Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, August 4, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 coronavirus cases continue to surge, President Joe Biden is signaling a new level of frustration with Republican leaders in states where the highly contagious delta variant is spreading. On Tuesday, he told Texas and Florida governors to help fight the pandemic or “get out of the way.”
However, there’s no one answer to which Americans are still hesitant to get COVID-19 shots. In Washington, more than 94% of all cases, deaths and hospitalizations for those 12 and older have been linked to individuals who were not fully vaccinated.
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.
Gebbers Farms to invest more than $2 million in worker housing, health to settle state L&I case spurred by two COVID-19 deaths
Gebbers Farms Operations will spend more than $2 million to improve worker housing and health care in a settlement reached with the state Department of Labor & Industries.
The improvements will resolve a case stemming from state citations for violating COVID-19 safety regulations in 2020 when two employees of the Okanogan-based orchards died from the coronavirus.
The L&I investigation of Gebbers last year found 24 egregious willful violations — 12 for unsafe sleeping arrangements in temporary worker housing and 12 for unsafe worker transportation during the pandemic.
As a result of the investigation, L&I fined Gebbers Farms more than $2 million, a payment that would have been made directly to state government.
In the settlement, the company will make a series of investments that include $1.4 million in improvements to Gebbers temporary worker housing, donating $513,000 to area hospitals and other health care services to improve access for workers and families and hiring a full-time safety officer to monitor worker health and safety, according to a statement released Wednesday by L&I.
A top spreader of coronavirus misinformation says he will delete his posts after 48 hours
Joseph Mercola, who researchers say is a chief spreader of coronavirus misinformation online, said Wednesday that he would delete posts on his site 48 hours after publishing them.
In a post on his website, Mercola, an osteopathic physician in Cape Coral, Florida, said he was deleting his writings because President Joe Biden had “targeted me as his primary obstacle that must be removed” and because “blatant censorship” was being tolerated.
Last month, the White House, while criticizing tech companies for allowing misinformation about the coronavirus and vaccines to spread widely, pointed to research showing that a group of 12 people were responsible for sharing 65% of all anti-vaccine messaging on social media. The nonprofit behind the research, the Center for Countering Digital Hate, called the group the “Disinformation Dozen” and listed Mercola in the top spot.
An analysis by The New York Times found that he had published more than 600 articles on Facebook that cast doubt on COVID-19 vaccines since the pandemic began, reaching a far larger audience than other vaccine skeptics. Mercola criticized the Times’ reporting in his post Wednesday, saying it was “loaded with false facts.”
Nursing homes confront new COVID outbreaks amid calls for staff vaccination mandates
After sharp drops in infections over the past several months, the number of COVID cases among U.S. nursing-home residents and staff roughly tripled from the week of July 4 to the week ending July 25, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The agency’s data shows that cases of COVID among residents had risen to 1,312, the highest figure reported since early March.
About 133,000 nursing home residents died of COVID over the course of the pandemic, although the death rate has plummeted in recent months with more than 80% of residents now vaccinated. Overall, COVID deaths among nursing home residents and staff members accounted for nearly one-third of the nation’s pandemic fatalities.
Growing calls for vaccine mandates among health care workers have gained urgency but also met resistance in the nursing home industry, where some homes say it will cost them staff members in an industry already plagued with high turnover. Only about 60% of nursing home staff members are vaccinated, and some states report an even lower rate, with less than half inoculated, according to the most recent government data.
World’s coronavirus infection total passes staggering figure: 200 million
Two hundred million is an enormous number.
But as the world recorded the 200 millionth detected case of coronavirus infection, that daunting figure — more than the populations of Germany, France and Spain combined — also fails to capture how far the virus has embedded itself within humanity.
While always an imperfect measure of a virus that causes no symptoms in many of the people it infects, with many infections going unreported, case counts have provided a useful tool for much of the pandemic — like a flashing red light in the cockpit of a jetliner warning of imminent danger.
A surge in case numbers has too often been followed by a crush of people crowding emergency rooms. And then, several weeks later, fatality counts have typically spiked. It took more than a year for the pandemic to reach its 100 millionth case, and little more than six months to double that, with the world surpassing the 200 million figure Wednesday, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
Amazon’s fear of losing workers could prevent a vaccine mandate
While much of corporate America scrambled to adjust COVID-19 policies this summer in response to a surge of cases, Amazon was dismantling its coronavirus testing sites. Sequestered corners of warehouses and conference rooms, where just a few weeks ago employees were performing nasal swabs, are now blocked off or cleared of equipment.
This may seem counterintuitive as the delta variant rips through many of the states where Amazon has warehouses. But the company says employees have plenty of other ways to get tested. Amazon, employees say, has been loath to make the tests compulsory for fear of alienating the COVID-19 skeptics in its ranks. The same has held true for forcing workers to get vaccinated.
That in a nutshell is the quandary facing America’s second-largest private employer: how to keep its facilities coronavirus-free without sparking a mutiny among workers who are desperately needed to keep operations running amid a tight labor market and strong online demand.
The company was known for high turnover among frontline workers even during the best of times. Now, with jobs abundant, warehouse employees have more options.
Should I mask? Can I travel? What about hugs? How delta is changing advice for the vaccinated
For the vaccinated, it was supposed to be a worry-free, “hot vax” summer of socializing and fun. But the rise of the highly infectious delta variant has spoiled those plans.
While the vaccines remain remarkably protective against COVID-19, especially against serious illness, headlines about breakthrough infections and new recommendations that vaccinated people should sometimes wear masks have left many people confused and worried.
While new research shows vaccinated people can become infected and carry high levels of the coronavirus, it’s important to remember that those cases are rare, and it’s primarily the unvaccinated who get infected and spread the virus.
“If you’re vaccinated, you’ve done the most important thing for you and your family and friends to keep everyone safe,” Gregg Gonsalves, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, said. “There’s substantially more freedom for people who are vaccinated, but the idea that everything is the same as the summer of 2019 is not the case.”
Is your Washington employer requiring the vaccine?
In the midst of a new wave of coronavirus infections, momentum could be growing among major Seattle-area employers for vaccine mandates.
Microsoft this week said it will require employees to be fully vaccinated to enter offices in the U.S. Other companies are allowing vaccinated workers to work without masks and determining what to do next.
Seattle Times reporters covering these mandates want to hear from employees about their experiences. Is your employer requiring the vaccine? Would you support a mandate?
If you're open to chatting, let us know here. We won’t use your name or story without getting your permission first.
US plans to require COVID-19 shots for foreign travelers
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is taking the first steps toward requiring nearly all foreign visitors to the U.S. to be vaccinated for the coronavirus, a White House official said Wednesday.
The requirement would come as part of the administration’s phased approach to easing travel restrictions for foreign citizens to the country. No timeline has yet been determined, as interagency working groups study how and when to safely move toward resuming normal travel. Eventually all foreign citizens entering the country, with some limited exceptions, are expected to need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter the U.S.
The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the policy under development.
The Biden administration has kept in place travel restrictions that have severely curtailed international trips to the U.S., citing the spread of the delta variant of the virus. Under the rules, non-U.S. residents who have been to China, the European Schengen area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, South Africa and India in the prior 14 days are prohibited from entering the U.S.
Head of UN health agency seeks vaccine booster moratorium
The head of the World Health Organization called Wednesday for a moratorium on administering booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines as a way to help ensure that doses are available in countries where few people have received their first shots.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the appeal mostly to wealthier countries that have far outpaced the developing world in numbers of vaccinations. He said richer countries have administered about 100 doses of coronavirus vaccines for every 100 people on average, while low-income countries have provided only about 1.5 doses per 100 people.
WHO officials say the science is unproven about whether giving booster shots to people who have already received two vaccine doses is effective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
The U.N. health agency has repeatedly called for rich countries to do more to help improve access to vaccines in the developing world. It has argued that no one is safe until everyone is safe because the longer and more widely the coronavirus circulates, the greater the chance that new variants could emerge — and prolong a global crisis in fighting the pandemic.
The agency has no power to require countries to act, and many in the past have ignored its appeals on issues like donating vaccines, limiting cross-border travel and taking steps to boost production of vaccines in developing countries.
New line of COVID-fighting Barbies features vaccine creator who’s been ‘doing something that really matters’
British Professor Sarah Gilbert, one of the co-creators of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, has been honored with her own Barbie doll as part of a series dedicated to inspirational women fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
The doll in Gilbert’s likeness sports dark-rimmed glasses, long auburn hair and mirrors her professional wardrobe by donning a navy suit. The creation, Gilbert said, left her feeling “very strange.”
“My wish is that my doll will show children careers they may not be aware of, like a vaccinologist,” Gilbert said, adding that she wants future generations to be aware that they, too, could work in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), in which women have historically been underrepresented.
Lisa McKnight, senior vice president and global head of Barbie and Dolls at Mattel, said that “Barbie recognizes that all frontline workers have made tremendous sacrifices when confronting the pandemic and the challenges it heightened,” the Guardian reported.
“To shine a light on their efforts, we are sharing their stories,” she continued, adding that the company hoped the series would “inspire the next generation to take after these heroes.”
State health officials confirm 2,092 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 2,092 new coronavirus cases and 9 new deaths on Wednesday.
The update brings the state's totals to 483,389 cases and 6,145 deaths, meaning that 1.3% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. Tallies may be higher earlier in the week because new state data isn’t reported on Sundays and COVID-related deaths aren’t reported on the weekends.
In addition, 27,178 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 102 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 119,301 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,683 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 8,196,908 doses and 52.9% 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 9,694 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.
UK to rollout COVID-19 vaccines to 16 and 17 year olds
The U.K. is to offer coronavirus vaccines to 16 and 17-year-olds in the coming weeks after the independent body of scientists that makes recommendations over the rollout changed its advice.
The four nations of the U.K. all accepted the change in advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization for healthy 16 to 17-year-olds to be offered a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. They will not need the consent of parents.
The change, which means another 1.4 million people across the U.K. will be eligible for a first dose of vaccine. Currently, the only 16 and 17-year-olds being offered the Pfizer vaccine, which has been approved by Britain’s medical regulator for use for anyone aged 12 and over, are those with underlying health conditions or those living with vulnerable people.
Unvaccinated, hospitalized: Patient now advocates for shots
Cedric Daniels and Joshua Bradstreet Contreras didn’t think they really needed the coronavirus vaccine. After all, the uncle and nephew are both young — 37 and 22, respectively — and Contreras was “as healthy as a horse,” Daniels said.
But just days after Daniels went to visit Contreras in New Orleans — a long-awaited reunion that came after not seeing each other for months because of the pandemic — the nephew was rushed away in an ambulance. He couldn’t breathe, even when sitting completely still. He is now in a hospital in a New Orleans suburb, on a ventilator and in a medically induced coma.
At about the same time, Daniels started feeling weak, had blurred vision and was so short of breath he could barely make it from his couch in the living room to the bathroom. He tested positive for the virus, then went to a hospital in Baton Rouge already overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, where he stayed for a week on oxygen as he recovered from pneumonia.
Contreras and Daniels are among a flood of patients filling up overloaded hospitals across the U.S. amid a surge of COVID-19 cases driven by the virus’s highly contagious delta variant. Health officials say the most serious cases have been among the unvaccinated.
Some of them, like Daniels, now wish they had taken the shot.
“I am now a huge advocate for doctor’s orders,” Daniels added. “They think we ought to get vaccinated, I think we ought to get vaccinated.”
Nursing home to workers: Get vaccine or lose your job
NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. nursing home industry’s resistance to forcing workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 for fear that too many of them might quit began to crack this week when its biggest player announced its employees must get the shot to keep their jobs.
The new requirement at Genesis Healthcare, which has 70,000 employees at nearly 400 nursing homes and senior communities, is the clearest sign yet that owners may be willing to risk an exodus at already dangerously understaffed facilities to quickly vaccinate the 40% of workers still resisting shots and fend off the surging delta variant.
Some experts are calling for mandatory vaccinations at nursing homes, warning that unprotected staff members are endangering residents. Even residents who have been inoculated are vulnerable because many are elderly and frail, with weak immune systems.
More than 1,250 nursing home residents across the U.S. were infected with COVID-19 in the week ending July 25, double the number from the week earlier, and 202 died, according to federal data.
“It’s so easy now to say, ’Well, Genesis is doing it. Now we’ll do it,'” said Brian Lee, who leads Families for Better Care, an advocacy group for long-term care residents. “This is a big domino to fall.”
Indonesia surpasses 100,000 deaths amid new virus wave
Indonesia surpassed 100,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, a grim milestone in a country struggling with its worst pandemic wave fueled by the delta variant, amid concerns the actual figure could be much higher.
It took 14 months for Indonesia to exceed the 50,000 death mark at the end of May, and just over nine weeks to double it. The Health Ministry recorded 1,747 new deaths of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 100,636.
Those figures are believed to be an undercount.
Since the beginning of June, more than 2,800 people have died during self-isolation at home, according to LaporCOVID-19, an independent virus data group that keeps track of deaths at home. Some of those deaths are reflected in official figures but others are not, he said.
Obama curtails 60th birthday bash after delta variant surge
The party for the nation’s 44th president will go on, but only for family and close friends.
Former President Barack Obama has scaled back his 60th birthday bash set for this weekend at his Martha’s Vineyard home off the Massachusetts coast due to the surge of infections blamed on the delta variant of the coronavirus, his office said Wednesday.
Attendance is now limited to family and close friends. Published reports had said hundreds of celebrities, politicos and others were expected at Obama’s sprawling house.
Macao orders closure of entertainment venues, mass-testing
Macao authorities on Wednesday ordered the closure of entertainment venues but not casinos, and coronavirus tests for its 600,000 residents, after the gambling city confirmed four new infections.
The closure covers gyms, bars, massage parlors and karaoke places in the special administrative region of the People's Republic of China in the Pearl River Delta.
The city also plans to test some 600,000 residents after a family of four tested positive for the more infectious delta coronavirus variant. The mass testing is expected to last three days.
The new cases have sparked concern about the economy of the city that is heavily reliant on tourism. It is the only Chinese city where casinos are legal. Since the pandemic began, casinos and hotels have been hit hard as travel restrictions led to a drastic reduction in the number of affluent visitors.
Japan to limit hospital care as COVID-19 cases hit new high
Japan’s government is introducing a contentious new policy in which coronavirus patients with moderate symptoms will isolate at home instead of in hospitals, as new cases surge in Tokyo to record levels during the Olympic Games.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s plan, which aims to save hospital beds almost exclusively for those with serious symptoms or at risk of developing them, is a major policy shift as new cases in the capital have more than tripled since the Olympics began on July 23.
Tokyo reported 4,166 new cases on Wednesday, an all-time high since the pandemic began early last year. Nationwide, Japan registered 12,076 cases on Tuesday for a 956,407 total, including more than 15,000 deaths.
The new policy, introduced this week, was debated in parliament on Wednesday. Opposition as well as some governing party lawmakers and experts charged that the lives of people isolating at home without adequate care would be at risk.
Suga, who has been criticized for insisting on hosting the Olympics despite public virus fears, says there is no evidence linking the upsurge in cases to the Games.
As COVID-19 surges in Tunisia, oxygen is in short supply
As Tunisia faces a surge of COVID-19 cases, demand for life-saving oxygen has grown higher than the supply, leaving patients desperate and family members angry at the government as they say they are forced to find oxygen on their own.
As the misery grows, traders have seized on an opportunity for profit, buying supplies of oxygen and other treatments and then renting them or selling them at higher prices. The profitable enterprise that is growing online has prompted citizens to call on authorities for intervention.
The pandemic comes as the nation in North Africa — the only success story of the Arab Spring of a decade ago — finds itself beset by overlapping political and economic crises. Last month President Kais Saied fired the prime minister, froze the parliament and began ruling by decree.
Tunisia, with a population of 12 million, has reported more deaths per capita in the pandemic than any African country and has had among the highest daily death rates per capita in the world in recent weeks.
Defense Secretary Weighs COVID Vaccine Mandate for U.S. Troops
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will decide in the next few days whether to recommend that President Joe Biden make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops, military officials said, signaling a major move by the administration to harden the country’s defenses against the highly contagious delta variant.
Biden announced last week that all federal employees and on-site contractors must be vaccinated against the coronavirus or be required to submit to regular testing and other measures. The requirement extended to the 766,372 civilians working for the Defense Department but not active-duty service members.
That could soon change, administration and military officials said Tuesday. Austin, who recently returned to the United States from a trip to Asia, has asked the military services to report on how and when they would go about putting a mandate in place. Austin has previously said that he would not be comfortable with a mandate until the vaccines are fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but officials and executives across the board are rethinking their position as the delta variant surges.
FDA speeds up plan for full approval of Pfizer’s COVID vaccine as cases surge
With a new surge of COVID-19 infections ripping through much of the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has accelerated its timetable to fully approve Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine, aiming to complete the process by the start of next month, people involved in the effort said.
President Joe Biden said last week that he expected a fully approved vaccine in early fall. But the FDA’s unofficial deadline is Labor Day or sooner, according to multiple people familiar with the plan. The agency said in a statement that its leaders recognized that approval might inspire more public confidence and had “taken an all-hands-on-deck approach” to the work.
Giving final approval to the Pfizer vaccine — rather than relying on the emergency authorization granted late last year by the FDA — could help increase inoculation rates at a moment when the highly transmissible Delta variant of the virus is sharply driving up the number of new cases.
Analysis: Delta variant upends politicians’ COVID calculus
President Joe Biden’s administration drew up a strategy to contain one coronavirus strain, then another showed up that’s much more contagious.
This week — a month late — Biden met his goal of 70% of U.S. adults having received at least one COVID-19 shot. Originally conceived as an affirmation of American resiliency to coincide with Independence Day, the belated milestone offered little to celebrate. Driven by the delta variant, new cases are averaging more than 70,000 a day, above the peak last summer when no vaccines were available. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is drawing criticism from experts in the medical and scientific community for its off-and-on masking recommendations.
But the delta variant makes no distinctions when it comes to politics. If Biden’s pandemic response is found wanting, Republican governors opposed to pandemic mandates also face an accounting. They, too, were counting on a backdrop of declining cases. Instead unvaccinated patients are crowding their hospitals.
China seals city as its worst virus outbreak in a year grows
China’s worst coronavirus outbreak since the start of the pandemic a year and a half ago escalated Wednesday with dozens more cases around the country, the sealing-off of one city and the punishment of its local leaders.
Since that initial outbreak was tamed last year, China’s people had lived virtually free of the virus, with extremely strict border controls and local distancing and quarantine measures stamping out scattered, small flareups when they occurred.
Now, the country is on high alert as an outbreak of cases connected to the international airport in the eastern city of Nanjing touched at least 17 provinces. China reported 71 new cases of COVID-19 from local transmission Wednesday, more than half of them in coastal Jiangsu province, of which Nanjing is the capital.
In Wuhan, the central city where the first cases of COVID-19 were identified in late 2019, mass testing has shown some of its newly reported cases have a high degree of similarity to cases discovered in Jiangsu province. Those cases have been identified as being caused by the highly transmissible delta variant that first was identified in India.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
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