Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
In less than two weeks, the United States’ federal program that provides unemployment benefits to tens of millions of jobless Americans will expire — but White House officials are starting to signal their willingness to approve a narrow extension of the program.
In Washington state, the Department of Health is refining how it records deaths as it works to better track the pandemic. And Gov. Jay Inslee hit pause on any further reopening through July 28.
Throughout Wednesday, on this page, we’ll be posting 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.
Coronavirus data is funneled away from CDC, sparking worries
NEW YORK (AP) — Hospital data related to the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. will now be collected by a private technology firm, rather than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — a move the Trump administration says will speed up reporting but one that concerns some public health leaders.
The CDC director said Wednesday that he’s fine with the change — even though some experts fear it will further sideline the agency.
The CDC has agreed to step out of the government’s traditional data collection process “in order to streamline reporting,” Dr. Robert Redfield said during a call with reporters set up by the agency’s parent, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
HHS officials recently posted a document on the agency’s website that redirected hospitals’ daily reporting of a range of data meant to assess the impact of the coronavirus on them. TeleTracking Technologies, based in Pittsburgh, will now collect that information.
However, if hospitals are already directly reporting to state health departments, they can get a written release from the state to keep doing that.
Amazon extends work-from-home option for employees to early 2021
Tens of thousands of Amazon corporate employees may work from home until Jan. 8, the company said Wednesday, again extending the timeline to return to offices that were emptied in early March in the face of a worsening coronavirus pandemic.
“We continue to prioritize the health of our employees and follow local government guidance,” an Amazon spokesperson said via email. “Employees who work in a role that can effectively be done from home are welcome to do so until January 8.”
The company’s safeguards for employees who do come in to the office include physical distancing, deep cleaning, temperature checks, face coverings and hand sanitizer.
Amazon, Microsoft and several other Seattle-area employers first sent employees home on or before March 4 as the region emerged as one of the first coronavirus hot spots in the country. Amazon and Microsoft later extended that policy to October. Microsoft representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
National parks may become latest battleground in reopening
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz. — With Arizona leading the nation in coronavirus infections per capita, pressure is mounting to close Grand Canyon and other national parks in states across the South and the West that face spiking caseloads.
As locked-down Americans clamor to return to the outdoors and families seek out safe vacations from limited options, the national parks could become the latest battleground in the fight over reopening.
When the pandemic took hold in the United States this spring, many local public health officials demanded that the parks close, arguing that the millions of tourists they attract endangered vulnerable people in adjacent towns and tribal lands, often-remote places with hospitals miles away.
Lacking much guidance from Washington, where President Donald Trump has from the start resisted virus-related closures, individual parks and local health officials devised their own strategies on the fly. Grand Canyon initially shut down on April 1.
The park partially reopened in time for summer tourist season. But now infections are surging in the states that host the nation’s most-visited natural wonders, and the country’s 62 national parks are struggling with how to safely allow visitors while preventing outbreaks.
Federal court dismisses a water park’s challenge to Inslee’s stay-at-home order
OLYMPIA — A federal judge has rejected a lawsuit challenging Gov. Jay Inslee’s use of emergency powers to impose restrictions on business to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
In early June, Chelan County’s Slidewaters water park sued Inslee and the state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I), according to a copy of the decision in the United States District Court of Eastern Washington.
The park was represented by the conservative Freedom Foundation — a regular opponent of Inslee’s — which on Wednesday said it would appeal the decision.
The lawsuit argued, among other things, that Inslee didn’t have the authority to impose the emergency order, according to a copy of the court ruling. It argued that the global pandemic was not considered an emergency for which Inslee could issue an emergency proclamation.
Health officials confirm 742 new coronavirus cases
State health officials confirmed 742 new COVID-19 cases in Washington on Wednesday, including 17 new deaths.
The update brings the state’s totals to 43,046 cases and 1,421 deaths, meaning about 3.3% 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, 733,886 tests for the novel coronavirus have been conducted in the state, per DOH. Of those, 5.9% have come back positive — slightly higher than the 5.8% rate of positive infections in the last week.
The state has confirmed 12,325 diagnoses and 630 deaths in King County, the state's most populous, accounting for about 44% of the state's death toll.
Arizona ban on evictions set to end as heat, infections soar
PHOENIX — Housing advocacy groups in Arizona have joined lawmakers in lobbying Gov. Doug Ducey to extend his coronavirus-related moratorium on evictions, which will expire next week and allow authorities to start removing hundreds of renters in a state that’s a national hot spot for both infections and scorching summer weather.
“It’s so hot in Arizona, you cannot live outside if you lose your home,” said Meghan Heddings, executive director of Family Housing Resources in Tucson, which is among the groups advocating for an extension. “And, of course, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic.”
Arizona’s 120-day order ending July 22 was supposed to ensure people wouldn’t lose their homes if they got COVID-19 or lost their jobs during pandemic restrictions. But advocates say it’s too early to end the ban because most of the government money set aside to help pay rents and mortgages still hasn’t been doled out.
Back-to-school plans stressing nation's already stressed working parents
For generations, school has been an opportunity for American children to learn and make friends. For many parents today, though, it’s something that’s elemental in a very different way: a safe place that cares for their children while they are at work — or a necessity for them to be able to work at all.
The outbreak of the coronavirus this year, and the upending of society it has produced, have caused these views of school in American life to collide in ways that have thrown millions of parental lives into disarray. Now, President Donald Trump is demanding that schools reopen in the fall. But with the virus resurging widely, many working parents see no good options.
“I don’t have the benefit of a husband or other family members to care for my son,” says Michelle Brinson, who works full time for a Nashville nonprofit while raising her 11-year-old alone.
At 50, and with underlying health conditions, Brinson says she is “terrified” of contracting COVID-19. She is worried that if her son goes back to school, he could bring the virus home to her. “If I’m dead or on a ventilator,” she says, “what good am I to him?”
That’s where the conflict lies. To ask a parent — particularly one trying to parent alone — to work full time while supervising education and daytime meals is a formula for stress and unreasonable expectations.
Rebecca Witte can attest to that. For Witte, the experience of working from home while also helping her two children wrap up kindergarten and second-grade from home is not one she wants to repeat.
As a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Corrections during a coronavirus outbreak that infected more than 900 inmates, she recalls her kids coming in screaming one day while she was being interviewed. Her husband, a school principal, shared the schooling responsibilities but was also busy helping teachers at his school shift to virtual learning.
“Trying to work, it was hard,” Witte said. “It will be interesting to see what the plan is in the fall. … I am hopeful they won’t be home full time with me trying to teach and work.”
2021 Rose Parade canceled due to coronavirus pandemic
Organizers said Wednesday they have canceled the 2021 Rose Parade because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on long-range planning for the New Year’s Day tradition.
The Pasadena, California, Tournament of Roses Association said the decision was put off until organizers were certain that safety restrictions would prevent staging of the 132nd parade.
The globally watched parade is held every Jan. 1 except when New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday.
Since its inception in 1891, the parade has only not occurred only three times during the wartime years of 1942, 1943 and 1945.
Courts get creative to restart jury trials amid pandemic
It was New Mexico’s first jury trial since the pandemic crippled the U.S. criminal justice system, and defense attorney Roberta Yurcic was nervous.
The court had erected a plexiglass panel on the defense table as a shield against the coronavirus, and Yurcic could communicate with her client by passing notes through a hole in the barrier. But the man charged with drug trafficking could not read or write, so she felt she had choice but to get close.
“I basically had to prioritize effective assistance over his safety and my safety,” Yurcic said.
Similar dilemmas have arisen in courtrooms across the U.S. Even as confirmed virus cases climb in many states, some courts facing a growing legal backlog are beginning to hold jury trials again. Some attorneys complain that added safety measures are not enough and that they infringe on the constitutional rights of the accused.
Cost of school safety complicates reopening plans
As school districts across the country decide how and when they can bring students back to campus safely, a major sticking point is emerging: the money to make it happen.
Keeping public schools for 50 million students and more than 7 million staff safe from the coronavirus could require more teachers and substitutes, nurses and custodians. School districts will need to find more buses to allow for more space between children and buy more computers for distance learning. They’ll need to buy sanitizer, masks and other protective equipment. Some are putting up plastic dividers in offices and classrooms.
While public health concerns are getting most of the attention, especially with the nation’s infections and hospitalizations rising, costs have become a major consideration. Many districts are hoping Congress will step in.
The Council of Chief State School Officers says safely reopening public schools could cost between $158 billion and $245 billion.
Walmart to require masks starting Monday
Walmart will require customers to wear face coverings at all of its namesake and Sam’s Club stores, making it the largest retailer to introduce such a policy that has otherwise proven difficult to enforce without state and federal requirements.
The company said the policy will go into effect on Monday to allow time to inform stores and customers.
The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company said that about 65% its more than 5,000 stores and clubs are in areas where there is some form of government mandate on face coverings.
Staffers at entrances, who will be wearing black polo shirts, will receive special training to “help make the process as smooth as possible for customers.”
Walmart joins a growing list of retailers that have instituted mask mandates throughout their chains, including Costco, Best Buy and Starbucks, which have announced mask requirements for customers.
Recent COVID-19 transmission levels too high to reopen King County school buildings, says new report
Efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus in school buildings — such as screening students and staff, and requiring masks — won’t control the overall pace of transmission unless community activity, such as going to work or socializing, is kept far below pre-coronavirus levels, suggests a new report based on King County data.
The study, ordered by state and local health agencies and released Wednesday, details a long list of stipulations for schools to reopen safely. Community activity — which includes everything from shopping to going to church — must stay below 70% of where it was before the coronavirus took hold in the Puget Sound region, the report says. As of June 15, activity was an estimated 65% of pre-coronavirus levels, the report says.
But the report comes with a big caveat: It is based on data through June 15. And since it was drafted, the researchers said, they’ve collected additional data suggesting transmission levels are currently too high to reopen schools. Communitywide efforts to contain coronavirus spread “must improve significantly” to support opening school doors in September “without triggering exponential growth in COVID-19 burden,” they wrote.
Read this updating story here.
Oklahoma’s governor says he’s tested positive for COVID-19
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Wednesday that he’s tested positive for the coronavirus and that he is isolating at home.
The first-term Republican governor has backed one of the country’s most aggressive reopening plans, has resisted any statewide mandate on masks and rarely wears one himself.
Stitt attended President Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa last month, which health experts have said likely contributed to a surge in coronavirus cases there.
Oklahoma also has seen a dramatic increase in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19, with nearly 22,000 confirmed positive cases in the state and 428 total deaths.
One of Stitt’s cabinet members, David Ostrowe, tested positive for the coronavirus in March.
Lockdowns in India return as virus surges
As India’s confirmed coronavirus cases approach 1 million, lockdowns are being reimposed in parts of the country as local governments try to shield the health system from being overwhelmed.
India on Wednesday reported nearly 30,000 new cases and 582 more deaths, raising its totals to more than 936,000 cases and over 24,000 fatalities. The actual numbers, like elsewhere globally, are likely to be far higher due to limited testing and poor surveillance, experts say.
A two-week lockdown that starts Thursday has been imposed in Bihar, an eastern state with a population of 128 million and a fragile health system. Since Saturday, Bihar has recorded over 1,000 cases a day despite limited testing.
Nearly 2.5 million poor migrant workers who had been stranded during India’s initial lockdown of the entire country have returned to the state after losing their jobs in large cities.
In Bangalore, a key technology hub in southern India where offices for major tech companies like Amazon and Apple are, the government ordered a weeklong lockdown that began Tuesday evening.
The initial boost that India’s economy received in June after the nationwide lockdown was relaxed is being halted by these localized lockdowns in high-risk areas, experts say.
Virus resurgence forces countries to reimpose restrictions
Countries around the world are reimposing lockdowns and implementing new health checks at their borders in an effort to curb a resurgence of the coronavirus before it spins even further out of control.
Starting Wednesday, all travelers arriving in Greece from a land border with Bulgaria were required to carry negative coronavirus test results issued in the previous 72 hours and translated into English. The new rules, which follow an increase in tourism-related COVID-19 cases, triggered an immediate drop in arrivals compared to recent days.
In Tokyo, Gov. Yuriko Koike said Wednesday that the spread of the infections in the Japanese capital have escalated to levels tantamount to “issuing an alarm” and requested that residents and business owners step up their preventive measures.
Residents of Australia’s second-largest city, Melbourne, were warned on Wednesday to comply with lockdown regulations or face tougher restrictions. Melbourne’s 5 million people and part of the city’s semirural surroundings are a week into a new, six-week lockdown to contain an outbreak there.
“The time for warnings, the time for cutting people slack, is over,” Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said. “Where we are is in a very serious and deadly position.”
The developments come with more than 13 million cases of coronavirus cases confirmed worldwide, and with over 578,000 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Personality type may determine how you respond to COVID-19 pandemic
How well you fare during the COVID-19 pandemic may be at least partially revealed by answering one simple question: Are you an extrovert or an introvert?
If you’re an extrovert, one who draws energy from being with other people, you may have had difficulty during quarantine because of the lack of social interaction, especially if you live alone. That’s because an extrovert thrives in social interactions large and small — from getting coffee with a co-worker to popping into a cubicle to chat to being part of a large meeting. All are energizing for an extrovert.
But if you’re an introvert, one who draws energy from being alone, the quarantine may have offered a reprieve from the draining effects of social interaction, especially if you live alone. That’s because an introvert prefers a quiet place to think and work, preferring not to engage with others unless it’s necessary. For an introvert, work or other situations that require social interaction can be exhausting.
Experts say both types, though, may find growth during the time of COVID-19 quarantine if introverts realize they miss people and extroverts embrace the opportunity for self-reflection.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Slow down, Washingtonians. Counties can't relax restrictions further for at least two weeks, Gov. Jay Inslee said yesterday, warning that he may roll back parts of the reopening as cases climb. Here's what you can do in each county now, from haircuts to dining out. Meanwhile, the state is changing the way it counts COVID-19 deaths.
Could Seattle kids return to school outdoors? The teachers union says the district's rough plan for some in-person teaching would be "reckless" under the current conditions. A few School Board members are drafting an ambitious alternative.
Early results are promising from vaccine testing in Seattle. The test triggered strong immune responses in a small group of volunteers, preliminary results show, but red flags and big questions remain. Meanwhile, decades of HIV research are boosting the race for a coronavirus vaccine.
Expect the U.S., Canada and Mexico to keep their borders closed to non-essential travel until late summer, under a plan expected to be announced this week. New border rules and lockdowns are taking effect around the world today, with one Australian leader asserting: "The time for warnings … is over."
The Trump administration has ordered hospitals to bypass the CDC and send all coronavirus patient information to a central database, starting today. This alarms health experts who fear the data will be politicized or withheld from the public.
Two hairstylists had coronavirus and came into close contact with 139 clients — but nobody fell ill. Why? Possibly because of the precautions they took. The effect has stunned researchers.
Be careful buying hand sanitizer. King County health officials are warning consumers against 11 manufacturers' products because of the risk of methanol poisoning. Here's what to look for on the label.
How risky is using a public restroom during the pandemic? As portable camping potties fly off the shelves of sporting-good stores, infectious-disease experts are describing their convoluted routines in the "worst place you can go."
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