The first confirmed case of the global pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the United States was announced by the state of Washington on January 21, 2020. Washington made the first announcement of a death from the disease in the U.S. on February 29 and later announced that two deaths there on February 26 were also due to COVID-19. Until mid-March, Washington had the highest absolute number of confirmed cases and the highest number per capita of any state in the country, when it was surpassed by New York state. Many of the deceased were residents of a nursing home in Kirkland, an Eastside suburb of Seattle in King County.
Washington had 5,890 confirmed cases as of April 1, 2020 and a total of 254 confirmed deaths.(See table below). Public health experts agree that the true number of cases in the state is much greater than the number that have been confirmed by laboratory tests. It is very difficult to know the true number since most people experience mild illness and testing is not widely available.
An introductory video about what the phylogenetic tree of SARS-CoV-2 means for the first two sequences obtained from cases in Washington state.
On February 19, 2020, a resident of a Life Care Centers of America nursing home in Kirkland, an Eastside King County suburb of Seattle, was transferred to a local hospital and later tested positive for COVID-19. On February 24, a 54-year-old man was transferred from the Life Care Center of Kirkland to Harborview Medical Center and died there on February 26. Also on the 26th, a woman in her 80s from the center died at her family home. Both were found to have had COVID-19 and in one case this was discovered in post-mortem testing. The two deaths were announced on March 3.
On February 28, a high school student in Everett was confirmed as having the virus. The following day, researchers confirmed the coronavirus strain in the student's case may be related to the coronavirus strain in the first confirmed U.S. case from January 19, suggesting that the virus may have been spreading in the area for up to six weeks. Also on February 28, a woman in her 50s who had recently returned from South Korea and who was an employee of the United States Postal Service at its Network Distribution Center facility in Federal Way, King County, tested positive.
Life Care Center of Kirkland in 2020
On February 29, Washington health officials made the first announcement of a death from COVID-19 in the United States. A man in his late 50s with pre-existing chronic illness died at EvergreenHealth's hospital in Kirkland. He was not associated with the Life Care Center and although patients from the center were also in the hospital, it was not believed that any patients contracted the virus at the hospital. Officials said there was no evidence he contracted the virus through travel and they suspected community spread of the disease in King County. The man had not been tested for the virus until February 28, partly because the lab in Washington had only recently become able to conduct tests, and partly because until late February the CDC had been recommending testing only for those with COVID-19 symptoms who had recently traveled to China. Public health officials also reported two confirmed cases in the Life Care Center nursing home, including a woman in her 40s who was a health care worker at the facility.
On March 1, state public health officials confirmed two new cases in King County, both men in their 60s. One was hospitalized in critical condition at the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle; the other was hospitalized in "critical but stable" condition at the Valley Medical Center in Renton. Those two cases were not linked to the cases in the nursing facility that were reported on February 29. Later the same day, officials reported four new cases associated with the Life Care long-term care facility: a woman in her 80s, a woman in her 90s, a man aged 70s who had died, and a man in his 70s in critical condition. Washington reported one additional case: a man in his 40s in critical condition, bringing the state's total to seven new cases reported on this day. The second death from coronavirus in the U.S. was reported at EvergreenHealth Kirkland. On March 2, officials announced another four deaths in the state, bringing the U.S. death toll to six. They also announced four new infections, bringing the state's caseload to 18, and the country's to 96. The total number of deaths in the state rose to nine on March 3. Additionally, Amazon.com confirmed that one of its Seattle employees had tested positive for coronavirus.
On March 4, officials reported the tenth death in the U.S. attributable to coronavirus. King County Public Health Department reported 10 new cases, including one death. All but one case were associated with the Life Care Centers facility. In the evening, Facebook announced that a contractor at its Stadium East office in Seattle was diagnosed with the virus; the office was shut down until March 9 and employees were encouraged to work from home. On March 5, the Washington State Department of Health reported 31 new cases with the first new case reported outside of Snohomish and King counties. County case totals were Snohomish County 18, including 1 death; King County 51, including 9 deaths; Grant County 1 case. Later, public health officials reported an additional death on March 4, bringing the state total deaths to 11.
The United States Public Health Service (PHS) sent 28 uniformed officers to Kirkland around this time. The PHS team consisted of physicians, physicians' assistants, nurses, technicians and other medical care personnel.
On March 6, Microsoft announced that two of its employees in Seattle, including one working remotely for subsidiary LinkedIn, tested positive. Three new deaths were reported in King County; all died at the EvergreenHealth Medical Center. In addition, public health officials in Seattle announced that a part-time concessions employee at CenturyLink Field tested positive and may have exposed attendees of a February 22 Seattle Dragons game. The stadium, home to the Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Sounders, and Seattle Dragons, can seat up to 72,000 people. The University of Washington reported that a staff member in an office away from the main campus tested positive. Classes were to be held online starting March 9, until March 20. The suburban Northshore School District confirmed classes for its 23,000 students were suspended for up to two weeks.Starbucks closed one of its downtown Seattle locations after an employee tested positive. On March 7, the Department of Health confirmed 102 cases and 16 deaths. EvergreenHealth announced its 13th coronavirus death, bringing the total in Washington State to 17 deaths. Clark County announced its first positive test of the coronavirus in a man in his 70s.
On March 8, the Washington State Department of Health confirmed 136 cases and 18 deaths, mainly in King County. Later in the day, after the department of health report, an additional death was reported in Grant County. In the Seattle area, a staff member of the Aegis Living Marymoor assisted living facility in Redmond tested positive. The staff member has been isolated since February 28 after reporting symptoms. All Aegis Living communities are limiting non-essential visits. This is the fourth senior living facility in the Seattle area to report staff members who test positive. Kitsap County reported its first positive test, a Bainbridge Island resident in their 60s who was being kept in isolation. On March 9, the Washington State Department of Health reported 26 new cases and 3 new deaths as cases continued to appear in new counties. This brought the total deaths in Washington to 22. Life Care Center of Kirkland reported that 31 of its patients had tested positive. (City of) Snohomish schools would be closed beginning March 10 after a transportation employee was tested positive.
On March 10, the Washington State Department of Health reported an additional 105 cases, a 62% increase. Two additional deaths were reported in King County, in two separate nursing homes unconnected to the Life Care Center nursing home where most deaths have been reported. This brought the state total deaths to 24 with the majority, 22, in King County. Whatcom County declared a public health emergency after it reported its first case of the virus. The female patient self-isolated at home after receiving treatment at a local Bellingham medical center.Island County reported its first positive test.Skagit County reported its first positive test.
On March 11, five new deaths were reported, bringing the total to 29.Thurston County reported its first confirmed case.
Columbia County and Yakima County reported first cases on March 12. On March 13, Governor Inslee ordered all public and private schools closed for six weeks. On March 14, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) confirmed three cases in Spokane County residents. On March 15, the American College of Emergency Physicians announced that an emergency physician at EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland was in critical condition with COVID-19.Lewis County announced their first case on March 15, with the patient being quarantined in a Cowlitz County hospital.
On March 16, two deaths occurred in Clark County, a husband and wife that lived in separate elder care facilities. Also, a Seattle resident was the first U.S. volunteer to receive a vaccine for the virus that causes COVID-19.Mason County reported its first case on March 17, an individual who was being quarantined at home. The first case in Franklin County was announced on March 17: a woman in her 20s with underlying health conditions. The Benton–Franklin Health District said the case was linked to foreign travel. The first two confirmed cases in Chelan County were reported, from Leavenworth and Chelan. On March 18, the death of a Richland woman in her 80s, a retirement community resident with underlying health conditions, was announced as Benton–Franklin Health District's first COVID-19 related death. It was the second death in Eastern Washington, after Grant County.
Radio station KUOW announced that starting March 25, it would no longer broadcast President Trump's briefings on the coronavirus "due to a pattern of false or misleading information provided that cannot be fact checked in real time".
On February 29, Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency after the first US death attributable to COVID-19 occurred in a man in his 50s with an underlying chronic health condition who had been admitted to EvergreenHealth Medical Center after complaining of severe breathing problems. In a statement, Inslee said, "It is a sad day in our state as we learn that a Washingtonian has died from COVID-19. Our hearts go out to their family and friends. We will continue to work toward a day where no one dies from this virus." A second man in his 70s died at the same hospital a day later, the second US death attributable to COVID-19. By March 2, the death toll in the Seattle area had risen to six, nine by March 3 11 by March 5, and 18 by March 8.
On March 9, Governor Inslee announced new rules—including mandatory screening for visitors and staff—for nursing homes to slow the spread of the virus. The state was also considering mandatory measures of social distancing to prevent spread. The governor's office announced that workers who have reduced hours or temporary unemployment due to the outbreak are eligible for unemployment benefits.
On March 11, Governor Inslee invoked emergency powers and banned "social, spiritual, and
recreational gatherings" of over 250 people in King, Snohomish and Pierce Counties (including the core of the Seattle metropolitan area) for at least the month of March. The order included provisions for its enforcement by the Washington Military Department.
On March 12, Governor Inslee announced closures for all public and private K-12 schools in King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties beginning from March 17 through at least April 24. Later, on March 13, Inslee announced K-12 closures until at least April 24 throughout the state.
Local transit agencies in the Seattle area, including King County Metro and Sound Transit, announced more frequent deep cleanings of their vehicles and facilities. Within the first week of widespread work-from-home policies from local employers, Sound Transit ridership dropped 25 percent and Metro reported a 13 percent decrease compared to March 2019. Metro and Sound Transit also announced the temporary suspension of fare enforcement on buses and trains to reduce person-to-person contact.
On March 15, Governor Inslee announced the closing of all sit-down restaurants statewide, noting that "very strong measures are necessary to slow the spread of the disease". Restaurants are still allowed to offer takeout and drive through options. The governor also announced that he would issue an emergency proclamation ordering all entertainment and recreation facilities to temporarily close. The same order banned gatherings of groups of 50 or more statewide.
On March 16, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced $5 million in grocery vouchers for families impacted by COVID-19. The city created the program to provide 6,250 families $800 each with vouchers for Safeway stores in Washington state. Also, the Seattle Police Department announced the suspension of all police front counter services and that public access to precinct and headquarters police facilities would be curtailed. A correctional officer at the King County Correctional Facility in Seattle tested positive for COVID-19 on March 16. He was last at work on March 8.
On March 17, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a moratorium on residential evictions. Mayor Durkan used her emergency powers to prohibit evictions on the basis of rent delinquency for 30 days or due to expiring leases. The City Council expanded this to cover all evictions except when the health or safety of others is imminently threatened by tenant actions. The moratorium also prohibits late fees for tenants struggling to make rent payments. Starting on March 17, King County correctional facilities stopped accepting people arrested for violating their state Department of Corrections community supervision; and is planning to transfer anyone in a King County correctional facility under such a warrant back to state custody. As of March 20, there were 180 such people in King County correctional facilities that may get transferred out.
On March 18, the King County government began preparing the first of several field hospitals on a soccer field in Shoreline that is anticipated to have 200 beds for coronavirus patients.
On March 21, the City of Everett ordered residents and business owners to stay at home "until further notice", except for some essential workers.
On March 22, President Donald Trump said the federal government would pay the costs of activation of the Washington National Guard while under control of the state governor.
On March 22, 2020, retired Navy admiral Raquel C. Bono was named by Washington State Governor Jay Inslee to lead the state's health system response to the pandemic. President Donald Trump also announced approval of Washington emergency declaration, and have instructed Federal assistance to be given to assist the local recovery efforts in fighting the coronavirus.
Governor Inslee announced a statewide stay-at-home order on March 23, to last at least two weeks.
On March 24, 2020, King County Executive Dow Constantine signed an Executive Order suspending the Department of Adult & Juvenile Detention's Work Education Release program. Additionally, King County correctional facilities will no longer accept people due to misdemeanor charges, except for assaults, violations of no contact or protection orders, DUIs, sex crimes or other charges which present a serious public safety concern.
The Governor called up the Washington National Guard on March 31. Until then, "only a few" activated Guardsmen had been deployed to the State Emergency Operations Center.
Delay in data reporting
As of March 31, 2020 technical difficulties involving the Department of Health and Microsoft Power BI are causing a delay in the timely reporting of coronavirus data to the public. The last reported data is from March 28, 2020 and is now a couple of days out of date. However, most counties are reporting timely data which give a fairly good picture. King County data, however, was also delayed in connection with the statewide delay, although normal reporting resumed on April 1.
Economic and social effects
The marquee of the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, announcing postponement of all events
Several national media outlets reported that fewer Seattle residents were observed outside in public places in early March. Local businesses, especially in tourist areas, reported fewer customers and sales.
On March 10, Seattle-based Alaska Airlines announced the company was preparing to cut its flight schedule and freeze hiring due to the sharp drop in airline bookings because of the pandemic.
Retail closures not subject to the March 23 stay-at-home edict included retail pharmaceutical providers and retail cannabis and alcohol providers, considered an essential need by the order. Breweries were also considered essential and some offered curbside pickup.
Playground at a Seattle elementary school is closed due to the epidemic on 25 March
On March 4, Northshore School District became the first school district in the state to announce an extended district-wide closure due to the pandemic, shifting to remote online learning. The closure was initially scheduled to last up to 14 days.
The two largest state universities, University of Washington (UW) and Washington State University (WSU) curtailed on-campus classes during the pandemic. UW announced its closure on March 6; and on March 11, WSU announced the closure would begin after its spring break, on March 23.
On March 12, the governor invoked his emergency power and mandated the closure of all private and public schools in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties, through April 24 or later; the next day, he expanded the closure to all K-12 schools statewide.
Many scheduled public events went on as planned, including a Major League Soccer fixture between the Seattle Sounders FC and Columbus Crew SC at CenturyLink Field on March 7. It was played in front of a crowd of 33,080, making it the smallest crowd to ever attend a regular season MLS match in Sounders history. Pundits attributed the lower attendance to the coronavirus as immunocompromized fans and others who did not want to attend the match due to the outbreak were offered full refunds.ESPN noted the effect the governor's ban on gatherings in Puget Sound area would have on sports, especially if it should be expanded to Eastern Washington; the first round of the 2020 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament was scheduled to be held in Spokane in March. NCAA basketball was subsequently cancelled altogether. On March 12, Major League Baseball cancelled the remainder of spring training, and on March 16, they announced that the season will be postponed indefinitely, after the recommendations from the CDC to restrict events of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks, affecting the Seattle Mariners.
Arts and media
Seattle Artists Relief Fund was established to help artists, especially in the performing arts, cope with the loss of patrons due to the pandemic-related shutdowns. Included in the closures were the Pacific Northwest Ballet and the Seattle Symphony.
Most of the state's newspapers removed paywalls for COVID-19 information, including The Seattle Times, the Tacoma News Tribune, Bellingham Herald, Peninsula Daily News, The Olympian, Tri City Herald, Wenatchee World, The Columbian, The Spokesman-Review, and the Yakima Herald-Republic.The Seattle Times was praised for its early coverage of the outbreak, including public service announcements and question-and-answer sessions with readers.The Stranger, an alt-weekly newspaper in Seattle, announced a temporary layoff of 18 employees to offset ad revenue losses due to the closure of restaurants and entertainment venues.
On March 24th, a public radio station in the state, KUOW-FM, announced it would no longer broadcast the White House press briefings on the coronavirus "due to a pattern of false or misleading information provided that cannot be fact checked in real time." Nevertheless, KUOW stated that it will continue to provide relevant information and news regarding the pandemic from the press briefings.
Tourism and entertainment
Interior of Vancouver, Washington restaurant open for takeout only on March 16
The economic loss to the region due to canceled cruise ship visitors to Seattle was unknown as of mid March, with the Port of Seattle "exploring options." The industry brings in nearly one billion dollars annually to the Puget Sound area, with the Alaska cruise season considered to start April 1. On March 11, 2020, the Port of Seattle announced the cancellations of April 1 and 5 planned cruise ship sailings. On March 13, 2020, the Government of Canada deferred the start of their cruise ship season to July 1, 2020. As noted by the Port of Seattle, "United States maritime laws require foreign flagged vessels, which include many cruise ships, to stop at a foreign port on a U.S. port to U.S. port itinerary. This is why most Seattle to Alaska cruise itineraries visit Victoria, and changes in Canada can impact Seattle-based cruises." On March 14, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a 30-day no sail order impacting all cruise ships subject to U.S. jurisdiction.
The landmark Space Needle closed on March 13 through March 31. Many of the vendors at Pike Place Market—those who sell nonessential items—closed on March 23 following the statewide stay-at-home order, but some food vendors remained open as of March 31.
Many Western Washington tribal casinos announced their closures on March 16, although not subject to the state government proclamations. Closures were at the Muckleshoot, Puyallup, Snoqualmie, Suquamish and Tulalip casinos in King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties.
Travel and transportation
Several public transit agencies in Western Washington announced cuts to service and free fares to avoid contact between passengers and drivers. King County Metro, the largest operator serving Seattle, will reduce service and suspend the South Lake Union Streetcar. Large agencies in the Puget Sound region are also anticipating a decline in revenue from sales taxes, which would cause delays or changes to major projects.
^signed by Jay Inslee (March 11, 2020). "PROCLAMATION 20-07 BY THE GOVERNOR, AMENDING PROCLAMATIONS 20-05 AND 20-06"(PDF). Governor's office of the State of Washington. As a result of this event, I continue to order into active state service the organized militia of Washington State to include the National Guard and the State Guard, or such part thereof as may be necessary in the opinion of The Adjutant General to address the circumstances described above, to perform such duties as directed by competent authority of the Washington State Military Department in addressing the outbreak.