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Coronavirus in Washington: updates from May 11-12

Find updates on the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state from May 11-12

Editor’s note: This story shows updates about the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state from May 11-12, 2020.

Click here for the latest updates from KING 5.

Key facts:

  • Nearly 1,400 people are trained and ready to help with COVID-19 contact tracing in Washington state.
  • 17 new deaths among 208 new cases reported Tuesday in Washington. 
  • TOTAL: 962 deaths among 17,330 overall cases in Washington state.
  • 256,321 people in Washington have taken a test for coronavirus and 6.8% of those tests have been positive, according to the state Department of Health.

VIEW | Coronavirus coverage on KING 5

Tuesday, May 12:

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."

New Washington cases 

  • 17 new deaths among 208 new cases reported Tuesday in Washington. 
  • TOTAL: 962 deaths among 17,330 overall cases in Washington state.
  • 256,321 people in Washington have taken a test for coronavirus and 6.8% of those tests have been positive, according to the state Department of Health.

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 contract tracing in Washington

The contact tracing is another step toward re-opening the economy and lifting social distancing restrictions in the state. 

Contact tracing is a part of the process to stop chains of transmission, according to the CDC

"Identifying contacts and ensuring they do not interact with others is critical to protect communities from further spread. If communities are unable to effectively isolate patients and ensure contacts can separate themselves from others, rapid community spread of COVID-19 is likely to increase to the point that strict mitigation strategies will again be needed to contain the virus," according to the CDC.

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

Regulations for restaurants opening in Phase 2

Restaurants and taverns in Washington can partially resume dine-in capabilities in Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start Washington” plan to reopen the economy.

Phase 2 allows more businesses and activities to re-open with adequate safety and health standards in place. Under Phase 2, dining rooms may open with less than 50% capacity, tables with no more than five people seated, and no bar seating area.

Other regulations include hand sanitizer being available at the entry for customers and staff, tables to be spaced six feet apart, and table condiments must be single-use or sanitized after each use. Click here for more regulations.

All businesses are also strongly encouraged to require their customers to use cloth face coverings when interacting with their staff. Each phase will be at least three weeks and data will guide when the state can move from one phase to another.

RELATED: Washington restaurants reopening in Phase 2 must follow these rules

Want to sterilize your cloth face mask? Don’t microwave it

Central Pierce Fire and Rescue shared a tip on how NOT to disinfect your cloth face mask: the microwave.

In a Facebook post, the agency said cloth masks can quickly overheat in the microwave and catch fire. The same goes for disposable face masks, which often have a metal wire in them that can spark a fire and even break your microwave.

The CDC recommends sterilizing cloth face masks in the washing machine with detergent.

RELATED: Sanitize your cloth masks in the washing machine, not the microwave

UW Medicine expects $500 million loss due to pandemic

UW Medicine said it is expecting more than $500 million in financial losses by the end of summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like other hospitals around the country, UW Medicine lost revenue since the start of the pandemic due to non-emergency and elective procedures being canceled, along with the high cost of treating patients with COVID-19.

UW Medicine CEO Dr. Paul Ramsey announced plans to cut salaries for senior leaders, staff furloughs, and spending limits to help reduce expenses. It is also seeking reimbursements under federal and state programs.

“I sincerely regret that our path to financial stability includes reductions in compensation, but I believe the actions we are taking will support the excellence of the UW Medicine clinical, research, and educational programs. As we develop and implement these measures, we are committed to transparency and will seek input on how we can best support our employees during this challenging time,” Dr. Ramsey said in a statement.

Best US cities at sheltering in place

Seattle is one of the best cities at sheltering in place, according to a new study by Insurify.

Researchers at Insurify, a website for auto insurance quotes comparison, looked at data from Apple to determine which cities’ stay-home order had the largest impact on travel. The company used data from Apple Maps to look at changes in driving, walking, and use of public transit in 15 major cities.

New York, which is the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, topped the list, followed by San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

Click here to see the full list.

Washington considers staggered school start times

The State of Washington is considering asking schools to stagger start times once children return to class so that one big group isn’t arriving and leaving at the same time each day.

Secretary of Health John Wiesman made the comments during a telephone town hall with constituents of Rep. Derek Kilmer Monday evening.

In response to a question from a teacher about how the school day could change, Wiesman suggested some schools might have one group attend class in the morning, while another attends in the afternoon.

Wiesman also said schools might keep all kids in one class together throughout the day, so there would be no mixing with other classes.

RELATED: Washington considers staggered school start times

Washington, other western states ask for $1 trillion in aid

Washington and the four other members of the Western States Pact wrote a letter to congressional leaders requesting $1 trillion in aid due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.

The letter from the Western States Pact was signed by governors and legislative leaders from Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, and Colorado. It says that the $1 trillion would help the states avoid massive cuts to services such as public health, public safety, and education.

Gov. Jay Inslee posted the letter on Twitter on Monday, saying that "without federal support, states will be forced to make impossible decisions."

RELATED: Washington, other western states ask feds for $1 trillion in coronavirus aid

Dr. Fauci warns of 'suffering and death' if US reopens too soon

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, is warning Congress that if the country reopens too soon during the coronavirus pandemic, it will bring “needless suffering and death.”

Fauci is among the experts testifying to a Senate panel on Tuesday. His testimony comes as President Donald Trump is pressuring states to reopen after the prolonged lock-down aimed at controlling the virus’ spread.

With the U.S. economy in free-fall and more than 30 million people unemployed, Trump wants to restart the economy. Worldwide, the virus has infected nearly 4.2 million people and killed over 286,000. Some countries that have relaxed lock-down rules have seen new outbreaks.

RELATED: Dr. Fauci warns of 'needless suffering and death' if US reopens too soon

Monday, May 11:

Quarantine ends safely for Seattle Fire Department members

After 127 members of the Seattle Fire Department were quarantined by coronavirus concerns, all of them are now safely back on the job. 

The department reported all of the impacted SFD personnel completed a 14-day quarantine and have been cleared to return to work. 

According to SFD, "This includes those who have received testing at the site designated for first responders and those who have shared their results from testing conducted at a private physician." Read more

Credit: Seattle Fire Dept

New Washington cases

The Washington State Department of Health has reported 228 new cases of coronavirus and 15 new deaths statewide.

There are now 945 deaths among 17,122 overall cases in Washington state. 252,108 people in Washington have taken a test for coronavirus and 6.8% of those tests have been positive, according to the state Department of Health.

White House recommending nursing home residents be tested for COVID-19

The White House is recommending that all nursing home residents and staff be tested for the coronavirus in the next two weeks. 

Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the White House coronavirus task force, told governors on a video conference call Monday that it’s the federal government’s strong recommendation that such testing be done. 

Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force coordinator, told governors to focus over the next two weeks on testing all 1 million nursing home residents. 

She says the White House will help states that need it.

The Life Care Center nursing home in Kirkland made national headlines as the first nursing home to have a coronavirus outbreak. 

The facility is facing a $611,325 fine after federal surveyors found "immediate jeopardy" situations during an inspection of the nursing home believed to be the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state.

That amount could be increased or decreased based on future inspections and compliance, according to a letter from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

Additionally, Life Care Center may lose its Medicare provider agreement, among other penalties, if it is found out of compliance.

According to a CDC report, in early March there were 129 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in connection to the Life Care Center, including 81 residents, 34 staff members and healthcare personnel, and 14 visitors. Those numbers have since increased. 

Associated Press contributed to this report.

3 more WA counties can ease virus restrictions early

Three more rural Washington counties have been given the OK to relax some COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions early as the state move through the reopening process. 

Washington State Secretary of Health John Wiesman on Monday approved applications from Wahkiakum, Skamania, and Stevens counties to move into Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan. 

Columbia, Garfield, Lincoln, Ferry and Pend Oreille counties had previously been given the go-ahead to enter Phase 2. 

In Phase 2, among the things that would be allowed are in-store retail purchases, with some restrictions, hair salons, barbers and restaurants at half capacity and tables of less than five people.

King County officials issue health directive on face coverings 

King County health officials and County Executive Dow Constantine have issued a health directive urging people to use face coverings in indoor public spaces and in areas where social distancing is difficult. 

Although it has not yet been mandated, health officials strongly urge people to wear a face-covering in places like grocery stores, pharmacies and other places to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The face coverings do not have to be N95 surgical masks but can be any cloth bandana or scarf that covers the nose and mouth. 

People do not need to wear masks outdoors, but again, are encouraged to do so in tight places like farmer's markets and curbside pickups where social distancing is difficult.

RELATED: King County urging people to wear masks in indoor public places

Coronavirus causes crisis at local transit agencies 

The coronavirus pandemic has plunged Puget Sound-area transit agencies into crisis-planning mode, as ridership and revenue has plunged and predictions that people won’t be returning to buses and trains in large numbers anytime soon. 

The Seattle Times reports that beyond the immediate health crisis, the pandemic threatens to undo years of transit growth and plunge local transit systems into a financial setback worse than the Great Recession in the late 2000s. 

As much of the economy closed down and transit agencies began to worry about lost funding, some help arrived last month, thanks to a federal aid package. 

Still, experts say it almost won’t be enough. 

Transit agencies in throughout the region have reduced service and implemented social distancing measures. King County Metro, for example, moved to a reduced schedule in response to a decrease in ridership.

$5.4 billion in funding to small businesses 

The Small Business Administration issued another $5.4 billion to Washington state businesses during the second round of Paycheck Protection Program funding through May 8. 

Total loans in the second round equaled 58,149. So far, $12.4 billion in loans have been distributed in Washington state.

The average loan size in round two in the Pacific Northwest was $73,000, compared to $206,000 in round one. 

Just over half of all loans made in round two have been made by small and medium lenders.

The Paycheck Protection Program is a loan designed to provide an incentive for small businesses to keep workers on the payroll. The Small Business Administration will forgive loans if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks, and the money is used for payroll, rent mortgage interest, or utilities.

Tacoma postpones Fourth of July celebration

The T-Town Family 4th festival is being postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A community-wide event may be planned for later in the summer when social distancing measures are lifted and it is deemed safe to host large gatherings.

“As much as we were looking forward to this fun family event, we must remain vigilant and focused on the safety and well-being of our community and take measures to reduce the spread of this pandemic,” said Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards. “I look forward to a time we can come together as a community again and celebrate.” 

Large events have been banned in Pierce County since March 11. 

Fourth of July events throughout the region are expected to be postponed or canceled due to the pandemic. 

“Postponing the event is the right thing to do in the interest of public health,” said Tim Reid, president of the Board of Park Commissioners. “We will continue to monitor the situation and hope for an opportunity to host a community-wide event in a few months. We appreciate the public’s patience and understanding.”

RELATED: Bellevue and Tacoma among Washington cities to cancel 4th of July events amid coronavirus pandemic

Petition to reopen drive-in theaters

A petition to allow drive-in theaters to operate during the coronavirus pandemic collected nearly 50,000 signatures as of 9 a.m. on May 11. 

The petition, started by "Blue Fox Drive-In," states that treating drive-in theaters as normal theaters is "unjust." Visitors to drive-in theaters are "isolated within their own vehicles" and "parking is no different than parking in a store parking lot."

Some businesses are being allowed to reopen under Phase 1 of Gov. Jay Inslee's four-phased approach to loosening restrictions. 

Theaters won't be allowed to open until the third phase when they can fill to 50% capacity. They'll join other businesses such as gyms, bars, libraries, museums, and "all other business activities not yet listed except for nightclubs and events with greater than 50 people." 

It's unclear when Washington state will enter Phase 3. 

Phase 2 could start on June 1.

PA Fitness in Arlington reopens, defying stay-home order

The owner of Power Alley Fitness in Arlington opened its doors Monday morning in protest of Gov. Jay Inslee’s ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ order.

Gym owner Michael Jellison said he spent the weekend preparing his gym to reopen with the health and safety of his customers in mind. He said equipment has been spaced out to keep customers six feet apart while working out and temperatures will be checked before anyone enters the gym.

Jellison said in a Facebook post said he is outraged with Gov. Inslee’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that “PA Fitness is exercising its constitutional right by protesting our business closure and will be re-opening with social restrictions in place.”

Gyms are allowed to reopen at half capacity under Phase 3 of Gov. Inslee’s “Safe Start Washington” plan to reopen the economy, which is still weeks away. We are currently under Phase 1 of the reopening plan.

King County receives first of two shipments of sanitizer

King County received the first of two shipments of hand sanitizer from South Korea. 

In total, 115,000 bottles will be sent to hospitals, first responders, and long-term care facilities.

Over 20% of Twin City Foods employees test positive for coronavirus 

The Kittitas County Incident Management Team is responding to 34 additional cases of coronavirus associated with Twin City Foods, Inc. On May 8, the IMT quickly implemented mass testing for all employees of Twin City Foods. 

The additional positive cases mean that over twenty percent of Twin City Foods employees are positive for COVID-19. Roughly 20 cases are still pending from that mass testing.

This comes two days after the company announced a possible outbreak at the plant. The team collected 158 samples on Friday through a drive-through system, the county said.

Twin City Foods Inc. will be closed for an additional 10 days and will continue to work closely with the Incident Management Team.

Amtrak will require passengers to wear masks starting Monday

Starting Monday, Amtrak says it will require passengers to wear face coverings or masks on its trains to help limit the spread of coronavirus.

The new policy states that passengers must wear masks in the stations, on their trains and buses. Passengers can take them off only when eating in the designated areas in a private room. 

Small children are not required to wear masks, officials said. 

To help with social distancing, Amtrak is also limiting bookings to 50% capacity and restricting some seating in rail cars.

RELATED: Amtrak now requires passengers to wear face masks

Shutdown of casinos deals blow to tribal nations

Some 500 Native American casinos have shut down during the pandemic, often taking away tribes’ main source of income. 

While some Native American-owned casinos have reopened or plan to in coming weeks, most are still closed. Besides costing tribes millions of dollars, the closures have forced layoffs and furloughs.

One tribe in Washington state says it can't fund anything without the casino but recently reopened after two months.

In Connecticut, workers at two large casinos are eager to get back to work. But they say it's better to be safe than sorry because “to open and close again would be terrible."

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

Sea-Tac Airport will require cloth face coverings for all beginning May 18

The Port of Seattle announced Sunday morning that it will soon require all passengers, visitors, and workers, including Port employees, to wear cloth face coverings in the public areas of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. 

Port Director Steve Metruck said, "Many Port employees and partners and members of the public already wear cloth face coverings.  This policy makes clear our commitment to public health, safety, and well-being.”  

The requirement will not apply to certain groups, such as very young children.

RELATED: Sea-Tac Airport to require face coverings for visitors, employees

Coronavirus | Neighbors Helping Neighbors

See previous coronavirus updates for Washington here.