Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
The pandemic is far from over. That devastating reality has many Americans exhausted and exasperated.
Adding to the stress: Talks in Washington, D.C. on a huge COVID-19 relief deal seem to be on an indefinite pause, leaving millions of jobless people without $600 per week in federal aid and many local governments without financial relief. Negotiators from both parties on Wednesday accused each other of refusing to compromise. Here’s what’s in the way of leaders making a deal.
Throughout Wednesday, on this page, we’ll be posting updates on the outbreak and its effects on the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest and the world. Updates from Tuesday can be found here, and all our coronavirus coverage can be found here.
Thai scientists catch bats to trace virus origins
KANCHANABURI, Thailand — Researchers in Thailand have been trekking though the countryside to catch bats in their caves in an effort to trace the murky origins of the coronavirus.
Initial research has already pointed to bats as the source of the virus that has afflicted more than 20.5 million people and caused the deaths of over 748,000 worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The closest match to the coronavirus has been found in horseshoe bats in Yunnan in southern China.
Thailand has 19 species of horseshoe bats but researchers said they have not yet been tested for the new coronavirus.
Thai researchers hiked up a hill in Sai Yok National Park in the western province of Kanchanaburi to set up nets to trap some 200 bats from three different caves.
Hawaii teacher arrested for violating traveler quarantine
HONOLULU — A Hawaii high school teacher was arrested for violating the 14-day traveler quarantine the state mandated to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Agents from the Hawaii attorney general’s office arrested Mark Alan Cooper last week. Cooper, 48, of Mililani, returned to Honolulu from Florida on July 27. An acquaintance spotted him at a post office a few days later, the state said.
The acquaintance reported him to a citizen’s group that helps track down people who violate the quarantine. The group then reported him to authorities.
Cooper, a teacher at Campbell High School, traveled to Florida because of an illness in his family, his attorney, Rustam Barbee said Wednesday.
After his arrest, he resumed his quarantine period, which ended Monday, Barbee said.
Grocery workers say morale is at an all-time low: ‘They don’t even treat us like humans anymore’
Grocer workers across the country say morale is crushingly low as the pandemic wears on with no end in sight.
Overwhelmed employees are quitting mid-shift. Those who remain say they are overworked, taking on extra hours, enforcing mask requirements and dealing with hostile customers. Most retailers have done away with hazard pay even as workers remain vulnerable to infection, or worse. Employees who took sick leave at the beginning of the pandemic say they cannot afford to take unpaid time off now, even if they feel unwell.
The mounting despair is heightened by the lack of other job options: Supermarkets are among the few bright spots in an industry that has been ravaged by covid-related store closures and a sharp drop-off in consumer spending.
The retail sector has shed 913,000 jobs and chalked up more than a dozen bankruptcies during the pandemic. Workers’ renewed sense of expendability comes after four straight months of double-digit unemployment.
Families with students receiving special education file lawsuit asking court to overturn emergency pandemic rules
Three families in King, Pierce and Thurston counties have asked the Thurston County Superior Court to overturn emergency education rules they say have harmed special-education students and shifted the burden of delivering education to parents.
The complaint centers on rules adopted by the state Board of Education and Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) which relaxed the number of “instructional hours” that schools must provide to students.
The rules call for at least 1,000 instructional hours and 180 school days each year. But the state education board and OSPI relaxed the rules last spring and redefined an “instructional hour” for the coming 2020-21 school year because of the disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The rules have resulted in inequities that are compounded for students with disabilities, who need more school support, not less, the lawsuit alleges.
Kathy George, an attorney representing the families, said she believes it is the only such suit that has been filed against the state, but that dozens of parents with children who receive special education have filed citizen complaints with OSPI.
Washington state to change how it counts negative coronavirus test results
Until now in Washington state, if people tested negative for COVID-19 twice, they only got counted once in state testing data.
That’s because the Washington state Department of Health (DOH) had been tabulating and releasing negative-test data based on the total number of people tested, not the total number of tests administered.
This methodology is about to change, the DOH announced Wednesday.
Under the new system, for example, if a person tested negative in April and then tests negative again in August, the DOH will report that as two negative tests instead of one.
The new approach will provide a more comprehensive and current picture of the state of COVID-19 infections in Washington, state Secretary of Health John Wiesman said in a press briefing Wednesday.
Washington confirms 551 new coronavirus cases
State health officials reported 551 new COVID-19 cases in Washington Wednesday, and eight more deaths.
The update brings the state’s totals to 64,702 cases and 1,724 deaths, meaning 2.7% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the state Department of Health (DOH). The state also reported 6,137 hospitalizations Wednesday.
The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.
The DOH has experienced persistent data reporting problems that had stopped it from publishing accurate negative test tallies after July 31. In a Wednesday news conference, health officials announced the state is planning to change the way it reports negative test results, a switch that should go into effect sometime next week.
The state did not report the total number of tests or percentage of positive results Wednesday, and said on its website that it would update the numbers once the new reporting system is finalized.
In King County, the state's most populous county, state health officials have confirmed 16,941 diagnoses and 684 deaths.
With many details in flux, Seattle School Board approves a fall online learning plan, possibility of outdoor classes
It’s official: With a unanimous Wednesday vote from the Seattle School Board, the state’s largest school district will begin the academic year remotely, for the most part.
Eventually, some classes could occur outside: The remote learning plan passed with a wide-ranging amendment plan from School Board members that directs the superintendent to explore creating outdoor classes, and also reinforces teaching of ethnic studies, the state tribally developed curricula and Black studies. It also calls for expanding existing partnerships with organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club, which could potentially mean teachers having the option of visiting their students in those settings.
But the district’s plans are far from set. Seattle Public Schools (SPS) is still bargaining with the teachers union, the Seattle Education Association (SEA). These discussions will set the parameters for how teachers spend their time, and for the support the district will provide to them and families to succeed in an online learning environment. The state sets a minimum number of instructional hours that all districts must provide, but has allowed flexibility in what constitutes an instructional hour.
Multnomah Falls in Oregon reopens to the public with coronavirus rules
Oregon’s tallest waterfall and one of the state’s most popular attractions has reopened to the public with new guidelines in place amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Multnomah Falls opened in the Columbia River Gorge on Tuesday, the U.S. Forest Service announced. New social distancing and face mask mandates were also announced, in addition to other strategies to keep crowds down and visitors separated from one another, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.
There will be two phases to the reopening, the Forest Service said. The first, effective now, is first come, first served, and allows up to 300 visitors at a time between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. to check in and wait in a socially distanced queue from the parking lot to the viewing platform at the bottom of the waterfall.
The second phase, which is expected to be implemented in the next few weeks, will involve an online ticketing system allowing 300 people to visit the waterfall each hour, and will require reservations at least one day in advance.
Americans might have to wait till fall for virus aid to resume
Americans counting on emergency coronavirus aid from Washington may have to wait until fall.
Negotiations over a new virus relief package have all but ended, with the White House and congressional leaders far apart on the size, scope and approach for shoring up households, re-opening schools and launching a national strategy to contain the virus.
President Donald Trump’s top negotiator, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, tried to revive stalled talks Wednesday, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer dismissed the “overture,” saying the Trump administration is still refusing to meet them halfway. Congressional Republicans are largely sitting out the talks.
“The White House is not budging,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement.
With the House and Senate essentially closed, and lawmakers on call to return with 24-hours notice, hopes for a swift compromise have dwindled. Instead, the politics of blame have taken hold, as the parties head into August focused on the presidential nominating conventions and lawmakers’ own reelection campaigns.
Trump said the Democrats are “holding the American people hostage.”
All indications are talks will not resume in full until Congress resumes in September, despite the mounting death toll, surpassing 161,000 in the U.S., and more than 5 million people infected.
The nation wanted to eat out again. Everyone has paid the price.
Across the United States this summer, restaurants and bars, reeling from mandatory lockdowns and steep financial declines, opened their doors to customers, thousands of whom had been craving deep bowls of farro, frothy margaritas and juicy burgers smothered in glistening onions.
But the short-term gains have led to broader losses. Data from states and cities show that many community outbreaks of the coronavirus this summer have centered on restaurants and bars, often the largest settings to infect Americans.
In Louisiana, roughly a quarter of the state’s 2,360 cases since March that were outside of places like nursing homes and prisons have stemmed from bars and restaurants, according to state data. In Maryland, 12% of new cases last month were traced to restaurants, contact tracers there found, and in Colorado, 9% overall have been traced to bars and restaurants.
It is unclear overall what percentage of workers transmitted the virus among themselves or to patrons or whether customers brought the virus in. But the clusters are worrisome to health officials because many restaurant and bar employees across the country are in their 20s and can carry the virus home and possibly seed household transmissions, which have soared in recent weeks through the Sunbelt and the West.
Mnuchin’s latest overture to Pelosi goes nowhere and relief talks stall again
WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reached out to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday in an effort to renew stalled coronavirus relief talks, but their conversation did not appear to break the impasse.
Following the conversation, Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., issued a joint statement accusing the administration of “refusing to budge.”
“Democrats have compromised. Repeatedly, we have made clear to the administration that we are willing to come down $1 trillion if they will come up $1 trillion,” Pelosi and Schumer said in their statement. “However, it is clear that the administration still does not grasp the magnitude of the problems that American families are facing.”
Later on Wednesday, Mnuchin issued a statement disputing Democrats’ version of the call but confirming — effectively — that talks are dead.
California paid a price for mask shortage in dollars and lives, coronavirus study finds
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — At least 15,800 essential workers would not have contracted COVID-19 if California had stockpiled enough masks and other protective equipment, while the state would have saved $93 million weekly on unemployment claims for out-of-work health care workers and avoided overpaying for supplies, according to a study released Wednesday.
The study by the University of California, Berkeley, Labor Center urges California officials to stockpile masks, gowns, gloves and other equipment in the coming years to avoid shortages seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lawmakers who are pushing a bill that would create a state stockpile said the UC Berkeley report demonstrates that California needs a plan to ensure personal protective equipment shortages aren’t as sharply felt during a future health care crisis.
“What this UC Berkeley study shows is the cost of not being ready is very high,” said state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, who along with state Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, authored Senate Bill 275 to create a state stockpile of masks and other supplies.
925 quarantined for COVID-19. Is this a successful school reopening?
CANTON, Ga. — The first letter went out Aug. 4, one day after students in the Cherokee County School District returned to their classrooms for the first time since the eruption of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Dear Parents,” wrote Dr. Ashley Kennerly, the principal of Sixes Elementary School. “I am writing this letter in order to communicate that a student in 2nd grade has tested positive for COVID-19.”
By the time the last bell rang Friday afternoon, principals at 10 other schools had sent similar letters to families in Cherokee County, a bucolic and politically conservative stretch of suburbs north of Atlanta, Georgia. This week, more letters went out.
Altogether, more than 900 students and staff members in the district have already been ordered to quarantine. On Tuesday, one high school closed its doors until at least Aug. 31.
While many of the nation’s largest school systems have opted in recent weeks to start the academic year online, other districts have forged ahead with reopening. In Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Indiana and elsewhere, some schools, mainly in suburban and rural areas, have been open for almost two weeks.
Their experience reveals the perils of returning to classrooms in places where the coronavirus has hardly been tamed. Students and teachers have immediately tested positive, sending others into two-week quarantines and creating whiplash for schools that were eager to open, only to consider closing again right away.
Experts worry about Russia’s rushed vaccine
When Vladimir Putin announced Tuesday that Russia had approved a coronavirus vaccine — with no evidence from large-scale clinical trials — vaccine experts were worried.
“I think it’s really scary. It’s really risky,” said Daniel Salmon, the director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins University.
Salmon and other experts said Russia is taking a dangerous step by jumping ahead of so-called Phase 3 trials, which can determine that the vaccine works better than a placebo and doesn’t cause harm to some people who get it.
Unlike experimental drugs given to the sick, vaccines are intended to be given to masses of healthy people. So they must clear a high bar of safety standards. If hundreds of millions of people get a vaccine, even a rare side effect could crop up in thousands of people.
"Putin doesn't have a vaccine," said John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. "He's just making a political statement."
REI to sell its new Bellevue headquarters and shift office work to multiple Seattle-area sites
In yet another sign of the way COVID-19 is upending business models, REI is walking away from its nearly completed corporate campus in Bellevue and will shift headquarters operations to multiple sites across the Seattle area.
The Kent-based outdoor retailer said it is in talks with “multiple interested parties” to sell the 380,000-square-foot building and 8-acre campus. People familiar with the situation say one of those interested parties is Facebook, which has facilities in the same upscale multiuse development, known as the Spring District, where the REI headquarters is being built.
REI’s 1,200 headquarters employees have been working remotely since March 2. The company closed its more than 160 retail sites March 16 and has seen a dramatic decline in revenue.
Florida sheriff bans deputies, visitors from wearing masks
On Tuesday, as Florida set a daily record for COVID-19 deaths, Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods prohibited his deputies from wearing masks at work.
His order, which also applies to visitors to the sheriff’s office, carves out an exception for officers in some locations, including hospitals, and when dealing with people who are high-risk or suspected of having the novel coronavirus.
A majority of epidemiologists and other health experts say face masks and social distancing are key to slowing the spread of the virus. Police nationwide have faced scrutiny over inconsistent use of masks by officers.
New Zealand scrambles to find source of new virus infections
Health authorities in New Zealand were scrambling Wednesday to trace the source of a new outbreak of the coronavirus as the nation’s largest city went back into lockdown.
Authorities had confirmed four cases of the virus in one Auckland household from an unknown source and were awaiting the test results of four more people they suspect have infections — two work colleagues and two relatives of those in the house.
The cases this week were the first known local transmission of the virus in New Zealand in 102 days.
Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said one of the people who tested positive works at a food cold-storage facility in Auckland, which was being swabbed to check if it was possible source of the infections.
The outbreak was found after a man in his 50s went to his doctor Monday with symptoms and was swabbed twice, testing positive both times. Three more people in his household tested positive later.
The man had not recently traveled overseas and had no immediately apparent connection with infections contained at the border.
Until Tuesday, the only known cases of the virus in New Zealand were 22 travelers held in quarantine after returning from abroad.
Column: The COVID-19 denial crowd did terrific in last week’s election
One of my assumptions heading into the start of voting in 2020 is that this election would be about one big issue: the coronavirus.
Why wouldn’t it be? We’re in a global pandemic that’s cratered much of the economy. We lead the world in cases and deaths, with no end in sight. It’s the worst large-scale flop of American government I’ve witnessed in my lifetime.
I figured there’d be astonishment and alarm.
Boy, was I wrong. The COVID-19 denial crowd did absolutely terrific in last week's Washington state primary elections.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Experts analyzed more than a dozen types of face coverings for their ability to prevent the spread of viral droplets. Here’s what they found to be best — and worst.
Gov. Jay Inslee plans to set up a $40 million relief fund for people who can’t access federal stimulus programs because of their immigration status, making Washington state one of only a few to do so.
Viral misinformation: Facebook said yesterday that it has taken down some 7 million coronavirus-related posts for being inaccurate — and put warning notes on almost 100 million more.
With a vaccine still months off, companies are rushing to test what may be the next best thing.
Amid widespread protests and unrest over the police killings of Black Americans, a national commemoration of the 1963 civil rights March on Washington is being reconfigured to comply with coronavirus protocols in Washington, D.C.
Around the world: Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar drew criticism from China for visiting Taiwan while the virus ravages the U.S. Scientists in the United Kingdom are openly questioning the British government's pandemic response. And no, Russia's vaccine claims don't mean it's having a Sputnik moment.
Like so much of life these days, auditions for the next round of “American Idol” will be held via Zoom. Here are the details.
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