SPOKANE, Wash. — KREM is continuing to track news and updates regarding the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Spokane County and Washington state, and what officials are doing to prevent its spread.
Scroll down for the latest updates to this live blog.
- 147 coronavirus deaths among at least 3,207 overall cases in Washington
- A total of 43,173 people (93% of tests) have tested negative for the virus
- 83 total cases in Spokane County, including at least seven hospitalizations, according to the Spokane Regional Health District
- Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statewide 'Stay Home' order in Washington for at least two weeks that took effect Wednesday night
- Track the statewide outbreak with this map of Washington counties
Thursday, March 26
5:40 p.m.: Moses Lake High School staff member tests positive for COVID-19
The Moses Lake School District announced on Thursday that a staff member had tested positive for coronavirus.
According to a Facebook post by the district, the member's last day on the high school's campus was March 16, and all people believed to have been exposed will be contacted by the Grant County Health District.
"We know that this news is concerning. We urge you to please remain at home and monitor your family's symptoms through Monday, March 31st," the post reads in part.
11 a.m.: Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday morning that the infection rate from the coronavirus in Washington state is slowing, at least to some degree.
However, he's heard from some residents who don't believe the actions taken to reduce the spread of coronavirus, including the stay-at-home order, are necessary. But, he said, the virus is still spreading across the state.
"We are only in first 2 weeks and people need to understand that order may need to be extended," he said.
Inslee also said Washington needs to increase testing, adding that the state has received medical equipment from the federal government.
10:20 a.m.: More than 133,000 people in Washington filed for unemployment benefits last week as government-ordered shutdowns to slow the coronavirus outbreak hit the state's economy.
The state received 133,464 new claims for unemployment benefits during the week of March 15-21, 2020, which is an increase of 119,310 new claims from the previous week.
Spokane County saw the highest increase in claims of 455 to 8,766, an increase of 1,826% from the previous week. King County saw new claims increase from 5,834 to 37,296 during the week of March 15-21, which is an increase of nearly 540%.
Wednesday, March 25
Senate leaders raced to unravel last-minute snags Wednesday and win passage of an unparalleled $2 trillion economic rescue package steering aid to businesses, workers and health care systems engulfed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The measure is the largest economic relief bill in history, and both parties' leaders were desperate for quick passage of a bill aimed at a virus that is costing lives and jobs by the hour.
But the drive by leaders to speed the bill through the Senate was slowed as four conservative Republican senators demanded changes, saying the legislation as written “incentivizes layoffs" and should be altered to ensure employees don't earn more money if they're laid off than if they're working.
3:30 p.m.: Spokane Regional Health District announces 21 new cases of coronavirus in Spokane County, bringing the total to 54.
2:20 p.m.: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donates $250,000 to Eastern Washington COVID-19 response and recovery fund
According to a press release from the foundation, the money will help rapidly deploy resources to community based organizations at the front lines.
This brings the Eastern Washington Response and Recovery Fund to $631,500 as of Wednesday. The fund is hosted at Innovia Foundation in partnership with Empire Health Foundation and Spokane County United Way.
The grant is part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's commitment of up to $5 million that it announced in early March to support the coronavirus response in Washington state.
10:30 a.m.: Washington State University announced that its traditional spring commencement held in May will be postponed until at least August due to COVID-19.
Each campus will reschedule an in‑person commencement celebration on a date to be determined. WSU Pullman commencement exercises are now scheduled for August 8, and the other campuses will announce dates soon.
On May 9, the university will hold its first system‑wide commencement online.
9:15 a.m.: The Washington State Department of Natural Resources is closing all lands that it manages through at least April 8.
Commissioner of Public Lands HIlary Franz issued the following statement:
"This was not an easy decision. We treasure our forests and trails and beaches as places of rejuvenation and refuge from the chaos of daily life. But, I cannot ignore the unfortunate reality of what we saw this weekend: crowded trails, people shoulder to shoulder, and large gatherings. This behavior undercuts the sacrifices that Washingtonians of all means and ability are making in order to adhere to social distancing. And it undercuts the heroic efforts of our doctors, nurses, and first responders who risk their lives each day responding to this unrelenting epidemic.
“This behavior also makes clear that, while we have taken drastic measures, we have not done enough when it comes to closing areas where large crowds gather and communicating the importance of staying at home and avoiding physical contact with others.
“The disruptions we are experiencing are difficult and challenging – and unprecedented in our lifetimes. But they are necessary. We must bend the curve. And if we all do our part, these temporary disruptions will save countless lives.”
Golf courses in Spokane County and the city are also closed, while county and city parks remain open for now.
7:15 a.m.: A group of inmates in Washington prisons are asking the state Supreme Court to order the release of prisoners at high risk from the coronavirus.
Columbia Legal Services, a nonprofit that advocates for social and economic justice, filed a petition on behalf of the inmates with the high court Tuesday.
The petition warns that virus outbreaks in the prisons would be devastating and says all inmates over 50, those with underlying medical conditions, and those who are due to be released within 18 months should be freed now to reduce the risk of an outbreak.
Gov. Jay Inslee's office said he is aware of the issue and takes it seriously.
With Gov. Jay Inslee's "stay-at-home" order going into effect, only "essential businesses" will remain open.
What is an essential business?
The state classifies grocery stores, pharmacies, doctors offices, to-go restaurants, gas stations, childcare, marijuana dispensaries and many more to be "essential."
Tuesday, March 24
10:45 p.m.: The White House and Senate leaders of both parties have struck an agreement on a sweeping $2 trillion measure to aid workers, businesses and a health care system strained by the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak.
Top White House aide Eric Ueland announced the agreement in a Capitol hallway shortly after midnight.
The unprecedented economic rescue package would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home.
4 p.m.: Announcement of Washington state park closures
All state parks in Washington will be closed for at least two weeks starting Wednesday following Gov. Jay Inslee's "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order issued on Monday.
The closures include all state-managed parks, wildlife areas and water access area. Entrance gates and facilities will be closed and on-site public services will be suspended.
Essential staff, however, will be present to preserve and protect resources.
3 p.m.: Job search requirement waived for Washington unemployment benefits
The Washington State Employment Security Department announced that weekly job searches will be optional for people who are seeking unemployment benefits. The waiver is in effect until further notice.
The Employment Security Department has reported huge increases of workers in Washington who have lost their jobs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
10 a.m.: Spokane County Health Officer Bob Lutz confirmed that there are 33 cases of COVID-19 in Spokane County.
Monday, March 23
5:30 p.m. Gov. Inslee announces statewide 'stay-at-home' order for Washington residents.
Essential businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies will stay open. People can still go outside for walks, but must maintain a social distance of six feet.
4:45 p.m.: The Spokane City Council approved a modified emergency declaration by Mayor Nadine Woodward that extends protections against evictions during the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
The declaration bans residential and commercial evictions, except in the case of imminent threat to people or property. Decker also said it bans all fees related to late rent payments.
4 p.m.: Health officials announce 23 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Grant County, one in Douglas County and six in Chelan County.
3 p.m.: The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has grown to 29 in Spokane County. The state Department of Health has not reported any deaths in the county.
1 p.m.: A spokesperson for the City of Spokane said 18 firefighters with the Spokane Fire Department remain under quarantine for possible COVID-19 exposure.
Brian Coddington said there are zero confirmed cases among firefighters. One firefighter who was in the hospital will likely be released this week.
Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer told KREM on Friday that more than 30 firefighters were quarantined as a "precautionary measure" due to possible exposure, with eight experiencing symptoms.
Coddington said on Monday that some of the firefighters cleared the quarantine period, while others were released back to work due to a change in guidance over the weekend.
The fire department is now operating under guidance from the state Department of Health, which says those workers should be quarantined if they have had medium or high-risk exposure to someone with a suspected cases of coronavirus.
Coddington said the department was previously operating under CDC guidance, which recommends a quarantine for those who may have come in contact with someone exhibiting symptoms that resemble those of COVID-19.
Gov. Jay Inslee will be making an announcement from his office tonight at 5:30 p.m. Details have yet to be publicly announced.
10:25 a.m.: Whitman County announces second confirmed case of COVID-19.
The Whitman County Public Health Department said the patient is a woman in her 70s. Health officials are investigating close contacts.
9 a.m. Pullman Regional Hospital opens COVID-19 triage and testing center
The center will serve as a centralized area for evaluation of patients with potential coronavirus.
It will run seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.It will be located behind the hospital by the emergency department.
Health officials said the center it designed to screen people with respiratory symptoms or think they have COVID-19 symptoms. They said testing is not guaranteed and will only occur if a patient meets the criteria.
Patients do not need a referral from a doctor to go to the center.
Sunday, March 22
Spokane Regional Health District updates number of confirmed cases in Spokane County to 20.
According to the Spokane Regional Health District, there are now 20 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Spokane County.
Saturday, March 21
3:15 p.m.: Health care providers at the Spokane County Fairgrounds screening center loosen the screening parameters.
The Spokane County Health District is easing up on its requirement that patients have a referral to get tested for the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) at the Spokane fairground drive-thru.
But patients still need to meet certain requirements to be tested.
According to Kelli Hawkins, individuals who are experiencing symptoms and fall into a high-risk category can be referred by a healthcare provider over the phone, or virtually, before they can go to drive thru-site for further screening. Healthcare providers at the site will then determine if a test is warranted.
9:30 a.m: Fred Meyer and QFC announce Senior hours for all stores.
Both companies will reserve the hours of 7am to 8am for Seniors and other high-risk customers. All stores will reserve these hours each Monday through Thursday until further notice. On those days, shopping for all other customers will begin at 8 a.m.
8:00 a.m.: Spokane Public Schools announces new meal distribution sites and hours. Laptops will also be available for students and families to check out based on need and availability.
Spokane Public Schools announced the addition of three new meal distribution sites. The new locations are at Audubon, Bemiss and Cooper.
New hours will also be in place for meal distribution as of Monday. Meals will be available for pick up from 11 a.m. to noon.
Families who would like to check out a laptop can do so by going to Spokaneschools.org/LaptopCheck. Each student is offered one device with a maximum of up to two per family, along with mobile hotspots for those without home wi-fi.
Friday, March 20
4:50 p.m.: Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz said, as of 11 a.m., 30 people were tested for COVID-19 at the drive-thru testing center at the Spokane County Fairgrounds.
4:15 p.m.: Okanogan County leaders declared a public health emergency.
3:30 p.m.: Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz announced a public health emergency declaration for the county over COVID-19.
This means county health leaders will be able to more easily purchase supplies, among other things.
Lutz also issued an order through the Spokane Regional Health District to close all play structures in Spokane County. He added that this does not include state parks, tennis courts, basketball courts, golf courses and other open spaces.
He reminded Spokane County residents to maintain at least six feet of social distance and go to these places in groups of 10 people or fewer.
Lutz said he heard on Friday that there may be increased accessibility to COVID-19 testing in western Washington that would allow Spokane County medical professionals to send more tests to the area.
3 p.m.: The state Department of Health announced 11 total cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Spokane among 1,524 cases in Washington as of Friday.
No deaths from coronavirus have occurred in Spokane County as of Friday. Statewide, there have been 83 deaths from the virus.
So far, 21,719 people have tested negative. This represents 93% of all tests done in the state as of Friday.
The person with the ninth confirmed case of coronavirus in Spokane County lives at a retirement home in Spokane Valley, according to Kelli Hawkins of the Spokane Regional Health District.
That person is currently in isolation in their apartment at Holman Gardens. Hawkins says staff are taking precautions and following guidelines issued by the health district and Governor Jay Inslee.
The Spokane Regional Health District is identifying and contacting those who may have come in contact with the newest infected individuals. They will be monitored for fever and respiratory symptoms.
8:30 a.m.: More than 30 firefighters with the Spokane Fire Department are under quarantine after possible exposure to the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said the firefighters came in contact with someone while they were either on or off duty who was displaying symptoms of COVID-19.
Eight of the firefighters are showing symptoms and one of those eight is hospitalized, Schaeffer said. He did not have information on the hospitalized firefighter's condition.
All firefighters who are displaying symptoms have been tested and results are pending, Schaeffer said.
New unemployment claims in Washington increased more than 116% last week, the state Employment Security Department reported today. The week of March 8 - 14, the state received 14,154 new claims for unemployment benefits, which was an increase of 7,606 new claims over the previous week.
The Employment Security Department officials believe that the number of insurance claims could continue to rise as a result of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Thursday, March 19
7:40 p.m. Gov. Jay Inslee has requested the U.S.S. Mercy come to Seattle to help fight the coronavirus outbreak.
The governor sent a letter to President Donald Trump this week requesting help from the U.S. Navy hospital ship, which comes equipped with its own set of doctors, nurses, and medical equipment.
"While we are taking very aggressive measures to slow the spread of this deadly disease among our vulnerable citizens, it is becoming clear that our hospitals will be overwhelmed soon," wrote Gov. Inslee. "To address this urgent situation, I am asking that you send one of the U.S. Navy’s hospital ships to Seattle as soon as possible. We anticipate that our hospitals will be in crisis by the end of this month."
5:38 p.m.: Washington state has received 8,000 additional COVID-19 test kits from the U.S. Department of Human Services.
The department also delivered more protective equipment.
The supplies will be distributed to local health agencies in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties, which are the areas with the highest number of cases.
Despite more test kits being delivered, officials say limited testing supplies continue to be an issue across the state
4:13 p.m.: Gov. Jay Inslee has ordered a temporary halt to elective medical and dental surgeries in the state to free up enough protective gear for medical staff working to curb the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).
The governor’s proclamation affects all hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, and dental, orthodontic and endodontic offices in Washington state.
It applies to any non-urgent medical or dental procedure that requires medical professionals to wear personal protective equipment. Read more here.
3:20 p.m.: The number of deaths from coronavirus climbed in Washington state Thursday to 74 among 1,376 total cases.
1:09 p.m.: A patient at Western State Hospital, Washington state's largest psychiatric hospital, has tested positive for coronavirus.
Workers at the hospital say they fear that number will increase due to a lack of protective gear. Read more here.
What are coronavirus symptoms?
The severity of symptoms ranges significantly. Some cases are very mild with symptoms similar to the common cold, and some cases are more like severe pneumonia that require hospitalization. Most deaths have been reported in older adults who had other health conditions, according to DOH.
Symptoms may appear as soon as two days after being exposed to the coronavirus or as long as 14 days.
A new Washington call center has been set up to answer your questions about COVID-19. If you have questions about how the virus spreads, what is being done in Washington state, and what you can do if you have symptoms, call 1-800-525-0127 and press #.