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Pandemic blog: Updates for Seattle and the NW

Updated news about the coronavirus pandemic in Seattle and Washington state.

According to data from the Washington State Department of Health, as of Oct. 20, 2021:

  • 69.9% of eligible Washingtonians (ages 12 and up) are fully vaccinated. Since children are not yet eligible for a Covid shot, this means Washington state is 59.6% fully vaccinated.
  • 8,451 Covid-19 related deaths; 1.2% death rate since the beginning of the pandemic; 627,781 confirmed cases.
  • Compared to white people and Asian people, the rate of Covid cases, hospitalizations, and deaths has been higher for Black, Hispanic, and Native Washingtonians, compared to their share of the state's population.
  • According to the latest data from the department of health, 81.9% of people hospitalized with Covid were not fully vaccinated.

MONDAY, OCTOBER 25

First of three new Covid vaccination hubs now up and running

A new Seattle Covid vaccination hub — the first of three — opened Saturday at Amazon’s Meeting Center on 7th Avenue in downtown Seattle. Two other sites will open soon in South Seattle and West Seattle.

The downtown hub will be open most Saturdays and Sundays, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m, for the next eight weekends. This facility can accommodate as many as 4,000 people each weekend.

Covid vaccine first, second, and booster doses are offered at this location and no appointment is needed.

For more information on the vaccination hubs by the City of Seattle, check out: www.seattle.gov/vaccine.

— KUOW staff

Vaccine requirement begins for entry to many King County businesses

Beginning today, people will have to show proof of Covid vaccination or a recent negative test result in order to gain entry into bars, restaurants, and sporting events in King County.

The new rule applies to people 12 and older.

Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, epidemiologist at the University of California San Francisco, said this added layer of protection is needed since certain settings make it difficult to mask and maintain safe distances.

“And the best way to do that is to make sure that the people entering those spaces have the lowest chances of actually being infected themselves, either because they're vaccinated or because they have a negative test,” Bibbins-Domingo said.

In King County, about 88 percent of people eligible for the vaccine have received at least one dose. But those numbers lag among youth and young adults.

— KUOW staff

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 22

King County's vaccine verification requirements start Monday

If you plan to go out to a restaurant in King County next week, you’ll need to prove that you’re fully vaccinated against Covid-19, or have recently tested negative for the virus, to get in.

And it’s not just restaurants. Come Monday, October 25, anyone 12 or older will have to show their vaccine or test status to do a large number of activities in the county.

Businesses are expected to verify vaccination status in a number of settings, including:

  • Indoor restaurants and bars with seating capacity for more than 12 people
  • Indoor recreational settings such as gyms, movie theaters, bowling alleys, indoor soccer arenas, museums, night clubs, performance venues, and conventions
  • Outdoor events with 500 people or more, such as professional or collegiate sports games, and concerts

Vaccine verification rules won't kick in for restaurants and bars with seating capacity for 12 or fewer people until Dec. 6.

Patrons can provide proof of vaccination in several forms:

  • A vaccine card, or photo of the vaccine card
  • A medical record
  • Proof from another state or county
  • Printed certificate or digital record from MyIRMobile
  • Digital vaccine card apps, such as CLEAR

Those who are unvaccinated will need to show a negative Covid test taken within the past 72 hours. Rapid home tests will not be accepted.

You can learn more about King County's vaccination verification requirement and how business owners are preparing here.

— Kate Walters

Booster shots are happening in Washington, including mix/match

Now that the FDA and CDC have approved booster shots for different groups of people, the Washington State Department of Health is getting word out that booster doses are available in the state.

“Vaccination continues to be the safest and most effective tool we have to prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and death from Covid-19. Getting the unvaccinated their first shots remains a priority,” said state Secretary of Dr. Health Umair A. Shah. “A booster dose will further protect fully vaccinated individuals by increasing the vaccine’s effectiveness in their bodies, which otherwise may wane over time.”

  • Pfizer and Moderna boosters have already been approved for people 65 and older, as well as for ages 18 and older in care settings and/or with underlying medical conditions, increased risk of social inequities, or who work in high-risk situations.
  • People who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine: people 18 and older can receive a booster dose two months after they got their initial shot. They can another J&J or get a Pfizer or Moderna booster dose. Moderna's booster shot is half the initial dose.

Washington DOH says that people can mix and match their vaccine boosters. Those who received an mRNA vaccine can get a J&J, or get the other version of the mRNA vaccine. Those who received a J&J can get an mRNA booster.

DOH's vaccine locator can now be used to find a booster shot.

— Dyer Oxley

Harborview Medical Center will now require visitors to be vaccinated

According to UW Medicine: "Effective Tuesday, Oct. 19, Harborview Medical Center in Seattle will be in the first phase in a program to require all inpatient visitors over age12 and those over 18 accompanying hospital-based clinic adult patients to show proof of having a Covid-19 vaccination or proof of a negative Covid-19 test within 3 days of visiting the hospital."

Also, visitors over age 2 are required to wear a medical-grade mask or surgical mas to enter any medical facility with the UW Medicine system.

“We know how important this is for our patients, for their families, their loved ones, but also the health care workers. They’ve wanted to see families and friends there as well,” said Dr. John Lynch, medical director of infection prevention and control at Harborview Medical Center.

— Dyer Oxley

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 21

High hospital occupancy in Washington expected to continue through fall

Imagine you were stuck at the top of the Space Needle and needed to climb down a very long ladder to get to safety. If you made it a quarter of the way down, you'd probably be happy that you weren't as high up as you were before. But at the same time, you're still extremely high up there. That's basically what Washington's Covid hospitalizations are like right now — hospitalizations have gone down a little bit, but the numbers are still anxiously high.

The Covid-19 cases may be trickling downward in Washington, but the state Department of Health is expecting the high occupancy rates in hospitals to continue through the fall.

“We’re hopeful that the declines we’ve seen in the last few weeks will continue, but that will only be possible if vaccination rates continue to increase and we continue wearing masks,” said Scott Lindquist, state epidemiologist for communicable diseases. “Our individual choices over the next several weeks will determine whether hospitals are able to return to a sustainable level of operations by the end of December.”

According to DOH: "case counts, hospital admissions and hospital occupancy have declined, yet these levels remain high. Hospitals across the state are operating at full capacity, and projections suggest high levels of occupancy are likely to continue through the fall months."

The reproductive rate of the virus in Washington is around .83, which indicates transmission is declining. The rate has remained below 1 since late August. That adds up, currently, to 1 in 244 Washingtonians having an active infection, about half of the state's estimates in September.

— Dyer Oxley

Most of Oregon state employees have been vaccinated or have an exemption

The vast majority of Oregon state employees required to get vaccinated for Covid-19 have done so. But a big chunk of workers used another option: getting an exemption because of religious beliefs.

According to the state, nearly 34,000 executive branch employees have been vaccinated. That's more than 84% of a workforce that was required to get shots, or at least take steps toward getting shots, by this past Monday.

Oregon had also granted more than 4,600 religious exemptions as of Wednesday, accounting for about 11% of workers.

The numbers varied wildly depending on state agency. In the Oregon State Police, 18% of employees had been granted exemptions. None had been granted in the smaller state Board of Nursing.

The state has offered leeway for some employees to get fully vaccinated by Nov. 30. It’s unclear if any employees have been fired because of the mandate, which requires them to get vaccinated, get an exemption, or lose their jobs

— Dirk VanderHart, OPB

Proposal for pandemic memorial art display in King County

King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn is calling on the county to consider creating a public art memorial for the nearly 2,000 county residents who've died of Covid-19.

He introduced his proposed legislation Wednesday. If approved, Dunn hopes to have a report on the project completed by July.

No word yet on where the art display would be placed. Dunn says he wants to engage the community and those who've lost loved ones about what it should look like and where it should go

— Angela King

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledging millions for Covid-19 antiviral pill

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is putting up $120 million to help get a new, promising antiviral drug to low income countries.

The foundation hopes to create greater access to a generic version of an antiviral Covid-19 pill made by Merck which goes by the brand name "molnupiravir." The drug still has to be approved by regulators. Merck has requested emergency use authorization from the FDA.

Merck has already licensed it for generic versions in India with the aim of supplying the drug to that country as well as 100 other lower and middle income countries.

In trials, molnupiravir has shown promising results by cutting the risk of hospitalization and death in half for people infected with the coronavirus. It is also beneficial in that it is taken pill form, meaning it does not require extremely cold temperatures needed to store and transport the Covid-19 vaccines currently in use.

— Kim Malcolm

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 20

Former WSU football coach to take legal action over firing

Former Washington State University football coach Nick Rolovich plans to take legal action against the university after refusing a state mandate requiring employees to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Rolovich applied for a religious exemption, but he was out of a job on Monday, Oct. 18, after it was denied. Four of his assistant coaches were also fired the same day.

In a press release, lawyer Brian Fahling characterized the firing as "unjust" and "unlawful." Fahling said his client has been let go "merely for being devout in his Catholic faith."

Pope Francis has urged Catholics to get vaccinated against Covid-19, saying it's "morally acceptable" and "an act of love." The statement did not specify Rolovich's cause for requesting a religious exemption.

According to his lawyer, Rolovich was not allowed to enter his office or address the football team after he was fired.

Fahling declined an interview with KUOW.

Washington State University did not respond to a request for comment.

— Noel Gasca

1,887 Washington state employees out of a job

A total of 1,887 Washington state employees are out of a job now that the Governor's vaccine mandate is in effect. The deadline to be fully vaccinated was Monday, October 18.

The latest numbers, released Tuesday afternoon, show that 92% of state workers have complied with the requirement.

Of the 1,887 state employees who lost their jobs, most were fired. A handful resigned, and an even smaller number retired due to the vaccine mandate.

The Departments of Corrections, Transportation and Social and Health Services, along with the Washington State Patrol saw the largest number of workers exit.

Across all agencies, the departures represent about 3% of the overall workforce. Another 3% got accommodations so they can keep working without being vaccinated. Some are still waiting to see if they’ll get an accommodation, but only about a third of workers who got a religious or medical exemption are receiving accommodations.

The vast majority of state workers — more than 90% — did get vaccinated and have shown proof in order to comply with the governor’s mandate.

— Austin Jenkins

No mass exodus from SPD over vaccine mandate

In the weeks leading up to Monday's vaccine mandate deadline for Seattle employees, some warned of a potential mass exodus of officers from the Seattle Police Department. But that hasn't happened.

The vaccine deadline has come and gone, and Mayor Jenny Durkan's office says only a handful of SPD workers failed to turn in their proof-of-vaccination or request for an exemption.

Roughly 92% of police are already vaccinated, while about 7% have applied for exemptions.

Mayor Jenny Durkan says those who are facing termination will still have a chance to stay on the job.

"Every employee will get a second chance to get a vaccination," Durkan said. "Our goal was to get people vaccinated. We believe in our employees, we've invested in our employees, but each employee has to make the decision for themselves whether they want to continue in that employment and do so in a way that can keep people safe."

Durkan says city departments are processing exemption applications.

They'll have to decide whether employees who get an exemption can be kept in the workforce safely, without potentially exposing others to Covid.

— Kate Walters

Martin Luther King Medal given to King County officials for pandemic response

A moment of thanks came this week for two of the most influential people in King County's handling of the pandemic.

Former Public Health Director Patty Hayes, and County Health Officer Jeff Duchin received the Martin Luther King Medal of Distinguished Service.

County Councilmember Claudia Balducci, on presenting them, said their life-saving work followed the mission of Dr. King.

"Thanks to Director Hayes and Dr. Duchin our Covid response was based on science, on data and analysis, and on equity. They were committed to transparency, creating data dashboards that are among the best in the country. They also hired navigators from the communities who are hardest hit to reach many people who otherwise wouldn't have medical care."

Hayes and Duchin both said it’s incredibly meaningful for them.

King County confirmed the first Covid-19 death in the nation in 2020.

— Paige Browning

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 19

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan responds to vaccine mandate turnout

The deadline has come and gone for City of Seattle employees to get vaccinated, get an exemption, or risk losing their jobs.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan says less than one percent of workers failed to turn in their paperwork.

On Tuesday, Durkan said the vast majority of city employees are vaccinated, with about five percent going through the exemption process. About seven percent of police have applied for an exemption.

"I think that we can be really proud of how people stepped up. In the coming days and weeks we'll be walking through each one of those exemptions to address them," Durkan said. "But what it says is, again, when we asked the workers of the city of Seattle to step up and protect and serve this community they did so."

Workers who are out of compliance with the Mayor's mandate won't be fired immediately. Durkan said all employees who face termination will get another chance to get vaccinated.

"We believe in our employees, we've invested in our employees, but each employee has to make the decision for themselves whether they want to continue in that employment and do so in a way that can keep people safe."

City departments are processing exemption applications. They'll have to decide whether employees who get an exemption can be kept in the workforce safely, without potentially exposing others to Covid.

— Kate Walters

Six SPD officers did not comply with vaccine mandate; 103 still seeking exemptions

The Seattle Police Department is reporting that six employees did not turn in proof-of-vaccination, or applied for an exemption from the city's vaccine mandate. The deadline to be fully vaccinated was Monday, Oct. 18.

Those six employees will no longer work for the department and SPD has begun the separation process. That process involves conducting a hearing, commonly referred to as a "Loudermill hearing."

SPD is currently going through 103 exemption requests from both officers and civilian employees. Exemptions can be made for medical or religious reasons. While awaiting for the results, those employees will use their own time-off balances.

SPD further notes that there may be impacts to service across the city, adding that the department is already managing staffing losses over the past couple of years. Community Response Group members will be added to patrol staffing, along with detectives and other non-patrol sworn employees.

— Dyer Oxley

99% of Seattle employees have shown proof of vaccination or received exemption

Seattle city officials say 99% of the city's employees are in compliance with its vaccine mandate or have received an exemption.

The city will still lose some employees, such as an estimated 60-80 fire department workers — about 7% of SFD.

"Well it hurts, you know, we have a lot of amazing people all over the organization, whether they respond to emergencies or do building inspections, or work in our administrative offices, we have a lot of talented people in the Seattle Fire Department," said Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins. "We don't want to lose anyone, so we hope everyone would make the choice to get vaccinated."

In the near term, the fire department plans to cancel all non-essential training and could take longer to inspect buildings. High ranking staff will be filling in on emergency calls if not enough officers are available.

Out of 11,000 Seattle employees, 134 people had not submitted any paperwork by the mandate's deadline on October 18.

According to the city's latest data:

Citywide

  • 99% of 11,000 employees have complied
  • 94% vaccinated
  • 5% exemptions
  • 1% not submitted paperwork; approximately 150 individuals

Seattle Fire Department

  • 93% vaccinated
  • 6% exemptions
  • 1% not submitted paperwork; 16 individuals
  • Seattle Police Department
  • 91% vaccinated
  • 7% exemptions
  • 2% not submitted paperwork; 24 individuals

— Paige Browning, Kate Walters, and Dyer Oxley

Washington State Patrol loses 127 employees to vaccine mandate

In a message to state troopers Tuesday, Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste said: "Covid is a killer and the state is taking action intended to improve public safety. I thank you for staying on post and staying in service to this state and agency. Better days are ahead. Believe that and know I believe in you.”

The Washington State Patrol reports that it will lose 127 employees who did not comply with the state's Covid vaccine mandate by the deadline on Monday, Oct. 18.

This includes 67 troopers, six sergeants, and one captain. Also, 53 civil servants.

“We will miss every one of them,” Chief Batiste said. “I extend a hardy thanks to those who are leaving the agency. I truly wish that you were staying with us. You have my utmost appreciation for the hard and successful work that you have provided during your valued WSP careers. You will forever have our respect for your courage and your commitment in all you have done on behalf of the agency.”

“As for the more than 2,000 individuals who elected to stay with our agency, I am forever thankful. We have the responsibilities of the agency to carry forward and I am not going to ask you to do more with less. We shall do our very best to keep our remaining staff from becoming overburdened by these temporary losses."

— Dyer Oxley

WSU fires Coach Rolovich for failing to comply with vaccine mandate

Washington's highest paid employee has lost his job for failing to comply with the state's Covid vaccine mandate. Washington State University Football Coach Nick Rolovich, along with four assistant coaches, are out of a job.

"This is a disheartening day for our football program," said WSU Director of Athletics Pat Chun. "Our priority has been and will continue to be the health and well-being of the young men on our team. The leadership on our football team is filled with young men of character, selflessness and resiliency and we are confident these same attributes will help guide this program as we move forward."

The coach had been vocal about his opposition to getting the vaccine, but cryptic about his response to the state's vaccine mandate. He had previously skipped media and PAC-12 events that required participants to be vaccinated. In August he simply said he would comply, but didn't provide details on if that meant he would get a shot or apply for an exemption. Rolovich reportedly applied for a religious exemption from getting the Covid vaccine, but was denied.

According to a statement from WSU:

Due to the requirements set forth in Washington Governor Jay Inslee's Proclamation 21-14.1, Nick Rolovich is no longer able to fulfill the duties as the football head coach at Washington State University. In addition, four football assistant coaches, Ricky Logo, John Richardson, Craig Stutzmann and Mark Weber, are also not in compliance with the Proclamation. As a result, Washington State University has initiated the separation process based on the terms of their respective contracts, effective immediately.

With the five coaches gone, WSU defensive coordinator Jake Dickert will lead the football team moving forward.

WSU President Kirk Schulz noted Monday — the deadline for state employees to be fully vaccinated — that 90% of university employees and 97% of students are vaccinated.

"WSU students, faculty, and staff understand the importance of getting vaccinated and wearing masks so that we can safely return to in-person learning and activities," Schulz said. "I am proud of all those members of our community who have set the example and taken the steps to protect not just themselves, but their fellow Cougs."

Rolovich was Washington state's highest paid employee, earning roughly $3 million annually. ESPN reports that WSU will not pay out the remainder of his contract since Rolovich was let go with cause.

More details here.

— Dyer Oxley

99% of Seattle school staff are vaccinated

Seattle Public Schools says 99% of its workers have complied with the state's Covid vaccine mandate.

This includes more than 99% of all teachers, 100% of all principals, and 99% of management staff.

A few staff members are taking leave so they can complete the vaccination process.

And of the nearly 7,300 regular employees, 205 have received a medical or religious exemption.

— Angela King

Drop in Covid hospitalizations across Washington state

Washington state has recently experienced a slight drop in the number of Covid hospitalizations.

Health officials says the number of patients last week dropped from 1,101 patients to 1,025. But they also warn about 10-15 people are still dying from Covid each day in Washington state.

— Angela King

MONDAY, OCTOBER 18

UW Medicine study tracing Covid's spread searching for new participants

University of Washington Medicine is looking for participants for a study on the way Covid-19 spreads.

The WAshington coronaVirus Exposure Survey - WAVES, says it will help scientists from UW Medicine and the department of health to learn more about Covid-19's affect on different communities across Washington state.

Participants will be asked to complete a survey, nasal swab test and a blood test. In order to qualify, participants must be under the age of 85 and live in one of 15 counties included in the study.

Researchers say studying Covid's spread will help inform future plans for testing and booster shots.

You can learn more about the study here.

— Paige Browning

One week until King County vaccine requirement kicks in for bars and restaurants

Another date to keep in mind — October 25. That's when bars, restaurants, gyms, and other business owners in King County will need to verify that customers 12 and older have been vaccinated against Covid.

They can also show proof of a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours of their visit.

Places like Jefferson and Clallam counties already have a similar rule in place. The order in King County does not apply to outdoor or take-out dining. It also doesn't apply to grocery stores. It does cover outdoor events with 500 or more people.

Small restaurants that can serve fewer than 12 people won't have to confirm their patron's vaccination status until December 6.

— Angela King

Vaccine lotteries did not produce significant increase in vaccination rates, study finds

The best answer to whether Washington's vaccine lottery helped increase vaccinations throughout the state has previously been: "maybe."

According to a recently published study on JAMA Health Forum, vaccine lotteries promoted by 19 states did not produce any statistically significant uptick in vaccination rates.

The study states: "There were 37.2 million first doses of Covid-19 vaccine administered in the United States between April 28 and July 1, 2021, including 19.2 million in states that announced cash drawings ... Estimates of the association between an announcement and vaccination rates were very small in magnitude and statistically indistinguishable from zero..."

It further notes: "No statistically significant association was detected between a cash-drawing announcement and the number of vaccinations before or after the announcement date, a period that included announcements of lottery winners for most lottery states..."

The study's authors offered a few factors that may explain why the lotteries did not produce a significant rise in vaccinations.

"Lottery-style drawings may be less effective than incentives that pay with certainty. Another possibility is that drawings were not an informative vaccine promotional strategy and that more complete messaging on vaccination would have been far more effective. Also, individuals who are hesitant to receive Covid-19 vaccinations may be influenced by vaccine misinformation."

Washington state's "Shot of a Lifetime" vaccine lottery was announced in June and winners were chosen throughout July. Cash prizes totaled $2 million. Various other prizes were offered, such as airline tickets, video game systems, tickets to sports games, and more. A separate vaccine lottery was held for resident military members.

Washington officials have said that the state's lottery did result in an increase in vaccinations. Governor Jay Inslee said in July that the state's vaccine lottery prompted a 24% increase in Covid shots. Some questioned that assessment.

In July 2021, The Seattle Times reported that there were many lottery winners who did not claim their prizes. The $1 million grand prize winner said he didn't even know about the lottery when he won.

— Dyer Oxley

Rent relief improves in King County, but funding is short

Rent relief is starting to flow more freely in King County.

Officials close to the process say that cumbersome paperwork was previously slowing down the flow of funds. Now, the paperwork is optional. Landlords and tenants can just tell one of the county’s agents what their financial situation is and the claims can be audited later.

Now, there's not enough relief money for everyone. The county has about $123 million left to spend. That’s enough to help about 10,000 households, which is less than half the amount of those who have applied for assistance. The county will give priority to those who are facing the most financial hardship.

Read the full story here.

— Joshua McNichols

Seattle Public Schools cuts more than 100 bus routes in response to driver shortage

Seattle Public Schools has suspended approximately 142 of its bus routes, citing an ongoing driver shortage exacerbated by noncompliance with Governor Inslee's vaccine mandate for state employees. The district uses the third-party contractor First Student, which is also subject to Inslee's vaccine mandate, for bus service.

"Inconsistent bus service is disruptive at many levels and we’re doing our best to make sure that students can get to and from school safely and as close to on time as possible," district officials said in a written statement.

In the meantime, Seattle Public Schools said it is continuing bus service for students receiving special education and disability services who require district-provided transportation, as well as McKinney Vento and foster students, schools that predominantly serve historically underserved students, and schools at interim sites.

—Liz Brazile

SPD and SFD put plans in place for vaccine mandate deadline

The Seattle police and fire departments have put contingency plans in place ahead of today's Covid vaccination deadline. They aim to manage any potential fallout from losing officers and firefighters due to the mandate.

Approximately 88% of Seattle Fire Department employees have been vaccinated thus far. The mayor's office says 84% of Seattle police officers have submitted their vaccine information.

The SPD has activated its stage 3 mobilization plan, which means detectives and other non-patrol staff could respond to 911 calls. The Seattle Fire department has activated its Resource Management Center to monitor response data in real time.

The Seattle Police officers Guild had been trying to reach an agreement with the city ahead of today's deadline for officers who don't want to get vaccinated. Guild President Mike Solan tells KING 5 that now is not the time to fire officers who don't want the shots.

"Our community is demanding more police officers answer the 911 calls," Solan told KING 5. "And the fact that we've already lost close to 350 police officers because of the politicians' political betrayal."

Mayor Jenny Durkan's office has not backed down from the mandate and tells KING 5 that Covid-19 is currently the leading cause of death among first responders.

— Angela King

Unvaccinated Washington state employees face their last day on the job

Monday is the deadline for Washington state employees, healthcare and long-term care workers and those working in the education field to be fully vaccinated. Those who aren’t could be out of a job by day’s end. Some of the state employees who face termination got exemptions, but not a workplace accommodation so they could stay on the payroll.

For more than 30 years, Charles LeBlanc has served the state of Washington. First as a state trooper, rising to the rank of captain. And, since 2017, as Washington’s fire marshal overseeing such things as the state’s fire training academy and enforcing fireworks regulations. But now LeBlanc is about to turn in his badge.

“The 18th [of October] will be my last day at work for the state. The 19th I will walk away without further employment, with no medical or dental coverage for my family,” LeBlanc said.

LeBlanc is among potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of Washington state employees poised to lose their jobs Monday because they didn’t comply with Gov. Jay Inslee’s requirement to get the Covid-19 vaccine. The state doesn’t expect to know the true “separation” number for several days.

Read more here.

—Austin Jenkins

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 15

More people in Washington state are filing for unemployment

The latest numbers from Washington's Employment Security Department show unemployment claims are up in the state. Claims increased by nearly 8% — 5,193 claims, up from 4,814 the prior week.

That bucks the national trend which saw claims decrease by nearly 11% last week. Still, Washington claims are significantly below what they were for this week in 2019, before the pandemic, when unemployment claims totaled 6,336.

More than 1.2 million people in Washington state have collected more than $21 billion in unemployment benefits since March of 2020. The federal government has provided about three-quarters of those funds. The tally compares to $1 billion the ESD has annually paid out, on average, in each of the previous 10 years, according to the department.

— Angela King

Seattle's 72-hour parking rule is back

As of Friday, the Seattle Department of Transportation is reinforcing the city's 72-hour parking rule that was suspended when the Covid-19 pandemic initially struck the region in 2020.

KING 5 reports that the city's current goal is to clear vehicles that have been abandoned since the start of the pandemic. SDOT says it will issue warnings before handing out any citations.

Seattle's traffic code does not allow a vehicle to be parked on the same block of a city street for longer than 72 consecutive hours. And when it comes to people who are living in their cars, the department plans to steer them toward support services. The city says it will not impound a vehicle that someone is living in, unless it poses a public health threat.

— Angela King

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 14

Proof of vaccination will be required at large events across Washington

Starting next month, if you’re 12 and older you’ll have to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test to attend large events in Washington.

Governor Jay Inslee announced the requirement at a news conference Thursday.

It applies to indoor events with a 1,000 or more attendees and outdoor events with 10,000 or more participants. For now, at least, the mandate only covers “ticketed or registered” events like concerts and sporting events. It does not apply to religious services or school-based gatherings.

The mandate is similar to, but not as broad, as a King County order that kicks in later this month. That order requires proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test to enter bars, restaurants and other venues, as well as outdoor events of 500 or more people.

Read the full story here.

— Austin Jenkins

Seattle school district wants Covid vaccines added to list of required vaccinations

The Seattle Times is reporting that Seattle Public Schools wants the state health department to issue a Covid vaccine mandate for all Washington students.

A resolution from School Board President Chandra Hampson urges the vaccine to be added to the list of school-required immunizations once it’s approved by the FDA for children ages 5 and older.

The board was set to vote on the resolution Wednesday, but has now delayed that until November 3 so it can get more feedback on the proposal. Right now, 69% of Washington children 12 and older are fully vaccinated against Covid, and about 75% have received at least one dose.

Last week, Pfizer asked the FDA to approve emergency use of the vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.

— Angela King

SPD and SFD make contingency plans

The Seattle Police Department and the Fire Department are making contingency plans ahead of the October 18 Covid vaccination deadline.

The fire department tells KING 5 that 95% of its active members have either submitted vaccine verification or an exemption form. A total of 88% are confirmed to be fully vaccinated.

But SFD still plans to make cutbacks, cancel all non-essential training, and limit some building inspections. It may also bring some units out of service and activate its Resource Management Center to help monitor responses.

SPD is now under a stage-three mobilization plan, which means some detectives will now respond to 911 calls rather than regular patrol officers.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterburg is worried about the effect that will have on investigations and court hearings.

As of last week, nearly 300 Seattle police officers had not submitted their vaccination proof. SPD lags behind hospital workers and state employees in its vaccination rate, with hospitals reporting a vaccination rate of about 88% statewide among staff and about 92% of state employees getting their shots.

— Angela King

Point Roberts' mixed emotions over easing of border restrictions

Washington border communities like Point Roberts are encouraged by news that the United States plans to open its borders next month to vaccinated travelers.

Covid travel restrictions have dealt communities like Point Roberts a serious financial blow.

But Point Roberts Chamber of Commerce President Brian Calder says it remains to be seen just how much the eased restrictions will help. He told Here and Now that many Canadians come to town for only a short time.

"If those people have to, on return back to Canada, have the Covid test, that ain't gonna happen. Because it costs $150, we only do it two days a week here. And it takes a day and a half to get the results. And if you're coming down for an hour, you obviously aren't gonna do that," Calder said.

Point Roberts can only be accessed by land through Canada.

— Rob Wood

Officials brace for staff losses when vaccine mandate deadline hits

Elected officials, especially those in more conservative parts of the Northwest, are worried they may see a "mass exodus" of firefighters and health care professionals when the vaccine mandate deadline hits on Monday, October 18.

There are no signs that Oregon Governor Kate Brown or Washington Governor Jay Inslee will back down.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovichtook to the department's YouTube channel the other day to deliver a 13-minute monologue directed at Washington Governor Jay Inslee.

“At the height of the pandemic, does it really make sense to terminate our health care workers, our firefighters, our EMS personnel?"

Knezovich says he's vaccinated against Covid and encourages others to get the shot. But the sheriff says he can't stomach dismissals of hard-to-replace emergency responders who refuse the vaccine.

"If you know what the potential outcome is, do we really play this game of chicken? I don't think so. So, once again I'm asking Gov. Inslee to please back away from these mandates."

County commissions in a range of mostly rural counties across Oregon have the same burr in their saddles, but are taking a slightly different approach to get the attention of their governor. At least eight counties have pre-emptively declared a local "state of emergency."

Harney Commissioner Patty Dorroh says that creates a "foreseeable lack of adequate resources to respond to basic needs."

Harney County joins Jackson, Jefferson, Crook, Union, Baker, Malheur and Yamhill counties in preemptively declaring local states of emergency.

The Washington State Hospital Association estimates between 2-5% of hospital workers statewide will be placed on leave next week because they refused the shot. The association says that'll likely result in some services being curtailed. It's already happened in some Oregon and Washington hospital systems that were early adopters of vax mandates. For example, earlier this month Portland-based Legacy Health consolidated some lab services and temporarily closed four urgent care centers. Read the full story here.

— Tom Banse

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 13

Covid cases dip among all age groups in WA, DOH says

Covid cases are down across all age groups in Washington state, including in school-age children.

That's according to the Washington State Department of Health.

"We're encouraged that we're going the right direction, but we have a long way to go to get through this delta wave and prepare for the winter respiratory virus season," Lacy Fehrenbach with the DOH said.

Health officials say there are still high levels of Covid in the community, with case rates similar to early January.

Although hospitalizations continue to decline, hospitals across the state remain strained with staff shortages and full beds.

Public health officials continue to ask members of the public to get vaccinated.

The DOH reports that as of Oct. 11, over 77 percent of the state's eligible population has received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine.

— Kate Walters

Will vaccine exempt Seattle staff keep same jobs and pay? 'Not necessarily.'

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is promising to keep unvaccinated city employees away from work that could spread Covid-19 to the public and their colleagues.

That will mean employees who get religious or medical exemptions may be reassigned and that could mean changes to their bottom line.

"It gets to be fairly technical with labor laws," Durkan told KUOW. "But the general rule is that you look to accommodate someone, but they will not necessarily be doing the same job or at the same rate of pay. And you make available to them some work. And if you can't even do that, then unfortunately, the relationship with the city would terminate."

Read the full story here.

— Katie Campbell

Boeing begins vaccine requirement for employees

Boeing will require its employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19, or possibly risk termination.

The company notified employees this week. The deadline for them to be vaccinated is December 8.

Boeing has about 57,000 workers in Washington state, according to the Seattle Times, and 125,000 across the United States.

— Paige Browning

Non-essential U.S./Canada trips to resume in November for vaccinated travelers

The Biden administration has announced that U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico will reopen to non-essential travel next month. NPR reports that international visitors will need to be vaccinated against the coronavirus to enter the United States by land.

There is no exact timeline for the reopening, other than "early November."

It brings relief to border communities, and cross-border families, who've called for reopening. Travel by land has been frozen to all but essential trips for 19 months.

Senator Patty Murray has long urged Biden to make a border exemption for Point Roberts, Wash., which is bordered by ocean water and by Canada. She says the opening is great news, but that she's still frustrated Point Roberts is in this position and will be for several more weeks.

— Paige Browning

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 12

Seattle to open downtown vaccination site

The city of Seattle will open a downtown Covid-19 vaccination site next week. Sites are also in the works for South and West Seattle.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan says these "vaccination hubs" will stay in place at least through early 2022, though she did not specify an exact timeline.

"We know that there's going to be a number of people eligible for boosters at the same time," Durkan told KUOW. "We know children under the age of 12 will be eligible for vaccinations. And we hope there's going to be that final surge of people who aren't vaccinated yet. So, we wanted to make it as easy as we could, barrier-free, for people to get vaccinated."

Hospital officials are also bracing for a potential run on supplies and space as we enter flu season.

The Covid vaccination hubs will supplement the supply at pharmacies and health centers.

Hear KUOW's full interview with Mayor Durkan during Wednesday's Morning Edition.

— Katie Campbell

Seattle faces greater school bus driver shortage as vaccine mandate deadline approaches

Seattle Public Schools officials have said they may cut 2/3 of their general bus routes due to driver issues.

According to KIRO 7, parents and families could find out by Monday if their route is cut.

By Monday, October 18, drivers need to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 in order to comply with the state's vaccine mandate. An email to parents last week said as many as 100 drivers hadn't yet met the requirement.

— Paige Browning

Some schools are doing Covid surveillance

Washington state is funding ongoing Covid-19 testing for any school or district that wants them. The aim is to find asymptomatic cases before they can lead to outbreaks.

It’s not required, but school districts are encouraged to take part.

In the Seattle area, the main district that is doing widespread surveillance testing for Covid is Northshore in the Bothell area. They are doing weekly, pooled testing. Each student and staff member swabs their nostrils. The district then tests batches of those swabs to see if any show contagious levels of Covid. If they have a batch that does come up positive, each person in that batch has to do an individual PCR test to show they are negative for Covid in order to return to school.

The Northshore School District detected at least five asymptomatic Covid cases among the 1,800 people it tested last week.

— Katie Campbell

Most state employees vaccinated in time for deadline

Time is running out for any remaining state employees to prove they’re vaccinated. But already, the vast majority have. Of the more than 60,000 who are covered by Washington's vaccine mandate, nearly 9/10 have been verified.

It’s closer to 92% if you subtract the roughly 1,500 employees who’ve received medical or religious exemptions and been accommodated by their agency.

But not all agencies are equal. For instance, the state’s agriculture department is reporting just 79% of its staff are vaccinated. The numbers are also lagging at the state’s juvenile detention lock ups and at some state prisons. Also at the state’s veterans homes.

Other agencies though have hit 100%, or close to it. In a statement, Governor Inslee says he’s “extremely encouraged” by the numbers and does not anticipate “massive disruptions” in state services.

— Austin Jenkins

Fast ferry between Seattle and Victoria, BC suspends service

The Clipper fast ferry is suspended as of Tuesday, October 12. The ferry will cancel sailings through next Spring.

The company is blaming pandemic-related issues, including low passenger demand for the Seattle to Victoria, BC route.

Clipper Vacations says, in a message to customers, that the surge of the coronavirus Delta variant and restrictions from Covid testing have caused them to hit pause.

They hope to minimize losses, and will be canceling any trips already booked.

“We knew that it would be a challenge to re-launch our international fast ferry service heading into shoulder season and given the current ongoing circumstances and travel repercussions of the pandemic,” said David Gudgel, CEO of FRS Clipper in a statement. “Nonetheless, we needed to test the market and unfortunately the 72-hour PCR test requirement prior to arrival into Canada proved to be a significant barrier to travel for many of our guests. Stopping fall and winter operations now is our only choice and we look forward to returning to service in spring 2022.”

— Paige Browning

Singapore Airlines resumes Seattle service over holidays

Flights will resume between Seattle and Singapore this coming winter.

Singapore Airlines will operate flights for a limited holiday period to cater to Christmas and Lunar New Year travelers. The flights will be four times a week between December 2 and February 15.

According to the Seattle Times, Singapore Air first did nonstop flights to Seattle in 2019, but called them off during the pandemic.

— Paige Browning

MONDAY, OCTOBER 11

King County employee vaccination rate

About 83 percent of King County employees are vaccinated against Covid-19 now. But roughly 2,400 county workers have not been vaccinated, or have not reported their vaccination status.

King County employees will need to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 to meet the deadline for vaccine mandate County Executive Dow Constantine issued back in August.

County government departments with the lowest employee vaccination rates include King Country Metro Transit, the Sherriff's Office, and the county parks department, according to reporting from The Seattle Times.

— Rob Wood, Noel Gasca

"No one-size-fits-all approach": Amazon has new return-to-work plan

Amazon is switching up its return-to-office plans, again, for its corporate employees.

The company is now allowing team leaders to decide what is best for their departments — working from home, a hybrid schedule, or returning to their offices.

Saying that there is "no one-size-fits-all approach" to emerging from the pandemic, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy wrote a letter to corporate employees Monday announcing the new plan.

Amazon originally intended to bring employees back into the office in September 2021. But as pandemic conditions worsened over the summer, it delayed that plan until January 2022. Now it is giving team leaders until January 3 to decide on a plan for their individual teams.

In his letter, Jassy wrote: "At this stage, we want most of our people close enough to their core team that they can easily travel to the office for a meeting within a day’s notice. We also know that many people have found the ability to work remotely from a different location for a few weeks at a time inspiring and reenergizing. We want to support this flexibility and will continue to offer those corporate employees, who can work effectively away from the office, the option to work up to four weeks per year fully remote from any location within your country of employment."

The return of Amazon employees to its offices has been anticipated by many local businesses. With its workers at home, Amazon has been supporting some of the small businesses around its South Lake Union headquarters. Those businesses often relied on the foot traffic provided by Amazon's employees.

Jacob Vigdor, a professor of public policy and governance at the University of Washington, previously told KUOW that Amazon has an interest in keeping its neighborhood up and running as it can be one attractive quality for its employees.

— Dyer Oxley

Most hospital workers are vaccinated, but 2-5% could leave

The lion’s share of the state’s hospital workers are fully vaccinated. But 2-5% of hospital staff across Washington could leave the workforce due to the state's vaccine mandate.

That's according to the Washington State Hospital Association.

Hospital leaders say there's been a significant increase in vaccination rates among workers over the past couple of weeks. A survey conducted by the association shows roughly 88% of hospital workers are currently fully vaccinated, with 94% of hospitals in the state reporting.

The number of vaccinated employees is expected to rise. Others have been approved for a religious or medical exemption, and some have initiated the vaccination process but not yet completed it.

A statement from hospital leaders says the final number of employees leaving the workforce likely won't be known until early November.

Vaccination rates differ across the state, with rural hospitals on the east side more likely to lose a larger number of workers.

“Washington hospitals continue to urge their staff to get vital Covid-19 vaccines. We are pleased that most hospitals and health systems have achieved a high rate of vaccination, which will allow patients to continue to access life-saving care across Washington state,” Cassie Sauer, CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association, said in a statement.

Sauer said there will be some impact on services.

“It is clear that staffing remains constrained across the health care system and the loss of staff will have an impact on patients, including continued delays for less urgent procedures and longer waits for outpatient appointments,” Sauer said.

Sauer also expressed concerns about potential impacts if staff are lost in other areas of the healthcare system, like long term care facilities or ambulance services.

— Kate Walters

Good Halloween news

King County's top public health official has some good news for kids.

Dr. Jeff Duchin says people can feel comfortable with outdoor Halloween activities this year.

"Trick or treating, I think, is going to be safe for children outdoors in small groups, particularly family groups or people that they're otherwise socializing with. If there's any concern, face masks can be worn under face masks."

Duchin says anyone gathering indoors should take precautions if there are both vaccinated and unvaccinated guests, especially if there's poor ventilation or they're in a public space.

He says masks probably aren't needed for small gatherings with fully-vaccinated friends and family.

— Kate Walters

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 8

Cautious optimism from King County's top public health official

King County's top public health officer is cautiously optimistic about the future of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"The big picture Covid-19 pandemic forecast is improving, primarily thanks to the vaccines,” Dr. Jeff Duchin said Friday during a press briefing.

“But the pandemic is not going to end quickly, and it's not necessarily going to end predictably, but gradually."

More than 86 percent of eligible residents in King County have at least one dose of vaccine, according to Public Health – Seattle & King County.

Duchin said he’s optimistic because vaccine rates in the county are relatively high, cases and hospitalizations are declining, and there has not been a spike in cases among young people with the return to in-person learning.

However, his optimism is tempered by caution due to transmission levels remaining high, hospitals remaining strained, and the fact that it’s too early to tell what may happen in schools over the winter months.

Duchin said he expects to see more surges in the coming months, but there may be a shift away from large, damaging waves like the most recent one driven by the delta variant.

He said the county may be headed towards a period where the virus can be handled through vaccination, testing and an ongoing focus on masking and ventilation.

Duchin and other public health officials continue to appeal to the public to get vaccinated.

Duchin said Friday that about half a million residents in the county are not yet fully vaccinated, including a large number of children who are not yet eligible for a vaccine.

A vaccine for 5-11 year olds is expected to be approved in the coming weeks.

Duchin said the vast majority of Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to occur in unvaccinated residents.

Kate Walters

Study underway to test Covid boosters alongside flu and shingles shots

A study is underway to investigate any potential of teaming up Covid vaccinations with other vaccinations, such as for the flu or shingles.

MultiCare Health System is conducting the study and is seeking volunteers in the Seattle and Spokane areas.

According to Dr. Jonathan Staben with MultiCare in Spokane: “As we move to a future where booster shots for our current Covid-19 vaccines are commonplace, it is likely that they will be given alongside other vaccines such as flu shots and the shingles vaccine at the same time."

The study began on October 7. It uses Moderna as its Covid vaccine.

Volunteers must be 18 years or older and have previously received both doses of the Moderna Covid vaccine. They also must not have had any vaccination for flu in the past six months.

— Dyer Oxley

Status of breakthrough cases in Washington state

The Washington State Department of Health has updated its report on breakthrough cases, representing new data from between September 17-25.

Breakthrough cases occur when someone who is vaccinated against Covid-19 tests positive for the coronavirus.

To date, 46,667 breakthrough cases have been recorded in the state. About 89% of those cases reported symptoms, and 9% were hospitalized. A total of 442 people died of a Covid-related illness.

While some data is not available for roughly half of the cases, DOH has noted some trends.

About 54% of breakthrough cases are with females, and 43% are with males. White people represent the majority of cases (70%), followed by Hispanic communities (13%).

caption: Age ranges of breakthrough Covid cases in Washington state as of October 6, 2021. 
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— Dyer Oxley

97% of UW Medicine staff is vaccinated

UW Medicine reports that 97% of its staff and faculty are fully vaccinated.

About 300 UW Medicine staff have requested an exemption for religious or medial reasons. Roughly a third have been approved. UW says it will accommodate that group of staff.

According to Lisa Brandenburg with UW Medicine: “We continue to have conversations with our employees about the exemption process and the criteria. We're having one-on-one conversations with staff who are interested about the process and have vaccine questions.”

— Dyer Oxley

Orting cancels homecoming events after Covid outbreak

This week's homecoming events at Orting High School have been canceled after a Covid-19 outbreak among the school's football team.

Orting is about 40 miles south of Seattle, and 20 miles southeast of Tacoma.

A message posted on the district website reads: "Due to a COVID-19 outbreak on the Orting High School (OHS) Football team, all OHS Homecoming Events will be postponed to future dates."

The October 6 homecoming parade has already been cancelled. So has a volleyball homecoming and assembly events. The football game against Fife was slated for October 8, and a tailgate formal was scheduled for October 9.

According to the school district, all of the team's unvaccinated players are being required to quarantine for two weeks. Other team members who are vaccinated or have had a previous Covid case during the past three months can still go to class in-person.

For now, all the school's football games and practices are canceled until October 19.

The school hopes to re-schedule its tailgate parties and the game against Fife for later dates.

— Rob Wood

Edmonds School District faces potential bus driver shortage from vaccine mandate

Some students in Edmonds may soon need to find a new way to get to school.

The school district could lose up to 22 drivers who aren't complying with the state's Covid-19 vaccine mandate, according to KING 5.

All school workers have to prove they're vaccinated or obtain an exemption by October 18, or be fired.

The school district says its working to recruit and train more drivers as quickly as possible.

— Rob Wood

Children currently have highest number of Covid cases in Whatcom County

The current Covid rate for kids between 5-17 is about 50% higher than the rate for the county's adults, KIRO Radio reports.

Health officials say it's unclear if the return to school in September is causing the higher rate.

Overall, Covid cases in Whatcom and other Western Washington Counties have leveled off in recent weeks. Whatcom officials say vaccinating, masking and quarantining are helping to bring the numbers down.

— Rob Wood

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 7

Businesses prep for proof-of-vaccine requirement later this month

Businesses in King County are getting a primer on how to deal with the coming proof-of-vaccine mandate for bars, restaurants, and many other businesses.

The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, and the county's health department, is offering a took kit to help businesses deal with the mandate, and potential conflicts with unvaccinated customers.

KING 5 further reports that some businesses already have experience navigating their own vaccine requirement for customers, including some who have expressed their frustration at staff.

The chamber is also offering a webinar for local businesses.

King County's order requiring proof of vaccination will affect bars, restaurants, gyms, and events that have more than 500 people. Patrons will need to show proof of vaccination, such as their vaccination card, a photo of the card, or other proof. A negative Covid test from within 72 hours is also acceptable. The order ill go into effect on October 25.

— Dyer Oxley

Pfizer officially asks to offer Covid vaccine to ages 5-11

NPR is reporting that Pfizer has officially put in a request with the Biden administration to allow use of its Covid vaccine in children between the ages of 5-11.

Pfizer's vaccine is fully allowed for ages 16 and older. It is allowed under emergency authorization for ages 12-15.

More details here.

— Dyer Oxley

More SPD officers submit proof of vaccination

A total of 292 sworn Seattle police officers have not submitted proof of vaccination against Covid-19, according to new data published by the police department.

That number is down from what SPD previously reported on Tuesday, which was that 354 sworn officers had not submitted proof of vaccination.

According to the Associated Press, the new number represents "27% of all cops available to respond to calls in the city."

Meanwhile, SPD is making contingency plans for potential staffing shortages as a result of vaccine mandate, KING 5 reports.

The department is prepared to activate a mobilization plan next Wednesday if it comes up short. It would essentially put all department workers with patrol experience in uniforms and ready to respond to emergency calls if needed.

— Noel Gasca, Rob Wood

Washington State Patrol, King County Sheriff, and SPD vaccination progress

About 93% of Washington State Patrol employees are vaccinated against Covid-19. That's almost double what it was a month ago.

WSP had lagged behind other state agencies in getting vaccinated. Washington has set an October 18 deadline for many state workers to get their shots.

Dozens of patrol members had resisted getting the jab, signing on to a lawsuit against the mandate. And the union representing troopers promoted a protest at the state capitol over the order.

About 150 people in the state patrol still need to prove they have received their shots.

In King County, about three quarters of employees with the Sheriffs Office and the Seattle Police Department are now fully vaccinated.

— Rob Wood

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 6

Third of SPD officers haven't shown proof of vaccination

More than 350 Seattle police officers — about a third of city's police department — have yet to prove they're fully-vaccinated against Covid-19.

The numbers presented by the police department Tuesday are the first to be publicly confirmed. But a department spokesman says officers who haven’t submitted vaccination records are not out of compliance yet with the city's vaccine mandate.

City employees are required to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by October 18.

Read the full story here.

— Rob Wood

Judge denies Fish and Wildlife exemption request

We're just beginning to get a look at how many state and city employees could lose their jobs for not complying with Covid vaccination mandates in Washington.

On Monday, a Pierce County judge denied a request to keep members of the Fish and Wildlife Officers Guild from being fired.

The Tacoma News Tribune reports the group filed a lawsuit and asked the judge to stop what they characterized as an unfair labor practice. They say 20 officers received discharge notices from the state.

The judge disagreed, finding the Covid emergency outweighs the rights of any unvaccinated state workers.

The judge added, "20 people are asking me to look out for their well-being and ignore the well-being of the rest of the state, and I am frankly unwilling to do that."

— Katie Campbell

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 5

State agencies send separation notices as deadline to get J&J vaccine arrives

The deadline for Washington state workers and others to be fully vaccinated is about two weeks away. Monday, October 5, was the last day to get a shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or a second dose of Pfizer or Moderna.

Under Governor jay Inslee’s mandate, state employees as well as those working in health care and educational settings have to reach full vaccination status by Monday, October 18. Generally, a person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after getting their second shot of the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or two-weeks after the single-dose J&J shot.

The deadline has long since passed to initiate the two-dose vaccines. And now the J&J deadline has arrived. Those who don’t get vaccinated face termination from their jobs unless they receive a medical or religious exemption and can be accommodated in the workplace.

Already, state agencies are sending out notices of separation to employees who haven’t verified they’re vaccinated. Inslee’s office says it’s encouraged that the number of employees getting Covid shots continues to increase. The latest report showed 68% of state employees subject to the mandate had already verified they’re vaccinated.

— Austin Jenkins

For K-12 students, no Covid immunization requirement on the horizon

Kids in Washington state need to be immunized against 11 different diseases in order to attend school. It may be a while before a Covid vaccine is added to that list.

In Washington, the State Board of Health decides school vaccination requirements. Spokesperson Kelie Kahler said the board is still several steps away from possibly mandating Covid shots for students.

Kahler said full FDA approval and recommendation by the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices need to come first. Next, the board would have to convene “a technical advisory committee to assess a vaccine for possible inclusion to the state’s immunizations list,” Kahler said.

For kids, vaccines have only been FDA-approved and ACIP-recommended for ages 12 to seventeen so far.

About half of Washington children in that age group are fully vaccinated against Covid.

A vaccine may be cleared for five-to-eleven-year-olds as early as this month.

Washington's order of operations differs from California, which made a preemptive decision Friday to require Covid vaccination for school attendance once each age group has full FDA vaccine approval.

Ann Dornfeld

Covid-19 hospitalizations continue to decline in Washington state

Taya Briley with the Washington State Hospital Association says the number of Covid hospitalizations is going down. Cases, overall, remain high, however.

"While these numbers are decreasing, they're still very sobering. It's a roughly 12% decrease in a week, but we are still amid the peak of the worst of the Covid cases that we've experienced since the beginning of the pandemic."

Just over 1,100 people were hospitalized with Covid as of Monday. Briley says Covid deaths have also decreased in the past week. But she says hospital capacity remains tight and things could worsen again.

Hospital leaders are asking the public to get vaccinated and take precautions to stay healthy.

— Kate Walters

WSU Coach Rolovich unclear on vaccine mandate

As some Washington state employees challenge Governor Jay Inslee's vaccination mandate, the future of one employee in particular is unclear.

Washington State Football Coach Nick Rolovich would have had to get the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot yesterday to meet the October 18 deadline, according to The Seattle Times.

In July, Rolovich said he would not get vaccinated. More recently, he said he will comply with the mandate, but he did not elaborate on Sunday when asked.

"I'm still following the process that's laid out. I wanna kinda leave it right there," Rolovich said.

As the Times notes, Rolovich would have had to ask for a religious or medical exemption yesterday if he didn't get the J&J shot.

On Sunday, asked whether Cougar fans should be concerned about future as coach, he said "I don't think so."

— Katie Campbell

People facing eviction in Burien have been given a grace period

The city of Burien has extended its eviction moratorium through January 15.

The City Council approved the measure to give both landlords and tenants more time to locate some rent assistance or financial aid.

Meanwhile, state’s eviction protections will remain in effect through the end of October.

— Rob Wood

New grant program to help businesses near U.S. - Canada border

Some Washington businesses affected by the U.S.-Canada border closure have some new financial help.

The state Department of Commerce has just launched the "Working Washington: Border Business Relief program."

It provides grants up to 50,000 to small businesses in several counties near the border.

To be eligible, businesses need to be within a 20-mile radius of a border crossing and require in-person contact with customers, like a restaurant or store.

More details here.

— Rob Wood

WSP trooper honored in Tacoma

A Washington State Trooper who died from Covid-19 was honored at a memorial in Tacoma on Monday.

Detective Eric Gunderson, 38, died last month. He contracted Covid while on duty.

Gunderson worked in the patrol's Criminal Investigation Division and was a member of its SWAT team.

Gunderson is survived by his wife and two children.

— Rob Wood

MONDAY, OCTOBER 4

Variants increase risk of hospitalization

People who are infected with the alpha, beta, gamma, or delta variants are at more risk of hospitalization than other variants in Washington state. People who are unvaccinated have the highest risk.

That information is likely not a surprise to most people. But it is now officially backed up by a scientific study that is the product of the state's Department of Health, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, UW Medicine, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

It is another point of evidence that shows Covid-19 vaccines are keeping more people out of the hospital in Washington state, and that variants can increase the risk of hospitalization. Read the study here.

— Dyer Oxley

Seattle police chief urges officers to get last minute vaccines

Seattle interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz is urging his staff to get vaccinated by Monday's deadline.

Diaz is warning that the Seattle Police Department could face a staffing challenge if they fail to do so. He says based on current vaccination information, it appears the department still has hundreds of workers without their shots.

In a letter Chief Diaz sent to officers on Friday, he states: "...SPD has constructed various staffing plans for how we continue to ensure continuity of emergency and legally-mandated services. In order to have the least amount of disruptions to our personnel we need to know how many individuals are cleared, under city vaccination rules.

At the moment – we have to assume we have hundreds of unvaccinated individuals based on the information submitted. This could create a disruption to unit of assignments."

As of Monday morning, SPD reports that 16 of its employees are in quarantine. A total of 166 SPD employees have previously tested positive for Covid-19.

City, as well as state workers, have until the end of Monday to either get their second vaccine dose or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be in compliance. It takes two-weeks to be considered fully vaccinated, and Washington's deadline is October 18.

— Rob Wood

Vaccine deadline day for state workers

Hundreds of thousands of workers subject to Washington's vaccine mandate must get their final Covid-19 vaccine dose by the end of today — Monday — if they haven't already, or risk losing their job in a couple of weeks.

That includes educators, health care workers, and state employees.

"If we've learned anything over the last several weeks it's clear that a vaccine mandate works, in that it draws attention to the need to either have a vaccination on file or go through the legally allowed exemption process," said Keegan Fisher, head of human resources at Swedish health systems.

Fisher says as of late September, about 98% of their staff were either vaccinated or had been granted an exemption. That's up from earlier in the month.

Those subject to Governor Jay Inslee’s order need to be fully vaccinated by October 18.

— Kate Walters

Protesters in Olympia against vaccine mandate

People objecting to vaccination requirements have let their voices be heard ahead of Monday's state deadline for the shot.

Thousands showed up in Olympia Sunday to protest the mandate. The demonstration included people who don't believe in vaccines as well as those who feel it should be their choice to get the jab.

“What we do from now on will determine whether we live in freedom or in a dystopian hell hole,” one protester told KOMO News.

Meanwhile, health officials have been working to help alleviate people's concerns, saying the vaccines have been administered to millions of people and have proven to be extremely effective in limiting the spread of Covid-19.

— Rob Wood

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 1

Covid-19 trends encouraging, but WA still not out of the woods

Hospital leaders say they’re seeing encouraging trends in the state’s Covid-19 data.

“Overall, there are signs of improvement,” Taya Briley, executive vice president of the Washington State Hospital Association, said in a media briefing Monday.

“If we don’t stay diligent about the challenges facing the healthcare system, we are worried things could worsen again,” she said.

The number of Covid-19 patients in hospitals dropped by about 12 percent over a week, according to Briley, from 1,277 last week to 1,124 as of Monday.

The number of patients on ventilators is also down slightly and deaths have decreased as well, she said.

Despite decreasing numbers, hospital leaders say the number of Covid-19 patients in hospitals remains high, as does hospital occupancy.

With the season for respiratory illness approaching, officials are nervous that could contribute more strain to an already burdened healthcare system. The impact of delayed care for patients who had procedures delayed due to the most recent surge, and any potential staffing shortages that may come if healthcare workers are not fully vaccinated by Oct. 18, the deadline set in Governor Jay Inslee’s vaccine mandate, are also concerns.

Hospital leaders said Monday they’re cautiously optimistic about vaccination rates among healthcare workers around the state. The state hospital association will conduct a survey in the coming week to determine how many workers are out of compliance, and may risk losing their jobs come the mid-October deadline.

Monday, Oct. 4, marks the deadline for workers to get their final vaccination dose, if they haven’t already, in order to be fully vaccinated by the Governor’s deadline.

Washington state has secured a contract with a national staffing agency to bring healthcare workers into the state to help alleviate staffing strains, according to the hospital association. The state is still working to secure federal funding for those staff.

Kate Walters

State vaccination deadline looms

A key deadline is approaching for hundreds of thousands of workers in Washington subject to the state's vaccine mandate.

Oct. 4 is the deadline for many employees to get their final dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, if they haven't already. If employees don't get vaccinated, they risk losing their job.

Health care workers are one group covered by the mandate.

At UW Medicine hospitals, Chief Medical Officer Tim Dellit says about 97 percent of staff are in compliance with the vaccine mandate. He thinks UW hospitals are in a position to cover any staffing losses, but he's concerned about other parts of the state with lower vaccination rates.

"I do worry even more about some of the staffing impacts in those settings, which again could have a ripple effect across the state," Dellit said.

Dellit believes the mandates are working and more people are getting vaccinated, and some of the state's data appears to support that.

As of Sept. 20, just under 70 percent of state employees covered by the mandate were verified as fully vaccinated. That's up from about 50 percent earlier this month.

— Kate Walters

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 30

9 million Covid vaccine doses

Washington's health department says the state has now doled out nine million Covid vaccine shots.

More than 76% of those 12 and older have gotten at least one dose, and nearly 70% have completed their regiment.

Health officials say the number of Washingtonians who've gotten their vaccinations has increased by 25% since mid-August. And while hospitalizations and infections continue to trend downward, disease levels still remain high and continue to strain health care facilities across the state.

— Angela King

Washington's Republican counties hit harder by Covid deaths

A new Washington state legislative analysis shows that Covid-19 related deaths are trending much higher in Republican counties than in Democratic ones.

Washington’s most populous county, King, is also one of the most Democratic and most vaccinated. It’s Covid death rate is one of the lowest in the state.

In counties that went heavily for statewide Republican candidates last year, the death rate since July is 44 per 100,000 residents. By contrast, in strong Democratic counties, it’s about 7 deaths per 100,000. In other words, Covid-19 is taking an uneven toll across the state.

Heavily Republican areas tend to have lower vaccination rates and, in turn, higher death rates. Also, rural areas have less access to medical facilities than urban areas.

State data show that nearly 80% of people who have died from COVID were unvaccinated.

Read more details here.

— Austin Jenkins

Finally some promising trends in Washington's Covid-19 data

Washington's health officials say there's been an uptick of vaccinations in recent weeks. They're also seeing cases and hospitalizations declining.

"That is very welcome and hopeful news," said Lacy Fehrenbach with the state department of health. "However, I want to be really clear that disease remains very high in Washington state."

Fehrenbach says even though hospitalizations are falling, levels still remain higher than during the state's surge last winter.

— Kate Walters

Lewis County commissioner died from Covid-19

A Lewis County commissioner has died from Covid-19.

The partner of 67-year-old Gary Stamper said in a Facebook post that he lost his battle with the virus Wednesday. The Chronicle in Centralia reports that he was vaccinated.

Stamper, who had a career in public education, coached the Mossyrock girls basketball team in the 2000s before he was elected in 2014.

— Angela King

Lynden Christian Schools go remote amid Covid outbreak

Lynden Christian Schools in Whatcom County are switching to remote learning for the next two weeks because of a Covid-19 outbreak.

The county health department said in a statement that it recorded several cases in nearly every grade level and every classroom and feels the switch is needed to keep the entire community protected.

The Bellingham Herald reports that parents received an email Tuesday about the switch.

The Pioneer School District in Shelton is also temporarily moving to online learning to reduce Covid-19 transmission. Schools in Eatonville have done the same.

A pre-school on Whidbey Island is quarantining after a Covid-19 outbreak. Oak Harbor's Hand in Hand Early Learning Center is a public pre-school serving 3-5 year old children who qualify for special education services. The pre-school announced it would close for 14 days on Monday.

— Angela King, Natalie Newcomb

Memorial scheduled for state trooper who died of Covid

A memorial service for a state trooper who recently died of Covid-19 will be held Monday, October 4. The service will be held at the Church For All Nations in Tacoma.

Detective Eric Gunderson was 38 when he passed away last Sunday. The Washington State Patrol says he contracted the virus in the line of duty and his death will be listed as such.

— Angela King

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 29

State utility moratorium ends tomorrow

Washington state's utility shutoff moratorium is scheduled to end tomorrow.

Almost 500,000 Washingtonians currently have overdue bills, according to Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission spokesperson Emily Brown.

"They shouldn't wait to receive a disconnect notice, if they're behind on bills and they know they are, they should just go ahead and call for help now," Brown said. "The UTC regulated utilities won't disconnect service if they know that customers have a payment plan or are in the process of applying for help."

Brown says about half of all Washington residents have accounts with state-regulated utilities, like Puget Sound Energy and Avista, which are required to offer payment plans. Local utilities, like Seattle City Light, follow local regulations.

Out of the more than 500,000 customers behind on their bills, about 280,000 of them are customers of privately run, for-profit companies like PSE.

But for customers who may be facing a disconnection, there are still regulations in place: utility providers are not allowed to charge reconnection fees or late fees until March 2022. Until then, companies can be penalized by the UTC for trying to charge consumers for reconnecting them, or for not providing a payment plan.

Puget Sound Energy's prices are also expected to go up tomorrow, in a rate increase delayed since 2020. The average electric customer will be charged an extra dollar and eighty cents per month, and gas customers an added fifty cents.

After tomorrow, some cities in Washington will still have their own moratorium in place. Customers in Seattle have until January to pay their bill, and Tacoma is still determining when their shutoff freeze will end.

— Paige Browning

Disease remains high, but state officials see some promising signs

Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations remain at high levels in Washington state. But state health officials say they’re seeing some positive trends.

Among them, an increase in vaccinations.

Since the middle of August there’s been a jump in the number of people who are getting their first shots, according to Michele Roberts. Roberts leads the state’s Covid-19 planning and distribution team.

“This is fantastic news,” Roberts said during a media briefing Wednesday.

She said more than 4.9 million people in Washington have now received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine.

In addition, Roberts said nearly 70 percent of Washington residents 12 and older are now fully vaccinated.

“We’re closing the gap. Across the state the number of eligible unvaccinated people is down to about 1.5 million people. If you’re one of these people, what are you waiting for? Getting vaccinated protects you, your family and friends, and your community,” Roberts said.

In mid-August the number of eligible unvaccinated Washingtonians was around 2 million, according to the Department of Health.

The bump in vaccinations comes as state employees and workers in schools and health care face a fast approaching deadline to get vaccinated or lose their jobs. The deadline to receive a final dose of vaccine is October 4.

The strain from the latest surge in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations continues to stress the state’s health care system.

Health officials say they’re starting to see declines, which they say is welcome and hopeful news.

However, the state continues to have a high level of disease and hospitalizations remain above the peak levels seen during the winter surge.

— Kate Walters

Washington Medical Commission adopts misinformation statement

The Washington Medical Commission has voted to adopt a Covid-19 Misinformation Position Statement.

The group may also discipline medical practitioners who make Covid-19 recommendations that counter federal medical experts and legitimate medical research.

The WMC Commissioner says this stance is nothing new, but added it's needed to reinforce the commission's position with so much misinformation and disinformation out there.

[The WMC is the state agency that provides licensing, rulemaking, discipline, and education for the medical community.

— Angela King

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28

Hospitalization rate drops, but remains high

Covid-19 hospital admission rates look better across Washington state, but hospitalizations still remain high.

Cassie Sauer, CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association, said Monday that deaths continue to rise — an expected trend that often comes two to four weeks after a surge of hospitalizations.

She said about 30 Washingtonians are dying of the coronavirus each day.

The Seattle Times reports that as of two weeks ago, the state Department of Health's most recent, complete Covid-19 data, Washington's average hospitalization rate was about 14.7 admissions per 100,000 people, down from 17.7 admissions per 100,000 people in late August.

— Kim Malcolm

State employees getting vaccinated as deadline looms

The deadline for Washington state employees to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 is about three weeks away. As of last Monday, nearly 70% of workers had verified they've been vaccinated.

Meanwhile, the number of exemptions being granted is growing.

The latest round of reporting from state agencies shows that 68% of employees covered by Governor Jay Inslee’s mandate have confirmed they’re vaccinated. One agency, the Puget Sound Partnership, has hit 100%.

But some state institutions, including prisons and juvenile detention facilities, are still lagging. For instance, only about a quarter of staff at the Echo Glen Children’s Center have verified they’ve gotten their shots. Some workers are getting exemptions. So far, about 50% of the requests for a religious exemption have been granted, but only 18% of requested medical exemptions have gone through.

Even if an employee does get an exemption, there’s no guarantee they’ll be accommodated in the workplace. So far, people with medical exemptions are getting accommodated at a much higher rate than people with religious exemptions.

— Austin Jenkins

Pandemic-related benefits for foster youth about to end

Pandemic-related benefits extended to young adults aging out of the foster care program are about to come to an end in Washington.

The state Department of Children, youth, and families say that 320 young adults in our state will have their benefits cut off by Thursday and will no longer receive Covid relief money, medical coverage, and referrals to community services.

"We don't have the structure in place to continue to serve them the way they have been," said Jennifer Zipoy who works in the agency's adolescent programs. "And I think it's primarily because DCYF is designed to serve often younger kids. And the adolescents get left out of the picture."

Zipoy says a program manager is working to find housing for all of the young adults by the end of this month. The agency is also surveying those leaving the program with the hope the state will extend it in the future.

After the moratorium, DCYF has to go back to following state law. And right now, people age out of extended foster care at 21.

— Noel Gasca

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 27

WSP trooper dies from Covid

The Washington State Patrol says Detective Eric Gunderson, 38, passed away yesterday. He had his wife and two young sons by his side.

We don't know yet if he was vaccinated against Covid, but the state patrol says Gunderson contracted Covid in the line of duty and his death will be listed a such.

Gunderson made a name for himself during his 16 years with the patrol by using drones to help with a number of investigations, including the one into the 2017 Amtrak derailment in DuPont.

The WSP and his family are now working on memorial plans. Gunderson is the 32nd trooper to die in the line of duty since the agency’s formation 100 years ago.

— Angela King

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 24

Seattle mayor reaches tentative agreement with unions over vaccine mandate

Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Friday that the city has reached two tentative agreements with its employee unions over its vaccine mandate.

The city negotiated with the Coalition of City Unions, Fire Fighters Union Local 27, and IBEW Local 77 on issues such as: returning to the office, frontline worker pay, and the vaccine requirement.

“Supporting City employees as they show up to work during this pandemic is critical to helping us maintain a safe, diverse, equitable, and progressive workforce,” said Interim Human Resources director Kimberly Loving. “Over the past few months, the Coalition of City Unions, Seattle Fire Fighters Local 27 and IBEW Local 77 have worked tirelessly with my fellow City colleagues to achieve these Tentative Agreements with each employee in mind.”

According to the Mayor's Office, the tentative agreements include:

  • Establish processes for vaccination confirmation, exemptions, accommodations and employee separation.
  • City employees will receive 40 hours of Covid-19 supplementary leave for pandemic reasons. Employees who have proved they will be fully vaccinated by the October 18 deadline will get another 40 hours, adding up to a total of 80 hours of paid time for Covid-related needs.
  • Employees who prove they will be fully vaccinated by October 18 will receive an additional eight hours of paid time off. The deadline to show proof is October 5.
  • Frontline workers on staff after Aug. 1, 2021 and performing in-person work could get a one-time payment of up to $1,750.
  • "Additional flexibility" for employees to choose to telework through Jan. 19, 2022.

The tentative agreements, such as frontline worker pay, will now move to the City Council for approval.

— Dyer Oxley

Washington hospital capacity expected to remain tight through fall

Washington state's health care system is likely to remain strained throughout the fall, according to the latest Covid-19 report from the state department of health.

The report says hospital occupancy will depend on community transmission. But it predicts hospital capacity will remain tight.

As the number of Covid-19 patients falls, other patients who delayed care will need to be seen. Hospitalizations due to the flu could rise, too.

Staffing shortages is also a likely issue ahead.

Officials are asking the public to get vaccinated and continue masking.

— Kate Walters

Walla Walla School Board meeting disrupted by maskless man

Police were called to a Walla Walla School Board meeting Thursday after a man refusing to wear a mask disrupted the proceedings.

Officials say the incident began when one man refused to comply when people at the meeting were reminded that masks were required.

According to a statement from the school district Wednesday, the man was offered the option to watch online, but he refused to leave. A Walla Walla police officer escorted the man out and the meeting began. But he came back, and district officials ended the meeting.

The Union-Bulletin reports that meeting will resume in a virtual format next week.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced a statewide mask mandate for indoor public spaces last month, regardless of vaccination status.

— Kim Malcolm

Eatonville Middle School suddenly shifts to online learning

Students at Eatonville Middle School will be reverting to online learning next week.

There's no explanation on the schools website for the switch, but KING 5 reports that the change is the result of so many people at the school coming down with Covid.

According to the school's website, online learning will last until at least October 7 with students tentatively returning to class October 11. All after-school activities have also been cancelled.

Eatonville is in south Pierce County, about 51 miles south of Seattle. It's not the only Washington school dealing with Covid.

Nearly 2,000 Snohomish County students are in quarantine after being exposed to Covid-19 at school, day care, or after-school activities. That adds up to about 1% of all Snohomish County's students. A total of 51.3% of eligible youth are vaccinated in the county. In King County, 66% of youth are vaccinated.

— Angela King

Unemployment dropped dramatically in Washington after pandemic benefits expired

When pandemic unemployment benefits expired in early September, the number of unemployment claims Washington state paid out plunged by 70% from one week to the next. In Oregon, this month's drop approaches the same ballpark.

The biggest reason for this is that self-employed, independent contractors, and gig workers no longer qualify for unemployment. Also ending over Labor Day weekend were federally-funded extended benefits for people who exhausted their regular unemployment.

But the pressure isn't off at the unemployment office. Washington Employment Security Commissioner Cami Feek says her agency is now bracing for a possible new surge of claims from people who lose their jobs because they refused to get vaccinated against Covid.

"Any sort of employer mandate that isn't met, that is a condition of employment," Feek said. "We have to look at the fact set, case by case. We're also prepared to do that."

The states will evaluate if the new claims are involuntary layoffs, which qualify for benefits. Or they could be judged a voluntary quit, and then the worker doesn't get unemployment.

— Tom Banse

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 23

Washington officials demand travel exemption for Point Roberts

Washington Senator Patty Murray took to the Senate floor on Thursday to make a targeted plea to the Biden Administration to help the community of Point Roberts.

The U.S. is keeping its land border with Canada closed to non-essential travel through October 21. That extension just spells more trouble for the isolated Point Roberts, Murray argued.

"Not a person can explain to me what evidence is being used to support that border restriction right there for Point Roberts," Murray said. "So I'm here on the Senate floor today to make sure that President Biden and his administration understand me, we just need an emergency exemption."

The Point Roberts exclave is currently only accessible by driving through Canada. A ferry from the U.S. normally transports residents and visitors, but it's still shut down due to the pandemic.

Sen. Murray isn't the only Washington state official to request a Point Roberts travel exemption. On Thursday, Governor Jay Inslee also renewed his request for an end to the travel ban. In August, Governor Jay Inslee sent a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau inquiring about the creation of a transit pass for Point Roberts residents.

The federal government has not granted Gov. Inslee's or Sen. Murray's requests for an exemption so far.

— Paige Browning

Washington state eviction bridge extended through October

Governor Jay Inslee said Thursday that he is extending the statewide eviction bridge through the end of October.

"To make sure that local governments have the opportunity to issue the rental relief that is now available to citizens," Inslee said. "This brief extension will help ensure that no one is evicted while large amounts of rental assistance funding is available but unused."

The state's pandemic eviction protection was initially slated to expire on September 30. Inslee said there is "good reason to believe" that counties will more easily provide rental assistance through the extension.

— Dyer Oxley

DOH says "Covid-19 prevalence is at a new high"

The Washington State Department of Health said Thursday that the pandemic has reached a "new high." Covid cases are still increasing, but at a slower rate than previously.

Most Washington counties have a case rate of 500 per 100,000. That adds up to about 1 in every 106 Washingtonians coming down with Covid.

Covid deaths are also increasing. There were 5-10 deaths each day in July. At the end of August, there were 27 deaths per day.

Gov. Jay Inslee noted in a Thursday press conference that hospitalized Covid cases are now pushing away other medical needs.

"People are not getting health care because of Covid," Inslee said noting that because hospitals are "jammed" with Covid cases, needed surgeries are on hold, such as bone marrow transplants and heart surgeries.

According to the DOH, there is currently an average of 186 people being admitted to hospitals for Covid each day (slightly down from the 190 August average). This is higher than occupancy levels experienced during last winter's surge.

“What this tells us is that our individual choices and behaviors today are going to determine whether or not our friends and families will have full access to health care in the near future, for any medical need, not just Covid,” said Scott Lindquist, MD, MPH, state epidemiologist for communicable diseases. “The current surge of patients is overwhelming our hospitals. With school in session and flu season almost here, our best option for getting through the surge is to wear our masks and get vaccinated.”

Inslee and healthcare officials stressed that masking and vaccination is the primary route out of the pandemic.

— Dyer Oxley

Pfizer, Moderna, J&J, and goats

Karm is a baby goat on display at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup. They have a great view of a unique feature at the fair this year. Across from their spot at the livestock barn is the fair's vaccination booth.

Micheal Harper works at the booth. He says people are surprised to see the setup.

“They walk up and they’re like, 'Oh, they’re doing vaccinations here? Which shot do you have?' They’re even more surprised when we tell them we have all three series.”

That means Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.

Harper says the booths make vaccinations more accessible. So far, around 500 people have gotten their Covid shots at the fair.

The vaccinations are run by the company Ambulanz and the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

The booth will be operating through this Sunday, the last day of the fair.

— Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

More state workers join lawsuit challenging vaccine mandate

Hundreds of additional state and local workers have joined a lawsuit challenging the Governor Jay Inslee's vaccine mandate.

And among the new plaintiffs is the state fire marshal.

They allege the mandate is unconstitutional and some of them argue they're being denied medical exemptions, according to KOMO news.

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Thursday in the Walla Walla Superior Court. Inslee's office has said repeatedly that it believes the order is legal.

— Angela King

King County reaches agreement with unions over Covid vaccine

King County has reached an agreement with the majority of its unions over the Covid-19 vaccine mandate for county employees.

Those who show they've started their vaccine regiment will now have until December 2, rather than October 18, to complete the process. They will also receive paid time off if they suffer side effects from the vaccines or get sick from Covid.

The agreement covers approximately 10,000 workers.

The Seattle Times reports it doesn't cover the union representing King County sheriff’s deputies.

— Angela King

Point Roberts remains worried as US-Canada border remains closed

Business owners in the US community of Point Roberts say their situation is now "desperate." The isolated town is bordered by Canada to the north, and water on all other sides.

The Biden Administration announced this week it was extending the land border closure to non-essential travel from Canada for at least another month.

KING 5 reports a letter from the Point Roberts Chamber of Commerce says 85% of its business relies on Canadian visitors, who have been prevented from coming since March 2020.

Democratic Washington lawmakers have called on the administration to re-open the border immediately. A new program granting up to $50,000 to help border businesses was announced this week by the state department of commerce.

— Kim Malcolm

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 22

Nearly 2,000 Snohomish County students in quarantine

Almost 2,000 students in Snohomish County are in quarantine after being exposed to Covid-19 at school, day care, or after-school activities. That’s one percent of all the county’s students.

The large number is due in part to strict quarantine guidelines recommended by the county’s public health department. The department recommends that any unvaccinated students who have spent at least 15 minutes within six feet of someone infected with the coronavirus should quarantine for 14 days. That guidance is based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s previous guidelines for schools.

In Seattle, public schools are following the CDC’s updated guidelines. They recommend quarantine for students who spent 15 minutes or more within three feet of an infected person, and they allow health officials to consider other factors, like masking and classroom ventilation, when making decisions about who needs to quarantine.

In Snohomish County, 51.3% of adolescents between the ages of 12 to 17 years old are fully vaccinated. That’s compared to 66% of adolescents in King County.

— Eilís O'Neill

Bellingham announces vaccine requirement for employees

The Mayor of Bellingham is the latest local leader to announce a Covid vaccine requirement for city workers.

Mayor Seth Fleetwood said Tuesday that the new rule will also cover volunteers and contractors.

Workers have until December 3 to get fully vaccinated or risk losing their jobs if they don't receive a religious or medical exemption.

The Bellingham Herald reports that 79% of the city's 975 employees have received a shot so far.

— Angela King

Redmond firefighters object to vaccine mandate

A group of Redmond firefighters and their families are calling on the city to honor an agreement they say they reached with leaders over the governor's vaccine mandate.

They say the city approved their religious exemptions and agreed to let them take daily or shift Covid tests in lieu of getting their shots.

But they claim the city is now going back on that deal and that could mean dozens of firefighters will lose their jobs if they are not fully vaccinated by the state deadline, October 18.

The city of Redmond isn't addressing these claims because officials say they cannot discuss personnel matters.

Last month, the Pierce County Professional Firefighters and the Washington State Council of Firefighters Union expressed similar concerns when they sent a letter to the governor. They argue the state vaccine mandate could lead to a shortage of firefighters, paramedics, and EMTs.

— Angela King

Mossyrock mayor recovers from Covid

The Mayor of Mossyrock, Wash. in Lewis County was back at home this morning after spending six days in the ICU battling Covid-19.

Randall Sasser made news last year after he lead an effort to ignore Gov. Jay Inslee's pandemic restrictions. Last fall, the Mossyrock City Council passed an ordinance that called for businesses to ignore state precautions around indoor bar and restaurant service.

Sasser tells KING 5 that despite his hospitalization, he has no regrets about his public stance against the restrictions, saying he still believes everyone has the right to make their own decisions

”I still feel very strongly that, you know, everybody has the right to make their own decision. But when things are mandated, and not given the choice, that's where the problem comes in,” Sasser said.

— Angela King

Seattle extends eviction ban, housing organizations respond

Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Tuesday that Seattle will extend its eviction moratorium for residential and commercial renters. The eviction ban will now last until January 15, 2022, which covers the remainder of Durkan's term in office. This is the sixth time the moratorium has been extended amid the pandemic.

More details on the moratorium extension here.

Meanwhile, some landlord organizations are criticizing the extension. The Rental Housing Association of Washington and the Washington Multi-Family Housing Association said in a joint statement:

“The city now owns a housing crisis of its own making and has no idea how to move forward. It’s no longer even about COVID as businesses are open and hiring. The forever eviction bans are racking up debt for residents, increasing violent incidents on properties, and driving single family rentals off the market. They have all the funds and programs in place to address rental debt but instead are requiring housing providers to take on even more of their tenant’s housing costs.”

Since June, Seattle has disbursed approximately $15 million worth of federal funding slated for rental assistance. The city is now in the process of handing out an additional $28 million.

When it comes to the regional situation, The Seattle Times reports that King County has only spent 24% of federal funding it has received for rental assistance. Snohomish and Pierce counties have each spent more than two-thirds of their federal funding.

— Angela King

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 21

U.S. extends the closure of its land border with Canada to non-essential travel for another month

The White House Covid Pandemic response coordinator announced that the land border closure between the U.S. and Canada has been extended until at least October 21 for non-essential travel.

The Bellingham Herald reports both Congresswoman Suzan DelBene and Senator Patty Murray say its the wrong decision, as the Canadian government is allowing vaccinated Americans to travel north.

Murray is calling for an exemption for Point Roberts, the American community that is only accessible by roads that go through Canada.

Washington businesses along the border may soon be eligible for financial aid from the state department of commerce, starting in early October.

— Kim Malcolm

New rapid Covid test detects variants, from UW Medicine

UW Medicine has a new method of testing for Covid which will further detect viral variants. And it does it within a couple hours.

How? A dipstick.

The method developed by UW School of Medicine Microbiology Professor Evgeni Sokurenko and ID Genomics uses a strip of paper with a series of bands on it. Each band indicates a variant of concern. If a band changes color, it indicates a variant. And it's used like a dipstick.

This process is much faster than Washington state's current method of detecting variants — taking a batch of samples and processing them over a few weeks.

“We need to think about detecting variants and dealing with this virus more like reconnaissance – mission-like reconnaissance – meaning that it's much more proactive” than the current surveillance approaches, Sokurenko said. “[If] you know where and when to expect the attack, you know what is the best way to contain it.”

The rapid test is currently available through Sokurenko's lab. But wider availability is expected this winter. Sokurenko says the rapid test is apt for emergency rooms, urgent care, and hospitals.

— Dyer Oxley

Seattle Children's sees decrease in patients

The number of Covid patients at Seattle Children's Hospital has decreased from its peak at the beginning of September.

"About half of the patients that we're admitting to the hospital are old enough to be vaccinated, and the vast majority of those patients are not vaccinated. It's so important to prioritize getting vaccinated as soon as one is able," said Dr. Danielle Zerr, the hospital's infectious disease chief.

The Pfizer vaccine could be approved for children as young as five by the end of October.

Dr. Zerr says, although Covid admissions are down at Seattle Children's, most of the hospitals beds are still full. That's because many kids are coming to the hospital with other respiratory diseases, and for mental health emergencies.

— Eilis O'Neill

SPS holding vaccine clinics through October 21

Seattle Public Schools is now holding vaccination clinics for students, their families, and staff members.

Both flu shots and Covid vaccines will be offered at the clinics held at campuses throughout Seattle on weekends through October 21.

Check here for clinic locations and times, and other things to know before showing up for a shot.

And members of the public are also welcome to get their shots, even if they don't have someone in the district.

— Angela King

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 20

Fewer Covid patients in Washington's hospitals

The Washington State Hospital Association is reporting that the number of hospitalized Covid patients in the state has gone down over the past week (from 1,673 to 1,504) — mostly because many of the patients who were occupying hospital beds have died.

"That is a way we do not want to be creating hospital capacity," said Cassie Sauer of the State Hospital Association.

It's creating another grim problem: crowded morgues.

"There's a number of counties that are either ordering additional morgue capacity through refrigerated trucks or working with their morgues to figure out how to increase capacity," Sauer said.

But even with the increase in deaths, Sauer says that in eastern Washington — and especially close to the border with Idaho — hospitals are still operating near or at capacity.

"For our eastern Washington hospitals, Idaho is really challenging," Sauer said. "And it's very frustrating for Washington hospitals to feel like we are the stopgap for ineffective Covid practices in Idaho."

This story has been updated with additional reporting

— Eilís O'Neill, Dyer Oxley

Gov. Inslee requests staffing assistance from federal government

As hospitals throughout Washington state continue to operate near or at capacity due to Covid-19 hospitalizations, Gov. Jay Inslee has requested staffing assistance from the federal government.

According to reporting from The Associated Press, Inslee wrote to White House Covid-19 Coordinator Jeffrey Zients that the state's health department requested 1,200 clinical and non-clinical staff to help at hospitals and long-term care facilities.

"In Washington State, our hospitals are currently at or beyond capacity, and we need additional assistance at this time," the letter reads. "Our hospitals were nearing capacity this summer – before the Delta variant hit our state. Much of this volume was due to delayed care during the early part of the pandemic."

A spokesperson for the governor's office said the state has not yet received a response.

— The Associated Press

US to open more travel to vaccinated foreign nationals

NPR reports that the Biden administration will ease restrictions on foreign nationals flying into the United States.

Travelers will be able to enter the US, starting in early November, if they show proof-of-vaccination and a negative Covid test from within three days of their flight.

The move will modify a range of travel bans put in place during the Trump administration. It does not affect ground travel from Canada or Mexico.

Unvaccinated Americans will also be allowed to fly back to the US, but they must show a negative test from within one day of the flight.

— Dyer Oxley

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 17

Kirkland opens application for new Covid relief program

Renters and homeowners who are struggling to pay their rent, mortgage, or utilities in Kirkland can apply for a new financial assistance program.

The new relief program, which is funded from the American Rescue Plan, is open to any resident of Kirkland who has experienced financial hardships because of Covid, and has an income equal to the area's median income or less.

For a single person, the the median income is 81,000 dollars in King County.

Applicants will be contacted by the city to submit documentation that attests their hardship, such as tax returns, receipts, medical bills, and unemployment application materials.

— Paige Browning

Going to see the OL Reign? You'll need to be vaccinated

The OL Reign are the latest Northwest sports team to require fans to be vaccinated against Covid-19 in order to attend matches.

The Reign, a National Women's Soccer League team, plays at Tacoma's Cheney Stadium.

The vaccine mandate will start at their next game on Sept. 26.

— Paige Browning

About 1/3 of exemption requests approved at UW Medicine

As of Friday afternoon, UW Medicine has received about 60 requests for medical exemptions and 300 requests for religious exemptions from the state’s Covid vaccination requirement.

Roughly a third of all exemption requests have been approved.

UW Medicine’s Chief Medical Officer Tim Dellit reported the numbers during a Friday afternoon town hall on the current pandemic situation.

Jerome Dayao, chief nursing officer and senior associate administrator at UW Medicine, also spoke during the meeting and noted that some employees have opted to be vaccinated as a result of the mandate.

He also said that UW Medicine can likely find replacements for any staff they lose as a result of the mandate. Dayao said the hospital has been speaking with medical travel organizations (which provide temporary staff) and he believes UW Medicine can replace staff as necessary.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced a vaccine mandate for a range of jobs, including health care, in August. Affected employees have until October 18 to be fully vaccinated.

— Dyer Oxley

A potential new Covid vaccine being tested at UW Medicine

UW Medicine is seeking volunteers for an experimental Covid vaccine booster.

The three vaccines currently used in the United States target the spike protein of the coronavirus. This experimental version targets a variety of proteins with the aim of provoking an immune response from multiple angles. Researchers hope the approach will create a better defense against variants of the virus.

The study is seeking participants who have already been fully-vaccinated with Pfizer, Moderna, or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“With the emergence of the Delta and other Covid-19 variants, we need to stay ahead of the virus by developing effective vaccines that will aid in the prevention of all strains of Covid,” said Dr. Anna Wald, director of the UW Medicine Virology Research Clinic.

More details here.

— Dyer Oxley

Seattle mayor: "...we'll do what we need to do to protect those businesses who are doing the right thing."

When King County's proof-of-vaccination mandate goes into effect in late October, it will be up to staff at bars, restaurants and other businesses to enforce it.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan says she hopes customers will comply and be vaccinated. She adds that nobody deserves to be harassed for doing their job.

“If there are certain areas where there are problems we'll do what we need to do to protect those businesses who are doing the right thing," Durkan told KUOW.

The new rules do not apply to outdoor dining, to-go orders, or places like grocery stores.

Read the full story here.

— Kate Walters

Business associations respond to King County's new vaccine mandate

Business organizations are responding to King County’s new requirement that customers show proof-of-vaccination at restaurants, bars, and other places.

“The feedback I’ve gotten from members of the Downtown Seattle Association is that vaccine mandates are a good thing and can help us get over that hump and get to 90 plus percent vaccination in Seattle and King County, and put an end to this pandemic so we can all move past it …” said Jon Scholes, president and CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association.

Scholes notes that the region is “in a really strong position” with having more than 80% of eligible people vaccinated. But to improve pandemic conditions, more is needed.

“Vaccination is the only way we put an end to this pandemic and move forward as a community,” he said.

But not all business organizations favor King County’s recent vaccine mandate. Anthony Anton, CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association says that too much of a burden is being placed on restaurants and bars.

"The data shows without a doubt that Covid spreads everywhere, and any policy to reduce the spread must similarly apply everywhere. Anything less than that amounts to using our industry — which has been the hardest hit by far — as a carrot-and-stick for the small percentage of people in King County who have been unwilling to be vaccinated."

Anton is asking the public to be kind to hospitality staff.

— Kate Walters


Read previous updates here