Recap of Wednesday’s COVID-19 news and updates in Washington state

Updates from the State Department of Health and State of Washington 

Numbers. For the most recent tally of cases by county, demographics, and more, visit the Department of Health’s dashboard and the state’s COVID-19 risk assessment dashboard.

State Department of Health corrects error in reported negative test results. The state health department said it discovered it made a mistake in reporting negative rest results and corrected it. A work-around established to handle the high volume of negative test results led to negative antibody tests being included with negative molecular tests in the total negative test numbers, the department said. This affects numbers reported since April 21 and inflated the number of negative test results by 13 percent. The corrected cumulative percent positive reported yesterday would increase from 5.5 percent to 6.2 percent for testing as of June 15, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. DOH has corrected the error and says no decisions were made based on these incorrect numbers.

Health Department announces changes in how it reports COVID-19 death data. Until now, when a death is reported as a COVID-19 death, it is because the person who passed away also tested positive for COVID-19. However, this method doesn’t reflect the number of deaths caused by COVID-19; it can include someone who may have died of other causes. DOH is changing its reporting to provide better data about deaths associated with COVID-19. Beginning today, June 17, the health department will remove deaths where COVID-19 did not contribute to death. For Phase 1, this will result in seven deaths being removed from the state’s death count, including two suicides, three homicides, and two overdose deaths. Over the next several weeks, the department will expand their reporting to identify whether they can confirm or rule-out COVID-19 as a contributing cause of death, or if COVID-19 probably or may have contributed to death. A short Q&A about these changes is available on the DOH website.

Grays Harbor County approved to move to Phase 3 of Safe Start plan. Secretary of Health John Wiesman approved Grays Harbor County to move into Phase 3 today. Grays Harbor County joins 11 other counties in Phase 3. Island, Mason, and Lewis counties have also applied to move to Phase 3 and King County has applied to move to Phase 2, but their applications are still under review. Applications for Benton and Franklin counties to move to Phase 2 are on pause. A summary of county status is available on the state’s COVID-19 website.

Inslee discusses COVID-19’s multi-billion impact on the state budget. Gov. Jay Inslee Wednesday held a press conference to discuss the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the state budget. State general fund revenues are expected to fall $8.8 billion below what was previously forecasted over the next three years. That breaks down to $4.5 billion less in the current 2019-21 budget biennium that ends next June, and $4.3 billion less for the upcoming 2021-23 biennium. General fund revenues for 2021-23 will total about $51.3 billion. Inslee announced he will cancel scheduled raises for some state employees as well as require furloughs. The canceled raise will impact 5,600 state employees and the furloughs will impact approximately 40,000 state employees. The governor urged other state institutions not under his control to follow suit. Watch the full press conference here.

Wildfire season and COVID-19 are a tough combination. With summer, comes the risk of wildfire. And with wildfires, come smoke. Wildfire smoke is especially harmful for children, pregnant women, and people who are over 65. And if you already have a heart or lung condition like asthma or COVID-19, breathing in wildfire smoke can make it worse. Breathing in wildfire smoke can also weaken your immune system, which might make you more likely to get COVID-19. Take steps now to get your home ready to keep smoke out and have better indoor air quality. And if you live in an area where you might have to evacuate because of wildfire, don’t forget to add cloth face coverings and hand sanitizer to your emergency bag.

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