As President Joe Biden charges into escalating battles with Republican governors over COVID-19 vaccinations, he 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 the virus.

Meanwhile, in Washington, more people are seeking coronavirus tests for myriad reasons, leading to long lines at some facilities and forcing some test-takers to make appointments days in advance.

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.


Navigating the pandemic
(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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Texas mask battle looks to courts for resolution

The legal battle over whether Texas communities can require students and others to wear masks in response to the current surge in COVID-19 cases remains entangled in a series of lawsuits, orders and appeals.

Ten counties and cities and 52 school districts or systems around the state have imposed mask mandates in defiance of Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning such measures.

Abbott has argued a law known as the Texas Disaster Act gives him broad power in deciding how best to respond to emergency situations, including whether to ban mask mandates during a pandemic. The counties, cities and school districts say the act does not give Abbott unlimited power.

At least seven lawsuits by cities, counties and school districts have been filed against Abbott. With the Texas Supreme Court not yet having issued a final ruling on the matter, the mask mandates will likely remain in place until such a decision is made, according to legal experts.

Read the story here.

—Juan A. Lozano, The Associated Press
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Maker of popular coronavirus test told factory to destroy inventory

For weeks in June and July, workers at a Maine factory making one of America’s most popular rapid tests for COVID-19 were given a task that shocked them: Take apart millions of the products they had worked so hard to create and stuff them into garbage bags.

Soon afterward, Andy Wilkinson, a site manager for Abbott Laboratories, the manufacturer, stood before rows of employees to announce layoffs. The company canceled contracts with suppliers and shuttered the only other plant making the test, in Illinois, dismissing a workforce of 2,000. “The numbers are going down,” he told the workers of the demand for testing. “This is all about money.”

As virus cases in the U.S. plummeted this past spring, so did Abbott’s COVID-testing sales. But now, amid a new surge in infections, steps the company took to eliminate stock and wind down manufacturing are proving untimely — hobbling efforts to expand screening as the highly contagious delta strain rages across the country.

Demand for the 15-minute antigen test, BinaxNOW, is soaring again as people return to schools and offices. Yet Abbott has reportedly told thousands of newly interested companies that it cannot equip their testing programs in the near future. CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens locations have been selling out of the at-home version, and Amazon shows shipping delays of up to three weeks. Abbott is scrambling to hire back hundreds of workers.

Read the story here.

—Sheri Fink, The New York Times

Full FDA approval for Pfizer vaccine is said to be imminent

The Food and Drug Administration is pushing to approve Pfizer-BioNTech’s two-dose COVID-19 vaccine Monday, further expediting an earlier timeline for licensing the shot, according to people familiar with the agency’s planning.

Regulators were working to finish the process by Friday but were still working through a substantial amount of paperwork and negotiation with the company. The people familiar with the planning, who were not authorized to speak publicly about it, cautioned that the approval might slide beyond Monday if some components of the review need more time.

An FDA spokesperson declined to comment.

The agency had recently set an unofficial deadline for approval of around Labor Day.

Read the story here.

—Sharon LaFraniere and Noah Weiland, The New York Times

State health officials confirm 3,808 new coronavirus cases

    

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 3,808 new coronavirus cases and 26 new deaths on Friday.

The update brings the state's totals to 528,453 cases and 6,356 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. Thursday.

In addition, 29,491 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 198 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 129,109 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,711 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 8,397,269 doses and 54% 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 11,522 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.

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Florida orders school boards to relax mask rules or risk pay

Florida officials are threatening to withhold funds equal to the salaries of school board members if school districts in two counties don’t immediately do away with strict mask mandates as the state continues to battle through high hospitalization rates.

School boards in Broward and Alachua counties received a warning Friday from the State Board of Education giving them 48 hours to walk back their decisions to require masks for all students, only exempting kids that have a doctor’s note.

“We cannot have government officials pick and choose what laws they want to follow,” said Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran in an emailed statement. “These are the initial consequences to their intentional refusal to follow state law and state rule to purposefully and willingly violate the rights of parents. This is simply unacceptable behavior.”

Read the story here.

—Adriana Gomez Licon, The Associated Press

Nursing homes face dilemma: Vaccinate staff or don’t get paid

Marita Smith runs a nursing home in Seattle, while Janet Snipes manages one in Denver. They share years of experience in the industry and painful memories of COVID-19, but have sharply differing views of a new federal policy that will mandate vaccinations for all nursing home employees.

In Smith’s view, unvaccinated people should not be caring for a vulnerable population already hit hard by the pandemic. The industry is again experiencing rising infection rates and deaths among residents, although none approaching the peak figures of last year, and the mandate is intended to head off another surge.

“It’s great,” said Smith, administrator at St. Anne Nursing and Rehab Center, calling the policy a “pretty big deal” that would “flush out health care professionals who shouldn’t be in health care.”

Such departures are precisely what worry Snipes, executive director of Holly Heights Care Center in Denver. She, too, wants to see all nursing home workers vaccinated, but not at the risk of losing employees who won’t comply, amid a labor shortage in an industry with an already high turnover rate.

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.

Read the story here.

—Matt Richtel, The New York Times

Dan Patrick blames unvaccinated Black people for COVID surge

Texas’ lieutenant governor blamed rising hospitalization and death rates from COVID-19 on unvaccinated Black people — comments that were quickly denounced as racist.

Republican Lt. Governor Dan Patrick made the remarks Thursday night on a Fox News segment in response to question about the latest coronavirus surge in Texas. The state is seeing its highest hospitalization rates since January as the highly contagious delta variant spreads.

“The biggest group in most states are African Americans who have not been vaccinated,” Patrick said.

Patrick did not change course Friday, saying “Democrat social media trolls” misstated facts and that he had used state data in his assertions.

Statistics from the Texas Department of State Health Services show that Black people — who make up about 12% of the more than 29 million people in Texas — accounted for about 15% of total COVID-19 cases and just more than 10% of deaths.

Read the story here.

—Acacia Coronado, The Associated Press
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Florida mayor urges water limits because of COVID-19 surge

The mayor of the Florida city of Orlando asked residents on Friday to stop watering their lawns and washing their cars for a least a week, saying water usage needed to be cut back because of the recent surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

The Orlando Utility Commission treats the city’s water with liquid oxygen and supplies that ordinarily go toward water treatment have been diverted to hospitals for patients suffering from the virus, Mayor Buddy Dyer said.

“We acknowledge that the No. 1 priority for the liquid oxygen should be for hospitals,” Dyer said at a news conference.

Read the story here.

—Mike Schneider, The Associated Press

WHO issues call for experts to help with COVID origins probe

The World Health Organization has issued a call for experts to join a new advisory group it’s forming, in part to address the agency’s fraught attempts to investigate how the coronavirus pandemic started.

In a statement on Friday, the U.N. health agency said the new scientific group would conduct an independent analysis of the work done to date and advise the agency on other emerging viruses capable of triggering outbreaks, such as MERS and Ebola.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

COVID anxiety rising amid delta surge, AP-NORC poll finds

People in favor of and against a mask mandate for Cobb County schools gather and protest ahead of the school board meeting Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in Marietta, Ga. (Ben Gray/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Anxiety in the United States over COVID-19 is at its highest level since winter, a new poll shows, as the delta variant rages, more states and school districts adopt mask and vaccination requirements and the nation’s hospitals once again fill to capacity.

The poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research also finds that majorities of American adults want vaccination mandates for those attending movies, sports, concerts and other crowded events; those traveling by airplane; and workers in hospitals, restaurants, stores and government offices.

The poll shows that 41% are “extremely” or “very” worried about themselves or their family becoming infected with the virus. That is up from 21% in June, and about the same as in January, during the country’s last major surge, when 43% were extremely or very worried.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Montana only state to ban vaccine requirements for employees

While many large companies across the U.S. have announced that COVID-19 vaccines will be required for their employees to return to work in-person, there is one state where such requirements are banned: Montana.

Under a new law passed by the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature earlier this year, requiring vaccines as a condition for employment is deemed “discrimination” and a violation of the state’s human rights laws.

Montana is the only state in the U.S. with a law like this for private employers, said Hemi Tewarson, executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy.

The law has raised concern among employers across the state as Montana struggles with a rise in COVID-19 cases that is once again straining the state’s health care system.

Pushback swelled this week when physicians called on the Legislature to reverse the law.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

US keeps ban on nonessential border crossings to slow COVID

FILE – In this Aug. 9 2021, file photo a Canada Border Services Agency officer hands documents back to a motorist entering Canada at the Douglas-Peace Arch border crossing, in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. The U.S. government on Friday, Aug 20, extended a ban on nonessential travel along the borders with Canada and Mexico to slow the spread of COVID despite increase pressure to lift the restriction. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

The U.S. government on Friday extended a ban on nonessential travel along the borders with Canada and Mexico to slow the spread of COVID-19 despite increasing pressure to lift the restriction.

U.S. border communities that are dependent on shoppers from Mexico and Canada and their political representatives have urged the Biden administration to lift the ban. In addition, Canada recently began letting fully vaccinated U.S. citizens enter the country.

But the Department of Homeland Security said in a tweet Friday that the restrictions on nonessential travel were still needed to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and the delta variant. It extended the ban until at least Sept. 21.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

To boost vaccinations, South Africa opens jabs to all adults

A patient receives a Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a pop-up vaccination centre, at the Bare taxi rank in Soweto, South Africa, Friday, Aug. 20, 2021. Faced with slowing numbers of people getting COVID-19 jabs, South Africa has opened eligibility to all adults to step up the volume of inoculations as it battles a surge in the disease driven by the delta variant. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)

Faced with slowing numbers of people getting COVID-19 vaccinations, South Africa has opened eligibility to all adults to step up the volume of inoculations as it battles a surge in the disease driven by the delta variant.

The country on Friday started offering shots to everyone aged 18 and older as the volume of shots given per day has stalled even though vaccines are now more widely available.

Less than 200,000 jabs are being given per day, down from 250,000 earlier this month and significantly lower than the target of 300,000 that the government had hoped to achieve by this time.

Read the story here.

—Mogomotsi Magome, The Associated Press
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Sydney virus outbreak spreads in Australia and New Zealand

An Australian state leader warned Friday that Melbourne may be losing control of a COVID-19 delta variant outbreak that began in Sydney and has also spread to the New Zealand capital.

The fast-moving outbreak was first detected in mid-June in Sydney, Australia’s largest city, which has reported more than 600 new infections in each of the last four days.

The virus has spread to Melbourne, the nation’s second-most populous city, and has seeded New Zealand’s first outbreak in six months. The neighboring nations have succeeded in using lockdowns to stamp out clusters throughout the pandemic. But the delta variant is proving more challenging.

Read the story here.

—Rod McGuirk and Nick Perry, The Associated Press

‘Bracing for the worst’ in Florida’s COVID-19 hot zone

As quickly as one COVID patient is discharged, another waits for a bed in northeast Florida, the hot zone of the state’s latest surge. But the patients at Baptist Health’s five hospitals across Jacksonville are younger and getting sick from the virus faster than people did last summer.

Baptist has over 500 COVID patients, more than twice the number they had at the peak of Florida’s July 2020 surge, and the onslaught isn’t letting up. Hospital officials are anxiously monitoring 10 forecast models, converting empty spaces, adding over 100 beds and “bracing for the worst,” said Dr. Timothy Groover, the hospitals’ interim chief medical officer.

“Jacksonville is kind of the epicenter of this. They had one of the lowest vaccination rates going into July and that has probably really came back to bite them,” said Justin Senior, CEO of the Florida Safety Net Hospital Alliance, which represents some of the largest hospitals in the state.

Duval County, which consists almost entirely of Jacksonville, is a racially diverse Democratic bastion, won by Joe Biden. The overwhelmingly white rural counties that surround it went firmly for Donald Trump.

But all had lower than average vaccination rates before the highly contagious delta variant swept through this corner of Florida, driving caseloads in a state that now accounts for one in five COVID patients hospitalized nationwide.

Read the story here.

—Kelli Kennedy and Cody Jackson, The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Need a coronavirus test? Get in a looooong line. Demand is "absolutely crazy" in the Seattle area amid the spreading delta variant and increased travel, forcing some test-takers to make appointments days in advance. Here's what you should know as testing sites and potential patients feel the crunch.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s sweeping COVID-19 vaccine mandate is drawing fire from a major state employees union and leaving unanswered questions. Among them: If you're fired because you don't get a vaccine, can you collect unemployment benefits?

A Southwest Washington sheriff fell ill with COVID-19, spent five days in a hospital and now relies on oxygen. But Sheriff Bob Songer still plans to fight pandemic mandates.

Unvaccinated COVID-19 patients are creating a "deeply frustrating" situation at Washington state hospitals, which are postponing cancer and heart procedures as they fill with more patients than at any other point during the pandemic. 

U.S. officials are investigating whether the Moderna vaccine is linked to a higher risk of an uncommon side effect in younger adults. CDC advisers have said the vaccine's benefits still far outweigh risks.

Do you need a booster if you got the Johnson & Johnson shot? Health officials are still studying this, but the research so far provides clues about how your protection may be holding up.

More Seattle-area restaurants, bars and venues are requiring proof of vaccination. We'll keep updating this searchable list.

—Kris Higginson