Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, July 15, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Washington state has finally done it. On Wednesday, the state reached its goal of 70% of residents 16 years and older initiating vaccination against the coronavirus, meaning almost 8 million doses have been delivered and about 3.9 million Washingtonians are fully vaccinated.
Because many nursing home staffers are unvaccinated, families still lack easy access to crucial Medicare immunization data that will help them pick the right facility for their loved one. Unfortunately, health officials have said COVID-19 is on the rise again in many states.
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.
Mayor Durkan urges Seattleites to ‘re-create and rebirth’ downtown, its neighborhoods during ‘Welcome Back Weeks’
Joined by a troupe of tap dancers and gymnasts that drew a crowd in Seattle’s Westlake Park, Mayor Jenny Durkan made it clear in a speech on Thursday: Downtown Seattle is open for business.
The mayor kicked off what the city is calling “Welcome Back Weeks,” four weeks of activities and promotions in July and September to lure Seattleites back to downtown neighborhoods.
The first stretch of activities began on July 12, and will go until July 26. The second is planned for September 4-19.
“We want to think beyond onetime events,” said Durkan, who is not seeking reelection this year. “We want to re-create and rebirth our areas in the downtown, and in our neighborhoods.”
The city is spending $300,000 on Welcome Back Weeks, part of a $9 million investment it has committed to post-pandemic downtown recovery projects.
Tennis player de Minaur has COVID-19, out of Tokyo Olympics
TOKYO — Australian tennis player Alex de Minaur has tested positive for COVID-19 and has withdrawn from the Tokyo Olympics.
The Australian Olympic team’s chef de mission Ian Chesterman told media in Tokyo on Friday that de Minaur was “shattered” over the news.
“We are very disappointed for Alex,” Chesterman said. “It has been his dream to represent Australia at the Olympic Games since he was a child. But he sent his best wishes for the team.”
De Minaur, Australia’s top-ranked men’s player at No. 17. He was scheduled to play both singles and doubles.
It was unclear if de Minaur’s doubles partner John Pearce would maintain his spot on the team.
COVID-19 takes toll on Catholic clergy in hard-hit countries
The coronavirus has taken a heavy toll among Roman Catholic priests and nuns around the world, killing hundreds of them in a handful of the hardest-hit countries alone.
The dead include an Italian parish priest who brought the cinema to his small town in the 1950s; a beloved New York pastor who ministered to teens and the homeless; a nun in India who traveled home to bury her father after he died from COVID-19 only to contract the virus herself.
In some countries, most of those lost were older. Other places, though, saw a bigger hit to active clergy, accelerating a decades-old decline in the ranks that Pope Francis in 2017 called a “hemorrhage.”
Andrew Chesnut, chair of Catholic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, said faith leaders across denominations have had elevated exposure rates as “spiritual front-line workers” ministering to the sick and dying in hospitals and nursing homes.
But the impact is particularly acute for a church that is experiencing a “perennial priest shortage” in most countries, he said.
Shipping chaos here to stay with most seafarers unvaccinated
Global vaccinations of seafarers are going too slowly to prevent outbreaks on ships from causing more trade disruptions, endangering maritime workers and potentially slowing economies trying to pull out of pandemic slowdowns.
Infections on vessels could further harm already strained global supply chains, just as the U.S. and Europe recover and companies start stocking up for Christmas. The shipping industry is sounding the alarm as infections increase and some ports continue to restrict access to seafarers from developing countries that supply the majority of maritime workers but can’t vaccinate them.
All signs now point to a worsening crisis on the oceans, just as the industry seemed to be emerging from months of port restrictions that hurt the ability of shipping firms to swap out crews and left hundreds of thousands stuck at sea for months.
US consumer prices surge in June by the most since 2008
Prices for U.S. consumers jumped in June by the most in 13 years, evidence that a swift rebound in spending has run up against widespread supply shortages that have escalated the costs of many goods and services.
Tuesday’s report from the Labor Department showed that consumer prices in June rose 0.9% from May and 5.4% over the past year — the sharpest 12-month inflation spike since August 2008. Excluding volatile oil and gas prices, so-called core inflation rose 4.5% in the past year, the largest increase since November 1991.
The pickup in inflation, which has coincided with the economy’s rapid recovery from the pandemic recession, will likely intensify a debate at the Federal Reserve and between the Biden administration and congressional Republicans about how persistent the accelerating price increases will prove to be.
The Fed and the White House have made clear their belief that the current bout of inflation will prove temporary. As supply chain bottlenecks are resolved and the economy returns to normal, they suggest, the price spikes for such items as used cars, hotel rooms and clothing will fade. Some economists, along with Wall Street investors, have indicated that they agree.
Surgeon general urges US fight against COVID misinformation
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on Thursday called for a national effort to fight misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines, urging tech companies, health care workers, journalists and everyday Americans to do more to address a “serious public threat.”
In a 22-page advisory, his first as President Joe Biden’s surgeon general, Murthy wrote that bogus claims have led people to reject vaccines and public health advice on masks and social distancing, undermining efforts to end the coronavirus pandemic and putting lives at risk.
The warning comes as the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations has slowed throughout the U.S., in part because of vaccine opposition fueled by unsubstantiated claims about the safety of immunizations and despite the U.S. death toll recently passing 600,000.
“Limiting the spread of health misinformation is a moral and civic imperative that will require a whole-of-society effort,” wrote Murthy, who also served as surgeon general under former President Barack Obama.
Health misinformation was a global problem even before the internet and social media allowed dangerous claims to spread faster and easier than ever before. The problem of COVID-19 misinformation is so great that the World Health Organization has deemed it an “infodemic.”
Vaccine deliveries rising as delta virus variant slams Asia
As many Asian countries battle their worst surge of COVID-19 infections, the slow flow of vaccine doses from around the world is finally picking up speed, giving hope that inoculation rates can increase and help blunt the effect of the rapidly spreading delta variant.
With many vaccine pledges still unfulfilled and rates of infection spiking across multiple countries, however, experts say more needs to be done to help nations struggling with the overflow of patients and shortages of oxygen and other critical supplies.
Some 1.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine arrived Thursday afternoon in Indonesia, which has become a dominant hot spot with record high infections and deaths.
The U.S. shipment follows 3 million other American doses that arrived Sunday, and 11.7 million doses of AstraZeneca that have come in batches since March through the U.N.-backed COVAX mechanism.
“It’s quite encouraging,” said Sowmya Kadandale, health chief in Indonesia of UNICEF, which is in charge of the distribution of vaccines provided through COVAX. “It seems now to be, and not just in Indonesia, a race between the vaccines and the variants, and I hope we win that race.”
Vaccine hesitancy morphs into political hostility
On July Fourth, President Joe Biden celebrated dramatic progress in the war on the coronavirus, with more than 150 million adults fully vaccinated and infections plunging 93% since Inauguration Day. “Together, we’re beating the virus,” Biden said at a party on the White House lawn.
But at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, attendees celebrated a different — essentially opposite — milestone: that Biden had missed his goal of vaccinating 70% of adults.
“Clearly they were hoping — the government was hoping — that they could sort of sucker 90% of the population into getting vaccinated,” activist Alex Berenson told the crowd Saturday, seeming to inflate Biden’s target. “And it isn’t happening.”
The crowd clapped and cheered at that failure.
What began as “vaccine hesitancy” has morphed into outright vaccine hostility, as conservatives increasingly attack the White House’s coronavirus message, mischaracterize its vaccination campaign and, more and more, vow to skip the shots altogether.
The notion that the vaccine drive is pointless or harmful — or perhaps even a government plot — is increasingly an article of faith among supporters of former president Donald Trump, on a par with assertions that the last election was stolen and the assault on the U.S. Capitol was overblown.
Argentina logs 100,000 virus deaths as Delta variant looms
Argentina on Wednesday reported more than 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, a heavy blow to a country that intermittently imposed some of the most severe lockdowns in the world, only to see erratic compliance by many people.
Some 614 people died from the disease in the past 24 hours, bringing the total death toll to 100,250, the Health Ministry said.
Luis Cámera, a doctor who specializes in gerontology and is an adviser on the pandemic to the government of President Alberto Fernández, attributed the high toll to ″some errors″ during periodic lockdowns as well damage inflicted by virus variants that swept through the region.
Cámera added that a second wave of the coronavirus at the end of March “came earlier than it should have come,” in part “due to the misconduct of the people and with new, very aggressive variants.”
For pregnant women, pandemic made hunt for drug rehab harder
After using drugs on and off for years, Megan Sims wanted to get clean again. But she couldn’t bring herself to stop during the coronavirus pandemic, even when she discovered she was going to have a baby. She had been to rehab before but couldn’t fathom how to do it while pregnant.
Sims, a 28-year-old from North Carolina, was forced to confront her heroin addiction like never before when her drug use was reported to child protective services last summer.
“None of my relapses had had a consequence until this last one,” she said.
Social workers urged her to go to rehab, but none of the services were adequate because most substance abuse programs consider pregnancy to be high risk. Through word of mouth, Sims found UNC Horizons, a substance use disorder treatment program at the University of North Carolina’s School of Medicine designed for pregnant women and mothers.
Experts say programs like Horizons, which allow children to stay with their mothers during substance abuse and mental health treatment, are the kind of full-spectrum rehab needed to reduce the number of babies born to mothers struggling with drug use.
Such programs are a rarity in the world of rehab, and experts fear that even more limitations during the pandemic will stifle what little progress has been made.
US unemployment claims fall to 360,000, a new pandemic low
The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits has reached its lowest level since the pandemic struck last year, further evidence that the U.S. economy and job market are quickly rebounding from the pandemic recession.
Thursday’s report from the Labor Department showed that jobless claims fell by 26,000 last week to 360,000. The weekly tally, a proxy for layoffs, has fallen more or less steadily since topping 900,000 in early January.
The U.S. recovery from the recession is proceeding so quickly that many forecasters have predicted that the economy will expand this year by roughly 7%. That would be the most robust calendar-year growth since 1984.
Fired Tennessee vaccine official received dog muzzle in mail
Tennessee’s former top vaccination official received a dog muzzle in the mail a few days before she was fired this week in what she has said was an attempt to use her as a scapegoat to appease lawmakers, a newspaper reported.
“Someone wanted to send a message to tell her to stop talking,” said Brad Fiscus, the husband of Dr. Michelle Fiscus, told The Tennessean. “They thought it would be a threat to her.”
Michelle Fiscus had been facing harsh criticism from Republican lawmakers over the Tennessee Health Department’s outreach efforts to vaccinate teenagers against COVID-19. At a June legislative session, in which some lawmakers threatened to defund the Health Department, they specifically referenced a letter Fiscus sent to medical providers explaining the legality of allowing them to vaccinate children 14 and up without parental consent.
Fiscus was fired on Monday. Her termination letter does not explain the reasoning for her dismissal, and a Health Department spokesperson has declined to comment on it.
Brad Fiscus told The Tennessean his wife received a box in Amazon packaging containing a black dog muzzle at her office about a week before she was fired. But he said Michelle Fiscus was “taking it in stride” and continuing to “speak truth.”
Summer driving, tight supply gasses fuel prices at the pump
Drivers are facing pricier fill-ups as more people hit the road for work, travel and other activities that the virus pandemic halted. Higher demand for gasoline is running up against lagging supply as the energy industry slowly ramps up after more than a year of production and staff cuts.
The prices are especially painful for drivers who just a year ago saw gas fall to its lowest point since 2016, but who couldn’t take advantage because the virus pandemic limited travel.
The supply and demand disconnect is exacerbated by a busier summer travel season as COVID-19 cases fall, vaccination rates rise and the tourism industry recovers. The Energy Information Administration estimated that gas demand for the week ending July 2, which included only one day of the Independence Day holiday weekend, was the highest in 30 years.
“The reason we’re here is because of imbalances created by COVID-19,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy. “Less driving during the pandemic caused demand for gas to plunge and that forced the fuel industry’s hand to cut production and lay off employees.”
The national gas price average has increased 40% since the start of the year, according to AAA, and drivers can expect the price to keep rising. The auto club expects the national average to rise above $3.25 this summer.
Canadian government rejects virus shots in US border tunnel
The Canadian government has rejected a creative plan to have Ontario residents line up inside a U.S. border tunnel to tap into a surplus of COVID-19 vaccine held by Michigan, a mayor said.
A white stripe was painted inside the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel in the Detroit River. Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens proposed that Canadians would stand along the border while health care workers jab them.
“We’re not trying to send a man to the moon here. We’re using the infrastructure to accomplish a shared goal,” Dilkens told the Detroit Free Press. “This is a sensible, reasonable alternative to vaccines heading to the landfill.”
Motor vehicle travel between the countries is prohibited during the pandemic except for commercial truck traffic and workers deemed essential. Dilkens said partnering with Michigan, which has a vaccine surplus, would reduce the waiting time for Canadians who need a second shot.
But the Canada Border Services Agency told Dilkens that the tunnel clinic could disrupt travel and carry “significant security implications.”
Separately, Public Health Agency of Canada warned there could be trouble if the person giving the shot reached across the tunnel’s white line into Canada.
WHO chief says it was ‘premature’ to rule out COVID lab leak
The head of the World Health Organization acknowledged it was premature to rule out a potential link between the COVID-19 pandemic and a laboratory leak, and he said Thursday he is asking China to be more transparent as scientists search for the origins of the coronavirus.
In a rare departure from his usual deference to powerful member countries, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said getting access to raw data had been a challenge for the international team that traveled to China earlier this year to investigate the source of COVID-19.
Tedros the U.N. health agency is “asking actually China to be transparent, open and cooperate, especially on the information, raw data that we asked for at the early days of the pandemic.”
In recent months, the idea that the pandemic started somehow in a laboratory — and perhaps involved an engineered virus — has gained traction, especially after President Joe Biden ordered a review of U.S. intelligence to assess the possibility in May. China struck back, saying attempts to link the origins of COVID-19 to a lab were politically motivated.
Most scientists suspect that the coronavirus originated in bats, but the exact route by which it first jumped into people – via an intermediary animal or in some other way – has not yet been determined. It typically takes decades to narrow down the natural source of an animal virus like Ebola or SARS.
Lawyer: US editor jailed in Myanmar fears he has COVID-19
An American journalist being held in prison in Myanmar told his lawyer Thursday that he believes he has caught COVID-19, but prison authorities deny he is infected.
Danny Fenster was detained at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he was trying to board a flight to go to the Detroit area in the United States to see his family. He is the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, an independent online news outlet based in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city.
Fenster has been charged with incitement for which he could be sentenced to up to three years’ imprisonment. The military-installed government that took power in February has tried to silence independent news media by withdrawing their licenses and by arresting dozens of journalists.
The U.S. government and press freedom associations have been pushing for his release.
EU likely to decide on Moderna COVID shot for kids next week
A top official at the European Medicines Agency said a decision on whether to recommend that Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine be authorized for children is expected late next week. If approved, it would be the first such license for the shot’s use in children globally.
At a press briefing on Thursday, Dr. Marco Cavaleri, the EU drug regulator’s head of vaccines strategy, said its expert committee was currently evaluating Moderna’s application to extend the use of its coronavirus vaccine for children 12 to 17 years old.
Moderna’s vaccine was given the green light for use in anyone 18 and over across the 27-nation European Union in January. It has also been licensed in countries including Britain, Canada and the U.S., but so far its use has not been extended to children. To date, the vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech is the only one approved for children under 18 in Europe and North America.
Virus spreads in S. Korean regions with lighter restrictions
South Korea reported a near-high in coronavirus infections Thursday as a weekslong surge extends beyond the capital region and the country’s toughest pandemic restrictions.
The surge, increasingly fueled by the more contagious delta variant, is a worrisome development in a country where 70% of the population is waiting for their first vaccine dose. It further erases what had been a success story in the pandemic and underscores the challenges policymakers face in balancing measures to control virus outbreaks without further damaging their economy.
Thursday’s 1,600 new cases nearly matched South Korea’s high from a day earlier and was the ninth straight day exceeding 1,000. The country’s caseload is now 173,511, including 2,050 deaths.
Cases surge to 6-month high in Tokyo a week before Olympics
New coronavirus cases surged to 1,308 in Tokyo on Thursday, a six-month high, as fears rise of a possible dramatic increase that could flood hospitals during the Olympics that start in eight days.
Tokyo is under a fourth state of emergency, which began Monday and requires restaurants and bars to close early and not serve alcohol through the Olympics, which start July 23.
Thursday’s tally is the highest since 1,485 were recorded on Jan. 21, when Japan was under an earlier state of emergency, and is also a jump from Wednesday’s 1,149.
Gov. Inslee says Washington’s lottery boosted COVID vaccination rates 24%. Here’s how the state got that number.
With the final lottery drawing winner expected to be announced Thursday, you might be asking how successful the “Shot of a Lifetime” was in getting more people vaccinated.
Gov. Jay Inslee said the lottery has led to a 24% increase in vaccination rates across Washington with about 30,000 additional shots given.
Across the U.S., lotteries have seen mixed results. Some states that implemented lotteries have reported boosts in vaccinations. But Ohio, the first state to offer a lottery, saw an early spike slow and has ended the program.
So, how did the state figure that out? 30,000 does not represent a 24% increase in the total number of residents vaccinated. Instead, it is the based on the comparison of the number of people who were expected to get vaccines during this period of falling vaccination rates and the number who actually ended up getting shots.
Need to renew your passport? Good luck.
As Americans finally start taking their long-awaited vacations, a surprising number of them are realizing that before they can go abroad, they must first take a different kind of trip: to a U.S. Passport Acceptance Agency.
During the most extensive travel shutdown in modern history, hundreds of thousands of Americans let their passports expire. Others are only now seeing that their documents are set to expire soon. But despite the State Department making headway on a massive backlog of passport applications that piled up in the early months of the pandemic, appointments at passport agencies across the country remain elusive, and processing time for renewals by mail is lagging by 10 weeks or more.
The crunch is forcing many Americans who need travel documents urgently to travel significant distances — sometimes even across the country — for an in-person appointment that will get their documents processed on time.
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