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Coronavirus updates for western Washington: July 6-8

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

Editor’s note: This story shows updates about the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state from July 2-6, 2020.

Key facts:

  • Businesses are now required to turn away customers if they're not wearing masks.
  • 14 new deaths and 435 new cases reported Tuesday in Washington.
  • TOTAL: 1,384 deaths among 37,420 overall cases in Washington state.
  • 635,524 people in Washington have taken a test for coronavirus and 5.9% of those tests have been positive, according to the state Department of Health.

VIEW | More coronavirus coverage from KING 5

Tuesday, July 7:

BBB warns of fake mask exemption cards

The Better Business Bureau is warning businesses of fake face mask exemption cards as Washington’s mandate forbidding service to unmasked customers went into effect.

A fake card circulating online among the group Freedom to Breathe Agency claims the cardholder is exempt from wearing a mask under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The card also claims wearing a mask is a mental or physical risk to the cardholder.

However, the card is not valid.

Inslee hopes masks, social distancing can prevent backsliding

As coronavirus activity increases across Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee signaled Tuesday he did not want to close Washington’s economy again saying the state would use other strategies to fight COVID-19.

Inslee said the state planned to rely on mask use, social distancing and contact tracing to keep the virus from spreading out of control.

“What has changed (since March) is we now have an ability hopefully to have the best of both worlds, to reopen our businesses at the right pace and wear masks to succeed in keeping this virus from overwhelming our hospitals,” Inslee said.

Inslee said he’s been pleased with how quickly people statewide have adopted masks. He pointed to Selah, where Inslee said the percentage of people wearing masks has increased from 25% to near 90% over the last month.

However, Inslee also warned if people don’t wear masks and the rate of positive tests and hospitalizations continue to increase, Washington may need to move backwards.

“We are concerned that could be in our near future if we don’t increase our performance here,” Inslee said. “That’s just a reality.”

Snohomish County hiring more contact tracers

Snohomish County is ramping up its contact tracing efforts as coronavirus cases continue to climb.

The county has hired half of its goal of 50 contact tracers and expects to hire 25 more this week, according to Ragina Gray, environmental health director for the Snohomish Health District. Those new hires are expected to get started in the next week or so.

Health officials say contact tracing, which tracks who may have come in contact with an infected person, will be key as the state works to contain the virus.

Snohomish County has seen a steady increase in new cases since the beginning of June, according to Dr. Chris Spitters, Snohomish County health officer. Over the last two weeks, the county saw 53 new cases per 100,000 residents, which is nearly triple the rate a month ago.

More than 40% of those recent cases were among adults 20-40 years old, which mirrors trends in King County. The demographics of coronavirus cases in Snohomish County has gotten younger since February and March when around 40% of new cases were among the elderly, according to Spitters.

UW reviewing changes to Student and Exchange Visitor Program

The University of Washington is reviewing the announced modifications to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, noting the changes announced by ICE have yet to be published to the Federal Register.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday that there are new changes to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). The changes could put a heavy burden on nonimmigrant F-1 students who are attending online-only university classes amid the pandemic.

ICE says that F-1 visa students will need to be taking in-person classes to have their visas renewed.

A UW spokesperson emailed KING 5 the following statement:

"We are reviewing the announced modifications and consulting experts in the field to interpret these upcoming changes.  

"The University will also work with our state’s congressional delegation and other key federal officials as we seek to understand those proposed modifications and as we try and change this proposal so it does not negatively impact UW students. 

"We understand how anxious students and staff are to understand these modifications, but these changes have not been published to the Federal Register, are not yet final and are unclear as to how they can be put into practice. Once we understand what any final rules changes mean specifically for UW international students, we will communicate with all currently enrolled F1 students."

Seattle reinstating on-street paid parking, enforcement on July 13

Paid parking and parking enforcement will resume July 13, the Seattle Department of Transportation announced Tuesday.

Paid parking and enforcement was suspended in April in response to Gov. Jay Inslee's "Stay Home, Stay Health" order. 

With King County's transition to Phase 2 of the state's reopening plan and more businesses reopening, "reliable access at the curb for customers is critical for recovery," SDOT posted.

Parking will be 50 cents per hour in all areas, the minimum rate allowed according to city code.That rate will remain for at least a month while SDOT reviews data related to parking activity and occupancy in business districts. 

ICE says foreign students can't take online-only classes amid pandemic

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday that there are new changes to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). The changes could put a heavy burden on nonimmigrant F-1 students who are attending online-only university classes amid the pandemic.

As schools and universities across the country grapple with how to reopen as states continue to report new coronavirus cases, ICE says that F-1 visa students will need to be taking in-person classes to have their visas renewed.

The temporary exemptions are for the fall 2020 semester, and say that the U.S. State Department will not issue visas to students for the fall 2020 semester if their curriculum has gone fully-online. If non-immigrant F-1 visa students are in these programs they must transfer to an in-person program or "they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings."

In the guidelines and changes, students who are taking a mixed model of online and in-person classes will be allowed to take three credit hours online, but students must submit a "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status" form and certify to the SEVP. This is so the agency can verify that the program is not entirely online. 

According to ICE, a temporary exemption for online courses was issued for the spring and summer which permitted F-1 students to take more courses than normal during the coronavirus pandemic. The agency indicated that the new changes, reducing the number of online course hours foreign students can take, applies to F-1 nonimmigrant students who are pursuing academic coursework, as well as M-1 nonimmigrant students who are pursuing vocational coursework. 

Axios reported that several U.S. universities and colleges have announced that they will move all or most of their courses online in the fall due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. It was noted in the report that many universities and colleges rely heavily on tuition paid by international students. 

Students will have the option of taking online courses back in their home country, but cannot stay in the United States and take those same courses. 

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a member of the policy counsel at the American Immigration Council said, "Under the rule ICE announced today, schools like Harvard wouldn't lose tuition from students forced to leave the United States. Students could "attend" classes virtually—in their home country. But if the choice is stay at Harvard or leave the US... many will choose to transfer." 

239 scientists: Coronavirus can spread through air

More than 200 scientists have called for the World Health Organization and others to acknowledge that the coronavirus can spread in the air — a change that could alter some of the current measures being taken to stop the pandemic.

In a letter published this week in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, two scientists from Australia and the U.S. wrote that studies have shown “beyond any reasonable doubt that viruses are released during exhalation, talking and coughing in microdroplets small enough to remain aloft in the air.” That means people in certain indoor conditions could be at greater risk of being infected than was previously thought.

The WHO has long maintained that COVID-19 is spread via larger respiratory droplets, most often when people cough or sneeze, that fall to the ground. It has dismissed the possibility of airborne transmission, except for certain high-risk medical procedures, like when patients are first put on breathing machines.

In a statement on Monday, the U.N. health agency said it was aware of the article and was reviewing it with technical experts.

Read more.

Washington state confirms more than 2,000 new cases over past four days

The Washington State Department of Health confirmed an average of 711 coronavirus cases over the past four days, bringing the four-day total to more than 2,000 according to the agency.

On July 6, the state reported 1,088 new cases for a total confirmed case count of 36,985. However, the new numbers are not just from one day, state officials said. Data processing issues over the holiday weekend caused a backlog.

"Over the past four days, the average daily case total has been 711," the state reported.

That number represents laboratory-confirmed cases. It can take between two and 14 days for a patient to develop COVID-19 symptoms.

Monday, July 6:

Coronavirus cases climb on UW's Greek row amid outbreak

A COVID-19 outbreak on the University of Washington's Greek Row came two weeks after about 1,100 fraternities and sororities reopened.

The incubation time for the disease is two weeks, meaning the students started spreading it immediately.

"This has been a wake up call to the community," says Erik Johnson, president of the university's Interfraternity Council.

As of Monday, there were at least 137 cases associated with the Greek row outbreak, according to UW.

Fraternity and sorority houses are privately owned, so the university can only "encourage" members to socially distance. That message isn't getting through to everybody, even with the virus spreading.

RELATED: Coronavirus cases climb on UW's Greek row amid outbreak

New cases in Washington on Monday July 6

  • 11 new deaths and 1,087 new cases reported Monday in Washington.
  • TOTAL: 1,370 deaths among 36,985 overall cases in Washington state.
  • 629,256 people in Washington have taken a test for coronavirus and 5.9% of those tests have been positive, according to the state Department of Health

Second King County Metro bus driver dies of coronavirus

A public transportation agency in Washington state says a second Metro bus driver has died from complications related to COVID-19.

King County Metro Transit said 71-year-old Mike Winkler died June 17 after several weeks fighting the virus. His domestic partner Karla Mestl said he contracted COVID-19 in March.

The Seattle Times reported that Winkler drove buses for 32 years, mainly working in Shoreline. Another Metro driver, 59-year-old Samina Hameed, died in April.

A spokesperson says the Metro has gradually implemented more safety measures and drivers should expect higher-grade KN-95 masks within one to two weeks. 

RELATED: King County Metro bus driver dies after contracting coronavirus

RELATED: Some bus drivers pleading with King County Metro to offer more protection from coronavirus

Outbreak confirmed at Skagit County care facility

Skagit County health officials reported a COVID-19 outbreak at the Mira Vista Care Center on Monday.

Twenty-one people have tested positive for coronavirus including residents and staff.

The care center implemented state-mandated safety protocols for presumptive positive cases, according to Skagit County Public Health.

King County health officer warns of 'a very difficult time' ahead

Dr. Jeff Duchin, King County public health officer, warned Monday that "a very difficult time may be in store for us" if residents don't make "significant" change to their behavior.

"Hospitalizations stable currently but that may change as COVID-19 spreads from younger, healthy people to older folks, friends, family, co-workers & community members w/underlying high-risk conditions. Turn it around," Duvhin tweeted.

Daily case counts have steadily increased since King County entered Phase 2 last month. On July 1, King County recorded 178 new cases, which is the highest daily case count since April.

More than half of new cases in the last two weeks were among adults 20-39 years old, according to Public Health - Seattle & King County.

Duchin urged people to minimize their activities and contacts, wear a mask and wash their hands often.

Drive-through COVID-19 testing available in Snohomish County

The Snohomish Health District is offering COVID-19 tests at two additional locations this week.

Drive-through testing is available at McCollum Park in Everett on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday this week. Drive-through COVID-19 testing will be available Tuesday at the Monroe Library, and on Thursday at the Mukilteo Library.

The testing sites will use a nasal swab test that will be sent to a lab. Results are expected within 2-3 business days.

The tests are available by appointment only. A full list of times and locations is below:

  • Monday, July 6: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at McCollum Park
  • Tuesday, July 7: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Monroe Library
  • Wednesday, July 8: Noon to 7 p.m. at McCollum Park
  • Thursday, July 9: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Mukilteo Library
  • Friday, July 10: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at McCollum Park

Click here for more information.

White House rejects national strategy on masks

The White House is again rejecting calls for a national mask-wearing mandate.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows says in an appearance on “Fox and Friends” Monday morning that the president sees the issue as a “state-to-state” matter.

He says that, “certainly a national mandate is not in order” and that “we’re allowing our local governors and our local mayors to weigh in on that.”

Vice President Mike Pence has also rejected the idea of a national mandate, saying that’s up to governors and local health officials.

MORE: White House again rejects national strategy on masks

Sea-Tac Airport USO Center reopens Monday

USO Northwest's (USO-NW) flagship center at Sea-Tac International Airport reopening on Monday after suspending operations in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The first group of servicemen and women are expected to arrive at the center at 8 p.m.

Before the pandemic, the Sea-Tac USO Center was the busiest USO airport center in the country, serving more than 143,000 service members and their families a year.

"We are looking forward to resuming operations following the Independence Day weekend, in honor of the men and women who serve our country," said USO-NW Executive Director Don Leingang. "We know how important this lounge is to our military members and their families as a rest area and place to connect. We've spent the past few months focusing on how we can keep offering these amenities while ensuring the safety and comfort of our brave servicemen and women."

Click here for more information.

Community Transit to add routes on July 6

Community Transit will add around 200 trips to its weekday service starting on Monday, July 6.

The trips will primarily be on routes operating in Snohomish County. Trips will also be added on most routes to the University District.

Community Transit said the added trips in July will bring service up to 75% of pre-pandemic levels. Another service increase is planned in September that will bring service to 85%.

Community Transit resumed collecting fares on all bus routes and DART paratransit service on July 1 after temporarily suspending fares in March.

Click here for more information. 

121 UW students have coronavirus, at least 112 of them are fraternity house residents

As of July 5, at least 112 University of Washington fraternity house residents have tested positive for coronavirus. A total of 121 students have tested positive in the Greek Row outbreak.

The university said nine other students who have tested positive had close contacts to the fraternities but do not live in the houses.

 In total, at least 121 UW students are confirmed to have tested positive in the Greek Row outbreak. The nine additional students who tested positive were close contacts of the residents, but do not live in the houses.

The UW Medicine popup testing site that was set up this past week near Greek Row has conducted nearly 1,300 tests as of this weekend.

MORE: At least 121 UW students infected with coronavirus in Greek row outbreak

FDA head rejects Trump's 'harmless' coronavirus claim

The Food and Drug Administration commissioner is declining to back up President Donald Trump’s claim that 99% of coronavirus cases are “harmless.”

Dr. Stephen Hahn tells CNN and ABC that he’s “not going to get into who is right and who is wrong,” but that government data clearly show “this is a serious problem.”

He adds that “any case is tragic” and that to stem the tide of surging cases people should follow government guidance to practice social distancing and wear a mask.

During his Fourth of July remarks, Trump said the U.S. was testing too much and falsely asserted that “by so doing, we show cases, 99% of which are totally harmless.”

MORE: FDA head rejects Trump's 'harmless' coronavirus claim

Coronavirus: Your Money, Your Future

See previous coronavirus coverage from KING 5 here.