Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, July 1, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
One year, three months, two weeks and five days after Gov. Jay Inslee made Washington among the first states in the country to impose broad economic and social COVID-19 restrictions, our state has returned, somewhat, to normal.
Some limited restrictions, however, remain in place, including for indoor events of 10,000 or more people and mask requirements in some public spaces. But while many of us are celebrating the state’s reopening Wednesday, public health officials are keeping a close eye on emerging coronavirus variants.
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.
U.S. deficit to hit $3 trillion in 2021, then fade as stimulus relief expires, CBO says
WASHINGTON – The federal deficit will hit $3 trillion in 2021 for the second consecutive year, primarily because of the national spending blitz in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Congressional Budget Office said Thursday.
The deficit represents a slight decrease from last year but is triple that of 2019, and amounts to one of the biggest imbalances between federal spending and revenue in American history, the nonpartisan budget office said. But the CBO also projected faster-than-expected economic growth, with unemployment falling more sharply than previously predicted – a shift cheered by administration officials.
In 2021, the federal government is projected to spend $6.8 trillion – higher than even last year’s total – while collecting about $3.8 trillion in revenue. Although spending is elevated from last year, the United States will take in more revenue as the pandemic fades and consumers resume normal activities – which is why the overall deficit will shrink modestly.
President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus, passed in March, accounts for much of this year’s spending imbalance. But that measure is temporary and will soon expire.
More Seattle Public Library branches reopening
Four more Seattle Public Library branches will open for in-person services next week: Green Lake (opening next Thursday), Northeast (Wednesday), Northgate (Tuesday) and West Seattle (Tuesday). This will bring the total of reopened libraries to 21 of the system’s 27 branches.
The Fremont, Magnolia-Sally Goldmark, Montlake, New Holly and Wallingford branches remain closed, and the Capitol Hill branch is open for returns and restroom access only; all are expected to reopen by fall. Many of the reopened libraries are operating at limited hours; see spl.org for a list of branches and hours.
As of June 30, all open SPL branches are operating at 100% capacity and will not require patrons to physically distance. Masks, however, will still be required for now of all patrons and staff, as they are in all City of Seattle buildings, according to an SPL news release.
3 Samoan weightlifters to miss Olympics over virus concerns
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The Samoan government says three home-based members of the Samoa Olympic weightlifting team will not be allowed to compete in Tokyo due to COVID-19 concerns in Japan.
Minister of Communications Afamasaga Rico Tupa’i said in a statement that the nation’s Cabinet had decided to withdraw Samoa-based members of the team because of Japan’s high infection rate.
Cases in Tokyo have been steadily on the rise. Experts warn the highly contagious delta strain could trigger rapid resurgence of the infections that may require another state of emergency even during the games starting on July 23.
The president of the Samoa Olympic Committee, Patrick Fepulea’i, released a statement on Thursday confirming the government announcement but clarifying that eight other overseas-based members of the team will still compete in Japan
White House launches ‘surge response’ teams to delta variant hot spots
The Biden administration on Thursday announced the formation of “surge response” teams intended to combat the fast-moving delta variant of the coronavirus by deploying additional expertise and supplies to hot spots.
“These are dedicated teams working with communities at higher risk for, or already experiencing, outbreaks due to the spread of the delta variant and their low vaccination rate,” White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters at a news briefing.
The delta variant now represents about one-quarter of all confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States, and is now the predominant variant in Arkansas, Colorado, Missouri and Utah, say public health experts. “In some regions of the country, nearly one in two sequences is the delta variant,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
The White House-coordinated teams will include a mix of virtual support and on-the-ground personnel, helping deploy additional supplies as requested by local officials, such as testing or therapeutics. Staff will come from the CDC, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response in the Department of Health and Human Services. The White House also may ramp up paid promotions about the benefits of vaccination in areas that officials deem high risk. All the vaccines authorized in the United States have been shown to be highly protective against the virus, preventing severe illness and death from delta.ADVERTISING
‘Even the little guy can win,’ says fourth $250,000 Washington state COVID-19 vaccine lottery winner
Yet another weekly $250,000 Washington state vaccine lottery winner has been named. And once again, most of us didn’t win.
Stephen T., of Walla Walla, was this week’s Shot of a Lifetime drawing winner, and he said he almost didn’t return the state’s call.
Stephen, a married father of one who works in the food service industry, said in a statement that he was at a managers’ meeting when a call came in from a 253 area code that said “Fife” on Caller ID.
No one in the room knew anyone from the Pierce County city, so he let it go to voicemail.
When the meeting was over, Stephen played the voicemail while still in the room. Three of his colleagues said it was a scam. One told him to call back, just in case.
“I’m sure glad I did!” he said. “I called the main Lottery number, and they told me it was really real. I didn’t believe it at first and still kind of don’t, but I think it’s great that the state is doing this, because it really helps give people another big reason to get their shots. I just hope more and more people get vaccinated because it’s really important.”
Overworked and traumatized, front-line health care workers aren’t feeling the ‘Summer of Joy’
A largely unmasked nation will celebrate the nation’s return to near-normalcy this weekend with a ticker-tape parade in New York City, a dazzling fireworks display over the Washington Monument and countless Independence Day gatherings in cities and towns across the country.
“A summer of freedom. A summer of joy,” is how the White House tried to promote a new national mood in a letter encouraging local officials to hold public events during the July Fourth holiday.
And in most parts of the country, Americans have reason to cheer, with more than half of those over age 12 fully vaccinated, state after state lifting all emergency restrictions and caseloads decreasing by double digits week over week. Families are traveling again, diners are flocking to restaurants and baseball is back as America’s seasonal pastime.
But the summer is turning out to be fairly joyless in places like CoxHealth Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri, where nurses, doctors and respiratory therapists have been grappling with a resurgence in coronavirus cases that forced the hospital to reopen the 80-bed COVID-19 unit it had shuttered in May.
America’s health care workers are in crisis. Battered and burned out, they feel unappreciated by a nation that lionized them as COVID-19 heroes but often scoffed at mask mandates, refused to follow social distancing guidelines and ignored pleas to get vaccinated.
State health officials report 497 new coronavirus cases
The Washington state Department of Health reported 497 new coronavirus cases and eight new deaths on Thursday.
The update brings the state's totals to 452,072 cases and 5,938 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. Wednesday.
In addition, 25,534 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 10 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 112,631 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,657 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 7,813,386 doses and 50.1% 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 16,231 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.
WHO decision challenges West to recognize Chinese vaccines
The World Health Organization said Thursday that any COVID-19 vaccines it has authorized for emergency use should be recognized by countries as they open up their borders to inoculated travelers.
The move could challenge Western countries to broaden their acceptance of two apparently less effective Chinese vaccines, which the U.N. health agency has licensed but most European and North American countries have not.
In addition to vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna Inc., AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, the WHO has also given the green light to the two Chinese jabs, made by Sinovac and Sinopharm.
In its aim to restore travel across Europe, the European Union said in May that it would only recognize people as vaccinated if they had received shots licensed by the European Medicines Agency.
“Any measure that only allows people protected by a subset of WHO-approved vaccines to benefit from the reopening of travel … would effectively create a two-tier system, further widening the global vaccine divide and exacerbating the inequities we have already seen in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines,” a WHO statement said Thursday.
Lower rents? Check. Speak-easy? Check. How office landlords are enticing tenants
Even as life returns to many New York City neighborhoods, its big commercial districts are awash with empty office space. Most workers haven’t yet returned — and it’s unclear if they all will. That uncertainty is terrifying the city’s biggest office landlords, and many of them are going to great lengths to retain and attract tenants.
Lower rents or free months in multiyear leases are now de rigueur. But landlords are also trying to entice new and returning tenants with sweeping redesigns, new technology, upscale new clubs and food halls.
Office landlords largely weathered the pandemic because tenants could not break their leases and had to keep paying rent. But as leases expire, some large companies are indicating that they will need significantly less space.
“This is a slow-moving train wreck,” said Daniel Alpert, managing partner of Westwood Capital, a small financial firm.
US jobless claims tick down to 411,000 as economy heals
The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits dropped last week though new initial claims for unemployment benefits fell only slightly in Washington.
In the state, new initial claims for unemployment fell from 7,767 to 7,763 the week that ended June 26, according to data from the federal Department of Labor. The Washington state Employment Security Department reports its own figures later Thursday; those often differ from the federal numbers.
The Labor Department said Thursday that jobless claims in the U.S. fell just 7,000 from the previous week to 411,000. Weekly claims have fallen steadily this year from about 900,000 in January.
The economy expanded at a healthy pace in the first three months of the year, the government also reported Thursday, and economists are optimistic that growth will accelerate in the April-June quarter. As the pandemic fades, states and cities are lifting more business restrictions — Washington reopened June 30 — and the economy is picking up as consumers are traveling, eating out more, and visiting movie theaters and amusement parks.
City of Seattle aims to draw people back downtown, post-pandemic, with concerts, sidewalk sales and more
As COVID restrictions eased across the state Wednesday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and the Downtown Seattle Association announced a slate of events to take place July 12-26 as part of Welcome Back Weeks. They’re part of the city’s downtown recovery effort, which aims to bring workers, visitors and small businesses back to downtown Seattle after the pandemic left many downtown buildings empty.
“As a city, it’s time to turn our collective attention to recovery, and ensure we build our neighborhoods back better, more just and more equitable,” Durkan said in a news release. “As part of this effort, the City and our partners are ready to welcome you back downtown, and to welcome back our artists.”
Welcome Back Weeks will include concerts featuring local artists, sidewalk sales, food trucks, in-park happy hours, urban hikes and a “Halloween in July” celebration. Three large-scale events will take place in Chinatown-International District, Pioneer Square and Westlake Park, while promotions and smaller-scale events will be across downtown neighborhoods.
Colony of shy Albanian pelicans flourishes during pandemic
The pandemic has brought one good thing to western Albania’s Divjaka-Karavasta Lagoon — badly needed peace and quiet for endangered mating pelicans, and resulting population growth.
Regional environmental officials say nesting pairs have increased by one-fifth in the last two years as the numbers of human visitors have halved.
Situated 60 miles southwest of the capital, Tirana, the seaside Divjaka-Karavasta National Park is home to around 260 bird species, but it’s best known for the “curly pelicans,’ as the locals call the giant Dalmatian Pelicans with their 11-foot wingspan.
“Peace and quiet during the pandemic has helped us a lot in the preservation of Pelican Island,” said Adrian Koci, head of the Regional Agency of Protected Areas.
The handshake went away during COVID pandemic, and some doctors hope it’s gone for good
As we emerge from the pandemic, we’re starting to see the return of an age-old ritual: the handshake.
Many of us went a year or more without clasping someone else’s hands. But as vaccination rates go up and social distancing restrictions fall, we’re starting to press the flesh again.
Not everyone is happy that the handshake is making its way back. Though it’s a deeply ingrained way of expressing friendship and respect, some medical experts wish it were gone for good.
“I don’t think we should ever shake hands again, to be honest with you,” said White House health adviser Anthony Fauci back in April 2020. “Not only would it be good to prevent coronavirus disease, it probably would decrease instances of influenza dramatically in this country.”
“Would you lick someone’s hand?”," said Dr. Gregory Poland, a Mayo Clinic physician and professor specializing in infectious diseases and vaccines. “It’s never been safe."
“I’m not going to shake hands,” said Dr. Mark Sklansky, a professor and pediatric cardiologist at UCLA. “I think it’s really a bad habit.”
Sklansky campaigned against disease-spreading handshakes before COVID-19 and recently wrote a song urging people not to shake. (Sample lyric: “Dear kindhearted friend, I know you mean well extending your hand when we meet. But let me be open. Please listen to me. I’d prefer not to shake when we greet.”)
Illicit vaccine sites irk Panamanians fed up with inequality
One Monday in June in an upscale neighborhood of Panama City, people noticed something odd: Strange cars were coming and going from the Coco del Mar Suites, a nondescript three-story residential building surrounded by luxury oceanside high-rises.
It wasn’t long before the newspaper La Prensa cleared up the mystery. In a second-floor apartment that was recently spruced up with a new coat of paint and had air conditioning and electrical work done, someone was running a clandestine COVID-19 inoculation site purportedly offering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Investigators soon linked it to yet another scheme of underground injections a week earlier, this one on the 43rd floor of a residential skyscraper in the even wealthier coastal neighborhood of Punta Pacifica.
Authorities have only confirmed 32 people received shots between the two operations, but it nevertheless sparked outrage in Panama, where the government is supposed to be the only supplier of coronavirus vaccines, free and prioritized by age and risk level. These recipients were perceived as trying to use their privilege to cut in line even as the country sees a new rise in infections.
Israel scrambles to curb jump in COVID infections
Israel, a world leader in coronavirus vaccinations, reported its highest daily infection rate in three months as it scrambles to contain the spread of the new delta variant.
Authorities are racing to vaccinate children and are considering tighter travel restrictions at the country’s main airport.
The Health Ministry on Thursday reported 307 new cases on Wednesday, the highest in nearly three months and a rise from 293 newly-diagnosed cases a day earlier. The health ministry reportedly expects those numbers to jump in coming days, raising concerns that Israel is plunging back toward a crisis.
In recent months, Israel has reopened businesses, schools and event venues, lifting nearly all restrictions after it inoculated some 85% of the adult population. It’s now seen as an early-warning system of sorts for other nations.
Russia launches booster shots amid soaring infections
Russian health authorities on Thursday launched booster coronavirus vaccination for those who had been immunized more than six months ago, as the country faces a surge in new infections and deaths.
Moscow health authorities on Thursday started offering booster shots with the domestically produced, two-shot Sputnik V vaccine and its one-shot Sputnik Light version.
The new guidelines come as infections in Russia soar and vaccination rates lag behind many other nations.
Russia’s state coronavirus task force has been reporting over 20,000 new COVID-19 infections daily since last Thursday, more than double the average in early June. On Thursday, it reported 23,543 new cases and 672 deaths — the highest daily death toll since the start of the pandemic.
Delta variant exploits low vaccine rates, easing of rules
The latest alarming coronavirus variant is exploiting low global vaccination rates and a rush to ease pandemic restrictions, adding new urgency to the drive to get more shots in arms and slow its supercharged spread.
The vaccines most used in Western countries still appear to offer strong protection against the highly contagious delta variant, first identified in India and now spreading in more than 90 other countries.
But the World Health Organization warned this week that the trifecta of easier-to-spread strains, insufficiently immunized populations and a drop in mask use and other public health measures before the virus is better contained will “delay the end of the pandemic.”
Washington mask rules still in place
Though mask mandates were largely lifted as the state eases restrictions, face coverings are still required in some settings.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
A squinting state is blinking awake as major COVID-19 restrictions lift, 476 days after Washington became one of the first U.S. states to shut down. But scenes from around the Seattle area show this isn't as simple as flipping a switch.
Residents are confronting new mask-wearing dilemmas and social anxieties. Here's advice on navigating that.
Restaurants' chefs and owners are asking everyone to "pretend we are a brand new restaurant," because that's what it feels like to them.
Theaters face their own struggles raising the curtain again.
Although transit systems will return to full capacity, things won't look "normal" yet.
There's one tradition that many hope will not return: greeting people with the "bioweapons" on our hands.
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