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What will virus season look like in Washington state this year?
Washington state is once again heading into respiratory virus season.
Last year, the triple threat of Covid-19, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) put a strain on an already fragile health-care system.
This year however, health officials say the state is in a different place.
“We’ve got a lot of new tools this season,” said state epidemiologist, Dr. Scott Lindquist, during a media briefing Friday.
Those tools include new treatments, surveillance methods, and vaccines.
“For the first time we have a vaccine against all three of these diseases,” said state secretary of health, Dr. Umair Shah, “which is just amazing.”
An updated Covid-19 vaccine was recently approved and recommended by federal regulators for everyone aged 6 months and older.
The seasonal flu vaccine remains recommended for those 6 months and older as well.
And new vaccines against RSV are now licensed and recommended for adults aged 60 and older, as well as for infants.
“Concerns remain that an increase in cases from all, or one, of these respiratory viruses will lead to challenges in our communities and our health-care system,” Shah said. "We want people to take the precautions now because that's going to help our health-care system.”
Health officials are urging everyone eligible for these vaccines to get them, but they have particularly stressed the importance of immunization for those most at risk of severe illness from these viruses, including older adults, people with underlying health conditions, and young children.
Covid-19 hospitalizations have ticked up again in Washington in recent months, although they remain well below the peaks seen in past years.
Flu and RSV season have not yet truly started in the state.Continue reading »
Shattered windows and nerves, Seattle's Wing Luke Museum targeted in alleged hate crime
Seattle's Wing Luke Museum was targeted in an alleged hate crime Thursday night, leaving its windows shattered and patrons alarmed.
"How incredibly sad that it hits at, literally, the heart of the Chinatown, International District, or historic Canton Alley," said Joël Barraquiel Tan, executive director of the Wing Luke Museum.
"The hate-motivated vandalism that happened is just part of a long line, and a pattern, that tells us this is the work that is happening right now we must do."
According to a police report on the incident, a 76-year-old white man smashed the windows of the museum with a sledgehammer shortly before 6 p.m. on Thursday. Police found him outside the building, where he told them, "the Chinese ruined my life."
The suspect appeared in court Friday, but has not yet been charged. He is now held in King County Jail on $30,000 bail.
"We know a targeted incident like this will have lasting psychological scars on AAPI communities that since the pandemic have experienced an increase in hate crimes," Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said in a statement. "We will continue to work with neighborhood partners in the CID to rebuild trust and restore peace of mind."Continue reading »
King County's hotel shelters help address one crisis while potentially hiding another
Seattle and King County have been experimenting with using hotel rooms to house people rather than directing them to crowded homeless shelters. The county currently operates six hotel shelters that house more than 800 people.
This model was especially useful during the Covid-19 pandemic, giving more people options to get off the streets while limiting the potential for spreading the virus.
But some service providers fear the hotel rooms could be hiding another crisis: drug overdoses.
Greg Kim covers homelessness for The Seattle Times. He spoke with KUOW's Kevin Kniestedt about how service providers are trying to stop overdoses behind closed doors.
To date, there have been nine overdose deaths among people housed by the hotel shelter program. Kim interviewed a woman named Kimberly Liptau, who came dangerously close to meeting that same fate.
“A few months after staying there, he was taking a hit of crack cocaine, and she didn't know that it was laced with fentanyl,” Kim explained. “But she immediately overdosed. She said she was alone in a room, and that she would have died, [but] her boyfriend, who was staying in another unit in the hotel, just happened to stop by and he contacted paramedics and medical staff in the hotel.”
It’s not hard to understand why a private room would be more appealing than a packed shelter.
“You can imagine, in a large room with a lot of people crowded together, that creates an atmosphere of tension,” Kim said. “There are a lot of fights that breakout, there are people who might have a mental health illness or substance use disorder all crowded together. That's not an environment that a lot of people want to be in.”
But the presence of others can be the difference between life and death amid an overdose. For Liptau’s part, she was given a roommate, along with anti-opioid medication.
Providers are trying out other strategies, too.Continue reading »
Tina Turner, the musical, rolls into Seattle!
"TINA – The Tina Turner Musical," is showing at the Paramount, and opening night was electric.
I went with my mom, who is a huge Tina Turner fan, and while she was sad about being reminded of Turner’s passing on our way to the theater, once she saw the marquee and the crowd of fellow attendees, many clad in shimmering garb, she began to light up.
Here’s what to expect: The music is amazing. They squeezed as many songs into this production as they possibly could. And while Turner’s catalog is obviously presented in non-chronological order, the production was successful in weaving songs into Turner’s life story so that her personal quest of humble beginnings, into the tumultuous relationship with Ike Turner, her downfall after leaving Ike, and her rebirth into superstardom are all presented in conjunction with her music in a way that allowed the songs to propel the story.
At intermission, I jokingly asked my mom what she thought of the music, and she was delighted to inform me she sang every song, which I knew, as everyone near us could hear her throughout the act!
Many fans, both casual youngsters like myself, and the dedicated folks like my mom who actually remember Turner’s career, will be familiar with the domestic violence that occurred in Turner’s marriage to Ike. Less known is her early childhood experience.
The production opens with scenes from Turner's childhood in Tennessee and shows the seeds of her troubled relationship with her mother. We see Turner’s father beat her mother on stage, and violence is portrayed at moments throughout the production.
This is an important aspect of Turner's story, and helps solidify the redemption at the end of the play, when we see Turner emerge as the Queen of Rock and Roll and take the stage in Brazil where 188,000 screaming fans are there just for her. But, it is worth noting that if you attend with young children, they will witness depictions of domestic violence.
Who this is for: Anyone who loves musical theater! The pacing is a bit fast, especially in Act 1, where they cram in so much of Turner’s life and upbringing, while still making room for 15 songs.
It was too much for me, especially with Turner’s life in the Deep South, the explosive relationship between her parents, Turner’s mother abandoning her, then Turner’s grandmother sending her to St. Louis to be with her mother — even listing all those points here feels like a lot, and I didn’t give you everything that’s in the production.
Those heavy moments needed more room to breathe and the audience needed more space to sit with the emotions. To feel. Instead, we were whisked from plot point to plot point, with the songs functioning as bridges to connect them.
Despite the issues in pacing, this production worked. And that is in large part due to the performance of Ari Groover as Tina. Her voice was amazing, and if you ever saw Turner on stage, you know how intense the dancing would be!
Groover held her own, embodying the role, and on opening night, performed two additional songs after the conclusion of the play! The music alone makes this production worth seeing, and an added bonus is a chance to see a young star in the making. Symphony King, who played young Tina, starts this play off with bang!
There is a scene in Turner’s Tennessee church, where King’s voice had to have been heard from the parking lot. This kid has pipes! And she makes appearances throughout where she dazzles the crowd.
My Recommendation: If you are looking for something to see this weekend, definitely treat yourself to "The Tina Turner Musical." You will laugh, dance, cringe (yes, you may be a little shaken at times), and cheer. This is part rags-to-riches, part redemption, and full of wonderful recognizable tunes.
"TINA — The Tina Turner Musical," showing at the Paramount Theater until September 17.Continue reading »
Trial starts Monday for Tacoma officers charged in the killing of Manny Ellis
A trial begins Monday for three Tacoma police officers who were charged in the killing of Manny Ellis more than three years ago.
Ellis, a 33-year-old Black man, was walking home from a convenience store on March 3, 2020 when he came across officers Matthew Collins and Christopher Burbank. A struggle ensued, and Ellis died at the scene after he was tasered, hogtied, and his head was covered with a spit hood. A medical examiner ruled that Ellis died of hypoxia due to restraint.
The defense representing Collins and Burbank as well as officer Timothy Rankine, who responded to the scene and helped restrain Ellis, will argue that the officers were just doing their jobs.
“The officers say that Ellis was in the intersection, grabbing a door handle of a car passing through — potentially trying to carjack them. And they say during a conversation with the officers that Ellis became combative and eventually attacked them,” explained KNKX reporter Jared Brown, who has been following the case for the podcast "The Walk Home," which is produced in collaboration with The Seattle Times.
But the state says the officers started the altercation with Ellis and lied about the circumstances that led to his death.
“Eyewitnesses describe a more casual encounter where Ellis is walking away and is door-checked by one of the officers,” Brown said.
A video taken by an eyewitness has further cast doubt over the officers’ narrative.
“The witness video really doesn't show Ellis throwing any punches or fighting back,” Brown added. “More so struggling against the officers who are restraining him and tasering him.”
All three officers face manslaughter charges. Collins and Burbank are also charged with second-degree murder.
Brown said the trial is expected to be a lengthy one, with estimates putting court proceedings at roughly three months.
Update notice, 8:56 a.m. on 9/18/23: This story has been updated to include more from KUOW's interview with Jared Brown.Continue reading »
Photos: Beyoncé fans dress to impress in Seattle
"It's all about girl power," said Gigi Evans, 30, of Friday Harbor. "She reminds me to embody your divine femininity."
Tens of thousands of Beyoncé fans descended on Lumen Field Thursday night, dressed to impress for the Seattle stop of the Renaissance World Tour. In honor of Virgo season, Beyoncé asked fans to wear their "most fabulous silver fashions."
"It means sisterhood," said Kahlia Brookins of the Bay Area. "It means a sense of womanhood, freedom, and empowerment."
As the sun set, fans sparkled and shimmered in disco ball earrings and silver tassels while making their way to the venue.
Democratic Oregon State Rep. Andrea Valderrama attended the concert with her 8-year-old daughter, Rosalía.
"Getting ready together was really special for us both," said Valderrama. "To be able to see someone who makes us both feel so beautiful and powerful — it's just a really core moment for us."
Continue reading »
Serious changes to Seattle elections could be on your ballot next year
Seattle Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda is floating a proposed charter amendment to change when the city's elections occur.
It would "stagger" city council elections to reduce the number held in a single year, and also seeks to move all Seattle races from odd years to even years to try and juice voter turnout.
More people vote in even election years according to a central staff report delivered Tuesday to the council's Finance and Housing Committee. In 2022, for example, more than 70% of Seattle's registered voters cast ballots. In 2021, around 55% voted.
One academic study found moving to even years can also lead to a more representative electorate “in terms of race, age, and partisanship.”
Some critics say the change to even years could overburden voters who already have enough work trying to decide between dozens of candidates for local races. Harried voters might end up leaning more heavily on political ads or newspaper endorsements than they already do.
To be clear, the change to even-year voting would not go into effect immediately, if that becomes possible under state law. The charter amendment would just allow a future council to make that change by ordinance.
The other part of Mosqueda’ s charter amendment proposal would not need state approval — moving to a system of “staggered” elections.
Mosqueda said there is a problem, currently, with too many council member seats up for re-election some years, which could lead to a loss of “institutional knowledge.” This year, for example, seven of the nine city council positions are on the November ballot and four of those are “open seat” races because the incumbents decided not to run.
Plus, Mosqueda herself is it not up for re-election, but is running for King County Council. If she wins, that could lead to even more change.
Under Mosqueda's proposal, five council members would be elected in one cycle and four in the next.
“Having greater stability and less turnover is a good thing for democracy,” she said.Continue reading »
Kelso gun store sued for violating ban on high-capacity magazines
The Washington State Attorney General is suing a Kelso gun shop for allegedly selling high-capacity magazines, despite a state ban.
Washington state's ban on high-capacity magazines went into effect in 2022. It prohibits the sale of magazines that carry more than 10 rounds.
The lawsuit alleges Gators Custom Guns is among the state's largest sellers of high-capacity magazines from out-of-state distributors. The Attorney General's Office is asking the shop to destroy or return any unsold high-capacity magazines and to stop selling them.
“Our sweep continues to show that an overwhelming majority of gun retailers in Washington are doing the right thing and complying with the law,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. “In contrast, Gator’s Custom Guns intentionally built a retail stockpile that exceeds anything my office has seen since the ban went into effect. My office will continue to enforce this common-sense law.”
Store owner Walter Wentz could faces a fine of at least $7,500 for every time the shop sold or offered to sell one of the magazines. The lawsuit alleges that the store illegally offered the magazines 11,408 times and sold five to investigators. It also states that investigators found barrels filled with hundreds of high-capacity magazines in the shop, many which carried up to five times the amount allowed by state law.
After the state's ban on high-capacity magazines went into effect, the Attorney General's Office sent undercover investigators to monitor compliance with the new law. More than 100 gun stores have since been visited by investigators.
In December 2022, the office sued two Western Washington gun shops for violating the ban — one in Federal Way and another in Lakewood. In some instances, investigators reported that store staff would sell the high-capacity magazines, but hide the sale by ringing up the items as something else. The Lakewood shop ended up paying a $15,000 fine for the violation.
The Attorney General's Office alleges the illegal sales at Gator's Custom Guns happened after the lawsuits against the other stores were reported in the media.Continue reading »
Portland expected to get its first stripper union
The National Labor Relations Board is expected to certify a unionization vote from 16 Portland strippers this week. It’s the first such group of Portland dancers to vote to unionize.
“That was the worst I'd seen at a club and I really couldn't justify continuing to support that," said a performer by the name of Creature, who works at the Magic Tavern in Northwest Portland.
Creature said that she joined the union effort after two dancers were fired in March for speaking up. Strippers at the Magic Tavern have been on strike since April protesting a lack of security and other unsafe working conditions.
Last week, they became just the second active group of strippers in the country, and the only in Portland, to unionize. The NLRB could certify the vote later this week.
Tavern management declined to talk with OPB, but said in an August Instagram post that unhappy dancers can choose to work at other clubs.Continue reading »
Only half of WA students are reading at grade level, new test scores show
Just 50% of students across Washington state are reading at grade level, according to the state’s latest standardized test results.
Literacy rates declined during the pandemic and have yet to rebound.
Statewide English-language arts scores have remained stagnant the last two years, and about 10 percentage points below pre-pandemic levels.
Throughout Denisha Saucedo’s more than 20 years as an educator, she’s never seen her students be so far behind when they get to her fifth grade classroom at Kent Elementary.
“The gap is just widening,” Saucedo said. “There are a lot of students coming in reading at a kindergarten or first grade level. And my biggest concern last year was that there were kids showing absolutely no growth within three years.”
State math and science scores also remain lower than they’d been before Covid, with just under 40% and 43% of students meeting standards in math and science, respectively. Students are doing slightly better in math from last year’s 38%.
But some educators are more concerned about literacy rates.
Research shows literacy is key to a students’ future academic success. If a student is unable to read well by third grade, studies show they’re more likely to drop out of high school.
Saucedo believes one reason for her students’ academic decline is Covid, which struck when they were supposed to be learning foundational skills in earlier grades.
But Saucedo has a few other theories, including increasing class sizes and the growing number of teachers who leave the profession because they feel overworked, or they’re dealing with mental health challenges.
She also thinks skyrocketing absenteeism is to blame.
“Attendance is terrible,” Saucedo said. “Pre-Covid, kids missed a couple days out of the whole year. If a kid missed double digits, we were surprised.”Continue reading »
Seattle City Council returns to drug law debate with new proposal
Proposals to update Seattle's drug laws have bounced around city hall all summer. The latest attempt is now ready for full council consideration.
Washington state’s new drug possession law took effect this summer, but Seattle officials have been conflicted over how to enforce it, and whether to give City Attorney Ann Davison’s office the ability to prosecute these cases. The City Council voted down one attempt to codify the law last June.
Mayor Bruce Harrell then convened a work group to develop a new version of the ordinance which is now before the City Council. The council’s Public Safety Committee approved that new version in a 4-1 vote Tuesday.
It’s expected to go to the full council on September 26, although it could come up as early as September 19.
The proposed ordinance contains the state's new criminal penalty, which makes drug possession and public use a gross misdemeanor. But the proposal also emphasizes the goal for police to divert people away from arrest and toward services and treatment. Committee Chair Lisa Herbold praised Harrell’s “nuanced” approach to implementing state law, and said the proposal crafted by the work group struck the right balance.
“The law before us today states that diversion is the preferred approach, and this takes place before any arrest in many cases,” Herbold said.
But just how binding this emphasis is for law enforcement is unclear. The proposed ordinance instructed police to initiate an arrest only if they could document that the person using drugs posed a risk of harm to others.
However, Councilmember Sara Nelson introduced two successful amendments that appeared to give police more leeway on when to make an arrest for drug possession. One amendment said officers “may” (rather than “will”) determine “whether the individual, through their actions and conduct, presents a threat of harm to others.”
Nelson said she was concerned that the “conditions and complexity” of a required threat assessment by police officers could create legal risks that would open the city to allegations of biased policing or allow defendants to seek dismissal of their cases.
Councilmember Andrew Lewis supported Nelson’s amendments, saying they simply reflected that the mayor and the chief of police have authority to decide how police will enforce the drug possession law.Continue reading »
Microsoft president asks Congress for AI regulation
When social media apps like Facebook and Twitter debuted, they were greeted with optimism and a collective shrug from regulators. At the time, few predicted the effect social media would have on teenage mental health, disinformation, and democracy.
Lawmakers are hoping to avoid repeating history at the dawn of the artificial intelligence revolution.
On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee asked Microsoft President Brad Smith and other experts to testify on what AI regulations should look like. It was the latest in a series of Congressional hearings attempting to create a framework for governing AI technologies.
Microsoft supports federal legislation that would put up guardrails around AI. The company has proposed creating a national licensing program for AI-products in sensitive areas like critical infrastructure.
“Think about it like Boeing,” Smith said during his testimony, referencing another Washington-grown company. “Boeing builds a new plane. Before it can sell it to United Airlines … the FAA is going to certify that it's safe. Now imagine we're at GPT-12. Before that gets released for use, you can imagine a licensing regime that would say that it needs to be licensed after it's been certified as safe.”
Despite calling for regulation, Senator Josh Hawley took Smith to task during the hearing for the AI-products Microsoft has already launched. He pointed to a widely shared New York Times article, in which columnist Kevin Roose got Microsoft’s AI-powered chatbot to claim it wanted to become human and break up his marriage.
“Are you telling me that I should trust you in the same way that the New York Times writer did,” Hawley asked.
Smith said Microsoft addressed the problem quickly and has built additional safety measures into its new Bing search engine.
“As we go forward, we have an increasing capability to learn from the experience of real people,” Smith said.
Hawley took issue with Microsoft testing its technology on Americans, particularly minors.Continue reading »