Live: Coronavirus daily news updates, June 7: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world

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Public health officials have warned that the effects of pepper spray and tear gas could increase the spread of COVID-19. On Friday, Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best announced a 30-day ban on most uses of tear gas, but said pepper spray would still be allowed. As protests against police brutality and racism continued Saturday, police used pepper spray to disperse a crowd in Capitol Hill.

Despite months of pleading for social distancing, public health officials have expressed their support for the protests, while leaders of the Seattle Black Lives Matters organization initially warned its members of coronavirus dangers and offered ways to show solidarity from home. On Saturday, the group announced plans to hold a general strike and march on Friday, June 12.

State health officials confirmed 449 new COVID-19 cases in Washington on Saturday, as well as four additional deaths. The update brings the state’s totals to 23,442 cases and 1,153 deaths, according to the state Department of Health’s (DOH) data dashboard. The dashboard reports 3,652 hospitalizations in Washington.

Whitman County was approved on Saturday to move to the third stage of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-stage coronavirus recovery plan, joining seven other Eastern Washington counties that have received the OK to advance to the next reopening phase. Phase III of Inslee’s Safe Start Plan allows, among other changes, gatherings of up to 50 people, recreational facilities, such as gyms, to operate at 50% or less capacity, and restaurants up to 75% capacity. Residents can also resume nonessential travel.

Throughout Sunday on this page, we’ll post updates from Seattle Times journalists and others on the pandemic and its effects on the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest and the world. Updates from Saturday can be found here, and all our coronavirus coverage can be found here.

The following graphic includes the most recent numbers from the Washington State Department of Health, released Saturday.

Live updates:

At King County public housing, a restaurant owner returns to his old home with food in hand

As a teenager in a summer employment program for kids living in King County Housing Authority units, Luam Wersom helped to care for its properties. Wersom he grew up at Shoreline’s Ballinger Homes.

Today, he’s the sole owner of Mojito, the bright yellow restaurant that sits on the corner of 11th Avenue Northeast and Lake City Way. It’s small inside, but Wersom’s hospitality makes up for it.

On the days he’s delivering food to seniors in low-income housing, Wersom and his staff use the space to prepare and package the meals. From start to finish, the process takes under 30 minutes to plate, package and bag more than 100 meals that will go to two public-housing complexes.

Read more about how Wersom is stepping up to help here.

—Anna Patrick

Some coronavirus deaths ‘almost certainly’ missed in Washington state but most medical examiners not able to look back

Medical examiners in Washington state have had limited ability to look back at early deaths that may have been caused by undiagnosed novel coronavirus disease, even as retrospective testing elsewhere has set back the timeline for its spread in the country.

The earliest known COVID-19 deaths in the country, on Feb. 6 and Feb. 17,  were discovered months after they occurred, when a medical examiner was able to submit tissue samples taken during autopsies for testing. But few medical examiners and coroners’ offices in Washington state have taken a similar look back at deaths that occurred earlier this year, as counties have prioritized using resources to detect and contain current outbreaks.

“Almost certainly we missed cases. That’s a given,” said Snohomish County’s Chief Medical Examiner Dr. J. Matthew Lacy. “We almost certainly missed cases where people actually died of COVID because they were either reported to us early in the year, the symptoms weren’t given to us or they were symptomatic in a way that was ascribed to another disease.”

In King County, the medical examiner’s office has conducted more post-mortem testing than most. It has identified COVID-19 in dozens of bodies since it started viral testing of all bodies that came into its office in mid-April.

Read the full story here.

—Asia Fields

Washington’s Employment Security Department commissioner sued for halting benefits during fraud investigation

Lawyers for two workers whose unemployment benefits were halted during a fraud investigation have asked the Washington state Supreme Court to force the state Employment Security Department to restart those payments as quickly as possible.

In a petition for a “writ of mandamus,” filed late Friday afternoon, attorneys say Suzi LeVine, commissioner of the Employment Security Department (ESD), lacked the “express authority” to stop unemployment benefits payments while her agency investigated a massive fraud.

It was the second such petition filed last week.

The fraud, which ESD officials first disclosed in May, reportedly resulted in the theft of between $550 million to $650 million by cyber-criminals who used stolen identities to file tens of thousands of bogus unemployment insurance claims in Washington during the coronavirus pandemic. On Thursday, the agency said it has recovered $333 million.

Read more here.

—Paul Roberts

Catch up on the past 24 hours

30 minutes. 100 meals. Restaurant owner Luam Wersom grew up in King County Public Housing in Shoreline. His family moved here to escape civil war in Eritrea. Now, he’s running a to-go operation that gets his meals to public-housing complexes.

Some coronavirus deaths were “almost certainly missed” in Washington state. The earliest-known deaths in the country were discovered months after they occurred, only when a medical examiner was able to submit samples from autopsies for testing. But given the strain on resources, few examiners and coroners are looking back to potential undiagnosed cases of the novel coronavirus.

In a petition for a “writ of mandamus,” filed late Friday afternoon, attorneys say Suzi LeVine, commissioner of the Employment Security Department (ESD), lacked the “express authority” to stop unemployment benefits payments while her agency investigated a massive fraud. It was the second such petition filed last week.

Wait, which phase am I in? While this story isn’t exactly new, it is constantly being updated. We wanted to make sure you know how to understand the state’s plan from reopening from coronavirus, especially as some big counties advance through Gov. Jay Inslee’s phase system. Check out this map, which includes a list of allowed activities, to gather your bearings.

—Joy Resmovits

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