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Coronavirus updates: What you need to know today

UPDATE, March 17, 2:15 p.m.: KNKX Public Radio is working to keep you updated on the latest developments of the outbreak of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus. In addition to bringing you daily stories and updates on air during Morning Edition and All Things Considered, we’ve compiled a list of comprehensive resources.

You can find the latest numbers from officials tracking confirmed cases, as well as up-to-date announcements from agencies responding to the pandemic. If you have questions that aren’t answered here, or ideas about people we should talk to or stories we should cover, email outreach@knkx.org. We’ve also started a podcast, Transmission, about life in the heart of this outbreak. You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

UPDATE, March 15, 4 p.m.: The state Department of Health is reporting more than 120 new cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours. Health officials have increased the statewide total to 769 cases, including 42 deaths. The cases affect 17 counties.

The latest numbers come as Gov. Jay Inslee announced widespread closures of in-house dining and entertainment, the latest extraordinary measure in the effort to curb the coronavirus outbreak. 

King County continues to have the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. So far, health officials there have identified 420 cases, including 37 deaths. Pierce County identified three new cases as of Sunday afternoon, bringing the total there to 29.

The new numbers were announced as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines for public gatherings. The federal agency urged people to avoid events of 50 people or more for eight weeks. 

As the scramble to administer tests for potential coronavirus patients continued Sunday, the state underscored its commitment to limiting the financial burden on those patients.

In a statement, the state health department and the Office of the Insurance Commissioner said costs for COVID-19 testing would be waived under the emergency order issued by Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler on March 5. More information about the order, which extends through May 4, can be found here. The statement urges eligible patients who receive a bill from their insurers for COVID-19 testing or office visits to file a complaint with the Office of the Insurance Commissioner.

Meanwhile, health officials warn that the growing concerns about the coronavirus outbreak have led to canceled blood drives and a significant dip in blood donations.

“While inventories are now holding steady as faithful donors and first-time donors respond to the urgent need, donations will continue to drop in the days and weeks to come,” according to a statement from Public Health — Seattle & King County. The agency called for new donors of all blood types are needed for cancer treatment, trauma cases and other critical needs.

More information about blood donation can be found at Bloodworks Northwest, including who is eligible to donate and the locations.  

UPDATE, March 14, 6 p.m.: The state Department of Health announced Saturday that the total number of novel coronavirus cases statewide has risen to 642, including 40 deaths.

Health officials are asking people not to overstock supplies so there is enough for others.

“We want the public to be assured that if they will return to their normal pace of grocery shopping that will be an adequate supply of products for their consumption,” said Jan Gee, president and CEO of the Washington Food Industry Association and its educational foundation.

Meanwhile, King County announced that it’s using the arrival section of the King County International Airport, an Eastgate parking lot, and a newly acquired hotel in Issaquah as host sites for people who are homeless or can’t quarantine themselves without infecting others.

And UW Medicine says it is postponing elective surgeries through March 31, to reinforce its COVID-19 response. The move covers all UW Medicine health care facilities. Patients who have elective surgeries scheduled are being notified by UW Medicine.

Public Health — Seattle & King County says

“Currently, anyone with a fever and cough should assume their illness could be COVID-19,” Public Health — Seattle & King County said in a statement. It adds that people exhibiting symptoms should take steps to protect others from the disease. This includes staying at home and staying away from others in your home.

The public health agency says if you need to go out into the public to see a health care provider, you should wear a mask and practice meticulous hand washing. The agency says laboratory testing is becoming more broadly available, but that doesn’t mean the system has the capacity to collect and test samples as rapidly as it would like.

UPDATE, March 13, 3:40 p.m.: Gov. Jay Inslee revealed the latest tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases during a news conference Friday, where he announced statewide school closures and an extended ban on large gatherings.

Cases of the novel coronavirus have increased to 568 across 15 counties — representing roughly 75 percent of the population. So far, 37 people have died from the respiratory disease.

In Snohomish County, an employee at the Monroe Correctional Complex has tested positive for COVID-19, the Department of Corrections announced Friday. The announcement came a day after the department said it's temporarily suspending visits in all of its prisons.

The employee last worked on March 8, was tested two days later and received the positive result late Thursday.

The prison has put two living units with medium- and minimum-security prisoners under quarantine for the next 10 days.

Prisons routinely deal with infectious diseases, says Department of Corrections spokeswoman Janelle Guthrie. But she adds the department is taking extra precautions around the new coronavirus.

"We have developed new protocols to deal specifically with screening, testing and infection control with response to COVID-19," Guthrie said.

Tim Pauley has been incarcerated at Monroe for about a decade. He is not under quarantine, but he lives in the same building as the two affected units.

In an interview over the phone Friday afternoon, Pauley said the quarantined prisoners are staying in their cells so far.

"I am more worried about the lockdown than I am about the disease," Pauley said, adding that 10 days with restricted movement is a lot longer than a lockdown following a fight, for example.

Guthrie said the department is working to modify and ease those movement restrictions in the quarantined units.

Meanwhile, officials in Kent are calling on King County leaders to do more about security at the county's quarantine and isolation site located in the city. Friday morning, a person who was being housed at the former motel left and got on a northbound bus. That person was being tested for the new coronavirus, but the results are not yet known.

Kent Mayor Dana Ralph has repeatedly criticized county leaders for not including the city in its public health decisions. The county can’t force anyone to stay in quarantine. The facility is intended for people experiencing homelessness or those who otherwise don't have a place to quarantine or isolate.

In a statement, the county said it was shifting its procedures to only house people who do not need additional social services.

Pierce County Library System announced Friday afternoon that it’s closing all buildings starting Saturday.

On Monday, March 16, staff will be in the libraries to begin assessing how to serve residents while the 20 branches are closed, according to a statement. Specific, limited services — such as videotaped story times — will be available to the public as they become ready.

And starting tonight at 6, all Seattle Public Libraries and community centers will close for a month. Mayor Jenny Durkan announced the measure as a way to stop the spread of the new coronavirus. Most of the city's other recreational facilities will also close.

In a statement, the mayor said given how many people use these services, it would be difficult to mandate social distancing without closing. Preschool programs in community centers will remain open. So will shower services for those living without shelter. Bathroooms and handwashing stations run by Seattle Parks and Recreation also will remain open. The facilities will stay closed until at least April 13.

As for the rest of King County, the restrictions on smaller gatherings continue to have ripple effects. Kate Becker, a creative economy strategist at the King County Executive’s Office, said many organizers have decided they didn't have the means to enforce the public health guidelines, so they canceled events or shut down. Becker said those that chose to stay open have implemented the new measures for gatherings.

"They are limiting the number of people who can come into their spaces. They are providing sanitizing materials. At the doorway they are checking their employees to make sure they don't seem feverish and have coughs, and they're sending them home if they do," Becker said.

UPDATE, March 12, 5:10 p.m.: Gov. Jay Inslee has announced a six-week closure of all public and private schools in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties in an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19. The newest mandate comes as confirmed cases have increased to 457 statewide, including  31 deaths. 

The closures span 43 school districts, affecting thousands of students and their families. Districts are being instructed to work on plans to continue paying employees and feeding kids who rely on free and reduced-lunch programs.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Health is enrolling and activating emergency volunteer health care workers, in preparation for the strain that’s likely to occur across health care systems as more and more patients are treated for the novel coronavirus.

The Washington Medical Commission said in a statement Thursday that state licensing is conditionally waived to meet the emerging demand for practitioners. It’s authorized by the Uniform Emergency Volunteer Health Practitioner Act in times of emergency.

Volunteers who register with the system and are verified to be in good standing where they practice can now practice in Washington state without obtaining a license. They can find the application here, or register with their local Medical Reserve Corps.

The state health department also announced that one of its employees tested positive for COVID-19. The employee was last at work Friday, at the time exhibiting no symptoms. The individual immediately isolated after feeling unwell over the weekend.

“DOH has been preparing for the possibility that employees might test positive for COVID-19 or need to self-quarantine since the beginning of the response,” the agency said in a statement. “The department will continue to follow its own guidance for employers and take every precaution to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Thurston County is following the governor's lead and banning gatherings of 250 or more people.
The Thurston County Board of health passed a resolution Thursday afternoon enacting the social-distancing measure. It includes the Capitol Campus, but does not include schools.

Similar to local approaches by King and Snohomish counties, the resolution also requires smaller gatherings to follow strict hygiene and distance guidelines.

One case of COVID-19 has been confirmed in the county so far. Inslee’s Wednesday announcement applies only to Pierce, King and Snohomish counties.

Arts and culture organizations are still dealing with the effects Inslee’s order.

The Seattle Symphony will rebroadcast old performances while Benaroya Hall remains closed through the end of the month, according to a statement on its website.

“As musicians, we unite in good times and bad to make music as a community, for our community,” said Associate Principal Trumpet Alexander White. “I’m so happy we’ll still be sharing musical moments together.”

The first rebroadcast will be the performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 led by Music Director Thomas Dausgaard on Thursday and again on Saturday. They can be found on the symphony’s YouTube and Facebook pages.

Local artists are coming up with other creative ways of reaching audiences during the pandemic. Pianist Marina Albero is hosting a livestreamed concert on Facebook Sunday in what she’s calling The Quarantine Sessions.

King County Metro is temporarily ceasing fare enforcement inspections as the region responds to the new coronavirus. In a statement, the agency said "suspending fare enforcement will limit hand-to-hand, close interactions between fare enforcement officers and passengers, protecting their health."

Passengers are still expected to pay the fare and officers will continue to board buses to "deliver safety support, assist customers and operators, and provide information or directions to those who need help finding resources."

Metro is still providing regular service, including Access paratransit.

UPDATE, March 11, 5:20 p.m.: Gov. Jay Inslee has prohibited events and gatherings of more than 250 people in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties. This is the most significant mandate for social distancing in response to the novel coronavirus from Washington officials so far.

The move is rippling through the region as the number of coronavirus-related deaths across the state rose to 29 Wednesday. The State Department of Health reported 366 total infections reported, including the first from Thurston County. More than 3,400 people in Washington have been tested so far.

The governor stopped short of ordering schools to close. But Seattle Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, will close starting Thursday for two weeks to stop the spread of the virus.

As people are increasingly encouraged to stay home, King County has placed the first person in a Kent motel repurposed as an isolation or quarantine facility.

The Kent location and similar sites are for individuals experiencing homelessness, students staying in dorms, or those who do not have a separate bedroom away from family members who are elderly or medically vulnerable. They can only be placed there on recommendation from Public Health – Seattle & King County.

Quarantine is for people who are not currently showing symptoms, while isolation is used for people who are currently ill.  Public Health did not specify whether the person at the Kent Motel was under quarantine or isolation.

Economic concerns are weighing as people stay home. The U.S. Senate is considering legislation to provide emergency paid leave to people who are unable to work because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Wednesday she’s hearing from constituents who are worried about older relatives, missing work, paying rent and keeping children safe.

“Now, I’ve seen a lot in my years as a U.S. Senator, but I’m not exaggerating when I say this is one of the most trying times I’ve ever seen in my state experience,” Murray said.

The New York Times reported that in late January, a Seattle lab asked the U.S. government for permission to test samples from flu patients for coronavirus, but federal officials said no. By the time the lab started testing without government approval, the virus had taken hold in western Washington.

Murray said the Trump administration will be held accountable for missing opportunities to contain the virus in the U.S.

“But I’m also going to be doing everything in my power to make sure we do not miss significant opportunities,” she said. “We do still have time to slow this down and manage it as best we can.

Artists in the area are trying to cope with lost revenues from cancelled events. Drummer and music educator Max Holmberg says he is losing about $4,000 in income this month.

“A musical I was going to play for got cancelled,” Holmberg said. “On top of that I teach a lot of private students at Google. A lot of nonessential people have been asked to not come to their campus,” Holmberg said, adding that he’s had other gigs cancelled too.

The City of Seattle and others are organizing relief funds specifically for arts and culture groups impacted by the coronavirus. Some members of the arts community have also started GoFundMe campaigns.

Gov. Jay Inslee, backed by officials from King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, announced an order Wednesday prohibiting gatherings of 250 people or more.
Credit Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX
Gov. Jay Inslee, backed by officials from King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, announced an order Wednesday prohibiting gatherings of 250 people or more.

UPDATE, March 10, 4:15 p.m.: King County health officials say 10 long-term care facilities are reporting positive cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The positive cases refer to either a staff member or resident. The news comes as confirmed cases in the county are up by 74, totaling 190.

The county also reported two new deaths: a woman in her 80s who was a resident of Issaquah Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, and a man in his 80s who was a resident of Seattle-based Ida Culver House. Both of the fatalities were cases included in earlier confirmed counts.  

Of King County’s 22 reported deaths, 19 are associated with Life Care Center in Kirkland, the epicenter of the outbreak.

State health officials announced that positive cases of the novel coronavirus statewide have increased to 267, up more than 100 from yesterday. Deaths are up to 24.

Cases in Pierce County have more doubled since yesterday, according to the latest numbers from the state. The Department of Health tallied 16 as of Tuesday afternoon, two more than Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department was reporting. Eight of those cases are individuals in their 40s or younger, including two children, according to county health officials.

The updated numbers come after Tacoma Public Schools announced several individuals tested positive for the new coronavirus, prompting several school closures. The district announced late Monday that individuals at Sheridan and Lowell elementary schools and another at Wilson High School tested positive for COVID-19 — prompting the closure of all three schools.

In a statement, the district said Sheridan and Lowell will remain closed for the rest of the week, while Wilson will only close Tuesday, “due to limited exposure.” And the health department extended the closure of Mary Lyon Elementary, where a staff member tested positive for the virus. Mary Lyon will remain closed through March 12.

The district will use that time to clean the schools. The closures also will allow the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department to identify others who may have been exposed.  

The state's largest school district, Seattle Public Schools, reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19 at a school. Aki Kurose Middle School in South Seattle will close tomorrow until further notice because a staff member tested positive for the illness. The school will distribute food to students at lunchtime starting tomorrow. More than three-quarters of students at Aki Kurose qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

In a statement, the district said there are no other known positive cases at Aki Kurose or any other schools. Maintenance crews will be performing "extensive cleaning" at the school, including disinfecting surfaces in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

UPDATE, March 9, 3 p.m.: Positive coronavirus cases are up to 162 statewide, including 21 deaths, according to the latest information released by the state Department of Health. That includes a new case in Kitsap County.

The vast majority of those cases are in King County. Health officials there confirmed 33 new cases, including three new deaths, bringing the total of positive cases in the state’s largest county to 116. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department reported seven COVID-19 cases Monday, but the state was only reporting four. 

As health officials work to detect new cases in the epicenter of the outbreak, leaders in Seattle have opened the Exhibition Hall at Seattle Center as a homeless shelter. It’s one of several measures the city is taking to try to limit the homeless population’s exposure to the novel coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.

The hall will take in about 100 guests from one of Seattle’s busiest shelters, the Downtown Emergency Service Center, or DESC. The move will potentially lower the risk of people catching the virus by spreading out the shelter population. City officials plan to keep the exhibition hall open for two weeks.

DESC also has found temporary accommodations for shelter guests with the greatest risk of health complications from COVID-19. City officials say there have been no confirmed cases of the virus in homeless shelters at this point.

Other measures include an effort to open 100 new spaces in three Seattle tiny house villages in the next two to three weeks. These would not be for isolation or quarantine, but instead a preventive measure to get unsheltered people out of encampments, where officials say infectious diseases are more likely to spread.

Seattle's Navigation Team also has assessed several large, unsanctioned encampments to gather information on conditions and needs at the sites, city officials said.

Meanwhile elsewhere in the region, more colleges are joining the trend of social distancing. Beginning Tuesday, Green River College will adjust classes through the end of winter quarter to limit face-to-face meetings. All day and evening classes were canceled Monday to prepare for the transition.

Bothell-based Northshore School District closures continue in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, and a local foundation is trying to soften the blow for more vulnerable students who attend those schools.

The Northshore Schools Foundation has launched a fund to help families who rely on the free and reduced meals program, according to a story from the Bothell-Kenmore Reporter.

UPDATE, March 8, 7 p.m.: Cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, are up to 136 statewide, according to the latest numbers from the state Department of Health. King County, which has the highest number of cases, is reporting 83 — a dozen more than the previous report.

The Grant County Health District announced its first death linked to the new strain of coronavirus, but state health officials hadn’t confirmed that information as of late Sunday.  

Pierce County is now reporting four cases, including two residents in Tacoma, the county’s largest city.

As a precaution, universities there have moved to online learning. Pacific Lutheran University in Parkland will conduct classes online through the end of the month, while University of Puget Sound in the city’s North End will hold classes virtually until spring break begins March 16.    

In King County, Shoreline Community College announced it’s also moving to remote instruction for the remainder of the quarter.

None of these college campuses practicing “social distancing” has reported a case of COVID-19.

In a statement Sunday afternoon, the state Department of Health issued updated guidance for health care providers on testing people for COVID-19. It directs providers to focus testing on people with COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath, and to prioritize patients who are at higher risk.

“While anyone can ask a health care provider to be tested for COVID-19, testing is provided at the health care provider’s discretion,” the statement reads.

Meanwhile, Swedish Hospital and SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, the union representing the health system’s workers, have paused negotiations in a contract dispute. In a statement released Sunday afternoon, Gov. Jay Inslee said mediators agreed to halt talks in order to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.

“These are dedicated and expert health care workers who play a critical role in our response to the virus,” Inslee said.

The governor added negotiations will resume as soon as possible, for “the long-term stability of a very important health care system.”

UPDATE, March 6, 6:53 p.m. A Pierce County resident, a man in his 50s, is in stable condition at St. Anthony Hospital in Gig Harbor after receiving a positive test result for COVID-19, according to the Tacoma-Pierce County Public Health Department.

More from a press release: The man went to the hospital March 4. He has underlying health conditions and experienced pneumonia. The hospital ordered the test for COVID-19. The man did not travel outside the country. 

The University of Washington conducted the test, which is presumptive positive until the Centers for Control and Prevention confirms it. We are working to identify anyone who may have an exposure risk because of contact with the person.

UPDATE, March 6, 5 p.m.: Local officials are responding to concerns about the Kirkland nursing home that has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19, as Washington’s confirmed cases of the respiratory disease rose to 79 on Friday — including the first in Jefferson County and another fatality, bringing the state's death toll to 12. 

Family members of residents say they are receiving little communication about their loved ones at the Life Care Center.

"These families are top of mind. These residents are top of mind," King County Executive Dow Constantine told media during a briefing Friday. "We want to make sure everyone has the information they need."

Constantine and other local officials laid some of the blame for the communication breakdown on Tennessee-based Life Care.

"Public Health cannot all of a sudden become a conduit to talk about the status of a family member that's in there," said Patty Hayes, director of Public Health — Seattle & King County. "That's a responsibility of the health care providers."

KNKX reached out to Life Care, but has not heard back as of Friday afternoon.

In a statement released Thursday night, Life Care said its team is doing what it can to address questions from families.

“Our clinical team is making personal, one-on-one telephone calls with family members to share information about loved ones and respond to questions,” the statement reads. “Communication is vital in the caregiving process and for keeping families abreast of developments in dealing with the coronavirus (COVID-19).”

Despite officials' frustration with the company's lack of communication, Hayes and others say they are confident the patients at the Kirkland facility are receiving high-quality care. Additional medical professionals are on their way to help augment the response.

Hayes told reporters Friday that 15 residents of Life Care needed to be transferred to hospitals outside Kirkland, due to capacity issues. At least one patient is being treated at Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup.

Marce Edwards, executive director of corporate communications for MultiCare Health System, said the Puyallup-based hospital has received a patient from Life Care in Kirkland.

“As members of the Northwest Healthcare Response Network, we work collaboratively with other hospitals in the region to meet the health care needs of our community,” she wrote in an email Friday. “Good Samaritan and all of MultiCare have been preparing to take care of patients with symptoms of COVID-19 for months. Our teams are ready and prepared to deliver care in a safe manner.”

The (Tacoma) News Tribune said in a report that CHI Franciscan, which runs Tacoma-based St. Joseph Medical Center, would not confirm or deny treatment of any COVID-19 patients.

Some help is on its way from the federal government. President Donald Trump signed an emergency appropriations bill this morning that includes $950 million to help local public health agencies respond to the outbreak. About $11.5 million is set to come to Washington state, almost immediately.

State lawmakers also have passed a $100 million emergency spending bill. Money will go toward keeping track of infections and exposures, as well as increased testing.

King County alone is expected to spend about $50 million for its coronavirus response in the short term, Constantine said. The county released detailed recommendations Friday about steps people should take depending on their level of exposure or symptoms. Hayes says Public Health asks people who self-quarantine to keep in contact, adding the agency is monitoring some 300-500 people.

Meanwhile, local schools and events continue to be affected by the outbreak.

Northshore School District remains closed, while others are monitoring the situation closely amid growing pressure from students and families. The University of Washington and Seattle University moved classes online, to practice “social distancing.” Still, the campuses remained open and athletic activities continued as of Friday afternoon.

A staff member at UW tested positive for COVID-19, according to a statement released by the university Friday. The building where the person works, the Roosevelt Commons East building on the Seattle campus, is closed for cleaning.

The company that organizes Emerald City Comic Con announced Friday that it’s postponing the annual event until the summer. The decision was made after consultation with government officials and the tourism bureau. In its statement, Reedpop said specific dates for the rescheduled conference aren't known yet. Attendees will get ticket refunds within 30 days. About 100,000 people attend Comic Con every year in Seattle.

Seattle Public Library announced it was canceling all events in March, though its branches remain operational. 

Gov. Jay Inslee released an update Friday afternoon regarding the work local, state and federal leaders are doing to limit economic impacts amid the outbreak. The efforts include issuing workplace guidelines and guidance on employment security for people who rely on state services.

“Our taskforce is also working with large bankers, financial associations, telecoms, utilities and major employers to discuss what they can do to provide relief for companies and workers negatively impacted by COVID-19,” Inslee wrote. Read his full statement, which includes links to resources here.

And Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is urging the Trump administration to delay its so-called “public charge” rule because of the coronavirus outbreak. The rule would deny immigrants a green card or visa if they're “more likely than not” to use certain public benefits in the future. That likelilhood increases if they've used benefits in the past. Ferguson says that federal law allows many immigrants to apply for things like health care, if they've been in the country for at least five years.

In a letter to the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ferguson says that implementing the rule during a public health crisis is "irresponsible and reckless.”  

UPDATE, March 5, 4 p.m.: Washington state health officials have confirmed 70 positive cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, including the first in Central Washington. And King County confirmed another death, bringing the statewide death toll to 11.   

As of Thursday afternoon, cases increased by 31, including a new case detected in Grant County. There has been no change in the number of people being monitored.

The new fatality was a woman in her 90s, who died at EvergreenHealth Medical Center on Tuesday. The person who tested positive in Grant County is isolated in critical condition at Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee.

State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler is ordering all Washington health insurers to waive copays and deductibles for coronavirus testing. He's also requiring insurers to cover the costs of out-of-network treatment if there aren't enough in-network providers to address the COVID-19 disease.

The move is possible because of powers granted to the commissioner from Gov. Jay Inslee's emergency declaration responding to the outbreak.

In a statement, Kreidler said the order "should help reassure the public that we will take all necessary steps to protect them."

The order also requires insurers to allow one-time early refills for prescription drugs. Public health officials have recommended stocking up on necessary drugs when possible in case of quarantine or isolation.

The emergency order will remain in effect until May 4.

The trade association for health insurance providers released a statement Thursday outlining its priorities amid the outbreak. The board of directors for America’s Health Insurance Plans said its providers are proactively addressing prevention, testing and treatment.

“We are taking decisive action to help prevent the spread of this disease, to ensure that people have coverage for and access to needed testing, and to help patients who are infected receive the care and treatment they need,” Kristine Grow, senior vice president of communications. That includes working with public and private-sector partners to eliminate the barrier of mounting out-of-pocket costs, she wrote.

“We will cover needed diagnostic testing when ordered by a physician. We will take action to ease network, referral, and prior authorization requirements and/or waive patient cost sharing. We will also take action so that patients will have continuous access to their regular prescription medications while at the same time avoiding potential problems such as drug shortages.”

In King County, the federal government is investigating the Kirkland nursing home associated with most of the COVID-19 deaths.

The Associated Press reported that the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is sending inspectors to Life Care, along with experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to figure out what happened and determine whether the nursing home followed guidelines for preventing infections.

And a part-time stadium employee at CenturyLink Field has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a county statement released Thursday. Sporting events will proceed as expected for the time being. But Public Health — Seattle & King County says people at higher risk should stay home. That includes people over the age of 60, anyone with underlying health conditions, people with weakened immune systems or those who are pregnant.

Health officials say there's a low risk of infection to people who were at a Seattle Dragons game on Feb. 22. They're following up with coworkers who had close contacts with the stadium employee.

In Snohomish County, health officials are recommending “social distancing,” but not mandating any public closures yet.

“As of today, we are recommending that people avoid non-essential gathering in large groups to the extent possible,” said Dr. Chris Spitters, the county’s health officer.

He added that the Snohomish County Health District is loosely defining large groups as meetings events or spaces with 50 or more people.

“The larger the group, the higher the risk. The closer the contact between individuals, the higher the risk,” Spitters said.

The county continues to communicate constantly with local school districts, and isn’t requiring closures at this time. “We will continue to work with the school leaders, to determine the best measures, including potential school closures,” Spitters said.

Meanwhile, some of Seattle’s biggest companies are taking precautions to reduce their risks of exposure.

Amazon emailed its Seattle- and Bellevue-based corporate employees late Wednesday urging anyone who can to work from home. The guidance follows reports of an exposure at a corporate office in South Lake Union.

Nordstrom’s corporate office is under the same guidance.

Starbucks is holding its annual meeting, a high-profile affair scheduled for March 18, virtually. And baristas are temporarily halting refills of reusable cups. On Thursday, employees at the coffee giant’s corporate office were packing up in preparation to work out of the office for several weeks.

A sign posted at a Starbucks store in Tacoma, Wash., Thursday, March 5, 2020, tells customers that the coffee company is temporarily stopping accepting reusable cups, as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Credit Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press
A sign posted at a Starbucks store in Tacoma, Wash., Thursday, March 5, 2020, tells customers that the coffee company is temporarily stopping accepting reusable cups, as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

And NHL Seattle is postponing its seat selection process and the pricing release for season tickets due to concerns over the new coronavirus.

The Seattle Times reports the hockey team had planned to release prices this week and begin setting appointments for fans to tour its preview center. But given that public health officials have recently recommended avoiding large gatherings, NHL Seattle will postpone the process out of concern fans might feel forced to visit the preview center.

The team may decide to handle most of the seat selection online. Team owners have a board meeting Tuesday, during which they'll assess how to proceed.

As new information emerges about COVID-19, seemingly multiple times a day, we wanted to take a moment and go back over the basics. KNKX’s Ed Ronco spoke with Dr. Ann Marie Kimball, professor emeritus at University of Washington School of Medicine. She also started the APEC Emerging Infections Network, to look at new illnesses emerging from highly populous countries in Asia. Listen to their conversation here.

UPDATE, March 4, 3:30 p.m.: University of Washington Medicine researchers have a new test for the novel coronavirus, allowing for more people to be tested. The news came Wednesday, just as King County reported another death — the 10th person in the state.

UW Medicine says it's ready to process about 1,000 specimens per day, with the goal of ramping up to 4,000-5,000 per day. The state Public Health Laboratory in Shoreline has the capacity to test about 200 specimens, or about 100 people, per day.

"Testing is the main weapon we have against this virus right now," said Keith Jerome, head of the virology division in UW Medcine's department of laboratory medicine.

Testing shows who should be put in isolation and gives officials information about whether to enact broad social-distancing measures, Jerome said.

"Really, until we have a vaccine or until we have clearly effective and widely available therapeutics, this is our major tool," Jerome said. "That's why we're working around the clock to try to make as much available as possible."

Until recently, federal authorities limited who was eligible to be tested for the virus that causes COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new strain of coronavirus. But those restrictions are being eased as demand increases and the capacity for testing grows. Still, researchers emphasize that it's up to individual health care providers to decide whether patients should be tested.

UW Medicine says it has the capacity to meet local demand for testing as well as process tests from other parts of the country.

California reported a death Tuesday, the first fatality from the virus outside Washington state.

Here in Washington, state public health officials are now reporting 39 confirmed cases. And 231 people who may have been exposed are being monitored.

People who are at higher risk of severe illness are being advised to stay home and away from large groups as much as possible, including high-density public spaces. Those high-risk groups include: people 60 and older, people with underlying health conditions such as heart or lung disease, pregnant women, and people who have weakened immune systems.

The University of Washington began developing the COVID-19 test in January, shortly after news spread about the coronavirus outbreak in China. At that time, it was considered unlikely the virus would get to the United States. Testing was initially concentrated under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when cases did show up in the U.S.

The Federal Drug Administration gave academic institutions the go-ahead to offer their own tests over the weekend, as the outbreak spread in Western Washington. The UW Medicine lab began testing patient samples on Tuesday.

Jerome, with UW Medicine, says this kind of rollout could normally take weeks or months and is instead happening in hours and days.

"This has been, in many ways, an amazing success story for the public health and diagnostic arena," Jerome said. "I know it doesn't seem like that because this is clearly a terrible problem that we're dealing with."

And for anyone who is concerned that they’re experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, Tacoma-based MultiCare Health System says it's offering free e-visits. Dr. Mark Mariani, chief medical officer for retail health at MultiCare, says the idea is to help people get their questions answered. Since March 1, MultiCare has had more than 700 virtual visits.

Meanwhile, public agencies and officials continued containment efforts.

Seattle Public Schools has not had any confirmed cases of COVID-19 and has not closed any schools. But Superintendent Denise Juneau says the district is working closely with county health officials to determine how to keep students and staff safe.

She says custodial crews are prioritizing cleaning common areas. In some cases, they're doing deep cleaning when there are concerns that someone may have come into contact with the virus. And she says they're ensuring students practice good hygiene.

“We’re providing additional time for students to wash hands and making sure we’re staying clean,” she said, adding that the district is deferring to public health officials on when, if at all, to close schools.

And she says Seattle Public Schools has taken other steps, including postponing all out -of-state travel for students and staff.

King County Metro announced late Tuesday that it was updating its cleaning procedures for its bus fleet, to limit the spread of the virus.

Metro staff, at the direction of the county executive, are increasing the frequency of cleaning buses — using a bleach solution to sanitize high-touch surfaces — such as buttons, handholds and pull cords — and disinfect the transit operator’s work area. Maintenance staff will soon transition to a daily procedure of broadly spraying a stronger, more comprehensive disinfectant on high-touch locations on buses.

The U.S. House, meanwhile, is considering an emergency bill that would send $11.5 million dollars to Washington state to help with public health budgets. Congresswoman Suzan DelBene urged passage of the measure. The Democrat's district stretches from eastern King County north to the Canadian border.

As risks of exposure continue to grow, health officials urge people to stay informed about the risks and good hygiene practices. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has developed guidance to help with risk assessment and management for people with potential exposure to COVID-19.

UPDATE, March 3, 3 p.m.: King County health officials have announced two more deaths linked to COVID-19. The additional fatalities are among seven new cases identified by county officials Tuesday.

As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, the state Department of Health had tallied 27 confirmed cases in King and Snohomish counties, including nine deaths. There are 231 cases under supervision statewide, and numbers are expected to change.

Many of the new cases are associated with Life Care, the nursing home that has been at the center of King County’s outbreak. The two fatalities were both residents at the facility who died on Feb. 26: a woman in her 80s who died at her family home and a man in his 50s who died at Harborview Medical Center.

Two of the new cases are of unknown exposure; the patients are currently hospitalized at Swedish Hospital in Issaquah.

To house patients for treatment and isolation in response to COVID-19, King County is moving the first of 18 modular units today to a site in White Center. At this time, no COVID-19 patients are currently occupying the modular housing units. County officials also are working to identify additional sites as needed, according to a statement from King County public health.

And the outbreak at Life Care has been linked to a presumptive positive COVID-19 case detected in North Carolina, according to a statement from the governor’s office there. The person reportedly traveled to Washington state and was exposed to the virus at the Kirkland nursing home. State officials are still waiting for confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the statement.

Meanwhile, counties and cities back in Washington that haven’t detected any cases of coronavirus are preparing for the possibility of further spread.

Thurston County has identified a site on Department of Corrections land for quarantine and isolation, if the need arises. Pierce County officials say they are actively testing, and will notify the public if a presumptive positive case is detected. 

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has issued an emergency declaration in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The move grants her the ability to exercise emergency authority to address any immediate dangers to the public. In the coming days, the city will announce actions stemming from this proclamation, according to a news release.

And out of an abundance of caution, the City of Tacoma announced that Mayor Victoria Woodards will deliver Wednesday’s state of the city address virtually. Information about how to watch the speech can be found here

As of Tuesday, 26 Kirkland firefighters and three police officers remained under quarantine. One was released Monday. Twelve first responders are showing flu-like symptoms, while 19 are confirmed to have had direct exposure, according to a press release from the city.

During a previously scheduled visit to a health clinic in Seattle on Tuesday morning, Gov. Jay Inslee and state Health Officer Kathy Lofy gave an update on the state's response.

"Every day we have some progress and another hurdle we have to go over," Inslee said.

Gov. Jay Inslee addresses reporters about coronavirus at a news conference Tuesday, along with State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy.
Credit Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX
Gov. Jay Inslee addresses reporters about coronavirus at a news conference Tuesday, along with State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy.

Washington's progress comes in the form of increased capacity for virus testing. The governor said state labs and the University of Washington are now prepared to do significantly more tests each day. But the hurdle health officials face is a restriction on who can be tested. Federal rules limit the criteria of who is eligible to be tested for the new coronavirus.

Inslee said he would be speaking with federal authorities as early as Tuesday afternoon about relaxing those rules. He also said the state is asking the federal government to release protective supplies, such as masks, that are stockpiled for these kinds of situations.

Lofy and Inslee continue to emphasize the importance of staying home if you're showing respiratory symptoms, regardless of whether you're able to be tested.

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Sen. Patty Murray is the ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee. At a hearing, she questioned representatives from federal agencies responding to the coronavirus outbreak. In an interview with KNKX All Things Considered host Ed Ronco, Sen. Murray says it's critical that the public trust federal officials. And she says she's pressing for test kits to be more widely distributed. Listen to their conversation from March 3.

As the death toll from COVID-19 rises, Washington’s Secretary of Health is asking state lawmakers for $100 million in emergency funds to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. Olympia correspondent Austin Jenkins talked live with KNKX Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick. Listen to their conversation below.

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Olympia correspondent Austin Jenkins talks with KNKX Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick about a $100 million budget proposal in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, on March 3.

UPDATE, March 2, 4:45 p.m.: King County health officials said Monday that the death toll linked to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has risen to six. All of the deaths were reported at EvergreenHealth, a hospital in Kirkland that’s been treating residents of a local nursing home that’s currently at the center of the outbreak.

Most of the people who have died had underlying health conditions. 

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KNKX's Will Stone talks with KNKX Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick about the latest developments in King County's outbreak of the novel coronavirus on Monday, March 2.

During a news conference Monday, King County Executive Dow Constantine told reporters that the county is finalizing a purchase on a motel to house people affected by COVID-19.

So far, no one has tested positive for the respiratory illness outside of King and Snohomish counties, though health officials anticipate that could be coming. Dr. Kathy Lofy, state health officer, says the virus is “actively spreading.”   

News of the outbreak is prompting more caution from first responders, says Dennis Lawson, president of the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters. He says there is a heightened awareness about wearing protective gear, such as respirators, and increased communication between responders and dispatchers about patients with respiratory symptoms or those who have potentially been exposed to the virus.

And some regional fire departments are taking precautions after some of their first responders came in contact with patients who tested positive for the virus. Seven firefighters from Redmond and 27 from Kirkland are under quarantine, as well as two Kirkland police officers. Some of the firefighters are starting to show flu-like symptoms, according to a press release from the city. Both departments say they are fully operational.

Lawson echoed other officials, saying there is still a lot we don't know about how this outbreak will shake out. But he adds departments also are starting to talk about what happens if quarantines among firefighters become more widespread.

"We have already started talking about whether we can share resources," Lawson said.

No widespread measures have been announced to close public spaces or cancel large public gatherings. In the event the health emergency rises to that level, each county has designated a public health officer to serve as the senior adviser and spokesperson on public health issues. They are tasked with monitoring conditions, in partnership with other public officials, and making the call to disrupt pubic activities in their counties.

The airports are under the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration, so local authorities have little to no say about whether they remain operational.

Still, a number of airlines are waiving cancellation and change fees amid the outbreak. Alaska Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Airlines are among the carriers allowing customers to change flights free of charge. However, there are some restrictions. For example, Alaska Airlines “peace of mind” waiver is for tickets purchased between Feb. 27 and March 12.

Amtrak also has announced it is waiving fees on new and existing tickets bought by April 20, although travel on Amtrak has not been linked to any of the coronavirus cases.

Stay up to date on COVID-19 information by visiting websites for these public agencies: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Public Health — Seattle & King County Washington Department of Health Snohomish Health District Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department Thurston County Public Health & Social Services Whatcom County Health Department

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Will Stone reports on the outbreak of the novel coronavirus from Seattle for NPR News.

UPDATE, March 1: King County health officials announced four new cases of coronavirus late Sunday, including a second death, bringing the total number of cases countywide to 10. All of them are associated with Life Care, a nursing home in Kirkland that is associated with two previously announced cases of the virus, also known as COVID-19.

Results from the state lab came back positive, and the cases remain presumptive until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can confirm.

The second fatality, a man in his 70s, happened Saturday at EvergreenHealth. All of the other patients remain in critical condition at that Kirkland hospital: a woman in her 80s, a woman in her 90s, and a man in his 70s. All of them have underlying health conditions.

The four latest cases were announced hours after two other cases became public — both men in their 60s with underlying health conditions who are hospitalized at Valley Medical Center in Renton and Virginia Mason Medical Center. As of Saturday afternoon, those men also were listed in critical condition.

Officials with the King County Executive’s Office will join local and state health officials Monday to discuss the latest cases and the county’s response to the outbreak, according to a statement released Sunday night.

EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland is seen Saturday, Feb. 29, where a person died of COVID-19.
Credit Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press
EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland is seen Saturday, Feb. 29, where a person died of COVID-19.

ORIGINAL STORY

A patient in King County who tested positive for coronavirus has died, according to state and local public health officials. It's believed to be the first coronavirus death in the U.S. The news prompted Gov. Jay Inslee to declare a state of emergency

State and local health officials have confirmed two other presumed cases of the virus, also known as COVID-19, both tied to a long-term care facility where more than 50 residents and employees are experiencing respiratory symptoms.  

As of Saturday, that brings the total of presumed patients in King County to four. There is an additional case in Snohomish County. 

The cases are being classified as "presumptive" until testing at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta confirms the results.

The patient who died, a man in his 50s with underlying health conditions, came to EvergreenHealth Medical Cetner with serious respiratory issues before testing positive for the virus, according to a statement from the Kirkland hospital.

The other two patients announced Saturday are believed to have contracted coronavirus at Life Care Center, a long-term care facility in Kirkland. An employee at the facility, a woman in her 40s, is in satisfactory condition at Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue. A resident at the facility, a woman in her 70s, is in serious condition at EvergreenHealth.  

Antonia Lopez, a contract phlebotomist, takes a break from her work at Life Care Center of Kirkland, a nursing facility where more than 50 people are sick and being tested for the COVID-19 virus.
Credit Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press
Antonia Lopez, a contract phlebotomist, takes a break from her work at Life Care Center of Kirkland, a nursing facility where more than 50 people are sick and being tested for the COVID-19 virus.

Additionally, dozens of residents at Life Care are experiencing respiratory symptoms, and more positive cases are expected. Of the 108 residents and 180 staff members at the nursing facility, 27 residents and 25 staff members are reportedly experiencing some sort of respiratory symptoms.

Local health officials are actively working to test and treat to contain spreading of the virus; the CDC was scheduled to fly in Saturday night to assist.

Dr. Frank Riedo, Medical Director of Infection Control, EvergreenHealth Hospital addresses a news conference at Public Health — Seattle & King County on Saturday in Seattle.
Credit Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press
Dr. Frank Riedo, Medical Director of Infection Control, EvergreenHealth hospital addresses a news conference at Public Health — Seattle & King County on Saturday in Seattle.

During a news conference Saturday afternoon, King County Executive Dow Constantine said the county's emergency management department is helping coordinate a regional response to contain the virus, activating the county's emergency operations center. He and other health officials stressed the need for people to exercise good hygiene practices.

"We need to emphasize personal health preparedness," Constantine told reporters. He also noted that King County Metro would continue to be diligent in keeping buses sanitized. 

Dr. Jeff Duchin, with King County public health, said no “widespread” community transmission is apparent at this time. But he warned that if the outbreak worsens, officials may recommend people avoid large gatherings and telecommute if possible.

Dr. Frank Riedo of EvergreenHealth said more test results for the other patients who are presumed infected were expected late Saturday.

Dr. Kathy Lofy, state health officer, says there is no backlog on local coronavirus testing so far. The state intends to ramp up its testing capability to handle 200 tests per day. That likely will include looping in commercial and university labs.  

The governor issued a statement following Saturday's death.

“It is a sad day in our state as we learn that a Washingtonian has died from COVID-19,” Inslee said, offering condolences to the patient’s family and friends. “We will continue to work toward a day where no one dies from this virus.”

In his proclamation declaring a state of emergency, Inslee directed state agencies to use all resources necessary to prepare for and respond to the outbreak.

“This will allow us to get the resources we need,” Inslee said in a statement. “This is a time to take common-sense, proactive measures to ensure the health and safety of those who live in Washington state. Our state agency directors have been actively preparing since the nation’s first case appeared in Snohomish County. Washingtonians can be assured we’ve taken this threat seriously and have been working in collaboration with our health care partners to develop plans and procedures to prepare for what could likely be a world-wide pandemic.”

The directive calls upon state agencies and departments to do “everything reasonably possible to assist affected communities.”

Inslee stressed in his statement that the easiest way to slow the spread of the virus is to practice good hygiene: “wash your hands often, sanitize frequently touched surfaces and stay home when you're sick.”

Saturday's news of the death came less than 24 hours after health officials announced that testing at the state public health lab detected two new cases: one found in a high school student in Snohomish County, and another linked to travel. They also are being classified as "presumptive" cases, while the CDC works to confirm the results. 

"We are going to find more individuals so we really believe that the risk at this point is increasing,” Lofy, the state health officer, said Friday. 

The student from Snohomish County who is believed to have the virus became sick with a fever and body aches at the beginning of the week.

He returned briefly to Jackson High School in Everett on Friday when he started to feel better. He is recovering at home in isolation.

"There was no travel history associated with this,” said Dr. Chris Spitters, who is the health officer at the Snohomish Health District. “Our team is still in the midst of the contact investigation, so we still don't know the possible source of infection. Our staff have notified a very small number of students who came in contact with the individuals.”

Everett Public Schools is sanitizing Jackson High School through the weekend, and has closed the school Monday to complete the job.

Meanwhile, students enrolled in study abroad programs at Washington universities also are being affected by the spread of the virus, which has now been detected in more than 50 countries.

Gonzaga University said earlier this week that it's suspending its program in Florence, Italy, and asking its 161 students to return to their home residences. Italy has had the most cases in Europe so far.

Washington State University and the University of Washington are monitoring the situation closely, but advising students to stay put for now.

The latest information about coronavirus can be found at the state Department of Health's website

KNKX's Kari Plog, Gabriel Spitzer, Will Stone, Simone Alicea, Ashley Gross and Paula Wissel contributed to this report. This story is developing. We will update as more details become available.

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