In just a few days the novel coronavirus in King County and greater Washington went from a few cases to hundreds being monitored for the virus. And studying the genomes in the virus has revealed it’s been in King County for about six weeks. But folks can continue to stop the spread by following common best practices: washing hands, staying home when sick and avoiding touching the face. There are also new recommendations on large gatherings and practicing social distancing as much as possible.
“We all have people in our lives who are high-risk. We all are one mishap away from needing access to a functioning hospital. We all have a lot at stake,” Public Health – Seattle King County states on the new guidelines.
“Giving up social events will not be easy, and the impacts on businesses and jobs may be significant. But this is our best chance to save lives. It is in support of the most vulnerable in our community, and a protection for everyone. The more united we can be in preventing the spread – be in this together – the greater the benefit for the whole community.”
The illness is a new virus strain spreading from person-to-person, and has the potential to cause severe illness and pneumonia in elderly folks or those with underlying medical conditions, but most who get it have mild symptoms, with a fever and cough, or asymptomatic. In most viruses like this children are also more vulnerable, but this coronavirus does not seem to impact kids disproportionately.
Right now, health experts believe it is shared through respiratory coughs or droplets and close contact (within about six feet). Symptoms have also appeared in those with it anywhere from two to 14 days after coming into contact. There are no medicines or vaccines currently available specifically for the coronavirus.
Those who may have been exposed to COVID-19 should contact their primary care provider and call the public health call center between 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 206-477-3977. For general questions about coronavirus, call 1-800-525-0127 and press # for next steps. Unless it is an emergency, do not go to an emergency room without calling ahead so they can take steps to provide you with the right treatment and protect others from a possible exposure. Those who are sick should stay home.
Public Health is also strongly advising those in high risk categories (60-plus, with underlying health conditions, have weakened immune systems, or are pregnant) stay home and away from large groups as much as possible (considered more than 10 people).
Renton and COVID-19— cancellations and what to know:
Friday, March 13:
Renton Police Department will be closing the police lobby in Renton City Hall, to follow social distancing protocols. The department stated in a social media post that the walk-up window will remain open.
The department is also temporarily suspending fingerprinting services, including original Concealed Pistol Licenses until further notice.
Renton Municipal Court Judge Terry Jurado issued an order continuing all non-essential rescheduling all non-essential hearings that were set between Monday, March 16 and Friday, April 3. Only cases on the jail calendar will qualify as essential. The court will revisit this decision the week of March 30.
“We have issued this emergency rule to protect our employees, prosecutors, public defenders, jurors and the public,” Jurado stated in a press release.
Valley Medical Center in an updated advisory stated it is now treating five positive coronavirus cases, from Wednesday’s two. And 17 patients are under investifation of it awaiting test results. Adequate supply inventories and the protocol of only testing those known-contact cases with symptoms, or those criticall ill, have not changed.
Thursday, March 12:
The city of Renton, following Public Health guidelines, is moving many of its workers to teleworking and away from city hall. About 200 employees of the 300 employees who are capable of working remotely are doing so. Renton City Hall will remain open but the city asks for patience during this time. Mayor Armondo Pavone issued an emergency order prohibiting employees and contractors from city facilities is they were determined to be exposed directly or indirectly to a case of COVID-19. Existing personnel and leave policies did not accommodate for an epidemic of this nature, the order states.
“As the COVID-19 emergency worsens, there is an increasing likelihood that city employees will be exposed to the virus,” The order continues. “It is essential to reduce the community spread of COVID-19 that any employee who has a credible exposure to or suspected contraction of COVID-19 not report to city facilities.”
Pavone ended his Mayor’s Weekly Newsletter with on a serious note about the continuous spread of the virus and need for Rentonites to work together.
“Each of us can play a role in preventing the spread of germs,” Pavone stated in the newsletter. “Renton is a city where we all pull together, we all work together, and we all care for each other. It’s just who we are—and we should all be proud of that.”
All public and private schools in Renton will be closing for six weeks under a mandate from Governor Jay Inslee. Read more about details on that here.
Wednesday, March 11:
Renton City Council has announced it will hold regular council meetings in March via teleconference, for March 16 and March 23, to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. The council will not be meeting March 30.
“Teleconferencing will allow us to conduct the business of the city, while maintaining legislative operations and still continue to be accessible to the public in accordance with law,” Ruth Pérez, City Council President stated in a city press release.
In the release, the city asks for public to continue to engage with councilmembers and city staff, and can provide written testimony to participate in meetings by emailing email@example.com. The council meetings are broadcast live on channel 21 in Renton and rentonwa.gov/21.
University of Washington Medicine Valley Medical Center released today that it is treating two positive coronavirus cases, one a man that has been in critical but stable condition since late February, and one new positive patient that was transferred from Life Care Center in Kirkland. They are also treating 21 additional patients that are being tested for COVID-19.
In the release, Valley emphasized it is still only testing those with symptoms that had known contact with a COVID-19 case, or are critically ill and require hospitalization. They are not testing at clinics or urgent care centers.
They have also released a visitor policy as follows:
Visitors will be restricted from visiting patients awaiting confirmation of COVID-19 test results and those in isolation rooms. We recommend using video chat such as: Facetime/Skype/WhatsApp/Facebook/etc.
- One support person is allowed for non-suspected COVID-19 patients in the Emergency Department, outpatient and inpatient areas.
- Due to the shortage of masks, we will NOT be able to provide masks to visitors, unless they have symptoms. Valley must conserve resources as much as possible to ensure we have masks available for symptomatic patients and staff who require them.
- Visitors are welcome to provide their own masks if they feel they would like one.
Tuesday, March 10
The school is scheduled to reopen on Thursday, March 19, 14 days after students and staff were last on campus. The positive student is no longer ill and was cleared by healthcare professionals to return to school. The school has been cleaned and poses no health risks, Renton Schools stated Tuesday. The students will have finals for trimester two upon return.
In an email to Hazen families, Renton School District stated that other students and staff at Hazen were tested after reporting symptoms consistent with COVID-19, with some returning negative and others still pending. Others weren’t tested as Public Health “does not have enough information to confirm whether mild COVID-19 illness could be spreading throughout the school.” This is a result of testing mostly only being offered to those at the highest risk of serious illness, and Public Health believing COVID-19 cases in Renton might be due to a broader community spread and not specific to Hazen.
“If anyone in our school community develops symptoms such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing, they should speak with their healthcare and remain in home isolation for 7 days OR until 72 hours after fever has resolved (and symptoms get better), whichever is longer,” the district stated in the email.
The district also emphasized on March 9 that the state Office of Superintendent for Public Instruction does not recommend moving to online courses for impacted schools like Hazen, as they would cause access problems for special education and English learning services and it would be hard to track attendance.
The district also stated that it’s updating the emergency plan and preparing for more student cases and potential closures if necessary. More information is available here.
Monday, March 9
Hazen High School will remain closed Tuesday, March 10 under the guidance of Public Health. They also issued more information on Hazen spring athletics and online learning.
“We want to express our appreciation for your patience and feedback as we respond to the daily challenges COVID-19 presents to us as a learning organization and a community,” the district stated on its COVID-19 updates webpage.
The Washington Interscholastic Athletics Association (WIAA) provides alternative practice schedules and more leeway for game schedules for impacted schools. They also emphasized that the state Office of Superintendent for Public Instruction does not recommend moving to online courses as they would cause access problems for special education and English learning services and it would be hard to track attendance.
The district also stated that it’s updating the emergency plan and preparing for more student cases.
University of Washington (UW) Medicine Valley Medical Center in Renton is treating one positive coronavirus case and 15 patients awaiting test results, according to a release on Monday, March 9. The hospital’s one positive case is the same patient from last week who tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by novel coronavirus. That patient is stable and his condition is improving.
All interactions with the patient are being monitored by Valley’s Infection Prevention team and all staff have been training in recommended infection control practices, the release states. Last week 20 Valley staff members were tested for COVID-19, with one positive and 11 negatives. The remaining were pending.
The 15 patients under investigation are waiting for test results from varied testing locations. Valley states it has not experienced a shortage of negative pressure rooms (for quarantine) or supplies while treating these potential cases.
Right now anticipated testing turnaround is 48 hours, according to Valley. The hospital is only testing patients who had known contact with a COVID-19 case and are symptomatic, or those that are critically ill and requiring hospitalization. It “is yet to be determined” whether Valley can test patients outside of that criteria, according to the release.
Renton Technical College is cancelling classes Monday and Tuesday to help staff proactively plan for any instructional changes that will be needed as coronavirus cases continue to be confirmed in King County. RTC has no confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The college will remain open on normal operations except for these two planning days, where staff will also learn more about ways to mitigate the health concerns of the King County outbreak. Instruction that resumes Wednesday, March 11 will be modified to include more online instruction and social distancing for both on campus classes and resources.
“RTC’s technical program emphasis on hands-on and experiential learning makes us different from neighboring colleges,” the statement reads. “We need to serve everyone equitably and well. For example, not everyone has access to technology at home, and accommodating this will be part of the planning.”
Students will be receiving emails detailing changes to their specific programs, and RTC encourages those who are sick or need to care for a sick family member to stay home.
Sunday, March 8
Continuing to follow the guidance of Public Health to close schools with a positive case of COVID-19, Hazen High School will remain closed on Monday, March 9.
“We continue to make our decisions, with direction from Public Health, based on the safety, health and well-being of students and staff,” Renton schools stated in a post about the closure.
The district has not announced further closures for the week. In an email to Hazen families, the district states it is working with Hazen Principal Kate O’Brien to address missed days and cancelled events, including rescheduling an SAT testing day for March 25.
Staff are also working on “variety of student centered approaches” to the end of trimester two and previously planned final projects. Hazen staff will also be working on finding solutions for the missed athletics, travel, student activities and communication to families.
Friday, March 6
The city of Renton announced Friday afternoon additional precautions it will be taking through facility closures and event cancellations, including closing the Renton Community Center and Renton History Museum until the end of March.
All events scheduled at those facilities will be cancelled.
Drop-on and facility rentals are also closed at the Highlands Neighborhood Center, and revising the schedule for the after school STREAM Team program housed there.
Renton Senior Activity Center is closed except for the essential lunch program. The program will now be for sack lunch pick up instead of eating in the facility, city staff will be available for drive-thru pick up Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Renton has asked local civic organizations and businesses with upcoming events in city facilities to reschedule events. City leadership has also cancelled the following events based on Public Health guidance on limiting meetings of 10 or more:
- March 7 SubUrban Farm & Garden Expo
- March 9 Renton City Council meeting
- March 13 Mother and Son Fortnite dance
- March 22 Renton City Concert Band performance
City hall will remain open, but staff ask that folks conduct work online or over the phone if possible. Permits, business licenses (new or renew) and fee payments can all be conducted via rentonwa.gov. City staff are also disinfecting common spaces, counters and door handles every two hours during business hours.
The city of Newcastle, which borders Renton, has joined the growing group of King County cities declaring a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus causing COVID-19. There are no confirmed cases in Newcastle, but the city is still preparing for any emergency assistance and trying to help get accurate information to its residents.
“We want to make sure that our residents can still access city services, while at the same time taking measures to help prevent exposure,” City Manager Wyman stated in a press release. “At this time, city hall operations are proceeding as normal. If that were to change, I want to assure you that essential services, including police and fire, will continue uninterrupted.”
City Manager Wyman encourages residents to take steps to reduce transmission of this illness, including washing hands often and staying home from work or school if you are sick. If residents are experiencing symptoms like cough, fever, or other respiratory problems, they are asked to contact their regular doctor first, and to not go to the emergency room unless essential.
The press release goes on to remind people that this virus is not related to ethnicity or ancestry, a harmful stereotype that has been impacting Seattle-area businesses.
“Additionally, please remember that discrimination based on ethnicity or ancestry will make the situation worse. Having Chinese ancestry – or any other ancestry — does not make a person more vulnerable to this illness. Coronavirus doesn’t recognize race, nationality nor ethnicity. Misinformation about coronavirus can create fear and hostility that hurts people and makes it harder to keep everyone healthy. Newcastle is stronger as a community when we stand together against discrimination,” the press release states.
Students from the Renton School District have circulated a petition to close down the school district due to the recent novel coronavirus outbreak.
“The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19 started in a public market in Wuhan, China. This has now spread to over 85,000 people around the globe and has caused almost 3,000 deaths, both totals higher than the SARS and MERS epidemics of the past. This virus can stay in the body for two weeks or more without showing symptoms, but over this incubation period, the virus can still be transmitted to others,” the petition states. “As where this won’t be fatal to most students, many infected individuals may spread the virus without their knowledge. Students have the ability to transmit the virus around schools, to their family and around the community, which could potentiality, and fatally, endanger many. We are asking the RSD Superintendent, Damien Pattenaude, and King County Public Health to close our schools to prevent the spreading of this virus.”
So far the petition has 1,416 signatures and has a goal of 1,500 signatures. According to the petition’s host, change.org, the author of the petition is a Hazen High School student. Hazen High School was closed for multiple days throughout the previous week due to a student and family member testing positive for COVID-19. The student is recovering at home.
RSD Spokesperson Randy Matheson replied to a request for comment with the district’s public message published on the district’s website.
Here is the district’s statement;
Renton School District is working closely with Public Health Seattle and King County, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to monitor an outbreak of respiratory illness caused used by a novel (new) coronavirus, a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.
Public Health Seattle and King County, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) do not recommend closing schools. The health organizations weighed recommendations for schools very carefully. Here are some of the reasons they recommend schools remain open:
•The available data about COVID-19 cases has shown children and youth have not been high risk groups for serious illness from this virus.
•COVID-19 infection in children tends to be more like a common cold or a mild fever.
•Public Health – Seattle and King County knows schools are doing the important work of educating our children. They don’t want to disrupt that unless there are confirmed coronavirus exposure risks.
•Public Health – Seattle and King County also recognizes school closures have other impacts on working parents. School closures can be disruptive and costly for families, and they consider both the potential benefits and negative consequences of closures when they make recommendations.
If there is a confirmed case of COVID-19, Public Health will work with us to determine the best measures including potential school closure. As much as possible, children should be allowed to carry on with their education.
This is an evolving situation, and updates are available from the Washington State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including updated Travel Notices for countries with community transmission.
Many of those signing the petition seem to be students, who are commenting on their reasons for requesting the school stay closed.
“I do not want to be exposed to the virus while I’m at school,” Mick Collins wrote.
“I’m Signing Because a lot of people don’t care about others and come to school sick thinking they are alright,” signatory Emily Kissin wrote. “You could just have us do work at home but putting thousands of young amazing people in danger is not okay. It’s not just because of people not wanting to learn … it’s because we are small and want to live. Also many schools in Washington state have already closed even though we are located next to many other people who are infected.”
Superintendent Damien Pattenaude published a letter to parents on the district’s website explaining why only Hazen High School will be closed through Friday, March 6.
“As of today, we do not plan on cancelling events or gatherings (with the exception of Hazen). Families should consider their own potential risk to decide for themselves whether participating or attending is right for them,” Pattenaude stated. “We continue to review our cleaning protocols in context of the recommendations from the Washington State Department of Health and our practices are aligned. That said, we have revived campaigns in our schools and departments around excellent hygiene and hand washing. I encourage everyone to be mindful of accurate sources of information. We are updating information relevant to our district on our coronavirus website. The Health Department and CDC continue to be the most accurate source of information in our region.”
The City of Renton and Mayor Armondo Pavone declared a state of emergency in response to the growing coronavirus epidemic.
The proclamation supports measures to be taken to protect public health, safety and welfare within the city.
Several patients in the region have tested positive for the COVID-19, which is caused by the novel coronavirus, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued warnings regarding the impacts and severity of this event, according to a city press release.
On Feb. 29 Washington Gov. Jay Inslee proclaimed that a state of emergency exists in all counties in the state, and on March 1 King County Executive Dow Constantine signed a proclamation of emergency due to the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county.
“Because the City of Renton may require supplemental assistance if the severity of the event goes beyond the capabilities of local resources, the proclamation of emergency enables the city to call in additional resources,” the press release states. “Additionally, it provides the mayor with the maximum flexibility to respond to this health crisis.”
The city will continue to keep residents informed with updates to the city website, rentonwa.gov, as well as Facebook (@CityofRenton) and Twitter (@CityofRenton) as information becomes available.
Information on the coronavirus in other languages is provided on the city’s website.
Thursday, March 5
The City of Renton is preparing for the outbreak by working closely with Public Health, the city’s Emergency Management Department staff told Renton City Council on Monday, March 2. The city emergency department is also monitoring the information 24-7 and keeping the city’s website up-to-date at rentonwa.gov.
There’s also been considerable stigma around race regarding the coronavirus, Renton’s emergency management coordinator Mindi Mattson told council Monday. The virus does not discriminate based on race or country of origin, and neither should we, Mattson said.
Mayor Armondo Pavone called for the briefing and reminded Renton residents to follow regional health officials for guidance on what to do at this time.
“I do want to impress upon people that the Department of Health is actually in charge, make sure to visit their website for updates,” Mayor Armondo Pavone said at the meeting.
Later in the week, city staff decided to close the Renton Community Center Thursday March 5 and Friday March 6 after the parent of a preschool program attendee told staff they have been exposed to the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19.
The city states that while the case is unconfirmed, they have decided to cancel all programs, events and rentals for those days. This includes nonprofit Vision House’s 30th anniversary celebration which was scheduled for March 6.
“We had been preparing for this event for a long time and so it saddens us to cancel it at this late date. However, we are hoping to plan some way of celebrating this agency milestone soon,” Vision House Executive Director Melissa Gehrig stated in an email.
Similarly, the Environmental Science Center which is housed in Burien and Renton had to cancel it’s annual fundraiser in the city for March 7. This event is meant to raise nearly 20 percent of the program’s annual budget. They will now have a virtual event at environmentalsciencecenter.org.
The city will be working with Public Health Seattle & King County to continue to asses the situation and continue to take precautionary next steps for different facilities. Community Services Administrator Kelly Beymer said in a statement that safety is the number one priority.
City custodial staff will be conducting a cleaning and disinfecting of the center, and alerting any preschool families that have come into contact with the family. As the case is not confirmed, it’s unclear if anyone in the family including the preschooler have tested for COVID-19 or if they are showing symptoms.
Renton’s Senior Activity Center is also cancelling recreation activities March 5-6, per guidance of Public Health to protect folks that are at high risk. But the center’s essential programs, including the lunch program, dental care foot care and tax assistance, will continue as scheduled.
As more coronavirus patients need medical attention, local emergency teams are preparing for contact with folks with COVID-19.
Renton’s University of Washington Valley Medical Center is housing at least one positive case right now and is set up as a transport location for those with COVID-19 that need medical assistance. Renton Regional Fire Authority (RRFA) Deputy Chief of Emergency Medical Services and Safety Chuck DeSmith said they have equipped one aid car with Visqueen plastic sheeting to transport patients with those symptoms that will limit exposure to the driver and aid car equipment.
The Valley Communications Center is also screening its 911 calls and warning first responders like RRFA if there may be a risk of COVID-19 exposure. DeSmith said they are even changing procedures in some cases, doing follow-up calls and asking patients that are able to meet responders at the front door, limiting contact. They are also practicing good decontamination for first responders assigned to these transports.
DeSmith said there was a Renton first responder that may have come into contact with COVID-19, but that person’s test came back negative.
“Nobody in Renton, unlike Kirkland, has been quarantined,” DeSmith said of RRFA responders. “We are seeing patients, but we’re wearing our gear so far.”
Fire chiefs around the region are working together throughout the county to determine how much equipment, like masks and gloves, they have in stock and sharing resources. They are also looking towards regional health officials for updates as more information is learned about the virus and stay in line with recommendations.
Valley Medical Center Renton staff are also being tested for COVID-19, as previously reported in Renton Reporter. So far one employee has tested positive for the coronavirus. The employee is at home recovering and they are being monitored.
As cases continue to test positive in Renton, local senior living and assisted living facilities are taking additional precautions. Merrill Gardens at Renton Centre in Renton has cancelled all events, posted signage on the doors and held emergency meetings with residents. The Lakeshore on Rainier Avenue South near Renton is also cancelling events and taking additional precautions.
Meanwhile, transit officials are urging people with symptoms to stay home if they can.
Both King County Metro and Sound Transit issued press releases telling people to work from home or avoid transit if possible. Metro is currently operating normal routes and schedules. Crews vacuum buses daily and clean areas which are unsanitary, according to the agency. However, buses only undergo a deep clean once a month.
Renton’s state representative Senator Mona Das sent an email out to community members to let them know the senate allocated up to $100 million for state and local agencies responding to COVID-19.
“My heartfelt condolences go out to the families who have been affected by this illness. I am thinking of you,” Das states in the email.
Know of more event cancellations and facility closures in the Renton area due to novel coronavirus? Let the reporter know at firstname.lastname@example.org.