Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, Aug. 12, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated. Click here to see all the most recent news about the pandemic, and click here to find additional resources.
Washington state reached a grim milestone this week, surpassing 500,000 coronavirus cases with a surge fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant.
Just over a year and a half after the first case in the country was confirmed in Washington, state health officials reported 3,095 new confirmed cases Wednesday with 6,204 deaths from COVID-19 and 28,072 hospitalizations.
The relentless spread of the variant has the CDC urging vaccinations for all pregnant women and the director of the World Health Organization predicting that the world could see 100 million additional cases of COVID-19 by the early months of next year.
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. Click here to see previous days’ live updates and all our other coronavirus coverage, and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington and the world.
Biden eyes tougher vaccine rules without provoking backlash
When the pace of vaccinations in the U.S. first began to slow, President Joe Biden backed incentives like million-dollar cash lotteries if that’s what it took to get shots in arms. But as new coronavirus infections soar, he’s testing a tougher approach.
In just the past two weeks, Biden has forced millions of federal workers to attest to their vaccination status or face onerous new requirements. He’s met with business leaders at the White House to press them to do the same.
Meanwhile, the administration has taken steps toward mandating shots for people traveling into the U.S. from overseas. And the White House is weighing options to be more assertive at the state and local level, including potential support for school districts imposing rules to prevent spread of the virus over the objection of Republican leaders.
But even as Biden becomes more aggressive, he has refrained from using all his powers to pressure Americans to get vaccinated. He’s held off, for instance, on proposals to require vaccinations for all air travelers or, for that matter, the federal workforce. The result is a precarious balancing act as Biden works to make life more uncomfortable for the unvaccinated without spurring a backlash in a deeply polarized country that would only undermine his public health goals.
Most populous Texas county defies governor with mask mandate
Texas’ most populous county on Thursday joined the legal battle by local officials seeking to override Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates and institute protections against COVID-19 as hospitals around the state continue to swell with patients sickened by the virus.
Harris County, where Houston is located, first filed a lawsuit against Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates by any state, county or local government entity.
A few hours later on Thursday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced the county health authority had issued an order requiring that people must wear masks when inside any public school, non-religious private school or licensed child care center in the county.
The dispute over mask mandates in Texas comes as COVID-19 hospitalizations continued to rise, increasing to 10,791 on Thursday, the most since Feb. 2. In the past month, hospitalizations have increased by 343%.
In Texas, a quarantine camp for migrants with the coronavirus
On the edge of the Rio Grande in South Texas, sprawling Anzalduas Park has long been a popular spot for bird-watching, family cookouts and fishing. But earlier this month, the grassland expanse with barbecue grills and picnic tables was put off-limits, transformed into a large coronavirus quarantine camp for migrants who have crossed from Mexico.
Buses now pull in to deposit passengers under a large circular pavilion, where bedraggled families form a line, waiting to be tested for the coronavirus. Those who test positive must remain at the camp, often with their families, until they are virus-free.
By this week, at least 1,000 migrants were housed at the teeming camp, erected by the nearby city of McAllen as an emergency measure to contain the spread of the virus beyond the Southwestern border. About 1,000 others are quarantined elsewhere in the Rio Grande Valley, some of them in hotel rooms paid for by a private charity.
Cities in South Texas, the busiest crossing points along the border, are now at a harrowing place where two international crises intersect: an escalating surge of migrants and the rise of the delta variant, forcing city leaders and nongovernment organizations to step up testing and quarantine operations as the Border Patrol continues to refrain from testing newly arrived migrants.
Extra COVID vaccine OK’d for those with weak immune systems
U.S. regulators on Thursday said transplant recipients and others with severely weakened immune systems can get an extra dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to better protect them as the delta variant continues to surge.
The late-night announcement by the Food and Drug Administration applies to several million Americans who are especially vulnerable because of organ transplants, certain cancers or other disorders.
The FDA determined that transplant recipients and others with a similar level of compromised immunity can receive a third dose of the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna at least 28 days after getting their second shot.
Parents, physicians sue over Oklahoma mask mandate ban
Parents of schoolchildren joined the Oklahoma State Medical Association on Thursday in filing a lawsuit seeking to overturn a state law banning mask requirements in public schools.
“If schools can send students home for a lice infection, they should have the latitude and ability to issue a mask mandate," said medical association President Dr. Mary Clarke in a statement.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt earlier this year signed the law prohibiting public schools, technology centers, and colleges and universities from requiring vaccinations or masks unless the state has declared an emergency.
EXPLAINER: Will we need vaccine passports to do fun things?
Ready to go out on the town before summer ends?
It's unlikely the U.S. will adopt a national mandate like the one in France which requires people to show a special virus pass before they can enter restaurants and cafes or travel across the country.
But enough venues are starting to ask for digital passes to reduce the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus that some privacy advocates fear the trend could habituate consumers to constant tracking.
So, how do they work and will we need them?
Supreme Court justice won’t block college vaccine mandate
Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett on Thursday refused to block a plan by Indiana University to require students and employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Barrett’s action came in response to an emergency request from eight students, and it marked the first time the high court has weighed in on a vaccine mandate. The students said in court papers that they have “a constitutional right to bodily integrity, autonomy, and of medical treatment choice in the context of a vaccination mandate.”
The court’s newest justice rejected the plea without even asking the university for a response or getting her colleagues to weigh in. Justices often act on their own in such situations when the legal question isn’t particularly close.
U.S. averaging a half-million new vaccinations per day for the first time since June
The United States is averaging about 500,000 new coronavirus vaccinations a day for the first time since June, officials with the White House COVID-19 response team said Thursday.
States with the highest virus case rates have made the greatest strides in increasing immunizations, he said. The average number of shots given per day has nearly tripled in Arkansas and quadrupled in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi in the past month.
Task force head Jeffrey Zients said the average number of 12-to-17-year-olds getting the shots has doubled in the past month as students return to classrooms.
The vaccination news comes as the nation continues to experience an increase in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Ninety percent of U.S. counties are now experiencing substantial or high transmission of the virus, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said.
State health officials confirm 3,722 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 3,722 new coronavirus cases and 11 new deaths on Thursday.
The update brings the state's totals to 504,132 cases and 6,215 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, 28,156 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 84 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 124,126 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,690 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 8,276,970 doses and 53.3% 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 10,382 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.
Mask up indoors, urge officers for all 35 local Washington state health jurisdictions
Health officers representing all 35 local health jurisdictions in Washington state signed a joint statement Thursday urging all residents to wear face coverings in public indoor settings.
In a signed statement, the coalition of health officers said they have banded together to pass on their “best public health advice to protect you, your family, and our communities.”
“This step will help reduce the risk of COVID-19 to the public, including customers and workers, help stem the increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in many parts of the state and decrease the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant,” the statement said. The officers also urged the public, ages 12 and up to get vaccinated.
The recommendation comes as Washington is experiencing a severe increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations due to the delta variant in all counties, with the overwhelming majority of cases and hospitalizations among unvaccinated residents.
Massive China port shutdown raises fears of closures worldwide
China’s decision to partially shut the world’s third-busiest container port due to the COVID-19 outbreak is worrying investors across the globe who fear a repeat of the worst days of the pandemic last year.
“The logistics are following COVID. COVID now went to delta, we’re doing the same thing in logistics. You’re going to have a secondary hit," said Emmanouil Xidias, partner at Ifchor North America LLC.
The Baltic Dry Index that serves as a global benchmark for bulk shipping prices is up more than 10% since a month ago as the delta variant began to spread rapidly. While there haven’t been significant effects on U.S. ports, the problems in China could hurt companies that rely on container exports from the nation.
AEG Presents to require COVID-19 vaccines for concertgoers
LOS ANGELES — AEG Presents, a major tour and festival promoter, announced that COVID-19 vaccines would be required for concertgoers at its clubs, theaters and festivals.
The vaccine requirement is set to go into full effect no later than Oct. 1, the company said in a news release on Thursday. The decision comes as coronavirus cases are surging throughout the United States.
AEG is either an owner or a partner in Webster Hall and Brooklyn Steel in New York, The Roxy in Los Angeles, The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Coachella Music & Arts Festival.
The company said the policy would also apply to event staff and anyone who enters their venues or festivals. Leading up to Oct. 1, AEG said it would implement a policy of showing proof of vaccination or a negative test taken within 72 hours of a show date.
States that had a grip on COVID now seeing a crush of cases
The COVID-19 surge that is sending hospitalizations to all-time highs in parts of the South is also clobbering states like Hawaii and Oregon that were once seen as pandemic success stories.
After months in which they kept cases and hospitalizations at manageable levels, they are watching progress slip away as record numbers of patients overwhelm bone-tired health care workers.
Oregon — like Florida, Arkansas and Louisiana — has more people in the hospital with COVID-19 than at any other point in the pandemic. Hawaii is about to reach that mark, too.
“It’s heartbreaking. People are exhausted. You can see it in their eyes,” said Dr. Jason Kuhl, chief medical officer at Oregon’s Providence Medford Medical Center, where patients are left on gurneys in hallways, their monitoring machines beeping away.
In other developments, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize COVID-19 booster shots for certain people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients and organ transplant recipients, to give them an extra dose of protection.
The U.S. is seeing the virus storming back, driven by a combination of the highly contagious delta variant and lagging vaccination rates, especially in the South and other rural and conservative parts of the country.
WHO expert ‘had concerns’ about lab close to 1st COVID cases
LONDON (AP) — When a World Health Organization-led team traveled to China earlier this year to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, a top official said he was worried about safety standards at a laboratory close to the seafood market where the first human cases were detected, according to a documentary released Thursday by Danish television channel TV2.
The Wuhan branch of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention was handling coronaviruses “without potentially having the same level of expertise or safety or who knows,” Peter Ben Embarek said during a conference call in January, according to footage shown by TV2. Ben Embarek is a WHO expert on disease transmission from animals to humans and one of the team’s leaders
But months later, when WHO released its dense report on its mission to Wuhan, the U.N. health agency concluded that a leak of the virus from the lab was “extremely unlikely” to have caused COVID-19. The WHO report even lent credence to a fringe theory promoted by the Chinese government that the virus may have been spread via frozen seafood packaging.
In recent weeks, however, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has acknowledged it was “premature” to rule out a possible lab leak as the source of COVID-19, saying last month that he was asking China to be more transparent about the early days of the pandemic.
“I was a lab technician myself. I’m an immunologist and I have worked in the lab and lab accidents happen,” Tedros said. “It’s common.”
San Francisco mandates proof of vaccination when indoors
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco will require proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 for a number of indoor activities such as visiting restaurants, bars and gyms, Mayor London Breed announced Thursday.
“Many San Francisco businesses are already leading the way by requiring proof of vaccination for their customers because they care about the health of their employees, their customers and this city,” Breed said in a statement.
The mandate will be more stringent than the requirement announced by New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio last week. San Francisco will require proof of full vaccination for all customers and staff, while New York mandated proof of at least one shot for indoor activities.
It will take effect next Friday, but businesses will have two months to verify employees’ vaccination status “to preserve jobs while giving time for compliance” and does not apply to people ineligible for vaccines, including kids under 12.
Majority of Americans in highly vaccinated counties now live in COVID hot spots, analysis finds
Two-thirds of Americans in highly vaccinated counties now live in coronavirus hot spots, according to an analysis by The Washington Post, as outbreaks of the highly transmissible delta variant — once concentrated in poorly vaccinated pockets — ignite in more populated and immunized areas.
The Post analysis illustrates how rapidly the state of the pandemic changed in July from a problem for the unvaccinated to a nationwide concern.
The Post classified the highest top quarter of counties as high vaccination, with at least 54% of the population fully vaccinated. The lowest quarter of counties were classified as low vaccination, with fewer than 40% of the population fully vaccinated. The CDC identifies hot spots as areas with high and rising caseloads, as compared with areas with moderate or low COVID-19 outbreaks.
The gap narrowed in recent weeks as cases surged in major West Coast cities, South Florida urban centers and the New York-to-Boston corridor. By August, it closed. About two-thirds of residents living in both highly and poorly vaccinated counties are now in hot spots with high and rising caseloads.
How COVID pandemic changed methadone treatment for addiction
Here’s one more lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic: It appears safe to relax restrictions on methadone, the oldest and most stigmatized treatment drug for opioid addiction.
Last spring, with coronavirus shutting down the nation, the government told methadone clinics they could allow stable patients to take their medicine at home unsupervised.
Early research shows it didn’t lead to surges of methadone overdoses or illegal sales. And the phone counseling that went along with take-home doses worked better for some people, helping them stay in recovery and get on with their lives.
U.S. health officials are studying the changes, their impact and how they might be continued.
Mississippi braces for ‘failure’ of hospital system due to COVID-19 surge and lack of ICU beds
A surge in coronavirus patients and a shortage of health-care workers and intensive care unit beds have pushed Mississippi’s hospital system to the brink of “failure,” state health officials warned Wednesday, saying drastic federal intervention was needed to help the state grapple with the thousands of new daily infections that have overwhelmed doctors and nurses.
Mississippi is averaging nearly 2,700 new COVID-19 infections a day in the past week — a 54 percent spike in the past seven days, according to data compiled by The Washington Post. New daily infections have climbed to more than 3,000 in the past two days, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health.
More than 1,500 people in the state are hospitalized and nearly 400 ICU beds are filled with infected patients. The number of ICU beds filled and ventilators in use in Mississippi have surpassed the winter months, previously the state’s worst period of the pandemic, reported the Clarion Ledger.
Alan Jones, associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs at University of Mississippi Medical Center, said at a news conference that the situation had grown so dire that the center in Jackson, Miss., was transforming a floor of one of its parking garages into a 50-bed field hospital to treat COVID-19 patients.
Americans are sneaking extra coronavirus shots as officials weigh who should get them
Across the country, vaccinated Americans have sought out extra shots because they fear their current doses aren’t enough to ward off a virus once again raging in all 50 states. It’s not clear how many have taken matters into their own hands.
For Pfizer and Moderna recipients alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1.1 million have received additional shots, according to an internal document reported Wednesday by ABC News.
The trend reflects broad public confusion about the protection offered by the vaccines at a critical time in the nation’s pandemic response, with the hyper-transmissible delta variant causing infections and hospitalizations to soar.
Frustrated by what they consider murky guidance from health authorities, people have received third or even fourth immunizations from local pharmacies and vaccination sites, where their previous appointments haven’t caught the attention of health workers. Some say they’ve bucked advice from their own doctors, turning instead to Google for information on whether the extra shots are worthwhile.
“The chaos is, in part, due to lack of guidance and trust,” Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, said in an email. “I hope there will be full transparency and a plan/timeline for the public to address these concerns.”
Tennessee parents make threats after school board mandates masks: ‘We will find you’
After a school board in Franklin, Tenn., voted on Tuesday night to require masks at local elementary schools, dozens of angry parents gathered outside the building and started chanting: “We will not comply!"
A video of the unruly parents, which has amassed 2.7 million views since it was posted early Wednesday, shows some anti-mask parents aim their scorn directly at their pro-mask peers.
“There’s a place for you guys — there’s a bad place in hell,” one anti-mask parent said.
Another parent approached a man sitting in his car, identified by WTVF as one of the health care experts who testified at the school board meeting, and pointed at him. “We know who you are,” the parent said. “You can leave freely, but we will find you.”
The rowdy scene capped a nearly four-hour Williamson County Board of Education meeting in which parents debated whether elementary students should be required to wear masks at school until Sept. 21. In Tennessee, COVID-19 cases among children nearly doubled in July, and a surge of another illness — respiratory syncytial virus — has left children’s hospitals in the state with fewer beds to meet the covid surge, the Tennessean reported.
McDonald’s franchise settles suit involving ‘dog diaper’ masks
There have been many confrontations over workplace safety since the pandemic began. One of the strangest has just been resolved: the case of the dog diapers.
Workers at a McDonald’s restaurant in Oakland, California, said their employer provided them with masks made from the diapers in lieu of bona fide masks at the start of the pandemic last year. They were also given masks made from coffee filters, they said.
After complaining, the employees said, they were given proper disposable masks but were told to wash and reuse them until they frayed. The allegations were included in a subsequent lawsuit, which contended that the franchise owner’s inattention to safety had resulted in a COVID-19 outbreak among workers and their families.
Now the workers and the franchise owner are announcing a settlement in which the restaurant has agreed to enforce a variety of safety measures, including social distancing, contact tracing and paid sick leave policies. The settlement also calls for a management-worker committee to meet monthly to discuss compliance with the mandated measures and whether new ones are needed.
In Seattle, pandemic recovery brings another reality: The rent is going up
A pre-pandemic fact of life for Seattle tenants has returned: The rent is going up.
The coronavirus and widespread work-from-home policies last year led to reduced Seattle rents, especially in dense neighborhoods such as South Lake Union. Now, for renters shopping for a new lease, those deals are harder to find as rent prices return to pre-pandemic levels.
At the same time, tenants staying in their current homes are dealing with another reality: With the end of Washington’s previous state eviction moratorium on June 30, landlords can once again raise rents.
The dual trends, affecting tenants whether they stay in place or move, will hit cash-strapped renters hardest.
Faced with the cost of moving into a new apartment, which often includes first and last month’s rent, staying put with a rent increase can feel like the better of two bad options.
Canada reopened its borders to Americans this week but the crowds haven’t arrived just yet
VANCOUVER, B.C. — The Canadian border is open, but the streets of Vancouver aren’t exactly teeming with U.S. tourists — yet. Canadians in the hospitality and tourism industry are hoping against hope they’ll be here soon.
“We haven’t seen any U.S. cash so far,” said David Rohrer, owner of two coffee shops in Vancouver: Bean Around the World in the Gastown neighborhood and At the Totem Poles in Stanley Park, a popular tourist destination. “But they’re gonna come.”
Canada opened its southern border to fully vaccinated Americans at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, but the bright, clean tennis shoes and baseball caps — which some Canadians say announce the arrival of American tourists — are still seldom seen in the usual hot spots.
Canadian tourists, on the other hand, are abundant. One recent afternoon at Stanley Park’s famous totem poles, just outside Rohrer’s shop, visitors spoke a variety of languages, including French and Arabic — but no American-accented English.
Japan leader’s medical adviser urges tougher virus measures
TOKYO — A key medical adviser to Japan’s prime minister said Thursday that surging infections in the Tokyo area are severely affecting medical systems, and urged the government to take stricter measures to drastically reduce people’s activity.
“If the infections continue to surge at the current pace, we won’t be able to save the lives that can be saved,” Dr. Shigeru Omi said at a news conference. “The situation is like a disaster.”
The Japanese capital has been reporting record numbers of new infections, with daily cases tripling during the Olympics that ended Sunday. It logged 4,989 new cases on Thursday, and hospital beds are rapidly filling up. Nearly 20,000 people with milder symptoms are now isolating at home to make room for those who are more seriously ill, officials said.
Japan has done better than many other countries without forcing a lockdown, but is now going through what experts say is its biggest crisis since the pandemic started. Nationwide new infections hit a high of 15,812 on Wednesday, exceeding the previous record reported Saturday.
Scientists fear UK COVID cases may surge after summer lull
LONDON — As Britain enjoyed a summertime lull in COVID-19 cases, the nation’s attention turned to the end of pandemic-related restrictions and holidays in the sun.
But scientists are warning the public not to be complacent, saying high levels of infection in the community are likely to lead to another spike in cases this fall.
The reason for their pessimism is the delta variant of COVID-19, now dominant throughout the U.K. Vaccines are less effective against this more transmissible variant, meaning Britain needs to achieve a much higher level of vaccination if it hopes to control the disease. About 60% of the U.K. population has been fully vaccinated.
“If you’re going to rely on the vaccines, OK, then vaccinate everybody,” said Ravi Gupta, a University of Cambridge professor who did some of the pioneering studies on the delta variant. “But they’ve done a half vaccination job and then they’ve opened everything up. And this is a recipe for … things not going well in the next few months.”
Despite an early summer surge in COVID-19 infections, the government on July 19 removed most remaining restrictions on social and business interactions. Prime Minister Boris Johnson trumpeted the moment as “Freedom Day,” saying Britain’s successful vaccination program meant people were much less likely to get seriously ill or die from COVID-19.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
If you lose your COVID-19 vaccination card, don't panic. There are other ways to show proof in Washington, including a free website you could sign up for now … just in case.
Vaccines should be required for Washington teachers, a growing number of education leaders and health experts say. Gov. Jay Inslee isn't planning a mandate, but Seattle might.
Coronavirus cases have now topped half a million in Washington, recording one of their biggest single-day increases of 2021 yesterday as the delta variant reignited familiar fears. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization's director is predicting 100 million more infections worldwide.
So should you keep those travel plans? Six health experts have advice on how to decide.
U.S. regulators will authorize a booster shot as soon as today for certain people with weakened immune systems.
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