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Washington marks one year since first COVID-19 death

A pedestrian makes his way along a waterfront as downtown Seattle is partially hidden in a steady rain beyond Monday, Nov. 18, 2019.
Elaine Thompson
The Associated Press
A pedestrian makes his way along a waterfront as downtown Seattle is partially hidden in a steady rain beyond Monday, Nov. 18, 2019.

It’s been one year since health officials announced the nation’s first death from COVID-19 here in western Washington.

NPR contributor Will Stone was working for KNKX this time last year. He reflected on covering that story, as well as an emerging outbreak at Life Care Center in Kirkland, in a recent interview with KNKX Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick.

Looking back

Stone said things started to shift for him in the weeks that followed.

"I distinctly remember in mid-March showing up at Life Care Center, and half the press corps were wearing masks. And we still — this was the middle of March — all of us were not wearing masks, and I was not wearing a mask," Stone said. "It really was kind of jarring to see that certain people were taking precautions, and yet we didn't really know what the risks were. I just thought of the virus as something that was inside that facility, not around me with other people outside." 

Public health officials later determined the first death had actually occurred several weeks earlier. But the initial announcement marked a turning point in Washington’s response to the emerging pandemic.

On the coming months

Public health officials are cautiously optimistic about a recent decline in cases and hospitalizations in Washington. But officials are urging people not to let their guard down.

Stone said he's hearing from health experts that the next few months hold a lot of uncertainties.

"It does appear we have turned a corner, in the sense that we will not see the same kind of skyrocketing caseload like we did heading into the winter in the fall, because we have a lot of things working in our favor — whether that's warmer temperatures, people being outside, a certain growing level of immunity, either from infections or from the vaccine," Stone said. "All of this is kind of pushing in our favor and against the virus spreading. Obviously, the big unknown are these variants."

Health officials in Washington say case rates have remained high throughout the state, although they are moving in the right direction. This comes as officials say the state is detecting increasing numbers of a more transmissible variant of the coronavirus, called B.1.1.7, that was first discovered in the United Kingdom.

Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards has proclaimed March 1 COVID-19 Victims and Survivors Memorial Day. The News Tribune reports nearly 500 lights will be illuminated near the LeMay car museum in Tacoma following an event Monday to memorialize those who have died from COVID-19 in Pierce County.

In Washington, 4,596 people have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. 

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Kirsten Kendrick has been hosting Morning Edition on KNKX/KPLU since 2006. She has worked in news radio for more than 30 years. Kirsten is also a sports lover. She handles most sports coverage at the station, including helping produce a two-part series on the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the ongoing series "Going Deep."
Rebekah Way is an on-call news host at KNKX. She began her career in public radio as a news intern at KNKX, where she's also worked as an interim producer and reporter. Rebekah holds a life-long passion for music and also works as a professional musician and educator in the Seattle area.