Wednesday, March 25, 2020
► LIVE from the Seattle Times — Coronavirus daily news update, March 25 — The state Department of Health announced 248 new cases Tuesday, bringing the state total to 2,469 cases, including 123 deaths. The bulk of cases remain in King County.
► In the Yakima H-R — Yakima Health District: Local stay-home order indefinite because of hospital closure — Gov. Jay Inslee’s statewide “stay at home” order is for two weeks, while the Yakima Health District order is indefinite due to the vulnerability of the local health care system and recent closure of Astria Regional Hospital, leaving the city of Yakima with only one hospital. The case count increased by approximately 150% in Yakima County from Friday to Sunday, with about one-quarter of the cases among health care workers.
► In the Tri-City Herald — Thousands of Hanford workers to stay home for at least 2 weeks. Only essential work continues. — The Hanford nuclear reservation moved to only “essential mission critical operations” on Tuesday afternoon, with most workers staying home at least through April 6 in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Only the minimum number of people needed to maintain safety and protect the environment, the workforce and the public will report to Hanford facilities.
► In the Seattle Times — Construction industry’s workers divided over staying on the job during coronavirus shutdown — Under Inslee’s mandate, workers on projects including new Amazon office buildings and the KeyArena overhaul won’t be allowed to come to work starting Wednesday evening. That will alleviate the concerns of some workers about novel coronavirus transmission at construction job sites, which can be hard to keep sanitized. But in a move sure to please the construction industry, Inslee’s order contained a wide-ranging exemption for construction of health-care facilities, transportation infrastructure, housing and other “essential” projects. “You can’t stop building in the middle of SR-520,” said Monty Anderson, executive secretary of the Seattle Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents 15,000 construction workers across 19 unions. “Maintenance workers at Seattle Housing Authority. Those are essential services.”
► In the Nisqually Valley News — Unions reach agreement for grocery store employees amid COVID-19 — Due to the outbreak of COVID-19 Washington state’s United Food and Commercial Workers Unions and the Teamsters 38 recently reached an agreement and understanding with Safeway and Albertsons which should protect and better support grocery store employees.
EDITOR’S NOTE — The unions have reached a similar deal with Fred Meyer/QFC.
► In the Spokesman-Review — Local governments, organizations freeze hires, consider future layoffs — As hundreds of visitors cancel their trips to Spokane, local agencies and governments have had to cut back or freeze hiring to make it through the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus.
► In the Peninsula Daily News — Westport lays off workers in Port Angeles — Up to 335 employees have been laid off at Port Angeles-based Westport LLC, a luxury yacht-maker.
► In the Spokesman-Review — Digital divide challenges Washington districts seeking equity in at-home learning — As the crisis deepens, so too does the digital divide that isolates tens of thousands of Washington students who lack internet connections, devices and the means to obtain them. Some reside on farms or isolated towns, but most live in low-income city neighborhoods, often with a single parent or in families that can’t afford to stay home from work even in the best of times.
► In the Seattle Times — There’s a ‘moon shot, Manhattan Project’ to save the school year from coronavirus, but not in Seattle (by Danny Westneat) — How is it that Los Angeles, a district with half a million students, is attempting to keep its schooling going online during this crisis? And we are the ones barely trying.
► In the Seattle Times — Is 2 weeks enough? Experts say Washington’s ‘stay-at-home’ order may need to continue to slow coronavirus — “It’s a reasonable period for reassessing the impact,” said Peter Rabinowitz, co-director of the University of Washington MetaCenter for Pandemic Disease Preparedness. “But I’m not personally expecting that in two weeks we will be out of the woods.”
► In the News Tribune — Inslee’s ‘stay home’ order will save lives in Washington but needs some enforcement (editorial) — Collective adherence to this order will save lives. What enforcement will look like across so many jurisdictions is unclear, but it had better be applied equitably and should come with a penalty that stings a bit.
► In the (Everett) Herald — City, state, federal parks mostly closed due to COVID-19 — Gates to many public lands will close Thursday, with the state Department of Resources cutting off access to hiking and camping in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. City, county, state and some national parks are largely shutting down, too. National Forest land remains open — for now.
► In the (Everett) Herald — As Boeing shuts down, an employee’s family is left to grieve — For 27 years, Washington worked for Boeing, most recently as a flight-line inspector at the Everett factory. He was a union steward for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 751. On Sunday, he died after contracting the new coronavirus. He left behind two children — a 16-year-old son and a 37-year-old daughter — and three grandchildren. He was 57. To his family, Washington isn’t just a statistic. He’s a person, whose laugh they miss, and who they weren’t able to see in his final moments.
► In the Seattle Times — Layoffs begin as aviation collapse due to coronavirus hits Washington companies — With airlines drastically reducing their flights and parking their aircraft, Everett’s large aircraft repair and maintenance firm ATS laid off about 150 workers Monday. Largely due to the Boeing production shutdown, Skills, which employs about 400 people at three facilities in Auburn doing machining and metal finishing work, is temporarily laying off 80% to 90% of them.
► From The Hill — Boeing CEO says company may reject stimulus if Treasury seeks equity stake — CEO David Calhoun said that it’s “not ideal” for Boeing to surrender equity to the federal government and “if they force it, we just look at all the other options, and we’ve got plenty of them.” Boeing is requesting $60 billion in federal loans from a $500 billion corporate assistance program created in the Senate’s $2 trillion economic stimulus bill. The bill, which is still being negotiated, also allows the Treasury secretary to take a stake in bailed-out corporations as the government did to major banks who received federal rescue funds in 2008.
► In the Washington Post — Senate to vote Wednesday on $2 trillion coronavirus bill after landmark agreement with White House — The legislation, unprecedented in its size and scope, would send $1,200 checks to many Americans, create a $367 billion loan program for small businesses, and establish a $500 billion lending fund for industries, cities and states. The legislation ensures that these taxpayer-backed loans cannot go to firms owned by Trump, other White House officials or members of Congress. This would suggest that Trump-owned properties, including hotels that have been impacted, cannot seek taxpayer assistance. Other provisions include $150 billion for state and local stimulus funds and $130 billion for hospitals. It would significantly boost unemployment insurance benefits, expanding eligibility and offering workers an additional $600 a week for four month, on top of what state unemployment programs pay.
► From Politico — Trump hasn’t yet released disaster unemployment funds — The three states that Trump has formally declared coronavirus disaster areas have not received the disaster unemployment assistance that they expected to follow that designation. New York, California and Washington state all requested access to several aid programs provided under a disaster declaration, including disaster unemployment assistance. Disaster unemployment assistance allows workers who aren’t eligible for traditional unemployment benefits, like Uber drivers and other gig economy workers, to receive 26 weeks’ unemployment benefits if their job loss is attributable to a disaster that eliminates their job or keeps them from reaching their job site. To receive disaster employment assistance, a state must be declared a disaster area by the president.
ALSO TODAY at The Stand — State Democratic leaders seek benefits for laid-off contractors
► From the AP — Testing blunders crippled US response as coronavirus spread — A series of missteps at the nation’s top public health agency caused a critical shortage of reliable laboratory tests for the coronavirus, hobbling the federal response as the pandemic spread across the country like wildfire. Trump assured Americans early this month that the COVID-19 test developed by the CDC is “perfect” and that “anyone who wants a test can get a test.” But more than two months after the first U.S. case of the new disease was confirmed, many people still cannot get tested.
► MUST-READ in the NY Times — Trump to New York: Drop dead (by Jennifer Senior) — Trump is treating each of our 50 states as individual contestants on “The Apprentice” — pitting them against one another for scarce resources, daring them to duke it out — rather than mobilizing a unified national response to a pandemic. Untold thousands will likely die absent federal intervention. And it needs to happen this instant — not just for the good of the city, but for the nation.
► From HuffPost — ‘I fear for my life’: Detained families are terrified of coronavirus — A group of immigration lawyers filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security demanding that immigrants be released from family detention centers in the U.S. They say the cramped conditions, subpar medical care and lack of hygiene make these facilities a “powder keg” for the virus’s spread.
► In the (Longview) Daily News — WSP trooper dies after being struck by fleeing suspect — Justin R. Schaffer, a 28-year-old Washington State Patrol trooper, died at a Seattle hospital Tuesday evening after he was struck by a fleeing motorist on Interstate 5 near Chehalis.
► In the Seattle Times — In response to a Seattle Times investigation, advocates seek benefits for workers who wore leaky respirators at Hanford — A national advocacy group for sickened nuclear workers plans to push the federation government to recognize Hanford employees who wore faulty respirators for years as eligible for financial benefits.
► In the Seattle Times — West Seattle Bridge closure alarming (editorial) — The abrupt closure of Seattle’s busiest city-owned roadway raises troubling questions about the city’s commitment to basic infrastructure maintenance. City officials must explain why a relatively new bridge, opened in 1984, is facing major structural problems so soon. Cracks and water intrusion are to be expected on all busy bridges in Seattle, so how did this get so bad?
► In the (Everett) Herald — Biden wins Washington, splits delegates with Sanders 46-43 — After the last tally, Biden took 38% of the vote to Sanders’ 37%. About 20,000 ballots separated the two remaining Democrats running to take on Trump in November.
► In the NY Times — All Americans need to shelter in place (editorial) — Trump needs to call for a two-week shelter-in-place order, now, as part of a coherent national strategy for the coronavirus to protect Americans and their livelihoods. A nationwide lockdown is the only tactic left to parry a viral adversary that is constantly on the move, and to buy the time for medical workers to prepare for what comes next.
► From Politico — Health workers fear U.S. hospitals will become coronavirus hot spots — Inadequate protective gear could turn workers into disease vectors. It happened in Italy.
► From The Guardian — Retired health workers urged to return as U.S. coronavirus cases set to spike — In New York 1,000 responded in one day, with many of the current health workforce expected to fall ill amid the pandemic.
► From Politico — Coronavirus among air traffic control workers could threaten U.S. aviation system — FAA personnel from Las Vegas to New York have tested positive in the last week, prompting closures while buildings were cleaned.
► From HuffPost — Amazon workers in at least 8 U.S. warehouses test positive for COVID-19 — Hundreds of Amazon employees and contractors have signed a petition calling for the online retail giant to do more to protect its staff.
► In the NY Times — Voices from travel’s frontlines: ‘Fasten your seatbelts’ — We spoke with eight travel and hospitality workers, from California to Croatia, who have been working as the coronavirus spreads. They shared similar concerns about an uncertain future.
► From HuffPost — As a grocery store worker, I’m on the frontline of coronavirus and I’m overwhelmed (by ) — Inside the store, after clearing the floors of empty cardboard boxes and stacked pallets, we come together near a display of mandarin oranges for a morning huddle. We stretch, kvetch, air hug, sometimes cry. We give each other encouraging words as we glimpse the ever-expanding horde beyond the glass. I feel like I’m in “Saving Private Ryan”: “Gear up. Fall in.”
► From the AP — Key medical glove factories cutting staff 50% amid virus — Malaysia’s medical glove factories, which make most of the world’s critical hand protection, are operating at half capacity just when they’re most needed. Malaysia is by far the world’s largest medical glove supplier, producing as many as three out of four gloves on market. The industry has a history of mistreating migrant workers who toil over hand-sized molds as they’re dipped in melted latex or rubber, hot and exhausting work. Meanwhile, the Malaysian government says companies must meet domestic demand before exporting anything… U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Tuesday it was lifting a block on imports from one leading Malaysian medical glove manufacturer, WRP Asia Pacific, where workers had allegedly been forced to pay recruitment fees as high as $5,000 in their home countries, including Bangladesh and Nepal.
► In the LA Times — The coronavirus crisis shows what happens when a country puts its workers last (by Michael Hiltzik) — The coronavirus crisis yields inescapable lessons about the consequences of public policies steered toward enriching private corporate coffers and executives at the expense of rank-and-file workers and public infrastructure. It has become plain that the public sector will have to be rebuilt after nearly half a century of neglect and disdain by political leadership… America’s fixations with demolishing its own government and allowing the benefits of economic growth to flow only up to the highest reaches of the income scale have placed us in the fix we’re in: a government reduced to fighting a war against an elemental foe without resources, organization or brains, and a workforce one paycheck away from the brink because its leaders did nothing to see that workers enjoyed the fruits of economic growth in good times. Now we see the consequences. Let’s hope the lessons aren’t wasted.
The Stand posts links to Washington state and national news of interest every weekday morning by 10 a.m.