Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, August 19, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 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 another step aimed at curbing the virus’ spread, the United States is urging the more than 150 countries planning to send representatives to the U.N. General Assembly next month to consider giving a video address instead.
In Washington, as hospitals are straining under a shortage of health care staffers, Gov. Jay Inslee has 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.
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.
Asia Today: Sydney lockdown extended, masks required outside
SYDNEY — A lockdown in Australia’s largest city was extended throughout September and tougher measures to curb the coronavirus’s delta variant were imposed Friday, including a curfew and a mask mandate outdoors.
New South Wales state, which includes Sydney, reported 642 locally acquired infections in the latest 24-hour period, the fourth consecutive day of tallies exceeding 600.
Sydney has been locked down since late June after the more contagious delta variant was detected in a limousine driver who became infected while transporting a U.S. cargo aircrew from Sydney Airport.
Since then, 65 people have died from COVID-19 in New South Wales, included four overnight.
The Sydney lockdown was to end on Aug. 28, but the state government announced it will continue until Sept. 30.
The entire state has been in lockdown since last week because the virus had spread from the city.
Do I need a booster if I got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?
Do I need a booster if I got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?
Probably at some point, but health officials still are collecting the data needed to decide.
With boosters being planned in the U.S. as early as the fall for those who got the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, recipients of the single-dose J&J jab might be wondering just how well their protection is holding up.
All the vaccines used in the U.S. — including the J&J vaccine — still are doing their job of preventing hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.
“I don’t think there’s any signal that the J&J vaccine is failing at its primary task,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Demand for coronavirus tests soars in Seattle amid increased travel, concerns about delta variant
Alexander Silver had been tested twice for the coronavirus — once when he came down with the flu and another time before seeing relatives at Thanksgiving — and thought he was in the clear after being vaccinated against the virus.
Then a friend with whom he had close contact got a coronavirus test for her job. While she didn’t have any symptoms, she tested positive. That meant Silver, 20, a University of Washington student, needed a test, too.
For myriad reasons — an unmasked dinner party, a stuffy nose, a trip abroad that requires a negative test — more people are seeking coronavirus tests. The new demand has led to long lines at some facilities and forced some test-takers to make appointments days in advance, hearkening back to previous COVID-19 waves before widespread vaccinations.
“It’s absolutely crazy right now,” said Dr. Ann Jarris of Discovery Health MD, which does rapid, same-day and next-day testing for international travelers and corporate clients in the Seattle area. “By the end of July, we were in trouble.”
The recent emergence of the delta variant, the most dominant coronavirus variant in Washington, has fueled the increase. Some, like Silver, are worrying anew about being exposed to the coronavirus. He went to a UW testing site and tested negative.
The delta variant, Silver said, has “changed the game.”
U.S. officials probe whether Moderna vaccine is linked to higher risk of uncommon side effect
Federal health officials are investigating emerging reports that the Moderna coronavirus vaccine may be associated with a higher risk of a heart condition called myocarditis in younger adults than previously believed, according to two people familiar with the review who emphasized the side effect still probably remains uncommon.
The investigation, which involves the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is focusing on Canadian data that suggests the Moderna vaccine may carry a higher risk for young people than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, especially for males below the age of 30 or so. The authorities also are scrutinizing data from the United States to try to determine if there is evidence of an increased risk from Moderna in the U.S. population.
The two people who described the investigation spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing review because they were not authorized to discuss it.
Nursing homes face dilemma: Vaccinate staff or don’t get paid
Of the 1.5 million nursing home staff in the United States, some 540,000 — 40% of the workforce — are unvaccinated.
Their fate could be directly affected by a policy announced Wednesday by President Joe Biden requiring all nursing home employees to be vaccinated, with the rules likely to take effect sometime in September. Facilities that fail to meet that target could face fines or lose eligibility to receive federal reimbursement, a vital source of income for many.
The practical effect of the policy is that workers will have to be vaccinated or lose their jobs.
Janet Snipes, who runs a nursing home in Denver, said several employees had told her that they might leave. One, whom she described as her best nurse, told her she was “very, very afraid” of the vaccine, in part because she is Black and concerned about medical experimentation of the past.
Getting vaccinated “is the safest thing for our residents and our staff, but we feel strongly he needs to mandate for all health care settings,” Snipes said of the president. “We can’t afford to lose staff to hospitals and assisted living facilities.”
Alaska says 5 deaths from facility that had virus outbreak
JUNEAU, Alaska — Five residents of a state-supported elder-care facility in Ketchikan who tested positive for COVID-19 died in the last week, a state health department spokesperson said Thursday.
Clinton Bennett, the spokesperson, in a written response to a question on whether the deaths were COVID-19-related, said the state-supported Pioneer Homes “do not determine the cause of death nor do they see the death certificates of residents.” He said the five residents of the Ketchikan Pioneer Home who recently died “had tested positive for COVID-19.”
“In the last week, the Ketchikan Pioneer Home has had five resident deaths and there has been a total of 12 residents and five staff test positive for COVID-19 this month,” he wrote. Bennett did not immediately provide a more precise timeline.
When asked if those who had died had been vaccinated against COVID-19, Bennett said that was personal health information that could not be shared.
Feds seize over 3,000 fake vaccination cards in Anchorage
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — More than 3,000 fake COVID-19 vaccination cards have been confiscated at cargo freight facilities at the Anchorage airport as they were being shipped from China, officials said Thursday.
Officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized the cards in the past week as they arrived in small packages, said Jaime Ruiz, an agency spokesperson.
There were between 135 and 150 packages found in Anchorage, all sent by the same person in China, Ruiz said. The packages contained small amounts of the fake cards, about 20 or 25 each.
The cards confiscated in Anchorage closely resemble the authentic Centers for Disease Control and Prevention certificates given out by health care workers when U.S. citizens receive their vaccinations, the agency said. However, this shipment had cards that exhibited low-quality printing.
Mortgage delinquencies sink to pandemic low
Mortgage delinquency rates plunged in the second quarter to the lowest level since the pandemic began, as the improving economy helps distressed homeowners get out of trouble.
The seasonally adjusted delinquency rate dropped to 5.47% of all loans outstanding, down from 8.22% a year earlier and the lowest since the first quarter of 2020, according to a survey by the Mortgage Bankers Association.
The decline in the delinquency rate for loans for veterans and Federal Housing Administration mortgages — the affordable path to homeownership for many first-time buyers and low-income Americans — was the biggest in data going back to 1979.
“It appears that borrowers in later stages of delinquency are recovering due to several factors, including improved employment and other economic conditions,” said Marina Walsh, MBA’s vice president of industry analysis.
Pandemic has never been worse in Mississippi, top doctor says as 20,000 students are quarantined
Mississippi’s top health official concluded Wednesday that the state with the nation’s second-lowest vaccination rate is now suffering through “the worst part of the pandemic,” in a week in which more than 20,000 students have been quarantined for exposure to coronavirus.
Mississippi State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs acknowledged the severity of the state’s health crisis, which has seen a surge in cases among the unvaccinated population overwhelm hospitals, leaving only a handful of intensive care unit beds still available for dozens of patients who need them.
“We are clearly at the worst part of the pandemic that we’ve seen throughout, and it’s continued to worsen,” Dobbs said at a news briefing. “We’re seeing higher and higher numbers of not just cases but hospitalizations, people in intensive care units, life support. And sadly, as we’ve seen, additional deaths are going to follow. Without a doubt we have surpassed our previous peaks by a substantial margin, and we expect to see that continue.”
Mississippi recorded more than 4,000 new cases Wednesday, bringing its seven-day average for new infections to 3,526, according to data compiled by The Washington Post. The infection numbers this week in Mississippi, including Monday’s record-breaking 7,839 cases in a single day, are higher than at any point of the pandemic. Nearly 1,700 people are hospitalized for COVID-19 and 467 ICU beds are occupied in the state.
State health officials confirm 3,976 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 3,976 new coronavirus cases and 33 new deaths on Thursday.
The update brings the state's totals to 524,670 cases and 6,330 deaths, meaning that 1.2% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.
In addition, 29,293 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 152 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 128,433 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,707 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.
Record delta wave hits kids, raises fear as US schools open
The day before he was supposed to start fourth grade, Francisco Rosales was admitted to a Dallas hospital with COVID-19, struggling to breathe, with dangerously low oxygen levels and an uncertain outcome.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this, thought his frightened mother, Yessica Gonzalez. At 9, he was too young to get vaccinated, but most of the family had their shots.
But with the highly contagious delta variant spreading across the U.S., children are filling hospital intensive care beds instead of classrooms in record numbers, more even than at the height of the pandemic.
The surging virus is spreading anxiety and causing turmoil and infighting among parents, administrators and politicians around the U.S., especially in states like Florida and Texas, where Republican governors have barred schools from making youngsters wear masks. And with millions of children returning to classrooms this month, experts say the stakes are unquestionably high.
Health experts believe adults who have not gotten their shots are contributing to the surge among grownups and children alike. It has been especially bad in places with lower vaccination rates, such as parts of the South.
Sens. Wicker, King and Hickenlooper have tested positive for coronavirus
Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Angus King, I-Maine, and John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., announced Thursday that they have tested positive for the coronavirus, becoming the latest members of the Senate to announce breakthrough infections in recent weeks.
Earlier this month, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C., said he had tested positive for the virus. All four senators have been vaccinated.
In a statement, Wicker’s communications director, Phillip Waller, said the senator tested positive Thursday morning “after immediately seeking a test due to mild symptoms.”
“Senator Wicker is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, is in good health, and is being treated by his Tupelo-based physician,” Waller said. “He is isolating, and everyone with whom Senator Wicker has come in close contact recently has been notified.”
King announced that he took a test Thursday morning at his doctor’s suggestion after he had begun feeling “mildly feverish” on Wednesday. The test came back positive.
“While I am not feeling great, I’m definitely feeling much better than I would have without the vaccine,” King said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “I am taking this diagnosis very seriously, quarantining myself at home and telling the few people I’ve been in contact with to get tested in order to limit any further spread.”
Those anti-COVID plastic barriers probably don’t help and may make things worse
COVID precautions have turned many parts of our world into a giant salad bar, with plastic barriers separating sales clerks from shoppers, dividing customers at nail salons and shielding students from their classmates.
Intuition tells us a plastic shield would be protective against germs. But scientists who study aerosols, airflow and ventilation say that much of the time, the barriers do not help and probably give people a false sense of security. And sometimes the barriers can make things worse.
Research suggests that in some instances, a barrier protecting a clerk behind a checkout counter may redirect the germs to another worker or customer. Rows of clear plastic shields, like those you might find in a nail salon or classroom, can also impede normal airflow and ventilation.
Oregon requires COVID-19 vaccination for teachers, staff
Amid a surge in coronavirus cases and as hospitals near capacity, Gov. Kate Brown announced Thursday that Oregon is expanding its COVID-19 vaccine requirement to include all teachers, educators, support staff and volunteers in K-12 schools.
Teachers are the latest to be added to the growing statewide vaccine mandate — which also includes health care workers and state employees — that requires them to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or six weeks after a COVID-19 vaccine receives full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, whichever is later.
In addition, Brown announced weekly testing for health care workers will no longer be an option for those who want to avoid vaccination. The only opt-out of the requirement is either a medical or religious exemption.
WSU coach Nick Rolovich on Gov. Inslee’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement: ‘I plan on following his mandate’
A day after Gov. Jay Inslee announced that all employees working in educational roles must be fully vaccinated as a condition of employment, Washington State football coach Nick Rolovich said he plans to follow the state’s mandate.
“I plan on following (Inslee’s) mandate,” Rolovich told reporters after practice Thursday in Pullman. “For sure.”
Inslee’s mandate requires public, private and charter school employees in Washington state to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 18, with the only exemptions being for medical or religious reasons. The mandate applies to Rolovich, who last month said he would not get vaccinated, citing reasons that “will remain private.”
Americans spent less in July as COVID-19 cases surged
Americans cut back on their spending last month as a surge in COVID-19 cases kept people away from stores.
Retail sales fell a seasonal adjusted 1.1% in July from the month before, the U.S. Commerce Department said Tuesday. It was a much larger drop than the 0.3% decline Wall Street analysts had expected.
The report offers the first solid glimpse of how the spread of the delta variant of COVID-19 may have changed the spending habits of Americans. At the end of July, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began recommending that even vaccinated people start wearing masks indoors in public places.
According to Tuesday’s report, spending fell at stores that sell clothing, furniture and sporting goods. At restaurant and bars, spending still rose nearly 2%, but the rate of growth has slowed from recent months before the delta variant spread and people were feeling safer about dining without their masks with others.
Economists think Americans are also shifting their spending from goods to services, things like haircuts or vacations, which are not included in Tuesday’s report. And rising prices for everything from food to washing machines may have checked spending.
4 of Florida’s 5 largest school districts to require masks
As more large school districts defy Florida’s ban on strict mask mandates, worries that rapidly spreading infections could force them to close classrooms are no longer theoretical: Thousands of schoolchildren are already being sent home, only days after their school year began.
Children — particularly those too young to get vaccinated against COVID-19 — are “really good” at transmitting the coronavirus, said Dr. J. Stacey Klutts, a special assistant to the national director of pathology and lab medicine for the entire Veterans Affairs system.
Klutts said the highly contagious delta variant makes it absolutely necessary to wear masks indoors and avoid large group gatherings, so if unprotected students sit for hours in classrooms every day, it could rapidly spread infection in the community at large.
“It’s terrifying. I’m afraid that we’re going to have a lot of really sick kids in addition to the spread which is going to be a lot of sick adults,” Klutts said.
School boards in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties voted Wednesday to join Broward and Alachua in requiring students to wear facial coverings unless they get a doctor’s note. With Orange County still allowing an easy parental opt-out, four of Florida’s five largest districts are now defying Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on strict mask mandates.
Smaller landlords looking for outs amid federal eviction moratorium extension
Smaller landlords with fewer than four units, who often don’t have the financing of larger property owners, have been hit especially hard by pandemic eviction moratoriums, with as many as 58% having tenants behind on rent, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Landlords, big and small, are angry about the moratoriums, which they consider illegal. Many believe some tenants could have paid rent, if not for the moratorium. And the $47 billion in federal rental assistance that was supposed to make landlords whole has been slow to materialize. By July, only $3 billion of the first tranche of $25 billion had been distributed.
There are now more than 15 million people living in households that owe as much as $20 billion in back rent, according to the Aspen Institute.
The latest moratorium “was the final gut punch,” said Ryan David of New York who bought three rental properties back in 2017. He expected the $1,000-a-month he was pocketing after expenses would be regular sources of income into his retirement years. Now, the 39-year-old plans to sell.
He and other landlords say they have tenants who received paychecks, drove luxury cars, got food deliveries or went on vacation throughout the pandemic but didn’t bother to pay rent or file for rental assistance.
Hundreds in Tri-Cities protest Washington mandates on masks, COVID vaccines
Hundreds of Tri-Cities residents protested Wednesday outside the Kennewick School District headquarters and the local health department office.
The rallies were initially organized to oppose Washington state’s school mask mandate, then Gov. Jay Inslee announced that school employees must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.
What began as about 40 people at a “Freedom of Choice” demonstration outside the Benton Franklin Health District in the afternoon grew to several hundred people waving signs at the school district offices by Wednesday evening.
Gulf Coast’s beloved ‘Redneck Riviera’ now a virus hotspot
Tourists and servers alike dance atop tables and in the aisles at one restaurant on the “Redneck Riviera,” a beloved stretch of towns along the northern Gulf Coast where beaches, bars and stores are packed. Yet just a few miles away, a hospital is running out of critical care beds, its rooms full of unvaccinated people fighting for their lives.
On maps that show virus “hot spots” in red, this part of the U.S. coast is glowing like a bad sunburn. And a summer of booming tourism that followed the lockdowns and travel restrictions of 2020 is making the turn toward fall with only a few signs of slowing down. The National Shrimp Festival, which draws as many as 250,000 people to the Alabama coast, is set for October despite the COVID-19 explosion.
Health officials believe the spike is due to a combination of some of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates, unabated tourism, a disregard for basic health precautions and the region’s carefree lifestyle, all combining at a time when the mutated virus is more contagious than ever and conservative states are balking at new health restrictions.
States banning mask mandates could face civil rights probes
In an escalating battle with Republican governors, President Joe Biden on Wednesday ordered his Education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19.
In response, the Education Department raised the possibility of using its civil rights arm to fight policies in Florida, Texas, Iowa and other Republican-led states that have barred public schools from requiring masks in the classroom.
Biden directed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to “assess all available tools” that can be used against states that fail to protect students amid surging coronavirus cases.
It amounts to the sharpest threat yet against states that so far have ignored admonishments from the White House during the surging pandemic.
WSU football coach Nick Rolovich may be required to receive COVID-19 vaccine because of new mandate
Nick Rolovich has thus far declined to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, but as a result of a new state mandate, the Washington State football coach may be required to get one.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday that employees working in various educational roles — from early learning to higher education — must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 as a condition of employment. College contractors such as coaches and athletic trainers are not exempt.
Exceptions are limited to “legitimate medical reasons and sincerely held religious beliefs,” according to a news release.
Otherwise, “individuals who refuse to get vaccinated will be subject to dismissal,” per the release.
Rolovich is the only unvaccinated head football coach in the Pac-12.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Washington state now has one of the strictest vaccine mandates in the nation, after Gov. Jay Inslee yesterday ordered all public, private and charter school employees to get vaccinated or get fired (with some exceptions). He also brought back a statewide mask requirement. What does all of this mean for you? Here's a Q&A on the new mask and vaccine rules, including the timing.
WSU football coach Nick Rolovich, who has controversially refused a vaccine, may have no choice now.
Booster shots are on the way for all U.S. adults. Should you get one? Although President Joe Biden strongly urged most vaccinated adults to do it, current guidance from the CDC doesn't recommend it. But that may change. Here are answers to seven key questions.
Nursing home workers must get vaccinated or their facilities will lose federal funding, Biden also announced yesterday. Hundreds of thousands of those workers are unvaccinated, according to federal data.
Plan ahead if you're going to a concert, opera or play, because the Seattle area's major arts groups will require proof of vaccination or a negative test. And it looks like Garth Brooks won't be playing Seattle next month after all, because of the COVID-19 surge.
When will tenants and landlords get the help they were promised? More than 100,000 renters in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area are behind on payments, according to a census estimate. But King County has distributed less than 5% of its pot of federal money marked for this purpose, falling far behind neighboring counties.
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