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COVID-19 updates: Local health officials warn against spread of virus indoors

Restaurants continue to require patrons to wear masks, and likely will for the foreseeable future. (Seattle-King County Public Health, Facebook)

The state DOH says there have been over 98,201 coronavirus cases in Washington state, and 2,239 people have died from the virus. Check below for more updates.

Confirmed coronavirus cases across Washington state

Sunday, Oct. 18

4:17pm – There have now been 98,201 total COVID-19 cases in Washington state since the start of the pandemic. That’s a single day increase of 530 cases. The Department of Health no longer tracks new deaths on weekends.

2:44pm – After struggling to ramp up coronavirus testing, the United States can now screen several million people daily, thanks to a growing supply of rapid tests. But the boom comes with a new challenge: keeping track of the results. Read more from the Associated Press here.

7:22am – Seattle-King County Public Health is encouraging the region’s residents to take necessary precautions in indoor environments headed into the colder months.

“Socializing outdoors is less risky than indoors for two main reasons,” Public Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said. “First, natural outdoor airflow rapidly dilutes viruses floating in the air. Second, sunlight kills viruses. But, as we head into fall and winter, we spend less time outdoors and more time indoors, where the risk of COVID-19 spread is higher.”

In order to reduce your risk indoors, Dr. Duchin recommends continuing to wear cloth masks at all times in public, reduce the number of people you’re around “as much as possible,” and “do what you can” to improve ventilation indoors.

Saturday, Oct. 17

3:53pm – The Washington Department of Health is reporting 97,671 total COVID-19 cases statewide. That’s a single-day increase of 777 cases. The DOH does not track deaths on weekends.

12:16pm – As of this week, for the first time, certain low-income transit riders can get free ORCA cards with unlimited rides on King County Metro and Sound Transit buses and trains. Read more.

8:01am – A coalition of 1,000 current and former CDC officers signed an open letter this week, condemning the Trump administration’s COVID-19 response, and calling on the federal government to take a more active role in dealing with the pandemic.

“The absence of national leadership on Covid-19 is unprecedented and dangerous,” the letter reads.

Friday, Oct. 16

4:57pm – Health officials say there have been 96,894 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Washington state, and 2,239 have died. The state says 2,194,254 states have been conducted.

4:32pm – A new U.S. government report shows that patterns of coronavirus deaths shifted over the summer, with rising percentages of deaths in Hispanic people, and those living in the South and West.

The report, released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looks at coronavirus-associated deaths reported between May 1 and Aug. 31. It is an update of an earlier report that focused on deaths during an initial wave of illnesses in the early spring that mainly hit the Northeast. Read more from the AP.

1:34pm – The state Department of Health says it’ll be closed on Monday, Oct. 19, for an agency furlough to meet budget restrictions. However, the COVID-19 Assistance Hotline remains active: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. M-F, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sat-Sun and all observed state holidays. Call 1-800-525-0127 and press #.

12:31pm – COVID-19 has killed more than 200,000 Americans, and experts predict another sad statistic as a result of the pandemic: Rising cancer death rates over the next several years. Read more

11:15am – Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center is reporting a COVID-19 outbreak, with 10 staff members testing positive for the virus, along with four patients. Those staff members have been placed in isolation. Of the four patients who tested positive, one has died.

9:49am – Seattle-King County Public Health has retrospectively identified an additional 28 cases linked to an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak within the University of Washington Greek system.

These cases do not represent a fresh increase in transmission, but do still increase the total number of positive cases linked to the outbreak to 247. That total is spread across 16 fraternities and sororities.

9:26am – A handful of local movie theaters are reopening Friday, after getting the go-ahead from Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Department of Health.

That will include AMC and Cinemark theaters across Washington, reopening under 25% capacity as laid out in the newly-revised Phase 2 guidance.

8:05am – Thurston County’s health officer says coronavirus case rates are high enough there that no additional students should be brought back to class until the end of the month.

The county is currently in the “moderate” transmission range, at 61.6 cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period. If it crosses the threshold into “high risk” at 75 cases per 100,000, Thurston officials will closely monitor cases for another two weeks. If that rate remains over that period, it will recommend “transitioning back to remote learning.”

Health officers for King, Pierce, and Snohomish County have all issued similar recommendations in recent weeks.

6:38am – In the face of calls for a herd immunity approach to controlling the U.S. COVID-19 crisis, Dr. Ali Mokdad with UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation is labeling that approach “criminal.”

“Because it means ‘let people die,'” he told KNKX. “It’s even more criminal because it means ‘let poor people die.”

While the prevailing theory is that it would take roughly 60% of a population to get infected before herd immunity could take effect, Dr. Mokdad also points out that we don’t know if that would actually be the necessary benchmark, and that more people could potentially contract the virus, putting millions more at risk globally.

5:25am – A new report from the state Department of Health indicates that cases appear to be “steadily increasing” over the past three weeks, with these trends “mirrored in gradual increases in hospital admissions.” You can read the full report here.

Thursday, Oct. 15

3:31pm – Health officials say there have been 96,185 cases of coronavirus in Washington state, and 2,232 deaths due to the virus. The state says there have been 2,169,192 tests conducted so far.

2:57pm – Dr. Ali Mokdad from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which tries to predict when coronavirus cases will rise and why, joins KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross to discuss what to expect as we head into colder weather and plan more indoor gatherings. Read more. 

1:22pmA new study from the World Health Organization indicates that remdesivir may have little effect on COVID-19 mortality rates.

The study also found that the drug — which has become a commonly used medication for COVID patients — doesn’t appear to dramatically affect the length of hospital stays, or whether or not a patient needs to be ventilated.

12:01pm – A Seattle area man is the third person in the world confirmed to be infected by the coronavirus twice. He was not as sick the second time, suggesting some level of protection from the first illness, though it was not enough to block the infection entirely. It is believed that the first infection was tied to the initial strain in Wuhan, China, while the second was a different variant linked to a strain that caused major outbreaks on the East Coast.

10:46am – Less than three weeks from Election Day, majorities of Americans are highly critical of President Donald Trump’s handling of both the coronavirus pandemic and his own illness, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The poll, which was taken a week after Trump disclosed his own COVID-19 diagnosis, also shows that 54% of Americans disapprove with how the White House handled the episode. Read more from AP.

9:21am – The state’s preliminary seasonally adjusted monthly unemployment rate for September decreased from 8.4% (adjusted) in August to 7.8%, according to the Employment Security Department.

7:12am – While people may have stopped wearing lip balm and lipstick during the pandemic because of face masks, a new study from the Journal Physical Review Fluids indicates that oily lip products interact with saliva and can dramatically reduce the number of droplets spewed while speaking.

Researchers also find that saying “p,” “b,” “t,” and “d” sounds are the most dangerous because forming them sends out the greatest number of saliva droplets. A safer letter to pronounce is “m” because it sends air mainly through your nose, not your mouth.

5:55am – Two public health officials who have led our state’s COVID-19 response say they are leaving. State Health Officer Kathy Lofy announced Wednesday that she’ll step down at the end of the year to focus on her own health and family. State Secretary of Health John Wiesman plans to resign in January to take a job at the University of North Carolina.

Wednesday, Oct. 14

5:37pm – Workers’ rights group Working Washington is calling the state’s Employment Security Department a “failure.” Read more

4:22pm – Health officials say there have been 95,509 positive cases of coronavirus in Washington state, and 2,221 deaths. The state says there have been 2,146,509 COVID-19 tests conducted so far.

3:32pm – In most of Washington state, coronavirus case rates are highest in young adults right now, but not in Whatcom County.

Health Director Erika Lautenbach says positive tests for Whatcom County residents aged 60-79 are not declining. That’s on top of a recent outbreak at a nursing home, thought to be responsible for increasing transmission among people there over 80.

Lautenbach also says the number of people being infected at work is increasing, mostly because of close contact and a lack of face coverings. She lists smoking areas, break rooms, and company vehicles as the riskiest areas.

2:01pm – Washington State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy announced Wednesday that she plans to resign from her position at the Department of Health “later this year.”

“This decision is my own, and it’s a personal one,” Lofy said in a written release. “My only definitive plan after I leave the agency is to take a brief hiatus from my career to focus on being a mom, improving my health and reconnecting with friends and family.”

11:53am – Gov. Inslee announced Tuesday that the five counties — Benton, Chelan, Douglas, Franklin, and Yakima — that were still in a modified Phase 1 would move forward to Phase 2. This does not mean, however, that there are imminent changes expected for the phases of other counties. All Washington counties are now in Phase 2 or 3.

“Although we have made tremendous progress, better than 45 other states, we now are seeing an uptick to some dimension,” Inslee said. “We hope it’s temporary, but we’ve got to keep our eye on the ball.”

9:49am – Teachers struggling with limited-at-home technology have a new option thanks to the nonprofit Two Screens for Teachers, started by local tech entrepreneurs. The nonprofit is purchasing a second computer monitor for every Seattle School District teacher who needs one to help them better connect with their students while teaching remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more.

8:03am – One of the largest coronavirus outbreaks in King County seems to be showing signs of slowing as just two new cases on the University of Washington’s Greek Row were reported Monday. At the peak of the outbreak, 73 new cases were reported in a single day. The Greek community at the UW has seen 242 confirmed cases.

King County Public Health’s Dr. Jeff Duchin says while the outbreak at the UW is large, it is not responsible for the overall increase seen county-wide.

6:32am – Washington state is continuing to see unsafe behavior leading to higher rates of COVID-19 across the state, but the governor says many of the new cases could have easily been prevented.

“You let your guard down, you have a Seahawks party, and then you get infections,” Gov. Inslee said.

In Skagit County, which is seeing a dramatic increase of COVID-19 cases, county leaders say a quarter of the infections are coming from social gatherings. Nearly one-fifth of the county’s new cases are from travel, most of that being recreational, and another one-fifth from work.

Tuesday, Oct. 13

9:31pm – The DOH updated its dashboard on Tuesday. The last update was Saturday, Oct. 10. The updated dashboard indicates 94,775 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Washington state, and 2,211 people have died. That’s an increase of 1,740 cases and 21 deaths. The state says there have been 2,123,908 tests conducted.

4:48pm – CHI Franciscan launched a free COVID testing site in Federal Way Tuesday, at the Weyerhaeuser Aquatic Center. Tests are available free of charge regardless of insurance coverage, Monday through Saturday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

3:38pm – Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that five Washington counties will be allowed to move forward in the reopening process, shifting out of a modified Phase 1 and into Phase 2. Read more

2:01pm – Countless small businesses are struggling through the pandemic, but nonprofit Work for Humanity can help. Right now, they’re offering free and low-cost business coaching to businesses with 20 employees or less. Read more

12:15pm – With COVID-19 cases beginning to tick back up, schools across the Puget Sound region are rethinking their plans for having students return to classrooms in person. Read more

10:57am – President Trump appears to have recovered from his COVID-19 diagnosis, and said after his recovery that this is the way everyone should be treated. Could this possibly happen using a combination of remdesivir, Regeneron, dexamethasone, and vitamin D? Read more.

8:21am – Snow fell on Stevens Pass over the weekend, which the ski resort says is a good sign that it could open for the season on Dec. 4. Expect changes this year due to COVID-19 though as the early season will be reserved for season pass holders only, reservations required, and face coverings and social distancing will be mandatory.

7:15am – As an example of what coronavirus travel troubles mean to the local economy, Visit Seattle says 80,000 jobs in King County are tied to tourism, and the tax money it brings in offsets $1,400 in tax burden for each local household. Last year’s cruise season in Seattle generated nearly $900 million and 5,500 local jobs. This year’s cruise season was canceled, as were 54 conventions that had been booked at the Washington State Convention Center.

A national tourism association says the leisure and hospitality industries provided 11% of the jobs in our country until the pandemic.

5:57am – A new high volume testing location offering free drive-through and walk-up COVID-19 tests opens Tuesday at the Federal Way Aquatics Center. This locations aims to increase access to testing in South King County. The site will be open Monday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Make reservations online through CHI Franciscan here.

Monday, Oct. 12

5:27pm – Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association says more Americans have died as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic than have been counted or reported. While U.S. death counts are consistent year to year, the number of deaths from March to July increased by 20%, according to the research.

“For every two Americans that we know of who are dying of Covid-19, another American is dying,” Dr. Steven Woolf, author of the research and director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, told NBC News.

Mathematically, that would put the U.S. death toll due to coronavirus closer to 320,000.

However, Woolf explained that some of those excess deaths could be due to disruptions caused by the pandemic, such as someone who is experiencing chest pains not calling 911 and then dying of a heart attack.

5:08pm – After Gov. Inslee’s revised Phase 2 plan was released last week, AMC and Cinemark theaters will reopen in Washington state on Friday, according to The Seattle Times.

Fourteen of the 15 AMC theaters in Washington state will reopen. The Times reports the one theater that won’t open is in Benton County, which is still in Phase 1.

Regal Cinemas had previously announced its cinemas will remain closed for the foreseeable future.

3:03pm – At the start of Seattle’s COVID crisis, there were concerns about the spread of the virus at homeless shelters. In order to mitigate that, King County officials moved a cross-section of the region’s homeless population into hotel rooms, and the results were more than researchers could have ever hoped for. Read more.

1:18pm – Vitamin D is proving to be somewhat useful in the fight against COVID-19, and was even part of the president’s recent treatment. To better understand how effective it is, Mercer Island MD Dr. Gordon Cohen joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss. Read more

12:09pm – The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) released new projections, which updates the possible COVID-19 death toll in the United States through Feb. 1, 2021.

By Feb. 1, the IHME projects total deaths will be 394,693 if behaviors and policies remain the same. If mandates ease, the number increases to over 502,000. If masks are universally adopted, the IHME predicts about 315,800 deaths. Read more.

11:14am – The Woodland Park Zoo is reserving time for visitors with disabilities that prevent them from wearing masks, offering “accessibility admission” for the last two hours of the day. Guests with disabilities can come in mask-free to see the animals. Zoo officials say extra cleaning will be done before more guests return the next day.

9:58am – The Sumner-Bonney Lake School District says it will delay hybrid learning for elementary students until January 2021 at the earliest, while middle school and high schoolers will have to wait until February. The delay is due to a recent surge of COVID-19 cases reported in Pierce County.

In Arlington, kindergartners and first graders head back to class today. Half of the students will be in class on Mondays and Tuesdays, while the other half will attend Wednesdays and Thursdays, and the rest of the time will be spent learning remotely. Arlington’s hybrid plan will include temperature checks, required facial coverings, and desks separated by at least six feet.

7:40am – The COVID-19 outbreak on Greek Row at the University of Washington in Seattle is up to 238 students. Measures to slow the spread will be a key topic when UW President Ana Mari Cauce gives her annual address to the university community this morning, which you can watch online here.

5:31am – Starting Monday, Alaska Airlines will be offering rapid COVID-19 testing to help guests prepare for travel to the Hawaiian Islands. Hawaii is welcoming back visitors starting this week on Oct. 15 by allowing out-of-state travelers to enjoy the islands without a 14-day quarantine as long as they test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of their final leg of departure to Hawaii.

The testing pop-up clinics will be implemented across the West Coast, with the first one at Carbon Health’s clinic on 6th Avenue in downtown Seattle. Alaska guests can now make an appointment to get priority testing, available Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Test results will be ready within two hours at a discounted cost of $135.

Read updates from last week.

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