The actual death toll in Washington state could be two to three times higher than the current tally, health officials said Thursday, because of deaths from respiratory symptoms not recognized as COVID-19 early in the year. As of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, at least 1,044 deaths in the state have been people known to have the disease.
Meanwhile, the state continues to tiptoe out of isolation, declaring three more counties eligible to apply to speed up their reopening under Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-part recovery plan. Republican legislative leaders, many of whom have grown increasingly critical of the slow reopening, are calling on Inslee to convene a special legislative session to work on budget and other issues.
Throughout Friday, 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 Thursday 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 Friday.
Hertz, car rental pioneer, files for bankruptcy protection
Hertz, which started with a fleet of a dozen Ford Model T’s a century ago and became one of the world’s largest car rental companies, filed for bankruptcy protection on Friday after falling victim to its mountain of debt.
The coronavirus pandemic has devastated Hertz by grounding business travelers and tourists, making it impossible for the company to continue paying its lenders. A sharp drop in used car prices has also decreased the value of its fleet.
“They were doing quite well, but when you turn off the revenues and you own all these cars and all of a sudden the cars are worth less it’s a very tough business,” said John Healy, an analyst and managing director with Northcoast Research in Cleveland.
Hertz said late Friday that it would use approximately $1 billion in cash on hand to keep its business running while it proceeds with the bankruptcy process.
Ask the Free Press Editor: Donating to “Save the Free Press” initiative and recruiting next-gen journalists
“What do you want to know about the local journalism crisis?”
Seattle Times Free Press editor Dean Miller has answered this reader-submitted question, and others, in a full Q&A about the “Save the Free Press” initiative and how to get younger generations interested in the field.
Inslee: Some Washington counties won’t move to second phase of coronavirus reopening plan by June 1
OLYMPIA — Despite phase two of Washington’s reopening only days away, Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday some counties won’t be able to open small businesses — like barbershops, hair salons and in-store dining — by June 1 under his four-part coronavirus plan.
“Counties that continue to have large numbers of infections are not in a position to open up stores, restaurants and services safely,” Inslee wrote in a statement.
The announcement didn’t say which counties would see those delays. But Inslee’s office released numbers ranking counties by the criteria he used earlier this week to make 10 additional counties — including Clark, Kitsap, Spokane and Thurston — eligible to start the second phase before June 1.
Libraries out, Harborview in? Coronavirus alters calculus for Seattle-area tax measures in 2020
Earlier this year, leaders of the King County Library Systemwere all in on asking voters to approve a property-tax levy to boost library funds by $75 million a year to close a projected deficit.
But bowing to abruptly altered economic and political realities, the library trustees reversed themselves and rescinded the ballot measure last month in a virtual meeting.
“With these things, timing is everything. Now is not the right time to ask the voters,” said Lisa Rosenblum, executive director of the 50-library system, which, like most employers, has shut down during the coronavirus pandemic under Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-home order.
But in November, the city may ask voters to approve a bus service tax, and the county likely will propose a bond to renovate Harborview Medical Center. Backed by unions that represent health care and construction workers, the proposal would authorize a 20-year, $1.74 billion bond to build a new hospital tower and carry out other upgrades at the only Level 1 trauma center in Washington.
Feds charge Issaquah software engineer with fraud related to COVID-19 financial relief
An Issaquah software engineer submitted false loan applications seeking more than $1.5 million designated for businesses financially harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to federal court documents.
Baoke Zhang, 35, was charged this week with one count each of wire fraud and bank fraud, according to a complaint filed in the Western District of Washington that was unsealed Friday.
He was arrested Friday.
Zhang allegedly submitted several loan applications to lenders and financial institutions in April for funds guaranteed by the Small Business Association (SBA) though the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The program, under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, provides forgivable loans to small businesses to use for payroll and other expenses.
Read the full story here.
State health officials confirm 19,265 cases of COVID-19 in Washington
State health officials confirmed 148 new COVID-19 cases in Washington on Friday, including six more deaths.
The recent update brings the state’s totals to 19,265 cases and 1,050 deaths, according to the state Department of Health’s (DOH) data dashboard. The dashboard reports 3,230 total hospitalizations in Washington.
So far, 308,358 tests for the novel coronavirus have been conducted in the state, per the DOH. Of those, 6.2% have come back positive.
King County, the state’s most populous, has reported 7,669 positive test results and 542 deaths (three of which were confirmed today), accounting for 51.6% of the state’s death toll.
Trump’s signature effort to direct farm surplus to needy families abruptly withdraws large contract amid criticism of program’s rollout
The Trump administration withdrew one of the largest contracts in its signature effort to use farm surplus to feed hungry Americans, capping a chaotic process that industry experts say relied too heavily on companies with little demonstrated experience in farming, food chains or food banks.
Contracts totaling more than $107 million went to a San Antonio event planner, an avocado mail-order company, a health-and-wellness airport kiosk company and a trade finance corporation, according to the Agriculture Department’s announcement of contract awards.
But the USDA bypassed the country’s three largest food distribution companies as well as nonprofit organizations with long histories of feeding the poor on a large scale, according to Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association.
The USDA declined to comment on whether other contracts had been, or will be, canceled. A number of others are moving forward for vendors experts say are inexperienced in this form of food distribution.
Olympia hotel burns, displacing dozens of homeless guests and some families with coronavirus
OLYMPIA — A fire destroyed the Quality Inn hotel in Olympia on Friday, displacing about 80 guests including families who were staying there because of the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities said.
Firefighters arrived at the hotel around midnight and found a shrub burning, The Olympian reported. Asst. Chief of Operations Mike Buchanan said the fire quickly spread up the building’s siding and into its attic.
Two buses were sent to the scene for the people who were staying at the hotel, the Olympia Fire Department said. Among those evacuated were about 15 families experiencing homelessness who had been moved to the hotel from a shelter to allow for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. No injuries have been reported.
Gregory said the Family Support Center was working on a long-term plan for the displaced families, but that the Governor Hotel was booked for them through early next week.
For a 15-year-old in India, ‘bringing papa home’ meant carrying him for 700 miles on a cheap bicycle
NEW DELHI — She was a 15-year-old with a simple mission: bring papa home. Jyoti Kumari and her dad had nearly no money, no transport, and their village was halfway across India. And her dad, an out-of-work migrant laborer, was injured and could barely walk. So Jyoti told her dad: Let me take you home. He thought the idea was crazy but went along with it. She then jumped on a $20 purple bike bought with the last of their savings. With her dad perched on the rear, she pedaled from the outskirts of New Delhi to their home village, 700 miles away. “Don’t worry, Mummy,” she reassured her mother along the way, using borrowed cellphones. “I will get Papa home good.”
During the past two months under India’s coronavirus lockdown, millions of migrant laborers and their families have poured out of India’s cities, desperate and penniless, as they try to get back to their native villages where they can rely on family networks to survive.
Many haven’t made it. Some have been crushed by trains; others run over by trucks. A few have simply collapsed while trudging down a long, hot highway, dead from exhaustion. But amid all this pain and sadness now emerges a tale of devotion and straight-up grit. The Indian press has seized upon this feel-good story, gushing about Jyoti the “lionhearted.”
Read the full story here.
Republican legislators ask AG Barr for help against Inslee’s coronavirus orders
A group of Republican state representatives wrote to U.S. Attorney General William Barr earlier this month, asking for his help to fight against the emergency orders issued by Gov. Jay Inslee to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The letter, from 10 Republican state representatives, asks Barr and the Department of Justice to “get involved to help the good people of Washington protect their foundational, constitutional rights.”
The letter concedes that state law gives the governor “extraordinary powers” during an emergency, but says emergencies are supposed to be time-limited. The Republicans fault state law for not being more specific.
“The letter of the relevant law is poorly drafted and somewhat vague,” the letter, led by state Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, says. “So, in practice, our Governor has been operating unchecked during the declared a State of Emergency relating to COVID-19 outbreak.”
“We need your help,” the legislators write to Barr, criticizing Inslee for ordering some businesses to shut down, closing state park lands and restricting in-person religious gatherings.
Tara Lee, an Inslee spokeswoman, said the governor’s office has not heard anything from the Justice Department in response to Walsh’s letter.
“The governor’s office is confident that the actions we have taken to save lives and slow the spread of COVID are necessary and legal,” Lee wrote in an email. “We continue to engage with legislators and other stakeholders on steps to reopen the state in a careful way.”
Walsh has helped promote rallies, attended by thousands in violation of social distancing guidelines, protesting Inslee’s stay-home orders.
More counties can move to Phase 2 of reopening
The state Department of Health announced today that four more counties can move to Phase 2 of reopening. That means people in those areas can start meeting with limited groups of people outside of their households and more stores and services can open. The newly added counties are Adams, Grays Harbor, Lewis and Spokane.
Read more about what the phases mean here.
To give kids a singing voice during coronavirus, Seattle’s Rich Gray writes ‘So Many Heroes’
After decades of writing for and performing in children’s theaters — and listening to the young actors and audiences — Rich Gray has a strong sense of how kids think.
So when he was asked to write a song thanking front-line workers, to be performed by children connected to youth theaters around the country, including the Seattle Children’s Theatre, Gray knew what he didn’t want.
“I didn’t want it to be a Boy Scout anthem, a ‘Thank you for your service’ song,” said Gray, an actor and composer who lives in Lynnwood. Nor did he want it to be “sappy, like a ‘We are the World’ kind of thing,” he said.
Most important, he wanted to write the song from a child’s point of view of the COVID-19 pandemic, and what is happening around them. He shared the lyrics with a couple of kids and asked, “Does this sound like something you would say?”
“It couldn’t be a song that seemed to be written by an adult from the mouths of kids,” Gray said. “You can tell those songs from a mile away.”
The result is “So Many Heroes,” a song performed by children from 16 youth theaters across the country that was posted on each theater’s Facebook page (and on YouTube) on Friday.
The project was led by Seattle Children’s Theatre’s interim artistic director, Kathryn Van Meter, who wanted to empower and amplify the voices of young people during the pandemic.
“We will be forever changed by our current events, and forever connected and bound together by our shared experience of isolation,” Van Meter said in a statement. “As we begin to redefine what it is to share space, there is hope in our future because we are resilient … just like the young people in our communities.”
Read the full story here.
Trump says he will ‘override’ governors who reject his request to reopen houses of worship this weekend
President Donald Trump on Friday said he has deemed churches and other houses of worship “essential” and called on governors to allow them to reopen this weekend despite the threat of the coronavirus.
“Today I’m identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services,” Trump said during a hastily arranged press conference Friday. He said if governors don’t abide by his request, he will “override” them, though it’s unclear what authority he has to do so.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had prepared reopening guidelines for churches and other houses of worship weeks ago, but the White House had refused to release them until Thursday.
Washington state confirms two cases of Kawasaki-like disease associated with COVID-19 in children
The Washington State Department of Health is confirming two cases of a new and mysterious inflammatory ailment in children that is associated with COVID-19, according to a news release from the agency.
The new illness, which was first recognized last month in Europe and then in New York state, is now named Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C).
The syndrome bears a resemblance to a rare illness called Kawasaki disease.
Symptoms of Kawasaki disease include persistent fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, swollen hands or feet, swollen lymph nodes and red, swollen lips.
Seattle Children’s hospital earlier this month identified a patient with the new illness. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on May 14 published a case definition for the disease.
Patients who are below the age of 21, have a fever, inflammation and a severe illness involving two organs that requires hospitalization meet the criteria if there are no other plausible diagnoses and they test positive for COVID-19 or have had exposure to a confirmed case within four weeks of developing symptoms.
Both of the cases confirmed by the health department were treated at Seattle Children’s.
“Although it remains very uncommon, parents should call their primary care providers if their children are showing new or unusual symptoms, such as a persistent fever or headache, abdominal pain with or without diarrhea, fatigue, and respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath,” said Dr. John McGuire, chief of the Division of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine at Seattle Children’s.
Drug touted by Trump is linked to increased risk of death in virus patients
A study of 96,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients on six continents found that those who received an antimalarial drug promoted by President Donald Trump as a “game changer” in the fight against the virus had a significantly higher risk of death compared with those who did not.
People treated with hydroxychloroquine, or the closely related drug chloroquine, were also more likely to develop a type of irregular heart rhythm, or arrhythmia, that can lead to sudden cardiac death, it concluded.
The study, published Friday in the medical journal the Lancet, is the largest analysis to date of the risks and benefits of treating COVID-19 patients with antimalarial drugs. It is based on a retrospective analysis of medical records, not a controlled study in which patients are divided randomly into treatment groups – a method considered the gold standard of medicine. But the sheer size of the study was convincing to some scientists.
“It’s one thing not to have benefit, but this shows distinct harm,” said Eric Topol, a cardiologist and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. “If there was ever was hope for this drug, this is the death of it.”
Read the full story here.
Virus ‘does not spread easily’ from contaminated surfaces or animals, revised CDC website states
The novel coronavirus “does not spread easily” from contaminated surfaces and “is spreading very easily and sustainably between people.”
That’s among the newly emphasized takeaways after the CDC quietly revised its “How COVID-19 spreads” website this month.
Font sizes and headers have changed, but “our transmission language has not changed,” CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said. “COVID-19 spreads mainly through close contact from person to person.”
The previous version of the website, archived on May 1, includes the same statement about surfaces as the current version: “It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, but we are still learning more about this virus.”
The site also notes that exposure to infected animals does not appear to be a significant mode of transmission.
The virus travels through the droplets a person produces when talking or coughing, the CDC website says. An individual does not need to feel sick or show symptoms to spread the submicroscopic virus.
Health experts recommend continuing to wash your hands, avoid touching your face and stay at least 6 feet away from other people.
Summer isn’t canceled
It’s not time to get up and travel yet. But when it is, this will likely be the summer to stay close to home and “rediscover your own state.” Here’s what staycations and travel will look like in the Pacific Northwest when restrictions start to ease.
If you’re thinking about a road trip anytime soon, health and travel experts have advice for you.