Pandemic updates: Washington households can get two free Covid-19 test kits per month
Updated news about the coronavirus pandemic in Seattle and Washington state.
As of Friday, March 4, 2022, the King County and Washington state departments of health report:
- Cases have declined by 29% in King County over the last seven days. An average of 291 new cases are emerging each day.
- Hospitalizations are up 1% in King County since a week ago, with a daily average of 11 new cases.
- Deaths have decreased by 36% over the past week in King County, with an average of five people dying each day.
- 79.4% of King County residents are fully vaccinated.
- 12,025 Covid-19 related deaths across Washington state; 1% death rate since the beginning of the pandemic.
Covid cases waning in Seattle area hospitals
The number of Covid patients across UW Medicine's hospital system amounts to 2.11% of all admissions, according to a message to the UW Medicine community from its leadership this week.
The March 1 email to staff states that there were 24 Covid patients being cared for across its hospitals. Its Emergency Operations Center labels the current level of activity as "mid" (things are still tight, but Covid cases are fewer than 10%). The EOC expects to shift down to low-mid next week as cases continue to plummet in the region.
In addition to the low case numbers, UW Medicine is also reporting that the number of staff who are out-of-office due to Covid is extremely low with about 33 out, as of earlier this week. The numbers are so low, the EOC has stopped collecting data on it this week.
The number of positive Covid cases in King County is 90.2 cases per 100,000 people, according to the latest statistics from Public Health - Seattle & King County. According to the Washington State Department of Health, the state's overall level is 143 cases per 100,000.
— Dyer Oxley
Google is bringing employees back into offices in Seattle and Kirkland
Google is the latest company making the move to bring its employees back into the office after two years of pandemic shutdowns and remote work.
GeekWire reports that Google is using the month of March to ease its Seattle and Kirkland employees into new work habits. By April 4, employees will convert over to a hybrid work schedule with three days spent in the office. They can work more days at the office if they choose. This will affect about 7,000 Google employees in Seattle and Kirkland.
Last month, Microsoft announced that it is also using the month of March to have its Washington state employees phase back into the office. According to the company's blog, "employees will have 30 days to make adjustments to their routines and adopt the working preferences they’ve agreed upon with their managers."
Moving forward, Microsoft says it is embracing an "evolving hybrid workplace" with "schedule flexibility." Even with hybrid work, this means that Microsoft is fully reopening its campuses and facilities throughout the region. The company has already reopened its California campus.
Microsoft said that current pandemic conditions and the fact that more than 80% of King County is fully vaccinated played into its decision to reopen.
— Dyer Oxley
Washington households can get two free Covid-19 test kits per month
Washington state has expanded its program providing free Covid-19 home tests.
Department of health officials said Wednesday that each household can order two free Covid-19 test kits per month while supplies last. Each kit contains multiple tests.
"Home tests are an excellent public health tool that help us know quickly and conveniently if we have Covid-19 so that we can take action to care for ourselves, protect our families and communities, and prevent onward transmission," said Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary for prevention and health with he state Department of Health.
Fehrenbach urges households to keep a box or two on hand in case they are needed. Rapid tests can be used before social gatherings, or if someone feels sick or has been exposed.
But she said people don't need an excessive stockpile, especially while resources are still somewhat limited.
Tests can be ordered online: sayyescovidhometest.org
Fehrenbach said the website will be available in 37 languages by mid-March to bridge equity gaps.
The state is also distributing free tests to local organizations to reach those who may not order online.
According to state data, Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations have plummeted in recent weeks but remain above December levels.
— Kate Walters
New pandemic plans from the White House
Shortly after President Joe Biden finished his first State of the Union address Tuesday evening, the White House released new plans for handling the pandemic, moving forward, "as we begin to get back to our more normal routines."
The intro of the 96-page plan states: "We look to a future when Americans no longer fear lockdowns, shutdowns, and our kids not going to school. It’s a future when the country relies on the powerful layers of protection we have built and invests in the next generation of tools to stay ahead of this virus."
"Powerful layers" include: heightening monitoring for new variants of the virus; vaccinating other parts of the world; investing in new treatments for Covid; and preventing economic and educational shutdowns.
The plan also mentions the monitoring of wastewater to detect the virus as well as updating vaccines to combat new variants.
— Dyer Oxley
UW returns to in-person commencement ceremonies in 2022
The University of Washington will return to in-person commencement ceremonies for its 2022 graduating class.
In-person ceremonies will take place for its Seattle, Bothell, and Tacoma campuses. UW Tacoma and UW Bothell are planning two ceremonies to accommodate graduates from 2020 and 2021.
The last time UW held in-person commencement ceremonies was in 2019, before the pandemic.
According to a statement from UW: "About 6,000 graduates typically march in the formal ceremony in Husky Stadium for both undergraduates and graduate students; more than 50,000 family and friends cheer them on from the grandstands. More than 4,000 graduates from the 2020 and 2021 years have expressed interest in returning to Seattle to officially mark their academic success, and officials expect tens-of-thousands of spectators."
— Dyer Oxley
Some health care workers urge people to keep masking up
Some health care workers are urging people to keep their masks on in indoor public spaces like grocery stores and offices, even after Washington state lifts the requirement on March 12.
Santiago Neme, an infectious disease doctor, said he hopes people keep masking up, and that he himself plans to do so for the foreseeable future.
“It’s not my risk; it’s the risk of my community,” he explained. “We have a pretty significant amount of folks who, although they’ve been vaccinated and boosted, they’re still immunocompromised, and their response to the vaccine is not as robust.”
Neme said continuing to wear masks will also help keep pressure off the health-care system.
A spokesperson for the Washington State Hospital Association said she hopes people will keep masking till case counts have been low for several months.
Even after the state mandate lifts, masks will still be required in hospitals and other health-care facilities, as well as on public transportation.
— Eilís O’Neill, KUOW
King County will lift local indoor mask mandate at same time as state
King County will lift indoor mask requirements on March 12 for bars, restaurants, grocery stores, schools, and many other venues.
Public Health – Seattle & King County, and King County executive Dow Constantine tweeted Monday that the decision was based on state and federal guidance, as well as declining hospitalization and case rates.
In a blog post, Public Health – Seattle & King County said: “We believe that ending the indoor mask order ten days earlier than the state previously announced will not make a significant difference for our local King County disease trends.
King County is now classified at a ‘low COVID-19 community level’ on CDC’s framework. King County residents have taken strong actions to protect themselves and others, most importantly through vaccination.”
Despite statewide and local mask requirements lifting, individuals can continue to wear masks, and individual businesses can continue to require masking.
Masking will still be required in some settings, such as healthcare facilities, long term care settings, and jails per state rules.
While the easing of restrictions signals a shift into a new phase of the pandemic, public health officials stress that lifting indoor mask requirements does not mean Covid-19 is over. They continue to urge the public to take precautions and get vaccinated.
Seattle Public Schools (SPS) officials have said in the past that decisions around masking will be made in partnership with local public health officials, and new policies will be implemented after bargaining with labor partners.
—Kate Walters, KUOW
Washington state's mask mandate will lift March 12, ahead of schedule
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday that the state’s indoor mask mandate will lift on Saturday, March 12, 10 days earlier than previously announced.
Inslee cited quickly dropping Covid cases and hospitalizations as the rationale for the decision.
Oregon and California were also expected to adopt the March 12 deadline to lift most of their remaining masking requirements. Previously, Oregon had set March 31 as the date its face covering requirement would end. Last week, that was moved up to March 19. Oregon's Covid state of emergency is scheduled to expire April 1.
“While this represents another step forward for Washingtonians, we must still be mindful that many within our communities remain vulnerable,” Inslee said in a prepared statement. “Many businesses and families will continue choosing to wear masks, because we’ve learned how effective they are at keeping one another safe.”
The announcement Monday — almost two years to the day after Washington recorded what was thought to be the first Covid death in the nation — followed discussions over the weekend between the states, according to Inslee’s office.
It also comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised its mask guidance last week. Under the new guidance, universal indoor mask usage is only recommended in areas with high disease activity.
According to the CDC’s disease activity map, eight of Washington’s 39 counties remain in the high category.
Read more here.
—Austin Jenkins, Northwest News Network
Monday marks two years since the first reported U.S. Covid death
Monday, February 28 marks a grim milestone: the two-year anniversary of what, at the time, was believed to be the first Covid death in the United States. It was right here in King County.
That first death was followed by many more: 2,500 in King County; 12,000 across Washington state; and nearly 1 million nationwide.
Two years ago, public health officials were just launching efforts to stem the spread of Covid-19. People were urged to frequently wash their hands. Schools went virtual. Lockdowns kept people distanced. And masks were eventually mandated.
Today, we have a powerful tool that we didn’t have back then: widely available and very effective vaccines. That’s why, two years in, the last of those restrictions seems to be nearing the end.
As of Friday, the CDC is now recommending that local officials lift mask mandates for indoor public spaces and schools in counties with low rates of severe Covid-19. That currently includes King and Snohomish but not Pierce counties.
But individual counties in Washington can’t make any changes until the statewide mask mandate is lifted. That’s currently slated for March 21.
The governor’s office said Friday they’re reviewing the CDC’s new guidance and will then work with the state health department to decide whether or not to lift the mandate sooner.
— Eilís O’Neill
Seattle's eviction moratorium expires on Monday
The moratorium has been in place since March 2020 to help renters struggling amid the pandemic, and was extended multiple times. Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell is letting the moratorium expire today, citing a drop in covid cases.
Many landlords who've contacted the city say they're eager to get new tenants into some properties. Meanwhile, housing advocates worry about the thousands of people who are behind on rent and could face homelessness.
The city says there is some assistance for renters, like a six month protection from eviction if a tenant couldn't pay rent due to the pandemic.
—Casey Martin, KUOW
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is repealing another Covid-related requirement
Starting March 1, Washingtonians will no longer need to show proof of vaccination, or a negative test result, to attend large outdoor or indoor events.
That is the same day that King County is ending its vaccine verification requirement for restaurants and other businesses.
Individual business owners and organizations can keep that rule in place if they so choose.
Last week, the statewide outdoor mask mandate for large events expired. And come March 21, the statewide mandate to mask up in most indoor settings — including schools and childcare facilities — will also come to an end.
Mask requirements will remain in place for hospitals and health care facilities, as well as correctional facilities.
Also this week, restrictions to indoor visits at long-term care facilities were removed from the state's emergency order. Restrictions on the number of times a person can visit, how long they can visit, and the number of visitors were all removed.
Physical distancing should still be maintained during busy visitation times and face coverings will still be mandated in these locations, even after the general face covering requirement is lifted on March 21.
— Angela King, KUOW
Washington restaurant owners hoping for more federal relief funds
Some Washington restaurant owners are hoping to receive more federal pandemic relief money.
Alison Collins of Boots Bakery in Spokane says the last two years have been hard on the business.
“We would use that money to replenish our coffers which have been depleted," Collins said. "We are obviously not doing the volume that we did prior to Covid. Nobody is, I’m sure.”
Collins was one of the small business owners who met with Sen. Patty Murray on Thursday. The senator is co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill to provide $48 billion in additional funds to help small businesses, especially in remote areas.
“There were a number of restaurant owners, because of language barriers, cultural barriers, didn’t apply," Murray said. "We want to make sure we get them the help to be able to apply if they qualify.”
Congress passed the Restaurant Revitalization Fund last March that provided more than $28 billion for struggling businesses. But many restaurants weren’t able to tap into that before money ran out.
— Ruby de Luna, KUOW