Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, July 21, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

After more than a year of planning and despite a recent surge in COVID-19 cases worldwide, the Tokyo Olympics are nearly here. The head of the World Health Organization said Wednesday that eliminating virus risks at the Olympics is impossible, but how infections are handled is what matters most.

Meanwhile, as the spread of the new delta variant prompts concern, conservative media is offering mixed messaging about vaccines. And Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday implored unvaccinated Americans to get the COVID-19 shot, issuing a stark and grave warning of a repeat of last year’s shutdowns if people refuse to protect themselves from the coronavirus.

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 live updates from previous days, plus all our other coronavirus coverage, and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington and the world.


As cases surge, New Orleans ‘strongly recommends’ masks

NEW ORLEANS — With the daily average of new COVID-19 cases surging to numbers not seen in months, New Orleans officials issued an advisory Wednesday “strongly recommending” people resume wearing masks indoors, hoping to avoid the kind of virus-related shutdowns that devastated the city’s tourism economy in 2020. 

Mayor LaToya Cantrell stopped short Wednesday of requiring mask wearing. She said the advisory being issued “puts the responsibility on individuals themselves,” rather than having the city enforce a mandate.

The announcement came as the city posted figures showing the surge, driven by the highly contagious delta variant, has pushed the seven-day average of new cases reported in the city to 117, the highest since early February. It had fallen as low as eight in mid-June but began climbing sharply in early July. 

Also Wednesday, Louisiana’s health department reported a new case count of 5,388, the third highest since the pandemic began. Hospitalizations for the disease rose to 844 statewide, up more than 600 since June 19.

—Associated Press

What is a COVID-19 vaccine ‘breakthrough’ case?

What is a COVID-19 vaccine “breakthrough” case?

It’s when a fully vaccinated person gets infected with the coronavirus. A small number of such cases are expected and health officials say they’re not a cause for alarm.

COVID-19 vaccines work by teaching the body to recognize the virus. So if you’re exposed to it after vaccination, your immune system should be ready to spring into action and fight it.

In studies, the two-dose COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna were around 95% effective at preventing illness, while the one-shot Johnson & Johnson shot was 72% effective, though direct comparisons are difficult. So while the vaccines are very good at protecting us from the virus, it’s still possible to get infected with mild or no symptoms, or even to get sick.

If you do end up getting sick despite vaccination, experts say the shots are very good at reducing the severity of the illness — the main reason to get vaccinated.

—Associated Press

Lawmakers: Parental OK needed for minors to get COVID shot

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Two Tennessee Republican lawmakers said Wednesday they received assurances that the state’s health agency won’t vaccinate minors for COVID-19 without parental consent, doubling back on a decades-old provision about children’s vaccination rights that was a lightning rod in the firing of the state’s top vaccine official.

The announcement came during a meeting of the same legislative panel that last month grilled Department of Health officials — among them, then-vaccine chief Michelle Fiscus. The state has since terminated Fiscus in what she contends was a move to appease some GOP lawmakers who fumed over state outreach for COVID-19 vaccinations to minors. Some even threatened to dissolve the Health Department.

Sen. Kerry Roberts and Rep. John Ragan, GOP co-chairs of the Joint Government Operations Committee, said in a statement read at Wednesday’s meeting that they had met with Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey and a member of Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s office. A spokesperson for the Department of Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the discussion.

—Associated Press

WSU Cougars coach Nick Rolovich elects not to get COVID-19 vaccine, won’t attend Pac-12 Media Day

In less than a week, the Pac-12’s coaches will convene in Hollywood for the conference’s annual Media Day event.

All but one, actually.

Second-year Washington State coach Nick Rolovich won’t be attending Pac-12 Media Day in person this year due to the event’s vaccination requirements, he announced via Twitter on Wednesday. According to the conference, Pac-12 Media Day participants must be fully vaccinated in order to attend the single-day event held on July 27 at Hollywood and Highland.

Rolovich has opted not to get a COVID-19 vaccine for what the coach described as personal reasons.

“As the Pac-12 Conference has required that all in-person participants at next week’s Pac-12 Football Media Day be fully vaccinated, I will participate remotely and look forward to talking about our football team and the incredible young men in the program,” Rolovich wrote in a statement. “I have elected not to receive a COVID-19 vaccine for reasons which will remain private. While I have made my own decision, I respect that every individual — including our coaches, staff and student-athletes — can make his or her own decision regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. I will not comment further on my decision.”

—The Spokesman-Review

Brandi Carlile inspired by isolation for new record

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Americana singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile’s new blonde locks are an homage to David Bowie, a hint at what her new music will sound like. 

The six-time Grammy-winner sports a Bowie-inspired look in the first music video from her upcoming sixth album, “In These Silent Days,” which is coming out on Oct. 1. 

In a statement on Wednesday announcing the new record, Carlile said she was inspired to write while being in isolation during the pandemic with bandmates Tim and Phil Hanseroth. 

Carlile, who broke out with her acclaimed 2018 album “By the Way, I Forgive You,” was influenced by Bowie, Freddie Mercury and her two close musical friends, Elton John and Joni Mitchell, on the new record. 

Carlile’s new music video, directed by “Friends” actress Courteney Cox, is called “Right On Time.”

—Associated Press

Hugs as California public school returns to class in person

CHULA VISTA, Calif. — There was pumping music, dancing teachers and lots of hugs as one of the first public schools in California opened fully to in-person learning Wednesday, marking a major milestone in the fight to return to normalcy in the nation’s most populated state, though the masked students served as a reminder that the coronavirus pandemic is still far from over. 

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond welcomed students at Enrique S. Camarena Elementary School in Chula Vista, south of San Diego near the Mexican border.

“Bienvenidos! Welcome back to school! That’s it for my speech,” Thurmond said to laughter and applause from students and parents gathered on the school’s playground. “I’m just here to say we’re so proud of you. This is one of the first schools in all of the state of California to be back, and you’re showing everyone in California and in our nation that we learn well, we stay safe and we support our students and families.”

Thurmond tried to calm concerns about the timing of Chula Vista Elementary School District’s return to full-day, in-person instruction amid rising numbers of COVID-19 infections from the more contagious delta variant, including among younger kids, for which a vaccine has not yet been approved. 

—Associated Press

State health officials report 946 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 946 new coronavirus cases and 7 new deaths on Wednesday.

The update brings the state's totals to 463,537 cases and 6,063 deaths, meaning that 1.3% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. Tallies may be higher earlier in the week because new state data isn’t reported on Sundays and COVID-related deaths aren’t reported on the weekends.

In addition, 26,294 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 29 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 114,922 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,676 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 8,050,096 doses and 51.9% of Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to vaccination data, which the state updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Providers are currently giving an average of about 10,169 vaccine shots per day.

The DOH says its daily case reports may also include duplicate test results, results assigned to the wrong county, results that are reported for today but are actually from a previous day, occasional false positive tests and other data discrepancies. Because of this, the previous day’s total number of cases plus the number of new daily cases does not add up to the new day’s total number of cases. State health officials recommend reviewing the dashboard's epidemiologic curves tab for the most accurate representation of the state's COVID-19 spread.


Biden’s border decision extends pain for Point Roberts residents

The Biden administration’s decision to keep the U.S.-Canada border closed through Aug. 21 is another gut punch for Point Roberts, the Whatcom County community left isolated due to COVID-19 restrictions for more than a year.

Located at the southern tip of Canada’s Tsawwassen Peninsula, and connected by land to British Columbia, Point Roberts already lost one summer of its traditional influx of Canadian visitors due to the border’s closure last spring.

Wednesday’s announcement barring nonessential travel for at least another month threatens to make another summer a bust. The decision drew condemnations from Washington state leaders and Point Roberts business advocates.

“It’s devastating, it’s unnecessary, it’s inhumane and it’s willful blindness,” said Brian Calder, president of the Point Roberts Chamber of Commerce, who described his community as “a ghost town, economically.”

Point Roberts, a town of about 1,300, boasts an 85% vaccination rate and virtually no COVID-19 cases — and has offered to test and vaccinate any visitors from Canada, Calder said. But that did not sway the Biden administration, which announced it would maintain a full border clampdown.

Read the full story here.

—Jim Brunner

Greece: Tear gas fired during protest of vaccine mandate

ATHENS, Greece — Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters who gathered Wednesday in Athens to oppose coronavirus vaccination requirements proposed by the Greek government.

The demonstration in front of the parliament building took place hours after the government submitted legislation to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for employees at nursing homes and care facilities.

Under the draft bill, staff members could be suspended without pay starting in mid-August if they fail to comply.

Officers fired the tear gas and water cannons after protesters attempted to break through a police cordon.

Several thousand people also joined a protest rally in Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki.

—Associated Press

Rare ‘breakthrough’ COVID cases are causing alarm, confusion

Reports of athletes, lawmakers and others getting the coronavirus despite vaccination may sound alarming but top health experts point to overwhelming evidence that the shots are doing exactly what they are supposed to: dramatically reducing severe illness and death.

The best indicator: U.S. hospitalizations and deaths are nearly all among the unvaccinated, and real-world data from Britain and Israel support that protection against the worst cases remains strong. What scientists call “breakthrough” infections in people who are fully vaccinated make up a small fraction of cases.

“When you hear about a breakthrough infection, that doesn’t necessarily mean the vaccine is failing,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease specialist, told a worried Senate panel this week. The shots are holding up, he said, even in the face of the highly contagious delta variant that is burning through unvaccinated communities

Health authorities have warned that even though the COVID-19 vaccines are incredibly effective — the Pfizer and Moderna ones about 95% against symptomatic infection in studies — they’re not perfect. No vaccine is.

But it wasn’t until delta variant began spreading that the risk of breakthroughs started getting much public attention. 

—Associated Press

CDC probes deaths in immunized patients in nursing homes

Lagging vaccination rates among nursing home staff are being linked to a national increase in COVID-19 infections and deaths at senior facilities in July, and are at the center of a federal investigation in a hard-hit Colorado location where disease detectives found many workers were not inoculated.

The investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of facilities in the Grand Junction, Colorado, area raises concerns among public health doctors that successes in protecting vulnerable elders with vaccines could be in peril as the more aggressive delta variant spreads across the country.

Nationally about 59% of nursing home staff have gotten their shots, about the same as the overall percentage of fully vaccinated adults — but significantly lower than the roughly 80% of residents who are vaccinated, according to Medicare. And some states have much lower vaccination rates of around 40%.

Some policy experts are urging the government to close the gap by requiring nursing home staffers get shots, a mandate the Biden administration has been reluctant to issue. Nursing home operators fear such a move could backfire, prompting many staffers with vaccine qualms to simply quit their jobs.

Read the story here.

—Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Jason Dearen The Associated Press

COVID-19 cases in US triple over 2 weeks amid misinformation

COVID-19 cases tripled in the U.S. over two weeks amid an onslaught of vaccine misinformation that is straining hospitals, exhausting doctors and pushing clergy into the fray.

“Our staff, they are frustrated,” said Chad Neilsen, director of infection prevention at UF Health Jacksonville, which is canceling elective surgeries and procedures after the number of mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 inpatients at its two campuses jumped to 134, up from a low of 16 in mid-May.

“They are tired. They are thinking this is déjà vu all over again, and there is some anger because we know that this is a largely preventable situation, and people are not taking advantage of the vaccine.”

Across the U.S., the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. rose over the past two weeks to more than 37,000 on Tuesday, up from less than 13,700 on July 6, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Health officials blame the delta variant and slowing vaccination rates. Just 56.2% of Americans have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It is like seeing the car wreck before it happens,” said Dr. James Williams, a clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at Texas Tech, who has recently started treating more COVID-19 patients. “None of us want to go through this again.”

He said the patients are younger — many in their 20s, 30s and 40s — and overwhelmingly unvaccinated.

Read the story here.

—Jim Salter and Heather Hollingsworth, The Associated Press

Biden splits from Trudeau, extending travel curbs at U.S.-Canada land border

The United States on Wednesday renewed its pandemic curbs on nonessential travel at the U.S.-Canada land border for at least a month, marking a split with its northern neighbor and close ally on the restrictions, and fueling rancor on both sides of the frontier.

The Department of Homeland Security said the extension of the measures, which also apply at the U.S.-Mexico land border and are set to expire Aug. 21 was motivated in part by a desire to decrease the spread of the highly transmissible delta coronavirus variant.

The announcement comes several days after Canada said it would begin to open up its borders to some foreigners for discretionary travel, beginning with fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents living in the United States on Aug. 9; and fully vaccinated people from elsewhere on Sept. 7.

Canada and the United States agreed to impose the curbs on nonessential travel at their 5,500-mile land border at the pandemic’s onset in March 2020, renewing them in one-month increments since.

The measures have had limited effects on trade and the movement of some cross-border workers, but they have kept families apart, battered the tourism industry and altered life in close-knit border communities in ways big and small.

Read the story here.

—Amanda Coletta, The Washington Post

Jill Biden to stop in Alaska on her way to Tokyo Olympics

Jill Biden embarked Wednesday on her first solo international trip as first lady, leading a U.S. delegation to the Olympic Games in Tokyo, where the coronavirus is surging and COVID-19 infections have climbed to a six-month high.

She will stop in Alaska on the way to Japan, and in Hawaii before she returns to Washington.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that President Joe Biden and the first lady both felt it was important that the delegation be led “at the highest level,” and that Jill Biden looked forward to the long journey to help support U.S. athletes, who will be competing in some of the starkest conditions for an Olympic Games.

Read the story here.

—Darlene Superville, The Associated Press

South Korea’s latest virus surge spreads outside capital

South Korea reported a new high in daily coronavirus cases Wednesday, as a surge spreading beyond the capital puts pressure on authorities to extend their toughest distancing rules.

New cases have exceeded 1,000 a day for two weeks amid a slow vaccination campaign, lax public vigilance and the spread of more contagious delta variant. A majority of the recent cases have been in the Seoul metropolitan area, but the virus is increasingly spreading beyond the capital.

The 1,784 virus cases detected in the past 24-hour period was the country’s biggest single-day jump since the pandemic began.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

CDC director says delta variant makes up estimated 83% of new U.S. coronavirus cases

The highly infectious delta variant now accounts for an estimated 83% of new coronavirus cases in the United States — a “dramatic increase” from early July, when it crossed the 50% threshold to become the dominant variant in this country, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

In some regions, the percentage is even higher — particularly where vaccination rates are low, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC director, said during a Senate health committee hearing. Vaccines are effective against the delta variant and while almost 60% of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated, less than half of the total U.S. population is.

The new figure comes as new cases have been rising across the United States, though cases, hospitalizations and deaths remain a fraction of their peaks. Still, public health experts are watching the increases with deep concern and Walensky warned last week that “this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” The seven-day average now shows more than 35,000 new daily cases, up from about 11,000 a day not long ago, according to a New York Times database.

Read the story here.

—Sheryl Gay Stolberg, The New York Times

Tokyo virus cases hit 6-month high 2 days before Games open

Tokyo Olympics organizers said 71 of the people accredited for the Tokyo Olympics have tested positive for COVID-19 this month, including an American gymnast and a Czech beach volleyball player.

The total includes 31 people among the tens of thousands of international visitors expected in Japan to compete or work at the Games.

Meanwhile Tokyo’s COVID-19 infections surged to a six-month high Wednesday, logging 1,832 new cases just two days before the Games open.

Tokyo is currently under its fourth state of emergency, which will last until Aug. 22, covering the entire duration of the Olympics that start Friday and end Aug. 8. Fans are banned from all venues in the Tokyo area, with limited audiences at a few outlying sites.

Read the story here.

—Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press

Tunisia’s president orders military to manage virus crisis

Tunisia’s president on Wednesday ordered the military to take over management of the national COVID-19 pandemic response, as the country fights one of Africa’s worst outbreaks.

Soldiers and military medics are already carrying out vaccinations in remote parts of Tunisia. On Tuesday, military trucks transported oxygen to regions in the center and northwest of the country where hospitals are suffering shortages.

Overall, Tunisia has reported more deaths per capita than any African country and among the highest daily death rates per capita in the world in recent weeks. Foreign countries have been pouring in vaccines and other medical aid.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Report: UK border officers to stop routine COVID checks

U.K. border officers have been directed to stop routinely checking whether travelers from many countries have tested negative for COVID-19, British media reported Wednesday, citing leaked government documents.

While the change is designed to reduce waiting times for airport immigration checks, it has raised concerns about importing new coronavirus cases at a time when infection rates in Britain are soaring, the Guardian newspaper reported.

The new policy applies to people arriving from so-called green and amber list countries, the top two levels of the government’s three-tier traffic light system for foreign travel. Everyone entering Britain is still legally required to fill out a passenger locator form and have a negative COVID-19 test even if border officials don’t routinely check their documentation.

The changes come after the government relaxed quarantine rules for amber-list countries, including most of Europe, triggering warnings that holiday travelers might face hours-long lines for airport immigration checks.

Read the story here.

—Danica Kirka, The Associated Press

South African firm to make Pfizer vaccine, first in Africa

A South African firm will begin producing the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the first time that the shot will be produced in Africa, Pfizer announced Wednesday.

The Biovac Institute based in Cape Town will manufacture the vaccine for distribution across Africa, in a move that should help address the continent’s desperate need for more vaccine doses amid a recent surge of cases.

Biovac will receive large batch ingredients for the vaccine from Europe and will blend the components, put them in vials and package them for distribution. The production will begin in 2022 with a goal of reaching more than 100 million finished doses annually. Biovac’s production of doses will be distributed among the 54 countries of Africa.

The development is a critical step in increasing African’s access to an effective COVID-19 vaccine.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

If you got Johnson & Johnson's one-dose vaccine, you're far less protected against COVID-19's quickly spreading delta variant than against the original virus, according to new research that's amplifying talk of booster shots.

The U.S. saw its biggest drop in life expectancy since World War II, driven largely by COVID-19, officials announced.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, angrily confronted Sen. Rand Paul over the virus yesterday.

—Kris Higginson