Covid blog: Updates for Seattle and the Northwest
Updated news about the coronavirus pandemic in Seattle and Washington state.
According to data from the Washington State Department of Health, as of Dec. 2, 2021:
- 61.6% of Washingtonians are fully vaccinated.
- 72.3% of King County's total population is fully vaccinated.
- 9,413 Covid-19 related deaths across the state; 1.2% death rate since the beginning of the pandemic; 686,549 confirmed cases.
- Compared to white people and Asian people, the rate of Covid cases, hospitalizations, and deaths has been higher for Hispanic and Native Americans, compared to their share of the state's population.
- Hospitalization rates are 13 times higher for unvaccinated people ages 12 to 34, and 18 times higher for people ages 35 to 64, according to the latest state data.
MONDAY, DECEMBER 6
129K kids received Covid vaccine dose in November
The Washington State Department of Health is reporting that more than 129,000 kids ages 5-11 have received one dose of a Covid vaccine.
Eligibly opened to this age group in early November. The pediatric version of the Pfizer Covid vaccine is two doses taken 21 days apart. That means many kids are now due for a second shot.
DOH says the numbers break down to about 26% of eligible kids in the Puget Sound region. It's about 8% throughout central Washington.
“While COVID-19 is often milder in children than adults, children can still get very sick and spread the disease to family and friends, which is an even bigger concern as people gather this holiday season,” said State Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah. “As a father, knowing our children are vaccinated helps me breathe a sigh of relief. I am confident they are now much safer and more protected than they were just a month ago.”
A total of 13 people age 18 and younger have died from Covid in Washington since the start of the pandemic.
— Dyer Oxley
Small restaurants/bars now required to check for vaccination status
Starting Monday, small bars and restaurants will join all other locations in King County where vaccine verification is required.
Since late October, those looking to dine in at bars and restaurants in King County have been required to show proof of full vaccination or a recent negative Covid test.
Small venues, with a seating capacity of 12 or less, were given a little more time to implement the rules. But starting Dec. 6, your favorite hole-in-the wall café or sandwich shop will have the same rules as the bigger restaurants.
The same rules remain in effect for outdoor events with 500 plus people, as well as gyms, museums, live music venues, and more.
— Kate Walters
Omicron found in Washington state
The omicron variant has been found in Washington state. Health officials announced over the weekend that three cases of the new coronavirus variant have been found in King, Pierce, and Thurston counties — one case in each county.
Of the three cases, one was a man in this 30s in Thurston County, one was a man in his 20s in Pierce County, and one was a woman in her 20s in King County. Officials say they don't think the cases are related and that their travel history was unknown.
State Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah says it was only a matter of time before the variant was found locally. He says there is reason for concern, but not for panic.
"The best way to prevent the spread of this new variant, or any other variant, is, of course, to get vaccinated ... and we certainly want to continue to emphasize wearing masks and other safety protocols," Shah said.
Health officials say they expect to see more omicron cases. A lot remains unknown about the new variant. Experts say it could take weeks, not days, to get a better understanding of its impacts.
Read more here.
— Kate Walters
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 2
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee urges vaccinations and won't rule out requiring boosters
Washington Governor Jay Inslee said the new omicron variant of COVID-19 is another reason why people should get vaccinated and boosted. But at a news conference Thursday the governor said the bigger threat is still the delta variant.
Inslee said it’s too early to know what the omicron variant will mean for the battle against COVID-19. But he said whatever threat it poses, people who are vaccinated will be better off. He noted that more than a third of all Washingtonians are still unvaccinated.
“Thirty-four percent of Washingtonians today are walking around with a time bomb in their backpack because they’re not vaccinated and we’ve been fortunate to date by having some declining numbers, but that’s not a certainty particularly with this new variant," he said.
Inslee said he won’t rule out additional measures to increase the state’s vaccination rate. Asked if he plans to require booster shots for employees who are subject to his vaccine mandate, Inslee said he’s not given serious consideration to that, but added it could happen.
-- Austin Jenkins
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 1
Omicron variant "probably already here" in Washington state
UW Medicine’s Virology Lab is on the hunt for omicron Covid cases in Washington state. It already has the code and is keeping an eye out for the new variant that has prompted concern across the globe.
The virology lab can sequence around 2,000 test samples per week.
A case of omicron was detected in California recently, the first in the United States. Another case was detected in British Columbia on Tuesday, just over the border from Washington. But according to Dr. Pavitra Roychoudhury with UW Medicine, the omicron is likely already in the state. It's just a matter of detecting a case, and of time.
"I think that it is probably already here. It is likely at low frequency right now given that we haven't picked it up in samples from the last couple of weeks," Roychoudhury said. "I think it's a matter of time given how connected the world is, given how much travel has been occurring over the last few weeks and months."
— Dyer Oxley
First cases of omicron found in United States and British Columbia
The first case of the omicron coronavirus variant in the United States has been detected in California.
"The individual was a traveler who returned from South Africa on November 22. The individual, who was fully vaccinated and had mild symptoms that are improving, is self-quarantining and has been since testing positive. All close contacts have been contacted and have tested negative."
The World Health Organization has warned that omicron poses a high risk to global health. The variant has an alarming number of mutations, more than previously seen in other variants. It is unknown how well current vaccines and immunity will hold up against these mutations. However, health experts urge people to get fully vaccinated and get booster shots, promoting that as the best defense to variants.
British Columbia, just over the border from Washington state, detected its first case of omicron on Tuesday. That case was found in a traveler from Nigeria. The patient is with Fraser Health Authority, which covers communities around Vancouver along the border with Washington.
— Dyer Oxley
New vaccine hub in Rainier Beach
People looking to get a Covid vaccine booster, or their first round of shots, can now do so at Seattle's new Rainier Valley location.
The city of Seattle has opened a third Covid vaccination hub in Rainier Beach, located at the Southeast Seattle Senior Center. It will be open most Tuesdays and Thursdays between noon and 7 p.m.
You can make an appointment to get your booster or first round of shots on the city's vaccine website, or you can sign up to get vaccinated at the city's West Seattle and downtown Seattle clinics.
— Angela King
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 30
Short trips from Canada no longer need Covid test for fully-vaccinated
Today's the day fully-vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents will no longer have to submit a negative Covid test in order to return home from a short three-day trip out of the country.
But those who are gone longer than 72 hours will still have present that negative test. US travelers going into Canada still must present a negative Covid test taken within three days of their trip and proof they've been vaccinated against Covid-19.
— Angela King
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 29
WA scientists on hunt for omicron
Health professionals in Washington state are on the lookout for the new Covid-19 variant, omicron.
The variant has caused concern around the globe, but has not yet been detected in the U.S.
A lot remains unknown about omicron and how it compares to the highly transmissible delta variant that fueled huge spikes in cases and hospitalizations in recent months.
However, Dr. Alex Greninger is confident that current tests will pick up the new variant.
Greninger is assistant director of the clinical virology laboratories at UW Medical Center. UW virology labs are one of the locations in the state to run Covid-19 test, and sequence a portion of the positive samples to identify which variants are in the community and whether new variants are appearing.
Geringer said Washington is one of the best equipped states when it comes to sequencing.
"We have sort of the best eyes out there when it comes to looking for these variants and reporting on them, so I think as soon as omicron is here we'll be one of the first to pick it up."
Greninger said flight paths into the US may contribute to which states detect the variant first.
His lab has added a small extra step into their process to rapidly test samples to determine if omicron is present here.
Officials say people shouldn't panic. Instead, they are encouraging people to focus on protecting themselves by getting vaccinated and getting booster shots.
— Kate Walters
New Omicron variant prompts concern
The following is an excerpt from KUOW's Today So Far newsletter.
Omicron sounds like an evil Transformer or a Bond villain. It's the most ominous and threatening-sounding variant yet. So let's talk about it.
What is most scary is that we just don't know a lot about it and if it will ultimately be a significant threat. We do know that this variant has far more mutations than previously seen, and that has startled experts across the globe. The World Health Organization has labeled it a "variant of concern;" the last time that happened was delta (and we know what happened after that). Travel bans impacting South Africa have sprung up (omicron was first detected there, but it probably didn't originate there).
However, this variant has already spread across borders and is likely in the United States or will arrive shortly. Some early reports indicate it causes more mild illness, and yet others state it could evade immunity from vaccines and previous illness altogether. So, as previously stated: we just don't know right now and that is scary. But if you have been responsible this whole time (masking up, getting vaccinated and boosted, etc.), then you are already prepared for this.
— Dyer Oxley
Covid outbreaks in Seattle-area schools.
Most of the 29 outbreaks in the Seattle area's K-12 schools since September were pretty small — about four isolated cases. However, outbreaks at two private Christian schools in Renton and Bothell account for at least 80 cases each.
State officials have spoken to the schools for not enforcing mask mandates. Unvaccinated students and staff were the most affected. One Renton Christian School official disagrees with the county's case counts and argues that it is unclear where or how people get infected.
Overall, outbreaks have been minimal across the region when considering all K-12 schools. Read more here.
— Dyer Oxley
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 24
How King County will handle vaccine verification violators
King County officials are outlining the specifics of how they plan to enforce the county's Covid-19 vaccine verification system.
“We worked with the business and arts communities to develop this vaccination verification policy and, in turn, we’ve seen strong compliance,” said Dennis Worsham, Interim Director for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “We want to ensure that all businesses covered by the policy are complying with it so that staff and patrons are protected. Ultimately, this is about reopening in a way that reduces the risk of Covid-19 transmission, and protects our healthcare system and our most vulnerable residents.”
The mandate, which has been in place for about a month, requires larger businesses to verify their customers have either been vaccinated against Covid-19 or have had a recent negative Covid test (taken within 72 hours of their visit).
The rule will be extended to small restaurant and bar owners December 6.
- If the county receives a non-compliance complaint, it will first notify the business owner and provide them with outreach and education resources.
- If it's determined the owner is choosing not to comply, or if they've had three or more complaints filed against them, then they'll need to submit to an in-person inspection.
Any more complaints after that will result in the owner being fined $250 dollars or having their business temporarily shut down.
County Public Health officials say they've received complaints for about 250 businesses so far (out of the more than 10,000).
— Angela King
Pandemic holiday gatherings
As friends and family get ready to gather for the holidays, Seattle officials are urging people to keep up their Covid guard.
Covid cases are ticking up in other parts of the country.
The Seattle area has continued to see slow declines in recent months, but in this holiday travel season, Mayor Jenny Durkan is encouraging people to plan ahead for ways to protect each other.
That includes scheduling a booster shot if you’re eligible. Or, if you’ve been exposed to Covid-19 or have symptoms — get tested.
A statement from the mayor's office says increased demand for testing may mean longer wait times for results, so people should plan accordingly.
UW-run testing sites will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, but open on Friday. That includes locations in SoDo, Rainier Beach and West Seattle.
Other testing kiosks around Seattle will also be closed on Thursday.
— Kate Walters
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 23
Easy-to-use digital vaccination verification launches in Washington state
Need to prove your Covid-19 vaccination status in Washington state? There’s a new, digital way to do that in as little time as a minute.
WA Verify allows people who have been vaccinated in Washington state to receive a digital vaccination passport, which includes a QR code that can be used repeatedly.
You need only input your name and date of birth, which are then run through the state’s record system. You’ll also need to create a four-digit PIN during the application process, which you’ll need to retrieve your digital vaccine verification. You can access your record via email or mobile phone.
The WA Verify system may produce your vaccination passport within a matter of minutes — or it could take up to 24 hours. For families who may have more than one vaccination record associated with a single email address or phone number, the system requires separate verification applications.
If you received your shots from a federal agency, you will need to get in touch with them for assistance with the verification process.
Most eligible King County residents have started or completed Covid vaccinations
90% of King County residents (12+) have received at least one dose of the vaccine
King County just passed the 90% line for residents (ages 12+) who have had at least one shot of the vaccine. (84.4 percent are fully vaccinated.)
The last two weeks have seen a spike in first-time doses, likely because children 5 to 11 are now eligible for the vaccine.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 22
Booster shots now available to adults in Washington state
All adults in Washington state can now get a booster Covid shot. The Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, the FDA and a CDC advisory committee all signed off on the move Friday.
Seattle will start offering boosters at its locations throughout the city. Boosters are available at the Amazon Meeting Center in downtown and at the Neighborhood House location in West Seattle Clinic. And the city's newest vaccine HUB in Rainier Beach is set to start doling them out November 30.
“The new Rainier Beach Vaccination Clinic will add capacity to provide thousands of vaccines and boosters to South Seattle communities, supporting equitable access in one of our more diverse parts of the city," said Mayor Jenny Durkan.
“Since the onset of the pandemic, Seattle has led the way on Covid-19 with the fewest cases, hospitalizations, and deaths of any major U.S. city, and we did that by following the science ... As we move into the holiday season and join with friends and family more frequently indoors, vaccinations become even more important."
— Angela King
San Juan ferry line back to full service
The San Juan Island ferry run is back up to full service.
"We know the San Juan Islands are in dire need of reliable transportation, with the ferry system up there, to support medical needs, the school system, and economic needs," said Washington State Ferries spokesperson Dana Warr. "We know the other routes need that support as well to and we're going to be working hard to restore service."
Nearly all of the other routes are still on a reduced schedule because of worker shortages. Warr says the department has lost at least 130 employees over 2021 alone.
Reservations for the San Juan line could be back up and running in a few weeks if staffing remains stable.
— Paige Browning
It's going to be a busy week at Sea-Tac Airport
Nearly 1.5 million travelers are expected to pass through the terminals by November 29.
That's a 150% increase compared to 2020, but still below 2019 numbers, before the pandemic hit.
Shuttle bus service will be reduced. Parking in the main parking lot will be tight because of a project going on there. Airport officials are encouraging you to take the light rail if you can.
Sunday is expected to be the busiest travel day with an estimated 50,355 departures out of Sea-Tac that day, according to airport officials.
— Angela King
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 19
Covid-19 death toll passes 9,000 in WA
Washington state has passed a somber milestone in the Covid-19 pandemic.
More than 9,000 Covid-related deaths have been recorded in the state.
Death rates in Washington have been inching down in recent months after a peak in September.
But Cassie Sauer, CEO of the Washington state hospital association, said this week that numbers still remain high.
"We continue to have 10 to 15 people die in the hospital across the state every day from Covid,” Sauer said Monday during a media briefing.
“We're sort of accepting that as a society in a way that I really think is bad," she said.
Sauer said she's frustrated by how little attention is paid to the pandemic's death toll. She said recently she’s been thinking about the fatal Ride the Ducks crash that killed five people in 2015.
Sauer said that crash received a lot of attention and led to changes. But the current covid toll is two to three times higher on a daily basis and isn’t garnering the same response.
Unvaccinated people are far more likely to die from Covid than those who have had the vaccine.
— Kate Walters
Covid tests can make holidays safer
Many people are turning to at-home and walk-in Covid-19 tests to keep their families safe during Thanksgiving. Quickly swabbing your nose or spitting in a tube can indicate if you have been infected with the coronavirus.
But with so many options available, and a big season of holiday get-togethers up ahead, many are wondering what kind of test is best—and when is the best time to get tested?
Dr. Alex Greninger is assistant director at the clinical virology laboratories at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. He told Science Friday that the best timing for a PCR test is the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.
For a rapid test, it is just before a get-together.
“Whatever test you’re getting, the most important thing is that you’re able to get that result and then act on it, whether it's antigen testing or PCR testing,” Greninger said.
He said at-home rapid tests are an effective way to gauge infection status during a specific point in time, but he stressed the importance of multiple layers of protection, including testing, masks and vaccines.
- John Dankosky, Science Friday
Gov. Inslee will keep Covid testing option in Washington
Governor Jay Inslee says he's going to keep a Covid testing option available to federal workers here in Washington.
Unlike the state mandate, the order issued by the Biden administration requires employers with more than 100 workers make sure they're either vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.
It was set to go into effect in January, but it's now being challenged in court. Inslee said he hopes the courts will allow the federal mandate to move forward.
— Angela King
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 18
Seattle opens new vaccine clinic in Rainier Beach
The city of Seattle is opening another Covid-19 vaccine clinic, this time in Rainier Beach.
Mayor Jenny Durkan says they are timing the opening with the expected approval this week of boosters for all adults who got the Pfizer vaccine. That announcement is pending from the FDA.
The new site will be open on most Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 7 p.m..
Rainier Beach will be the third Covid vaccine hub in Seattle, along with those in West Seattle and South Lake Union that are already open.
— Paige Browning
More travelers expected at Sea-Tac Airport over Thanksgiving holiday
Nearly 1.5 million people are expected to pass through Sea-Tac Airport between now and November 29. That's a 150% increase compared to last year's Thanksgiving holiday. But it's still below 2019 numbers.
Nonetheless, it's a lot of people so officials are recommending travelers arrive at least two hours before their flights and take light rail to the airport if they can.
Parking is going to be tight with a couple hundred spots in the garage now closed off as part of a project there. Add to that staffing shortages and reduced shuttle bus availability
— Angela King
No PCR test for some Canadians crossing the US border
Canada is expected to drop it's PCR Covid testing requirement for some Canadian citizens and permanent residents returning home from the United States.
The Bellingham Herald reports that the change is expected to kick in over the coming weeks and would apply to those who spent fewer than 72 hours out of the country.
This has been a big concern for Washington businesses along the border. Especially those in the US and Washington exclave of Point Roberts that have argued the cost of taking the Covid test would discourage Canadians from visiting their towns.
— Angela King
Seattle school board approves request for Covid vaccine requirement
Seattle's school board has voted to send a resolution to the state health department, urging it to consider making Covid-19 vaccines a requirement for students throughout Washington state.
The board wants the requirement once the FDA and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices approves vaccines for 5-11 year olds, which has already been done for older children. Currently, a Covid vaccine is approved for ages 5-11 for emergency use.
The Board argues that Covid-19 has closed down more classrooms in low-income areas and has disproportionately affected students in under-served communities.
The State Board of Health is set to further consider the resolution in January.
— Angela King
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 16
2% of hospital staff left jobs over Washington vaccine mandate
Hospitals are starting to realize the full effect of Washington's vaccine mandate for health care workers. The Washington State Hospital Association reports that about 2% of staff across the state left their jobs over the mandate.
The Spokesman-Review reports that the 2% adds up to about 2,000 health care workers, however, that number is expected to rise to around 3,000 once all hospitals are counted.
A total of 94% of hospital staff in Washington are fully vaccinated and meet the requirements of the mandate. Another 4% received exemptions and are being accommodated.
— Dyer Oxley
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 15
Reason for caution and optimism this holiday season, hospital leaders say
Covid-19 hospitalizations continue to decline in Washington state, although disease levels remain high.
There were 865 people hospitalized across the state as of Monday. That’s compared with 968 the week before, according to the Washington State Hospital Association.
Still, hospital leaders remain nervous as numbers tick back up in other areas of the country.
“We’re seeing mixed signals around case counts in many parts of the country,” Dr. Seth Cohen said during a media briefing Monday. Cohen is the medical director of infection prevention with University of Washington Medical Center.
“Covid is unpredictable and as we head indoors for the winter we know that Covid really thrives in indoor environments,” Cohen said.
Cohen said it’s important for people to take precautions this holiday season, but there's also reason for optimism.
"Thanks to vaccines, there are several things that are now on the table that I think would have felt much riskier last year," he said.
“The single best way to ensure your holidays are safe is to spend time around people who are vaccinated."
For those who are traveling, hospital leaders say it’s important to wear good fitting, multi-layered masks, especially when in lines at security, or navigating airport crowds.
Cohen also recommends keeping gatherings small, and ensuring nobody has symptoms, or a known high risk exposure, before getting together.
Hospital leaders say those who are eligible should get their booster shots to increase protection.
But they say the most important message is for people who are not yet vaccinated to go out and get their first dose.
— Kate Walters
Vast majority of hospital workers in Washington are vaccinated
New data shows vaccination rates among hospital workers have inched up in the past few weeks.
About 94% of people working in hospitals around Washington are fully vaccinated, according to a survey by the Washington State Hospital Association.
That's up from about 88% last month, just before the deadline for the state's vaccine mandate.
About 2% of hospital staff statewide left their positions because of the mandate, according to Cassie Sauer, CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association.
Another roughly 4% were granted exemptions and accommodations, are in the process of getting vaccinated Sauer said.
— Kate Walters
Washington state mandate begins today
Starting today, Washington state residents will have to show proof of being vaccinated against Covid-19, or have a recent negative test, to attend concerts, sporting events, and other large gatherings.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced the state requirement for people 12 and older last month. It applies to indoor events that attract at least 1,000 people, and for outdoor events with more than 10,000 attendees.
Last chance to apply for Seattle pandemic relief
People financially impacted by the pandemic have until 11:59 tonight to apply for the Seattle Relief Fund.
It was set up last month and qualified families can receive between $1,000 to $3,000 in direct cash assistance — depending on their size. The City of Seattle and 45 community partners are distributing $16 million in direct cash assistance.
To qualify, people must have incomes lower than 50% of the area median income, and either live, attend school, or rent an art space in Seattle.
For more information visit seattlerelief.com.
Vaccine deadline looms for Port of Seattle employees
All employees at the Port of Seattle have until today to show proof they've been vaccinated against Covid-19.
A King County Superior Court judge upheld the mandate Friday, despite challenges brought by two unions representing Port employees.
It's estimated that 90% of Port employees have been fully vaccinated, while the other 10% have until 5 p.m. today to prove they are vaccinated or have submitted a request for a religious or medical exemption.
Employees can also ask for an extension if they've received at least one dose and plan to get the second one.
Sen. Doug Ericksen tests positive for Covid in El Salvador
Washington State Senator Doug Ericksen of Ferndale, Wash, in Whatcom County tested positive for Covid-19 shortly after he arrived in El Salvador last week.
A spokesperson for Sen. Ericksen told The Bellingham Herald that the senator's staff had difficulty contacting him. However, it appears that Ericksen emailed Republican colleagues in Washington state for help getting monoclonal antibodies, a common treatment for Covid in the United States, but it is not available in El Salvador.
It is unknown if Ericksen is vaccinated. Because El Salvador has high transmission rates of Covid-19, the CDC has recommended that only vaccinated individuals travel there. It further discourages unvaccinated people from traveling to the country. Sen. Ericksen has made frequent trips to the country in recent months. He was in the El Salvador when he missed many votes in the state senate last session.
— Dyer Oxley
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 10
How Delta, Kappa variants dodge vaccine antibodies
Researchers with UW Medicine have found an answer for what many have suspected since coronavirus variants began to emerge: Why the Delta and Kappa variants dodge vaccine protection.
Vaccines still combat the variants, but UW Medicine found that Delta and Kappa have a few upgrades and diminish their effectiveness. The coronavirus has a couple domains that the vaccines rely on: the N-terminal domain and a receptor binding domain. Delta and Kappa have mutated these receptors, making it more difficult for vaccine antibodies to interact with them.
“These are the major targets of neutralizing antibodies in convalescent and vaccinated individuals, thereby raising concerns about the efficacy of available vaccines and therapeutic antibodies against these [kappa and delta] variants,” researchers wrote in a new study published in Science.
According to UW Medicine, researchers looked at data from 37 vaccinated people and that "their data demonstrated that the delta, kappa and delta+ variants reduced virus neutralizing potency from vaccine-induced antibodies."
Half of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine antibodies were unable to neutralize one or more variants in a lab. Researchers note that Delta+ seems to cause the greatest decrease in efficacy.
UW Medicine notes that while theses variants are able to evade certain antibodies, there are other antibodies that they don't tackle too well, and that gives researchers hope. That information could be used to develop future treatments.
— Dyer Oxley
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 9
Seattle schools cancels Friday classes due to staffing shortage
Seattle Public Schools is cancelling Friday classes due to a staffing shortage. Friday falls immediately after Veterans Day on Thursday.
In a letter to families in the school district, officials stated:
"Seattle Public Schools will be closed on Friday, November 12. We are aware of an unusually large number of SPS staff taking leave on Friday, and do not believe we have adequate personnel to open schools with the necessary environment for high-quality learning."
School officials said that the learning day will be added elsewhere in the 2021/22 academic calendar.
— Dyer Oxley
10 million Covid shots in Washington
As of November 6, more than 10 million doses of Covid vaccine have been administered in Washington state. The Department of Health recently noted the number as a new milestone in the fight against the pandemic.
“Giving out 10 million doses of life-saving vaccine is something we should all be proud of here in Washington,” said Dr. Umair Shah, Washington's Secretary of Health. “Knowing that younger kids can now be protected from the worst outcomes of this virus is an incredible relief, not just for parents and families, but for everyone. The more people vaccinated, the more community protection we have, and that’s good for us all.”
There is hope that the availability for ages 5-11 to get a vaccine will help conditions improve. Though, demand for that age group currently outpaces supply.
DOH has also recently noted that 73.5% of people 12 and older are now fully vaccinated.
— Dyer Oxley
WSDOT staffing shortage expected to cause longer road closures this winter
Staffing shortages at the Washington State Department of Transportation could result in longer road closures and overall decreased service this winter.
WSDOT blames the shortage on a mix pandemic-related hiring freezes and a lack of certified mechanics and drivers along with an aging workforce.
The Seattle Times reports that 6% of WSDOT's staff quit over the governor's vaccine mandate for state workers. As a result, some stretches of freeway will only be partially plowed and cleared of snow and ice.
Response times to other emergencies might also be delayed
WSDOT says it has 1,500 jobs directly tied to winter operations, but only 1,200 have been filled as of October 19.
— Angela King
Kids start getting Covid shots in Burien
Young kids around King County are starting to get their first Covid vaccine doses. Kid-size doses are now approved for ages 5-11.
Calvin Johnson, 10, got his first shot Monday evening at a Burien Walgreen’s with his best friend. He’s looking forward to getting back to sleep overs and playing football.
“Really happy because like with this with a vaccination it’s gonna make us feel more safe when we’re tackling each other and all that.“
Johnson will be back in a couple of weeks for his second dose.
— Katie Campbell
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 8
Kid vaccine clinics open in Seattle, and western Washington
Seattle Public Schools started hosting Covid-19 vaccine clinics for students 5-11 years old today.
The district's first-dose clinics are slated to run through November 23. Second-dose clinics will begin on November 29 and last through December 14.
SPS is hosting the youth vaccine clinics at schools throughout the city.
And Seattle Children's will start distributing its pediatric Pfizer doses tomorrow on Tuesday.
"The reason we give a smaller dose to kids, is that just like with medicines, kids are not just small adults; we can't just give them the same dose. So kids 12 and up and adults will get one regular dose. And kids 5-11 get one third the dose," said Dr Sean Murphy with UW School of Medicine.
All of the vaccines will be given by appointment only since demand for the kid-sized doses is already exceeding supplies in Washington state.
In fact, for those in the South End, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department Tweeted on Sunday that its Lakewood Towne Center clinic had ran out of pediatric doses.
— Angela King
Borders open between US, Canada and Mexico
As of midnight, the U.S land borders with Canada and Mexico reopened to fully vaccinated travelers. The borders have been closed for about 20 months because of the pandemic.
While those entering the country must show proof they've been vaccinated against Covid-19, Canadians will also have to show proof of a negative Covid test in order to return to Canada.
That's why some business owners in border towns like Blaine, Wash. are tempering their excitement.
But Canadians like Maggie Morrey tells KING 5 that they're excited to return.
"A lot of Canadians that will not bring any groceries, we really support those businesses that have suffered for two years," Morrey said.
And she's specifically talking about businesses in the US exclave of Point Roberts, Wash, which shares its only land border with Canada (it's surrounded by water on all other sides). About 85% of Point Robert's economy depends on Canadians.
— Angela King
Vaccine mandate and workers at Hanford nuclear site
Federal workers have to get all their shots of the Pfizer, Moderna or J&J Covid vaccines by today (Monday, Nov. 8) or lose their jobs.
That’s so they’re ready to work by the federal vaccine mandate deadline of November 22.
There's one group of federal employees you might not think about — workers at the Hanford nuclear cleanup site in southeast Washington.
From WWII through the Cold War, Hanford produced plutonium for nuclear weapons. Now it’s a boneyard of debris and radioactive goo.
About 450 people work directly for the U.S. Department of Energy in the area which has experienced a lot of vaccine hesitancy. There has recently been a few anti-vax rallies in the nearby Tri-Cities.
Most of the 11,000 workers at Hanford are contractors. They have until January to be fully vaxxed or frequently tested. But two Hanford contractors recently have called stop work orders over vaccine mandates.
— Anna King
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 5
Youth Covid cases declined since September
The Washington State Department of Health reports that youth Covid cases have been on the decline since September.
Cases among ages 19 and younger were on the rise between July and mid-September. But they started to decline after that, even as schools began in-person learning.
DOH reports that there were about 8,029 youth Covid cases between October 10-24. The highest rates of youth Covid were in northeast Washington during that time. Ages 11-13 in Washington saw the highest case rates.
“It’s thrilling to know that the strongest form of protection is now available to school-aged kids—and that’s the vaccine,” said state Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah. “The more children who are vaccinated, the fewer outbreaks and cases we’ll see in the younger age groups and the less spread among their families.”
— Dyer Oxley
Coach Rolovich appeals firing over Covid mandate
Former Washington State University head football coach Nick Rolovich is appealing his firing as it relates to the state's Covid-19 vaccine mandate.
His attorneys say that while the coach chose not to get vaccinated, they argue that school officials were hostile and unfair when they decided to deny him a religious exemption. Attorneys also claimed that last month, WSU indicated it would make no accommodations for Rolovich even if the exemption was approved.
Rolovich made nearly $3.2 million last year. He was the highest-paid employee until he was let go last month. His attorneys say they will take the case to federal court if this appeal is rejected.
— Angela King
Seattle, Whatcom County start taking Covid appointments for 5-11 year olds
It could be a busy weekend for the folks at Seattle's Covid vaccine hubs in downtown and West Seattle. They're going to start vaccinating 5 to 11 year olds — by appointment only.
North of Seattle, a new vaccination clinic for children 5 to 11 is opening up Friday in Whatcom County.
It will be open from 4-7 p.m. in the old Lynden Middle School cafeteria. Parents/kids must register for an appointment on the county's website.
Use the state's vaccine locator to find an appointment near you.
— Angela King
Another antiviral pill shows promising results fighting Covid
NPR reports that Pfizer plans to send clinical results of a new antiviral pill to the FDA for emergency use authorization. The company says clinical trials showed the pill reduced the risk of hospitalization or death from Covid by 89%.
Pfizer has named the medication "Paxlovid."
"These data suggest that our oral antiviral candidate, if approved or authorized by regulatory authorities, has the potential to save patients' lives, reduce the severity of Covid-19 infections, and eliminate up to nine out of ten hospitalizations," Pfizer CEO and chairman Albert Bourla said.
Pfizer's antiviral pill is similar to one recently announced by Merck. That company has already received permission to use the medication in the UK. Clinical studies for Merck's antiviral pill reportedly reduced the risk of hospitalization and death by 50%.
Both antivirals work by interfering with the coronavirus' ability to replicate.
The emergence of antiviral medication aimed at Covid adds another weapon in the fight against the pandemic. So far, vaccines have proven to be the best tool to knock down the virus. However, antivirals come in pill form and can therefore be transported much more easily, and taken at home. Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines require extremely cold conditions for transport and storage and are administered at vaccination sites.
— Dyer Oxley
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 4
Seattle School Board delays vote on Covid vaccine resolution
The Seattle School Board is once again delaying a vote on a resolution that calls on the state health department to make the Covid-19 vaccine a requirement for public school students statewide, once it's fully approved by the FDA.
Board members now plan to vote on the resolution on November 17.
A small group of parents from Snohomish County protested outside the Seattle Public Schools headquarters Wednesday as the board discussed the resolution. SPS board wanted more time to do outreach when it comes to the vaccine resolution.
— Angela King
Status of kids Covid shots in Washington
Dr. Mark Del Beccaro with public health Seattle and King County says that nearly 89% of King County residents 12 and older have had at least one dose of a Covid vaccine.
A new group of eligible Washingtonians are now up to received doses —approximately 680,000 kids age 5-11. That includes roughly 180,000 kids in King County.
State Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah says: "There is going to be more than enough vaccine for children in our state. It's just going to take a bit of time to get there."
Demand will outweigh supply initially and the county wants to ensure equitable access as they divvy up doses among providers.
"We do look at the requests and then divide them up by looking at various things, including the number of children obviously in their practices, but also then the makeup of some of the other equity factors," Dr. Del Beccaro said.
Vaccination rates continue to lag in some parts of south King County and South Seattle.
There are more than 300,000 kid-sized doses that arrived in Washington state as part of the first round of shipments. More are expected to arrive in the coming weeks.
Parents may have to call more than one provider initially to find an appointment for their child.
State officials also know that some parents may be hesitant to vaccinate their kids against Covid and may have questions about the shot.
"Not vaccinating is not a risk-free choice," said Michele Roberts with the Washington State Department of Health. "You may be worried about potential side effects, but really you are choosing a different set of risks for your child ... it may feel like you're making a choice because you are not actively seeking an intervention or working to get that needle in an arm. But you're really choosing a different set of risks for you child and leaving them unprotected against what is really a severe disease."
— Kate Walters
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 3
Western States Scientific Safety Review approves Covid vaccine for kids
In a letter to the governors of California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup has given a thumbs up for emergency authorization of Pfizer's children's Covid vaccine.
“Parents can breathe a sigh of relief that their younger kids can now be vaccinated against the deadly Covid-19 virus," Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement. "This gets us a step closer to having the entire population of Washington eligible for the vaccine. And a step closer to finding our way out of this pandemic."
The workgroup said that the benefits of the vaccine for ages 5-11 greatly outweigh the risks. Pfizer's kid dose was found to be more than 90% effective against symptomatic Covid in this age group. It noted that reactions to the vaccine were far less common in this age group than in ages 16-25. The group considered risks such as myocarditis and found them to be low.
“Now that younger kids can join older children, who have been eligible, the challenges of cases in schools should be more manageable. Ideally this means less transmission, fewer absences and healthier kids and educators," Inslee said. “I encourage parents and guardians to get their children vaccinated."
Covid vaccine appointments can be found on the state's Vaccine Locator.
— Dyer Oxley
Washington prepares for kid Covid vaccine doses
State health officials say they're on track to receive an initial supply of approximately 300,000 pediatric doses of Pfizer's Covid vaccine.
For kids, it's two shots, taken three weeks apart. The dose is about 1/3 of an adult dose.
And now that the CDC has recommended it be used in 5-11 year olds, they'll be doled out by doctors and pharmacies. Some school districts even plan to hold popup clinics for younger students.
UW Medicine says its already received some shipments and plans to start administering them at its medical centers, which includes Harborview, this week. But it could take a while before your child gets their shots. The UW wait list has grown to more than 9,300 people. UW is not accepting walk-ins.
More than 500,000 children statewide fit into the new eligible age group. But health officials have predicted that parents of only about 30% of kids will have their children immunized.
— Angela King
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 2
UW Medicine doctor advises parents on Covid vaccine for kids
Dr. Sean Murphy says that there is a great source of information for parents with questions around Covid vaccines for kids: their family doctor.
Dr. Murphy is an associate professor of laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He recently spoke to the issue of children getting Covid vaccines. The CDC is expected to approve a lower dose of Pfizer for ages 5-11. The FDA has already given it a thumbs up.
Murphy notes that the children's version of the Pfizer vaccine is about a third the dose for adults. It does the exact same job, however.
“The beauty of mRNA is that it's a hardwired biological process,” Murphy said. “If you put an mRNA into a cell, the cell will make whatever that mRNA encodes, and that's going to be the same biological process in adults as it is in kids.”
Murphy adds that mRNA is “one of the most natural ways to make a vaccine.”
UW Medicine is currently adding children age 5-11 on a Covid vaccine appointment waitlist.
— Dyer Oxley
Covid-19 hospitalizations hitting plateau
After weeks of steady declines, Covid-19 hospitalizations seem to have hit a plateau in Washington state.
“And we don’t like where we are plateauing,” said Taya Briley, executive vice president of the Washington State Hospital Association during a media briefing Monday.
Briley said there was an average of 1,007 confirmed Covid-19 hospitalizations in the past week, compared to 1,013 the week before.
“One thing we don’t know about a plateau is whether cases are going to up or down from here,” Briley said.
The current levels are roughly the same as hospitalizations at the peak of the surge last December.
As hospitals remain full, and most patients hospitalized for Covid remain unvaccinated, it’s taking a toll on healthcare workers.
Karthikeyan Muthuswamy is an emergency room physician with Virginia Mason in Lakewood. He said he is seeing younger, unvaccinated patients in critical condition and dying because of the virus.
Muthuswamy said taking care of any sick patient is hard.
"But when you see it in younger and younger patients it really, really hurts your soul in a way that's very difficult to describe,” he said.
“I've been doing this 10 years and I've had to take care of critical young patients more in the past year and a half than I've done in 10 years."
Muthuswamy said he's recently had to try to resuscitate patients in their 30s and 40s.
He's asking the public to help healthcare workers like him by getting vaccinated.
Hospital leaders also expressed excitement that shots for children aged five to 11 are likely to become available in the coming days.
— Kate Walters
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 1
Decline of Covid hospitalization numbers slows down
Hospitalizations for Covid in Washington state were decreasing about 15% each week since September. But last week, it only went down 1% (from 1,013 to 1,007 cases). That's concerning according to state hospital officials.
The Seattle Times reports that Covid hospitalizations have leveled off after being on the decline in recent weeks. But the numbers are settling at a level that is still too high. The levels remain much higher than last winter's Covid wave.
— Dyer Oxley
Common questions about vaccines and kids
The CDC is expected to approve Pfizer Covid vaccines for Children ages 5-11. The FDA has already signed off on it.
Dr. Mark Del Beccaro with Public Health - Seattle & King County recently answered a range of questions parents might have about the vaccine and their children.
He notes that severe Covid illness in children is rare, but there are instances of serious disease and hospitalization. Beyond that, children can spread the virus when infected, even if they don't show symptoms. Therefore, Dr. Del Beccaro says that it is important to be vaccinated to knock down the spread and severity of the virus.
He also says:
"I’d look at the safety track record of the millions of Covid-19 mRNA vaccine doses given to date. As a pediatrician, I know that children aren’t just small adults. That’s why the clinical trial for children 5-11 was so important, and why it took time for a vaccine for kids to be approved.
The clinical trial looked at the safety of the vaccine in kids. The trial included about 2,250 children, with two-thirds getting the vaccine and the other third getting a placebo, which means they did not get the vaccine. While the clinical trial is still ongoing, and more data will be collected overtime with greater numbers, there were no cases of severe allergic reaction or myocarditis – a rare inflammation of the heart – in the three-month follow-up period after vaccination. Common temporary side effects included redness and pain in the arm where the child received the vaccine, headache, and fatigue. Studies in older children and adults have shown that the risks for myocarditis are higher in people with Covid-19 than from the vaccine."
Read Dr. Del Beccaro's full answers here.
— Dyer Oxley
DOH updates mask recommendations
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 29
Nearly 9/10 Washington K-12 school workers vaccinated against Covid-19
Washington State Superintendent Chris Reykdal thanked educators for getting their shots by the recent deadline for public employees. He reports that about nine out of 10 school workers got their Covid vaccinations.
“What we are seeing is stunning, because in every single county in the state of Washington, our educators exceeded the overall vaccine population in that county, sometimes by twice as much.”
A total of 10% of school workers were also approved for exemptions, which Reykdahl said were mostly religious.
There are roughly 500 school workers statewide who didn't get their shots.
“We hate to see those folks go," Reykdahl said. "These are folks who were clearly committed education. That's how they got into this. But they made a tough choice for themselves. And I want to respect that.”
Reykdal says he hopes some people will reconsider, get vaccinated, and return to school.
— Ann Dornfeld
Fat stacks of rent relief ... but will landlords take it?
Rent relief is flowing more smoothly in King County, helping renters pay their landlords money owed on lapsed rent. But as some agencies report, there are a few landlords who don't want to accept the payments, further putting the renters in a tough spot.
“We had one landlord, she was refusing, to the point that she emailed me, capitalized, bolded, blue, making it clear – 'I am not signing the agreement.' At that moment, I was furious. I was like, 'we are trying to help you. We are trying to help our client,'” said Diana Atanacio, a manager at Open Doors which is handing out rent relief.
Eventually, that landlord gave in.
“But it took us more than a month of struggles. Of her going back and forth, back and forth,” Atanacio said.
One rental housing organization tells KUOW that there are a few reasons landlords are reluctant to accept the rent relief. For example, if they agree to accept the money, they also must agree not to raise the rent for six months.
“Housing providers have gone almost two years without rent increases on property," said Jim Henderson, a lobbyist with Washington’s Rental Housing Association. "And expenses have dramatically increased, and the cost of operating the property has dramatically increased. And in order to be successful in this business, in order to provide quality housing, you need to be able to cover the cost of that housing.”