Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, August 21, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
U.S. government extended a ban on nonessential travel along the Canadian and Mexican border on Friday. The announcement comes as politicians have mounted increasing pressure on the Biden administration to ease the ban.
While Canada has recently begun letting fully vaccinated U.S. citizens enter the country, the debate in the U.S. over mask and vaccine mandates has continued. Florida officials threatened to withhold funds to school districts that continue mask mandates and in Texas, the disagreements have escalated into the courts.
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.
Nursing crisis puts patients at risk
By Andrew JacobsThe New York Times
Cyndy O’Brien, an emergency room nurse at Ocean Springs Hospital on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, could not believe her eyes as she arrived for work. There were people sprawled out in their cars gasping for air as three ambulances with gravely ill patients idled in the parking lot. Just inside the front doors, a crush of anxious people jostled to get the attention of an overwhelmed triage nurse.
“It’s like a war zone,” said O’Brien, who is the patient care coordinator at Singing River, a small health system near the Alabama border that includes Ocean Springs. “We are just barraged with patients and have nowhere to put them.”
The bottleneck, however, has little to do with a lack of space. Nearly 30% of Singing River’s 500 beds are empty. With 169 unfilled nursing positions, administrators must keep the beds empty.
Read the whole story here.
Bitter divides escalating over COVID
By Hannah KnowlesThe Washington Post
When H. Scott Apley died at 45 of COVID-19, he became a face of vaccine refusal by the political right. A GoFundMe drive for his wife and baby son drew scorn as the city councilman’s social media posts circulated.
“I wish I lived in the area!” the Houston-area member of the Texas Republican Party’s governing board wrote this spring about a “mask burning” party in Cincinnati. “You are an absolute enemy of a free people,” he once replied on Twitter to a doctor’s post celebrating the effectiveness of Pfizer’s shots against the coronavirus.
In the GOP circles where Apley was well known, however, there was little mention of COVID-19 or how to prevent it. Two days after mourning their former vice chairman in a Facebook post that did not say what put him on a ventilator, the Galveston County Republican Party shared a far-right website’s medical-evidence-free claim that immunization against the coronavirus had killed a young conservative activist. “Another tragedy — From the Vaccine!!!!!” they warned.
Mask, vaccine conflicts descending into violence
PHOENIX (AP) — The Hawaii lieutenant governor watched in horror as protesters showed up outside his condo, yelled at him through bullhorns and beamed strobe lights into the building to harass him over vaccine requirements.
A parent in Northern California barged into his daughter’s elementary school and punched a teacher in the face over mask rules. At a school in Texas, a parent ripped a mask off a teacher’s face during a “Meet the Teacher” event.
A Missouri hospital leader was approached in a parking garage this week by a man from Alabama who handed him papers accusing him of “crimes against humanity,” and it was not the only in-your-face encounter over vaccines and masks. School board members, county commissioners, doctors and local leaders are regularly confronted at meetings and in public with angry taunts that compare them to the Taliban, Nazis, Marxists and the leaders of Japanese internment camps.
Read the whole story here.
Thousands protest French health pass
By The Associated PressThe Associated Press
PARIS (AP) — Thousands marched Saturday in cities across France to protest the COVID-19 health pass that is now required to access restaurants and cafes, cultural venues, sports arenas and long-distance travel.
For a sixth straight Saturday, opponents denounced what they see as a restriction of their freedom. Many criticized the measure, claiming the French government was implicitly making vaccines obligatory.
In Paris, four demonstrations were organized by different groups and over 200 protests were taking place elsewhere in French cities and towns. Last week more than 200,000 marchers turned out.
The pass shows that people are fully vaccinated, have had a recent negative test or proof of a recent COVID-19 recovery. The law authorizing it also made vaccinations mandatory for French health workers by Sept. 15.
Read the whole story here.
Kentucky governor faces legal defeat in battling COVID
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The Kentucky governor’s efforts to aggressively combat COVID-19 suffered a legal defeat Saturday as the state’s high court cleared the way for new laws to rein in his emergency powers.
In a landmark separation-of-powers case, the Kentucky Supreme Court said the legislature wields policy-making authority to limit the emergency powers granted to the governor by state law.
The ruling ordered a lower court to dissolve an injunction that for months had blocked the Republican-backed laws from curbing Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive authority.
The order could dramatically alter the state’s response to the pandemic at a time when virus cases and hospitalizations have surged because of the highly contagious delta variant.
Read the whole story here.
Pandemic retirees struggling to cope
Andrea Jones had not yet settled on a date to retire from her customer service job at United Airlines when Newark airport in New Jersey started looking like a ghost town in March 2020. After 28 years with the carrier, she still loved her work. But by the end of that month, she had hung up her blue uniform for the last time. She is still struggling with a sense of loss.
“I wasn’t at all ready to leave,” she said. “It hit me right between the eyes.”
Jones, 68, of East Windsor, New Jersey, retired to protect the health of her husband, George, who has multiple myeloma, a form of cancer. Fortunately, the Joneses had a nest egg and United offered a retirement package that enabled her to keep their health insurance.
Patricia Scott has not been so lucky. Scott, a special-education teacher in Stockton, California, retired in January to preserve her own health. A grandmother of 10, she survived breast cancer in 2016; her oncologist told her she could not risk catching COVID-19 by returning to the classroom. Now, at age 66, she is on financial quicksand.
“My income is half what it was,” she said. She is single and in debt. “I’m stressed, I’m depressed and I’m terrified.”
For many of the nearly 3 million workers ages 55-70 who have left their jobs since March 2020, retiring during the pandemic has inflicted two traumas. Read the whole story here.
Dutch music lovers demand return of festivals
AMSTERDAM (AP) — Dutch music fans have been banned for months from going to large-scale festivals due to coronavirus restrictions. On Saturday, the festivals came to them.
Hundreds of performers and festival organizers held marches through six Dutch cities on Saturday to protest what they argue are unfair restrictions that have forced the cancellation of summer music festivals and other events.
Thousands of people attended one of the “Unmute Us” marches in Amsterdam, walking and dancing behind a convoy of trucks carrying DJs and sound systems pumping out music.
Read the whole story here.
Italy's Super taster trying to help COVID sufferers regain sense of smell
By Emma BubolaThe New York Times
PIACENZA, Italy — Michele Crippa’s palate was renowned in Italy’s gastronomic circles, capable of appreciating the most subtle of flavors.
He taught young chefs to distinguish between Parmesan cheeses of different ages — and between milk extracted at different altitudes. He reveled in the perfume of cod smoked over pine cones. In his reviews for Italy’s preeminent food magazine, he discerned the scent of Champagne in raw Nicaraguan coffee beans and tasted traces of green peas in a blend from Kenya.
Then, at 9:40 a.m. on March 17, 2020, Crippa, 32, poured himself a cup of coffee. He tasted only hot water.
Like so many people who have contracted the coronavirus, Crippa lost the ability to smell — so intrinsic to tasting food — and when it returned, it came back warped.
Read the rest of the story about how Crippa helped the sense of smell return here.
Oregon, Oregon State to require vaccination proof to attend games
Oregon and Oregon State became the first Power Five schools to announce they will require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for people over the age of 12 to attend football games.
Oregon said the decision was made with public health authorities and “peer institutions in the state,” according to a Friday announcement.
The mandate goes into effect Monday and comes at the end of a week when state officials warned of rapidly filling hospitals as daily reported cases reached record numbers.
Oregon is one of several Pac-12 schools that is requiring students and employees to be vaccinated or apply for an exemption.
The Oregon football team opens its season at 54,000-seat Autzen Stadium in Eugene on Sept. 4 against Fresno State. Oregon State begins its home schedule at Reser Stadium on Sept. 11 against Hawaii.
Earlier in the day, Hawaii became the first major college football school to say it would have no fans in attendance for its opening sports events of the season because of a recent COVID-19 surge. Hawaii’s first home football game is Sept. 5 against Portland State.
The moves come about a week after Tulane in New Orleans became the first school that plays football at the NCAA”s highest subdivision to require proof of vaccine or negative test to attend sporting events.
Tulane’s decision followed a mandate set by city officials that also impacts the NFL’s Saints, but schools officials said they were moving toward instituting the policy on their own.
Parents get coached on how to escape mask and vaccine rules
Across the U.S., school officials, religious figures, doctors and other community leaders are trying to help people circumvent COVID-19 precautions.
Proponents of these workarounds say they are looking out for children’s health and parents’ rights. Others say such stratagems are dishonest and irresponsible and could undermine efforts to beat back the highly contagious delta variant.
Mask and vaccine requirements vary from state to state but often allow exemptions for certain medical conditions or religious or philosophical objections.
In Oregon, Superintendent Marc Thielman of the rural Alsea School District told parents they can sidestep the governor’s school mask requirement by applying for an accommodation for their children under federal disabilities law.
Thielman said he hit upon the idea after the governor’s mandate generated “huge, huge pushback” from parents.
“The majority of my parents are skeptical and are no longer believing what they’re told” about COVID-19, said Thielman, whose district in the state’s coastal mountains begins classes Monday. “I’ve got a majority of my parents saying, ‘Are there any options?’”
Silenced by COVID, mariachi Mass returns to Tucson cathedral
After more than a year of silence due to the pandemic, mariachis are back playing Sunday services at Tucson’s St. Augustine Cathedral, where the colorful and sonorous tradition dates back a half-century and fuses Roman Catholicism with Mexican American pride.
For the hundreds of worshippers gathered in this Spanish colonial church, and other congregations across the Southwest, the unique sound of mariachi liturgy is more than just another version of choir. It evokes a borderlands identity where spirituality and folk music have blended for centuries.
“Syncretism is the reality of this land, the ‘ambos’ reality,” said the Rev. Alan Valencia, the cathedral’s rector, who grew up attending mariachi Mass in “ambos Nogales,” or “both Nogales,” as locals refer to the two cities of the same name straddling the U.S.-Mexican border about 60 miles (100 kilometers) to the south.
“And that’s what we see in these mariachi Masses,” he added. “Faith and culture come together and grow.”
Biden sees dip in support amid new COVID cases
President Joe Biden is facing a summer slump, with Americans taking a notably less positive view of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Just 54% of Americans approve of Biden’s job performance, down slightly from 59% last month, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that.
That's still a relatively solid rating for a president during his first year in office, particularly given the nation’s deep political polarization. But it’s a worrying sign for Biden as he faces the greatest domestic and foreign policy challenges of his presidency so far.
The biggest warning sign for the president in the survey centers on his handling of the pandemic. Last month, 66% of Americans approved of his stewardship of the public health crisis; now, that number has fallen to 54%, driven by a drop in support from Republicans and independents.
That decline in support coincides with other storm clouds gathering over Biden’s presidency, most notably the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan as U.S. troops withdraw and the Taliban cement their control of the country.
The poll, conducted August 12-16, as news of the Taliban’s movement into Kabul was widely reported in the United States, shows Americans about evenly divided over Biden’s handling of foreign policy (47% approve, 51% disapprove) and national security (52% approve, 46% disapprove).
COVID cases surge at Tacoma detention center as ICE brings in more detained migrants
As the number of COVID-19 cases at the immigrant detention center in Tacoma climbed to nearly 240 since June, a federal magistrate judge wrestled Friday with how to stop an outbreak that has been largely driven by transfers from the southern border, where hundreds of thousands of migrants have arrived in recent months.
Lawyers representing vulnerable detainees have asked the U.S. District Court for Western Washington to issue a temporary restraining order that would forbid Immigration and Customs Enforcement to place people at the Northwest ICE Processing Center unless they had been tested before boarding planes and separated according to whether their results were positive.
“There is no good reason why testing cannot be happening before a cross-country flight,” Cho said. “At this point in the pandemic, it’s quick, it’s widely available. You can pick up a rapid COVID self-test at the corner drugstore that takes 15 minutes for $10.”
In the last 10 weeks, ICE has flown more than 1,000 detained migrants to Washington, according to Eunice Cho, an attorney with the ACLU of Washington, at a telephone hearing. (Hundreds have ultimately been released from the facility, whose current population is about 530). Cho and other lawyers say some appear to have contracted COVID-19 in the process of being transferred.
Magistrate Judge Michelle Peterson said she was struggling with what to do.
“We, obviously, are seeing a severe uptick in COVID cases,” she said. “So why are we adding fuel to the fire by admitting individuals [who] I believe have a test positive rate of 12%,” she said, referring to those coming from the southern border. “It seems like there are no measures being taken to protect those individuals.”
Vaccine hesitancy falling in King County, but only slowly
Rates of vaccine hesitancy in King County have come down, but not by much, new data show.
According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington School of Medicine and COVID Collaborative, 7.1% of county adults were either unsure or said they would flatly refuse the shot, down from 7.3% at the end of June. The county has one of the highest vaccination rates of any big U.S. county.
In 28 out of King County’s 84 ZIP codes, vaccine hesitancy had declined by at least one percentage point since one month earlier. The biggest declines were in some areas with high rates of hesitancy — Auburn’s 98002 and Federal Way’s 98003.
But there were 12 ZIP codes where hesitancy had actually increased by at least one percentage point. The biggest jump was in the 98092 ZIP code, which runs east of Auburn out toward Black Diamond. Here, nearly 24% of residents expressed hesitancy toward, or were against, being vaccinated — the highest rate of hesitancy of any ZIP code in King County in the current data.
The 98092 ZIP code is a more rural area of the county, and the data shows that there is a sharp divide between urban and rural places, with urban areas more likely to be vaccinated and rural ones more likely to be hesitant.
The lowest rates of vaccine hesitancy are all in North Seattle. The 98107 ZIP code, which covers the southern half of the Ballard neighborhood, was the lowest, with just about 2% of the adult population expressing hesitancy toward vaccination. Two more North Seattle ZIP codes — 98117 and 98103 — were just a fraction higher.
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