SEATTLE, WA — For the first time in more than two months, King County public health officials reported no new deaths linked to the coronavirus Thursday. According to the county's COVID-19 dashboard, the last day with no deaths recorded was March 7.
The latest update, accounting for all tests processed by 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, included 86 additional illnesses. Lab tests have confirmed 7,307 infections in King County since the crisis began.
Across Washington, the Department of Health added 261 new coronavirus cases and eight additional deaths to its count Thursday, bringing the official state tally to 17,773 illnesses and 983 deaths.
According to the state data, 6.6 percent of tests have returned positive among 267,931 Washingtonians tested since February.
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Catch up on the latest developments:
Inslee releases updated rules on outdoor recreation under phase 1 and phase 2
More recreational activities will soon be allowed in Washington after Gov. Jay Inslee released updated rules under the first and second phases of the state's Safe Start reopening plan.
The governor's latest memo covers several specific activities, including tennis, paddle sports, horseback riding and go-cart tracks. Under the first phase, where most of the state remains, activities are still limited to members of the same household, but the second phase allows for more recreation among small groups of friends.
So far, eight Washington counties have been approved to begin phase 2 early, while the rest of the state is tentatively expected to reach the second step by June 1.
UW Medicine staff rally outside Harborview, protesting layoffs and seeking better protections
Health care workers employed at University of Washington Medicine facilities participated in an afternoon demonstration outside Harborview Medical Center Thursday, protesting planned job cuts and demanding better protections.
Earlier this week, UW Medicine estimated $500 million in losses by the end of summer, due to the coronavirus response. Dr. Paul Ramsey, CEO of UW Medicine, said the hospital system would be forced to take several cost-saving measures, including staff reductions and salary cuts for senior leadership across all its hospitals, clinics, and other services.
According to the Associated Press, organizers of Thursday rally said UW Medicine has failed to fully implement public health guidance, including notifying staff regarding of potential expsoure, installing sneeze guards, and providing sufficient personal protective equipment.
Fire season outlook complicated by the coronavirus
Washington's wildland firefighters are preparing for a potentially active fire season, and this year crews will have to contend an added health risk: the coronavirus.
The Department of Natural Resources said firefighters are at a heightened risk for outbreaks, since they fight flames in close groups, and many have had lungs compromised by conditions on the job. Crews typically move around between camps as new fires appear, which could easily spread any potential infection.
DNR has implemented a series of new safety protocols to help minimize risks and developed a contact tracing system to track potential exposures should a firefighter become infected.
New unemployment claims rise as Washington pauses payments over fraud concerns
New jobless claims rose by more than 8 percent last week, as another 109,425 workers filed for unemployment benefits. According to the Employment Security Department, more than 1.77 million initial claims have been filed since the pandemic began.
Despite the growing need for assistance, the state announced Thursday it would halt payments for one or two days while investigators looked into a sharp increase in imposters filing claims using stolen identities.
Another issue the Employment Security Department hopes to correct in the days ahead is a backlog of nearly 57,000 claims that are still awaiting resolution. As a result, the state is limiting inbound calls until May 20, so staff can focus on applicants who have waited the longest to receive benefits.
Seattle-based cruise line announces mass layoffs
Holland America, a Seattle-based cruise line, will cut hours, reduce pay or furlough all of its office employees — both in Seattle and California — the company announced Thursday. According to the Seattle Times, nearly 2,000 people face layoffs.
Last week, Holland announced the cancellation of all planned cruises in Alaska, Europe, Canada and New England for the rest of the year.
UW begins second clinical trial to determine the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine
The University of Washington is looking to enroll 2,000 COVID-19 patients in a large clinical trial, examining how useful hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin are as potential early treatments for the disease.
In late April, researchers announced a smaller study, seeking 630 patients across the U.S. to test the effectiveness of the two drug regimens. As the first study trial gets underway, the university has received funding from the National Institutes of Health to begin a larger, complementary study.
"Their study was designed to be relatively fast, to be done relatively small, and to be able to answer a question quickly about whether these drugs have efficacy in terms of suppressing the SARS-CoV-2 virus," said Dr. Ann Collier, a professor of medicine at UW. "Our study is larger and is designed to answer a clinically relevant question: does this combination prevent hospitalization and death?"
According to the university, researchers hope to definitively clear up whether hydroxychloroquine is effective, amid some conflicting evidence and public confusion with chloroquine, a separate drug that was stopped during treatment trials in Brazil.
Collier said research committees worked with the Food and Drug Administration to determine a safe dose, to help alleviate potential side effects. Volunteers will participate from home and be provided with devices to measure oxygen levels in their blood and monitor heart rhythms.
Patients who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and interested in joining the trial can contact the university by calling or texting 206-773-7129.