Editor’s note: This is a live account of updates from Monday 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.
The United States’ first two deaths from COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus that first emerged in China late last year, were announced over the weekend. Both were men in King County. Since Friday, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Washington state has jumped from two to 18. That includes six people who have died.
The virus’ spread in the U.S. has been deemed a matter of “when,” not “if,” and the Pacific Northwest has emerged at the center of the mushrooming public health crisis.
Officials across all sectors in Washington state have been rushing to prepare for more cases and quell the public’s fears.
We’ll be posting live updates from Seattle Times journalists throughout the day.
Businesses launch strategies to cope with coronavirus — but not all employees can work from home
Some area employers that were discussing contingency plans last week were scrambling to address exposure among their workers or launching programs to help them avoid it.
On Monday, outdoor outfitter REI closed its corporate campuses in Kent, Georgetown and Bellevue/Eastgate for two days after being “notified of two incidents of potential employee exposure” to coronavirus, said REI spokesperson Halley Knigge. Roughly 1,800 REI employees will work remotely while the campuses are subject to “a thorough deep cleaning,” Knigge said.
Even firms that have not reported cases of workers exposed to the coronavirus were rolling out measures aimed at reducing the risk of exposure and allaying employee anxieties.
Read the full story here.
Officials and shelters prepare for coronavirus in Seattle-area homeless population
King County, which has seen the highest number of deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, has the third-highest homeless population in the country. This week, officials are scrambling to figure out how to contain the illness if it spreads to people in shelters or living outside.
As one emergency measure, King County Executive Dow Constantine said at a Monday news conference that the county would set up modular units to isolate patients who do not have a home address. The county had already bought 14 of these units, once used to house Texas oil workers, for its homelessness response.
Read the full story here.
To stop the spread of coronavirus, wash your hands — and no high-fives
Demand for e-commerce surges
For gig-economy drivers working to serve a coronavirus-driven surge in demand for delivery, the weekend was a frenzied rush as shoppers placed grocery orders and some systems appeared overwhelmed, at least temporarily. Volumes also were abnormally high Monday.
E-commerce delivery, which has grown rapidly in the past two decades, could take on an even bigger role with a population that appears increasingly uneasy about going out in public.
Read the full story here.
Coronavirus effect staggers the aviation industry
The suddenly spiking U.S. death toll from the novel coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 threatens to have swift and dire effects in the aviation industry, affecting both airlines and jetmaker Boeing.
At a large annual conference here for airplane financiers and lessors, speakers outlined the tremendous hit already dealt to airlines in Asia, and attendees expressed growing concern for the likely impact ahead in Europe and the U.S. All agreed that although the air travel business will recover long-term, this year looks set for a significant downturn.
Keynote speaker Rob Morris, global head of consultancy for Flight Ascend by Cirium, warned of a “period of great uncertainty” and the likelihood of “significant airline failures” in 2020.
Read the full story here:
Mason County elementary school will close Tuesday
Mt. View Elementary in Shelton, Mason County, will close Tuesday because a staff member's spouse was a first responder at Life Care Center. The first responder was told to quarantine at home, according to a Shelton School District news release. The staff member will also be staying home for 14 days. Neither person has shown symptoms of the virus.
Custodial staff will sanitize the school starting Monday evening and continue through Tuesday, the district said.
Kingston High in Kitsap County will reopen Tuesday
Kingston High School will reopen Tuesday. The school in Kitsap County was closed Monday while the building and two buses were disinfected.
District officials decided to close the school early Monday morning after receiving a report from a parent that their child was being sent for coronavirus testing. The North Kitsap Public Health District, however, said there were no tests being conducted in the county.
"We realize this decision was concerning for many and we want to express that it was not made lightly," North Kitsap School District Superintendent Laurynn Evans wrote in a letter to the district community. "We had to make this decision with the information we had available at the time."
Hazen High will reopen Tuesday
Hazen High School will reopen Tuesday because the district is finished with disinfecting the campus. Hazen was closed Monday so custodial staff could disinfect the Renton school as a student with flu-like symptoms awaits test results for the virus. The student who is awaiting test results is still sick and won't be attending class on Tuesday.
All Northshore schools are slated to close Tuesday so faculty can plan and train for “remote learning” if it becomes necessary, according to a district letter to parents. All district campuses also will receive a deep cleaning Tuesday.
In Kent, Kentwood and Covington will remain closed Tuesday.
Redmond mayor issues proclamation of emergency
Redmond Mayor Angela Birney has issued an emergency declaration for the city, which is located directly east of Kirkland.
The emergency declaration enables the city to ask for additional resources, if necessary. Redmond has quarantined several firefighters who responded to calls at the Life Care Center in the last week. One of the firefighters is quarantined in Redmond's most rural fire station, and the rest of the firefighters are in their homes.
Earlier Monday, King County Executive Dow Constantine said he has signed an emergency declaration.
Uber and Lyft issue guidelines for drivers
Uber has issued guidelines for drivers to protect them and passengers from contracting and spreading the novel coronavirus, including covering coughs and sneezes and washing hands frequently with soap and water. Uber also told drivers, who are classified as independent contractors and make money per trip, to "stay at home" if they feel sick.
The ride-hailing company encouraged drives to clean and disinfect vehicles, paying special attention to surfaces that passengers touch, but did not offer suggestions on how often to clean or what types of products to use.
Lyft reached out to drivers via email and provided guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization that encourage both drivers and passengers to wash hands often, cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Lyft also told drivers, who are not classified as employees, to disinfect car doors and seat belts "frequently." The ride-hail company also said that discrimination of riders or drivers can lead to deactivation of accounts.
Some of the quarantined Kirkland firefighters have symptoms of COVID-19 infection
Some of the Kirkland firefighters who responded to and transported the first reported cases of the novel coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 at a local care center have developed “flu-like” symptoms that could indicate infection, the city said Monday.
City spokeswoman Kellie Stickney said the number of quarantined firefighters had risen to 27, and that the city had been “notified that some of our firefighters in quarantine are demonstrating flu like symptoms.”
Lake Washington Institute of Technology will remain closed Tuesday
Lake Washington Institute of Technology will remain closed Tuesday so the campus can be disinfected. The Kirkland technical college said 22 students and faculty members were at Life Care Center last week and are now in self-quarantine. Of that group, 17 are nursing students, one is a physical therapy assistant student and four are faculty members. One of the faculty members had visited Life Care to see a family member, unrelated to school activities.
The college wrote in a news release that anyone who lives with or has come into contact with the affected students and faculty members is not at risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Bloodworks Northwest: It's safe to donate blood
Bloodworks Northwest is reassuring community members that it's safe to donate blood amid concerns that fewer people will donate blood as coronavirus fears heighten.
There have been no reported cases of coronavirus transmitted through transfusion, Bloodworks Northwest said.
“We’re actively monitoring the evolving COVID-19 situation and maintaining communication with local health departments,” Bloodworks President and CEO Curt Bailey said in a news release. “Our primary focus is providing a safe and reliable blood supply to our hospital partners across the Northwest, and that’s only possible by making opportunities to donate blood available at our donor centers, area businesses, churches, and schools, and seeing our community continue to turn out for local patients.”
Seattle band Supersuckers cancels Italy tour
The Seattle band Supersuckers has canceled its tour in Italy. The band was scheduled to perform in Torino, Milano, Bologna, Parma and Treviso this week.
Washington State Ferries may reduce service
Washington State Ferries spokesman Ian Sterling said the agency will move to an alternative route plan, similar to its snow plan, with reduced service if the virus affects a substantial number of employees or impacts ridership demand.
Ferries cleans and sanitizes vessels between every trip. That includes sweeping, emptying garbage and wiping surfaces with disinfectant.
Hundreds of thousands of people in the Seattle area take public transit each day, so the region’s buses, trains and ferries are a particular focus for officials as they seek to manage the outbreak of the novel coronavirus infection. Read the full story here.
Fred Hutch scientist: New coronavirus cases in Western Washington are likely double ever 6 days
A genetics and infectious disease expert at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center said Tuesday that additional analysis of the spread of the novel coronavirus using genetic markers has led to him 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.
Read the full story here.
Here's what has developed over the weekend and on Monday:
• Among the King County cases is a cluster at a nursing home, Life Care Center of Kirkland. That fact is prompting urgent calls for precautionary tactics at America’s elder-care facilities, where residents are at heightened risk of serious complications from the illness because of the dual threat of age and close living conditions.
• As of about 2 p.m. Monday, at least 13 schools in Washington are closed, and parents are wondering what's next.
• At a news conference Monday in downtown Seattle, King County Executive Dow Constantine said he had signed an emergency declaration and is in the final stages of buying a motel where patients can recover in isolation. The motel should be available later this week. The county is also setting up modular units primarily for people who are sick and don’t have a home where they can recover.
• Researchers looking into the genetic makeup of the virus have developed data they say suggests that COVID-19 has been spreading quietly for weeks in Washington — a possibility that state health officials and the governor’s office acknowledged on Sunday.
• The Seattle area's public transportation system, used by hundreds of thousands of people each day, is a particular focus for officials seeking to prevent the virus' spread. Here's what riders should know.
• Tech company F5 closed its downtown Seattle headquarters tower Monday for cleaning after it learned an employee had been in contact with an individual who tested positive for COVID-19. the employee tested negative, but the company went ahead with the cleaning out of caution, a spokesman said early Monday morning.
• Airlines have begun changing their policies to create flexibility in bookings. If you’re planning — or have already scheduled — a trip for the near future, here are your options.
• The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association announced Monday it would continue to host state basketball tournaments around the state this week.
• Emerald City Comic Con will go on as planned, organizers said Monday.
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