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.
Nine people in Washington have died from COVID-19, the illness caused by a new coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2, and officials say that an extraordinary effort to contain and manage the health crisis is moving toward a new stage.
As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, at least 27 people in King and Snohomish counties had been diagnosed with COVID-19. Seven new cases were announced Tuesday in King County, bringing the county’s overall total to 21.
The majority of King County’s cases are linked to the Life Care Center of Kirkland, and seven of the nine people who have died were residents of the nursing home. This has prompted a wave of questions from family members with relatives inside Life Care and scrutiny over how prepared the care facility and others are for an outbreak.
Throughout Tuesday, 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. The live account of updates from Monday can be read here.
Hazen High student tests positive for coronavirus, school will be closed for week
A Hazen High School student has tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, and the Renton 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 Tuesday evening in a message to the school community.
Hazen was closed Monday while the student, who had flu-like symptoms, awaited test results, and then reopened Tuesday.
All other Renton schools will remain open.
House approves $100 million funding to support outbreak response
Washington officials called for $100 million to help respond to the novel coronavirus outbreak on Monday, as the state faces a swelling number of fatalities and confirmed cases. On Tuesday, the bill passed the House unanimously, 96-0.
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 a coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2.
Seattle-area nursing homes scramble to keep vulnerable residents safe
On Monday, a fitness instructor came to a senior community along the southern tip of Lake Washington called The Lakeshore. Before she could meet residents, she was asked a series of questions that have become standard at that facility, and others like it, in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak that has hit older people harder than any others.
Read the full story here.
Any American can now be tested for the coronavirus, Pence says
Vice President Mike Pence said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has lifted all restrictions on testing for the coronavirus and would be releasing new guidelines to fast-track testing for people who fear they have the virus, even if they are displaying mild symptoms.
Faulty tests, restrictive guidelines presented challenges for confirming coronavirus’ spread in Washington
The recent surge in positive coronavirus cases and deaths that has made the Seattle area the epicenter for the burgeoning disease in the United States partly stems from “unique epidemiology going on in Washington” — an outbreak at a Kirkland nursing home where the virus spread among a particularly vulnerable population, the state’s epidemiologist for infectious diseases said Tuesday.
But that’s only part of the story, said Dr. Scott Lindquist, of Washington’s Department of Health (DOH).
Read the full story here.
Northshore School District reports low Monday attendance
Although the Northshore School District hasn’t seen any confirmed cases of the virus, Monday’s district-wide attendance was low. The district made headlines last week for shutting down Bothell High School for two days of cleaning.
About 7,000 students — a third of the district — stayed home from school on Monday, according to district spokeswoman Lisa Youngblood Hall.
Bothell High School was closed Thursday and Friday for a deep cleaning, but reopened Monday. Frank Love Elementary School also shut its doors Monday, after a staff member there was tested for the virus.
The school district announced plans to cancel class Tuesday and planned to offer students laptops and WiFi hotspots so they could work from home. About 400 devices had been requested as of Tuesday afternoon.
“This is simply an extension of our School2Home program where we've been providing devices and hot spots for students whose families have expressed the need or where staff have identified students who may have the need,” Youngblood Hall said in a message.
Because of the district’s “lower-than-desired” attendance this week, school officials also postponed three events, including the grand opening of a new 30-classroom building.
Meet the Washington state teen who launched a coronavirus website with millions of views
In a world hungry for information about the novel coronavirus, 17-year-old Avi Schiffmann made his mark.
Last December, long before his state became the U.S. epicenter of COVID-19 deaths and illnesses Schiffmann coded and launched a website that tracks and compiles information about the disease from dozens of international news and government websites.
Read the full story here.
Seattle school officials postpone all district-sponsored international travel
Seattle public school officials told parents in an email Tuesday that they’re postponing all district-sponsored international travel in an abundance of caution.
The postponement, which includes travel to Canada and Mexico, will extend through the end of the school year, the email said. Families will receive additional school-specific details later this week. Non-district building rentals and events also will be cancelled to “prioritize custodial supports and resources.”
“We continue to monitor and will communicate any changes for national or local travel including school field trips,” the email said.
The district is continuing to follow guidance from county health officials and doesn’t plan to close any buildings at this time, the statement said.
Seattle Public Schools implement emergency procedures to prevent spread of virus
While Seattle Public Schools (SPS) officials say there hasn't been a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the schools, emergency procedures are in place, a district spokesman said Tuesday.
Custodial staff have been directed to prioritize cleaning “common and high traffic areas” — including bathrooms, the lunchroom, common spaces, door handles and emergency bar on doors — multiple times a day, according to an SPS statement.
The district is also discussing ways to make sure desks and classrooms are cleaned more frequently, and First Student, the SPS school bus contractor, is planning to do extra cleanings of school buses.
The district is sending daily emails to families and staff with up-to-date information and working to send out translated resources.
The SPS statement instructed students or staff experiencing difficulty breathing, a cough or a fever of 100 degrees or higher to stay home from school.
“If a student demonstrates these symptoms while at school, they will be immediately removed to another space in the school while continuing to be monitored by an adult, provided a mask, and a family member or emergency contact will be called to pick them up,” SPS said. “We know this may cause anxiety and fear for our students and we will do our best to address any concerns."
Amazon employee in Seattle has tested positive for COVID-19
An Amazon employee in Seattle tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, according to a message sent to Amazon employees Tuesday in Seattle and Bellevue.
The message, viewed by The Seattle Times, said the employee worked out of the company’s Brazil office building, at 9th Avenue and Republican Street in South Lake Union.
“We’re supporting the affected employee who is in quarantine,” the company said in a statement.
Read the full story here.
Lake Washington Institute of Technology to reopen Wednesday
Lake Washington Institute of Technology will reopen Wednesday after it closed its doors for deep cleaning from Sunday through Tuesday.
Seventeen students and four faculty members recently visited the nursing home Life Care Center in Kirkland, where five people have died from the infection. Another student had visited the EvergreenHealth facility in Kirkland, where one patient tested positive for coronavirus.
While none of the 22 people are experiencing symptoms, the campus closed for several days out of caution, college President Amy Morrison said in a Tuesday statement.
Morrison said that in the past three days, the facilities team has disinfected all bathrooms, classrooms, labs, common areas and offices. There will be carts with disinfecting supplies available in offices Wednesday, so students can wipe down their areas again as another level of protection, she said.
“LWTech has approached this situation with an abundance of caution,” Morrison said in the statement. “To that end, we are asking students, faculty and staff to remain home if they are feeling ill, or if they need to care for someone who is feeling ill. This is a lower threshold than we normally have, but we are in extraordinary times. Faculty are being informed of my request and are prepared to work with students and their classes if they are sick or caring for someone who is sick.”
Murray, Cantwell meet with Pence on coronavirus response
Washington state's senators held a closed-door lunch meeting with Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday and discussed the administration’s response to the novel coronavirus, according to Ben Marvin-Vanderryn, press secretary to Sen. Maria Cantwell.
Marvin-Vanderryn said the senators were critical of the administration’s claims about how quickly the country can ramp up testing capacity as the virus spreads.
The head of the Food and Drug Administration promised on Monday to produce one million coronavirus tests by week’s end, but laboratory representatives say that’s not possible.
“They keep throwing out numbers like millions of tests and we're saying, that's not right. Millions of tests aren't available right this second,” Cantwell told reporters after the meeting, according to notes from Marvin-Vanderryn.
“People are calling their doctors, and they’re not being able to get a test, so let’s get crisper and clearer about what the process is for people to get testing and when the availability of those tests will be there for them."
Metro to sanitize frequently touched bus surfaces daily
King County Metro Transit, one of the nation’s busiest public bus agencies, will now wipe down “high touch” areas with disinfectants, in response to the Seattle-area coronavirus outbreak.
The added cleanings will begin Tuesday night.
Read the full story here.
Mayor Jenny Durkan proclaims 'civil emergency' in Seattle
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has issued a proclamation of civil emergency to help the city respond to the novel coronavirus outbreak, she said Tuesday, noting that King County Executive Dow Constantine made a similar declaration Monday.
Durkan’s proclamation, which has been sent to the City Council, would give her special authority to address the threat to public health and safety, she said in a news release, describing her move as a “precautionary measure.”
The mayor would be able to bypass regulations and steps usually required for city spending, contracting, borrowing and temporary hiring, according to the proclamation. She’d also be able to site facilities without permits and reviews usually required. And she could close city facilities and cancel events to prevent the spread of the virus.
Durkan didn’t announce any actions right away but said she would do so in the coming days, in coordination with county and regional public health authorities.
The council can confirm, modify or reject the proclamation. The emergency would be terminated when Durkan determines that “extraordinary measures are no longer required” or by council vote, the proclamation said.
“Because this is an evolving situation, we will continue to work in partnership with county and state officials to meet the immediate needs of our communities, especially vulnerable individuals and individuals experiencing homelessness,” the mayor said.
“As we prepare to take additional steps in Seattle, we know that our city will need additional resources and help from both our state and federal government,” she added. “For example, we are looking to our partners to increase the availability of testing in a way that does not overwhelm the health care system but meets the growing need.”
Durkan issued a directive Sunday telling Seattle departments to prioritize people experiencing homelessness and ensure proper communications with non-English speakers in the city's response. Seattle is using an Emergency Operations Center to monitor the outbreak, share information and maintain basic services, the mayor said.
Seattle has been operating under a separate civil emergency since 2016, when then-Mayor Ed Murray issued a proclamation in response to the homelessness crisis.
3 Seattle schools deep-cleaned, but remain open
Three Seattle Public Schools -- Kimball Elementary School, Highland Park Elementary School and Chief Sealth High School – were deep-cleaned during the last four days out of an abundance of caution, a district spokesman said. The schools remained open during the cleanings.
No students have contracted the virus, but school administrations wanted to be safe, said SPS spokesman Tim Robinson.
Maintenance crews spray the buildings with Clorox Total 360 disinfectant cleaner1 and wiped down all surfaces with disinfectant Oxivir TB, Robinson said.
The principal of Chief Sealth in West Seattle told families in a Monday letter that while the student who was possibly exposed to COVID-19 isn’t exhibiting symptoms, the district requested that they stay home until further guidance from the county health department.
“The health and safety of our students is our top priority,” she said in the letter. “Central office health services staff will be working with the Chief Sealth admin team to assess and provide any additional resources that may be needed.”
Washington Democrats postpone big fundraising dinner ahead of presidential primary
Citing concerns about the spread of coronavirus, the Washington State Democratic Party has postponed a major fundraising dinner before the March 10 presidential primary — an event the party had hoped would attract one or more of the remaining presidential contenders.
The Warren G. Magnuson Awards dinner had been scheduled for Saturday at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle, but it will be rescheduled to an unknown date this spring, the party announced.
Read the full story here.
Some Comic Con exhibitors canceling appearances
Emerald City Comic Con is scheduled to go on as planned next week, but some exhibitors are pulling out of the convention amid concerns about the coronavirus outbreak.
The annual four-day celebration of pop culture, scheduled for March 12-15 this year, draws close to 100,000 fans, putting them in close quarters at the Washington State Convention Center with exhibitors, creators, celebrities and fans from around the world.
— Jen Bartel (@heyjenbartel) March 3, 2020
Important #ECCC2020 notice: Due to the severity of the COVID-19 virus, Dark Horse Comics has made the difficult decision to pull out of Emerald City Comic Con 2020. It is with the safety and well-being of our staff and creators in mind that we have come to this decision. 1/2
— Dark Horse Comics (@DarkHorseComics) March 3, 2020
Bellevue College closes building for deep cleaning
Bellevue College has closed its "T" building for a day of deep cleaning because a student who was exposed to coronavirus visited the building last week.
The college was told Monday night that two students were exposed to coronavirus, according to a letter to Bellevue students and faculty. They have not tested positive and are not exhibiting symptoms.
All other buildings are open, the college said.
29 Kirkland first responders remain in quarantine
A total of 29 Kirkland firefighters and police officers who responded to Life Care Center remain in quarantine. Of that group, 12 have flu-like symptoms, the City of Kirkland said Tuesday. One firefighter was released Monday after finishing the recommended quarantine period.
Most of the first responders are quarantined in their homes, the city said.
Case confirmed in North Carolina
A person who visited Life Care Center in Kirkland and returned to their home in North Carolina has tested positive for coronavirus, health officials said Tuesday afternoon.
North Carolina health officials said that the state is investigating where the person visited and who was in contact with the patient. The person flew to and from Washington state; the state is working to inform passengers who were on the same plane.
I understand people are anxious and worried, and I want to assure you that the state of North Carolina is taking this seriously. I encourage all North Carolinians to do the same. - RC pic.twitter.com/kCrmK80b0e
— Governor Roy Cooper (@NC_Governor) March 3, 2020
Nine deaths now reported in Washington state
Nine deaths in Washington state now have been attributed to coronavirus disease.
Olympic flame-lighting in Greece to proceed despite virus
Next week’s flame-lighting ceremony for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will go ahead in Greece despite concerns about the virus outbreak, organizers said Tuesday.
Fears over coronavirus exposure close immigration office in Tukwila
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Tukwila is closed Tuesday due to concerns about COVID-19 after an employee who’d visited Life Care Center in Kirkland got sick, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The office will be closed for 14 days.
What has developed over the past 24 hours
- New coronavirus cases in Western Washington are likely doubling every six days, according to an analysis by a genetics and infectious disease expert at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Trevor Bedford's analysis has led him to conclude that as many as 570 Washington residents may have contracted the virus, many of them without knowing it, and have been spreading it through the community with Snohomish County as the outbreak’s center.
- Meanwhile, Oregon may now have 300 to 500 residents who are or were unknowingly carrying the virus, Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state health officer and epidemiologist, acknowledged as officials announced the state’s third presumed coronavirus case.
- King County Executive Dow Constantine said he has signed an emergency declaration and is in final negotiations to buy a motel where patients can recover in isolation. The motel, which the county has not yet identified, should be available for patients by the end of the week, he said.
- The county is also in the process of siting modular units, aimed primarily at homeless people who need a place to recover from COVID-19. King County has the third-highest homeless population in the country, and officials are scrambling to figure out how to contain the virus if it spreads to people in shelters or living outside.
- Gov. Jay Inslee and state health Secretary John Wiesman called Monday for legislators to set aside $100 million to help respond to the crisis.
- Some Seattle-area employers that were discussing contingency plans last week are taking steps to address exposure among their workers or launching programs to help them avoid it.
- Health officials indicated that their response is evolving. At this point, they said, they were not recommending widespread closure of schools or cancellation of public events. However, some schools in Washington closed Monday anyway or canceled extracurricular activities.
- King County residents and people across the country are scrambling to rethink their travel plans as the situation evolves. Here’s what you need to know if you have a trip coming up, and three questions you should ask yourself before you cancel.
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