Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, August 18, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
While the number of breakthrough coronavirus infections nationwide remains low, early COVID data is starting to hint at a rise in those cases, indicating a change in how vaccinated Americans might regard their risks.
As fears grow about the delta variant, the Biden administration is expected to soon recommend booster shots for millions of vaccinated Americans. Here’s what you should know about boosters.
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.
Gov. Jay Inslee has set a press conference today at 2:30 p.m. to discuss the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden ramps up coronavirus strategy for nursing homes and schools, and urges booster shots
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration moved on multiple fronts on Wednesday to fight back against the surging delta variant, strongly recommending booster shots for most vaccinated American adults and using federal leverage to force nursing homes to vaccinate their staffs.
In remarks from the East Room of the White House, President Joe Biden also directed his Education secretary to “use all of his authority, and legal action if appropriate,” to deter states from banning universal masking in classrooms. That move is destined to escalate a fight with some Republican governors who are blocking local school districts from requiring masks to protect against the virus.
The shifts in strategy reflect the administration’s growing concern that the highly contagious delta variant is erasing its hard-fought progress against the pandemic and thrusting the nation back to the more precarious point it was at earlier in the year.
Thus far, Biden has been reluctant to use the federal government’s power to withhold funding as a means of fighting the pandemic. But that changed Wednesday, when he said his administration would make employee vaccination a condition for nursing homes to receive Medicare and Medicaid funding. Officials said the decision would affect more than 15,000 nursing homes that employ 1.3 million workers.
What is being done to distribute COVID-19 vaccines globally?
LONDON — What is being done to distribute COVID-19 vaccines globally?
Several groups are working to get shots to poor countries, but they’re falling far short of what’s needed to curb outbreaks around the world.
Among the efforts is COVAX, which relies on donations from rich countries and private funders. The group has missed its own distribution targets largely because it didn’t have the resources to secure vaccine supplies early on in the pandemic.
As of mid-August, COVAX has distributed about 207 million doses to 138 countries and territories. That’s compared with more than 417 million doses distributed in just the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
King County lags in distributing rent assistance for tenants, landlords
In the race to distribute millions of dollars in rent assistance to thousands of tenants, King County is lagging behind its neighbors.
The state’s most populous county says it has distributed $6.5 million, or 4.5%, of $145 million in available federal funding to help struggling renters and landlords.
Pierce County has spent about 59% of $53.4 million in federal and state money, and Snohomish County has spent about 47% of $57.8 million, according to county spokespeople.
King County says the process of building a new data system to manage the federal funds has slowed the distribution of money, along with new federal requirements for verifying tenant and landlord information.
But the delay has left landlords and tenants anxious about when help will arrive.
What to know about Washington state’s new mask mandate, vaccine requirement for school and child care workers
The mask is back.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Wednesday a new statewide indoor mask mandate for all residents ages 5 and up, regardless of vaccination status, along with new vaccine requirements for K-12 and higher education educators and staff, and child care providers.
“This virus is increasingly impacting young people, and those under the age of 12 still can’t get the vaccine for themselves. We won’t gamble with the health of our children, our educators and school staff, nor the health of the communities they serve,” Inslee said at a news conference.
The mask mandate will go in effect Monday, Aug 23, and all individuals subject to the vaccine mandate, including most state employees and health care workers, must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.
The announcement comes as hospitals have approached capacity and as hospitalizations have increased, breaking the previous record set in December, according to the governor’s office. Every Washington county is also categorized as substantial or high risk for transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
U.S. urges over 150 world leaders not to come to UN over COVID
UNITED NATIONS — The United States is urging the more than 150 countries planning to send their leader or a government minister to New York to speak in person at the U.N. General Assembly next month to consider giving a video address instead to prevent the annual high-level week from becoming “a super-spreader event.”
A note from the U.S. Mission sent to the 192 other U.N. member nations also called for all other U.N.-hosted meetings and side events to be virtual, saying these parallel meetings that draw travelers to New York “needlessly increase risk to our community, New Yorkers and the other travelers.”
The U.S. note, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, said the Biden administration is particularly concerned about Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the incoming General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid hosting high-level in-person events on climate change, vaccines, the 20th anniversary of the U.N. World Conference Against Racism, food systems and energy.
“The United States is willing to make every effort to make these important events on shared priorities successful in a virtual format,” the note said.
Seattle-area arts groups to require proof of vaccination or negative COVID test for entry
A number of Seattle-area performing arts groups — including The 5th Avenue Theatre, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle Opera, Seattle Symphony, Seattle Rep, A Contemporary Theatre (ACT), Village Theatre and more — said Wednesday they will require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for those attending shows once their seasons begin.
Attendees must show proof of full vaccination. Exceptions will be made for children younger than 12 and those with a medical condition or closely held religious belief preventing vaccination, who instead must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Masks will also be required for audiences inside the venues, except when eating or drinking.
The move comes amid a rise in COVID-19 cases due to the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus, and follows on the heels of similar moves by restaurants and bars, and music venues. Most of the groups’ seasons won’t start until the fall or early next year.
How CDC data problems put the U.S. behind on the delta variant
When Pfizer representatives met with senior U.S. government health officials on July 12, they laid out why they thought booster shots would soon be necessary in the United States. Data from Israel showed the vaccine’s effectiveness waned over time, especially in older and immunocompromised people.
But officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention disagreed, saying their own data showed something quite different.
Other senior health officials in the meeting were stunned. Why hadn’t the CDC looped other government officials on the data? Could the agency share it — at least with the Food and Drug Administration, which was responsible for deciding whether booster shots were necessary? But CDC officials demurred, saying they planned to publish soon.
That episode, say senior administration officials and outside experts, illustrates the growing frustration with the CDC’s slow and siloed approach to sharing data.
Critics say the CDC’s inability to share real-time information led top administration officials, including the president himself, to offer overly rosy assessments of the vaccines’ effectiveness against delta that may have lulled Americans into a false sense of security, even as a more wily and formidable variant was taking hold.
State health officials confirm 3,533 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 3,533 new coronavirus cases and 28 new deaths on Wednesday.
The update brings the state's totals to 520,733 cases and 6,297 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. Tuesday.
In addition, 29,141 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 162 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 127,572 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,700 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 8,363,674 doses and 53.8% 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 11,349 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.
Texas teacher’s legacy of kindness lives on after her death
Searching for a way to honor Texas teacher Zelene Blancas after her death late last year from COVID-19, a fellow educator over 2,000 miles away relied on the kindness of others to get a painted, heart-shaped rock to her school.
After almost five months on the road, being transported by a handful of people, the rock arrived as school started this month at El Paso’s Dr. Sue A. Shook Elementary, where Blancas taught and was remembered by her principal as someone who “embodied kindness.”
“The legacy that she’s leaving of being kind to others, making everybody feel special, taking the time to get to know someone and letting them know you’re special,” Principal Cristina Sanchez-Chavira said, “that was her.”
It was a fitting tribute to the 35-year-old whose video of her bilingual class of first graders in El Paso charmed Twitter users in 2018. The clip showed students hugging each other as they streamed out of the classroom — a ritual they carried out to start and end each day.
“She wanted them to know that they were loved when they arrived, there was somebody waiting for them,” Sanchez-Chavira said. “And then as they left: This is your place, we love you here.”
Inslee brings back statewide mask order and mandates vaccines for school workers
OLYMPIA — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee brought back a statewide mask requirement and ordered all public, private, and charter school employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as subject to their employment.
The governor’s announcement Wednesday comes as cases of COVID-19 cases surge and Washington’s hospitals fill up, even as the state contends with a shortfall of health care staffers.
The indoor mask mandate is effective on Aug. 23 and includes those vaccinated and unvaccinated, according to Inslee’s office. Exemptions to the mask requirement are limited to office spaces not easily accessible to the public and small, private indoor gatherings where everyone is vaccinated.
Those working alone indoors with no public face-to-face interaction are also exempt.
The state mandate arrives as some local health officials — like in King County, and just a few hours earlier on Wednesday, in Pierce County — have announced their own mask requirements.
As cases rose and the delta variant surged in Washington, Inslee earlier this month ordered most state workers — and hundreds of thousands of health care employees — to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or lose their jobs.
Biden to require vaccines for nursing home staff
The Biden administration will move to require that nursing home staff are vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition for those facilities to continue receiving federal Medicare and Medicaid funding.
Biden will announce the step Wednesday afternoon in a White House address as the administration continues to look for ways to use mandates to encourage vaccine holdouts to get shots. A senior administration official confirmed the announcement, first reported by CNN, Wednesday on the condition of anonymity to preview the news before Biden’s remarks.
The new mandate, in the form of a forthcoming regulation to be issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, could take effect as soon as next month.
An Alabama doctor watched patients reject coronavirus vaccine; now he’s refusing to treat them
In Alabama, where the nation’s lowest vaccination rate has helped push the state closer to a record number of hospitalizations, a physician has sent a clear message to his patients: Don’t come in for medical treatment if you are unvaccinated.
Jason Valentine, a physician at Diagnostic and Medical Clinic Infirmary Health in Mobile, Ala., posted a photo on Facebook this week of him pointing to a sign taped to a door informing patients of his new policy coming Oct. 1.
“Dr. Valentine will no longer see patients that are not vaccinated against COVID-19,” the sign reads.
Valentine wrote in the post, which has since been made private but captured in online images, that there were “no conspiracy theories, no excuses” stopping anyone from being vaccinated, AL.com reported.
“If they asked why, I told them COVID is a miserable way to die and I can’t watch them die like that,” wrote Valentine, who has specialized in family medicine with Diagnostic and Medical Clinic since 2008.
Alabama has the lowest vaccination rate in the United States, with less than 36% of the population fully vaccinated, and Republican Gov. Kay Ivey recently said that “it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks” for the state’s surge in new cases and hospitalizations.
Mask directive issued for Pierce County residents 5 and up
Pierce County residents five years and older were directed Wednesday to wear masks inside public spaces and outside where physical distancing is not possible by a county health directive.
The countywide mask directive from Director of Health Dr. Anthony L-T Chen applies regardless of vaccination status in places that are open to the public, including grocery stores, shops, government buildings and other public spaces.
It does not apply to nonpublic spaces, including businesses, offices and other places of employment with limited access.
Mom who died of COVID days after her husband’s death had a final wish for her kids
A few weeks ago, Lydia Rodriguez thought her body was strong enough to fight the coronavirus without the vaccine.
But after a weeklong church camp, she and other members of her family tested positive for the coronavirus. By the time Rodriguez, 42, changed her mind and asked for the shot, it was too late, her doctor said. A ventilator awaited her, her cousin Dottie Jones told The Washington Post.
Out of options, the Galveston, Texas, mother of four, asked her family to make a promise: “Please make sure my kids get vaccinated,” Rodriguez, a piano teacher, told her sister during their last phone call.
Rodriguez died Monday — two weeks after her husband, Lawrence Rodriguez, 49, also died after coronavirus complications.
Looks like Garth Brooks won’t be playing Seattle next month after all
Seattle country fans were elated. For about a week.
After announcing a Labor Day weekend concert at Lumen Field last month, Garth Brooks quickly hit the breaks, stopping tickets from going on sale less than a week later citing COVID-19 concerns. On Wednesday, the honky tonkin’ showman formally canceled five other shows — for which he’d already sold 350,000 tickets — planned for later this fall, all but guaranteeing that Sept. 4 Seattle trip ain’t happening.
“In July, I sincerely thought the pandemic was falling behind us,” Brooks said in a news release. “Now, watching this new wave, I realize we are still in the fight and I must do my part.”
A school district had an opt-out policy for masks — but not the dress code. One mom fought back.
Last week, Tennessee’s Hamilton County School District announced that masks will be mandatory for students and staff, with one key caveat: Students whose parents complete an opt-out form will be exempt from the policy. The district was ahead of the curve; on Tuesday, Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order that extended that option to all parents in the state.
As with other schools, the mask policy has drummed up controversy among parents and students alike. But one East Hamilton High School mother’s take has gone viral: After screenshots of her email were posted on Twitter by the Tennessee Holler, the tweet garnered nearly 30,000 likes and thousands of retweets.
The email pointed out that the school board doesn’t offer an opt-out option for its dress code — which prohibits students from wearing low-cut shirts, tank tops, most skirts and dresses, athletic shorts and leggings.
“As the parent of a daughter at East Hamilton, I find the school’s dress code policy to be misogynistic and detrimental to the self-esteem of young women,” the Aug. 11 email read. ” … In light of the opt-out option related to the recently announced mask mandate, I can only assume that parents are now in a position to pick and choose the school policies to which their child to be subject. … I therefore intend to … send my daughter to school in spaghetti straps, leggings, cut offs, and anything else she feels comfortable wearing to school.”
Cardinal in serious condition after contracting COVID-19
A high-ranking Catholic cardinal who claimed Jesus Christ was best weapon for fighting the coronavirus, is in serious condition with COVID-19, according to officials at a Wisconsin shrine that he founded.
Cardinal Raymond Burke, one of Pope Francis’ loudest critics and a vaccine skeptic, tweeted Aug. 10 that he had caught the coronavirus. The 73-year-old's staff tweeted Saturday that he was hospitalized, on a ventilator and had recieved the sacraments.
Burke, 73, who holds a doctorate in canon law and was the first American to oversee the Vatican’s supreme court, spoke out against mandatory vaccinations in May 2020, saying some in society want to implant microchips in people and that faith in Christ was the best anti-viral medication.
‘I would not wish COVID on anyone’: Teacher hospitalized for 72 days pushes vaccine
At 42, Terry Greear was active and healthy, an elementary school PE teacher who loved to run around with his students, practice lacrosse and basketball with his sons and coach soccer at a local high school.
Then he got COVID-19.
It was January, and he was not yet eligible for a vaccine. He was admitted to the hospital, put on a ventilator and then on an ECMO machine — “the last line of defense,” he said, in the fight against COVID-19.
He was in the hospital for 72 days, lost 50 pounds and returned home needing a walker and portable oxygen. Recently, Greear shared his story on Facebook, CNN and at Cypress Springs Elementary in east Orange County where he teaches.
“I’m not an expert on vaccines,” he said. “I’m an expert on what happens when you contract COVID. It’s a tough, tough thing. Don’t wait until it’s too late.”
Southeast Asia is battling the world’s highest COVID-19 death toll
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says Southeast Asia is battling the world’s highest COVID-19 death toll, driven by the delta variant and unequal distribution of vaccines.
Southeast Asia recorded 38,522 deaths from COVID-19 in the last two weeks, nearly twice as many as North America, it says, citing data from John Hopkins University.
Seven of the top 10 countries where COVID-19 deaths have doubled the fastest are in Asia and the Pacific, with Vietnam, Fiji and Myanmar in the top five, according to Our World in Data.
US health officials call for booster shots against COVID-19
U.S. health officials Wednesday recommended all Americans get COVID-19 booster shots to shore up their protection amid the surging delta variant and evidence that the vaccines’ effectiveness is falling.
The plan, as outlined by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other top authorities, calls for an extra dose eight months after people get their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. The doses could begin the week of Sept. 20.
In a statement, health officials said it is “very clear” that the vaccines’ protection against infection wanes over time, and now, with the highly contagious delta variant spreading rapidly, “we are starting to see evidence of reduced protection against mild and moderate disease.”
Texas parent rips mask off teacher’s face, school official warns: ‘Do not fight mask wars in our schools’
Masked and ready to start the new academic year, students in Austin’s Eanes Independent School District returned to campuses excited to reunite with friends and meet their new teachers.
There were "magical moments," Tom Leonard, the superintendent, said in a note to parents and staff one day before the district’s first day of school. But there were also “a few sad moments” at recent school events, he qualified.
Some parents physically and verbally assaulted teachers because of masks. One parent ripped a teacher’s mask off her face, Leonard said. Others yelled at another teacher to remove her mask because they claimed it made it difficult to understand what she was saying.
. “Our staff are on the front lines of this pandemic," Leonard wrote. "Let’s give them some space and grace. Please, I am asking everyone to be kind . . . do not fight mask wars in our schools.”
Virus outbreaks temporarily close 4 Texas school districts
HOUSTON — As the new school year begins for Texas students and mask mandates are debated in various state courts, at least four school districts have already closed campuses due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
The shutdowns are taking place as more school districts and communities continued this week to defy Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates and require students and residents to wear face coverings. Tuesday afternoon, Abbott’s office announced he had tested positive for COVID-19. Abbott, who is vaccinated, was experiencing no symptoms.
The school district in Gorman, located about 70 miles (112.65 kilometers) east of Abilene, had been set to begin the new school year on Wednesday but is now delaying that by a week “due to positive COVID cases within the school community of both faculty and students,” Superintendent Mike Winter said in a statement.
“This decision was not made lightly or quickly, and it was made with the best interest of all students, staff, and parents’ safety in mind,” Winter said.
In a handful of states, early COVID data hint at a rise in breakthrough infections
Since Americans first began rolling up their sleeves for coronavirus vaccines, health officials have said that those who are immunized are very unlikely to become infected, or to suffer serious illness or death. But preliminary data from seven states hint that the arrival of the delta variant in July may have altered the calculus.
Breakthrough infections in vaccinated people accounted for at least 1 in 5 newly diagnosed cases in six of these states and higher percentages of total hospitalizations and deaths than had been previously observed in all of them, according to figures gathered by The New York Times.
The absolute numbers remain very low, however, and there is little doubt that the vaccines remain powerfully protective. This continues to be “a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” as federal health officials have often said.
Still, the rise indicates a change in how vaccinated Americans might regard their risks.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Washington hospitals are getting so full that rented beds are lining hallways as the delta variant adds to the pain of a pandemic labor shortage. It's hard to make room by discharging patients, because nursing homes are grappling with staffing shortages, too. Read the Times Watchdog story and see which hospitals are maxing out.
Get a booster shot eight months after you're vaccinated, top U.S. health officials will tell Americans today in a stark shift that comes as early data hints at a rise in breakthrough infections. Here's what is and isn't known about the boosters.
COVID-19 has killed three Alaska Airlines workers in the past month. The company is moving toward making vaccines mandatory.
In Florida, more than 8,000 kids in one school district are isolating or quarantining as the state shatters records for COVID-19 cases. In Texas — where the governor has tested positive — outbreaks have already closed at least four districts. And in Arizona, the mask wars rage on, with the governor blocking schools that require them from getting millions of dollars.
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