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Coronavirus in Washington: Updates from April 22-23

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

Key facts:

  • 12 new deaths and 224 new cases overall reported Friday in Washington state. 
  • TOTAL: 723 deaths and 12,977 overall cases in Washington. 
  • 160,324 people in Washington have taken a test for coronavirus and 8.1% of those cases have been positive.
  • Gov. Inslee announced on Friday "low-risk" construction can resume in Washington state, as long as safety procedures are followed.

Read previous daily coronavirus updates here.

Friday, April 24

New coronavirus numbers in Washington state

The Washington State Department of Health confirmed 12 new deaths from coronavirus as of Friday evening. The total number of deaths rose to 723 among 12,977 overall cases in the state. 

A total of 160,324 people in Washington have taken a test for coronavirus and 8.1% of those cases have been positive.

UW researchers enrolling COVID-19 outpatients for hydroxychloroquine trial

Researchers at the University of Washington are enrolling COVID-19 outpatients in several U.S. cities for a randomized controlled trial of the effectiveness and safety of two drug regimens – hydroxychloroquine and hydroxychloroquine with azithromycin.

Hydroxychloroquine is a malaria drug that was touted by Pres. Donald Trump as a potential treatment for COVID-19. He faced criticism for touting the drug, which has not undergone trials for treatment of coronavirus. According to the UW news release, it also has been confused with chloroquine, a drug stopped in a treatment trial in Brazil.

There is conflicting evidence on whether hydroxychloroquine works, which is why the research team at the University of Washington School of Medicine is conducting a rigorous trial to offer answers, according to the university.

The findings will determine whether a treatment looks promising enough for larger clinical trials and whether the drugs are safe.  

An earlier analysis of hospitalized veterans being treated with hydroxychloroquine found more deaths and no benefit for COVID-19 patients, but the protocols were not rigorous and the study was not peer-reviewed. National Institutes of Health said there was not enough evidence to recommend for or against chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19.  

Along with volunteers in the Seattle area, the trial will include patients in Boston, New Orleans, New York, Syracuse, and Chicago. 

For more information about the UW's trial, including who qualifies, go to UW's website. To enroll, go here.

Seattle closes additional streets to cars to promote social distancing while exercising 

The city of Seattle has expanded its Stay Healthy Street initiative to streets in Greenwood, Othello and Rainier Beach, and Beacon Hill, to encourage outdoor movement while social distancing. 

The city had already closed streets in Central District, West Seattle and High Point, and Green Lake to through traffic in the effort.  

According to a city announcement, the wtreets were selected to amplify outdoor exercise opportunities for areas with limited open space options, low car ownership and routes connecting people to essential services and food take out.

Residents of those neighborhoods will be able to access essential services, recreate, and walk their dogs near their homes while protecting their neighbors by keeping 6 feet apart.

For more information and a map of the streets that have been closed to traffic, go to the City of Seattle Department of Transportation's website.

Stimulus checks go out

As of April 17, the Internal Revenue Service has it has sent stimulus checks to 2,058,899 Washington residents totaling $3,680,595,622, according to data released Friday from the IRS.

Nationwide, more than 88 million people have received payments in the first three weeks of distribution.

RELATED: When will stimulus checks be mailed? What to know if you're still waiting

'Low-risk' construction can resume in Washington

Governor Jay Inslee announced Friday that a deal has been reached to allow low-risk construction to resume in Washington state, marking one of the first steps the state is taking to slowly reopen the economy.

To resume work, existing projects must meet certain safety requirements, including maintaining social distancing, having adequate personal protective equipment and appointing a COVID-19 site supervisor. Sites must also have a coronavirus exposure, control and mitigation plan, and no work can resume until health experts say it is safe to do so.

Trump signs $484 billion measure to aid employers, hospitals

President Donald Trump signed a $484 billion bill Friday to aid employers and hospitals under stress from the coronavirus pandemic.

Anchoring the bill is the Trump administration’s $250 billion request to replenish a fund to help small- and medium-size businesses with payroll, rent and other expenses. This program provides forgivable loans so businesses can continue paying workers while forced to stay closed for social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

The legislation contains $100 billion demanded by Democrats for hospitals and a nationwide testing program, along with $60 billion for small banks and an alternative network of community development banks that focus on development in urban neighborhoods and rural areas ignored by many lenders. There’s also $60 billion for small-business loans and grants delivered through the Small Business Administration’s existing disaster aid program.

Inmate released who was positive for coronavirus

Lewis County asked all inmates released early under Gov. Jay Inslee's order voluntarily contact their health care provider for coronavirus evaluation after an inmate was released who later tested positive for COVID-19.

The Lewis County Prosecuting Attorney's Office says it learned Tuesday that an inmate with COVID-19 symptoms was released as part of the program to ease crowding in prisons and curb the spread of the virus.

The Department of Corrections was aware of the inmate's symptoms, but didn't provide testing, according to the prosecutor's office.

The inmate was tested at a hospital after his release and the test came back positive. That person is now in isolation.

Masks may be used until a vaccine is available

The Kittitas County Incident Management Team asked residents to use cloth masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and suggested they may be in use for the near future.

"People should prepare now, for wearing cloth masks in public until enough people have received a COVID-19 vaccination to stop the spread of this disease,” Dr. Mark Larson, Kittitas County health officer, said in a statement Wednesday.

Thursday, April 23

U.S. position on tribal relief funds sets up a court battle

The U.S. Treasury Department has taken the stance that Alaska Native corporations are eligible for a share of $8 billion in coronavirus relief funding for tribes. 

The position outlined in court documents Thursday sets the stage for a court battle. More than a dozen tribes, including some in Washington state, have sued the federal government to try to keep the money out of the hands of the corporations. 

They contend it should go only to tribes that have a government-to-government relationship with the United States. The Treasury Department says a plain reading of the CARES Act makes the corporations eligible. None of the funding for tribes has been distributed.

Local tribes that took part in the lawsuit include Tulalip Tribes and the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation. Other tribes that took part include Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians in Maine, and three tribes in Alaska, the Akiak Native Community, the Asa’carsarmiut Tribe, and the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island.

New coronavirus numbers in Washington state

The Washington State Department of Health reported 19 new deaths from coronavirus as of Thursday. The total number of deaths reached 711 among 12,753 overall cases in Washington. 

Washington Supreme Court denies prisoners' request for release over coronavirus concerns

A divided Washington Supreme Court has denied a request to release thousands of inmates from the state’s prisons due to the coronavirus outbreak. Earlier Thursday the justices heard oral arguments in their separate chambers using Zoom technology to facilitate social distancing. 

The justices, in a 5-4 decision, said that the prisoners who had sued failed to show that the Department of Corrections was not properly addressing the risk of COVID-19. 

Earlier a lawyer representing the inmates had told the court that people who are incarcerated don’t have the ability to keep themselves safe. A lawyer for the state said some inmates had already been released and face masks have been given out.

Congress delivers nearly $500 billion more in coronavirus aid for businesses and hospitals 

Congress has delivered a nearly $500 billion infusion of coronavirus spending, almost unanimously rushing new relief to employers and hospitals buckling under the strain of a pandemic that has claimed almost 50,000 American lives and one in six U.S. jobs. 

House lawmakers gathered in Washington for the first time since March 27, adopting stricter social distancing rules while aiming to prove they can do their work despite the COVID-19 crisis. 

Easy passage of the measure belies a potentially bumpier path ahead, as battle lines are being formed for much more ambitious legislation that may prove far more difficult to maneuver through Congress.

WSDOT sees increase in illegal dumping during coronavirus pandemic

Washington State Department of Transportation staff says they've seen a "disturbing" rise in illegal dumping at rest areas and other state lands over the past month during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Either because landfills are closed or they’re worried about dumping fees, people are leaving large amounts of trash and large items along roadsides and rest areas," wrote WSDOT in a recent blog post. "Compounding matters, many of our crews are working from home to slow the spread of the coronavirus. We’ve also suspended our Adopt A Highway volunteer program due to coronavirus concerns – so now is the worst possible time to see an uptick in illegal dumping."

WSDOT wrote that the department spends more than $4 million a year on cleaning up illegal dumping, and also partners with the Department of Ecology and Department of Corrections. 

WSDOT is asking people to please refrain from illegal dumping and also warning that illegal dumping can come with consequences. 

People caught illegally dumping can be prosecuted and littering can also carry a $1,000 fine. 

"If you see trash or debris in the roadway that poses an immediate risk to the life and safety of our highway travelers, please call 911 so crews can respond and remove it before it causes a crash. And if you do need to travel, please secure your loads and contain all of the litter you generate," WSDOT said.

Tyson beef plant in Washington will close to test workers

The Tyson Fresh Meats beef plant in eastern Washington state is temporarily shutting down to test all its workers for the coronavirus. 

Tyson says health officials in surrounding counties will work with the company to test the plant’s more than 1,400 employees for COVID-19 as soon as possible. The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin said the plant is located in Wallula, Washington, near the city of Pasco. 

As the number of COVID-19-infected workers at the facility climbed to more than 100 this week, family and friends of employees joined together to urge the plant to shut down. Tyson says workers will be paid during the closure.

Kaiser Permanente expanding coronavirus vaccine trial to include older participants

A clinical trial happening in Seattle to find a vaccine for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is being expanded to other regions and to include older participants.

The Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute launched the first National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) trial of the mRNA-1273 investigational vaccine against the coronavirus in mid-March.

The NIAID has since announced that Emory University in Atlanta and NIAID’s Vaccine Research Center clinic at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD have joined the clinical trial. The researchers have also expanded the trial to include participants ages 56 and older.

Researchers are expanding the trial to make sure the vaccine can move forward without dependence on a single geographic region, according to a release from Kaiser Permanente. Including older adults will also help them understand vaccination outcomes among older people, who are at a greater risk for contracting COVID-19.

The expanded trial includes 105 healthy individuals. Of those, 45 of them are in the age group 18-55, and 60 of them are ages 56 and older.

Of the 45 participants 18-55-years-old, 28 of them are enrolled at Kaiser Permanente in Seattle. There are also 20 participants in the older age category who will be enrolled at Kaiser Permanente.The other groups are divided between Emory University and the NIH Clinical Center.

Researchers have conducted regular safety reviews of the participants and those will continue as older adults are enrolled in the trial. The trial vaccine does not include any form of live virus and researchers will not expose participants to the virus, Kaiser Permanente said in its release.

The clinical trial is still in “phase 1,” which means researches are testing its safety and antibody production. This phase does not study the effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing coronavirus, that will come at a later phase.

According to Kaiser Permanente, the development of a vaccine typically takes up to 18 months.

Drive-through coronavirus testing available in Grays Harbor County

A drive-through testing site that opened in Aberdeen last weekend will stay open for coronavirus testing through April 27. 

The testing site is operated by Grays Harbor Public Health Incident Management Team and the Washington National Guard. 

Testing is available for anyone 18 years of age or older who is showing symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath. 

You can call to make an appointment through the Grays Harbor Public Health call center at 360-964-1850.

Port of Seattle officials discuss passenger numbers at Sea-Tac

Passenger traffic was down 56% at Sea-Tac Airport for the month of March, the Port of Seattle announced Thursday. 

The airport is serving about 2,500 passengers per day. Typically, the airport would see about 50,000 this time of year, according to the airport. 

Total passengers for the month of March was 1,824,676, well below the 4,111,729 passengers in March 2019. 

International passenger traffic dropped to 183,528, with 321 international departures being cancelled in March. 

Unofficial data from the first half of April shows passenger travel down as much as 95%.

Air cargo was slightly up in March by 0.9% over the previous year, with air freight up 2.4%. 

In Seattle, nursing homes get tests - even without cases

Nursing homes around the country have been complaining that they lack adequate testing to identify COVID-19 patients. 

But in the Seattle area, teams from UW Medicine have been conducting testing of all residents and staff at several skilled nursing facilities _ even those that haven't had a single positive case before. 

Doctors and public health officials say that conducting such blanket testing is key to quickly identifying and containing cases before they become outbreaks. 

Gov. Jay Inslee this week announced that the state intends to more than double its workforce of employees devoted to contact tracing from 700 to 1,500, with help from the National Guard. 

Nearly $1.4 billion in unemployment benefits paid out

Since the Employment Security Department expanded eligibility for unemployment benefits and updated their system on April 18, nearly $900 million has been paid out to Washingtonians. 

That brings the total in unemployment benefits paid out to Washingtonians to nearly $1.4 billion since the coronavirus outbreak began.

 “It is humbling to think that we have put almost $1.4 billion dollars into the pockets of Washingtonians and into the economy since this crisis began - with nearly $1 billion issued just this week,” Employment Security Department Commissioner, Suzi LeVine said. “In fact, in just the first 36 hours, the number of applications submitted exceeded the highest week on record - the week ending 3/28, in which we had 182,000 new applications – which was seven times the peak week of the 2008/2009 recession.”

The Employment Security Department updated their system to enable several provisions of the federal CARES act - expanding eligibility for benefits to those previously ineligible, increasing benefits by $600, and extending benefits by 13 weeks. 

King County Metro creates passenger limits

King County Metro is allowing fewer people on buses at a time to promote social distancing. 

To help riders maintain 6 feet of distance, Metro leadership is directing drivers to try to limit ridership to 12 per 40-foot bus and 18 per 60-foot bus. 

There are exceptions, however. If a bus is below the optimal number of 12 or 18, drivers will allow passengers to board at a stop even if the total number exceeds the ideal limit. In that case, it will be up to passengers to choose if they want to board.

When a bus reaches or exceeds the optimal number, the driver will skip stops.

The optimal number of passengers in ADA seating is one.

Metro Vanpool is also reducing the number of passengers it carries in its vehicles from five to two in mini-vans and from eight to three for larger vans. A limited number of vans have been designated for essential workers.

Metro continues to operate under a reduced schedule. Find out more here.

State Supreme Court will hear arguments over inmate release 

The Washington Supreme Court will hear arguments today over an emergency motion asking for the release of inmates who are most vulnerable to coronavirus.

At least 21 Department of Corrections employees and 13 offenders have tested positive for COVID-19, with most cases occurring at the Monroe Corrections Complex. 

Monroe inmates filed the emergency motion.

Wednesday, April 22

Washington inmates released early due to coronavirus 

Hundreds of inmates have moved out of Washington state prisons as the new coronavirus continues to spread in facilities across the state. Officials say hundreds more are on lists for possible release. 

At least 21 Department of Corrections employees and 13 offenders have tested positive for COVID-19, with most cases occurring at the Monroe Corrections Complex. That prison has seven workers and 13 offenders with the disease. 

Monroe inmates filed an emergency motion asking the Washington Supreme Court to force Gov. Jay Inslee and Secretary Stephen Sinclair to release inmates who were most vulnerable to the deadly disease.

The court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on the case on Thursday.  

New Washington state coronavirus numbers

The death toll from the coronavirus increased by 10 on Wednesday. There are currently 692 deaths from coronavirus among 12,494 cases across the state. 

A total of 147,953 people have been tested for the virus in Washington and of that number, only 8.4% have returned positive results, according to the Washington Department of Health.

Man arrested for allegedly making death threats against Gov. Jay Inslee and staff 

Authorities say a man has been arrested in connection with threats made to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and his staff. 

Washington State Patrol spokesman Chris Loftis says troopers arrested Shawn C. Rowland Tuesday at his home south of Everett in Mill Creek. Earlier on Tuesday, Loftis says a threatening message was left on the voicemail of the Governor’s Office of Constituent Services by someone using a phone associated with Rowland. 

According to court documents, Rowland's voicemail said, “You’re dead Inslee. Any of your workers, employees, their accomplices. It will be at your house, your mansion you think you’re safe, you’re not. You’re a [expletive] dead man.”

Loftis says an investigation showed the same phone had been used in a threat made to the Virginia State Legislature in February. 

A reason for the threats was not released, but according to the court documents when questioned by law enforcement, Rowland said he was upset that the governor was violating people's constitutional rights.

It wasn't immediately known if Rowland has a lawyer to comment for him.

Gov. Inslee responds to local officials pushing back against the stay at home order

Gov. Jay Inslee said that his office will contact local jurisdictions that have announced plans to stop enforcement of the state's stay-home order.

Franklin County passed a resolution earlier this week that it would no longer enforce the state's stay home order. Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney made his own announcement on Facebook.

Inslee said that while local officials can disagree with him, the stay-home order is enforceable by law. However, he said that most people have been following the order, which he says has saved lives, according to the data.

"I do think that encouraging illegal activity jeopardizes the health of people in our communities. It also puts them in potential legal jeopardy," Inslee said. 

"Our office is not going to be guided by irrational forces," he said. "If we place that bet and lost we would be losing the hard won gains that we’ve already made.

At the briefing, he also answered reporters' questions about the availability of testing and other aspects of the state's coronavirus response.

Watch the briefing here:

Coronavirus cases at Wallula beef plant reach 100

All employees of a Tyson Fresh Meats beef plant near the Tri-Cities will eventually be tested for COVID-19 and then sent home to self-isolate until test results come back. 

The Tri-City Herald reported the decision to test all employees was announced on Tuesday as the number of known confirmed and probable cases associated with the plant reached 100. 

The case total includes 91 residents of Benton and Franklin counties, eight in Walla Walla County and one in Umatilla County, Oregon. 

The plant employs more than 1,400 workers to slaughter and pack beef in Wallula, just south of Pasco.

OSPI guidance on grading during pandemic

Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal outlined guidance on grading high school students during the coronavirus pandemic in a YouTube video on Tuesday night.

Under the framework, high school students will receive either a grade or an incomplete for the spring semester, although it will be up to school districts whether they want to grade on an A through D system or an A through B system, for example. However, there will not be any F grades.

“We honor the fact that right now some students are just not able to connect to the learning, and they shouldn’t be held back or be harmed by that,” Reykdal said.

Washington will also not have a pass/fail or credit/no credit system during the pandemic, because Reykdal said there was concern about deciding whether a student who was excelling in a concept should get the same mark as a student who was struggling and on the cusp of failing.

Students can also make up incomplete grades later, and spring semester transcripts will include an indicator that the grade was earned during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tacoma allocates $1.2 million for rent help

The city of Tacoma has allocated $1.2 million to help tenants who aren't able to make rental payments due to COVID-19.

The program gives up to $1,000 directly to landlords of renters who have lost a job or wages due to the virus, bringing them to or below 50% of the Pierce County median income.

People can apply though May 6 at cityoftacoma.org/coronavirus. Funds will be awarded through a lottery.

Latest projection model pushes back timeline for relaxing social distancing

The latest prediction from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has pushed back the date for when social distancing measures could begin to be relaxed.

The previous model showed Washington state could consider easing social distancing guidelines the week of May 18.

Now, the model shows "after May 26, 2020, relaxing social distancing may be possible with containment strategies that include testing, contact tracing, isolation, and limiting gathering size.

The primary purpose of the IHME model is to forecast healthcare needs. According to the model, peak resource use occurred on April 5.

On April 6, 46 people died from coronavirus - the most per day in the state since the outbreak began.

On April 20, another 25 people died in Washington state.

Snohomish County sheriff won't enforce stay-at-home order

Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney says he has not carried out any enforcement of Gov. Jay Inslee's stay-at-home order, and will not enforce an order that prevents religious freedoms or constitutional rights.

"As your Snohomish County Sheriff, yes I believe that preventing business owners to operate their businesses and provide for their families intrudes on our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," Fortney said in a Facebook post Tuesday. "I am greatly concerned for our small business owners and single-income families who have lost their primary source of income needed for survival."

Fortney argued that if coronavirus isn't as lethal as originally thought, it may be time to reopen the state.

"The impacts of COVID 19 no longer warrant the suspension of our constitutional rights," Fortney said.

Fortney urged residents to contact their local lawmakers and demand businesses to be allowed to reopen and employees to return to work if they choose.

King County corrections confirms first two COVID-19 cases

King County public health officials want to find two former inmates who tested positive for coronavirus so they can connect them with resources.

The two former inmates are the first cases of coronavirus in a King County corrections facility.

The first inmate was arrested early Friday morning for driving under the influence and was released Saturday afternoon. The second inmate was booked for DUI early Saturday morning and was released Monday evening.

First coronavirus deaths weren't in Washington state

Health officials say two people died with the coronavirus in California weeks before the first reported death from the disease.

Santa Clara County officials said Tuesday the people died at home Feb. 6 and Feb. 17. 

Before this, the first U.S. death from the virus had been reported on Feb. 29 in Kirkland, Washington. 

The Medical Examiner-Coroner received confirmation Tuesday that tissue samples sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested positive for the virus, officials said.

Tuesday, April 21

Inslee says returning to public life will be gradual

Gov. Inslee outlined Washington state's recovery plan in a statewide address Tuesday at 5 p.m. 

Inslee described the reopening of Washington state as the "turning of a dial," rather than "flipping a switch."

He said some elective surgeries, outdoor activities and some construction projects may return by May 4, but that Washington state was not ready to fully reopen yet. 

Inslee discussed the need for more testing in the state and better 'contact tracing.' The CDC defines that as tracing and monitoring the contacts of infected people and notifying them of potential exposure.

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