Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

The number of COVID-19 cases reported globally rose for the fifth week in a row, according to the World Health Organization. The agency also reported that the number of deaths linked to the virus has remained relatively stable.

Meanwhile, U.S. health experts expressed remorse over steps not taken to properly warn about the highly transmissible variants before the latest COVID-19 surge, which resulted in higher hospital admission rates and deaths.

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 the rest of our coronavirus coverage and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington.

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Eastside Fire & Rescue firefighters terminated over COVID vaccine mandate file legal claim

A group of former Eastside Fire & Rescue firefighters who lost their jobs because they wouldn’t comply with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate has filed a legal claim against the agency, seeking a total of $171.5 million in damages.

A former captain said he and nine former firefighters filed the tort claim, a precursor to a potential lawsuit, during Thursday’s board of directors meeting in Issaquah. The claim alleges the fire agency discriminated against the unvaccinated firefighters based on their religious views, age and sex when they weren’t provided accommodations to stay on the job.

Frank Dahlquist, the former captain, wrote that Eastside Fire & Rescue “failed to substantiate any hardship, undue burden or direct threat to the workplace as an unvaccinated firefighter” and approved his exemption based on his religious beliefs but failed to accommodate him. Dahlquist, who was terminated earlier this year after a six-month leave of absence, wrote the decision caused “a loss of income, benefits, pain and suffering, and mental anguish.”

In a statement, Eastside Fire & Rescue Chief Jeff Clark declined to comment specifically on the claim, but said the department provided all nonvaccinated workers an opportunity to apply for an exemption and participate in an accommodation process.

Read the full story here.

—Paige Cornwell
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Warsaw mayor has COVID-19, again. Calls for preventive plan

The mayor of Poland’s capital, Warsaw, said Friday he has COVID-19. Again.

Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski said on Twitter the virus seems to be “even more treacherous and contagious” and appealed to the Poles not to ignore the threat of potential reinfection. Last year he was hospitalized due to a coronavirus infection.

The number of new registered infections was almost 2,000 on Friday and two people have died, while a week ago it was just over 1,000 new cases and no deaths.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

UK to offer 4th COVID-19 vaccine shot to all 50 and over

The British government said Friday that everyone 50 or over will be offered a fourth dose of coronavirus vaccine in the fall, lowering the age threshold from the previously announced 65.

The Department of Health said it had accepted advice from the U.K.’s independent vaccines adviser about the autumn booster program.

Fourth doses will also be given to health care workers, nursing home staff and residents, and all those aged 5 and up with health conditions that make them more vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Colorado stops publicly reporting COVID outbreaks at K-12 schools, seeks to ‘normalize’ pandemic

Colorado’s health department stopped publicly sharing data on COVID-19 outbreaks at K-12 schools this week, roughly a month before many students and teachers return to the classroom.

The move, which caught at least some metro-area districts by surprise, is part of a broader rollback in what outbreak data will be posted online every Wednesday by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which said it is seeking to “normalize” the process of COVID-19 reporting and treat it as the agency does other illnesses, such as the flu.

The health agency said schools still should notify families of any outbreaks that arise, but representatives for state and local teachers unions expressed concerns over whether the lack of publicly accessible data could hamper districts’ efforts to respond quickly to a surge in coronavirus cases — or even parents’ ability to judge whether they want their children to wear masks at school.

“Our focus at this phase in our pandemic response is really about preventing severe outcomes in priority settings,” said Ginger Stringer, epidemiology response program manager for the health department. “It’s not that we’re not addressing COVID in schools.”

Read the full story here.

—Jessica Seaman, The Denver Post
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China sees most COVID cases since May as lockdowns spread

China reported its highest daily COVID-19 case tally in seven weeks as a new cluster emerged in the southern province of Guangxi, underscoring the difficulty of achieving the country’s COVID Zero strategy in the face of more infectious strains of the virus.

The country reported 432 infections for Thursday, up from 292 on Wednesday and the most since May 25. More than a third, or 165 cases, were found in Guangxi province, centered around Beihai, a coastal city of 1.83 million people. The first case was detected Tuesday and authorities shut entertainment venues in the city center from Wednesday.

Separately, CCTV reported that Huaiyuan county in Anhui had 151 preliminary COVID cases on Thursday and was put into lockdown. The province had reported no coronavirus infections in the figures released earlier Friday.

Read the story here.

—Linda Lew, Bloomberg

Vaccine uptake slow among the youngest as cases rise in Georgia

Sesame Street’s Elmo, who is 3½, recently got his COVID-19 vaccine.

The littlest Muppet’s shot was intended to spark interest in vaccinating the nation’s youngest children against COVID, after recent federal approval of the shots for those ages 6 months to 5 years. But interest in the vaccine remains low in Georgia, even as cases among children under 5 statewide have been rising for eight weeks. The youngest age group is the only population other than those 70 and over to show such a trend, according to Amber Schmidtke, a public health researcher.

The lagging uptake, besides doing little to slow the spread of COVID among toddlers and infants, is contributing to an untold number of wasted doses, as the vaccines for children under 5 are packaged 10 to a vial. Once a vial is opened, all doses must be used or discarded within 12 hours. Several Atlanta metro area pediatricians told the AJC they’ve had to throw out more than half their doses.

The vaccine rollout for this age group is of particular importance in Georgia due to the state’s large populations of Black and Hispanic children under 5 — racial and ethnic groups disproportionately affected by the pandemic. In Georgia, 32.7% of all children under 5 are Black, the third-highest rate in the nation, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Fifteen percent of the youngest Georgians are Hispanic.

Read the full story here.

—Timothy Pratt, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

French climber Barguil out of Tour after positive COVID test

French climber Warren Barguil has been forced out of the Tour de France after testing positive for COVID-19.

Barguil’s Arkea-Samsic team said in a statement ahead of Friday’s Stage 13 that his seven teammates all tested negative.

It’s the second straight year that Barguil, who injured his right hip and shoulder in a crash on Thursday, abandoned the three-week race. He was 24th in the general classification, nearly 43 minutes behind race leader Jonas Vingegaard.

Barguil came to prominence on the 2017 Tour when he posted two stage wins and claimed the King of the Mountains polka-dot jersey.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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25 million kids missed routine vaccinations because of COVID

About 25 million children worldwide have missed out on routine immunizations against common diseases like diptheria, largely because the coronavirus pandemic disrupted regular health services or triggered misinformation about vaccines, according to the U.N.

In a new report published Friday, the World Health Organization and UNICEF said their figures show 25 million children last year failed to get vaccinated against diptheria, tetanus and pertussis, a marker for childhood immunization coverage, continuing a downward trend that began in 2019.

“This is a red alert for child health,” said Catherine Russell, UNICEF’s Executive Director.

“We are witnessing the largest sustained drop in childhood immunization in a generation,” she said, adding that the consequences would be measured in lives lost.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Some city of Seattle workers ready to quit rather than return to the office

Hundreds of city of Seattle employees working remotely may be ready to quit over proposed return-to-office rules that some think are less about productivity than about repopulating downtown’s flagging business district.

The dispute has been simmering since June 13, when Mayor Bruce Harrell emailed employees that there was "an expectation that staff will report to the office or worksite at least two workdays a week.” That’s roughly on par with what many private employers have announced.

Harrell’s email arrived two months after a majority of the city employees who could work remotely in some form — about 35% of the roughly 13,000-member city workforce — were told in March to return to the office.

But that decree isn't working for some employees, including the roughly 1,300 who are fully remote and the 1,000 who come in once a week, according to the union PROTEC17, which has been negotiating with the city over the return-to-office proposal since June 28.

Many of those workers say they’d rather quit than come back, according to a recent survey by the union, which found that 23% of respondents are “considering separating from city employment due to return-to-office plans” and another 31% said they “wouldn’t rule out the possibility.”

Those sentiments represent “a very, very strong signal, that, if I was on the other side, I would actually listen to,” said Shomari Anderson, a union steward.

Read the story here.

—Roberts and Sarah Grace Taylor

Is it safe to travel while BA.5 spreads? Health experts weigh in

Summer travel is booming, and while most pandemic-era restrictions in airports are gone, the coronavirus has more surprises in store.

BA.5, the latest subvariant of omicron, is spreading rapidly, becoming the dominant variant in the United States and creating a wave of COVID-19 cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting an average of more than 120,000 new cases a day in the United States, and that does not include the massive estimates of people who are not reporting results from home tests. Hospitalizations in the United States have increased 10% over the past week, according to tracking data from The Washington Post.

While people have been relying on their vaccinations and antibodies from previous infections, experts say those factors offer limited protection against the BA.5 variant. President Joe Biden’s administration is urging Americans to get boosted and take advantage of antiviral treatments.

Given the uncertainty, travelers should weigh their comfort with the risk of infection against the merits of a trip. 

Read the story here.

—Alexis Benveniste, The Washington Post
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Former Georgia mayor sentenced for stealing COVID relief money

The former mayor of Stonecrest, Georgia, a small city outside Atlanta, was sentenced Wednesday to four years and nine months in prison for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal money intended to help his city cope with the pandemic, authorities said.

The former mayor, Jason Lary, who pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Atlanta in January to wire fraud, stealing federal money and conspiracy, used the money he took to pay off his mortgage on his lakeside home and outstanding tax liabilities, prosecutors said.

In addition to the prison time, he was ordered by U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash to pay nearly $120,000 in restitution and serve three years of supervised release.

Read the story here.

—Alex Traub, The New York Times

Flying to Canada? You may need a COVID test again

Mandatory coronavirus testing of randomly chosen international passengers arriving in Canada will resume at the country’s four major airports, government officials announced Thursday.

The move comes as Canadian airports are grappling with the same kind of problems afflicting air travel around the world, including staff shortages, cancellations, delays and frustrated passengers.

Random testing will resume Tuesday for passengers deplaning at airports in Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal and Toronto, the Public Health Agency of Canada said.

Canada requires travelers arriving from abroad, including by air, to be fully vaccinated, which means they have gotten their initial set of shots at least 14 days before, but it dropped the requirement last month for people traveling by air within Canada and for federal transport workers. Still, travelers who are not vaccinated because they are exempt or Canadian must test for the coronavirus for 10 days after flying in to Canada from an international airport, and travelers who test positive or have symptoms on arrival are required to isolate.

Read the story here.

—Vjosa Isai, The New York Times