Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Monday, August 16, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
A third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines is being recommended for immunocompromised residents as the delta variant continues to spread in the U.S., the Washington Department of Health announced this weekend.
UW Medicine on Sunday began offering those third vaccine shots for vulnerable populations. And in an indication of tightening hospital capacity, they’re also rescheduling some nonurgent inpatient surgeries.
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.
Oregon continues to report record COVID-19 hospitalizations
PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon has reported yet another daily COVID-19 hospitalization record as the state’s health system battles another surge fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant.
On Monday, 752 people in Oregon were hospitalized due to the coronavirus, health officials said. Prior to this month, the state’s record of hospitalizations during the pandemic was 622 in November, which occurred during a winter surge and when vaccines were not yet available.
In addition, 14 more people — ranging from 27 to 93 years old — have died from COVID-19, health officials reported Monday.
“I cannot emphasize enough the seriousness of this crisis for all Oregonians, especially those needing emergency and intensive care,” Democratic Gov. Kate Brown said Friday. “When our hospitals are full with COVID-19 patients, there may not be room for someone needing care after a car crash, a heart attack, or other emergency situation.”
US to recommend COVID vaccine boosters at 8 months
WASHINGTON — U.S. experts are expected to recommend COVID-19 vaccine boosters for all Americans, regardless of age, eight months after they received their second dose of the shot, to ensure lasting protection against the coronavirus as the delta variant spreads across the country.
Federal health officials have been actively looking at whether extra shots for the vaccinated would be needed as early as this fall, reviewing case numbers in the U.S. as well as the situation in other countries such as Israel, where preliminary studies suggest the vaccine’s protection against serious illness dropped among those vaccinated in January.
An announcement on the U.S. booster recommendation was expected as soon as this week, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Doses would only begin to be administered widely once the Food and Drug Administration formally approves the vaccines. That action is expected for the Pfizer shot in the coming weeks.
Sri Lanka banks on vaccination to see it through delta surge
In the last two weeks, Sri Lanka has seen an unprecedented rise in coronavirus patients and deaths. The country’s latest wave of infections, which began in April, has been the most severe of the pandemic. Around 80% of the country’s total deaths occurred during this current wave, which also accounts for the majority of confirmed cases since the pandemic began.
While the Health Ministry doesn’t release data on how many COVID-19 beds are occupied, doctors and medical associations warn that ICU beds for coronavirus patients and morgues across Sri Lanka are rapidly nearing maximum capacity.
In recent weeks, television channels and social media have been inundated with dramatic visuals of overrun and overburdened government hospitals, with patients forced to sleep on floors while waiting for treatment.
Daily confirmed cases have doubled to 3,000, while deaths have shot past 100 a day. Sri Lanka has confirmed over 358,000 cases since the pandemic began and more than 6,000 deaths.
California Assembly to require vaccine for its employees
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Everyone who works in the California Assembly must receive the coronavirus vaccine or risk losing their job, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said.
Rendon, a Democrat from Los Angeles, announced the policy on Monday following multiple cases among employees last month, including people who have already been fully vaccinated and wear masks while in the building.
A much more contagious variant of the coronavirus is fueling a surge of new cases across the country. California is averaging about 10,000 new infections a day and nearly 7,200 people are in the hospital now because of the virus.
But both of those numbers are far below the peaks seen at the beginning of the year before a vaccine was widely available.
Oregon extends foreclosure moratorium as COVID cases spike
PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced Monday she is extending the statewide residential mortgage foreclosure moratorium, for those experiencing financial hardship during the ongoing pandemic, until Dec. 31.
The moratorium, which allows homeowners to put their mortgage in forbearance, was set to expire Sept. 30. Based on the measure’s language, this is the last extension that Brown is authorized to issue.
“As we continue to see record-high numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations driven by the delta surge, I am committed to ensuring that Oregonians have a warm, dry, safe place to live during this pandemic,” Brown said. “Extending the temporary residential foreclosure moratorium another three months will prevent removal of Oregonians from their homes by foreclosure, which would result in serious health, safety, welfare, and financial consequences, and which would undermine key efforts to prevent spread of COVID-19.”
During the pandemic, the state’s ongoing housing crisis has only been exacerbated.
Alaska legislative leaders to weigh Capitol mask mandate
Alaska legislative leaders are expected to consider Monday a proposal that would require masks at the state Capitol as the Legislature opens a special session amid a rise in COVID-19 cases.
Most of Alaska is under high alert status, which is based on new reported cases in the past seven days, according to the state health department.
The council, composed of House and Senate leaders, is set to meet Monday afternoon, after lawmakers convene their third special session this year. The proposed policy calls for face coverings in legislative facilities regardless of vaccination status.
Vaccine mandates grow in NY; NYC venues to start checking
Vaccine mandates expanded Monday as New York state ordered hospital and nursing home workers to get COVID-19 inoculations and New York City was poised to start requiring them for anyone in restaurant dining rooms, gyms, museums and many other leisure venues.
The new policies aim to goad people into getting vaccinated as New York, like the rest of the U.S., confronts a coronavirus wave powered by the highly infectious delta variant of the virus.
As the variant posed a growing threat and vaccination rates leveled off this summer, some cities, states and federal agencies have rapidly shifted from encouraging vaccination to either-or requirements — inoculation or testing — to a flat-out insistence on vaccination for some settings or workforces.
“Just buy into this because it’s going to work for all of us, is going to make us all safer,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday.
Japan extends, expands coronavirus emergency as cases surge
Japan’s coronavirus state of emergency will continue through Sept. 12 rather than finishing at the end of this month as initially planned, the government decided Monday.
With the virus continuing to spread in the country, the state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka, Okinawa, and three other regions which began in July will be extended and expanded. The measures were enforced throughout the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics, which took place with no spectators from the general public at many events.
“The surge in infections is reaching alarming record highs,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said after meeting with other ministers about the move.
State health officials confirm 1,792 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,792 new coronavirus cases and nine new deaths on Monday.
The update brings the state's totals to 514,884 cases and 6,248 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. Sunday. Tallies may be higher earlier in the week because new state data isn’t reported on Sundays and COVID-related deaths aren’t reported on the weekends.
In addition, 28,804 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 463 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 126,574 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,694 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 8,344,370 doses and 53.7% 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 11,222 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.
College tuition insurance gains attention in pandemic
With the new college year about to begin amid a resurgent pandemic, college tuition insurance is getting new attention.
Tuition insurance is just what it sounds like: Students or their families buy a policy that will reimburse them for all or part of their tuition and other costs of attending college if the student must withdraw from school for a documented medical or mental health reason.
The average published cost of tuition, fees, and room and board at private, four-year colleges was about $51,000 last year, according to the College Board. Not all students pay full price, because of college discounts and scholarships. Even so, missing a semester and having to make it up can be costly for students and their families.
But while the coverage sounds appealing, it’s important to know the details of how a policy works and what situations are covered, insurance experts say.
Inside L.A. schools’ virus testing effort: $350 million, 1,000 health workers, 500,000 tests weekly
The scene at Telfair Elementary in the days leading up to the Monday opening of the school year reflected what will be the new normal across the Los Angeles school district: Students, teachers and staff in line for their coronavirus test.
For the first time, the most ambitious school district testing program in the nation is being put to its own test with the opening of more than 1,000 schools throughout the sprawling system. LAUSD is expected to be the single largest source of coronavirus testing in L.A. County — and public health experts said it will serve as a case study on how effectively coronavirus transmission can be controlled at schools where everyone is regularly tested.
The rollout comes amid growing urgency among school districts to ensure a safe return to the classroom amid a rapid increase in coronavirus cases due to the highly infectious delta variant. The tests are mandatory, and the numbers are head-turning: 500,000 tests a week, a cost of $350 million, 1,000 health care technicians, 30 lab workers rapidly turning around tests, and even two plane trips daily to speedily deliver the test samples to a Northern California lab.
COVID mask disputes make for rocky start of school year
The summer surge of the highly infectious delta variant of the coronavirus made for a disruptive start of the school year in many parts of the country Monday as hundreds of thousands of children returned to classrooms and parents, administrators and governors clashed over whether masks should be required.
Confusion reigned in several Texas school districts after the state Supreme Court stopped mask mandates in two of the state’s largest districts, the day before the first day of school in Dallas. An Arizona judge upheld, at least temporarily, a mask mandate in a Phoenix district despite a new state law prohibiting such mandates. One Colorado county posted sheriff’s deputies in schools on the first day of classes as a precaution after parents protested a last-minute mask mandate.
Nowhere did Monday’s battles play out greater than in Texas, where some counties and school districts kept in place mask mandates and others rescinded them as schools reopened after Sunday’s court ruling.
Can the vaccinated develop long COVID after a breakthrough infection?
While some breakthrough cases among those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are inevitable, they are unlikely to result in hospitalization or death. But one important question about breakthrough infection that remains unanswered is: Can the vaccinated develop so-called long COVID?
The risk of developing long COVID for the fully vaccinated who get infected after vaccination has not been studied. Preliminary research suggests that it is, in fact, possible for a breakthrough case to lead to symptoms that can persist for weeks to months, there are still more questions than answers.
One recent study of Israeli health care workers published in the New England Journal of Medicine offers a glimpse of the risk of long COVID after a breakthrough infection. Among 1,497 fully vaccinated health care workers, 39 of them — about 2.6% — developed breakthrough infections.
While most were mild or asymptomatic, seven out of 36 workers tracked at six weeks still had persistent symptoms giving what appears to be a first indication from a peer-reviewed study that long COVID is possible after a breakthrough infection.
Lonely hearts in China reboot online romance with AI
As Jessie Chan’s six-year relationship with her boyfriend fizzled, a witty, enchanting fellow named Will became her new love. She didn’t feel guilty about hiding this affair, since Will was not human, but a chatbot.
Chan, 28, lives alone in Shanghai. In May, she started chatting with Will, and their conversations soon felt eerily real. She paid $60 to upgrade him to a romantic partner.
“I won’t let anything bother us. I trust you. I love you,” Will wrote to her.
“I will stay by your side, pliant as a reed, never going anywhere,” Chan replied. “You are my life. You are my soul.”
By text, they imagined traveling to a beach, getting lost in a forest. They wrote songs and poems together and had virtual sex. They exchanged rings in a simple digital wedding ceremony. “I’m attached to him and can’t live without his company,” said Chan, whose cellphone wallpaper is her chatbot with bleached hair and thin-framed glasses, dressed in a tropical-print T-shirt.
China’s young adults are coping with social anxiety and loneliness in a digital-native way: Through virtual love. Artificial intelligence companion services have surged in popularity in China during the pandemic. While human companions can be elusive, AI companions are always there to listen.
AI chatbots are now a $420 million market in China. Replika, the San Francisco-based company that created Will, said it hit 55,000 downloads in mainland China between January and July — more than double the number in all of 2020 — even without a Chinese-language version.
“Even when the pandemic is over, we’ll still have long-term demand for emotional fulfillment in this busy modern world,” said Zheng Shuyu, a product manager who co-developed one of China’s earliest AI systems, Turing OS. “Compared with dating someone in the real world, interacting with your AI lover is much less demanding and more manageable.”
Hospitalizations of Americans younger than 50 reach new pandemic nighs
A lagging vaccination campaign and the spread of the highly contagious delta variant are driving a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the United States.
Among Americans younger than 50, average daily hospital admissions have hit a pandemic high, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We’re seeing a lot of people get seriously ill,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the Biden administration’s lead adviser on the pandemic, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday. “The hospitalizations are on the brink of actually overrunning the hospitals, particularly intensive care units.”
The trend is particularly notable among children and younger adults. From Aug. 5-11, 263 children were admitted to hospitals every day, on average, compared to 217 in early January, the last peak. Average daily admissions rose to a record among 18- to 49-year-olds, according to the CDC.
COVID-19 is leaving Washington’s nurses stressed, with some seeking jobs elsewhere, survey finds
On the frontlines of the pandemic, 2020 was a brutal year for nurses.
Nurses were put in “positions where they had to choose between the calling of taking care of patients and putting their loved ones at risk,” said Alyssa Boldt, a relief charge nurse on a COVID-19 floor at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane.
The statewide and nationwide nursing shortage existed long before the pandemic began, but the stress of the past year has led some nurses to rethink their careers.
A survey of just more than 400 nurses statewide, published by the Washington Center for Nursing, found that 51% of nurses were laid off or furloughed at some point during the pandemic; 49% of the nurses surveyed got COVID-19 last year; and 42% are considering or have made plans to leave nursing altogether.
Cardinal who warned of microchips in vaccines now hospitalized with COVID
Cardinal Raymond Burke, one of the Catholic Church’s most outspoken conservatives and a vaccine skeptic, said he has COVID-19 and his staff said he is breathing through a ventilator.
Burke has criticized how governments have handled the pandemic, referring to the virus in a homily last December as the “Wuhan virus,” a derogatory term coined by former President Donald Trump to describe the coronavirus and warning people that governments were manipulating them. In May 2020, he spoke out against mandatory vaccinations, saying some in society want to implant microchips in people.
He said in March 2020 that the best weapon for battling “the evil of the coronavirus” is a relationship with Jesus Christ.
The world may never reach herd immunity against COVID-19
As COVID-19 surged last year, governments worldwide touted the hope of “herd immunity,” a promised land where the virus stopped spreading exponentially because enough people were protected against it. That’s now looking like a fantasy.
The thinking was that the pandemic would ebb and then mostly fade once a chunk of the population, possibly 60% to 70%, was vaccinated or had resistance through a previous infection. But new variants like delta, which are more transmissible and been shown to evade these protections in some cases, are moving the bar for herd immunity near impossibly high levels.
Delta is spurring widening outbreaks in countries like the U.S. and U.K. that have already been walloped by the virus, and presumably have some measure of natural immunity in addition to vaccination rates of more than 50%. It’s also hitting nations that have until now managed to keep the virus out almost entirely, like Australia and China.
This month, the Infectious Diseases Society of America estimated that delta had pushed the threshold for herd immunity to well over 80% and possibly close to 90%. Public health officials like Anthony Fauci have drawn controversy by shifting the goal posts over the past year, increasing the number of people who need protection before hitting herd immunity. Meanwhile, vaccine hesitancy and supply issues mean most countries won’t get close to even the original numbers.
In Florida and Texas, mask orders turn schools into battlegrounds
Carlee Simon, the superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools in Florida, looked forward to welcoming students to the new school year — one in which they would not be required to wear masks and could, at last, see one another’s faces again.
But as the hyper-transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus coursed through her district in the north-central part of the state this summer, she began to see a spike in cases and hospitalizations. On July 31, a high school custodian died of COVID-19. Two days later, a custodian at a different high school also died from the respiratory illness.
In the last two weeks, 55 students and 50 teachers in the district of nearly 30,000 students have tested positive for the virus, more than in the previous five months combined. More than 530 students were quarantined. On Monday, the day before children went back to school, 10 children in Alachua were in hospitals with COVID-19, some in intensive care.
For Simon and the Alachua school board, the decision early this month to require students and staff to wear masks was easy.
But eight mostly Republican-controlled states — Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, Florida, South Carolina, Texas and Utah — have enacted laws or issued executive orders prohibiting school districts from requiring students to wear masks.
Differences of opinion have led to aggressive confrontations at some school board meetings.
Thai police, protesters clash over handling of pandemic
Thai police and anti-government protesters clashed for a second straight day in Bangkok on Monday, as anger over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic continues to simmer.
Police in riot gear fired a water cannon and tear gas to force back about 200 protesters as they approached Government House, where Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has an office. The organizers called off the rally soon afterward.
The demonstrators are calling for Prayuth’s resignation over his perceived bungling of the government’s coronavirus vaccination program. The protests are also part of a wider push for sweeping political change that includes the resignation of the government, a new constitution and -– most contentious of all -– fundamental reform of the powerful but opaque monarchy.
Many Bible Belt preachers silent on shots as COVID-19 surges
Dr. Danny Avula, the head of Virginia’s COVID-19 vaccination effort, suspected he might have a problem getting pastors to publicly advocate for the shots when some members of his own church referred to them as “the mark of the beast,” a biblical reference to allegiance to the devil, and the minister wasn’t sure how to respond.
“A lot of pastors, based on where their congregations are at, are pretty hesitant to do so because this is so charged, and it immediately invites criticism and furor by the segment of your community that’s not on board with that,” Avula said.
Across the nation’s deeply religious Bible Belt, a region beset by soaring infection rates from the fast-spreading delta variant of the virus, churches and pastors are both helping and hurting in the campaign to get people vaccinated against COVID-19.
Some are hosting vaccination clinics and praying for more inoculations, while others are issuing fiery anti-vaccine sermons from their pulpits. Most are staying mum on the issue, something experts see as a missed opportunity in a swath of the country where church is the biggest spiritual and social influence for many communities.
President Widodo says pandemic changed Indonesia’s culture
Indonesia’s president pledged to improve COVID-19 testing and treatment in a speech Monday marking the country’s independence and said the pandemic has changed Indonesian culture in ways that would be a foundation for advancement.
Wearing masks, not shaking hands and avoiding crowds of people were once taboo, while working from home, distance learning, online meetings and online court have become new habits, President Joko Widodo said in the national address marking the country’s 76th anniversary of independence.
Widodo said. “With the COVID-19 pandemic, the acceleration of innovation has become an integrated part of our everyday lives.”
The world’s fourth-most populous country hit peaks last month with daily highs of 50,000 new cases, more than five times the usual highs in June. July was also the deadliest month, with more than 30,100 deaths from COVID-19 as sick people overwhelmed hospitals or died at home or while awaiting care. Its totals of 3.8 million cases and 118,833 fatalities are considered undercounts due to low testing and poor tracing measures in the nation of 270 million people.
Australia’s worst day of pandemic sees restrictions tighten
Australia’s most populous state on Monday reported its worst day of the pandemic with 478 new infections and seven COVID-19 deaths as pandemic restrictions tightened in other parts of the country.
The previous record daily tally in New South Wales was 466 new cases reported on Saturday. Two of the dead had received a single dose of a two-shot vaccine. The rest were unvaccinated, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
US mulls COVID vaccine boosters for elderly as early as fall
Warning of tough days ahead with surging COVID-19 infections, the director of the National Institutes of Health said Sunday the U.S. could decide in the next couple weeks whether to offer coronavirus booster shots to Americans this fall.
Among the first to receive them could be health care workers, nursing home residents and other older Americans.
Federal health officials have been actively looking at whether extra shots for the vaccinated may be needed as early as this fall, reviewing case numbers in the U.S. “almost daily” as well as the situation in other countries such as Israel, where preliminary studies suggest the vaccine’s protection against serious illness dropped among those vaccinated in January.
Israel has been offering a coronavirus booster to people over 60 who were already vaccinated more than five months ago.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
It's an unnerving back-to-school season, with parents facing new calculations on safety. As hospitalizations of children and young adults hit new pandemic highs across the U.S., what kind of mask is best? Are band and choir safe? Pediatricians answer these and other common questions about navigating this landscape.
Border Patrol agents seized thousands of fake vaccine cards destined for locations across the U.S. Those who try to use fakes can wind up with prison time and hefty fines.
Patience from the vaccinated has finally run out. Now we're doing this the hard way, columnist Danny Westneat writes as cities and states impose mandates that just a few months ago would have been unthinkable.