Health and Medicine

Health news

Pacific NW Team 2 IMT

Well, the weather didn’t pan out as forecasters had hoped. That means smoke should stick around until the end of this week. And, it’s not only the skies that are choked with the unhealthy levels of smoke.

“The cleanest air in (Washington) right now is unhealthy, and everybody else is very unhealthy or hazardous,” said Lauren Jenks, Washington Department of Health assistant secretary for environmental public health. 

Anna King / NW News Network

Before I got sick with COVID-19, I was a social-distance ninja: I hadn’t been anywhere. Not even the grocery store. 

I recently wrote about my nearly two-months as a COVID-19 longhauler. And the number one question I heard was: “How did you get it?” So I decided to dig into the possibilities.

Jessica Robinson / NW News Network

Washington state health officials are hoping to get a handle on an outbreak of COVID-19 Okanogan County. Gov. Jay Inslee visited the area Thursday and says there are plans for increases in testing, improvements to farmworkers conditions and access to medical care.

He came to north-central Washington and spoke with farmworker advocates and tribal, city and county officials. 

Jessica Robinson / NW News Network

Okanogan County is eastern Washington’s latest area of concern for COVID-19 cases.

Eight people, at least two of them foreign H-2A farmworkers, have died in the county. That’s considered a lot for the geographically large yet relatively sparsely populated county of about 42,000 people.

Courtesy of Susan Weber

The carefully followed death toll from COVID-19 may not fully capture the loss of life during the pandemic. Analysis of state and federal statistics for deaths from all causes shows hundreds of additional deaths above normal levels this spring in the Pacific Northwest. Some or many of those may actually be missed COVID deaths.

Washington State Governors Office

Washington Governor Jay Inslee and the state Health Secretary are hitting the pause button on the county-by-county reopening process in response to the worsening coronavirus pandemic. Inslee announced that for at least the next two weeks all counties in Washington state will stay in whatever reopening phase they are currently in -- with a couple of exceptions.

Courtney Flatt/NWPB

The Tri-Cities has seen what Gov. Jay Inslee called an “astronomical increase” in COVID cases. 

In a visit Tuesday, he said local officials have asked him to implement stricter mask requirements. They also asked to open more small businesses.

About 10 protesters – one wearing a T-shirt that read “Inslee is Non-essential” and none appearing to wear masks – shouted the governor away from his podium at Columbia Basin College in Pasco.

Enrique Pérez de la Rosa / NWPB

Yakima County is still in Phase 1 of Washington’s four-phase reopening plan. And there are signs it will be stuck there for some time given the trajectory of coronavirus infection. It has one of the highest per capita rates in the U.S.

On Saturday, Gov. Jay Inslee spoke in an online press briefing joined by state and local health leaders.

Of particular concern: Yakima County’s biggest hospital, and the only one in the city of Yakima, has run out of bed space.

Gov. Jay Inslee has issued new guidance for continuing religious gatherings as various Washington state counties move ahead with phased reopening.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 24 counties have been approved to move into the second phase of reopening, which allows certain establishments to resume in-person services with social distancing precautions in place.

State officials are still urging faith-based organizations to continue hosting remote services to the extent possible, citing the potential for the coronavirus to spread to dozens within a single service.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

San Juan County in the northwest corner of Washington state is about to become the first county in the Pacific Northwest to require residents and visitors to wear a face covering in public places. Elsewhere in the region, governments have highly recommended wearing masks, but it's not the law.

Washington Military Department

More testing will allow Washington state to relax some social distancing measures, because we'll be able to identify sick people early and keep them isolated. Here's how we can get there.

If you feel sick and think it’s COVID-19, how quickly can you get tested for the virus?

Until last week, if you had close contact with a COVID-19 positive person, but developed no symptoms, you may have been told to just stay home. Now the state is recommending even some asymptomatic people be tested.

Courtesy Dr. Luke Hansen

At the end of March, Dr. Luke Hansen, an Olympia emergency room physician, was watching news of hospitals in New York overrun with COVID-19 patients. Then he heard Gov. Andrew Cuomo issue a plea for healthcare workers from elsewhere to come to New York to help.

“I really felt a call to go there and help,” Hansen said in an interview this week.

Courtesy of Mid-Valley Hospital

Hospitals in Washington are starting to act on the permission given them by Gov. Jay Inslee to resume non-essential medical procedures. Some may begin work by or before next week.

That won’t come soon enough for one unnamed Washington hospital CEO.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

Coronavirus risk and ongoing shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) are leading fire departments around the region to rediscover the enduring truth of the idiom, "Necessity is the mother of invention." Since the virus epidemic emerged in the Pacific Northwest, the fire service has changed tactics, improvised and resorted to creativity to keep first responders healthy and available to serve the public.

Capt. Brad Chaney / South King Fire and Rescue, 2019

More than 500 firefighters and EMTs in the Pacific Northwest have been temporarily quarantined after suspected exposure to the coronavirus over the past two months. The Washington State Council of Fire Fighters and the Oregon Fire Service Coronavirus Response Team have been monitoring the number of first responders taken out of service. Fortunately, only a small fraction have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Inciweb/National Wildfire Coordinating Group

Blaine Vandehey spends his summers rappelling from helicopters into active wildfires. 

This is his 12th year in the U.S. Forest Service. And he’s worried about going to fire camp this summer with the menace of COVID-19.

South King Fire and Rescue

Protective surgical gowns are one of the most scarce and eagerly sought items in the current coronavirus pandemic. Responders-turned-MacGyvers in at least three separate places, including two in Washington state, have independently hit upon a do-it-yourself alternative using common construction house wrap.

William Birchfield / US Air Force, 2019

When the coronavirus outlook got scary and hairy in mid-March, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee recruited an outsider to join his crisis management team. He convinced a retired vice admiral to temporarily move cross-country to serve as Washington state's COVID-19 hospital "czar." Dr. Raquel Bono says she is now cautiously optimistic the state's health care system can handle a surge of ill patients.

UW Medicine

As the death toll from the novel coronavirus continues to rise, many people who feel sick are naturally concerned they might have the infection. Until now, a coronavirus test has been difficult to get locally because of limited capacity and strict rules for who qualifies. However, both of those restrictions may relax soon.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday that his emergency powers would allow him to order the cancellation of large public gatherings to control the growing coronavirus outbreak in his state. However, he told reporters during a briefing in Olympia that he does not plan to use that authority at this time.

Courtesy of Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center

Two U.S. citizens with the novel coronavirus were transferred to Spokane’s Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center Thursday morning, and two more were expected in the afternoon.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

In the shadow of Washington’s Capitol dome is a broad boulevard -- called Deschutes Parkway -- with a popular walking and running path that curves along Capitol Lake and links the city of Olympia to the neighboring city of Tumwater.

The parkway, the adjacent lake and nearby Marathon Park are technically part of Washington’s expansive Capitol campus complex.

It’s along this picturesque stretch of road, where parking is not restricted, that in recent months motorhomes, trailers and campers in various states of disrepair have begun to take up residence.

Corey Haddad / Inciweb

  Climate change is causing people in Washington to spend billions of dollars in healthcare costs. That’s according to a new study that looked at how hospital visits and early deaths during a recent wildfire season.


In the Northwest, climate change is predicted to bring severe problems such as longer wildfire seasons. With that will come more smoke. Breathing small smoke particles is bad for people with respiratory problems and heart conditions.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

Dozens of Pacific Northwest doctors are teaming up with a national nonprofit to write a different kind of prescription. Their "park prescriptions" direct patients with obesity, anxiety, depression or certain chronic conditions to spend more time outside.

Austin Jenkins / NW News Network

Millions of Americans who buy individual health insurance, and don't qualify for a federal subsidy, have been hit with sticker shock in recent years. Instability and uncertainty in the individual market — driven in part by changes Congress and the Trump administration made to the Affordable Care Act — have resulted in double-digit premium increases.


Health officials in Grant County, Washington are responding to four probable cases of mumps.

One case has been lab confirmed so far, while the others are still being evaluated. Now county health officials are rallying together a vaccine clinic to treat hundreds of exposed people. 

Tom Banse / NW News Network

Some psychiatric patients are spending not just hours in the emergency room, but days or a week. They're living there in the ER because there is nowhere else to send them. Pacific Northwest policymakers are now making it a priority to create more treatment capacity for people in mental health and addiction crises.


According to Washington State’s Department of Health, one infant dies almost every day in the state. Major causes include sudden unexplained infant death, low birthweight and premature birth.

And state health officials say the number of kids who die before the age of one is consistently higher among Native Americans and African Americans compared to any other race.

Officials from across the state met Thursday to discuss infant mortality as part of Governor Jay Inslee’s Results Washington Initiative.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

Every week, tens of thousands of Americans complete intensive drug and alcohol rehab programs. The next months, however, are fraught with risk of relapse.

A treatment counselor or supporter can't monitor you around the clock. But now your always-on smartphone can watch you, coach you, alert your mom and even give rewards.

@LtGovBradLittle / Twitter

The two biggest blood networks in the Pacific Northwest say the region's blood supply is suffering a critical shortage.