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Coronavirus in Washington: Updates from May 13-15

Find developments on Washington's coronavirus outbreak and the state's plan for recovery.

Key facts:

VIEW | Coronavirus coverage on KING 5

Friday, May 15:

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. 

RELATED: Gov. Inslee says businesses no longer required to keep daily customer log but it’s encouraged

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.

RELATED: Democrats push $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill through House

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.

“As the country moves toward reopening, we will continue to safeguard our associates’ health and well-being and recognize their work," McMullen added. 

Kroger representatives said on Friday that the final payment for multiple Hero Bonuses that began in April will take place on May 23.

RELATED: Fred Meyer will offer employees one-time 'Thank You Pay' after outcry from union

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.

Coronavirus in Snohomish County

It's possible two Snohomish County residents who reported COVID-19-like illness in December and later tested positive for antibodies may have had the virus about a month prior to the initial case in January. Or not. 

Dr. Chris Spitters, health officer for the Snohomish Health District, said the symptoms the two people reported overlap "greatly" with other respiratory infections. Though it's possible they did have coronavirus before January, it's "more likely" the two had a non-COVID illness in December, followed by a COVID infection. 

That can't be said with 100% certainty, however. But it is the more likely scenario, Dr. Spitters said.

Vote on new stimulus expected

The Democratic-controlled House is pressing ahead Friday with votes on another massive rescue bill that would pump almost $1 trillion to state and local governments, renew $1,200 cash payments for individuals, and extend a $600 weekly supplemental federal unemployment benefit. 

The legislation comes as the country continues to struggle with the health and economic crisis caused by the highly contagious virus, which has claimed more than 85,000 lives in the U.S. and caused at least 36 million people to lose their jobs. Just Thursday, the government reported that almost 3 million people filed jobless claims last week.

Everett volunteers collecting, distributing face masks

Everett Emergency Management volunteers are collecting and distributing donated face masks from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. today at Forest Park, 802 East Mukilteo Boulevard. 

Masks donation/distribution sites are running through May. 

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. 

Click here for complete data from the King County Health Department.

Free food boxes available in King County today

Food Lifeline is giving out free emergency food boxes on Friday. The boxes contain up to 25 pounds of non-perishable food and fresh produce. No paperwork is required and distribution is confidential.

SODO Warehouse: 1440 East Marginal Way South, Seattle, WA

  • Friday, May 15 from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.

Food Lifeline: 815 South 96th Street, Seattle, WA, 98108

  • Friday, May 15 from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m

RELATED: Food boxes being given away in King County this week

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. 

RELATED: Washington retailers to open, but with curbside pickup restrictions

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.

RELATED: First western Washington casino to reopen greeted with eager crowds

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.”

Renee Sunde, president and CEO of the Washington Retail Association said retailers are adapting and mastering the art of curbside pickup and drive-up service.

“Retailers have risen to the challenge of the COVID-19 crisis,” said Sunde.

She also said retailers are looking forward to Phase 2 of the Safe Start plan, where they’ll be able to allow a limited number of customers in the store.

RELATED: Gov. Inslee can't guarantee Washington will enter Phase 2 of reopening on June 1

Anthony Anton, of the Washington Hospitality Association, says he’s feeling confident about the next phase for restaurants to be able to welcome customers in again.

He says restaurant staff are working hard to be in line with the state’s guidelines for reopening. He also said prior to the pandemic, the restaurant industry already practiced handwashing and extensive sanitation procedures.

“We’re really confident in our ability to open safely…We can’t wait to get our restaurants open in Phase 2,” said Anton.

Another industry hit hard by the pandemic has been the auto industry.

Jen Moran with the Washington Auto Dealers Association says car dealerships have had to adapt to the new normal and are offering more online shopping options, which has also allowed employees to work from home and keep them and customers safe.

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.

RELATED: Washington's Phase 2 of coronavirus recovery requires restaurants to keep daily log of customers

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 went on to explain what her team is seeing as they handle the abundance of fake claims.

"What we are seeing is that a victims’ personal information has been stolen from some other source, for example in one of the massive external data breaches like the Equifax breach, and is then used by criminals to apply for benefits and attempt to route those payments to their own bank accounts. Many Washingtonians did not know their information had been stolen in the past, and this situation has only illuminated that fact as fraudsters attempt to get unemployment benefits in Washingtonians’ names," explained LeVine. 

She 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.

RELATED: What to do if a criminal uses your identity to file fake unemployment claims during the pandemic

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.

Free potatoes available in Tacoma Thursday

The Washington State Potato Commission plans to hand out 200,000 pounds of potatoes at the Tacoma Dome Thursday morning.

The giveaway takes place in the “G” and “F” parking lots starting at 11 a.m. The event is part of the Potato Commission’s hope to give away 1 million potatoes as farmers have a massive stockpile due to low demand from restaurants.

The Potato Commission said the potatoes were “originally set to be turned into french fries, tater tots, and hash brown patties. These are not like the pretty potatoes you see in the grocery stores, but they still taste great and are highly nutritious.”

Click here for more information.

Free food boxes available in King County Thursday

Food Lifeline plans to distribute free emergency food boxes at two King County malls on Thursday. The non-profit organization said the food boxes are 22-25 pounds each and available to anyone needing assistance keeping food on the table during the coronavirus pandemic.

The distribution is confidential, and no paperwork is required. However, Food Lifeline is asking for zip codes so it can track its efforts and where the food is going.

The free food boxes will be available at the following locations on Thursday:

Northgate Mall: 401 East Northgate Way, Seattle, WA, 98125

  • Thursday, May 14 from 10 a.m. until noon.

North Bend Outlets: 461 South Fork Avenue S.W., North Bend, WA, 98045

  • Thursday, May 14 from 3 p.m. until 5 p.m.

RELATED: Food boxes being given away in King County this week

US report indicates broad risk of COVID-19 at wildfire camps 

A federal document says outbreaks of the coronavirus could sweep through large camps where crews typically stay as they fight wildfires across the U.S.

A U.S. Forest Service draft risk assessment obtained by The Associated Press shows that even in a best-case scenario, nearly two dozen firefighters could be infected at a camp with hundreds of people.

The worst-case scenario? More than 1,000 infections. Forest Service officials said Wednesday that the document doesn't include predictions, but possible scenarios based on existing data.

The agency said the document is outdated and the newest version not ready to share yet. It will be updated throughout the fire season.

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.

RELATED: Total layoffs rise to 36 million since coronavirus hit

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.

RELATED: Over 500 complaints filed with Governor's office over Petco disregarding stay-home order

Wednesday, May 13:

King County encouraging anyone with even mild symptoms of COVID-19 get tested right away 

Officials with Public Health Seattle & King County says anyone with mild symptoms of COVID-19 -- or anyone who has been in close contact with someone who has the virus -- should get tested as soon as possible to reduce its spread through the community. 

Due to a shortage of testing supplies, health officials previously prioritized testing for people most at risk for the deadly virus, including healthcare providers and first responders. But now the Department of Health has expanded its criteria for who should be tested and supplies for testing kits and personal protective equipment are increasing, according to a release from King County. 

“With more healthcare providers offering testing, we now recommend that anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 be tested,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County.

Health experts say anyone who is experiencing even mild COVID-like symptoms should isolate themselves away from others and call their healthcare provider.

The most concerning symptoms are cough or shortness of breath, according to health officials, but anyone with two or more of the following symptoms should also be evaluated for a test: Fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, loss of taste or smell.

Uber to require drivers, riders wear face masks 

Starting Monday, May 18, Uber drivers and riders will be required to wear face masks to help limit the spread of coronavirus.

Riders and drivers can also expect the below changes starting May 18 when using Uber.

  • Go Online Checklists: Riders and drivers will have to confirm that they have taken certain steps to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
  • Mask Verification: Before drivers are able to start accepting trips, they will be asked to take a selfie with a mask on. Uber’s new technology will verify the driver is wearing a mask or face covering and let the rider know when the driver is en route.
  • Accountability for all: Uber is adding new options for feedback, including if a rider or driver is not wearing a mask or face cover. Drivers and riders are being encouraged to cancel trips if they don’t feel safe, including if a user is not wearing a mask or face cover.
  • New Limits for UberX and UberXL: To allow for more distance in the car, Uber is advising riders to no longer sit in the front seat. This means every ride with Uber will have one less passenger seat available.
  • Rideshare Health Safety Education: Working with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), Uber says it’s compiled safety tips and recommendations specifically geared toward ridesharing and food delivery.

Thirteen new deaths reported Wednesday in Washington

The Washington State Department of Health reported 13 new deaths among 182 new cases of coronavirus as of Wednesday afternoon. That brings the total to 975 deaths from coronavirus among 17,512 cases statewide. 

A total of 261,080 people in Washington have taken a test for coronavirus and 6.7% of those tests have been positive, according to the state Department of Health.

Washington universities want to study COVID-19 and your pets 

Two Washington universities are working together to study the effect pet owners who have tested positive for coronavirus have on their pets. 

The University of Washington Center for One Health Research has partnered with the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Washington State University to launch the pilot study. 

The COVID-19 and Pets Study (CAPS) will sample the pets of positive COVID-19 patients to learn about the role the animals play in the coronavirus outbreak. 

The animals include (but are not limited to): dogs, cats, ferrets, and hamsters. Reptiles and birds will not be included. 

To be eligible for the study, people must provide proof of a positive test result for COVID-19 within the last two weeks from you or another member of the household who is currently at home. You must have one or more indoor animals in your household that are up to date on rabies vaccination. You must also be a resident of King County, fluent in English, and at least 18 years of age. 

You'll also be asked to take a one-time survey online and a veterinarian will visit your household to sample all animals in the household. The samples consist of nasal and oral swabs and a blood draw. 

To participate in the study, you can learn more here. 

Kittitas County working to contain Twin City Foods COVID-19 outbreak

Health officials in Kittitas County are still working to contain the outbreak of coronavirus associated with Twin City Foods, Inc. 

As of Wednesday, there are five additional patients who have tested positive for COVID-19, according to a release from the county. Three of the people received re-testing and two of the additional cases are family members of employees. All of the patients are stable and there are no hospitalizations. 

Kittitas County currently has 44 positive coronavirus cases. Officials said not all of the cases associated with Twin City Foods live in Kittitas County. Fifteen cases are currently recovered and are no longer in isolation. 

Kittitas County's variance application to move onto Phase 2 of Governor Jay Inslee's "Safe Start" plan is currently on hold due to the outbreak. 

Tacoma Art Museum gets federal loan to stay afloat

The Tacoma Art Museum received a $520,000 loan from the federal Payroll Protection Program (PPP) this month to help during the coronavirus pandemic.

The loan will be used to cover payroll for the museum's employees through July 1. Since getting the loan, the museum has returned 38 staff positions to their regularly scheduled house. The museum has been closed since March 13 due to the pandemic. 

“We are incredibly grateful to get this aid through PPP,” said David F. Setford, TAM’s Executive Director. “While this doesn’t offset the normal admissions income or generous community-contributed income projected in this year’s budget, it does allow us to take care of people and our community. Under Governor Inslee’s plan, museums are a Phase 3 business and we don’t know when we will be able to welcome back the public. In the meantime, TAM is very active online.”

The museum is currently offering digital resources like TAM at Home, a digital arts education instructional series, online teacher workshops, and virtual art talks. 

Miss Washington competition postponed to 2021

The Miss Washington competition originally scheduled for June 26-27, 2020, has been postponed to June of 2021 due to coronavirus concerns.

The Miss Washington's Outstanding Teen competition which was originally slated for Memorial Day weekend this year has also been postponed to May 2021. 

This comes after the Miss America Organization announced earlier this month that the 2020 Miss America Competition was being postponed until next year due to the pandemic. 

Western Washington University planning on in-person classes this fall

Western Washington University is planning to welcome students back in-person this year for the fall quarter starting September 23. 

WWU President Sabah Randhawa sent a letter to the community this week explaining the steps the university is taking to ensure everyone's health and safety when classes resume in-person. 

A planning committee completed its initial set of recommendations last week and among those are to move large lecture sections online together with smaller in-person seminars; to move small and medium-sized classes with staggered end time to reduce class size and ensure safe social distancing. 

Things are still fluid and could change, but Randhawa said the current expectation is to start in-person classes again in the fall with a hybrid approach that allows for a mix of online and in-person learning. 

State freeze on some hiring, contracts

Beginning May 18, Gov. Jay Inslee is issuing a freeze on hiring not related to public safety or other non-discretionary activities, signing non-essential service contracts, and discretionary purchasing of equipment.

The freeze is in response to the coronavirus pandemic that is "profoundly impacting Washington's economy and financial outlook." 

The full impact, according to Inslee's directive, is not known. But the state's revenue situation "warrants immediate fiscal restraint."

The hiring freeze does not apply to positions that: 

  • directly impact public safety
  • are essential to the health and welfare activities of state government
  • generate revenue
  • are required to meet statutory mandates
  • are related to the state’s response to the pandemic

Additionally, Inslee is asking higher education institutions, boards and commissions, and other elected officials to impose similar restrictions. 

"While this is not going to be easy, I ask each agency to use common sense, good judgment and creativity to accomplish the ultimate goal of this directive to capture immediate saving through spending reductions not related to the public safety and essential health and welfare of Washingtonians," Inslee wrote.

Snohomish barber warned after defying stay-home order

The Snohomish barber who openly defied Gov. Jay Inslee's stay-home order received a cease and desist letter.

Bob Martin, who has operated 'The Stag Barbershop' in the same location in Snohomish for 51 years, initially closed to comply with Inslee's orders. 

After having to use his social security check to pay rent, he began taking in customers after hours to help pay bills, he said.

Martin told King 5's Eric Wilkinson that he was emboldened to fully reopen after Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney announced he would not enforce the governor's stay home order, calling it "unconstitutional." 

Claims center service restrictions 

The Employment Security Department is restricting inbound calls to its claims center between May 13-19. 

Restricting calls will allow agents to focus on outbound calling to "resolve complex issues for customers who have been waiting the longest for their benefits," according to ESD. It will also free up time to process claims with "simpler issues."

  • People applying for unemployment benefits can:
  • Apply for benefits and submit weekly claims online
  • Use the automated phone system to apply by calling 1-800-318-6022
  • Call questions hotline at 1-833-572-8400 (wait times could be long)
  • Report fraud using the fraud hotline 1-800-246-9763

EDS Commissioner Suzi LeVine said the department hopes to clear its backlog of more than 200,000 initial unemployment claims by mid-June.

“Our goal with Operation 100% is to make sure unemployment benefits are delivered to all Washingtonians who were impacted by COVID-19, are eligible for and want to receive those benefits,” LeVine said. 

On May 7, there was a backlog of 265,000 initial claims. Of those, about 187,000 needed to sign up for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Another 57,000 claims were stuck in adjudication. 

Angel of the Winds Casino Resort to reopen Wednesday

Angel of The Winds Casino Resort is getting ready for a high stakes move. The casino near Arlington plans to reopen May 13 at 3 p.m.

The rooms will be filled with hundreds of people, even as other entertainment venues remain closed under Gov. Jay Inslee's “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order. That's because, as a sovereign nation, the Stillaguamish Tribe is not subject to Washington state laws.

The casino will only operate at about 50% capacity. Guests will have their temperatures checked before they enter and will wear masks when inside. For now, only baccarat and slot machines will be open. There will be no sitting at the bar and no smoking. Plexiglas will separate people at cash and food stations, and patrons will be expected to practice social distancing measures such as staying six feet away from each other.  

But even with all those protections in place, Gov. Jay Inslee, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, and health officials all pleaded with the casino to stay closed.

RELATED: Angel of the Winds Casino Resort gambles on reopening in Snohomish County Wednesday

IRS deadline and stimulus payments

Wednesday morning is the IRS deadline to sign-up for direct deposit using the Get My Payment tool to receive a stimulus payment. 

If you used the IRS’ Non-Filer Tool, you will receive your stimulus payment by May 13 to the non-Direct Express bank account you may have provided.

The IRS will begin mailing paper checks on May 15 to SSI recipients who receive their monthly SSI payment by paper check, and to SSI recipients who used the IRS’ Non-Filer Tool but left the bank account information empty.

RELATED: Stimulus checks: IRS sets Wednesday deadline for direct deposit info

King County approves $60 million for coronavirus response

The King County Council released the following statement Tuesday: 

"The King County Council on Tuesday approved $60 million in supplemental funding for continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The legislation provides funding for a variety of programs, including: funding to respond to youth homelessness, relief for small businesses; expanded funding for the Community Development Block Grant; increased capacity for newly added isolation and quarantine facilities; support for the hard-hit tourism and creative sector (arts, culture, heritage, science and music) venues in order to attract visitors back to fill convention and events centers, hotels, restaurants; and more.

The Council approved $28.2 million in the first COVID-19 emergency funding measure in March, and another round of funding is expected later this month. King County expects all or most of the emergency spending to be reimbursed by state and federal funds."

Trained coronavirus contact tracers

By the end of the week, nearly 1,400 people will be trained and ready to help with COVID-19 contact tracing.

The plan, according to Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee, is to be able to alert people who came into contact with someone with coronavirus within 24 hours of contact. 

"This has to be very quick," Inslee explained. 

Contact tracers include those serving with the National Guard, Department of Licensing, and state and local health officials.

RELATED: Gov. Inslee unveils plan for rapid COVID-19 contact tracing in Washington

Skagit Valley choir outbreak called 'superspreader event' in report

Disease trackers are calling a choir practice in Washington state a superspreader event that illustrates how easily the coronavirus can pass from person to person.

A report published Tuesday suggests the act of singing may have spread the virus in a fine mist of particles.

The report says a choir member with symptoms attended a March 10 rehearsal. Of 60 others who attended, 52 got sick with confirmed or probable COVID-19, including two who died. The rehearsal was held nearly two weeks before the state’s stay-at-home order.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends avoiding large groups, wearing cloth masks in public, and staying at least 6 feet apart from others.

Previous story: 2 deaths, 45 coronavirus cases linked to Skagit Valley choir practice on March 10

Coronavirus | Neighbors Helping Neighbors 

See previous coronavirus updates for Washington state here.