Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, Aug. 5 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said Tuesday that allowing students to safely return to classrooms must be a “top priority,” calling the pandemic “the largest disruption of education ever.” As the new school year approaches, educators in Washington state are frantically preparing, fighting for pandemic stimulus money and wrestling with how to keep students engaged while limiting the risk of coronavirus transmission. Here’s the latest guidance and research on reopening schools, as nearly half of the state’s students likely to attend classes online starting next month. Meanwhile, state schools chief Chris Reykdal looked likely to advance to the general election after last night’s initial primary vote count.
Throughout Wednesday, on this page, we’ll post Seattle Times journalists’ 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.
Central Japan region put under virus emergency
TOKYO — A governor in central Japan announced a state of emergency Thursday due to rising virus cases and asked businesses and people to curb their activities, especially during an upcoming holiday.
Aichi prefecture has been seeing more than 100 new infections reported daily since mid-July after an extended period of zero new daily cases. The prefecture includes the major city of Nagoya and the headquarters of Toyota Motor Corp., Japan’s top automaker.
Gov. Hideaki Ohmura told reporters businesses are being asked to close altogether or close early, and people are being asked to stay home at night, to prevent infections from spreading.
The requests continue through Aug. 24, a period that coincides with Japanese Obon holidays, when schools and many companies close.
Fire kills 8 coronavirus patients in Indian hospital
NEW DELHI — A fire killed eight coronavirus patients at a hospital in western India early Thursday, fire officials said.
Firefighters and 15 fire engines contained the fire to the intensive care unit at Shrey Hospital and it was extinguished in half an hour, fire officer Yusuf Khan said. The cause of the fire at the hospital in the city of Ahmadabad was being investigated.
Thirty-five patients were shifted to other hospitals, he said.
Eight Eastern Washington fitness centers fined for violating Safe Start proclamation
Eight Eastern Washington fitness centers have been fined a total of more than $77,000 for violating the state’s coronavirus closure order and potentially exposing employees to the virus, according to a Wednesday statement from the state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I).
Most of the gyms are Anytime Fitness franchises owned by two separate operators, the statement said. It’s the second time in a month that one of the facilities, Anytime Fitness Selah, has been cited and fined.
According to the statement, all eight fitness centers had defied Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start proclamation, which prohibits businesses from operating if their county isn’t far enough along in the state’s four-phase reopening plan. Counties’ status under the plan is determined by COVID-19 activity there.
Before issuing the violations, the statement said, department officials warned the owners to comply with the state order and visited each site in person.
“Each citation is a ‘willful general’ violation, meaning the employer knew about the safety requirements, but refused to follow them,” the statement said.
Lockdown reimposed in Scottish city over virus ‘cluster’
LONDON — Officials in Scotland ordered bars, cafes and restaurants in the city of Aberdeen to close Wednesday, reimposing anti-virus restrictions after a cluster of 54 COVID-19 cases in the area was linked to a single bar.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the new cases raised wider alarm of a “significant outbreak” of the coronavirus emerging in the northeastern port city.
Aberdeen officials published a list of 28 bars and restaurants, three golf clubs and a soccer club visited by about 200 people so far traced from the cluster.
Sturgeon said all hospitality venues in the city of about 229,000 residents need to be closed by the end of business Wednesday. Visitors were advised not to travel to the city, and residents should not travel more than 5 miles (8 kilometers) from their homes unless for work or essential trips.
Entering other people’s houses was also prohibited as part of the local lockdown.
Kim directs aid to North Korean town under virus lockdown
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un directed his government agencies to act immediately to stabilize the livelihoods of residents in a city locked down over coronavirus concerns, state media reported Thursday.
North Korea declared an emergency and locked down Kaesong near the inter-Korean border in late July after finding a suspected virus case there. It hasn’t confirmed yet if the person tested positive and still says the country hasn’t had a single case of COVID-19, a claim questioned by outside experts.
Kim presided over a meeting Wednesday of the ruling Workers’ Party’s executive policy council where they discussed a special supply of food and funds to Kaesong, the Korean Central News Agency said. The report didn’t specify the measures that were to be taken.
North Korea has said the suspected virus patient is a runaway who had fled to South Korea three years ago before slipping back to Kaesong last month. Some experts speculate North Korea is aiming to hold South Korea responsible for a potential virus spread in the North or try to save its face before winning aid items from the South.
‘Twilight’ author Stephenie Meyer to speak at socially distant author event at a Shelton drive-in theater
The coronavirus pandemic brought an end to most book tours this summer, but here’s one high-profile exception. Stephenie Meyer, author of the “Twilight” series, is scheduled to appear in person at the Skyline Drive-In in Shelton on Friday, Aug. 7 to speak about her latest novel: “Midnight Sun,” which retells the “Twilight” love story from the point of view of the vampire Edward.
It’s appropriate that the event would happen in the Pacific Northwest: Meyer’s bestselling novels took place in the instantly famous town of Forks, Washington, chosen by Meyer because it was the rainiest place in the country — the better for vampires to stay out of the sun.
But how can an author event take place during the Summer of Social Distancing? Very carefully, said Suzanne Droppert, owner of Ballast Book Company in Bremerton, which is hosting the event.
Cancellations, opt-outs and COVID-19 cases put heat on college football
Exactly one month before most of the college football world once expected to start a new season, Wednesday showed just how difficult it will be to stage autumn sports during the coronavirus pandemic.
The University of Connecticut canceled its football season. More college athletes around the country opted out from playing. Even the publication of the Big Ten football schedule Wednesday came with the dispiriting qualifier that not one game might actually be played, and Maryland said it expected to begin its season without fans at Maryland Stadium.
Then the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Divisions II and III canceled championships in fall sports. Louisville, which plays in Division I, said it had suspended athletic activities in field hockey, volleyball and men’s and women’s soccer after 29 players tested positive for the virus. And the College Football Playoff said it would delay the release of its all-important final rankings until close to Christmas.
Taken together, Wednesday’s announcements again starkly demonstrated the newly persistent precariousness of college sports, an industry that has seen its plans — and its revised plans — upended throughout the pandemic.
Alaska Airlines will enforce face coverings: No mask, no travel, no exceptions
Starting Friday, all Alaska Airlines passengers age 2 and older will be required to wear a cloth mask or face covering over their nose and mouth as a safeguard against spreading the coronavirus — with no exceptions.
Any passenger unwilling or unable to wear a mask for any reason while at the airport will not be permitted to board a flight, the Seattle-based airline said Wednesday. A passenger who refuses to wear a mask after boarding will be suspended from future travel.
“Since Alaska’s mask enforcement policy was enacted in May, the overwhelming majority of guests have respected the requirement — and many guests have raised concerns about the few who do not,” the company said.
Trump lauds Arizona as success of virus ’embers’ strategy
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump lauded Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey at the White House on Wednesday, as he pointed to the state as a model for the nation for handling “embers” of the coronavirus.
The state, like much of the Sun Belt region, began experiencing a severe spike in COVID-19 cases after Memorial Day, as aggressive reopening plans coincided with an increase in travel. Trump sought to highlight the surge in government resources and personnel to the state once federal officials observed an uptick in Arizona’s test positivity rate — a critical early warning sign of spreading infection.
Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, said the state was an example of how to get the reproduction rate of the pathogen below 1, which means the outbreak is subsiding. The replication rate is the number of new infections generated by each case.
“Stay the course,” Birx said.
It’s unsafe for most of Washington students to return to school buildings this fall, state says
It’s unsafe for a vast majority of Washington’s 1.1 million students to return to classrooms for in-person learning this fall, including in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, according to recommendations Gov. Jay Inslee and the state’s top health and education officials announced Wednesday afternoon.
The guidance offers advice to districts — but doesn’t mandate school closures or other measures — based on current local levels of community transmission of the novel coronavirus. Inslee announced the recommendations during a Wednesday press conference, where he was joined by the state’s schools chief Chris Reykdal and state health officer Dr. Kathy Lofy.
Officials said where risks are low, schools should prioritize face-to-face instruction for those who are most likely to struggle with remote learning: elementary schoolers and those with disabilities.
Schools located in “high-risk” areas, which they defined as places with more than 75 cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period, should “strongly consider distance learning, with the option for limited in-person instruction” for some students, such as those with disabilities, according to the guidance.
State confirms 705 new COVID-19 cases and five new deaths
State health officials confirmed 705 new COVID-19 cases and five more deaths in Washington as of Tuesday night.
The update brings the state’s totals to 60,084 cases and 1,624 deaths, meaning about 2.7% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the state Department of Health (DOH). The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.
So far, 1,010,191 tests for the novel coronavirus have been conducted in the state, per DOH. The department hasn't reported the number of tests that have come back negative since Aug. 1, citing issues with its reporting system. In the two weeks prior, the positive-test rate had been hovering at or just below 6%.
Over the past two weeks, the state has averaged 11 deaths, 767 new cases and 49 new hospitalizations per day.
In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed 15,865 diagnoses and 659 deaths, accounting for 40.6% of the state’s COVID-19 death toll.
Tennessee school district reopens amid pressure and pandemic fears
It was just before 7:30 Monday morning when the line of Blount County Schools buses grumbled into the parking lot of Heritage High School and began dropping off students — some wearing masks, others barefaced — into the fraught new world of in-school education during a pandemic.
At the flagpole in front of the school, two unmasked teens hugged before sitting down in a small group to chat until the bell rang. The scene of students reuniting could have been from any other first day of school in any other year. But over their shoulders, an early August thunderstorm brewed above the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains — an almost-too-perfect metaphor for what many parents and teachers here, and across the country, worry is coming.
Last week, the district began a staggered reopening, making it one of the first in the country to attempt a full return. The goal was to have everyone who wanted to return back in school by Aug. 10. On Tuesday morning, the district changed its plan, opting to allow only half the students to return on alternating days through Aug. 21 with the goal of keeping class sizes smaller while the district eases in to full attendance.
The success or failure of the Blount County school district’s reopening — as well as early attempts by other school districts — will be watched closely by many of the country’s 13,500 other school districts, which will at some point have to navigate these same ominous waters.
Florida tops 500K virus cases as testing resumes after storm
Florida surpassed 500,000 coronavirus cases Wednesday as testing ramped up following a temporary shutdown of some sites because of Tropical Storm Isaias, state officials said.
A long line of cars waited outside Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Wednesday morning for a coronavirus testing site to reopen after being closed because of the storm.
Florida reported 225 new deaths Wednesday, bringing its seven-day average of daily reported deaths to a high of 185, behind Texas with 197. Florida’s rate is approaching a quarter of that seen in New York at its peak in mid-April.
Tribe, economy hurt as virus hits Choctaws
When Sharon Taylor died of coronavirus, her family — standing apart, wearing masks — sang her favorite hymns at her graveside, next to a tiny headstone for her stillborn daughter, buried 26 years ago. Fresh flowers marked row after row of new graves. Holy Rosary is one of the only cemeteries in this Choctaw Indian family’s community, and it’s running out of space — a sign of the virus’s massive toll on the Choctaw people.
As confirmed coronavirus cases skyrocket in Mississippi, the state’s only federally recognized American Indian tribe has been devastated. COVID-19 has ripped through Choctaw families, many of whom live together in multigenerational homes. Almost 10% of the tribe’s about 11,000 members have tested positive for the virus. More than 75 have died. The once-flourishing Choctaw economy is stagnant, as the tribal government put in place tighter restrictions than those imposed by the state.
July brought a glimmer of hope, with some numbers dropping among Choctaws, but health officials worry that with cases rising elsewhere in the state, the reprieve is only temporary. On Friday, Mississippi recorded its highest single-day coronavirus-related fatality count, 52.
As a community health technician, Taylor, 53, took the virus seriously from the start. She answered calls from tribe members with symptoms and delivered medicine. In June, she fell ill herself.
Virus testing in the U.S. is dropping though deaths mount
U.S. testing for the coronavirus is dropping even as infections remain high and the death toll rises by more than 1,000 a day, a worrisome trend that officials attribute largely to Americans getting discouraged over having to wait hours to get a test and days or weeks to find out the results.
An Associated Press analysis found that the number of tests per day slid 3.6% over the past two weeks to 750,000, with the count falling in 22 states. That includes places like Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri and Iowa where the percentage of positive tests is high and continuing to climb, an indicator that the virus is still spreading uncontrolled.
Amid the crisis, some health officials are calling for the introduction of a different type of test that would yield results in a matter of minutes and would be cheap and simple enough for millions of Americans to test themselves — but would also be less accurate.
“There’s a sense of desperation that we need to do something else,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute.
Widespread testing is considered essential to containing the outbreak as the U.S. approaches a mammoth 5 million confirmed infections and more than 156,000 deaths out of over 700,000 worldwide.
Testing demand is expected to surge again this fall, when schools reopen and flu season hits, most likely outstripping supplies and leading to new delays and bottlenecks.
Pac-12 plans loan program to bail out athletic departments if football is canceled
The Pac-12 is planning a mammoth loan program that would provide an escape hatch for cash-strapped athletic departments in the event the football season is canceled because of coronavirus, according to internal documents and conference sources.
Football accounts for the majority of each department’s revenue, generating in excess of $50 million dollars in ticket sales and media rights alone.
The loan program would be large enough to cover that loss for each school, if needed.
According to a series of emails obtained by the Hotline through public-records requests, the loan would provide a maximum of $83 million for each university at a rate of 3.75 percent over 10 years.
If all 12 opted for the maximum amount, the total would be $996 million.
“The conference is trying to be nimble and give schools some options,’’ a source said.
However, multiple sources indicated that not every school would make use of the loan, and some would seek substantially less than the maximum allowable. If the Pac-12 plays a full football season, the plan could be pushed aside entirely.
Union wants vulnerable TSA officers kept home after virus surges
The union representing Transportation Security Administration officers is urging the agency’s chief to allow its most vulnerable employees to stay home as cases of the novel coronavirus in the agency’s ranks climbs rapidly, topping 1,500 this week.
In the early stages of the pandemic, employees in high-risk health groups were allowed to stay home using weather and safety leave, and the agency’s regional directors reduced work schedules for everyone else, union leaders say. But in late June, just as the virus began taking hold again, the leave policy was canceled, and officers were ordered back to work, even though air passenger numbers were still down by about 70 percent.
Since then, virus cases among TSA employees have surged. On Friday, the union wrote to TSA Administrator David Pekoske asking for the previous leave policy to be restored.
California virus cases underreported, health official says
Figures showing California has slowed the rate of coronavirus infections may be in doubt because a technical problem has delayed reporting of test results, the state’s top health official said.
For days, California hasn’t received full counts on the number of tests conducted nor the number that come back positive for COVID-19, health and human services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Tuesday.
He blamed an unspecified technical problem affecting the state’s database that provides test results to local health departments. Ghaly said it’s unclear when the issue would be fixed, adding that the state is relaying information manually to county health officials.
The announcement came a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom gave his most optimistic report on the state’s virus efforts since a second surge of cases in early June. Newsom said daily cases had dropped by an average of 2,200 in the last week and the infection rate of 6.1% was significantly lower than the nearly 8% recorded last month.
The latest daily tally posted Tuesday on California’s COVID-19 data page showed 4,526 additional confirmed positives, the lowest total in more than six weeks and a precipitous drop from the record of nearly 13,000 reported two weeks ago.
However, the page now carries a disclaimer saying the actual daily number of positive cases is being underreported.
South Africa sees dip in new virus cases but warns of return
South Africa’s health minister on Wednesday reported decreasing rates of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 but warned that vigilance must continue “to prevent a renewed surge.”
South Africa has 521,318 confirmed coronavirus cases, the fifth highest in the world and more than half of all reported cases in Africa, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So far South Africa has recorded 8,884 COVID-19 deaths, although studies of excess mortality rates indicate the actual toll could be higher.
The rapid spread of infections in poor, overcrowded urban centers in Cape Town, Johannesburg and other cities threatened to overwhelm public hospitals, but Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize told reporters that so far the health system has been able to cope.
But he said if the country doesn't keep up containment measures it will soon see a much worse problem.
Progress slow as urgency grows on virus relief legislation
Frustrated Senate Republicans re-upped their complaints that Democratic negotiators are taking too hard a line in talks on a sweeping coronavirus relief bill, but an afternoon negotiating session brought at least modest concessions from both sides, even as an agreement appears far off.
Top Democrats emerged from a 90-minute meeting Tuesday with Trump administration officials to declare more progress. The Trump team agreed with that assessment and highlighted its offer to extend a moratorium on evictions from federally subsidized housing through the end of the year.
“We really went down, issue by issue by issue slogging through this. They made some concessions which we appreciated. We made some concessions that they appreciated,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “We’re still far away on a lot of the important issues but we’re continuing to go back.”
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Tuesday’s session was “probably the most productive meeting we’ve had to date.” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the two sides set a goal of reaching an agreement by the end of the week to permit a vote next week.
Chicago schools drop hybrid plan
Chicago’s mayor on Wednesday announced that the nation’s third-largest school district will not welcome students back to the classroom, after all, and will instead rely only on remote instruction to start the school year.
The city’s decision to abandon its plan to have students attend in-person classes for two days a week once the fall semester starts Sept. 8 came amid strong pushback from the powerful teachers union and as school districts around the country struggle with how to teach their children during the coronavirus pandemic.
When Chicago officials announced their hybrid-learning plan last month, they said it was subject to change depending on families’ feedback and how the coronavirus was faring in the area.
On Wednesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot attributed the change in plans to a recent uptick in confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the city.
A survey also showed that 41% of the parents of elementary school students and 38% of the parents of high-school students didn’t plan to send their children back to the classroom this fall, the district said. Under the original plan, parents were allowed to opt out of in-person instruction.
Nation's school districts go round and round on bus plans
School districts nationwide puzzling over how to safely educate children during a pandemic have a more immediate challenge — getting 26 million bus-riding students there in the first place.
Few challenges are proving to be more daunting than figuring out how to maintain social distance on school buses. A wide array of strategies has emerged to reduce the health risks but nobody has found a silver bullet.
Should students with COVID-19 symptoms be isolated at the front of the school bus? Should bus seats be assigned? Should buses be loaded from the back? Should buses only carry a few students at a time?
“The transportation professionals are left with the issue of, OK, you’ve got little Billy at the bus stop. Mom’s not there and he’s got a temperature. That’s a dilemma,” said Steve Simmons, a bus safety expert who used to head pupil transportation for Columbus, Ohio, public schools. “We can’t answer those kinds of questions. I don’t think anybody can.”
‘We are no less American’: Deaths pile up on Texas border
When labor pains signaled that Clarissa Muñoz was at last going to be a mom, she jumped in a car and headed two hours down the Texas border into one of the nation’s most dire coronavirus hot spots.
She went first to a hospital so desperate for help that nurses recently made 49 phone calls to find a bed 700 miles away to airlift a dying man with the virus. From there, she was taken to a bigger hospital by ambulance.
When she finally arrived to give birth, she was blindsided by another complication: A test revealed that she too was infected.
Hours later, Muñoz was granted just a few seconds to lay eyes, but no hands, on her first born, who was quickly whisked away.
On America’s southern doorstep, the Rio Grande Valley, the U.S. failure to contain the pandemic has been laid bare. For nearly a month, this borderland of 2 million people in South Texas pleaded for a field hospital, but not until Tuesday was one ready and accepting patients. In July alone, Hidalgo County reported more than 600 deaths — more than the Houston area, which is five times larger.
At DHR Health, one of the largest hospitals on the border, nearly 200 of the 500 beds belong to coronavirus patients isolated in two units. A third unit is in the works. That doesn’t even include the COVID-19 maternity ward, where mothers and newborns are separated immediately.
“It’s a really, really ugly feeling,” Muñoz said of watching her son being taken away.
Texas reopened quicker than most of the U.S., only to backtrack in the face of massive outbreaks. Health officials say the worst of a summer resurgence appears to be behind the state as a whole, but the border is a bleak exception. Doctors fear another punishing wave is around the corner.
“We need the help. Our house is on fire,” Rio Grande City Mayor Joel Villarreal said. “We are no less American than other people in other parts of the country.”
Catch up on the past 24 hours
“Too many people are selfish”: As the U.S. nears 5 million coronavirus cases, officials point to an increase in large gatherings and a distinct lack of effective social distancing.
The Space Needle has reopened to visitors, after a four-month closure and what one official called a “geeky” process to make the landmark safe and contact-free.
“We’ve done a great job.” With President Trump again speaking out about coronavirus, the chasm between him and the experts advising him becomes deeper and more obvious.
The FDA has added to its list of hand sanitizers you shouldn’t buy, and a doctor is explaining why he urges folks to not forget good old soap and water.
Can secondhand smoke transmit the virus? Let’s just say it’s a good idea to keep a safe distance from someone who’s smoking.
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