Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, July 17, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
As the COVID-19 comeback sounds alarms for federal health officials, experts say they’re concerned about twin threats posed by the highly transmissible delta variant and a stagnation in efforts to vaccinate as many Americans as possible.
Meanwhile, hospitals are again struggling at a time when some of them are busy just trying to catch up on surgeries and other procedures that were put on hold during the pandemic.
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.
Britain’s health secretary tests positive for the coronavirus
Sajid Javid, Britain’s new health secretary, said Saturday in a short video on Twitter that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
“I was feeling a bit groggy last night, so I took a lateral flow test this morning, and it’s come out positive,” said the health secretary, 51, who was smiling and appeared to be in good spirits. Britain has distributed the easy-to-use lateral flow tests as a means of encouraging people to test themselves or get tested for the virus.
Javid said that he had already received two doses of a coronavirus vaccine and that his symptoms were “very mild.” He added that he was isolating at home with his family and that he was awaiting the results of a polymerase chain reaction test, which is considered more accurate, for confirmation.
Javid was appointed health secretary in June after Matt Hancock, who had spearheaded the country’s pandemic response, resigned after being accused of violating coronavirus restrictions in tabloid news reports of his affair with an aide.
The government had planned to end England’s pandemic rules June 21, but a jump in cases driven by the highly transmissible delta variant led Prime Minister Boris Johnson to delay the lifting of restrictions by four weeks, to Monday.
So far, about 53% of Britain’s population has been fully vaccinated and about 69% has received a single dose of a vaccine.
Read the full story here.
How unique Oregon law prevents COVID-19 vaccine mandates for health care workers
In Oregon and across the country, a growing segment of health care workers are calling for mandatory vaccinations for their colleagues to ensure COVID-19 doesn’t spread among staff members or patients.
Last Tuesday, multiple major health organizations declared health care workers should have to get COVID-19 shots. Last Wednesday, Oregon’s lobbying arm for hospitals said employers had to be able to make such mandates.
But, in Oregon, a 32-year-old law stands in the way.
Oregon appears to be the only state in the country that explicitly prohibits health care organizations from mandating vaccinations for workers.
Employers for nearly every other profession in Oregon can require vaccines among staff. In some states, health care staff are among the few groups specifically targeted for mandatory vaccinations.
Oregon’s outlier status is puzzling, even to the people responsible for creating it.
“Now, why the hell did we do that?” said former Sen. Wayne Fawbush, D-Hood River, one of the sponsors of the 1989 legislation that is now preventing health care workers from being mandated to get shots.
Read the full story here.
Education Dept. shows limits of pandemic relief by fighting borrowers in bankruptcy
The Education Department is routinely contesting requests for bankruptcy discharges from people deep in debt and short on resources, according to court documents. Consumer advocates say the practice runs counter to the Biden administration’s interest in helping distressed borrowers and undermines the department’s effort to reform its restrictive bankruptcy policy.
What’s more, advocates say the department has been making unreasonable demands on borrowers in the middle of the public health and economic crisis.
One single mother of three was told her 15-year-old son could get a job and she could fight harder for child support to free up money to pay her loans. A grandmother working two jobs to care for her disabled grandson was encouraged to find higher-paying work, while the department pressed another borrower to take on a second job at a time when millions of Americans were facing unemployment.
The Washington Post reviewed dozens of bankruptcy cases from New York to Arizona involving federal student loans and found a similar pattern of demands.
“Why is the government continuing to take such harsh stances against these struggling borrowers at this moment,” questioned Dan Zibel, chief counsel at the National Student Legal Defense Network, a nonprofit organization. “The department should take a hard look at what it’s doing, what message it’s sending to borrowers.”
Read the full story here.
How Republican vaccine opposition got to this point
After Sherri Tenpenny, a Cleveland-area doctor, falsely suggested during a hearing last month in the Ohio House of Representatives that COVID vaccines left people “magnetized” and could “interface” with 5G cellular towers, Republican lawmakers thanked her for her “enlightening” testimony.
In Congress, Republicans who once praised the Trump administration for its work facilitating the swift development of the vaccines now wage campaigns of vaccine misinformation, sowing doubts about safety and effectiveness from the Capitol.
And this past week, Republican state lawmakers in Tennessee successfully pressured health officials to stop outreach to children for all vaccines. The guidance prohibits sending reminders about the second dose of a COVID vaccine to adolescents who had received one shot and communicating about routine inoculations, like the flu shot.
A wave of opposition to COVID vaccines has risen within the Republican Party as conservative news outlets produce a steady diet of misinformation about vaccines and some GOP lawmakers invite anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists to testify in statehouses and Congress. With very little resistance from party leaders, these Republican efforts have elevated falsehoods and doubts about vaccinations from the fringes of American life to the center of our political conversation.
It is a pattern that was seen throughout the Trump administration: Rather than rebuke conspiratorial thinking and inaccuracies when they begin spreading among their party’s base, many Republicans tolerate extremist misinformation.
Read the full story here.
1-hour test kit for coronavirus delta variant hits market
TOKYO – Precision instrument maker Shimadzu Corp. has begun marketing a reagent PCR test kit that can identify the L452R mutation of the delta variant of the novel coronavirus in about one hour.
The firm announced Thursday that the kit is being sold to companies and public health centers engaged in testing for the novel coronavirus.
This reagent kit significantly shortens the time required to detect the mutation, which previously took more than two hours.
With cases of infection with the delta variant continuing to occur in many parts of the country, Shimadzu hopes to stop the spread of infections by detecting the variant quickly.
The delta variant was first identified in India.
In addition to the kit for the delta variant, Shimadzu has also started selling a kit that can detect the E484K mutation of the beta, gamma and theta variants.
The beta variant was first found in South Africa, while the gamma variant was first observed in Brazil, and the theta variant in the Philippines.
How vaccine-skeptical France and Germany came to support near-mandates
When France and Germany launched their coronavirus vaccination programs late last year, officials in both countries assured that the shots wouldn’t be mandatory in their societies, where vaccine skepticism is widespread.
But more than half a year later, the two nations are going further than most other Western countries in granting privileges to people who have been vaccinated and making daily life difficult for those who aren’t.
These aren’t mandates. Not formally. But in practice, some of the measures come close.
In contrast with the U.S. states that have explicitly banned vaccination mandates or passports, the European Union is using digital COVID certificates, with scannable QR codes that quickly show if someone has been vaccinated, tested negative or recovered from COVID-19. The certificates were designed with the primary goal of easing movement across borders, but many E.U. countries are using them internally, as well.
In Germany, vaccinated people have gained privileged access to restaurants and bars that would otherwise require a recent negative coronavirus test. Some of those restrictions have now been lifted because of low caseloads. But rules could be tightened again, as the European CDC predicts incidence rates across the bloc to triple within the next two weeks because of the delta variant.
German officials have vowed that vaccinated people would not be significantly affected by a fourth-wave lockdown.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron announced this past week that people would have to flash their certificates before entering trains, planes, restaurants, cafes and many other places starting next month.
As in Greece and Italy, vaccination would become mandatory for health workers in France by fall. Most everyone else here would still be in a position to decline vaccines. But the unvaccinated would be largely excluded from social life unless they meet the COVID recovery exception or get tested every 48 hours.
In addition, coronavirus tests would no longer be free, unless prescribed by a doctor.
Under a draft law, customers and business owners would risk hefty fines or even jail if they circumvent the rules, which still need to be approved by Parliament.
Read the full story.
As New York reopens, it looks for culture to lead the way
Broadway is planning to start performances of at least three dozen shows before the end of the year, but producers do not know if there will be enough tourists — who typically make up two-thirds of the audience — to support all of them.
The Metropolitan Opera is planning a September return, but only if its musicians agree to pay cuts.
And New York’s vaunted nightlife scene — the dance clubs and live venues that give the city its reputation for never sleeping — has been stymied by the slow, glitchy rollout of a federal aid program that mistakenly declared some of the city’s best-known nightclub impresarios to be dead.
The return of arts and entertainment is crucial to New York’s economy, and not just because it is a major industry that employed some 93,500 people before the pandemic and paid them $7.4 billion in wages, according to the state comptroller’s office. Culture is also part of the lifeblood of New York — a magnet for visitors and residents alike that will play a key role if the city is to remain vital in an era when shops are battling e-commerce, the ease of remote work has businesses rethinking the need to stay in central business districts and the exurbs are booming.
“What is a city without social, cultural and creative synergies?” Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked earlier this year in an address on the importance of the arts to the city’s recovery. “New York City is not New York without Broadway. And with Zoom, many people have learned they can do business from anywhere. Compound this situation with growing crime and homelessness and we have a national urban crisis.”
And Mayor Bill de Blasio — who could seem indifferent to the arts earlier in his tenure — has become a cultural cheerleader in the waning days of his administration, starting a $25 million program to put artists back to work, creating a Broadway vaccination site for theater industry workers and planning a “homecoming concert” in Central Park next month featuring Bruce Springsteen, Jennifer Hudson and Paul Simon to herald the city’s return.
Eli Dvorkin, editorial and policy director at the Center for an Urban Future, said, “The way I look at it, there is not going to be a strong recovery for New York City without the performing arts leading the way.” He added, “People gravitate here because of the city’s cultural life.”
Read the full story.
Thailand tightens measures as daily COVID-19 cases cross 10,000
Thailand has tightened coronavirus restrictions and warned of further measures as daily cases surpassed 10,000 and the death toll hit a record 141 on Saturday despite an overnight curfew in Bangkok and several other provinces.
The surge since April has overwhelmed hospitals, strained the economy and thrown tourism recovery plans in doubt. The vaccine rollout, hindered by supply problems, is lagging with some 5% of the population fully vaccinated and 15% only partially.
“I would like everyone to realize our necessity to impose stricter measures soon. We all may get affected and be inconvenienced in many ways,” Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha wrote on his Facebook page late on Friday.
Cases have been climbing particularly in Bangkok and surrounding provinces. The government imposed additional measures overnight including a ban on any gatherings and activities that can spread the virus, including anti-government rallies that have criticized Prayuth’s handling of the pandemic.
Violators face up to two years in prison and/or a fine of up to 40,000 baht ($1,220).
Prayuth said the forthcoming additional measures seek to limit people’s mobility as much as possible, close down virtually all non-essential places and implement strict work from home. He said the government’s medical committee will discuss and study the lockdown measures in other countries carefully before approving the new ones.
UK’s France curbs irk travelers; health chief tests positive
Tourists and the travel industry vented frustration and anger on Saturday after Britain reversed a plan to ease travel restrictions on France just two days after they were due to start, citing concerns about a variant of the coronavirus.
The move comes despite the fact that France currently has lower rates of the virus than the U.K., where the highly contagious delta variant is driving a surge in infections. On Saturday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who is in charge of Britain’s coronavirus response, said he has tested positive for COVID-19 and is self-isolating while he awaits the results of a second test.
Javid said in a video message that he has had both shots of a vaccine and “so far my symptoms are very mild.”
Javid took over last month from Matt Hancock, who resigned after breaching social distancing rules. Hancock fell ill with COVID-19 early in the pandemic last year, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent several days in intensive care with the virus in April 2020.
Coronavirus cases have been rising for weeks in Britain, where more than 54,000 new infections were confirmed on Saturday, the highest daily total since January. Hospitalizations and deaths are also rising, but remain far lower than at previous infection peaks thanks to vaccinations.
Despite the soaring cases, remaining restrictions are set to be lifted in England on Monday, though the government is advising people to remain cautious. Face masks will still be required on London’s buses and subways and some other transit networks.
Read the full story.
Idaho’s COVID-19 daily case average triples in less than 2 weeks due largely to the Delta variant
Though numbers are well below their peak from last winter, COVID-19 cases are again rising in Idaho.
After declining relatively steadily since mid-March, case numbers have nearly tripled in less than two weeks, rising from a seven-day moving average of less than 50 new cases per day on July 5 to an average of more than 146 new cases per day as of Friday.
The positivity rate for COVID-19 tests has also gone from 2.8% for the week of June 13-19 to 4.3% for the week of July 4-10.
The rise coincides with a nationwide uptick in cases, which health officials have partly attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant, which now accounts for the majority of cases across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Health and Human Services Region 10, which includes Idaho, Alaska, Oregon and Washington, the Delta variant accounted for an estimated 43% of cases over the two weeks ending July 3, according to the CDC.
Though cases are rising, data shows that the vast majority of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths are occurring in Idahoans who have not been fully vaccinated, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
From Jan. 1 through July 3, 99.1% of new cases had no record of being fully vaccinated, and 98.7% of new COVID-19 hospitalizations had no record of being fully vaccinated.
The state added 10 new deaths this week, pushing the total death tally to 2,173 since the start of the pandemic.
“The facts are clear,” Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen wrote in a blog post July 9. “The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective. … Getting the vaccine is a choice, but it is a choice that protects your families and fellow residents.”
Read the full story.
France allows visitors with Indian-made AstraZeneca vaccine
France will allow international travelers who have had AstraZeneca’s Indian-manufactured vaccine into the country starting Sunday.
At the same time, France is tightening border checks to control the spread of the delta variant and protect hospitals, according to a statement from the prime minister Saturday.
The move to accept visitors vaccinated with AstraZeneca’s vaccine made by India’s Serum Institute came after a global outcry over the fact that the European Union’s COVID-19 certificate only recognizes AstraZeneca vaccines manufactured in Europe.
Several other EU countries already accept the Indian version, which is notably used in the U.K. and around Africa. The varied rules from each country have further complicated this summer’s travel season. France still doesn’t recognize vaccinations by Chinese or Russian vaccines, only those authorized by the EU drug regulator: those made by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson&Johnson and AstraZeneca.
Starting Sunday, France will also start requiring anyone who isn’t vaccinated arriving from Britain, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Greece or Cyprus to present a negative test less than 24 hours old to cross French borders.
Tunisia, Indonesia, Cuba and Mozambique have now been added to France’s “red list” of countries with high virus risk, according to Saturday’s statement. However, France will now accept travelers from any red list countries if they are fully vaccinated.
France also shortened the time frame for when a person is considered fully vaccinated after the second dose, to one week instead of two.
Read the full story.
GOP governor’s vaccination tour reveals depths of distrust
Free lottery tickets for those who get vaccinated had few takers. Free hunting and fishing licenses didn’t change many minds either. And this being red-state Arkansas, mandatory vaccinations are off the table.
So Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has hit the road, meeting face-to-face with residents to try to overcome vaccine hesitancy — in many cases, hostility — in Arkansas, which has the highest rate of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. but is near the very bottom in dispensing shots.
He is meeting with residents like Harvey Woods, who was among five dozen people who gathered at a convention center ballroom in Texarkana on Thursday night. Most of the audience wasn’t masked, and neither was Hutchinson, who has been vaccinated.
Woods, 67, introduced himself to Hutchinson as “anti-vax” and said that he thinks there are too many questions about the effects of the vaccine and that he doesn’t believe the information from the federal government about them is reliable.
Hutchinson and his top health official tried to reassure Woods about the Food and Drug Administration’s review process. But Hutchinson had a question for Woods.
“Do you believe COVID is real?” the governor asked.
“I’m not afraid of it,” said Woods, who later said he contracted the virus last year.
Hutchinson embarked on the statewide tour as he took over as chairman of the National Governors Association. In that role, he has called combating vaccine resistance a priority.
Studies have shown the vaccines to be highly safe and effective. But misinformation continues to sow doubts about them, especially in conservative and rural areas. Hutchinson has urged the FDA to give full approval to the vaccines instead of emergency authorization, saying that would address one of the arguments used by opponents.
At the forums, Hutchinson tries to empathize with the vaccine skeptics’ anti-government, anti-media sentiment. His message: Listen to your own doctors and medical professionals, not conspiracy theories.
Read the full story.
Georgia's national rugby coach on ventilator with COVID-19 in South Africa
The Georgia national rugby coach has “serious lung damage” from COVID-19 and has been put on a ventilator in the hospital in South Africa, Georgia rugby officials said Saturday.
Levan Maisashvili was one of six members of the Georgian touring party to test positive for the virus after playing against South Africa on July 2 in Pretoria as part of a series organized to help the world champion Springboks prepare for the British and Irish Lions tour.
The five others to test positive were all players. They were recovering, the Georgia Rugby Union said, and were due to leave South Africa on Sunday.
Maisashvili had not been vaccinated against COVID-19, Georgia team spokeswoman Tatia Beriashvili wrote in an email to The Associated Press, despite members of both the South Africa and the British and Irish Lions squads and their backroom staffs receiving vaccinations ahead of their series.
Beriashvili confirmed Maisashvili was on a ventilator.
Read the full story.
CDC exempts unaccompanied migrant children from deportation
Unaccompanied migrant children will be exempt from a ban on migrants seeking asylum at the U.S. border, federal health officials ordered Friday.
The order by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed a temporary exception it had ordered in February from a total asylum ban issued in October.
The Trump administration cited concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic to justify the October ban. But with COVID-19 vaccination rates climbing, the change suggests that the Biden administration is considering a gradual lifting of the asylum ban.
A Justice Department attorney signaled the change during a court hearing Tuesday in Fort Worth. The hearing dealt with a lawsuit filed by the state of Texas to compel enforcement of the Trump ban.
U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman, a Trump appointee, questioned Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Stoltz about the timing of the new order and asked that the government inform him as soon as it is issued. Pittman did not rule on the request for an injunction but said he would put out a decision “as quickly as I can.”
European nations impose incentives, penalties to boost shots
European nations are scrambling to ramp up vaccination drives, using a carrot-and-stick approach to persuade the reluctant to get their shots as the more transmissible delta variant drives a surge in infections.
Greece became the latest to enact new restrictions on Friday, requiring proof of vaccination or recent recovery from COVID-19 for access to indoor restaurants, cafes, bars and movie theaters. Children can enter with negative tests.
The measure, part of a package of government incentives, had little immediate effect as virtually all public life moves outdoors during Greece’s hot, dry summers. Sidewalk cafes and restaurants and open-air movie theaters remain accessible to all.
“At the moment it’s the middle of summer, people prefer being outside, under the trees, and people don’t want to sit indoors,” said Sprios Bairaktaris, owner of a popular Greek taverna in the tourist district of Athens that has both indoor and outdoor areas.
Nevertheless, he was still implementing the government measure, only allowing customers with COVID-19 certificates to be seated inside.
“We adhere to all the measures with total safety. Whatever the doctors or scientists advise,” he said.
Outdoor clubs and music venues in Greece will also be accessible only to the fully vaccinated or recently recovered, with capacity capped at 85% and no standing customers.
But just as the measure came into effect in Greece, the Russian capital repealed a similar one introduced last month.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced the requirement for restaurants to only admit customers with proof of vaccination or a negative test ends Monday as the pace of contagion has slowed. The restrictions had badly hurt restaurant owners, already reeling from the pandemic’s impact, forcing many to close.
Some European countries have also introduced mandatory vaccinations for certain professions. Italy made vaccinations obligatory in April for health care workers and pharmacists. France and Greece announced mandatory vaccines this week for health care workers and care home staff, with France extending the requirement to those caring for an elderly or sick person at home.
Read the full story.
Cruise ships have returned to Seattle — is that a good thing? Here’s a primer on the issues facing the cruise industry
Cruise ships — those floating, white-frosted pleasure palaces — are back in Elliott Bay, ready to sail up the Inside Passage.
Most of the talk about the return of the Seattle-Alaska cruise season (from port officials, from cruise executives, in media coverage) follows two narratives. One: Cruise ships boost port town economies. Two: They’re taking serious COVID-19 precautions with oversight from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But throughout the pandemic, there has been a background buzz of environmentalists and other cruise critics arguing the ships are fossil-fuel-guzzling, sludge-leaking problems that we should not be embracing so recklessly — and that cruise port towns like Juneau and Ketchikan are being smothered by cruise tourism.
So which is it? Is the cruise ship a savior or a threat?
“It’s a dilemma,” said Port of Seattle Commission President Fred Felleman, who practically embodies the tension around cruise. He has a background in marine biology (orca research in Puget Sound and after the Exxon Valdez oil spill) and advocating for conservationist policy. He has also been vocally enthusiastic about the return of cruise. Further muddling the issue, the port has announced its intention to be carbon neutral by 2050 — including in its business with cruise ships.
“Clearly, there is an insatiable appetite for cruise,” Felleman said. “We didn’t create it. It exists. Our job is to minimize those costs while maximizing the benefits. And the degree to which I, as a port commissioner, can make some incremental changes in that direction is the degree to which I can still look in the mirror.”
In other words: It’s complicated.
As 2021 cruise season begins, consider this a (very) incomplete primer in its complexities, broken down into three sections: an industry overview, cruise’s economic impact, and cruise’s environmental issues.
Read the full story.
Biden grappling with ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’
Two weeks after celebrating America’s near “independence” from the coronavirus, President Joe Biden is confronting the worrying reality of rising cases and deaths — and the limitations of his ability to combat the persistent vaccine hesitance responsible for the summer backslide.
Cases of COVID-19 have tripled over the past three weeks, and hospitalizations and deaths are rising among unvaccinated people. While the rates are still sharply down from their January highs, officials are concerned by the reversing trendlines and what they consider needless illness and death. And cases are expected to continue to rise in coming weeks.
While the national emergency may have faded, officials say the outbreak is now a more localized crisis in communities where not enough people have rolled up their sleeves.
“Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated,” Biden said Friday, echoing comments made earlier in the day by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The rising numbers are being driven by large pockets of infection among the more than 90 million eligible Americans who have yet to get shots. Just four states with low vaccination rates made up 40% of new cases last week, and nearly half of them came from Florida alone.
However, there is little appetite in the White House for a return to broad mandates for masks or other measures, as 161 million Americans are already fully vaccinated.
Reflecting that mindset, Walensky said Friday that in low-vaccination areas with rising cases, “local policymakers might consider whether masking at that point would be something that would be helpful for their community.”
Some communities are acting. Los Angeles County on Thursday reinstituted its requirement that masks be worn in most indoor settings regardless of vaccination status, and health officials in Las Vegas recommended on Friday that workers and patrons in the tourism hotspot wear face coverings while inside.
Read the full story.
Wearied by the pandemic, Seattle’s Chinatown International District celebrates reopening
David Leong is an old-school kung fu teacher. Getting a black belt from his studio in Chinatown International District takes time — sometimes up to20 years.
Training hard is a given. But this week, his students practiced with an extra sense of purpose. On Saturday, they will don the ornate costumes of Chinese lion dancers in Hing Hay Park to kick off one of Seattle’s “Welcome Back Weeks” celebrating the city’s reopening.
Leong’s studio shook with the pounding of gongs and drums as his students went through a final rehearsal Thursday evening. It was just a small sign that things in Chinatown ID are slowly returning to normal.
After a year of hardship during the pandemic, Leong is eager to show how far his community has come.
“It’s going to be exciting, the renewed hope,” Leong said. “This time a year ago, everything looked so dark.”
As it did for so much of Seattle, the pandemic blindsided business owners in Chinatown ID.
“All of a sudden, immediately, it went from [having a] line out the door around the block to, to literally shutting down,” said I-Miun Liu, who ran several bars and cafes in the district. “There’s like nobody in the streets, it’s like a literal ghost town.”
Language barriers meant the community in Chinatown ID faced unique challenges. The city distributed pamphlets with information about the coronavirus, but many were only in English. Not everyone knew where to turn to learn about new guidance or restrictions.
The Chong Wa Benevolent Organization, a community organization in Chinatown ID, took up the task of translating materials for non-English speakers.
Read the full story.
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