Find developments on Washington’s coronavirus outbreak and the state’s plan for recovery.

Key facts:

  • Gov. Jay Inslee signed an emergency proclamation Monday that allows all health care services, including dentists, to re-open as long as they follow health and safety protocols.
  • 1 new death among 178 new cases reported Monday in Washington.
  • TOTAL: 1,002 deaths among 18,611 overall cases in Washington state.
  • 289,135 people in Washington have taken a test for coronavirus and 6.4% of those tests have been positive, according to the state Department of Health.

Monday, May 18:

UW Medicine announces temporary furloughs affecting 1,500 employees 

About 1,500 classified staff at UW Medicine will be temporarily furloughed between one to eight weeks to address the medical group’s $500 million shortfall.

The shortfall comes after the a dual hit of lost revenue because of canceled or postponed medical procedures and rising costs due to the fight against coronavirus.

“The financial situation is the result of substantial lost clinical revenue since the start of the pandemic due to the cancellation or postponement of elective and non-urgent surgeries and procedures and the high cost of treating patients with COVID-19, including diagnostic testing and high use of personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary to safely care for patients,” the medical center posted in a news release.

The first furloughs will be in administrative and back office staff, and maintaining clinic staff will be prioritized, said Lisa Brandenburg, president of UW Medicine Hospitals and Clinics. Other cost-saving measures include cuts to senior leadership salaries, postponing or canceling construction projects and a hiring freeze.

Washington to re-open health care system

Gov. Jay Inslee signed an emergency proclamation Monday that allows all health care services, including dentists, to re-open as long as they follow health and safety protocols.

 “This is another step. We think of this as a pacing item,” Inslee said.

Different parts of Washington may re-open health care services at different times, based on when they meet certain criteria. Regional emergency health care coalitions will asses coronavirus activity, hospital capacity and availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) to determine when to take the next step.

Each provider will evaluate their readiness to expand services based on those three standards. If hospitals and doctor’s offices do not have adequate PPE, they will not be allowed to move forward.

“The level of increase that this proclamation will allow will depend on the ability to be prepared for a potential COVID onslaught should this bite us again,” Inslee said.

Sound Transit offering “recovery fares”

Sound Transit will offer discounted fares on Link light rail and the Sounder commuter rail when it resumes collecting fares on June 1. Fares have been suspended since March 21.

Link light rail will cost $1, and Sounder trains will cost $2 through June 30 in response to the economic impact of coronavirus, according to Sound Transit.

Rider can purchase the discounted tickets at vending machines or through the Transit GO Ticket app.

Link service will also increase to every 20 minutes during the day until after the evening peak.

Asotin County approved to begin phase 2

A 10th county in Washington state has been approved to move on to phase 2 of coronavirus recovery.

Washington State Secretary of Health John Wiesman approved a variance application Monday for Asotin County, which borders Oregon and Idaho in Eastern Washington.

Applications for a faster reopening have also been approved for Wahkiakum, Skamania, Stevens, Columbia, Garfield, Lincoln, Ferry and Pend Oreille counties.

Non-urgent dental care to resume

Non-urgent dental care is expected to resume at noon Monday, May 18, in Washington state.

Guidelines developed by the Restarting Washington Healthcare taskforce will be released. 

The Washington State Dental Association released a statement to those practicing dentistry saying it is “imperative that you review these guidelines with your team before providing care. While emphasizing the exercise of clinical judgment by dentists, the guidelines are expected to address a variety of considerations such as PPE conservation, patient screening, COVID-19 testing, and delivery processes.”

Casinos reopening

The Clearwater Casino in Suquamish and Emerald Queen Casino in Fife are reopening.

Clearwater Casino is doing a phased reopening and is limiting entry to residents that reside in the following counties: Kitsap County, Jefferson County, Mason County, Clallam County and the area of Pierce County west of the Tacoma Narrows bridge.

Hours are limited to 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Capacity will be limited to 60%.

Emerald Queen Casino is limiting its capacity to 30%. Guests will have their temperatures checked before they enter through the doors and be expected to wear masks. 

Casino staff will clean the casino “continuously,” and limit the availability of food, and they will expect staff and guests to maintain social distancing.

Angel of the Winds Casino in Arlington became the first to reopen in Western Washington on May 13. 

SARS antibody holds promise for coronavirus fight

An antibody that was identified in a patient who recovered from SARS in 2003 may have promise in the fight against COVID-19.

Research published Monday in “Nature” found that antibody inhibited other related coronaviruses, including the one that causes COVID-19. The antibody, which is called S309, is being fast-tracked for development and testing. 

David Veesler, an assistant professor of biochemistry at the University of Washington School of Medicine and one of the lead authors of the paper, said researchers now need to show the antibody is protective in living systems.

Sea-Tac Airport will require everyone to wear some form of face covering beginning Monday

Beginning Monday, May 18, the Port of Seattle is requiring all passengers, visitors, and workers, including Port employees, to wear cloth face coverings in the public areas of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. 

Port Director Steve Metruck said, “Many Port employees and partners and members of the public already wear cloth face coverings.  This policy makes clear our commitment to public health, safety, and well-being.”  

The requirement will not apply to certain groups, such as very young children.

Sunday, May 17:

Sounders FC given clearance to practice 

 After receiving approval from government officials and public health authorities in Washington State, Seattle Sounders FC players are confirmed to begin voluntary individual workouts on Monday, May 18 at Starfire Sports.

Sounders FC players now have the opportunity to safely conduct voluntary individual workouts on the club’s outdoor training fields. All individual player workouts on Monday and beyond are closed to the general public.

 “Though it’s a small step in our road back to normalcy, we are pleased to have been given the green light by our regional authorities to begin voluntary individual player workouts tomorrow at Starfire,” said Sounders FC General Manager & President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey. “We continue to work constantly with our government officials in Washington State, in addition to public health authorities and Major League Soccer, and we are thankful to everyone involved in that collaborative process that we are able to push forward tomorrow. We look forward to welcoming our players back for individual workouts, albeit from a safe social distance under the league’s new guidelines.”

It’s unknown when regular activities and training will start for the Sounders.

Kroger offers Fred Meyer workers extra pay after outcry

The parent company of grocer Fred Meyer has announced it will provide “thank you” payments to hourly employees after a union outcry over the company ending a $2 per hour pay bump it implemented amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

KING 5 Spokane affiliate KREM reports the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union held rallies Friday at Fred Meyer stores seeking additional pay from parent company Kroger for workers while the pandemic continues.

Kroger officials said bonus payments of $400 and $200 for full- and part-time employees will be paid in two installments in May and June. 

Fred Meyer has locations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska.

via Associated Press 

Some Washington residents could travel to Idaho under new order

Idaho Gov. Brad Little issued a revised “Stay Healthy” order on Thursday, moving the state into Phase 2 of reopening.

One of the changes was a slight relaxation of restrictions on out-of-state visitors.

In phase one of Idaho’s stay home order, Washingtonians and other out-of-state residents were basically told to stay away. Anyone entering the state had to self-quarantine for their whole stay, unless it was longer than two weeks, in which case they could leave quarantine after those 14 days.

The only exception was travel for essential purposes, such as grocery shopping, medical care, or doing a job deemed essential.

In phase two, most of those baseline restrictions are still in play but there’s some new language to the order.

First, it’s now a “strong recommendation” to quarantine upon entry rather than a requirement. Second, it only applies to people from another country, an area with “substantial community spread,” or an area with a case rate higher than that of Idaho. 

So who exactly does that apply to? It’s hard to tell. First of all, the order doesn’t define “substantial community spread.” Secondly, it doesn’t specify precisely what is meant by “case rates.”

Paine Field airport to halt passenger service for 10 weeks

Officials say Paine Field will suspend passenger service from May 22 to July 31 for aircraft ramp maintenance and repairs amid a massive drop in demand for air travel tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Everett airport’s passenger terminal operator made the announcement late Friday. 

CEO of Propeller Airports Brett Smith says they will use the temporary disruption to the advantage of Paine Field and airline partners by completing necessary infrastructure improvements faster than would have been possible while the terminal was open. 

An official with Alaska Airlines was supportive of the repairs while United Airlines could not be reached for comment.

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