Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Monday, July 18, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

COVID transmission is at a “high” level in King County, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which now recommends masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.

As the latest strain of the COVID-19 virus sends reports of infections skyrocketing, including trends for hospitalizations, hospitalizations are rising again in California, after more than two months of persistently high cases, but for most the symptoms are less severe. However, the boom in home testing has meant that health officials never hear about many COVID cases, deflating official counts. At the University of Washington, researchers who test blood to assess the true level of infections have estimated that only 14% of cases are being reported across the United States. 

We’re updating this page with the latest news about COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the Seattle area, Washington state 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.

OB-GYN tests go virtual; board cites COVID, abortion ruling

Many OB-GYNs, including some who perform abortions, are celebrating a decision that allows them to avoid traveling to Texas for certifying board exams.

Some feared gathering en masse would make them vulnerable to violence. Others who are pregnant themselves worried about developing complications and being forced to seek care in a state with strict abortion limits.

The American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology exams are voluntary, but certification lends respect to doctors’ credentials, indicating they graduated from an accredited medical school and passed written and oral competency exams. Some employers also require the tests.

The Dallas-based board had held virtual exams during the pandemic but planned to have the upcoming fall oral exams in-person. On Thursday, the board announced a reversal, saying the exams would be virtual.

Read the full story here.

—Lindsey Tanner, The Associated Press
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WA hospitals are far over capacity, as backlogs and staff shortages add up

Washington’s hospitals are again “dramatically over capacity,” as challenges discharging patients worsen and staff shortages persist, the state’s health care leaders said Monday.

In a news briefing, leaders from the Washington State Hospital Association said many health care facilities are 120% to 130% full, leading to long wait times in emergency departments, declining patient care and disruptions in ambulance services throughout the state. The high patient loads aren’t directly due to COVID-19 cases: Instead, officials say delayed procedures and difficulties discharging hospital patients are behind the capacity problems.

“We are doing our best, but many of our hospitals — especially in the west side of our state in the populated areas of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties — are more strained today than really at any other point since the pandemic began,” said Dr. Steve Mitchell, medical director of Harborview Medical Center’s emergency department and the Washington Medical Coordination Center.

Read the full story here.

—Elise Takahama

Fauci says he will retire from government post by the end of Biden’s term

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s preeminent infectious-diseases expert who has served as the face of the coronavirus pandemic response for more than two years, will retire by the end of President Joe Biden’s term after more than 50 years in government, he confirmed Monday to The Washington Post.

“By the time we get to the end of the Biden administration term, I feel it would be time for me to step down from this position,” Fauci said.

Fauci’s decision to retire by 2025 was first reported by Politico.

Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, has served as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. In that role, he has advised seven presidents through all manner of public health crises, including HIV/AIDS, the 2001 anthrax attacks, Ebola, Zika and coronavirus.

Read the story here.

—Yasmeen Abutaleb, The Washington Post

As humans spend less time at home, Seattle dogs wrestle with separation anxiety

Raisin, a Chihuahua mix named for her wrinkly skin, was rescued from a hoarder’s house packed with other dogs. Almost immediately after her adoption in 2020, the 8-week-old puppy became hyperattached to her new human, Kelly Hayden. 

Hayden, a canine separation anxiety behavior consultant and owner of Seattle dog-training business Ardent Dog, couldn’t leave the room or even shower without Raisin panicking. Raisin would emit a barking, howling cry that sounded like a scream.

She said her “pandemic puppy” Raisin is an extreme example of a dog experiencing separation anxiety, an issue facing dog owners in Seattle and beyond as they return to the office and more frequent out-of-house activities. 

Separation anxiety cannot be solely blamed on COVID-19, but the pandemic’s long quarantine period helped owners notice their pet’s behavioral problems earlier, Bell said, and people had more free time to deal with said behavior. 

“One: People are home so they notice those behaviors. Two: They got these animals during COVID when everybody was home,” Bell said. “So now, you go to work for eight hours a day and they don’t know what to do.”

Pet adoptions soared during the pandemic, resulting in a 2020 shortage of adoptable pets in Greater SeattleApproximately 23 million American households adopted a pet during the pandemic, per the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Red the story here.

—Jayce Carral
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The world economy is imperiled by a force hiding in plain sight

This past week brought home the magnitude of the overlapping crises assailing the global economy, intensifying fears of recession, job losses, hunger and a plunge on stock markets.

At the root of this torment is a force so elemental that it has almost ceased to warrant mention — the pandemic. That force is far from spent, confronting policymakers with grave uncertainty. Their policy tools are better suited for more typical downturns, not a rare combination of diminishing economic growth and soaring prices.

On Friday, China reported that its economy, the world’s second-largest, expanded by a mere 0.4% from April through June compared with the same period last year. That performance — astonishingly anemic by the standards of recent decades — endangered prospects for scores of countries that trade heavily with China, including the United States. It reinforced the realization that the global economy has lost a vital engine.

Those grim numbers increased the likelihood that central banks would move even more aggressively to raise interest rates as a means of slowing price increases — a course expected to cost jobs, batter financial markets and threaten poor countries with debt crises.

Read the story here.

—Peter S. Goodman, The New York Times

COVID level ‘high’ in King County, CDC recommends masks

COVID transmission is at a “high” level in King County, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which now recommends masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.

King County is one of 14 Washington counties with high levels of COVID transmission, according to the CDC.

Snohomish, Skagit, Thurston, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla, Columbia, Adams, Lincoln and Spokane counties also have high levels of transmission.

King County health officials said Thursday that they are “actively considering” the return of a mask mandate in the county, as transmission levels are now higher than at the peak of last summer’s delta wave, but still much lower than last winter’s omicron wave.

Read the full story here.

—David Gutman

Did nature heal during the pandemic ‘anthropause’?

The pandemic was, and remains, a global human tragedy. But for ecologists, it has also been an unparalleled opportunity to learn more about how people affect the natural world by documenting what happened when we abruptly stepped back from it.

A growing body of literature paints a complex portrait of the slowdown of human activity that has become known as the “anthropause.” Some species clearly benefited from our absence, consistent with early media narratives that nature, without people bumbling about, was finally healing. But other species struggled without human protection or resources.

Read the full story here.

—The New York Times
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New CDC rating for COVID in Tri-Cities means thousands of workers in WA must wear masks

Both Benton and Franklin counties have new ratings of “high” for COVID-19 community levels from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Statewide, 13,434 residents have died of complications of COVID since the start of the pandemic, including 100 in the past week, according to data from the Washington state Department of Health.

Read the full story here.

—Tri-City Herald

COVID rises across U.S. amid muted warnings and murky data

COVID-19 is surging around the United States again in what experts consider the most transmissible variant of the pandemic yet.

But something is different this time: The public health authorities are holding back.

In Chicago, where the county’s COVID warning level was raised to “high” last week, the city’s top doctor said there was no reason for residents to let the virus control their lives. The state health director in Louisiana likened a new rise in COVID cases there to a downpour — “a surge within a surge” — but characterized the situation as concerning but not alarming.

And the public health officer in King County, Washington, Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, said on Thursday that officials were discussing reissuing a mask mandate but would prefer that the public mask up voluntarily. “We’re not going to be able to have infinite series of mandates forcing people to do this, that and the other,” he said.

The latest surge, driven by a spike of BA.5 subvariant cases in this country since May, has sent infections rising in at least 40 states, particularly in the Great Plains, West and South. Hospitalizations have climbed by 20% in the last two weeks, leaving more than 40,000 people in American hospitals with the coronavirus on an average day.

Read the story here.

—Thomas Fuller , Julie Bosman and Edgar Sandoval, The New York Times

California COVID hospitalizations have quadrupled. Who is getting really sick?

COVID hospitalizations are rising again after more than two months of persistently high case rates in the Bay Area and California. But the doctors who treat these patients are seeing consistent indications that for most, the disease is less severe than in earlier surges of the deadly virus that has killed more than a million Americans.

The increase has been much more gradual than during other COVID waves, likely due to widespread vaccination and booster coverage, and improved therapeutics and treatments which prevent some hospitalizations and shorten others. Still, the threat of serious illness and even death among some populations remains a real concern.

“What you really want to know is how dangerous COVID is,” Ozdalga said.

Ozdalga and another professor at Stanford’s medical school found that of the nearly 100 patients hospitalized in recent weeks at Stanford who tested positive for COVID, 35% were being treated for severe disease caused by the virus, while the other patients were mainly being treated for non-COVID related issues.

“The people we are seeing who have severe illness now are largely unvaccinated, including young people,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, a UCSF professor of medicine who specializes in infectious diseases, “and those who are unboosted who are older than 65, and those who are immunocompromised.”

Read the story here.

—Harriet Blair Rowan, The Mercury News