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Home > Local News > Coronavirus daily news updates, May 21: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the nation – Seattle Times

Coronavirus daily news updates, May 21: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the nation – Seattle Times

Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, May 21, as the day unfolded. Click here to find resources and the latest extended coverage of the pandemic.

The latest type of business allowed to reopen in some parts of Washington: small-group fitness classes, which will have to follow guidance issued Tuesday night by Gov. Jay Inslee. Schools, restaurants and movie theaters are all trying to plan for what things might be like after they reopen.

As leaders from all 5o states take steps to restart their economies, a leaked recording of a call on that subject with a senior White House staffer has raised alarms among health experts.

Meanwhile, in China, doctors are seeing the coronavirus manifest differently among patients in its new cluster of cases in the northeast region, suggesting that the pathogen may be changing in unknown ways and complicating efforts to stamp it out.

Throughout Thursday, on this page, we’ll be posting updates from Seattle Times journalists and others on the pandemic and its effects on the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest and the world. Updates from Wednesday can be found here, and all our coronavirus coverage can be found here.

The following graphic includes the most recent numbers from the Washington State Department of Health, released Thursday.

Live updates:

Health officials: State COVID-19 death toll may be higher

Washington state’s death toll from the coronavirus could be two to three times the current total because some people who died of virus-like symptoms early in the outbreak were never tested, health officials said Thursday.

As of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, at least 1,044 people in Washington state who had COVID-19 have died. But health officials have identified 3,000 deaths dating back to Jan. 1 that involved symptoms like pneumonia or acute respiratory syndrome, which are commonly associated with COVID-19, said Katie Hutchinson, health statistics manager.

Because they occurred before the first case was identified in the state, officials are investigating those 3,000 deaths to determine whether they’re from COVID-19 and should be added to the state death toll, Hutchinson said.

“It’s going to be extremely hard to figure out if any of these were COVID-related,” Hutchinson said. “So we’re trying to work on that.”

Read the full story here.

—Associated Press

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Washington GOP state lawmakers call for a special legislative session to address budget, coronavirus crisis

OLYMPIA — Washington’s Republican legislative leaders Thursday called on Gov. Jay Inslee to convene a special legislative session as early as mid-June to work on budget and other issues related to the new coronavirus.

The announcement comes as GOP legislators have watched Inslee use emergency powers over the past few months to shut down much of daily life to slow the outbreak of COVID-19.

Republican leaders and many lawmakers supported those early efforts. But they have grown increasingly critical of Inslee’s steps to gradually reopen the economy in the face of a massive spike in unemployment and preliminary projections showing a $7-billion state budget shortfall over the next three years.

Read the full story here.

—Joseph O’Sullivan

Major encampment removal in Little Saigon draws protesters during coronavirus pandemic

A homeless encampment removal Thursday morning in Little Saigon drew roughly 20 protesters to police barricades, as debate flares in Seattle over whether the city should break up camps during the coronavirus pandemic.  

The removal of a long stretch of tents on South Weller Street was the second in the Chinatown-International District this week: The first, under I-5 on South King Street, took place Wednesday.  

As homelessness resources have dwindled and encampments have swelled during the crisis, community groups frustrated by visible drug use, litter and reports of gunshots and violence have asked the city to take action

But others, including some Seattle City Council members, say the city has not been following its own pandemic-era policies on encampment removals, and have advocated for tighter restrictions on when the city can clear tents. 

Read the full story here.

—Sydney Brownstone

Large investors plan to press Amazon directors on workplace safety, coronavirus response at shareholder meeting

Managers of public pension funds in New York, California, Illinois and beyond plan to press Amazon’s directors on workplace safety at its annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday.

Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs urged Amazon director Judith McGrath, who chairs the company’s leadership development and compensation committee, to address the board’s oversight of workplace safety amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re asking her to speak at the annual meeting … about [Amazon’s] goals for keeping workers and the company safe, and its progress toward achieving those goals,” Frerichs said.

The fund managers spoke during a web conference Thursday organized by CtW Investment Group, a union-affiliated fund, and heard accounts from current and former Amazon employees and contract workers. Labor groups have increased their focus on Amazon, honing in on its response to the pandemic.

Read the full story here.

—Benjamin Romano

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The pandemic is changing every aspect of shopping: From store layouts to how jeans are folded

Stores across the country are reopening to a changed reality. Retailers that have spent years trying to get customers to linger, in hopes they’ll buy more than they need, are reimagining their stores for a grab-and-go future filled with deliberate purchases.

Gone, they say, are the days of trying on makeup or playing with toys in the aisles. The focus now is on making shopping faster, easier and safer amid long-term shifts in consumer expectations and habits.

Apple is checking shoppers’ temperatures at the door. Best Buy is asking customers to shop by appointment. Macy’s and Seattle-based Nordstrom are doing away with beauty consultations and alteration services, while the Gap is closing off bathrooms and fitting rooms. Cosmetics giant Sephora won’t allow shoppers to test products anymore.

The efforts illustrate the lengths to which retailers are going to reassure skittish consumers that it’s safe to shop in person again, even as U.S. coronavirus deaths surpass 92,000. The already bruised industry has been hit hard during the pandemic, as weeks-long shutdowns ushered the broader economy into recession.

—The Washington Post

Seattle police searching for man who attacked, blamed Asian couple for coronavirus pandemic

Seattle police are asking the public for help in identifying a man who attacked and spat on an Asian couple in downtown Seattle last weekend, blaming them for the coronavirus pandemic.

The couple was walking near Third Avenue and Stewart Street around 4:15 p.m. Saturday when the man walked past the couple, shoved the man and slapped him, knocking off the man’s glasses, according to a statement from the Seattle Police Department.

“It’s all your fault,” the assailant allegedly told the couple.

Asian Americans across the country have reported an increase in verbal abuse and physical attacks since the coronavirus epidemic began, including in the Seattle area.

Read the full story here.

—Elise Takahama

State health officials confirm 19,117 cases of COVID-19 in Washington

State health officials confirmed 146 new COVID-19 cases in Washington on Thursday, including seven more deaths.

The recent update brings the state’s totals to 19,117 cases and 1,044 deaths, according to the state Department of Health’s (DOH) data dashboard. The dashboard reports 3,156 total hospitalizations in Washington.

So far, 302,927 tests for the novel coronavirus have been conducted in the state, per the DOH. Of those, 6.3% have come back positive.

King County, the state’s most populous, has reported 7,630 positive test results and 539 deaths (four of which were confirmed today), accounting for about 51.6% of the state’s death toll.

—Trevor Lenzmeier

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Young adults are also affected by Kawasaki-like disease linked to coronavirus, doctors say

Recent public health warnings about a severe and puzzling inflammatory syndrome linked to COVID-19 have focused on children. But now, some doctors say they are seeing the illness, similar to Kawasaki disease, in young adults, too.

A 20-year-old is being treated at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego; a 25-year-old has been diagnosed at Northwell Health’s Long Island Jewish Medical Center, and several patients in their early 20s are hospitalized with the syndrome at New York University’s Langone Health in New York City.

Jennifer Lighter, a pediatric infectious-diseases doctor at NYU Langone, said younger children with the condition seem to have symptoms that look more like traditional Kawasaki, which is characterized by inflammation of the blood vessels. But teens and young adults have more of an “overwhelming” response involving the heart and other organs.

“The older ones have had a more severe course,” Lighter said.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

Three more Washington counties eligible to speed up reopening amid the new coronavirus

OLYMPIA – Three additional Washington counties are eligible to apply to speed up their reopening under Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-part coronavirus recovery plan.

The state Department of Health (DOH) announced late Thursday afternoon that Cowlitz, Grant, and Pacific counties can now ask state health officials to proceed to the second phase of the plan.

Under the second phase, a wide range of businesses – including nail and hair salons, restaurants and retail stores and professional services — can begin some business again with safety guidelines. Some small-group fitness classes can also resume with measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Counties that don’t get permission to move faster are likely to move to the second phase on June, if public-health metrics on COVID-19 continue to improve.

They join a dozen other counties – most of them joining the list this week – that are eligible to apply for the second phase, including: Adams, Clallam, Clark, Grays Harbor, Island, Jefferson, Kitsap, Lewis, Mason, San Juan, Spokane, and Thurston.

Ten of Washington’s 39 counties have already moved to the second phase: Asotin, Columbia, Garfield, Lincoln, Ferry, Pend Orielle, Skamania, Stevens, Wahkiakum and Whitman.

In order to reopen more quickly, counties must among other things show they have sufficient local hospital bed capacity, enough protective gear for health care workers and a plan to make testing for COVID-19 easily available. More about county reopenings and Washington’s COVID-19 response can be found here.

—Joseph O’Sullivan

Bellevue estimates $28 million budget shortfall

The City of Bellevue is estimating a budget shortfall of up to $28 million because of the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic

The $28 million revenue loss accounts for about 13% of the Eastside city’s general fund, according to a report provided to the Bellevue City Council this week. Those losses are largely because of revenue reductions from the city’s sales tax and business and occupation tax, which are expected to fall by 24% in 2020.

The city plans to use money from its reserve fund to offset some of the financial impact, and has been reducing spending in other areas, such as non-essential travel. But furloughs and other job reductions could occur later this year.

The loss in revenue could also impact the 2021-2022 budget; the current projection is a $12 million shortfall, according to the city report.

—Paige Cornwell

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First families pay tribute to longtime White House butler

WASHINGTON (AP) — Tributes from former first families rolled in Thursday in response to the news that a man who was a fixture in the White House who served 11 presidents had died at the age of 91 after contracting COVID-19.

Wilson Jerman started working as a cleaner under President Dwight Eisenhower and retired as an elevator operator during the presidency of Barack Obama.

“With his kindness and care, Wilson Jerman helped make the White House a home for decades of First Families, including ours,” said former first lady Michelle Obama. “His service to others — his willingness to go above and beyond for the country he loved and all those whose lives he touched — is a legacy worthy of his generous spirit.” Jerman became a White House butler under President John Kennedy, a role that Mrs. Kennedy was instrumental in landing for him, his oldest granddaughter, Jamila Garrett, told the local Fox News station in Washington.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Virus ‘does not spread easily’ from contaminated surfaces or animals, revised CDC website states

The coronavirus primarily spreads from person to person and not easily from a contaminated surface. That’s the take-away from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which this month updated its “How COVID-19 Spreads” website.

The revised guidance now states, in 17-point font, “The virus spreads easily between people.” It also notes that the coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, “is spreading very easily and sustainably between people.”

The CDC made another giant font change to its website, clarifying what sources are not major risks. Under a new heading “The virus does not spread easily in other ways” the agency explains that touching contaminated objects or surfaces does not appear to be a significant mode of transmission. The same is true for exposure to infected animals.

CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said Thursday that the revisions were the product of an internal review and “usability testing.”

“Our transmission language has not changed,” Nordlund said. “COVID-19 spreads mainly through close contact from person to person.”

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

Prince Charles wants furloughed workers to pick berries. Farmers wonder if Brits are up to the task.

LONDON — You know you have worries when the future king is warning about food security. Prince Charles this week implored workers furloughed by the pandemic to get out into the fields and “pick for Britain.”

“If we are to harvest British fruit and vegetables this year, we need an army of people to help,” said his ruddy-faced royal highness, wearing a tie and tweed sporting jacket, his hand jammed into the pocket of his wrinkled Mackintosh, standing in his own well-tilled garden at Birkhall, his estate in Scotland.

Like much of the agriculture in the developed world, British fruit and vegetable growers are dependent on migrant workers, and in England’s case, in normal years, they come mostly from Bulgaria and Romania. The coronavirus, though, has disrupted movement across Europe, leaving Britain’s farmers short-handed.

So many people answered the royal call that the “Pick for Britain” website crashed on Wednesday. But farmers are worried that of the thousands of Brits who have forwarded applications, many won’t show up or won’t last the season, especially after they get their hands dirty.

“It’s tiring and long days,” said Sarah Boparan, operations director for HOPS, a labor contracting company that supplies thousands of workers to farms across the country. “And you will have backache, and your hands will ache, and we are seeing people say, ‘it’s harder than we thought it would be’ and decide it’s not a job that suits them. So there’s that anxiety.”

—The Washington Post

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Trump thinks it’s such a miracle drug, he’s taking it himself. But how much of what he says about hydroxychloroquine is true?

President Donald Trump has touted the benefits of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to fight the novel coronavirus. It’s so effective, he said, that he’s taking it himself.

But health researchers say it’s just not clear how well the drug works against the virus that causes COVID-19. (Two studies at the University of Washington are trying to answer that question now.)

Nevertheless, Trump has continued to make inaccurate or incomplete statements about the drug. The New York Times fact-checked some of his most recent claims about the drug and found them false or lacking in evidence.

Read the full fact-check here.

—The New York Times

King County Council bill would further push back property taxes

New legislation in the Metropolitan King County Council would further push back property taxes. The legislation aims to ease the economic burden on homeowners amid the economic catastrophe caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill, proposed by Councilmember Reagan Dunn, would let property owners pay their taxes in installments, over a six-month period, rather than in one lump sum on June 1.

Property taxes for the first half of 2020 had previously been due April 30, but King County Executive Dow Constantine extended the deadline to June.

The new legislation would let the county treasurer instate up to six-part payment plans for property taxes in both 2020 and 2021, extending due dates by up to six months.

“A mere delay on property taxes isn’t enough to meet the great financial need of many King County residents,” Dunn said in a prepared statement. “We should act now to help taxpayers who are doing everything they can to make ends meet, but still face a due-in-full property tax bill even as the economic fallout intensifies.”

The legislation will be officially introduced at the council’s meeting Tuesday.

—David Gutman

Ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen released from federal prison

President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, was released from federal prison Thursday to serve the remainder of his sentence at home because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Wearing a surgical mask and a baseball cap, Cohen arrived at his Manhattan apartment building at around 10:40 a.m. after his release from FCI Otisville in New York.

He removed boxes of legal documents from the trunk of a car. A uniformed doorman at the luxury residence, not far from Trump Tower, carried them into the lobby on a luggage cart.

Cohen, who pleaded guilty to tax charges, campaign finance fraud and lying to Congress, didn’t stop to speak with reporters gathered on the sidewalk.

“I am so glad to be home and back with my family,” Cohen wrote on Twitter a little more than an hour after arriving home. “There is so much I want to say and intend to say. But now is not the right time. Soon. Thank you to all my friends and supporters.”

Cohen, 53, was released on furlough as part of an attempt to slow the spread of the virus in federal prisons. He began serving his sentence last May and had been scheduled to remain in prison until November 2021.

Read the full story.

—The Associated Press

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‘Morbidly obese’ was taste of Trump’s ‘own medicine,’ Pelosi says

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that she called President Donald Trump “morbidly obese” because he’s put down women for their weight. And besides, she suggested, the president could lose a few pounds himself as the coronavirus bears down on the nation’s capital.

“I gave him a dose of his own medicine. He’s called women one thing or another over time, and I thought he thinks that passes off as humor in certain cultures,” Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference. “I was only quoting what doctors had said about him, so I was being factual in a very sympathetic way.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. (AP Photo / Manuel Balce Ceneta)

For the record, the president is obese, but not morbidly so. Pelosi on Monday called Trump “morbidly obese.” He responded by dismissing her as “a waste of time.”

Pelosi’s level of sympathy is unclear. Even as the virus ravages Americans and the U.S. economy, the two are barely speaking to each other.

Read more here.

—The Associated Press

36,000 lives saved had we locked down one week earlier, new model shows

If the United States had begun imposing social-distancing measures one week earlier than it did in March, about 36,000 fewer people would have died in the coronavirus outbreak, according to new estimates from Columbia University disease modelers.

And if the country had begun locking down cities and limiting social contact on March 1, two weeks earlier than most people started staying home, the vast majority of the nation’s deaths — about 83% — would have been avoided, the researchers estimated.

Under that scenario, about 54,000 fewer people would have died by early May.

The enormous cost of waiting to take action reflects the unforgiving dynamics of the outbreak that swept through American cities in early March. Even small differences in timing would have prevented the worst exponential growth, which by April had subsumed New York City, New Orleans and other major cities, the researchers found.

“It’s a big, big difference. That small moment in time, catching it in that growth phase, is incredibly critical in reducing the number of deaths,” said Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at Columbia and the leader of the research team.

Read the full story here.

—The New York Times

Is it safe to swim in a pool, lake or ocean? Yes, experts say

Summer always means water, whether it’s an ocean, lake, river, swimming pool or hot tub. But now that we’re worrying more about germs, it’s natural to wonder: Will this season’s swimming, surfing, floating and soaking be as safe as it used to be?

Yes, many experts say.

“There is no data that somebody got infected this way (with coronavirus),” said professor Karin B. Michels, chair of UCLA’s Department of Epidemiology.

“I can’t say it’s absolutely 100% zero risk, but I can tell you that it would never cross my mind to get COVID-19 from a swimming pool or the ocean,” said Paula Cannon, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at USC’s Keck School of Medicine. “It’s just extraordinarily unlikely that this would happen.”

On Web pages giving pandemic advice, the federal Centers for Disease Control says: “There is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, spas or water play areas.”

As both professors noted, the chlorine in most swimming pools is enough to inactivate the virus.

Read more here.

—Los Angeles Times

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‘A whole other layer of trauma’ for those who work with homeless people

Engagement Services Project Manager Semone Andu, left, and Senior Program Manager of Engagement Services Charese Jones work at YouthCare, which provides services to Seattle’s homeless youth. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

As Seattle-area homeless services have shut down and shelters have stopped taking new clients to comply with physical-distancing rules, front-line workers have been witnessing suffering that they’re unable to ease.

That’s taking an overwhelming toll on the workers themselves.

“When crisis hits … all of these broken systems get amplified and you get to see all of it,” says YouthCare’s Semone Andu.

Read the full story here.

—Sydney Brownstone

Catch up on the past 24 hours

School “as usual” is looking unlikely next fall in Washington without mass distribution of a vaccine, or a drastic change in coronavirus transmission rates. Officials are considering at least seven options for schooling.

A summer without Seafair: Organizers have canceled their major events this year, including hydro races, the Torchlight Parade, Fourth of July celebration and more.

Washington contact tracers are trained, ready and making hundreds of calls to help track and slow the spread of the coronavirus. Here’s how this is working in our state as tracers nationwide play many roles: interrogator, nurse, confidant.

Small-group fitness classes can resume, with plenty of caveats, in counties that are in the second phase of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan.

A class works out in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood. Small fitness classes will have to practice proper hygiene, sanitation and social distancing to stay open under Gov. Jay Inslee’s phased-in coronavirus reopening plan. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

What will Seattle restaurants look like when they reopen? Owners are talking about the different ways they hope to keep everyone safe and still preserve the magic.

What about movie theaters? Those won’t be the same either, raising the question of how many of us will even want to go back.

Landlords are throwing cold coffee on Starbucks’ request for rent breaks. “I am highly disappointed, disgusted and angry,” one property owner fired back.

Hawaii is not messing around when it comes to enforcing tourist quarantines, scofflaws are learning the hard way. All 50 states are reopening in some form, but at what cost? It’s like walking a tightrope, blindfolded.

President Donald Trump will visit a Ford plant in Michigan today, and the state’s attorney general is begging him to wear a mask for the first time in public.

When (and if) office workers finally go back, the coronavirus won’t be the only health hazard. Yuck.

A digitally colorized scanning electron microscopic (SEM) image shows Legionella pneumophila, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ Disease. Stagnant plumbing systems in emptied commercial buildings could put returning employees at risk of Legionnaire’s and other illnesses. (Janice Haney Carr/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via The New York Times)
—Kris Higginson

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