Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, Aug. 26, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 the number of positive coronavirus tests in the United States slowly falls, experts are crediting the increased use of masks, but also insufficient testing. The Centers for Disease Control is now recommending that people without COVID-19 symptoms do not get tested, a move that concerns researchers who endorse frequent and widespread tests.
In Washingon, the state Department of Health on Tuesday updated its reporting methodology, confirming that it has changed the way it will report the total number of tests, percent of positive cases and daily testing rate.
Throughout Wednesday, on this page, we’ll be posting Seattle Times’ updates on the outbreak and its effects on the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest and the world. Updates from Tuesday can be found here, and all our coronavirus coverage can be found here.
Latin America’s evangelical churches hard hit by pandemic
MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Throughout Latin America, a traditionally Catholic region with a surging evangelical presence in nearly every country, evangelical churches have kept spreading the Gospel despite government measures meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus. In many countries, evangelical churches have flouted public health guidelines by holding in-person services, or have personally ministered to church members in homes and other settings.
In at least two countries, evangelical pastors have died in alarming numbers during the pandemic.
In Bolivia, where some 100 evangelical pastors have died, they have maintained close contact with their congregations, ministering and providing support to the sick even though churches were closed early by government decree.
In Nicaragua, where the government has played down the epidemic and avoided imposing restrictions, evangelical services continued at some churches even as the more hierarchical Roman Catholic churches stopped holding in-person Mass.
“There was too much misinformation,” said Raúl Valladares, who took over Bethel’s congregation after his father and another pastor died June 5. “Just in our denomination, some 20 pastors have died. And at Bethel we have a pastor, my father and some 25 brothers (members) who died from COVID-19,” though he said the church had tracked the cases and didn’t believe they stemmed from services.
Chemical experts question EPA’s approval of coronavirus disinfectant
WASHINGTON — With great fanfare, the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday gave emergency approval to a disinfectant it said would kill the coronavirus on surfaces for up to a week. Calling it “a major game-changing announcement,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the first to use the solution would be American Airlines and two sports clinics in Texas.
But health and chemical experts say the cleanser might actually harm passengers and flight attendants and do little to protect against the virus, which is mainly transmitted through the air in closed spaces.
“It would be great if this was a miracle solution, but it’s not,” said Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “There’s plenty of risk here, and too much we don’t know about how this chemical could actually harm people.”
The disinfectant is SurfaceWise2, made by Dallas-based Allied BioScience, whose main business is an earlier version of the cleanser. Maha El-Sayed, chief science officer at Allied BioScience, said the product “binds to surfaces and kills viruses that land on it, including COVID-19.” The company said the protection offered by the product could last up to seven days.
But Sass said the company’s “Material Safety Data Sheet,” which lists the common hazards of a product, acknowledged concern about prolonged skin and eye contact, both possible in environments like the cabins of aircraft. The data sheet also does not list tests for chronic or long-term effects, she added.
Justice Department requests nursing home COVID-19 data from 4 Democratic governors
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department on Wednesday requested information on COVID-19 in nursing homes from the Democratic governors of four states while asserting that their orders during the pandemic “may have resulted in the deaths of thousands of elderly nursing home residents” — a move that drew some questions as being politically motivated.
In a news release, the Justice Department announced it had sent letters to the governors of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan seeking the data so it could determine “if the state orders requiring admission of COVID-19 patients to nursing homes is responsible for the deaths of nursing home residents.”
Eric Dreiband, the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, wrote in the missives that officials were weighing whether to initiate investigations under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act but added, “We have not reached any conclusions about this matter.”
“Protecting the rights of some of society’s most vulnerable members, including elderly nursing home residents, is one of our country’s most important obligations,” Dreiband said in a statement. “We must ensure they are adequately cared for with dignity and respect and not unnecessarily put at risk.”
New federal virus testing advice sparks criticism, confusion
NEW YORK — U.S. health officials sparked criticism and confusion after posting guidelines on coronavirus testing from the White House task force that run counter to what scientists say is necessary to control the pandemic.
The new guidance says it’s not necessary for people who have been in close contact with infected people, but don’t feel sick, to get tested. It was posted earlier this week on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC previously had advised local health departments to test people who have been within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes.
Across the country, public health experts called the change bizarre. They noted that testing contacts of infected people is a core element of public health efforts to keep outbreaks in check, and that a large percentage of infected people — the CDC has said as many as 40% — exhibit no symptoms.
Close contacts will still be tested in Washington despite new CDC testing guidelines
Washington state will not be following revised COVID-19 testing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC quietly changed its testing recommendations Monday to exclude people without COVID-19 symptoms even if they have had close contact with someone with the virus.
Those recommendations will not be followed in Washington, said Dr. Charissa Fotinos, who is leading the state's testing, during the state's regular COVID-19 press briefing Wednesday.
"Our guidance at Washington state has not changed," she said. "We still recommend that people with symptoms and close contacts be tested."
The CDC's change of testing guidelines only complicates messaging from public health officials, Fotinos said, adding that people should still get tested if they have been in close contact with a confirmed case.
"The bottom line really is if you've been exposed to someone with COVID you need to quarantine for 14 days, if you develop symptoms, you need to seek out testing for that," she said. "And if you don't develop symptoms, you still need to quarantine but may or may not need to be tested. That's a conversation to have with your healthcare provider."
State confirms 456 new COVID-19 cases and four new deaths
State health officials reported 456 new COVID-19 cases and four new deaths as of Tuesday night.
Yesterday, the state Department of Health (DOH) also announced changes in the way it reports daily numbers related to the virus’ progress in Washington.
The update brings the state’s totals to 72,161 cases and 1,880 deaths, meaning that 2.6% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.
Over 6,600 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus. Due to ongoing changes in the state’s reporting methodology, the DOH isn’t currently announcing the percentage of tests that have come back positive.
But by Tuesday night, 1,391,309 COVID-19 tests had been administered in Washington state.
In King County, state health officials have confirmed 18,976 diagnoses and 719 deaths, or 3.8% of people diagnosed.On Tuesday, the DOH said it was adapting the way it processes and reports testing data to reflect the “true volume” of tests.The DOH data dashboard and the risk assessment dashboard will now report the total number of tests conducted instead of the number of individuals tested. The previous methodology counted just one test per person, even if someone had been tested more than once.
Abbott cleared for fast $5 COVID-19 test that avoids lab delay
A 15-minute COVID-19 test from Abbott Laboratories that will be priced at just $5 has been granted emergency authorization for use in the U.S., a breakthrough that could ease the bottleneck that has crimped much of the nation’s testing capacity.
The product, dubbed BinaxNOW, works without relying on laboratory equipment at a time when labs can take as long as two weeks to produce results. It uses a nasal swab and a small reactive card, and it can be administered by a range of health care workers, including pharmacists, at almost any location.
Abbott will start shipping the test within two weeks and intends to manufacture 50 million tests a month by the end of October. The aim: Meet a surge in demand from Americans seeking to return to in-person schoolrooms and work.
The new test “can be used at a massive scale to help overcome the current waiting game for test results,” said John Hackett, divisional vice president of applied research and technology at Abbott Diagnostics, in a telephone interview.
The test uses so-called lateral flow technology, similar to the method allowing at-home pregnancy tests. Essentially, these tests run a liquid sample along the surface of a pad with reactive molecules to show a result. While a pregnancy test is designed to detect a hormone, Abbott’s BinaxNOW looks for an antigen, a tiny portion of the coronavirus protein that’s collected from inside the nose.
Why does the coronavirus hit men harder? New clue emerges.
The coronavirus may infect anyone, young or old, but older men are up to twice as likely to become severely sick and to die as women of the same age.
Why? The first study to look at immune response by sex has turned up a clue: Men produce a weaker immune response to the virus than do women, the researchers concluded.
The findings, published Wednesday in Nature, suggest that men, particularly those older than age 60, may need to depend more on vaccines to protect against the infection.
“Natural infection is clearly failing” to spark adequate immune responses in men, said Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University who led the work.
The results are consistent with what’s known about sex differences following various challenges to the immune system.
Women mount faster and stronger immune responses, perhaps because their bodies are rigged to fight pathogens that threaten unborn or newborn children.
But over time, an immune system in a constant state of high alert can be harmful. Most autoimmune diseases — characterized by an overly strong immune response — are much more prevalent in women than in men, for example.
“We are looking at two sides of the same coin,” said Dr. Marcus Altfeld, an immunologist at the Heinrich Pette Institute and at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany.
Seattle Public Schools and teachers union reach tentative deal on work conditions this fall
After two months of negotiations, Seattle Public Schools and its teachers union, the Seattle Education Association, reached a tentative agreement on work expectations for this school year, which starts on Sept. 4.
Details about the agreement weren't immediately available.
If a representative assembly of union members approves the deal this weekend, it will allow the district to release additional information about what families and students can expect from online learning this fall, including student schedules and vital services such as special education. Thus far, specifics have been scant, with the district citing ongoing bargaining with the union, prompting outcry from families.
The only substantial update from the discussions came on Aug. 14, when the district announced the first day of the school year would start two days after originally scheduled.
At the bargaining table, negotiators discussed teacher training, safety standards when the district reopens buildings, and whether to offer special education services in person.
COVID-19 cluster traced to Rhode Island bachelorette party
A cluster of COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts has been traced to a bachelorette party in Rhode Island late last month that made all but one attendee sick, health officials in both states said.
Nineteen guests who attended the gathering at an undisclosed location were sickened, authorities said. Seventeen were from Massachusetts.
“There was a bachelorette party with roughly 20 people held in late July,” Joseph Wendelken, a spokesman for the Rhode Island Department of Health, told The Providence Journal on Wednesday.
Ann Scales, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, said the 19 cases were among a group of individuals who rented a house together in Rhode Island for a wedding event that took place in late July.
California signs deal to more than double testing capacity
California has signed a contract worth up to $1.4 billion with a company to provide a significantly cheaper coronavirus test that will allow the state to eventually more than double the number of people tested, to 250,000 per day, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday.
California averages about 100,000 tests per day, with the state paying $100 per test and results taking between five and seven business days. Newsom said the state’s contract with Massachusetts-based PerkinElmer will increase the state’s testing capacity to a quarter-million per day with each test costing about $31. Results would come within two days.
Greece battles coronavirus resurgence after early success
Free on-the-spot tests for travelers returning from Greek islands where outbreaks have occurred is the latest in an arsenal of measures authorities are using to tackle a resurgence of COVID-19 in a country that has so far managed to dodge the worst of the pandemic.
New localized restrictions, including a midnight curfew for bars, restaurants and cafes and a ban on large gatherings have been imposed, mainly in popular tourist destinations such as the Aegean Sea island of Mykonos. Authorities have been particularly alarmed by the summer party scene on the island, involving both tourists and vacationing Greeks.
On Mykonos, police have played a cat-and-mouse game with parties held in private villas to skirt restrictions on bars and clubs.
The number of confirmed virus cases and deaths in Greece remains lower than in many other European countries. As of Wednesday, total cases in the country of about 11 million people stood at 9,280, with 248 deaths and 33 people intubated in intensive care units.
But Greece’s new daily confirmed cases have been spiraling in recent weeks, reaching a record 293 on Wednesday.
Coronavirus provides reasons for obese people to lose weight
Stephen O’Rahilly, a prominent expert on obesity and other metabolic disorders — who struggles with his own weight — lost about 20 pounds in the six months before becoming ill with COVID-19. He believes the weight loss probably protected him from serious disease, and maybe even saved his life.
“My experience with the virus wasn’t so terrible,” says O’Rahilly, co-director of the Wellcome Trust-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science at the University of Cambridge in Britain, who said modest diet changes and exercise helped him shed the weight and probably enabled him to escape the worst effects of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
“No need for [intensive care], just five days in hospital, quick recovery, back in full-time work and playing vigorous singles tennis within three to four weeks of discharge,” he says.
If anyone needed a reason to lose weight, the novel coronavirus provides a powerful incentive.
Obesity, a significant public health problem among American adults and children, is one of the risk factors for severe disease and death related to COVID-19. Others include older age and underlying medical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, both of them related to obesity.
Moscow announces advanced trials for new COVID-19 vaccine
The mayor of Moscow invited residents Wednesday to join trials of a coronavirus vaccine that Russia approved for use earlier this month in what officials described as a breakthrough on par with the Soviet Union’s launch of the world’s first satellite in 1957.
The world’s first vaccine against the coronavirus to receive a government go-ahead has caused unease among international medical experts, who called Russia’s fast-tracked approval and failure to share any data supporting claims of the vaccine’s efficacy a major breach of scientific protocol.
Scientists around the world say any widely used vaccine should first be tested in advanced trials involving tens of thousands of people to prove it is safe and effective before being licensed.
In his invitation to the Russian capital’s residents, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin appeared to announce those kinds of broad studies would be launched soon. He said the “post-registration research” will last six months and involve 40,000 people.
Officials change COVID testing advice, bewildering experts
U.S. health officials have sparked a wave of confusion after posting guidelines that coronavirus testing is not necessary for people who have been in close contact with infected people.
The new guidance was posted earlier this week on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC previously had advised local health departments to test people who have been within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes. But on Monday a CDC testing overview page was changed to say that testing is no longer recommended for symptomless people who were in close contact situations.
There was a caveat, however. Testing may be recommended for those with health problems that make them more likely to suffer severe illness from an infection, or if their doctor or local state officials advise they get tested.
CDC officials referred questions to the agency’s parent organization, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C. That suggests that HHS ordered the change, not CDC, said Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins University public-health researcher.
Public-health experts called the change bizarre. They noted that testing contacts of infected people is a core element of public health efforts to keep outbreaks in check, and that a large percentage of infected people exhibit no symptoms.
Homeless essential workers face greater risk of COVID-19
At the beginning of the pandemic, Tiffany Cordaway’s biggest struggle was finding a place to shower. She worked two jobs in Northern California, disinfecting medical equipment during the day and caring for an elderly couple overnight. When she finally clocked out, she just wanted to clean off.
But she had nowhere to do that. Cordaway, 47, was homeless, sleeping in a friend’s car between her two eight-hour shifts. Unlike her co-workers who talked about showering when they got home, she worried about finding hot water and a place to clean up where no one could see her. Some nights, she just washed from a two-liter bottle of water.
“I was hearing them talk about how, ‘Oh, I’m going to go home and the first thing I do is walk in the house and, you know, go straight to the shower,’” she said. “And here in the back of my mind I’m thinking, ‘God, I wish I could do that.’”
It’s a common misconception that homeless people are unemployed: Experts say between 25% to 50% of this population works. In the era of COVID-19, that means many homeless employees are working low-wage essential jobs under conditions that put them at risk of catching or spreading the virus.
With COVID-19 vaccine trial, rural Oregon clinic steps onto world stage
Inside the offices of the Clinical Research Institute of Southern Oregon, Dr. Edward Kerwin and his staff are part of the race to save the world.
Kerwin, 63, was tapped this spring to lead one of the nearly 90 U.S. clinical trial sites taking part in the large-scale, phase 3 test of a vaccine produced by biotech startup Moderna to fight the virus that causes COVID-19.
Starting in late July, Kerwin’s clinic, set in a working-class region about halfway between Seattle and San Francisco, began enrolling up to 40 participants a day for the two-year study. He hopes to recruit as many as 700 volunteers by the end of August.
They’ll join the 30,000 test subjects needed nationwide to determine whether the Moderna vaccine can tame a disease that has infected more than 5.7 million Americans and claimed the lives of more than 178,000. Another vaccine, produced by Pfizer and BioNTech, a German company, is being tested in nearly 30,000 more recruits.
Kerwin acknowledged “it may seem like a surprise” that Medford is the site of a clinical trial to halt the world’s biggest medical challenge in a century. But Kerwin, who worked as a NASA scientist before heading to medical school and a career in allergy, asthma and immunology, has led more than 750 clinical trials over the past quarter-century, mostly focused on asthma, lung disease and skin disorders.
COVID-19 lockdowns blocking flu in some places --- but fall looms
Winter is ending in the Southern Hemisphere and country after country — South Africa, Australia, Argentina — had a surprise: Their steps against COVID-19 also apparently blocked the flu.
But there’s no guarantee the Northern Hemisphere will avoid twin epidemics as its own flu season looms while the coronavirus rages.
“This could be one of the worst seasons we’ve had from a public-health perspective with COVID and flu coming together. But it also could be one of the best flu seasons we’ve had,” said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
U.S. health officials are pushing Americans to get vaccinated against the flu in record numbers this fall, so hospitals aren’t overwhelmed with a dueling “twindemic.”
It’s also becoming clear that wearing masks, avoiding crowds and keeping your distance are protections that are “not specific for COVID. They’re going to work for any respiratory virus,” Redfield said.
The evidence: Ordinarily, South Africa sees widespread influenza during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter months of May through August. This year, testing tracked by the country’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases is finding almost none — something unprecedented.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
New COVID-19 cases are dropping in the U.S., and experts are attributing that at least partly to masks. But the virus is still killing nearly 1,000 Americans every day. Track the spread of the pandemic.
The CDC quietly changed its coronavirus testing guidelines this week to exclude people who don't have symptoms, even if they were recently exposed. Experts are calling the update "bizarre" and "potentially dangerous." The CDC also told retailers what to do about anti-mask shoppers.
What are you doing about school and work? That's a ubiquitous question as hundreds of thousands of parents across Washington face tough choices. The financial costs for many families — and the state's economy — are expected to be substantial. Meanwhile, a new analysis lays out which King County schools should reopen first, when the time comes.
A spike in cases at a Seattle homeless shelter is raising worries about what will happen when the weather cools down.
More than 500 infections have broken out on one college campus, but the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa is staying open. It's among many universities dealing with alarming increases.
Legendary Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt has tested positive.
"Superspreader event" is a giant understatement: A meeting at a Boston hotel may have ignited the spread of the virus to some 19,000 people, gene sleuths say.
A rural Oregon clinic is stepping onto the world stage with a COVID-19 vaccine trial led by the founder of a $10 million winery and château.
Don’t lick those fingers! One fast-food chain has suspended what it calls "the most inappropriate slogan for 2020."
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