Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Tuesday, Aug. 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
As universities around the United States prepare for the start of the school year, officials are scrambling to deal with COVID-19 clusters that are already popping up around campuses, mostly within dorms, fraternities and other student housing.
Another day — Election Day — is also quickly approaching, prompting concerns locally and nationwide that mail delivery issues with the U.S. Postal Service, which is facing financial strains exacerbated by the pandemic, could affect vote counts nationwide this election season.
Throughout Tuesday, on this page, we’ll be posting Seattle Times journalists’ updates on the outbreak and its effects on the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest and the world. Updates from Monday can be found here, and all our coronavirus coverage can be found here.
Baby boom ahead as COVID-19 kept millions of women from care
NEW DELHI — Millions of women and girls globally have lost access to contraceptives and abortion services because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now the first widespread measure of the toll says India with its abrupt, months-long lockdown has been hit especially hard.
Several months into the pandemic, many women now have second-trimester pregnancies because they could not find care in time.
Across 37 countries, nearly 2 million fewer women received services between January and June than in the same period last year, Marie Stopes International says in a new report — 1.3 million in India alone. The organization expects 900,000 unintended pregnancies worldwide as a result, along with 1.5 million unsafe abortions and more than 3,000 maternal deaths.
Those numbers “will likely be greatly amplified” if services falter elsewhere in Latin America, Africa and Asia, Marie Stopes’ director of global evidence, Kathryn Church, has said.
Michigan State says most classes will be online in the fall
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State University is going online for the fall and is encouraging students to stay home, the school’s president announced Tuesday, as schools across the nation struggled to control coronavirus outbreaks.
Remote learning for undergraduates is scheduled to begin Sept. 2.
“Given the current status of the virus in our country — particularly what we are seeing at other institutions as they re-populate their campus communities — it has become evident to me that, despite our best efforts and strong planning, it is unlikely we can prevent widespread transmission of COVID-19 between students if our undergraduates return to campus,” President Samuel L. Stanley said in a news release on the university’s website.
The move to online learning is just for undergraduate students at the moment. The colleges of Law, Human Medicine, Nursing, Osteopathic Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and all graduate programs will receive details at a later time, according to the university in East Lansing.
Iowa county says clinic failed to report 3,000 COVID tests
IOWA CITY, Iowa — An Iowa county said Tuesday that a clinic failed to report up to 3,000 negative coronavirus test results, as concerns about inaccuracies in the state’s official pandemic data continued to mount even as schools use it to determine their fall plans.
Webster County Public Health department spokeswoman Kelli Bloomquist said her agency uncovered the clinic’s failure to report negative tests last week, and the clinic belatedly submitted the 3,000 results. The county didn’t say why the clinic was not reporting the negative results.
The state system rejected the submissions, but a subsequent review confirmed that many tests had not been entered, Bloomquist said. The new information dramatically reduced the county’s 14-day positivity rate, which the state is using to determine whether school districts must return for at least 50% in-person instruction.
The Associated Press reported Monday that potentially thousands of positive coronavirus cases have been backdated due to an error in the state system. The problem appears to have artificially lowered many local positivity rates, independent researchers say.
Dutch government offers stricter advice after virus cases rise
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte tightened recommended measures Tuesday to rein in the spread of the coronavirus, warning that if the country does not control new infections the Netherlands could go “back to square one.”
Rutte gave people “very, very, urgent advice” not to hold parties at home and to limit events like birthday celebrations and other private house gatherings to a maximum of six people. However, the Dutch government did not impose any new mandatory restrictions.
“If we’re not careful, we will be back to square one inside the foreseeable future,” Rutte warned.
If people want to organize parties for more than six people, they should rent a space where all guests can maintain social distance while seated, the prime minister said. He also urged people to continue working from home.
Seattle fishing boat outbreak suggests antibodies protect against coronavirus infection
Crew members from a Seattle-based fishing boat that experienced an explosive outbreak of the novel coronavirus have serendipitously provided what could be the first direct evidence that antibodies can protect people from reinfection.
Blood samples collected before the vessel sailed in May showed that three of the 122 people aboard had robust levels of neutralizing antibodies — the type that block the virus from entering human cells — indicating they had been previously infected and recovered. All three were spared during the shipboard outbreak, which quickly spread to more than 85% of the crew.
“It’s a strong indication that the presence of neutralizing antibodies is associated with protection from the virus,” said Dr. Alex Greninger, assistant director of the UW Medicine Clinical Virology Laboratory and co-author of a report posted on the preprint server MedRxiv that has not yet been peer-reviewed. “It’s hopeful news.”
However, it’s not really surprising, Greninger added. Researchers are generally confident that prior infection will provide some level of immunity. But what constitutes a protective immune response and how long immunity lasts is still unknown and of vital importance to the race for vaccines and other treatments.
Senate Republicans preparing $500B virus relief proposal
WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leaders are preparing a slimmed-down coronavirus relief package of roughly $500 billion that will include extended payments for unemployed people and smaller businesses, a GOP senator said Tuesday.
The measure will also include $10 billion for the embattled Postal Service, said one top GOP aide. The agency has become the focus of a campaign-season battle over whether it will have enough resources to handle an expected flood of mail-in ballots for this November’s presidential and congressional elections.
The fight between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats over weathering the pandemic has become a critical battle that’s highlighted Trump’s troubled handling of an outbreak that has killed over 170,000 Americans, cost tens of millions of jobs and shuttered businesses in virtually every community.
It’s also focused recently on newly imposed cuts in Postal Service operations that critics say are aimed at curtailing the agency’s ability to deliver mail-in votes in time for them to be counted this November. That has coincided with Trump’s repeated insistence, without foundation, that expected record levels of mail-in votes by people eager to avoid polling places will lead to widespread fraud in the elections.
Coronavirus positive-test rate dips in most of King County, spikes in parts of the Eastside
Some good news in the fight against COVID-19: A smaller portion of tests done in King County are coming back positive.
However, several parts of the county have moved in the opposite direction. The two biggest spikes in positivity rate were in Seattle’s Eastside suburbs.
In the 14-day period between July 27 and Aug. 10, the county’s positive-test rate dipped to 3.7%, according to my analysis of data from Public Health — Seattle & King County. Of the nearly 58,000 tests administered in that time, about 2,100 were positive.
That’s a bit lower than the preceding two-week period, July 13-July 27, when 3.9% of tests were positive. But it’s worth noting that the total number of tests administered declined by more than 7,000.
The data is for King County’s 48 Health Reporting Areas (HRA), which can be as small as neighborhoods or can include whole cities and towns in less populated areas of the county.
South Dakota tallies 460,000 vehicles during Sturgis rally
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — This year’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally drew more than 460,000 vehicles during the 10-day event, according to a count South Dakota transportation officials released Tuesday.
The count represents a decrease of nearly 8% from last year but showed that many were undeterred by the coronavirus pandemic. Sturgis officials said they expected fewer people to show up this year, estimating they would see between 250,000 and 300,000 people during the 10-day event.
Most people didn’t take significant precautions against COVID-19 infections at this year’s rally. A few people wore masks and some said they were avoiding crowds, but many others packed close together at bars and rock shows.
The South Dakota Department of Health issued a warning on Tuesday that one person who spent several hours at a bar on Main Street in Sturgis has tested positive for COVID-19 and may have spread it to others.
Champagne makers fix harvest quotas, as virus kills the fizz
PARIS — French Champagne producers decided Tuesday to put unprecedented limits on the quantity of grapes they’ll harvest this year in hopes of propping up prices and containing damage from the coronavirus pandemic.
As a result, record amounts of grapes may need to be destroyed or sold to distilleries at discounted prices. But for the Champagne Committee, the influential group that represents 16,000 vintners around France’s Champagne region, that’s the price to pay for saving their luxury business.
Vintners in Champagne country will only be allowed to collectively harvest 8,000 kilograms of grapes per hectare this season, or the equivalent of 230 million bottles for the whole region, according to Tuesday’s decision. That is 21% less than the amounts allowed last year.
Like the organizations that coordinate policies for oil-producing countries, the Champagne Committee regulates the size of the grape harvest each year to avoid the kind of excess production that would cause bottle prices to plummet.
But this year’s discussions took on unprecedented importance after the industry collectively lost $2 billion in sales because of virus lockdown measures.
Q&A: What’s behind FDA warnings on a particular coronavirus test
WASHINGTON — A widely used coronavirus test is under scrutiny this week after federal health officials warned that it could deliver inaccurate results if laboratory technicians don’t follow the the latest updates from the manufacturer.
The Food and Drug Administration’s warning over Thermo Fisher’s TaqPath test underscores the complexity of COVID-19 tests and how easily they can be skewed by faulty processing and equipment.
The FDA action follows a report last month by Connecticut public health officials that the test resulted in at least 90 people receiving false positive results for the coronavirus.
WHAT HAPPENED WITH THE TEST?
Thermo Fisher’s test is one of the standard tools used to screen for COVID-19, run on large, automated machines found in many U.S. hospitals and laboratories. The FDA flagged two separate issues that could potentially result in false results: the chemical mixing process and computer software that runs on the company’s machine. Thermo Fisher has provided new instructions for mixing. And a software update fixes the second problem, the FDA said.
For all positive results, FDA said labs should review the instrument settings.
Thermo Fisher said in a statement that its data shows the issues are rare and most users get accurate results by following company directions.
Read the full story here.
Colleges grapple with coronavirus as students return
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Notre Dame University became the latest college to move classes online due to the coronavirus, after nearly 150 students tested positive.
“It is very serious, and we must take serious actions,” university president the Rev. John Jenkins said in an address to students and staff Tuesday.
Tuesday’s action follows the decision by officials of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to switch to remote learning starting Wednesday, as the virus makes its mark on colleges — and college towns — across the United States. Some universities are reconsidering plans to hold in-person classes or implementing new testing regimes. Others are threatening crackdowns on students who get too close with others, in violation of social distancing rules.
The University of Oklahoma is requiring its sororities to recruit new members virtually after learning of students attending large social events without taking precautions against the virus.
Read the full story here.
State confirms 543 new COVID-19 cases and 24 new deaths
State health officials reported 543 new COVID-19 cases in Washington as of Monday night, and 24 new deaths.
The update brings the state’s totals to 68,264 cases and 1,809 deaths, meaning that 2.7% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the state Department of Health (DOH). The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Monday and represent more than 24 hours' worth of data.
In King County, the state most populous, state health officials have confirmed 17,908 diagnoses and 698 deaths.
King County awards $2 million grants to science, arts organizations and music venues
Science, art and culture organizations, and independent live music venues affected by the COVID-19 pandemic are receiving $2 million in one-time grants from King County.
The funding, backed by the federal CARES Act, will go to 62 organizations that draw tourists, and “is designed to ease the economic burden of the pandemic while also increase public health measures,” according to a statement from King County Executive Dow Constantine.
The grants may be used to make improvements so that the organizations can comply with public-health safety measures necessary to prepare for safe reopening, such as plastic barriers, floor marking or public outreach materials.
The grants may also be used to reimburses costs between March 1 and December such as payroll, rent, mortgage payments (excluding property taxes), healthcare insurance for employees and utility expenses “necessary to sustain the business during and after the public health emergency,” the statement said.
“I couldn’t be more grateful for the support from King County, nor could it have come at a better time,” Hallie Kuperman of The Century Ballroom on Capitol Hill, said in the statement. “All music and nightlife venues need right now is financial support, pure and simple. If we want our arts community and economy to rebound, we need money to get us through this period.”
Said Constantine: “By carefully and thoughtfully helping with rent, payroll and other expenses, we can help ensure that more of our cultural touchstones survive and continue to contribute to the vitality of our region.”
Save the gaiters! Scientists say fear over their virus protection is unwarranted
The reports of the demise of the neck gaiter have been greatly exaggerated.
A gaiter is a tube of fabric worn around the neck, often to keep skiers or runners warm in cold weather. But during the coronavirus pandemic, lightweight neck gaiters have been popular with runners, cyclists and people with beards because they can be pulled up to cover the nose and the mouth and used as a mask.
But in recent days, there has been a backlash against the gaiter. It started after a small study from Duke University demonstrated a new, inexpensive testing method for masks that uses lasers and phone cameras.
The study’s authors hypothesized that wearing a neck gaiter might cause more small droplets to spew through the fabric, not fewer.
A wave of reports on news sites and social media quickly followed. “Wearing a neck gaiter could be worse than wearing no mask at all,” read the headline in The Washington Post. (Read it here in The Seattle Times.)
But that's not quite true. Doubled, a gaiter can actually prevent 90% of aerosol particles, a new study has found.
“We should be encouraging people to use the most effective masks that are practical for community settings, but in general, any face covering is probably better than none,” said Julia Marcus, an infectious disease epidemiologist and an assistant professor in the department of population medicine at Harvard Medical School. “The more that people see face coverings out in the world, regardless of what kind, the more that social norms will shift in favor of masking.”
Teens struggle to balance school, family, work amid COVID-19
With her baby brother in her arms, Kara Apuzzo tried to follow along in an online class as he squirmed or slept. Other times, the 18-year-old rushed to get ready for work at a front-line job at Target as her virtual high school lessons were still wrapping up.
Last school year was further complicated by computer issues that kept her from logging in and online tools that bedeviled even her teachers. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Apuzzo, who lives in New Haven, Connecticut, knew she wanted to go to college right after high school. Now, she’s not so sure.
“Right now, I don’t know where I want to go with my life,” she said. “I feel so behind when it comes to what do college kids actually do. … It’s scary, it’s so new — I don’t have any idea what I’m even doing.”
Educational disruptions forced by the pandemic are hurting teenagers at a time when many families also are struggling with layoffs and child care for young kids — challenges that are expected to persist as a new school year gets underway, largely with remote learning.
Some teens have to share computers with siblings or sign in to classes in crowded households or from their cars. Others have been laid off from after-school jobs that help provide for their families or work extra hours in essential industries, leaving less time for school. Students whose parents can’t work from home also have less structure to push them to get their work done.
“They’re at home being their own teachers,” said Nick Mathern, vice president of K-12 Partnerships for the nonprofit Achieving the Dream, which helps students complete degrees through community colleges.
S. Korea shuts Seoul nightspots, churches amid virus spike
South Korea will ban large public gatherings and shut down churches and nightspots in the greater capital area amid an alarming surge in viral infections that health officials describe as the country’s biggest crisis since the emergence of COVID-19.
In a nationally televised announcement on Tuesday, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said strengthening social distancing restrictions for the Seoul metropolitan area, which is home to half of the country’s 51 million people, was inevitable because a failure to slow transmissions there could result in a major outbreak nationwide.
South Korea reported 246 new cases Tuesday, mostly from the capital area, pushing its total for the last five days to 959.
The measures, which will take effect Wednesday in Seoul and nearby Gyeonggi province and the city of Incheon, prohibit gatherings of more than 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. Nightclubs, karaoke rooms, buffet restaurants, computer gaming cafes and other “high-risk” venues will be shut. Churches, which have emerged as major clusters of infections allowing attendees to sing and eat together, will only be allowed to provide online services.
In UK, rates of depression double among adults during lockdown
Rates of depression appear to have almost doubled in Britain since the country was put into lockdown in late March as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the country’s official statistics agency.
The Office for National Statistics said in a special study released Tuesday that 19.2% of adults were likely to be experiencing symptoms of depression in June, three months into the lockdown of large chunks of society and the economy. That proportion is up from 9.7% recorded between July 2019 and March.
The statistics agency, which assessed the same 3,527 of adults before and during the pandemic, said feelings of stress or anxiety were the most common way adults were experiencing some form of depression, with around 85% of those reporting symptoms.
“Revisiting this same group of adults before and during the pandemic provides a unique insight into how their symptoms of depression have changed over time,” said statistician Tim Vizard.
Though all age brackets reported higher levels of depression, the study found that younger adults between 16 and 39 years of age were proportionately more likely to do so, with nearly a third reporting symptoms of depression — a generational contrast to the coronavirus’ impact on physical health.
Quarantine Corner: Things to do while staying home
- Easy peach streusel muffins make a tasty fuel for school, courtesy of teen chef Sadie Davis-Suskind.
- You can take cooking lessons from local chefs in your own kitchen. Matt Lewis, who shares his excellent shrimp and grits recipe here, has a new venture that delivers all the ingredients to your door, then takes you online for the class.
- Sunny days call for perfect paperbacks, read while languishing in the hammock and trying to balance a glass of iced tea. Here are six recommended Paperback Picks.
Set your child up for success in online school
Teachers, curriculum developers and parents are offering helpful tips on making the most of digital learning.
Meanwhile, Seattle's public schools are delaying their start date to give teachers more time to prepare. School is tentatively set to start Sept. 4, two days later than originally planned.
If you're comfortable talking about how this bizarre schooling season will impact your work and finances, we'd like to hear from you.
With many people working from home, the Seattle area saw a surge of adoptions and, now, a shortage of pets.
We're loving these photos — don't miss fuzzy little Julian the pig.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Good news: A smaller portion of COVID-19 tests done in King County is coming back positive. But there are big exceptions. See what's happening in your area as FYI Guy outlines where positive tests are surging, and where they're falling. (Here's where to get tested, by the way.)
U.S. colleges are scrambling to deal with virus clusters, with one prominent (and partying) university throwing all its classes online just a week after reopening. How bad is COVID-19 at your or your kid's college? A few data trackers will tell you.
Potential accuracy issues with a widely used coronavirus test could lead to false results for patients, federal officials are warning. Meanwhile, a "horrifying" glitch messed up case numbers that are dictating big decisions about schools in Iowa, meaning "we have no idea what's going on."
With the pandemic worsening Seattle's child care crunch, the City Council has OK'd land-use changes to speed the creation of new child care centers.
Businesses trying to reopen safely in South King County can get their hands on a free toolkit.
Boeing will offer buyouts to workers for the second time this year as the virus-stricken planemaker extends its cuts beyond the original 10% target unveiled in April. The company is "evaluating every aspect of our business," its CEO says.
“We cannot waste the sacrifices made in the past months.” Europe is clamping down as new outbreaks surge. And in South Korea, a pastor who defied authorities to hold services and massive rallies has tested positive.
"There's nothing like family," even when you can't see each other in person. Here's how one sprawling family cherished its traditions at a virtual 112th annual reunion, complete with a dance party, a banquet and great tales of reunions past.
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