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Coronavirus updates for Washington: June 17-19

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

Key facts:

  • King County approved for Phase 2
  • 409 new cases reported Friday in Washington.
  • TOTAL: 1,255 deaths among 27,601 overall cases in Washington state.
  • 455,941 people in Washington have taken a test for coronavirus and 6.1% of those tests have been positive, according to the state Department of Health.

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Friday, June 19:

Yakima County cases exceed hospital capacity

Hospitals in Yakima County — which has the highest rate of COVID-19 infection in Washington state — are beyond capacity with sick patients.

Virginia Mason Memorial hospital in Yakima, which holds more than 200 beds, had none available as of Thursday night, intensive care or otherwise, the Yakima Health District said in a statement late Friday.

The Seattle Times reports at least 17 patients had already been transferred out of the county. That leaves a total of 61 individuals in hospital beds with positive COVID-19 diagnoses, the county’s highest to date.

Yakima County remains Washington state’s hot spot for the virus. The county now represents 22% of all hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Washington (61 of 242 cases), a higher tally than King County.

New Washington numbers

  • 409 new cases reported Friday in Washington.
  • TOTAL: 1,255 deaths among 27,601 overall cases in Washington state.
  • 455,941 people in Washington have taken a test for coronavirus and 6.1% of those tests have been positive, according to the state Department of Health.

Highest number of COVID-19 cases in Washington is associated with health care workers

The health care field was the most common industry associated with coronavirus cases, according to a report issued by the state Department of Health and the Department of Labor and Industries.

The state looked at more than 7,200 cases where occupations of the patients were known, according to the report. About 37% of those cases were health care workers and people who provide health care support. The second most common occupation was the manufacturing industry, according to the report.

The state report pointed out that the report reflects people's occupations, but not how or where the people were infected. Also, health care workers have been a priority testing group since the start of the pandemic, which could skew the numbers.

The report is available online.

Seattle Public Schools expected to release fall plan

Seattle Public Schools could announce today whether to continue with remote learning in the fall or have a mix of virtual and in-person classes.

SPS began a three-week project this week aiming to create an adaptable plan for the 2020-21 school year.

The project is called “Learning Plan – Returning to School Fall 2020” and is comprised of four engagement teams. The district said the teams will consider and discuss “a wide range of factors” over seven meetings between June 4-16.

SPS said the engagement teams explored the following three scenarios:

  • Pre-kindergarten to 5th-grade students attend school in-person full-time; students in grades 6-12 on an A/B schedule receive part in-person learning and part remote learning.
  • PK through 12th-grade students on an A/B schedule receive part in-person learning and part remote learning.
  • 100% remote learning.

King County moves to Phase 2

King County's application to move to Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee's "Safe Start" plan was approved Friday. 

Restaurants can have 50% occupancy. In-store retail is allowed, but customer occupancy there would be restricted to 30% of the building's capacity. Staffed indoor fitness studios can reopen with five participants or fewer. That's just a few of the examples of what Phase 2 brings.

RELATED: King County moves to Phase 2 of coronavirus recovery

The approval comes after King County began offering free or low-cost coronavirus testing and plans to distribute millions of face masks in the coming months.

In addition, Island, Lewis, and Mason counties have moved on to Phase 3. 

A total of three counties are in Phase 1, two are in a modified version of Phase 1, 19 are in Phase 2, and 15 are in Phase 3. 

RELATED: Reopening Washington: Look up the phase of your county

First Washington State Department of Corrections inmate dies of coronavirus

The Washington State Department of Corrections reported on Thursday that a 63-year-old male inmate died of coronavirus, the first state inmate to die from the virus.

According to the DOC, 63-year-old Victor Bueno died of coronavirus on Wednesday after initially being taken to a hospital on May 31. Bueno was an inmate at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell, according to the department.

The DOC reports Bueno was most recently admitted to the state’s correctional system on Sept. 28, 2017 for a protection order violation out of Kitsap County. His estimated release date had been Sept. 19, 2020.

Coyote Ridge recently places its Medium Security Complex under restricted movement protocols as coronavirus cases topped 100 in total. As of today, there are 38 confirmed cases among staff and 91 among inmates.

The DOC said "access to outside medical resources in the community is limited to a team of volunteer EMS professionals and hospitals more than one hour away."

RELATED: First Washington State Department of Corrections inmate dies of coronavirus

Canada closes Peace Arch park, where international reunions dodged COVID border closure

British Columbia has temporarily closed a park where American and Canadian friends and families have been able to reunite despite the U.S.-Canada border closure, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Authorities said Thursday that Peace Arch Provincial Park in Surrey, British Columbia, had become too crowded, raising concerns about traffic and public safety during the coronavirus pandemic.

The park is adjacent to a similar park in Washington state. Visitors from both sides are allowed to cross the border without showing passports. With the border closed to nonessential travel due to coronavirus, the park has been one of the only options for separated friends and families to see each other. Some cross-border couples have even had their weddings there.

RELATED: Canada eases coronavirus border restriction, allows immediate family in

Thursday, June 18:

Department of Health newly confirms 17 deaths since February as COVID-19 cases

The Washington State Department of Health announced Thursday that 17 people who have died since February were confirmed to have had died of COVID-19.

The announcement follows the removal of seven people from the death toll on Wednesday, after their causes of death were confirmed to not been related to COVID-19. The state also had also corrected an overcount of tests.

The Department of Health said that it plans to include more information on how COVID-19 is linked to deaths on its information dashboard, which is updated daily.

University of Washington issues face mask requirement

Students, staff, visitors and contractors at the University of Washington will be required to wear masks at all three campuses, the university announced Thursday.

Face coverings are required to be worn at the UW campuses in Seattle, Tacoma and Bothell when indoors in the presence of others; in common areas including hallways, stairways, restrooms and elevators; and outdoors when keeping a six-foot distance isn't possible.

Exceptions include driving, in a residential unit such as a dorm room, when in a personal office or workspace, when eating or drinking, outdoors when people can maintain social distancing, or when people can work from home.

The university has said that it plans to return to in-person instruction in the fall, though the details of its plan are expected to be released in late June or early July.

The school canceled in-person classes in March and the 2020 commencement ceremony was held online.

New Washington numbers

  • 408 new cases reported Thursday in Washington.
  • TOTAL: 1,245 deaths among 27,192 overall cases in Washington state.
  • 446,899 people in Washington have taken a test for coronavirus and 6.1% of those tests have been positive, according to the state Department of Health.

Paul G. Allen Family Foundation donates $1 million to help with food assistance in Washington

The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation has donated $1 million to help feed people in need across Washinton state. 

The need for food assistance has grown since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and is expected to peak in the coming months.

The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation recently contributed $1 million to the WA Food Fund, a statewide relief program that has raised more than $8 million since April, which is being distributed to local food banks. 

“Food assistance is a critical need for people in Washington, with data indicating
the economic impacts of COVID-19 will make food and nutrition insecurity an
ever-increasing challenge over the summer,” said Paul Keating, on behalf of the
Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. “We are grateful to the many volunteers,
donors, and leaders that support food banks and other food programs across our region, and humbled to work with other funders to provide meals and much-needed services to help strengthen communities.”

The WA Food Fund is managed by Philanthropy Northwest and funds are directed to three organizations that supply food banks and pantries across the state: Food Lifeline, Second Harvest and Northwest Harvest.

People interested in contributing to the WA Food Fund can click here. 

Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo to open July 1

Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle announced Thursday it will reopen to the public on July 1 after being closed for months to help limit the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). 

The zoo closed on March 12, 2020, after the coronavirus pandemic spread across Washington and the country.

The zoo experience will be different for visitors. People will need to purchase timed entry tickets prior to their visit. 

Timed entry tickets go on sale for the zoo on June 22. People can access tickets here.

MORE: Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo to reopen in July

King County distributing 25 million free face coverings

King County will distribute 5 million cloth face coverings and 20 million disposable face coverings to residents, workers, and businesses.

The county said the goal is for each resident to receive two cloth face coverings that can be washed and reused. The disposable face coverings are meant to be used by “customers and community members who don’t have their own face coverings at government offices, retailers, faith-based organizations, and other gathering places.”

A distribution plan is still being finalized.

“We made good progress at flattening the curve, and saved thousands of lives, but with increasing activity comes the need for ever-increasing vigilance to protect each other from COVID-19,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “The county is providing these face coverings at no cost so that everyone who needs them can get them.”

Unemployment claims drop from last week

The number of initial and total unemployment claims in Washington state continues to drop as the state carries on fraud prevention measures and more people return to work as counties reopen.

From June 7-13, there were 29,028 initial unemployment claims, which is down 2.3% from the previous week. There were 695,532 total claims, which decreased by 34,061.

The Employment Security Department paid out $454.7 million to 399,879 individual claims.

Pierce County face mask resolution

Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday encouraging residents to wear a face covering to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The resolution calls for the following:

  • Residents to wear face coverings or masks in outdoor or indoor public areas, especially when they cannot maintain a physical distance of six feet from others.
  • The Health Department to plan, secure funding, and implement a public education and social marketing campaign to promote the use of face coverings.
  • Board members to use their influence and communication channels to encourage all residents of Pierce County to wear face coverings as described.

Snohomish County relocating COVID-19 quarantine site

Snohomish County is planning to move the COVID-19 quarantine site from downtown Everett to Monroe.

The current site at the Angel of the Winds Area in Everett will move to the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe on June 25.

Officials said the move will save money as the county owns the fairgrounds and won’t need to pay to use the space as it did at the Everett quarantine site.

National Guard helping verify unemployment claims

The Washington National Guard is now helping the state Employment Security Department (ESD) with unemployment claims.

One of the National Guard’s tasks will be to help with identification verification and clear up unemployment claims stuck in adjudication as the ESD works to combat fraud.

“You will be helping our neighbors and friends get the benefit that they need at this time while helping us catch the bad guys,” EDS Commissioner Suzan LeVine said to National Guard members Thursday morning. “This work is critical, and I thank you for everything you are doing for our state.”

MORE: National Guard to help verify unemployment claims in Washington

1.5 million more laid-off workers seek US unemployment benefits

About 1.5 million laid-off workers applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week, a historically high number, even as the economy increasingly reopens and employers bring some people back to work.

The latest figure from the Labor Department marked the 11th straight weekly decline in applications since they peaked at nearly 7 million in March as the coronavirus shut down much of the economy and caused tens of millions of layoffs. The decline was much smaller, though, than in recent weeks, falling just 58,000.

The total number of people receiving unemployment aid also fell slightly, reflecting the return of many to their old jobs.

MORE: 1.5 million more laid-off workers seek US unemployment benefits

Face mask crackdown on flights

United Airlines will place any passenger who does not comply with its face mask requirement on an internal travel restriction list starting Thursday. It is one of the U.S. airlines making it clear: if you don't wear the mask, you don't get to fly.

Airlines for America, a trade association that represents several U.S. airlines, said this week that passengers will be reminded, before boarding and while on board, about the policy requiring face masks and the consequences for violating it. It said Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest and United would be implementing similar policies.

The group also said airlines will determine for themselves the appropriate consequences, including the suspension of flying privileges.

RELATED: United Airlines begins face mask crackdown Thursday, may deny future travel

Apple growers seek to change relief aid eligibility criteria

Apple growers in Washington state have asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reconsider its eligibility requirements for direct payments through the coronavirus food assistance program.

The Yakima Herald-Republic reported that the U.S. Apple Association and 11 grower groups sent a letter Tuesday to the agency arguing the program’s eligibility criteria is based on data collected at a dozen terminal markets even though most of the apple sales happen outside those markets.

Growers must show they suffered a sales price loss of at least 5% between Jan. 15 and April 15 to qualify for payments. The federal agency is expected to respond in July.

Wednesday, June 17: 

Feds: Seattle Veterans Affairs medical staffer stole, sold respirators

Federal prosecutors say a staffer at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Seattle stole respirators and other equipment, then sold it online amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Gene Wamsley was arrested Wednesday after being charged in U.S. District Court with theft of government property. Investigators said the 41-year-old Bonney Lake man was employed as a respiratory therapist at the VA Medical Center until being placed on leave June 9. 

Wamsley’s attorney, Winston Choe, did not immediately return an email from the Associated Press seeking comment.

Washington coronavirus death toll drops after reclassifying cases

Seven people who were included in Washington state's count of coronavirus-related deaths have now been removed from the state's official count, the state Department of Health reported.

As a result, the number of coronavirus deaths in Washington state reported during the pandemic decreased from 1,231 on Tuesday to 1,226 on Wednesday.

The Department of Health had been counting the death of everyone who had a confirmed case of COVID-19, but on Wednesday they removed those whose death had nothing to do with the respiratory disease.

These deaths include two suicides, three homicides and two overdose deaths. Four of the deaths are from King and three are from Yakima.

Later, the department will expand how deaths are reported to identify whether COVID-19 can be confirmed or ruled out as a contributing cause of death, including identifying probable and suspected deaths.  

Additional non-COVID-19 deaths may be removed throughout the course of the COVID-19 outbreak, the department said.

State error inflated negative test results

Washington state health officials admitted Wednesday that they made a mistake in the number of negative COVID-19 test results they have been reporting since April 21.

The Washington State Department of Health says it combined antibody and molecular test results in its total tally of negative tests when it should have only included the molecular tests.

"We apologize for the error," a DOH spokesperson said in a statement.

This mistake means negative test numbers were inflated by 13%. The overall percentage of people who tested positive as of Monday was actually 6.2% instead of 5.5%, although the number of positive tests remains accurate, according to DOH.

However, the state says the increased number of negative tests hasn't impacted counties moving on to the next recovery phase.

The state says the error was the result of a workaround to handle the high number of test results.

New Washington cases

  • 253 new cases reported Wednesday in Washington.
  • TOTAL: 1,226 deaths among 26,784 overall cases in Washington state.
  • 435,016 people in Washington have taken a test for coronavirus and 6.2% of those tests have been positive, according to the state Department of Health.

Grays Harbor County moving to Phase 3

Grays Harbor County was approved to move on to Phase 3 of coronavirus recovery on Wednesday.

Phase 3 of the recovery plan includes increased openings and larger capacity for gatherings, with no more than 50 people. Non-essential travel can resume. 

There are now three counties in Phase 1, three counties in a modified Phase 1, 21 counties in Phase 2 and 12 counties in Phase 3.

Thurston County submits Phase 3 application

Thurston County submitted its application to move to Phase 3 of Washington state' recovery plan. 

The county's board of health and county commissioners voted unanimously to apply. 

RELATED: Reopening Washington: Look up the phase of your county

“I am wary yet encouraged to move into Phase 3 of Safe Start. It is vitally important for businesses to reengage, people return to work, folks get out of their houses to shop, eat and recreate,” said John Hutchings, Chair of the Board of County Commissioners. “If Thurston County is approved for Phase 3, a reversion back to Phase 2 could be devastating economically and psychologically so please follow Dr. Yu’s advice, mask up, and keep yourself and others protected!”  

Fremont Brewing halts service after employee tests positive for coronavirus

Seattle's Fremont Brewing announced their Urban Beer Garden and production facility was closing after an employee tested positive for COVID-19. 

The company posted that, "This employee is asymptomatic (e.g., has no symptoms), immediately notified us, and has placed themselves in self-quarantine. We know our employee’s last shift at the Urban Beer Garden was on Tuesday, June 9th and our employee showed no COVID-19 symptoms, had an acceptable temperature when they reported for their shift and wore PPE including a mask and gloves; and used social distancing and sanitation best practices while working their shift."

Fremont Brewing said they would reopen when deemed safe and would ensure all employees be tested before returning to work. 

Free COVID-19 testing offered in south King County

Free, no appointment COVID-19 testing is being offered in south King County.

Two mobile UW Medicine vans will be offering the tests in communities that have “disproportionately high rates of COVID-19, specifically our Black, Latino, Pacific Islander, and limited-English-proficiency communities,” according to a press release.

Residents will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and will receive a nasal swab test if they are a candidate.

The times and locations of the location sites are below:

  • Auburn City Adventist Church: Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Rainier Beach High School: Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Kent Public Health Center: Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • South Seattle College: Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Tests are free and no appointment is necessary.

Gov. Jay Inslee calls Yakima Valley 'epicenter' of state's current outbreak

Gov. Jay Inslee briefed the media on the state’s COVID-19 response, focusing on the outbreak in Yakima Valley.

"Right now the valley is, unfortunately, the epicenter of this earthquake of this virus." Inslee said.

Yakima County has 250,000 residents, but has recorded more than 5,700 cases of COVID-19, the second-highest total in the state after the much larger King County.

"The hospitalization rate in Yakima Valley per capita is 8 times higher than it is in King County," he said. "The infection rate of the number of people infected per 100,000 is 28 times higher than it is in King County in the last few days."

A big reason why the valley has so many cases is that too many people are refusing the wear masks. Inslee cited a recent finding that only about 35% of Yakima County residents would wear masks when patronizing a business.

Seattle's Emerald City Comic Con canceled

Emerald City Comic Con organizers said they've come to the "excruciating yet necessary decision" to cancel this year's event.

Organizers said a digital event would be held in August to support exhibitors and connect fans with "as much of the content you love as possible."

The event was rescheduled to Summer 2020 in March due to the pandemic. All tickets that were transferred from March 2020 to August will be refunded by June 29.

The next Emerald City Comic Con is scheduled for March 4-7, 2021.

RELATED: Seattle's Emerald City Comic Con canceled

Pacific County approved for Phase 3 of reopening

Washington State Secretary of Health John Wiesman approved Pacific County’s application to move into Phase 3 of the state’s “Safe Start” plan to reopen the economy.

As of Tuesday morning, three counties are in Phase 1, three counties are in a modified version of Phase 1, 22 counties are in Phase 2, and 11 counties are in Phase 3.

The state Department of Health (DOH) said Grays Harbor and Lewis counties have applied to move from Phase 2 to Phase 3, and King County applied to move from a modified Phase 1 to Phase 2. Those applications are currently under review.

Benton and Franklin counties applied to move from Phase 1 to Phase 2, but the DOH said those applications are currently on pause.

RELATED: Reopening Washington: Look up the phase of your county

See previous coronavirus updates for Washington state here.