Vaccine makers and health officials say research shows booster shots are effective in strengthening immune responses against severe COVID-19 infections, but the focus must be on convincing the 85 million unvaccinated Americans to get the shot.
There has been hope that the formal Food and Drug Administration approval of the Pfizer vaccine might convince some unvaccinated people to change their minds, but skepticism remains strong. Meanwhile, the latest employer to mandate the vaccine is also the largest: the U.S. military.
We’re updating this page with the latest news about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the Seattle area, the U.S. and the world.
Flight attendants are learning to fight back against unruly passengers — just in case
After a flight attendant denies a passenger's request for five more drinks, the passenger lunges out of his seat toward the attendant before an air marshal appears, wrestling the man’s hands into cuffs.
It was only a drill in a self-defense training course run by the Transportation Security Administration, but the dangerous behavior flight crews are dealing with in the skies today is very real.
As air travel began to rebound from its pandemic rock-bottom, so has bad passenger behavior. The Federal Aviation Administration has received nearly 4,000 reports of unruly passengers in 2021, an uptick from the 146 total reports received in 2019.
TSA has offered these classes across the country free of charge to flight crews since 2004, but they seem more relevant now than ever.
“This is the most dangerous and uncertain time in our entire history,” said Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.
This Idaho high school started the year without masks. COVID-19 forced a quick change
Students and teachers at Caldwell High School in Caldwell, Idaho, where school started without a mask requirement, will now be required to wear masks at least through the beginning of September.
The new mandate comes as districts across Idaho are reconsidering their mask and safety policies as COVID-19 cases surge in the state and public health officials warn about the more transmissible delta variant.
Districts are facing pressure from both sides of the issue: those who want mask mandates and those fighting for mask-optional policies.
Lawsuit over Florida school mask mandates now before judge
The attorney for parents suing to overturn Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order banning strong student mask mandates told a judge Thursday that it violates the authority of school districts to decide health issues on their campuses — something the governor’s lawyer strongly disputed.
Craig Whisenhunt told Circuit Judge John C. Cooper that DeSantis is endangering children by not letting districts follow guidelines issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends that children be masked at school.
He pointed to Florida’s skyrocketing COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations since the delta variant took hold in June, including among children.
“Despite that reality, despite all of the science, the governor has sought to insert himself into matters of local health concerns and impede the ability of school boards to do what they are constitutionally mandated to do, which is to operate and control their schools,” Whisenhunt told the judge. The Tallahassee hearing, concluding a four-day trial, was held online because of the pandemic.
Alaska mayor promotes debunked treatment for COVID-19
An Alaska borough mayor, who says he is not a medical professional, has promoted a debunked treatment for COVID-19 that is intended more for farm animals.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce has publicly backed the use of ivermectin, an anti-parasitic deworming drug that has not been approved by the FDA for any kind of COVID treatment, the Peninsula Clarion reported.
Livestock supply stores in the borough, south of Anchorage, have received numerous inquiries about the drug in the recent weeks.
Pierce did not return calls or answer questions about how he heard of the drug, why he’s promoting it if he’s not a medical professional and if he would feel liable if someone were to become ill taking it. He also didn’t answer if he was vaccinated or encouraging people in the borough, which has the state's fourth-worst vaccination rate, to get vaccinated.
Washington jobless claims dip as hiring grows, but COVID surge raises red flags
New unemployment claims in Washington dipped slightly last week as a rebounding state economy continued to add more jobs. But concerns are mounting over the potential effects of a surge of COVID-19 cases.
Washingtonians filed 5,357 new, or “initial,” claims for unemployment benefits last week, a 3.1% decrease from the prior week, the state Employment Security Department (ESD) reported Thursday. Nationally, new claims rose 1.1% over the prior week, to 353,000, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday.
The state’s job market continued to recover: In July, Washington added 22,700 jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 5.1%, from 5.2% in June, the ESD reported on Tuesday. The U.S. unemployment rate for July was 5.4%.
But those encouraging numbers come amid rising concerns that a surge in COVID-19 cases from the highly infectious delta variant of the coronavirus might spur renewed business restrictions and consumer anxieties.
Greek health care workers protest against mandatory vaccines
Workers at public hospitals in Greece held a five-hour work stoppage Thursday to protest a government decision making vaccination against COVID-19 mandatory for all health care workers in the public and private sector.
About 300 hospital workers rallied outside the health ministry in Athens to protest the measure, which goes into effect on Sept. 1. The government has made clear that no extension will be granted.
Those working in the public and private health care sector and those working in care homes who haven’t received at least one dose of the vaccine by that date, or who don’t have a certificate of recent recovery, will be suspended from work.
The public hospital workers’ union said that while it supports the vaccines, it opposes making them mandatory.
State health officials confirm 3,862 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 3,862 new coronavirus cases and 23 new deaths on Thursday.
The update brings the state's totals to 546,721 cases and 6,471 deaths, meaning that 1.2% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.
In addition, 30,452 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 245 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 132,643 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,725 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 8,468,695 doses and 54.4% of Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to vaccination data, which the state updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Providers are currently giving an average of about 12,893 vaccine shots per day.
The DOH says its daily case reports may also include duplicate test results, results assigned to the wrong county, results that are reported for today but are actually from a previous day, occasional false positive tests and other data discrepancies. Because of this, the previous day’s total number of cases plus the number of new daily cases does not add up to the new day’s total number of cases. State health officials recommend reviewing the dashboard's epidemiologic curves tab for the most accurate representation of the state's COVID-19 spread.
Maskless group disrupts Wenatchee school board meeting
A group of about 30 unmasked and vocal people disrupted the Wenatchee School Board meeting Tuesday night, causing the board to empty the boardroom and take the meeting online.
When the meeting began, some board members expressed concern about those in the room who weren’t wearing masks with board president Laura Jaecks and member Maria Iñiguez saying they were uncomfortable being in the same room with so many unmasked people. The board then decided to move the meeting online.
Jeff Ovitt said he was disappointed because he thought local people should be heard in person. "Please keep the forum open and allow all people to speak, masks or not," he said. "You need to listen to them.”
Virus surge breaks hospital records amid rising toll on kids
Intensive care units around the nation are packed with patients extremely ill with the coronavirus — even in places where hospitalizations have not yet reached earlier peaks.
The ICU units at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Georgia typically have room for 38 patients, and doctors and nurses may have only two or three people who are very sick, said Dr. Jyotir Mehta, medical director of the ICU. On Wednesday, the ICU had 50 COVID-19 patients alone, roughly half of them relying on ventilators to breathe.
“I don’t think we have experienced this much critical illness in folks, so many people sick at the same time,” Mehta said.
Nationwide, COVID-19 deaths are running at more than 1,100 a day, the highest level since mid-March, and new cases per day are averaging over 152,000, turning the clock back to the end of January. As of early this week, the number of people in the hospital with the coronavirus was around 85,000, a level not seen since early February.
The surge is largely fueled by the highly contagious delta variant among people who are unvaccinated. In areas where vaccination rates are particularly low, doctors have pleaded with their communities to get inoculated to spare overburdened hospitals.
Health officials have also sounded the alarm about the growing toll of the variant on children and young adults.
Oregon school district protests COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates
A school board in central Oregon, where COVID-19 is surging, has passed a resolution protesting statewide mandates that require masks in schools and vaccines for all teachers, staff and volunteers.
The resolution that passed on a 3-2 vote in Redmond on Wednesday says the 7,500-student district will fight to regain local control of decisions around mask-wearing and vaccines in its schools The resolution specifies that the board supports the district using medical and religious exemptions to avoid the mandates and includes the possibility of legal action against Democratic Gov. Kate Brown.
Board members said Wednesday during debate over the resolution that the district will follow Brown’s mask and vaccine mandates while they pursue legal challenges.
Brown said Wednesday she is deploying hundreds of “medical crisis teams” from a staffing agency to hospitals besieged by COVID-19 patients, including hospitals in Redmond and nearby Bend.
Yakima Board of Health urges Inslee to reconsider vaccination mandate
The Yakima Health District’s Board of Health wants Gov. Jay Inslee to back down on his vaccination mandate.
After much discussion Wednesday, the health board approved a motion asking Inslee to consider alternatives such as weekly testing rather than an outright vaccination mandate.
Under the mandate, all state employees and those working in health care and in-person school settings must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.
The mandate was prompted by a reluctance among some Washington residents to get vaccinated, as well as the spread of the new and highly contagious delta variant, which has led to a resurgence in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
On Wednesday, 63 people were hospitalized in Yakima County because of the virus, said Melissa Sixberry, the health district’s director of disease control.
Anti-parasite drug’s use at Arkansas jail sparks probe
The Arkansas Medical Board is investigating reports that inmates at a county jail were prescribed the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin to combat COVID-19 even though it hasn’t been approved to treat the coronavirus.
Board Director Amy Embry on Thursday declined to elaborate on the panel’s investigation, which she said began in the last two days. Embry said the investigation came in response to multiple complaints related to news reports about the use of ivermectin at the Washington County jail.
Washington County’s sheriff confirmed Tuesday night that jail inmates had been prescribed ivermectin, but did not say how many. It wasn’t clear if all the inmates who were prescribed the medication had tested positive for COVID-19.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved ivermectin for use by people and animals for some parasitic worms, head lice and skin conditions. The FDA has not approved its use in treating or preventing COVID-19 in humans.
Sturgis motorcycle rally linked to more than 100 coronavirus infections amid delta variant’s spread
More than 100 coronavirus infections have been linked to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, an annual event that drew hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts to South Dakota as the virus’s ferocious delta variant spread misery nationwide.
Health officials in South Dakota, where the rally was held from Aug. 6 to 15, said contact tracing has connected 16 cases to the event. North Dakota identified 40 cases, while Wyoming confirmed 32, Wisconsin tallied 20 and Minnesota counted 13.
The 121 cases among the five states almost certainly represent an undercount because the rally concluded less than two weeks ago and contact tracing is challenging in connection with an event that lures attendees from around the country.
These cases are an echo of an outbreak from a year ago, during the pandemic’s first summer, when the rally was thought to have seeded hundreds of infections and contributed to a surge in the Upper Midwest.
Texas governor issues order banning local vaccine mandates
Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order on Wednesday banning any state or local mandates requiring people to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and he called on Texas legislators to vote it into law during their current special session.
The move came as Texas reported the most COVID-19 patients in its hospitals since the pandemic began.
Abbott issued his ban in an executive order to fill a loophole left by the full authorization of the Pfizer vaccine. He had previously banned the requirement of vaccinations under emergency use authorizations. He also has banned state and local government mandates for wearing masks.
Thousands of COVID patients are being turned away from Japan’s hospitals
Japan’s worst COVID-19 outbreak yet has thrown a spotlight on the inability of the country’s otherwise highly regarded medical system to adapt quickly to emergencies and its lack of reform to meet such needs.
As new cases surged to more than 25,000 a day this month driven by the delta variant, the number of medical emergencies nationwide that required an ambulance dispatch, but had difficulty finding a hospital to accept the patient, rose for six straight weeks to a historic high, according to data from Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency.
Defined as cases where emergency medics were turned down by more than 3 hospitals and at the scene for more than 30 minutes, the figure jumped to 3,361 in the week of August 9-15, said the agency that oversees the ambulance system nationally. The case number ticked down slightly last week, but was still the third-highest ever recorded in Japan. About half the patients were suspected of having COVID-19.
US jobless claims rise by 4,000 to 353,000
The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose for the first time in five weeks even though the economy and job market have been recovering briskly from the coronavirus pandemic.
Jobless claims edged up by 4,000 to 353,000 from a pandemic low 349,000 a week earlier, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The four-week average of claims, which smooths out week-to-week volatility, fell by 11,500 to 366,500 — lowest since mid-March 2020 when the coronavirus was beginning to slam the United States.
The weekly count has fallen more or less steadily since topping 900,000 in early January as the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines helped the economy. However, a resurgence of cases linked to the highly contagious delta variant has clouded the economic outlook.
Hungary: Baton raised, orchestra conductor gets vaccine
A Hungarian orchestra conductor received a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot onstage during a free open-air concert in Budapest on Wednesday as part of an effort to encourage people to get vaccinated.
Budapest Festival Orchestra conductor Ivan Fischer removed his jacket to reveal a white dress shirt with a hole cut out of the sleeve. As he kept his baton moving and the orchestra played on, a doctor administered the shot, Fischer’s third dose, to applause from the crowd.
The carefully choreographed action was an attempt to “further raise awareness of the need for vaccination” in Hungary, the orchestra’s managing director, Orsolya Erdodi, said.
Hungary has enjoyed a comparative summer reprieve from the COVID-19 pandemic after a devastating spring, when the country for a time had the world’s highest number of virus deaths per capita.
While confirmed cases and deaths are down, the vaccination rate also has slowed dramatically. Hungary was an early vaccination leader, using doses from Russia and China as well as ones procured through the European Union to conduct one of the EU’s fastest immunization campaigns.
Delta’s extra $200 insurance fee shows vaccine dilemma for employers
For weeks, big employers like Citigroup, Google and The Walt Disney Co. have been warming to the idea of requiring coronavirus vaccines for employees. Now that one vaccine has received full federal approval, President Joe Biden wants more to follow suit.
Delta Air Lines has chosen a very different tack. The company on Wednesday became the first large U.S. employer to embrace an idea that has been widely discussed but is mired in legal uncertainty: charging unvaccinated employees more for health insurance.
Starting Nov. 1, Delta employees who have not received the vaccine will have to pay an additional $200 per month to remain on the company’s health plan. It is part of a series of requirements that unvaccinated workers will face in the months to come, the airline’s chief executive, Ed Bastian, said in a memo to staff.
Every Delta employee who has been hospitalized because of the coronavirus in recent weeks was not yet fully vaccinated, with hospital stays costing the company an average of about $50,000. Like most large employers, Delta insures its own workforce, meaning it pays health costs directly and hires an insurance company to administer its plans.
Omak Stampede gathering leads to more than 24 COVID cases
More than two dozen people who attended the Omak Stampede earlier this month have tested positive for COVID-19.
Okanogan County health officials on Wednesday urged anyone who attended the four-day rodeo, which took place Aug. 12-15 in Omak, to watch for COVID-19 symptoms. The caution also applies to people who have been in close contact with someone who attended, the health district said in a news release.
COVID-19 symptoms to watch for include fever, scratchy throat, headache, cough, diarrhea, chills, loss of taste or sense of smell and body aches, nausea or vomiting, or shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If someone who attended the event has symptoms, the health district asks that they get tested and self-quarantine until test results are confirmed as negative.
Washington COVID vaccine rule stresses long-term care facilities struggling to keep staff
As a traveling certified nursing assistant, Amelia Thornton has encountered all types of opinions about the COVID-19 vaccine among workers in Eastern Washington long-term care facilities.
Some workers got the vaccine — as she did — as soon as it became available to long-term care staff. Others, despite evidence of the vaccine’s effectiveness, remain hesitant, wanting to learn more about what’s in the shot. And she’s heard from a few who say, now that they will be required to be vaccinated, they plan to switch careers.
“I honestly wouldn’t blame them, if they are not making significantly more money than you would at a Walmart or something,” said Thornton, who lives in Quincy, Grant County. “There is just so much misinformation. I try not to judge.”
Opinions about COVID-19 shots aside, all Washington long-term care nurses, aides and other employees will be required to be vaccinated by Oct. 18 against the virus that has been more deadly among the residents they care for than any other population. But as of Aug. 8, just 68% of nursing home workers in the state have been vaccinated, compared with 83% of residents, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which doesn’t track numbers for other long-term care facilities.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
The delta variant is a game-changer for sports fans as Seattle's pro and college teams scramble to impose new rules and recommendations. Here's what fans need to know about attending games.
Washington's hospitalized COVID-19 patients are doubling every 18 to 19 days, and the vast majority are unvaccinated, state officials say.
Who isn't getting vaccinated and why it matters: Washington's long-term care facilities are on pins and needles, worried the vaccine mandate will drive workers away. Vashon Island is very vaccinated, but its fire chief isn't, and that's creating plenty of angst. And Pierce County fire chiefs fear the vaccine mandate will spark an exodus of firefighters.
Before you take an at-home coronavirus test, it's important to know what kind you're picking and what to do about the test results. Here's a guide.
Pfizer's vaccine is associated with a higher risk of myocarditis, a heart problem. But COVID-19 is more likely to cause myocarditis than the vaccine is, new research shows.
Delta Air Lines has become the first big U.S. employer to charge unvaccinated employees more for health insurance — and that's just one of several ways the airline is pushing shots, providing a case study as other employers wrestle with this. If your employer in Washington state is requiring vaccination, we'd like to hear from you.
Most Read Local Stories
- This says it all: Congressman proposes 'Masks Off Act' for schools as 29% of COVID cases in his area are in schoolchildren
- Lack of answers is excruciating for family of man found shot to death at Seattle's Gas Works Park
- Wondering why society went off-kilter during the pandemic? It was all predicted in this book
- Kent man killed, Cougar football player injured in shooting near WSU campus
- Coronavirus daily news updates, September 25: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world