Find developments on Washington’s coronavirus outbreak and the state’s plan for recovery.
Saturday, May 16:
Experts say social distancing remains critical as COVID-19 transmission persists across Washington
Officials say a new statewide report shows COVID-19 transmission is persisting in western Washington and slowly increasing in the eastern part of the state.
According to the report, the measure of how many new infections a single COVID-19 case can produce, known as the effective reproductive number, has not changed significantly in either region and that number continues to be higher than ideal.
“Washington state remains on a knife’s edge,” read the report released Friday. “The vast majority of people on both sides of the Cascades remain fully susceptible to COVID, and as a result, exponential growth of disease burden is still a possibility across Washington.”
“The new report is one more data point emphasizing how critical physical distancing and other disease control measures continue to be,” said Secretary of Health John Wiesman. “We’ve seen some success in our state because of the work each and every one of us is doing to stop the spread of the virus, and an exponential increase in cases is still a possibility. I’m asking everyone to keep up the good work to protect their families and communities.”
The report emphasized physical distancing will continue to be a part of our lives “in some form for a while.”
The report was developed by the Department of Health who worked with the Institute for Disease Modeling and the Microsoft AI for Health program.
Washington health officials address quarantine and isolation rumors
Washington state Secretary of Health John Weisman and Dr. Kathy Lofy, State Health Officer, were compelled to clear the air about rumors circulating around specialized quarantine facilities. They issued the following statement Friday:
“The Department of Health is aware of rumors and misinformation circulating about quarantine orders and specialized quarantine facilities. Public health officials regularly ask people who are sick with an infectious disease or may have been exposed to an infectious disease to stay at home and avoid contact with other people.
This strategy has been used for decades to combat the spread of tuberculosis, measles, Ebola and SARS. Our experience during the COVID-19 pandemic and with other infectious diseases shows the vast majority of people we ask are willing to follow recommendations and isolate or quarantine themselves. Isolation and quarantine at home continues to be the best option and our recommendation for those who can do so safely.
However, all of these actions are voluntary and confidential, despite the misinformation being spread by some. We hope people will continue to protect their families and communities by following public health recommendations.”
Friday, May 15:
Volume of your voice and COVID-19
New research suggests you may want to lower your voice to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Researchers from the National Institutes of Health had people repeat a phrase at different volumes. Then they used a laser-light to track the droplets in the air.
The study found the louder people spoke, the were more droplets — and they were bigger. Those droplets could remain airborne between 8 to 14 minutes.
Researchers say this affirms what they already knew about the virus, and the need to stay at least six feet apart.
Gov. Inslee says daily log of customers will not be required but encouraged
Governor Jay Inslee says he will no longer require businesses to keep a daily log of customers when they reopen, however, he is asking customers to voluntarily provide their information.
“We are asking visitors to voluntarily provide contact information in case of COVID-19 exposure. We only need information for one person per household. If we learn you may have been exposed to COVID-19 during your visit, the information will only be shared with public health officials,” explained Gov. Inslee in a statement Friday.
Inslee said the information would be used so health officials could contact people and explain the risk, answer any questions and provide resources. The information wouldn’t be used for any other purposes, such as sales or marketing.
The governor also added that if the information is not used within 30 days, it will be destroyed.
The governor’s statement comes just days after he issued guidelines saying a daily log of customers would be required for restaurants reopening to help with contact tracing.
Democrats push $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill through the House
Democrats powered a massive $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill through the House on Friday, an election-year measure designed to brace a U.S. economy in free fall and a health care system struggling to contain a pandemic still pummeling the country.
The 208-199 vote, over strong Republican opposition, advances what boils down to a campaign-season display of Democratic economic and health-care priorities. It has no chance of becoming law as written, but will likely spark difficult negotiations with the White House and Senate Republicans. Any product would probably be the last major COVID-19 response bill before November’s presidential and congressional elections.
Fred Meyer to offer employees one-time ‘Thank You Pay’ after union outcry
Kroger, the company that owns Fred Meyer, announced on Friday that it will provide “Thank You Pay” to its hourly employees.
This comes after a union representing more than 100,000 grocery store workers asked Kroger to continue paying its hourly “Hero Bonus” during the coronavirus pandemic.
Fred Meyer has locations across the northwest, including in western and eastern Washington and Idaho.
“Our associates have been instrumental in feeding America while also helping to flatten the curve during the initial phases of the pandemic. To recognize and thank our associates for their incredible work during this historic time, we offered special pay in March, April and May,” said Rodney McMullen, Kroger’s chairman and CEO, in a prepared statement.
Kroger representatives said on Friday that the final payment for multiple Hero Bonuses that began in April will take place on May 23.
Washington state new coronavirus numbers
The Washington State Department of Health reported 9 new deaths from coronavirus and 178 new cases of the virus Friday afternoon. It brings the total to 992 deaths from coronavirus among 17,951 cases statewide.
A total of 273,303 people in Washington have taken a test for coronavirus and 6.6% of those tests have been positive, according to the state Department of Health.
Officials worry about Convention Center funding
Leaders representing the Washington State Convention Center say the coronavirus pandemic has created a financial gap of $300 million for the center’s expansion project and without federal stimulus funds the $1.8 billion project is at risk.
Additionally, about 2,000 construction jobs are at risk.
The funding gap comes from a drop in lodging tax revenue in King County as people practice social distancing.
“The Convention Center is an important centerpiece of our regional economy,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “Delaying construction on the Addition project would have devastating effects on construction workers, the hospitality industry, and our regional economy, and would have ripple effects statewide.”
The project was 30% complete with nearly 90% of materials ordered when the pandemic hit.
Whitman County 9th county approved for Phase 2 of reopening
State officials say Whitman County in Eastern Washington has been approved to take a faster path to reopening businesses including restaurants under Gov. Jay Inslee’s coronavirus recovery plan.
Washington State Secretary of Health John Wiesman approved the county’s application Friday, making it the ninth county in the state to be approved to move into phase two of the four-phase reopening process.
Counties applying for a quicker reopening must have low populations and no new cases of COVID-19 in the last three weeks, among other stipulations. The other eight counties of the 39 in Washington allowed to begin the second phase include: Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Stevens and Wahkiakum.
No coronavirus deaths reported Thursday in King County for the first time in two months
King County reached a milestone Thursday after reporting no new coronavirus deaths for the first time in two months.
The county totals still paint a grim picture after 514 people have died from COVID-19 in King County this year, the most in Washington state.
But the number of newly reported deaths and cases in the state’s most populous county has been dwindling. The statewide death toll as of Friday reached 983.
Thursday, May 14:
City of Seattle to expand curbside pickup zones during pandemic
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Thursday that the city will expand the curbside pickup zones for small businesses reopening in the city.
Starting Friday, SDOT will start installing temporary 15-minute loading and blue “Pickup Priority” signs at various business hubs across the city.
The effort is to help retailers who were just recently given the green light to reopen with curbside pickup orders only.
Emerald Queen Casino to reopen on Monday
The Emerald Queen Casino Fife will reopen its doors on Monday, May 18, at 10 a.m., according to a news release from the Puyallup Tribe of Indians.
The number of people allowed inside at one time will be limited to no more than 30% capacity. Customers will also have their temperatures checked before they enter through the doors and be expected to wear masks.
EQC staff will clean the casino “continuously,” and limit the availability of food, and they will expect staff and guests to maintain social distancing
“We took decisive action to protect our community, sometimes in advance of similar actions by the state, and we have repeatedly said that when we reopen our casino operations, which closed March 16, we will do so safely and responsibly,” read the news release.
The new Emerald Queen Casino location in Tacoma is expected to open in June.
Governor Jay Inslee says progress being made in retail, auto, and hospitality industries on steps of reopening
Governor Jay Inslee and members of the retail, auto, and hospitality industries in Washington held a press conference Thursday to discuss the progress that’s been made in reopening the economy amid the pandemic.
“We know the economic impact of COVID-19 has been severe on businesses and families,” said Gov. Inslee. “Sacrifices across the state of Washington are profound, but we also know we are making progress.”
Washington state is currently in Phase 1 of Gov. Inslee’s Safe Start Washington plan, and expected to enter Phase 2 on June 1. However, Gov. Inslee said Thursday he can’t guarantee that will happen.
Some smaller counties have been given permission to move onto Phase 2.
New Washington state coronavirus numbers
The Washington State Department of Health reported eight new deaths from coronavirus as of Thursday and 261 new cases. It brings the total number of deaths to 983 among 17,772 cases statewide.
A total of 267,931 people in Washington have taken a test for coronavirus and 6.6% of those tests have been positive, according to the state Department of Health.
Fraudulent unemployment claims on the rise in Washington
As more Washingtonians seek unemployment benefits, officials say they’re seeing an increase in fraudulent claims.
Employment Security Department Commissioner, Suzi LeVine, said in a statement Thursday, “Since the start of May – and particularly in the past week – the Employment Security Department has seen a significant rise in reports of imposter fraud. This is where bad actors have stolen Washingtonians’ personal information from sources outside of the agency and are using it to apply for unemployment benefits. To be clear – Employment Security has not had a breach of our system and no data has been taken from our agency.”
LeVine said the Employment Security Department has many protocols in place to prevent, identify, and block fraud, but they are adding the below additional steps:
- Dramatically increasing the number of agents on the fraud hotline; 100 more of whom just started yesterday.
- Hiring more fraud investigators.
- Cross-matching data with other state agencies and across the country to detect fraud activity.
- Working with the U.S. Department of Labor to detect and prevent fraud.
LeVine said the department is also withholding payments for an additional 1-2 days this week so staff can validate claims as authentic.
If you believe you are a victim of imposter fraud, you can go to esd.wa.gov/fraud and report it immediately using the instructions on that page.
Washington unemployment benefit claims increase 20 percent
There were more than 1.3 million total claims for unemployment benefits filed in Washington state last week, according to the Employment Security Department (ESD).
During the week of May 3-9, ESD said it received 109,425 initial claims and 1,301,564 total claims for unemployment benefits. That is an increase of 8,663 initial claims over the previous week.
EDS said it paid out more than $767 million for 538,635 individual claims, an increase of nearly $130 million over the previous week.
In the past 10 weeks, EDS has paid nearly $2.9 billion in unemployment benefits to Washingtonians. A total of 1,775,629 initial claims have been filed in Washington during the pandemic.
Seattle-based Holland America Line to furlough, lay off employees
The Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest cruise company that operates Seattle-based Holland America, announced steps to “further strengthen its liquidity position in the event of an extended pause in guest operations due to COVID-19.”
Carnival and its brands will reduce work hours and salaries, furlough, or lay off employees across the company, according to a press release.
“Taking these extremely difficult employee actions involving our highly dedicated workforce is a very tough thing to do. Unfortunately, it’s necessary, given the current low level of guest operations and to further endure this pause,” said Carnival Corporation & plc President & CEO Arnold Donald.
The furloughs and layoffs come as cruise and travel industries have taken major financial hits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Holland America Line announced in early May that it extended its pause of global cruise operations and canceled all Alaska, Europe, and Canada/New England cruises for 2020.
2020 Thurston County Fair canceled
The Thurston County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to cancel the 2020 Thurston County Fair due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This was a very difficult decision for us, as the board, to make,” said Commission Chair John Hutchings. “It saddens us deeply that we cannot hold this community event this year but had to make the decision. The protection and well-being of our community is paramount.”
Fair staff is working on a plan to hold the youth market animal sales virtually using precautions for social distancing, according to a news release.
“While we will not be holding the fair this year, we look forward to coming together next year to celebrate the 150th Birthday Celebration of the Thurston County Fair,” said Hutchings.
UW staff calling for more protections amid pandemic
University of Washington employees will hold a demonstration Thursday calling for more protections for staff, patients, and the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At 12:30 p.m., workers from the university campus and medical facilities will hold a “unity break demonstration” at Harborview Park next to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
“Since COVID-19 arrived in Washington, the university has failed to implement basic public health guidance designed to flatten the curve, including proper notification to staff regarding exposure, the installation of sneeze guards to protect staff and the public, and the distribution of personal protective equipment,” a press release from union members said.
Elected officials are expected to be at the demonstration along with university employees.
Nearly 3 million US workers applied for unemployment benefits last week
Nearly 3 million laid-off workers applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week as the viral outbreak led more companies to slash jobs even though most states have begun to let some businesses reopen under certain restrictions.
Roughly 36 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the two months since the coronavirus first forced millions of businesses to close their doors and shrink their workforces, the Labor Department said Thursday.
Still, the number of first-time applications has now declined for six straight weeks, suggesting that a dwindling number of companies are reducing their payrolls.
The April jobs report released last week showed the unemployment rate in the U.S. at 14.7%. That’s the highest since the Great Depression. That number is expected to increase when the May jobs report comes out on June 5.
Complaints filed over Petco disregarding Washington’s stay-home order
Petco will stop offering dog groomings during the stay-at-home order in Washington state after being on the receiving end of hundreds of complaints.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order forced the closure of businesses and services considered non-essential in March. A spokesperson for the governor’s office said the order included dog groomers, but that was not so clear to Petco, according to a company spokesperson.
The Governor’s office received approximately 500 complaints about groomings being offered at Petco after the stay-at-home order. The state sent the company a warning email in April and a cease and desist letter last week.
Petco agreed to stop the groomings after receiving that letter.