COVID-19 UPDATE: MONDAY EVENING, MARCH 23

Things are moving quickly. Washington and Oregon join a number of states that have issued stay at home orders. We are witnessing history unfold in real time. Pay attention! And remember.

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LOCAL

* As expected, Gov. Inslee issued a stay at home order for Washington state tonight – effective Wednesday evening, and excepting “essential” businesses. This is *not* a lockdown; people can still go out to exercise, walk their dogs, etc., so long as you stay six feet away from other people. It’s enforceable by law, and carries a potential of up to one year in jail $5.000 fine.

* Washington now has 2,221 confirmed cases, with 110 deaths. Of those, 1,110 cases, and 87 deaths are in King County; 519 (and 11 deaths in Snohomish County; and 126, with one death, in Pierce County.

* The state has created a centralized web site for COVID-19 information. It’s at https://coronavirus.wa.gov/.

* King County Metro and nine other transit agencies, including New York’s MTA, have asked the federal government for $25 billion in assistance. Metro, like the other agencies, has seen its ridership plummet during the outbreak. Metro has estimated it is losing about $6 million a week in fare and sales tax revenue. It suspended fare collection last week.

* Washington State Ferries will remain on their winter schedule through at least April 25. Ferry ridership has fallen 40 percent this month.

* This morning Edmonds became the second city in the state, after Everett, to issue a stay at home order. Police are issuing tickets to violators.

* Three tribes – the Makah, the Lummi and the Yakama – had also issued stay at home orders.

* DSHS announced that it was closing some of its offices to the public.

* After the death of an employee in its Everett plant over the weekend, and “several” confirmed cases at the plant, Boeing has *finally* shut down operations at all of its Puget Sound facilities. For two weeks.

* Alaska Airlines is cutting 200 flights a day, joining other carriers in dramatically reducing their schedules.

* Just kidding: There will be no military hospital ship coming to the Puget Sound. After the Army announced this morning that it would go to Seattle, instead, the USS Mercy is heading for Los Angeles.

* Silver lining: with the reduced traffic, automobile accidents in Washington state fell two-thirds last week compared to the same week in 2019; crashes resulting in serious injury fell 78 percent. In King County, accidents fell by 75 percent; in Snohomish County, 74 percent; in Pierce County, 55 percent. Along State Highway 167 in South King County, collisions declined by 91 percent.

* Snoqualmie’s mayor, Matt Larson, has tested positive for COVID-19..

* A major outbreak is unfolding in a long-term care facility in Bellingham. Six staff members and 26 residents at the Shuksan Nursing Home have tested positive, pushing Whatcom County to the fourth-highest number of confirmed cases in the state, at 48.

* Federal investigators issued preliminary findings that Life Care Center of Kirkland, the nursing home that kickstarted our state’s epidemic, failed to respond quickly enough to its outbreak, putting its residents and staff in immediate danger. The findings also included that the facility failed to notify the state’s Department of Health about the outbreak and failed to have a backup when its primary clinician fell ill. Over two dozen deaths of people connected to the facility followed. Here come the lawsuits.

* Everett has opened a new drive-thru testing site, reserved for symptomatic patients who are in one of the vulnerable categories, work in health care, or people who work in “critical infrastructure,” the types of businesses exempted under the state’s stay at home order.

* Eighteen Spokane firefighters remain quarantined, down from 30 on Friday.

* As expected, this morning Oregon also issued a stay at home order. Oregon had to close its state parks, beaches, and Multnomah Falls after visitors swarmed the destinations over the weekend in defiance of social distancing mandates.

NATIONAL

* To the surprise of nobody, the markets fell again today by about three percent.

* The Republican stimulus bill in the Senate failed for a second time. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi unveiled a Democratic alternative bill that, most notably, would make COVID-19 treatment free, increase Social Security and disability payments, cancelling student loan debt, expanding Medicaid, requiring states to make absentee or mail-in ballots available by November, and putting restrictions on how corporations can use government bailouts (e.g., not for CEO pay or stock buybacks). The Republicans are focusing on giving money to big corporations; the Democratic proposal is aimed at helping individual Americans. Negotiations continue.

* Trump’s press briefing today was relentlessly upbeat – and dishonest. “We have to open our country.” No, you really shouldn’t – not for a long while, until President Biden takes over. Trump insisted the disruptions wouldn’t last more than a little while – “I’m not looking at months…this is going away.” – despite overwhelming expert warnings to the contrary. Trump also invoked the spurious argument that the flu and car accidents each killed more people each year than COVID-19 has so far, as justification for lessening economic restrictions soon, and argued that the number of suicides from COVID-19 induced hardship might also exceed the number of virus fatalities – which is utterly absurd.

* Trump also continued to promote chloroquine as an effective treatment for COVID-19: “It’s something we have to try…it can’t hurt.” No, we don’t have to try it, and yes, it can do a lot more harm than good. Among the things that haven’t been studied properly with the combination of drugs Trump has been touting is its interactions with other prescription medications. Given that the populations generally hit hardest by COVID-19 are older people and people with existing medical conditions, knowing which interactions are safe and which ones aren’t is a critical bit of knowledge we lack.

* Trump’s happy talk is going to kill people. Already, an Arizona hospital reported today that a man died and his wife is in critical condition after they had self-medicated with chloroquine. Trump announced that 10,000 units of chloroquine would be distributed Tuesday in New York City. He failed to mention that no doctor with any integrity will prescribe it. This is what happens when the federal government is run by a conspiracy-minded idiot.

* Trump finally invoked the Defense Production Act of 1950 to force manufacturers to produce needed medical supplies.

* Anthony Fauci, the legendary infectious disease expert who has been contradicting Trump in real time, including on the proven (or not) efficacy of chloroquine, was exiled from today’s briefing. Meanwhile, the Surgeon General , Dr. Jerome Adams, had a much more blunt warning: “This week, it’s going to get bad.”

* Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, Hawaii, and Michigan joined Oregon in issuing stay at home orders. Half of all Americans are now covered by such patchwork orders in the absence of federal action.

* Maryland announced that it was converting a Baltimore Hilton Hotel into an overflow care facility, and that it would open an enormous new field hospital.

* New York governor Andrew Cuomo ordered all hospitals to find a way to somehow increase their capacity by 50 percent. Thirty thousand retired New York health care workers have volunteered to come out of retirement and help. The city announced new field hospitals to be built at local colleges. Twenty-eight percent of New York City area COVID-19 tests so far have been positive, compared to a rate of about eight percent for the rest of the country – suggesting that NYC’s pandemic is going to get much, much worse, and quickly. The state’s total of confirmed cases leaped again today, to 20,909.

* California governor Gavin Newsom estimated today that his state would be short 17,000 hospital beds. California continues to face a serious shortage of test kits; New York, with less than half the population, had tested twice as many people through today. Newsom isn’t bothering to wait for the feds; the state has chartered flights to China to procure desperately needed medical equipment. The California National Guard is helping to staff overwhelmed food banks.

* Eleven states have reopened health insurance enrollment under the Affordable Care Act to allow newly unemployed workers who’ve lost health insurance to apply for subsidized insurance. The Trump Administration continues in its support of a lawsuit attempting to repeal the ACA.

* On the other hand, Republican-controlled states that have resisted taking action are finally starting – sort of – to respond. Missouri finally closed its schools. Idaho’s governor still refuses to take any action at all.

* Senator and former presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota announced that her husband is hospitalized with a COVID-19 infection. Meanwhile, Minnesota’s governor is in self-quarantine after a member of his security detail tested positive. Minnesota’s lieutenant governor announced that her brother has died from COVID-19.

* A birthday party in upscale Westport, Connecticut has emerged as the epicenter of the outbreak that spread to nearby Westchester County and New York City. Over half of the 50 guests became infected, including one who traveled home to become South Africa’s first confirmed case.

GLOBAL

* Chinese President Xi and French President Macron jointly called for global coordination of the COVID-19 responses “at the G20 level.” They called for a summit that could discuss progress toward treatments and vaccines as well as the global economic issues caused by the pandemic.

* The call from Xi and Macron omits most of the world’s poorer countries, whose health care systems are less well-equipped to respond to the pandemic. But it would be another chance for President Trump to show how badly he plays with others. This is the sort of global leadership the US used to show, waaaaayy back in, like, 2016.

* UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has resisted taking strong measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, today issued a stay at home order for the entire country. The US needs that, too, instead of the bizarre patchwork of state and local responses we’ve had so far. Not holding my breath.

* South Africa is going into a full nationwide lockdown.

* USA Today is reporting that the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics will be postponed until 2021. The International Olympic Commission has not made an official announcement.

* Italy reported its third straight day in which its total new confirmed cases was less than the previous day – suggesting that Italy has turned the corner in its effort to combat the virus. Italy issued its stay at home order two weeks ago. Similar results followed China’s lockdown of major cities.

* Spain is converting a soccer stadium into a makeshift morgue after the surge in Madrid-area deaths exceeded that region’s capacity to handle them.

* The world now has 381,293 confirmed cases, up from 335,972 yesterday; and 16,572 deaths globally. Note the huge jump in US, French, Austrian, Brazilian, and Canadian cases. Brazil, in particular, is discouraging for those hoping that COVID-19 will fare poorly in warmer weather.

* Countries with over 1,000 cases (Sunday’s total in parentheses):

China 81,514 (81,397)
Italy 63,927 (47,021)
USA 46,332 (33,276)
Spain 35,136 (28,603)
Germany 29,056 (23,974)
Iran 23,059 (21,638)
France 20,123 (14,485)
South Korea 9,037 (8,897)
Switzerland 8,795 (7,014)
UK 6,725 (5,071)
Netherlands 4,763 (4,216)
Austria 4,744 (3,244)
Belgium 3,743 (3,401)
Norway 2,625 (2,257)
Canada 2,088 (1,378)
Sweden 2,046 (1,934)
Brazil 1,934 (1,209)
Denmark 1,582 (1,512)
Turkey 1,529 (<1,000) Australia 1,314 (<1,000) Malaysia 1,518 (1,304) Israel 1,442 (<1,000) Czech Republic 1,236 (1,047) Japan 1,128 (1,086) Stay home. Keep your distance from others when you do need to go out. And WASH YOUR HANDS. A lot. Much more tomorrow....

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