SchoolMessenger, our district website, and our official social media channels."
10th coronavirus death reported in Washington; California reports its first death
A 10th person in Washington state has died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, according to state health officials.
Meanwhile, California officials reported the state’s first coronavirus death, which is also the first reported U.S. fatality outside Washington state, on Wednesday. Officials in Placer County, northwest of Sacramento, said an elderly person who tested positive for COVID-19 Tuesday after returning from a San Francisco-Mexico cruise has died.
Woodmoor Elementary volunteer tests positive for coronavirus
A parent at Woodmoor Elementary in Bothell who has tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, volunteered in a classroom on Monday, the Northshore School District said Wednesday.
The parent was diagnosed with a different illness and hospitalized in late February, and then tested for coronavirus on Tuesday, according to the school district.
Students who may have been exposed in the classroom will need to be picked up, and parents of all students can be checked out of school at any time.
Woodmoor will be closed Thursday for a deep cleaning, the school district said.
Deal reached on bipartisan $8.3B bill to battle coronavirus
Capitol Hill negotiators have reached agreement on an $8.3 billion measure to battle the coronavirus outbreak that’s spreading and threatening a major shock to the economy and disruptions to everyday life in the U.S.
The legislation came together in little more than a week, a rarity in a deeply polarized Washington. It triples the $2.5 billion plan unveiled by President Donald Trump just last week.
The House will vote on the deal later Wednesday and Senate leaders are pressing for a vote in that chamber by the end of the week.
Seattle Public Schools postpones all district-sponsored travel
Seattle Public Schools officials said that they’re postponing all district-sponsored travel for students and staff out of Washington state – on air, bus or train.
The postponement will last through the end of the year. The update came after the district said it was postponing all international travel. “We continue to monitor and will communicate any changes for local travel including school field trips,” the district said
Some Seattle tech companies tell employees to work from home
More Seattle-area technology companies, including Redfin and Textio, began instructing employees to work from home in an attempt to protect them and the community from the novel coronavirus and slow its spread.
It was unclear Wednesday morning whether the region’s two largest tech employers, Amazon and Microsoft, were taking similar steps.
Read the full story here.
Chicago State University basketball team cancels game at Seattle U
The Chicago State University men’s basketball team will not travel for two regularly scheduled Western Athletic Conference games this week, including a trip to face Seattle University, the school said late Tuesday, citing the spread of the coronavirus.
Its women’s team will not host two games, including Seattle University.
Read the full story here.
State tracking school closures
Which schools are closed for coronavirus-related reasons? The state is tracking closures of K-12 schools and colleges here.
Vice President Pence to meet with Gov. Inslee in Washington state
Vice President Mike Pence will visit Washington on Thursday to meet with Gov. Jay Inslee about the coronavirus outbreak.
Pence, who has been placed in charge of coronavirus response for the Trump administration, announced his plans in a tweet, saying "We are here for every American and will continue to work with state and local leaders as we protect their health and well-being."
No immediate details were available on Pence's itinerary for the trip.
I will be traveling to Washington to meet with Governor @JayInslee tomorrow. We are here for every American and will continue to work with state and local leaders as we protect their health and well-being.
— Mike Pence (@Mike_Pence) March 4, 2020
Community college student in Olympia being tested after possible exposure
A student at South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia is being tested for COVID-19 after informing the school that they'd been exposed to the new coronavirus "at a social gathering with people who later tested positive," according to an alert on the school's website Tuesday evening.
"The student was exposed 9 days ago and neither they nor their spouse have shown any symptoms of coronavirus disease. The student has attended classes at SPSCC's Olympia campus since their exposure," the announcement states. "... The student has agreed to notify SPSCC of the test results and has volunteered to stay off of campus until they are notified by their health care provider that it is safe for them to return."
The campus remains open as of the Tuesday evening announcement, which advises students and employees that they "can attend classes and work normally." Areas of campus where the student attended classes, in buildings 32 and 35, were being disinfected Tuesday night, according to the announcement.
No cases of the virus have been confirmed in Thurston County.
Person reportedly taken by ambulance from Life Care Center in Kirkland
A person was taken away by ambulance Wednesday morning from Life Care Center in Kirkland, the nursing home connected to seven of Washington's nine known deaths from coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Ambulances were at the facility around 4 a.m., according to a KOMO News reporter outside the facility.
Telephone calls to Life Care and the Kirkland Fire Department around 6 a.m. Wednesday weren't answered.
RIGHT NOW: ambulances are in the parking lot of the Life Care Center in Kirkland, WA. At least 5 of the 9 coronavirus deaths have been linked to this care center #2NewsAM #KOMONews pic.twitter.com/veZpjWGkdf
— Jade Elliott (@JadeElliottTV) March 4, 2020
What has developed over the past 24 hours
In Washington state:
- Faulty tests and red tape: A problem with the federally approved testing kits initially supplied to state public health laboratories across the nation last month didn’t work well, and new kits only began arriving in labs late last week. The delay meant the virus and its spread in Washington largely went undetected for weeks. On top of that, restrictive guidelines limit who can be tested, which means people who may have been exposed won't know for sure if they have the virus.
- Senior communities are taking more precautions than most, given that health officials have said people over 60 and those with underlying health conditions are at particular risk. Administrators have only to look at Life Care Center of Kirkland for an example of what they want to avoid; as of Tuesday, seven of the nine people known to have died of COVID-19 in Washington state lived at that nursing home.
- Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat writes that this outbreak is exposing another disease gripping America: the total politicization of everything.
Elsewhere in the world:
- From religion to sports, countries are taking drastic and increasingly visible measures to curb the outbreak. For example: Saudi Arabia banned citizens from performing the Muslim pilgrimage in Mecca, Italy weighed closing schools nationwide and Iran canceled Friday prayers for a second week.
- Facing growing pressure to demonstrate that it is moving aggressively to combat the virus' spread in the United States, Vice President Mike Pence vowed late Tuesday that any American can now be tested for the virus if a doctor deems it necessary. Pence’s comments perplexed some public health officials, as physicians already have discretion to order testing. The announcement also raised questions about whether the government can rapidly accelerate the production of testing kits, as well as how much patients will ultimately have to pay for getting tested.
- Passengers who have returned home after being stuck on a cruise ship are facing a new struggle as societal stigma bears down on people who are perceived to be endangering public health, even if they pose no actual threat.
Hazen High School student tests positive for coronavirus; school closed for rest of week
A student from Hazen High School in Renton has tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. The school will be closed for the rest of the week.
"While initially Public Health (Seattle & King County) recommended that Hazen High remain open regardless of test results, they now recommend we close Hazen High School for the remainder of this week as they work to determine who, if anybody, came in contact with the ill student to ensure it is safe for students and staff to return to school," the Renton School District wrote in a message to the school community.
Hazen was closed Monday while the student, who had flu-like symptoms, awaited test results. It then reopened Tuesday.
All other Renton schools will remain open.
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