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Coronavirus updates for Washington state: April 15-17

Find developments on the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state as we work together to separate facts from fear.

Key facts:

  • 20 new deaths and 293 new overall cases reported in Washington state on Friday. That's a total of 603 deaths and 11,445 cases in Washington.
  • Gov. Inslee said it's 'unknowable' if Washington's stay-home order can be lifted May 4.
  • Gov. Inslee has extended the eviction moratorium through June 4, 2020.
  • Washington is expected to implement certain provisions from the CARES Act on Saturday, allowing workers to collect an extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits.

Read current daily coronavirus updates here

Friday, April 17:

New coronavirus cases reported Friday in Washington: 

  • 20 new deaths 
  • 293 new cases overall 
  • TOTAL: 603 deaths, 11,445 cases overall in Washington 

In Washington, 131,627 people have tested for coronavirus and 8.7% of those tests have been positive, according to the Washington State Department of Health

COVID-19 survivors could help patients by donating blood plasma

The blood of COVID-19 survivors could lead to a potential treatment of the respiratory disease that has sickened more than 11,000 people in Washington state, including more than 500 deaths, state officials say.

Bloodworks Northwest, the Washington State Department of Health and federal agencies are contacting people who have recovered from COVID-19 to ask them to consider donating blood plasma to see if antibodies in their immune systems can help treat people who are currently sick. Antibodies are the immune system's response to a viral infection like coronavirus. 

Some of the plasma will be transfused into current patients (called convalescent plasma). Other plasma will be used to create concentrated antibodies (called hyperimmune globulin). Both have been successfully used to treat other infectious diseases.

The FDA regulates convalescent plasma when it is infused into patients as an “investigational new drug.”

Fremont Solstice Parade postponed until June 2021

The Fremont Solstice Parade and Celebration, the annual event which includes large puppets, naked cyclists and community groups, has been postponed until June 2021. The event originally had been scheduled this year for June 20.

West Seattle Summer Fest canceled amid pandemic and bridge closure

The West Seattle Summer Fest, which has been a July tradition since 1982, has been canceled, after the neighborhood was hit with both the statewide stay-home order and the sudden and indefinite closure of the West Seattle Bridge.

The 2020 Summer Fest was scheduled for July 10 - 12. Organizers are developing a plan for a community block party for when it's safe to gather, and they are planning to bring Summer Fest back in 2021.

Many Seattle summer events have been canceled, including Northwest Folklife, Seattle Pride and the Seattle International Film Festival.

Inslee blasts Trump for 'fomenting domestic rebellion'

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee criticized President Donald Trump, after the president took to Twitter Friday with the kind of rhetoric some of his supporters have used to protest the lifting of the stay-home orders that have thrown millions of Americans out of work. 

“LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” “LIBERATE VIRGINIA,” Trump wrote on Twitter, while also lashing out at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for complaining about the federal response.

On Thursday, Trump detailed a three-step set of guidelines for methodically easing the restrictions over a span of several weeks in places that have robust testing and are seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases, assuring the nation's governors: “You’re going to call your own shots."

Inslee wrote in a statement that President Trumps's statements are putting millions of people in danger of contracting COVID-19.

"His unhinged rantings and calls for people to 'liberate' states could also lead to violence. We’ve seen it before," Inslee's statement reads in part. "The president is fomenting domestic rebellion and spreading lies even while his own administration says the virus is real and is deadly, and that we have a long way to go before restrictions can be lifted."

Throughout the country, there are a protests of stay-home orders planned at state capitols over the weekend, including in Olympia. At a press conference Thursday, Inslee said that he hoped that the protesters would practice social distancing while exercising their first amendment rights.

DSHS providing disaster cash assistance 

Beginning Friday, April 17, the Department of Social and Health Services is providing emergency cash assistance to some Washington residents to help people meet their immediate needs. 

The federal government approved implementing the Disaster Cash Assistance Program in the state following Gov. Jay Inslee's emergency declaration. 

Washington residents can apply for emergency cash through DSHS if they are not eligible for other assistance programs. The assistance is available to everyone who meet the income and resource limits of the program. More than 175,000 households may be eligible. 

“Having access to this emergency aid is critically important to helping people meet their immediate, basic needs, like shelter costs, utilities, clothing, minor medical care, household supplies and transportation costs for work,” explained Babs Roberts, director of DSHS’ Community Services Division. “We’re pleased Governor Inslee made these funds available so that we can extend the benefits to Washingtonians who are most in need during this unprecedented time.” 

Eligible households or individuals receive benefits for one month in a year period during an emergency.

The benefit amount depends on household size, income, and need. The maximum a single person can receive is $363; the maximum for a household of eight or  more is $1,121. 

UW Medicine Virology lab gets shipments of antibody blood test

The UW Medicine Virology lab is receiving shipments of a laboratory-based antibody blood test for clinical use and will allow doctors to check people for infection of coronavirus.

The clinical lab tests began shipping April 16. They are expected to improve the understanding of the coronavirus, including how long antibodies stay in the body and whether they provide immunity. 

Ultimately, the tests could help support the development of treatments and vaccines. 

Testing will start rolling out next week, according to health officials. Testing by the thousands per day will be possible and will be another tool in the fight against the virus.

Snohomish County launches SAFE teams pilot program

In an effort to further reduce the spread of coronavirus, Snohomish County officials are launching a pilot program that will include teams of professionals who will visit homeless encampments and other areas where "people congregate." 

Without intervention, people living without permanent shelter could see outbreaks and contributed to an overwhelmed health care system, according to health officials. 

The SAFE teams will be composed of physicians, paramedics, police, and social workers who will reach out to people in the community, connecting them with services as needed.

Renton mayor says city is "ideal" location for COVID-19 facility

In a prepared statement, Renton Mayor Armondo Pavone says Renton would be an "ideal" place for a COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing facility.

“Renton is already known as one of the nation’s manufacturing hubs and is the Northwest’s leader in healthcare,” Mayor Pavone said. “The ideal location will need a combination of manufacturing capacity, experience in healthcare, a well-trained workforce, and proximity to multiple modes of transportation. Renton has all that as well as a pro-business attitude.”

King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn said:

“There’s no reason this facility shouldn’t be located in King County and specifically in Renton. This is an opportunity to make Renton a global leader in the manufacturing of a lifesaving vaccine.”

During its regular meeting, the Renton City Council is expected to pass a resolution authorizing the pursuit of a facility.

“Locating the COVID-19 manufacturing facility is a very real opportunity to position Renton as a global leader in the manufacturing of a lifesaving vaccine,” Pavone said. “At the same time, it would breathe new life into our city’s economy. We will use all necessary means to bring it to Renton.”

Seattle rolls out new plan to keep larger parks open this weekend 

The city of Seattle is rolling out new guidelines for people using the city’s parks, greenways, and farmers markets during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office announced Thursday that the city will allow major parks to remain open through the weekend, but will require residents to “keep moving and not play sports, picnic or barbecue” in an effort to maintain social distancing and slow the spread of the virus.

"The Governor’s order is Stay Home – not stay out. The social distancing necessary to keep us healthy will mean a new normal for Seattle’s parks, farmers markets, and public amenities. Stay home, but if you need to exercise or go to get groceries at the farmers market, please no crowds, no gatherings, and keep it moving,” said Mayor Jenny Durkan. “We know that this virus isn’t leaving our community for a long time, but I am hopeful that Seattle can adapt."

Parking lots at larger parks will remain closed, and additional rules are in place for Green Lake, Seward Park, Alki Beach, and Golden Gardens such as no fire pits or picnics, no gatherings or beach activities, and loop trails remain open to pedestrian use only.

You'll also notice new signage at Seattle parks about social distancing and the #KeepItMoving initiative.

Seattle Parks and Recreation will also be deploying 60 new "Social Distancing Ambassadors" at major parks who will remind people to socially distance. The ambassadors will take hourly data on the park's usage and will close any park where usage is too high or people are not following the social distancing rules.

You can also now report a lack of social distancing by calling 206-684-4075 or making the parks department at pks_info@seattle.gov.

In addition, SDOT is converting 2.5 miles of existing neighborhood greenways and residential streets into "Stay Healthy Streets" this Saturday.

The first two greenways will be in the Central District and West Seattle/High Point neighborhoods. Portions of neighborhood greenways along 25th Ave S and 34th Ave SW/SW Graham and Holly St/High Point Dr SW will open up to people living in the neighborhood for walking, rolling, and biking.

Those streets will be closed to through traffic, but not residents or deliveries, 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the duration of the emergency or until otherwise noted by the city, officials said.

“Seattle has thousands of acres of parks for our residents. Parks are serving as an incredible source of relief during this stressful time in our city, but we need to start using them in new ways. We ask that you keep it moving while in parks, and ensure that you are not contributing to creating a crowded or busy park. We have staff and signage out, but we are relying on the public to follow these new guidelines so that we can keep our parks open and safe,” said Jesus Aguirre, Seattle Parks and Recreation Superintendent.

SDOT plans to evaluate this weekend’s pilot and work with communities for recommendations on the residential greenways.

Also this weekend, the University District and Ballard Farmers Markets will reopen on a one time permit, which could be extended if shoppers and vendors are able to stick to social distancing.

Wuhan raises number of COVID-19 deaths by 1,290

The central Chinese city of Wuhan has raised its number of COVID-19 fatalities by 1,290, with state media saying Friday the undercount had been due to the insufficient admission capabilities at overwhelmed medical facilities at the peak of the outbreak.

Wuhan’s revised death toll of 3,869 is the most in China. Numbers of total cases in the city of 11 million were also raised by 325 to 50,333, accounting for about two-thirds of China’s total 82,367 announced cases.

Questions have long swirled around the accuracy of China’s case reporting, with Wuhan, in particular, going several days in January without reporting new cases or deaths. That has led to accusations that Chinese officials were seeking to minimize the impact of the outbreak and wasting opportunities to bring it under control in a shorter time.

New York to require face coverings in busy public places 

New York residents will be required to wear face coverings anytime they come into close contact with other people outside their homes starting Friday night.

The mandate by Gov. Andrew Cuomo will require a mask or face covering, like a bandanna, on busy streets, public transit, or any situation where people cannot maintain 6 feet of social distancing, even if it is passing a person briefly on a wooded trail. 

The governor, who has himself eschewed masks during his daily news briefings, though he comes within six feet of his staff, said there will initially be no civil penalties for noncompliance, but he’s urging merchants to enforce it among customers.

Thursday, April 16:

New coronavirus numbers in Washington state

The Washington State Department of Health is reporting 16 new deaths and 369 new coronavirus cases as of Thursday. There is now a total of 583 deaths from coronavirus among 11,152 overall cases in Washington. 

A total of 128,900 people have been tested for the virus and 8.7% of those have tested positive.

Gov. Inslee extends eviction moratorium through June 4

Gov. Jay Inslee has extended his moratorium on evictions through June 4, 2020, as the coronavirus crisis continues and hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians remain unemployed. 

“It is clear that as we deal with the challenges around COVID-19, the financial impacts on Washingtonians are significant,” Inslee said. “People have lost their livelihoods through no fault of their own and we must continue to take steps to ensure they don’t also lose the roofs over their heads." 

As in the original order, the governor's new proclamation prevents landlords from evicting in all situations that fall within the Landlord Tenant Act, and prohibits law enforcement from assisting in evictions, but Thursday's proclamation extends beyond that as well. 

It prohibits residential evictions in other dwelling situations, including motor home owners who lease a lot, transitional housing, public lands, and campgrounds. It also prohibits a landlord from requiring a non-paying tenant to move to a lesser unit, and prevents landlords from threatening to take action against tenants. 

The proclamation prohibits landlords from increasing rents or deposits for residential and commercial units. It also stops landlords from treating unpaid rent and charges as an enforceable debt.

Read more about the new proclamation and its protections here. 

Washington state to roll out new coronavirus unemployment provisions this weekend

Gov. Jay Inslee was joined by Suzi LeVine, commissioner for the state Employment Security Department.

LeVine said the Employment Security Department will roll out the updates for the provisions included in the federal CARES act this Saturday, opening up unemployment benefits to those who hadn't qualified before and raising the weekly benefit amount.

The three main changes are:

  • Independent contractors, self-employed workers, and those with fewer than 680 hours worked in the previous year.
  • It will increase the weekly benefit by $600 for anybody on unemployment insurance.
  • The expansion and extension of benefits from 26 to 39 weeks if people need it.

She said the department expects a "tsunami" of demand, and advised people to go to the Employment Security Department to learn what they need to get ready.

Gov. Jay Inslee said that about half a million applications for unemployment benefits have been submitted since March.

The Washington State Employment Security Department "has paid $125 million last week in unemployment to 250,000 individuals plus, and has put a quarter of a billion dollars into the pockets of Washingtonians since March 16," Inslee said. "This is the most that has been paid since the program has began in the 1930s."

Watch the entire briefing here:

Boeing to resume commercial airplanes production next week

Boeing announced Thursday it will resume all commercial airplanes production at its Puget Sound facilities starting next week. The company suspended all operations last month in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Approximately 27,000 workers will return to the production of the 747, 767, 777 and 787 programs, which support global transportation infrastructure, cargo services, and national defense and security missions, according to a release from Boeing. 

The 737 program will also resume working toward restarting production of the 737 MAX jets. 

Puget Sound area employees for the 737, 747, 767, and 777 will return to work as early as April 20, with most returning to work by April 21. Employees for the 787 program will return as early as April 23, with most returning to work by April 24, Boeing said. 

The company will continue to enhanced cleaning practices, and employee health and physical distancing guidelines. 

Earlier this week, about 2,500 Boeing employees returned to work on the company's defense production operations. 

Boeing South Carolina operations remain suspended at this time.

King County Metro reducing service, again, amid reduced ridership

King County Metro announced Thursday another round of reductions in service starting this weekend due to reduced ridership during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Metro plans to reduce weekend bus service starting Saturday, April 18 and further reduce weekday bus service starting Monday, April 20. The Water Taxi and First Hill Streetcar will continue to operate on the previously reduced schedules announced earlier this month. 

Officials with Metro said overall, they will operate with about 42% fewer buses, 36% fewer transit operators, and 27% fewer service trips than typical weekday service. Weekend trips will be reduced by 15% on Saturdays and 4% on Sundays. 

Ridership on Metro buses has now dropped by about 70% compared to a year ago, according to officials. 

Here are some of the changes starting this weekend: 

SATURDAY: Routes with most or all trips operating on Saturday

  • RapidRide A Line, D line, E Line, and F Line
  • Routes 3, 4, 7, 8, 10, 11, 24, 27, 28, 31, 33, 45, 49, 60, 62, 71, 73, 101, 105, 107, 120, 124, 148, 156, 164, 168, 180, 182, 183, 187, 225, 230, 231, 240, 245, 271, ST 522, ST 545, ST 554, 635 (Des Moines Community Shuttle), 901, 903, 906, 908, 914, 915, 916, 917

Routes with fewer trips and/or reduced hours of operation on Saturday

  • RapidRide B Line and C Line
  • Routes 1, 2, 5, 12, 13, 14, 21, 26, 32, 36, 40, 41, 43, 44, 48, 50, 65, 67, 70, 75, 106, 128, 131, 132, 150, 166, 169, 181, 239, 250, 255, 269, 331, 345, 346, 347, 348, 372, ST 542, ST 550,
  • First Hill Streetcar
  • Sound Transit Link light rail

Routes, services, and programs fully cut or not operating on Saturday

  • Routes 22, 47, 118, 125, 208, 221, 226, 241, 249, 910
  • South Lake Union Streetcar
  • Water Taxi West Seattle and Vashon routes
  • Via to Transit
  • Shoreline/Lake Forest Park Community Ride, Normandy Park Community Ride, Sammamish Community Ride, Bothell/Woodinville Community Ride

SUNDAY: Routes with most or all Sunday trips operating

  • RapidRide A Line, B Line, C Line, D Line, E Line, and F Line
  • Routes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 21, 24, 26, 27, 28, 32, 33, 36, 40, 41, 43, 44, 45, 48, 49, 50, 60, 62, 65, 67, 70, 73, 75, 101, 105, 106, 107, 120, 124, 128, 131, 132, 148, 150, 156, 166, 168, 169, 180, 181, 182, 187, 225, 230, 231, 239, 240, 245, 250, 255, 271, 331, 346, 347, 348, 372, ST 522, ST 542, ST 545, ST 550, ST 554, 901, 903

Routes with fewer trips and/or reduced hours of operation on Sunday

  • First Hill Streetcar
  • Sound Transit Link Light Rail

Routes, services, and programs fully cut or not operating on Sunday

  • Routes 22, 47, 118, 125, 221, 226, 241, 249
  • South Lake Union Streetcar
  • Water Taxi West Seattle and Vashon routes
  • Via to Transit
  • Shoreline/Lake Forest Community Ride, Bothell/Woodinville Community Ride

Updated reduced weekday schedule starting Monday, April 20:

Routes with most or all trips operating (22 routes with 2 or fewer trips cut)

  • A Line, 60, 71, 73, 105,
  •  106, 131, 164, 166, 193, 269, 303, 309, ST 554, 628 (Snoqualmie Community
  •  Shuttle), 631 (Burien Community Shuttle), 901, 903, 906, 908, 914, 916

Routes with fewer trips and/or reduced hours of operation (86 routes and services)

  • RapidRide B, C, D, E and
  •  F lines
  • Routes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Local, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 21 Local, 24, 26, 27, 28, 31, 32, 33, 36, 40, 41, 43, 44, 45, 48, 49, 50, 62, 63, 64, 65, 67, 70, 75, 101, 107, 120, 124, 128, 132, 148, 150, 153, 156, 168, 169, 180, 181, 182, 183, 187, 204, 225, 230, 231, 239, 240, 245, 250, 255, 271, 331, 345, 346, 347, 348, 372, 373, ST 522, ST 542, ST 545, ST 550, 635 (Des Moines Community Shuttle), 915, 917,
  • Water Taxi West Seattle and Vashon routes
  • First Hill Streetcar
  • Sound Transit Link light rail

Routes, services, and programs fully cut (111 routes and services)

  • 5 Express, 9, 15, 17, 18, 19, 21 Express, 22, 29, 37, 47, 55, 56, 57, 74, 76, 77, 78, 102, 111, 113, 114, 116, 118, 119, 121, 122, 123, 125, 143, 154, 157, 158, 159, 167, 177, 178, 179, 186, 190, 192, 197, 200, 208, 212, 214, 216, 217, 218, 219, 221, 224, 226, 232, 237, 241, 246, 249, 252, 257, 268, 301, 304, 308, 311, 312, 316, 330, 342, 355, ST 541, ST 555, ST 556, 630 (Mercer Island Community Shuttle), 773, 775, 823, 824, 886, 887, 888, 889, 891, 892, 893, 894, 895, 907, 910, 913, 930, 931, 952, 980, 981, 982, 984, 986, 987, 988, 989, 994, 995
  • South Lake Union Streetcar
  • Via to Transit
  • Black Diamond/Enumclaw Community Ride, Shoreline/Lake Forest Park Community Ride, Normandy Park Community Ride, Sammamish Community Ride, Juanita Area Community Ride, Bothell/Woodinville Community Ride

Seattle Pride events going virtual

Seattle Pride organizers announced Thursday that this year’s annual Pride celebrations are being moved to virtual events due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seattle Pride, Seattle PrideFest, and Trans Pride Seattle made the collective decision to hold virtual events out of an “abundance of caution and concern for our community’s health.”  

“Although we are all disappointed that we won’t be together at this year’s Seattle Pride Parade and Seattle Pride in the Park, we will have the opportunity to celebrate during a series of virtual events this June,” Seattle Pride said in a Facebook post.

The dates of the virtual events are expected to be announced in early May. Organizers are asking the public to take a Trans Pride Seattle survey to help determine which virtual events would be most beneficial and enjoyable for the community.

Seattle Pride said it is working with Seattle PrideFest and Trans Pride Seattle on creating in-person events later this summer when it is safer to resume community festivals. 

“We are so thankful for our Pride family and partners, and for your continued support as we now shift towards creating a different kind of Pride celebration – but one which continues to celebrate diversity and bring us together when we need it most.”

Click here to take the survey.

New Washington unemployment claims drop

Last week Washington state saw 143,241 new unemployment claims, which is a 16% drop over the previous week. However, it is still the third-highest weekly number on record and five times more claims than the peak week during the Great Recession, according to the Washington Employment Security Department (ESD).

ESD saw 585,983 total unemployment claims last week.

During the week of April 5-11, ESD paid out $125.9 million to 265,798 unemployed workers. Since coronavirus-related claims started coming in mid-March, the state has paid out nearly $272 million in benefits.

WA Food Fund donations

Gov. Jay Inslee urged more individuals and corporations to donate to a statewide food assistance fund to help meet the growing demand in Washington.

More than $1 million has already been donated to the WA Food Fund since launching on April 7, but Inslee said an estimated $12 million more is still needed.

“I am very grateful to those who have stepped up to help their neighbors put food on the table during this unprecedented crisis,” Inslee said. “Washingtonians across the state have demonstrated generosity and compassion. But there is more work to be done to make sure that no one goes hungry due to COVID-19 in our state.”

So far, more than 3,600 people have donated $585,000 to the WA Food Fund. The donations are being directed to Food Lifeline, Northwest Harvest, and Second Harvest, which supply food panties across the state.

Almost 500,000 people in the state are out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Click here to donate.

FDA approves low-cost ventilator

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a low-cost ventilator developed by the University of Minnesota and aimed at helping COVID-19 patients breathe.

The FDA authorized use of the compact device, known as the Coventor, that was quickly developed and designed by a team of university researchers, a medical school resident, and an engineer.

The developers hope the Coventor will be used in clinical settings where traditional ventilators are unavailable.

Starbucks plans to reopen some US stores in May

Starbucks announced Thursday it is working to reopen some U.S. stores next month. The Seattle-based coffee chain closed most of its cafes in the U.S. and Canada in March, and reduced services to drive-thru and delivery only.

Rossann Williams, Starbucks EVP and president, U.S. company-operated business and Canada, said in a letter to employees that some stores will begin to reopen on May 4 “with modified operations and best in class safety measures.”

"Some of you have asked if we will be able to re-open all our stores at once, and to be honest, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution," Williams wrote.

The company is extending its Service Pay through the end of May with an additional $3 an hour for employees who are healthy and choose to work. Catastrophe Pay has also been extended for employees diagnosed or exposed to COVID-19.

Employees who do not feel safe going to work will no longer be eligible for catastrophe leave after May 3 and will have to use vacation or sick days. Williams said the company will be phasing out catastrophe pay for employees by June.

Reopening could require thousands of more public health workers

As U.S. officials weigh how and when to reopen the country, experts are fretting that there aren't enough public health workers to suppress another coronavirus outbreak. That's especially true when it comes to workers who are qualified to do contact tracing, the effort to find and quarantine people who may have been exposed to the virus.

Reopening could require as many as 300,000 public health workers — a daunting number given that the combined federal, state, and local public health workforce has been shrinking.

The problem has inspired some novel ideas, including enlisting Peace Corps volunteers and furloughed social workers.

Record 22 million have sought US jobless aid since virus

The wave of layoffs that has engulfed the U.S. economy since the coronavirus struck forced 5.2 million more people to seek unemployment benefits last week.

Roughly 22 million have sought jobless benefits in the past month — easily the worst stretch of U.S. job losses on record.

All told, roughly nearly 12 million people are now receiving unemployment checks, roughly matching the peak reached in January 2010, shortly after the Great Recession officially ended.

RELATED: 5.2 million more seek unemployment aid as US layoffs continue to spread

COVID-19 cases in Washington state, the US

The United States has 639,664 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of 6 a.m. Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University. There have been 30,985 deaths and 52,738 recoveries in the U.S. More than 3.2 million tests have been conducted.

There are 567 coronavirus deaths among 10,783 positive cases in Washington, according to the state Department of Health.

Worldwide, there have been more than 2 million confirmed cases with nearly 137,000 deaths and 512,000 recoveries.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

China denies allegations about origin of virus

China is refuting allegations that the coronavirus pandemic may have originated in a laboratory near the city of Wuhan where contagious samples were being stored.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian cited the head of the World Health Organization and other unidentified medical experts as saying there was no evidence that transmission began from the lab and there was “no scientific basis” for such claims.

China has also strongly denied claims it delayed reporting on the virus outbreak in Wuhan late last year and underreported case numbers, worsening the impact on the U.S. and other countries. The virus is widely believed to have originated with bats and have passed via another animal species to humans at a wildlife and seafood market in Wuhan, although a firm determination has yet to be made.

Allegations about a leak of the virus from the lab have been made in the U.S. media without direct evidence, and President Donald Trump has vowed to suspend funding for the World Health Organization, partly because of what he claims is its pro-China bias.

Wednesday, April 15: 

Governor signs order to release nearly 1,000 inmates in state prison coronavirus response

Gov. Jay Inslee officially signed the emergency order authorizing the early release of about 950 inmates statewide, as a measure to slow the spread of coronavirus in Washington state prisons. 

The inmates who qualify have non-violent convictions, drug or alcohol related charges, and fewer than 8 months left on their sentence, according to the state.

The order waives requirements for community, victim or witness notifications, but does call for the Department of Corrections making "reasonable efforts" to provide notification at least 48 hours in advance before the inmate is released from custody. 

So far, eight inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 within the state prison system. Seven of them tested positive while housed in the same housing at the Minimum Security Unit at the Monroe Correctional Complex, where more than 100 inmates rioted last week in protest of the state's coronavirus response.print sharing button

Coronavirus numbers in Washington as of April 15 

  • 26 new deaths 
  • 89 new cases 
  • TOTAL: 567 deaths, 10,783 overall cases in Washington

The Washington State Department of Health reports a total of 124,283 have tested for coronavirus and 8.7% of those tests have been positive. 

11,100 jobs lost in March in Washington

An estimated 11,100 jobs were lost in Washington state in March, according to the Employment Security Department. 

The impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on jobs may not fully be captured in the latest report and "are more likely to be evident in the April report," according to department economist Paul Turek. 

"Although we have seen widespread closings of schools, restaurants, and theaters, these actions largely took effect starting the week of March 16, after most workers would have been counted. As a result, even if some firms started laying off workers as early as the second week of March, many still would have worked or received pay for at least part of the payroll period including the 12th, and thus their loss of employment is not yet fully reflected in the March report.” 

The state's labor force in March was 3,889,700, a decrease of 72,800 people from the previous month. The labor force is the total number of people who are employed and unemployed over the age of 16.

Gov. Jay Inslee says stay-at-home order appears to be working, will 'probably' not be lifted before May 4

Gov. Jay Inslee affirmed that the current stay-at-home order will stay in place through May 4, and listed what would have to happen before the state's order is lifted.

He said the state can start the transition away from widespread social distancing measures after it's clear that stay-at-home efforts are successful in slowing the spread of the coronavirus and with new protocols in place to rapidly respond to and treat people who test positive for coronavirus.

"First our social distancing has to be successful enough that we drive down the number of infected people, where we can be confident that we are not going to have the curve start to rebound and go up again," he said.

"That sets the stage for the second stage of the effort which is the individualized effort where we test people rapidly, where we isolate them rapidly, where we treat them rapidly," he said. He also said that there also needs to be contact tracing, so people that the patient has contacted in the past can be informed of the possible exposure.

Watch the press conference live here:

Two Seattle farmers markets to re-open this weekend

The University District and Ballard farmers markets will re-open Saturday and Sunday, respectively, with city-approved guidelines in place.

The U District market will have a modified layout to ensure 6 to 10 feet between vendor booths, limited entrances to control capacity, no sampling or prepared foods and no music, entertainment or seating areas.

The Ballard market will be a drive-through market. Customers can walk up and purchase products but are encouraged to pre-order and drive as much as possible.

Both organizations announced measures such as no sampling foods or ready-to-eat food, banning the public from touching produce, encouraging pre-paid orders and contactless payment methods, taking measures to limit the number of people at the market and no gathering spaces. 

Farmers markets throughout the state are making plans to open with new safety protocols that determined by local jurisdictions. Some markets report that the local rules may leave behind some traditional vendors, such as soap makers, artisans and flower farmers.

Debt collectors can't take stimulus checks

Debt collectors will not be able to take federal stimulus checks under a proclamation signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday. 

The proclamation suspends statutes that permit collection of consumer debt judgments, including bank account and wage garnishments and waives accrual of post-judgment interest on consumer debt judgments during the period of the order. 

San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau asks people to postpone travel

The San Juan Island Visitors Bureau is asking visitors to postpone travel to limit the spread of coronavirus.

The request includes boaters and people whose primary home is somewhere other than the islands.

"Coming to the islands may provide some social distancing peace of mind, but you will be jeopardizing a community with limited essential supplies and limited response resources," a statement from the bureau reads.

The request is based on the San Juan County Health Officer's directive to suspend all non-essential travel to and from the islands and close all lodging. 

Economic Impact Payments hit bank accounts

About 80 million Americans will have received Economic Impact Payments, also known as coronavirus stimulus checks, by Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday.

If you don't see your money in your bank account by then, don't panic. The IRS launched a website that will allow Americans to track the status of the stimulus payment.

The "Get My Payment" tool will "provide people with the status of their payment, including the date their payment is scheduled to be deposited into their bank account or mailed to them."

The IRS said the "Get My Payment" tool will also let eligible individuals submit bank information, if they haven't already, so they can get their payment quicker than waiting for a paper check in the mail.

RELATED: When will you get your stimulus check? IRS launches tracking tool

School zone speed limits in effect in Seattle

Because families continue to visit Seattle schools to pick up meals, several school zone speed limits will be in effect between April 15 and the end of June from 10:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m.

“School lunches are a vital service for many Seattle Public School families and turning on the flashing beacons will remind drivers to watch for children on the street.” Mary Ellen Russell, chair of the School Traffic Safety Committee. 

School zone speeds limits of 20 mph will be in effect at the following schools:

  • Broadview-Thomson K-8
  • Nathan Hale High School
  • Robert Eagle Staff K-8
  • Eckstein Middle School
  • Catharine Blaine K-8
  • Bailey Gatzert Elementary
  • Thurgood Marshall Elementary
  • West Seattle Elementary
  • Chief Sealth High School / Denny Middle School
  • Concord Elementary
  • Mercer Middle School
  • Aki Kurose Middle School
  • Rising Star Elementary
  • Dunlap Elementary
  • Rainier Beach High School
  • Rainier View Elementary

Plate Fund raises $6 million

The Plate Fund, an initiative to provide financial assistance to King County restaurant and food service workers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, has raised a total of $6 million.

The funding is expected to provide at least 12,000 workers one-time payments of $500.

So far, $2.6 million has been distributed to affected workers.

The Plate Fund estimates there are roughly 100,000 restaurant workers in Seattle are impacted.

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz helped organize the Plate Fund.

The Schultz Family Foundation, along with dozens of Seattle restaurant owners, launched the fund with $4 million in initial seed funding.

2 House Democrats propose $2,000 per month stimulus

House Democrats Tim Ryan and Ro Khanna have introduced legislation to give millions of Americans $2,000 per month during the coronavirus pandemic. The congressmen say the one-time, $1,200 stimulus going out to many Americans isn't good enough given skyrocketing unemployment.

Every American age 16 and older making less than $130,000 annually would receive at least $2,000 per month. Married couples earning less than $260,000 would receive $4,000 per month. 

The payments would be guaranteed for six months and continue until the employment-to-population ratio for people age 16 and older is above 60%, the congressmen said.

RELATED: You could get a $2,000 per month stimulus check under proposed bill

Poll: 71% will 'wait to see' after restrictions are lifted

A new Gallup poll finds 71% of Americans plan to wait to see what happens after social contact restrictions are lifted before deciding whether to return to their old habits. Another 10 percent said they will continue to limit contact with others and daily activities indefinitely.

People in cities and suburbs were more likely than people in rural areas to adopt the "wait to see" attitude. Democrats and independents were also more likely than Republicans to go with that level of caution.

Regardless, a majority of every major demographic group said they would not immediately jump back into their old ways. 

Program using plasma of coronavirus survivors

Swedish Health Services has partnered with Bloodworks Northwest to expand the collection of plasma donations from recovered coronavirus patients for use as a potential treatment for COVID-19.

Swedish is informing recovered COVID-19 patients about the opportunity to participate in plasma donation and has begun enrolling patients currently sick with coronavirus in a clinical trial through the national Convalescent Plasma Expanded Access Program. 

The program, led by The Mayo Clinic, was authorized by the Food & Drug Administration earlier this month. Swedish doctors infused the first two patients in the Pacific Northwest with convalescent plasma Monday, April 13.

A single plasma donation can provide enough plasma to treat three to four patients, and donors can give plasma several times.

Patients who have recovered from coronavirus and are interested in donating plasma are asked to contact Bloodworks Northwest at COVID19Study@BloodworksNW.org or by calling 206-689-6689.

Coronavirus | Neighbors Helping Neighbors