Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, July 23 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

Nearly all of Washington state is “on the path to runaway transmission rates of COVID-19,” public health officials warned this week as more infections are found per day than ever before.

President Donald Trump has been striking a more optimistic tone in his newly restarted daily briefings, ignoring alarming metrics that show just how much America is struggling in its fight against the virus. On Wednesday, he announced $5 billion in aid to nursing home facilities.

Throughout Thursday, on this page, we’ll be posting updates on the pandemic and its effects on the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest and the world. Updates from Wednesday can be found here, and all our coronavirus coverage can be found here.

Live updates:

Tacoma Public Schools confirms school year will begin with remote learning

Tacoma Public Schools announced Thursday evening that when the new school year begins on Sept. 9, it'll be completely online — in an effort to keep students and faculty safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

"The safety of our staff and students is paramount when making decisions about how to educate our students this fall," the school district said in a statement. "We prefer in-person instruction — because we know it’s the best way for students to learn — but only if it can be done safely."

Anthony Chen, director of health for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, said he couldn't recommend school districts to reopen, citing the rising number of COVID-19 cases throughout the state.

“The situation could change, and I may change my recommendation at a later date … Schools should still plan for onsite and hybrid options that districts could implement later in the academic year if the situation improves," Chen said in the statement.

Tacoma Public Schools Superintendent Carla Santorno said during a virtual public meeting Thursday night that she would present the remote learning plan to the School Board at its next meeting.

Santorno added that although the school year will begin with remote learning, a "hybrid model will be an interim step toward the full reopening of schools in the future."

—Elise Takahama
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South Korea to let fans watch sports live again

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says it will allow baseball fans to return to the stands beginning Sunday as health authorities outlined a phased process to bring back spectators in professional sports amid the COVID-19 epidemic.

Senior Health Ministry official Yoon Tae-ho during a virus briefing on Friday also said fans will be allowed at professional soccer games starting on Aug. 1. However, professional golf tournaments will continue without galleries at least until late August, he said.

Both baseball and soccer teams will be initially allowed to sell only 10% of the seats for each game as officials plan to control the level of attendance based on the progress of anti-virus efforts.

Spectators will continue to be banned in the city of Gwangju and nearby South Jeolla Province towns, which have elevated their social distancing measures following a rise in transmissions in recent weeks.

—Associated Press

With officials’ backing, dubious virus remedies surge in Latin America

TARIJA, Bolivia — In Cochabamba, high in the Bolivian Andes, people line up daily outside pharmacies on the central plaza, eager to buy the scarce elixir they hope will ward off COVID-19: chlorine dioxide, a kind of bleach used to disinfect swimming pools and floors.

Experts said drinking it is pointless at best and hazardous at worst. But in Bolivia, where people have been hospitalized after ingesting chlorine dioxide, regional authorities are testing it on prison inmates, the national Senate last week approved its use, and a top lawmaker has threatened to expel the World Health Organization for opposing its medical use.

Bolivians have a lot of company — even President Donald Trump — in resorting to unproven and even dangerous treatments to prevent or treat infection. In every part of the world, hard science has had to compete for attention with pet theories, rumors and traditional beliefs during this pandemic, as in the past.

But interest in dubious medicines has been especially high recently in Latin America, where the virus is raging uncontrolled and many political leaders on the right and left are promoting them, whether out of genuine faith or a desire to offer hope and deflect blame.

In a region where few people can afford quality medical care, alternative treatments are widely touted on social media and exploited by profiteers.

—The New York Times

Oregon virus cases could reach 1,600 a day in August

SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon Health Authority’s latest coronavirus projections predict that, based on the current rate of cases, the state will have 1,600 new confirmed infections a day by mid-August.

In a more “pessimistic” model, officials said if transmission increases by 10 percentage points from the current rates, there could be 2,300 new daily confirmed infections and 46 hospitalizations a day.

In the month of July, Oregon has averaged about 315 cases a day. On Thursday officials reported 331 new cases and two deaths, raising the state’s total case count to 15,713. The death toll is 273.

Oregon health officials have described the increase as troubling and concerning.

During the past month, Gov. Kate Brown has implemented new statewide COVID-19 safety measures and mandates to slow the spread of the virus.

—Associated Press
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WSU, Seattle U. to teach almost all classes remotely this fall

Washington State University’s Pullman, Vancouver and Tri-Cities campuses will teach almost all undergraduate classes remotely this fall, with a few limited exceptions, the university announced Thursday.

The University of Washington expects to teach as few as 10% of its classes in person, and will announce by Aug. 7 whether it, too, will move nearly all courses online for undergraduates on the Seattle campus.

And on Thursday, Seattle University announced its academic courses will be “primarily virtual, with some in-person and hybrid instruction for performance-based, clinical and laboratory courses and for students living on campus.” The campus will reopen early, on Sept. 9, and will end the fall quarter early as well, on Nov. 24.

The decision comes as the number of COVID-19 infections and related deaths has been on the rise across the state.

Read the full story here.

—Katherine Long

Storm counting on experience as coronavirus-shortened WNBA season tips off in Florida bubble

Ten weeks later than originally planned, the WNBA tips off Saturday for a season that Storm star Sue Bird calls “one big experiment of trust.”

The coronavirus pandemic wiped out the league’s scheduled May 15 season opener, as states around the country sheltered in place and sports were forced to pause.

There were two positive COVID-19 tests when the players and staff arrived July 6 and none since.

At the time, Bird said: “Look, I don’t know if this is going to work. We’re all trusting each other to do the right thing.”

The season begins with a seemingly one-sided matchup 9 a.m. PT Saturday between the Storm and the New York Liberty at the Feld Entertainment Center that’s being televised by ESPN.

Read the full story here.

—Percy Allen

Eastside tech executive took $5.5M in fraudulent PPP loans, feds allege

Mukund Mohan, a former executive at Amazon and Microsoft, was arrested and charged Thursday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office with forging documents to fraudulently acquire more than $5.5 million in coronavirus relief funds.

Mohan submitted “fake and altered documents, including fake federal tax filings and altered incorporation documents” in support of Paycheck Protection Program applications for six shell companies he owned, and then transferred some of the money to his Robinhood brokerage account “for his personal benefit,” the U.S. Attorney alleged in its complaint. Mohan could not be reached for comment.

Federal PPP loans are intended to help businesses retain workers during the coronavirus pandemic — but Mohan’s companies didn’t employ a single worker, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Read the full story here.

—Katherine K. Long
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Yakama Nation says at least 6% of tribal members have had COVID-19

The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation reported Wednesday that 683 people have tested positive for the new coronavirus through Indian Health Services.

That’s a jump of 25 new cases from Friday, and more than 100 new cases since July 3.

The numbers reflect testing for those who are eligible for Indian Health Services and are not a comprehensive indicator of the virus’s impact on Indian Country.

But given the Nation’s approximate 11,000 members, the case counts also mean at least 6% of tribal members have been impacted.

Seven people are hospitalized, with three on ventilators. Twenty-eight people have died, an increase of nine people since last Friday, as reported by the Yakama Service Unit of Indian Health Services in Toppenish.

—Yakima Herald-Republic

Inslee puts tighter restrictions on bars, eateries, weddings as Washington COVID cases rise

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday tighter restrictions on bars, restaurants, fitness centers, weddings and funerals as new confirmed cases of the new coronavirus rise across Washington.

And in a news conference with Inslee, state Health Secretary John Wiesman announced an expansion of the current requirement for residents to wear facial coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Inslee’s announcement represented the most sweeping set of new restrictions so far to the governor’s original four-phase reopening plan, which has let Washington’s 39 counties reopen to varying degrees.

In his news conference, Inslee said experts have told him Washington is now potentially in a place similar to where Florida — currently one of the hardest-hit states with infections — was several weeks ago.

Read the full story here.

—Joseph O'Sullivan

How did California end up surpassing New York in coronavirus cases? ‘We got impatient’

LOS ANGELES — California recorded some of the first COVID-19 cases in America and the country’s first known death, in what would become a worldwide pandemic. It responded with the nation’s initial stay-at-home order. Now, the Golden State claims another dubious distinction: more confirmed coronavirus cases than any other state.

California passed New York for that record Wednesday morning, reaching more than 409,000 cases and eclipsing New York’s 408,886, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University.

California is No. 1 in part because it is the most populous state but also because millions of residents have been unwilling, or unable, to practice the social distancing and mask-wearing that public health experts say are the best measures to keep SARS-CoV-2 somewhat in check.

“I think we started to exit shelter-in-place sometime around Memorial Day both emotionally and physically. And we are paying the price for that,” said Nicholas Jewell, a biostatistics authority at U.C. Berkeley. “It’s like we should be tip-toeing out on the ice. What we did, instead, was all run out on the ice, some not too cautiously. And a lot of people fell through the ice.”

Read the full story here.

—Los Angeles Times
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Masks now required anywhere outside when others can get within 6 feet

All Washington state residents are required to wear a face covering in any indoor or outdoor setting where they might come within six feet of another person, Washington State Secretary of Health John Wiesman announced Thursday.

Wiesman's order expands requirements made in June. Violators may be subject to criminal penalties.

The face covering must cover their nose and mouth inside any healthcare settings, including a hospital, pharmacy, medical clinic, doctor’s office or blood bank; and while waiting for or riding in public transportation, including taxis, private car services or ride-sharing vehicle.

The requirement also includes outdoor public areas such as public parks, trails, streets, sidewalks, lines for entry, exit or service and recreation area when a distance of at least six feet cannot be maintained.

People may remove their face coverings when in a public setting only when seated in a restaurant or other establishment while they are eating or drinking -- but only if they are able to maintain a distance of six feet from guests at other tables.

They may also remove their masks during indoor and outdoor exercise, such as walking, hiking, biking or running, provided that a distance of at least six feet is maintained from non-household members. The same rule applies to outdoor public areas.

Masks may also be removed when communicating with someone who is deaf and hard of hearing, “and not wearing a face covering is essential to communication”; while obtaining a service that requires temporary removal of the face covering; sleeping; when necessary to confirm an individual’s identity or when federal or state law prohibits the wearing of a mask.

Children younger than five years old are exempt; and children younger than two “should never wear face coverings,” Wiesman said, “due to the risk of suffocation.” Children who are two, three and four are strongly recommended to wear a mask at all times, such as groceries and pharmacies, where it is difficult to maintain six feet of distance from non-household members.

Those with a medical or mental-health condition, or a disability that prevents wearing a face covering are excluded. This includes those for whom wearing a mask could obstruct breathing or who are unconscious or incapacitated.

Children in childcare facilities and K-12 public and private schools may use face shields as an alternative to a cloth face covering if authorized pursuant to an order of the Governor.

This order does not apply to persons who are incarcerated. Correctional facilities, as part of their Safe Start plans, will have specific guidance on the wearing of face coverings or masks for both incarcerated individuals and staff.

—Nicole Brodeur

Lake Washington School District to hold remote classes this fall

Following in the footsteps of its neighboring districts, the Lake Washington School District announced Thursday that it will start the fall semester by holding classes remotely.

All students will learn from teachers from the school they would have attended this fall in person, even if they had initially chosen the virtual option for the fall. Using Microsoft Classroom Teams as its remote system, the district will take daily attendance and give out grades, district Superintendent Jon Holmen wrote in a letter to families Thursday.

Lake Washington is one of Washington's largest districts, with schools in Kirkland, Redmond and Sammamish.

The announcement comes a day after several other large districts, including Seattle, Northshore and Highline, announced that classes would be held virtually this fall.

The district will hold a virtual meeting for families at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 23, that will address its return-to-school plans.

—Paige Cornwell

State confirms 762 new COVID-19 cases and 14 new deaths; positive test rate at 5.7%

State health officials confirmed 762 new COVID-19 cases and 14 new deaths in Washington as of Wednesday night, crossing a 50,000-case milestone.

The update brings the state’s totals to 50,009 cases and 1,482 deaths, meaning about 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. Wednesday.

So far, 870,763 tests for the novel coronavirus have been conducted in the state, per DOH. Of those, 5.7% have come back positive.

In King County, the state most populous, state health officials have confirmed 13,835 diagnoses and 638 deaths in King County, accounting for a little less than half of the state’s COVID-19 death toll. 

—Nicole Brodeur
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Air Force Academy cadets to return to campus in the fall

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — All cadets at the Air Force Academy will return to the Colorado Springs campus in the fall, making the university one of the first in the country to return during the coronavirus pandemic, federal officials said.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper declared Thursday that military training pipelines are “mission essential,” meaning that all cadets are expected to return within the next week, KCNC-TV reported. The entire cadet wing, making up about 4,000 students, will be back on campus by the end of the month.

Classes are scheduled to begin in August in person and online. Outdoor classes and smaller class sizes are expected to help manage distancing guidelines.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

WHO chief upbraids Pompeo over ‘unacceptable’ allegations

GENEVA — The director-general of the World Health Organization upbraided U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday for “untrue and unacceptable” allegations during the coronavirus pandemic after British media reported that Pompeo made a comment about the health agency chief having been “bought” by China.

In one of his most defensive and full-throated replies yet to months of criticism from Washington, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said WHO was focused on “saving lives” as he condemned the reported comments by Pompeo at a closed-door event this week in London.

“The comments were done, I think on Tuesday — last Tuesday. And the comments are untrue and unacceptable, and without any foundation for that matter,” Tedros told reporters in Geneva. “If there is one thing that really matters to us and which should matter to the entire international community, it’s saving lives. And WHO will not be distracted by these comments.”

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

21 Wenatchee Walmart employees test positive for COVID-19

A cluster of 21 positive cases of COVID-19 was identified among Walmart employees in Wenatchee on Wednesday, according a statement by the Chelan-Douglas Health District (CDHD).

One of the employees is from Grant County and the other 21 are Chelan or Douglas county residents.

The cluster was reported by the nursing staff at the Chelan-Douglas Health District, which contacted Walmart management to provide instruction and guidance for all positive-tested employees and anyone who may have been exposed.

All positive-tested employees were asked to isolate for at least 10 days or until they no longer have COVID-19 symptoms, including no fever, for 24 hours. Recommendations from public health include identifying and contacting anyone who may have been exposed to the positive employees and asking them to quarantine at home for at least 14 days.

 

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Revised Pac-12 football schedule features mid-September start, multiple championship-game dates

Pegged by many in college football as the conference most likely to cancel its fall season, the Pac-12 is plowing forward with plans for a 10-game conference-only schedule.

The conference’s announcement, with weekly matchups, is expected no later than the end of next week.

But the Hotline has pieced together the framework of the preferred model based on information provided by sources familiar with the plan.

Considering the coronavirus case counts and curve trajectories in several areas of the Pac-12 footprint, it’s a fairly aggressive approach that spans a maximum of 14 weeks beginning in the middle of September.

“They are assuming some success in the next month or two (against the virus),” one source said.

The conference canceled all nonconference games July 10, one day after the Big Ten made the move.

Read the full story here.

—Bay Area News Group

Clyde Hill tech executive charged with fraudulently seeking, laundering $5.5 million in PPP loans

A Clyde Hill tech executive was taken into federal custody Thursday and charged with fraudulently seeking more than $5.5 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and laundering the proceeds, according to an announcement by the United States Department of Justice.

Mukund Mohan, 48, was charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of money laundering, according to a criminal complaint unsealed after he was taken into custody. Mohan was expected to make his initial appearance before U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Brian A. Tsuchida on Thursday afternoon.

The complaint alleges that Mohan submitted at least eight fraudulent PPP loan applications on behalf of six different companies to federally insured financial institutions. It further alleges that, in support of the fraudulent loan applications, Mohan made numerous false and misleading statements about the companies’ respective business operations and payroll expenses and submitted fake and altered documents.

For example, the Justice Department asserts, Mohan misrepresented to a lender that, in 2019, his company Mahenjo Inc., had dozens of employees and paid millions of dollars in employee wages and payroll taxes. In support of Mahenjo’s loan application, Mohan submitted incorporation documents showing that he incorporated the company in 2018 and filed federal unemployment tax forms for 2019, according to the statement.

In truth, Mohan purchased Mahenjo on the Internet in May 2020 and, at time he purchased the company, it had no employees and no business activity, according to the statement.  The incorporation documents he submitted to the lender were altered and the federal tax filings he submitted were fake, according to the Justice Department.

The complaint further alleges that Mohan transferred at least $231,000 in fraudulently obtained loan proceeds to his personal brokerage account for his personal benefit.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act is a federal law enacted March 29 and designed to provide emergency financial assistance to Americans suffering the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and includes the authorization of up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses through the PPP. In April 2020, Congress authorized more than $300 billion in additional PPP funding.

The charges were announced by Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt at of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington.

Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or visiting the NCDF Web Complaint Form.

—Nicole Brodeur

Teachers union calls for all Washington schools to start online this fall

Saying the state is “nowhere close” to containing the spread of COVID-19, the Washington Education Association is asking Gov. Jay Inslee to call for all Washington schools to operate remotely this fall.

In a statement released Thursday afternoon, the state’s teachers union said the state cannot guarantee the health and safety of students, educators, families and communities.

The union called it “a choice between two bad options – either return to schools and put our educators, students, and community at risk or return to a distance learning and virtual instruction model.”

The statement comes a day after several of King County’s largest school districts, including Seattle and Bellevue, said they intend to hold school remotely this fall.

According to the union, about on out of five of the state’s 120,000 public educators are over 60 years old, and many have underlying health conditions. In addition, many students live in multi-generational homes, and many also have underlying health conditions.

“If we proceed with opening schools for in-person learning while the number of cases continues to grow, some students, educators, and family members will contract the virus,” the union said in its statement.

While some will recover, others will have “long-lasting health complications. And some will die.”

The union is asking districts to spend the remainder of the time before school starts in early September to prepare teachers to teach remotely.

“Making this decision now will give school districts and educators time to prepare and focus on a singular model of instruction and to better prepare for the challenges that a distance learning model will bring,” the statement said.

—Katherine Long
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Weekly unemployment claims drop in Washington, but jobs recovery isn’t here yet

New weekly claims for unemployment insurance in Washington edged downward last week, but that’s probably not a sign of any real recovery for the state’s battered job market.

For the week ending July 18, Washington saw 29,438 new, or initial, claims for unemployment insurance benefits, the state Employment Security Department reported Thursday.

That’s down 27.3% from the prior week, when jobless claims rose sharply after trending downward for six weeks. And it comes as initial jobless claims rose nationally by 8.3% to 1.4 million, the U.S. Labor Department reported.

But Washington’s new jobless data also comes amid concerns that surging virus cases and other uncertainties may already be slowing the pace of the state’s nascent economic recovery.

The big surge in hiring and rehiring that the state saw in May and June appears to be tapering off, and employers are increasingly uncertain about whether to ramp up operations or scale back.

Read the full story here.

—Paul Roberts

Durkan and 70-plus other mayors ask White House to ramp up COVID-19 testing supplies

 Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and more than 70 other U.S. mayors have sent a letter to the White House Coronavirus Task Force calling on the Trump administration to make “full use” of the Defense Production Act to scale up testing supplies.

“As the COVID-19 infection rate continues to rise in many of our communities and businesses require testing to protect their employees, the need for increased testing is critical to our response,” the letter said.

“Our national testing system must be able to rely on sustained supplies for the next 24 months.”

In a news release, Durkan said she warned about testing needs when the pandemic first emerged and now wants to “sound the alarm again.”

“As the virus surges across the entire country, we know that supply chains are at capacity,” she said. “We need our federal government to step up and harness the ingenuity and innovation of American companies to provide the supplies needed to save lives.”

—Daniel Beekman

Are children ‘stoppers’ of COVID-19 as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos claims?

“More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don’t get it and transmit it themselves, so we should be in a posture of — the default should be getting back to school kids in person, in the classroom.” — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, in an interview on “The Conservative Circus” (iHeart radio), July 16

Could children actually be “stoppers” of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus? That would be great news — if true. The interruption of school threatens to create a learning deficit — and many parents may find it difficult to return to work if children are not in classes.

President Trump at the White House with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. (Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford)
President Trump at the White House with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. (Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford)

DeVos’ view was echoed by President Donald Trump news briefing Wednesday. “They do say that they [children] don’t transmit very easily, and a lot of people are saying they don’t transmit,” he said. “They don’t bring it home with them. They don’t catch it easily; they don’t bring it home easily.”

An Education Department spokesperson supplied four reports from around the world, including one from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggesting children don’t contract or spread the virus the way that adults do, in contrast to how they spread influenza.

Numerous other studies, however, contradict DeVos' assertion.

Michael T. Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, said that too often people have latched on to studies that later turn out to be flawed. “There have been so many studies, sometimes with strident conclusions, only to be blown out of the water later” when conditions change, he said. “The bottom-line message is that school-age kids will see transmissions. How much is unclear, but they definitely are not brakes.”

Read the story here.

—Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post
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Virus means Mexican emigrants send fewer dollars to hometown

In the weeks he spent flat on his back in his Brooklyn bunk, wracked with pain and struggling to breathe, Axayacatl Figueroa could think of nothing but the small town and the family he had left behind in Mexico.

Each month, he had sent $300 or $400 to his wife and son in San Jerónimo Xayacatlán. The money was hard earned: For more than a decade, he cleaned pork, cut meat and boned chickens in the basement kitchen of a Vietnamese restaurant.

But now, Figueroa had COVID-19. There was no work, and there was no money to send home.

“I felt desperate. I couldn’t do anything,” he said.

Magnolia Ortega, right, sits with her husband, Arturo Morales, and their daughter Marlene at their home in Staten Island, New York, last month. Ortega is considering returning with her husband and daughter to her hometown of San Jeronimo Xayacatlan, Mexico, but says there’s no work there either and that would mean one less family member sending back one less monthly check. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Magnolia Ortega, right, sits with her husband, Arturo Morales, and their daughter Marlene at their home in Staten Island, New York, last month. Ortega is considering returning with her husband and daughter to her hometown of San Jeronimo Xayacatlan, Mexico, but says there’s no work there either and that would mean one less family member sending back one less monthly check. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Read the story here.

— Maria Verza and Claudia Torrens, The Associated Press

Florida man faces felony charges for pointing gun at Walmart shopper over masks

A Florida man is facing felony charges for pointing a gun at another Walmart shopper who had told him to wear a mask, officials said Thursday.

Vincent Scavetta, 28, was charged with aggravated assault with a firearm and improper exhibition of a firearm after surrendering Wednesday to Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies. At a Thursday hearing, bail was set at $15,000.

According to an arrest report, Scavetta admitted to sheriff’s investigators he was the shopper in surveillance video who pulled a gun during a July 12 argument with Chris Estrada, who had told him to wear a mask because of the coronavirus pandemic. Palm Beach County requires masks be worn in stores.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Arab economies to shrink by 5.7% amid virus fallout

The pandemic will exact a heavy toll on Arab countries, causing an economic contraction of 5.7% this year, pushing millions into poverty and compounding the suffering of those affected by armed conflict, a U.N. report said Thursday.

The U.N.’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia expects some Arab economies to shrink by up to 13%, amounting to an overall loss for the region of $152 billion.

Another 14.3 million people are expected to be pushed into poverty, raising the total number to 115 million — a quarter of the total Arab population, it said. More than 55 million people in the region relied on humanitarian aid before the COVID-19 crisis, including 26 million who were forcibly displaced.

Arab countries moved quickly to contain the virus in March by imposing stay-at-home orders, restricting travel and banning large gatherings, including religious pilgrimages.

In Cairo, Egypt, a health worker prepares to take swab samples to test for the coronavirus at a drive-through screening center on June 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
In Cairo, Egypt, a health worker prepares to take swab samples to test for the coronavirus at a drive-through screening center on June 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

Arab countries as a whole have reported more than 830,000 cases and at least 14,717 deaths. That equates to an infection rate of 1.9 per 1,000 people and 17.6 deaths per 1,000 cases, less than half the global average of 42.6 deaths, according to the U.N.

But the restrictions exacted a heavy economic toll, and authorities have been forced to ease them in recent weeks. That has led to a surge in cases in some countries, including Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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3 in 4 Americans back mandatory masks, new poll shows

California Gov. Gavin Newsom wears a mask while speaking to reporters in Oakland. According to a new poll, Americans overwhelmingly are in favor of requiring people to wear masks around other people outside their homes, reflecting fresh alarm over spiking coronavirus infection rates. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, pool, file)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom wears a mask while speaking to reporters in Oakland. According to a new poll, Americans overwhelmingly are in favor of requiring people to wear masks around other people outside their homes, reflecting fresh alarm over spiking coronavirus infection rates. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, pool, file)

Three out of four Americans, including a majority of Republicans, favor requiring people to wear face coverings while outside their homes, a new poll finds, reflecting fresh alarm over spiking coronavirus cases and a growing embrace of government advice intended to safeguard public health.

The survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research also finds that about two-thirds of Americans disapprove of how President Donald Trump is handling the outbreak, an unwelcome sign for the White House in an election year shaped by the nation’s battle with the pandemic.

More than four months after government stay-at-home orders first swept across the U.S., the poll spotlights an America increasingly on edge about the virus. The federal government’s response is seen as falling short, and most Americans favor continued restrictions to stop the virus from spreading even if they might hamstring the economy.

Support for requiring masks is overwhelming among Democrats, at 89%, but 58% of Republicans are in favor as well. The poll was conducted before Trump, who for months was dismissive of masks, said this week that it’s patriotic to wear one.

“Not wearing a mask, to me, poses a greater risk of spreading the COVID,” said Darius Blevins, a 33-year-old Republican-leaning independent from Christiansburg, Virginia, who works in bank operations. Blevins said he wears a mask in public because “it’s much more effective than not wearing the mask.”

It’s an opinion echoed by data analyst James Shaw, an independent who tilts Democratic. “If you understand the facts, there is really no issue,” said Shaw, 56, of Noble, Illinois. “The data is crystal clear.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Deaths up in South Africa, where virus surging like 'wildfire'

Global hot spot South Africa is seeing a “huge discrepancy” between confirmed COVID-19 deaths and an unusually high number of deaths from natural causes, while Africa’s top health official said Thursday the coronavirus is spreading there “like wildfire.”

A new report by the South African Medical Research Council, released late Wednesday, shows more than 17,000 additional deaths from May 6 to July 14 as compared to data from the past two years, while confirmed COVID-19 deaths are 5,940.

“The numbers have shown a relentless increase — by the second week of July, there were 59% more deaths from natural causes than would have been expected,” the report says.

Funeral home workers in protective suits carry the coffin of a woman who died from COVID-19 into a hearse in Katlehong, near Johannesburg, South Africa, on Tuesday, July 21, 2020. South Africa last Saturday became one of the top five worst-hit countries in the coronavirus pandemic, as breathtaking new infection numbers around the world were a reminder that a return to normal life is still far from sight. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
Funeral home workers in protective suits carry the coffin of a woman who died from COVID-19 into a hearse in Katlehong, near Johannesburg, South Africa, on Tuesday, July 21, 2020. South Africa last Saturday became one of the top five worst-hit countries in the coronavirus pandemic, as breathtaking new infection numbers around the world were a reminder that a return to normal life is still far from sight. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

The council’s president, Glenda Gray, said the excess deaths could be attributed to COVID-19 as well as other widespread diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis while many health resources are redirected toward the pandemic.

South Africa now has the world’s fifth-largest caseload, though some South Africans are thought to be avoiding health facilities as fears of the new virus spread and public hospitals are overwhelmed.

The country has more than half the confirmed cases on the African continent with 394,948, and the toll was expected to surpass 400,000 by the end of Thursday.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Why are coins hard to find during the pandemic?

Why are coins hard to find during the pandemic?

The Federal Reserve has seen a significant decline of coins in circulation because people are not spending them as regularly at businesses, many of which are either temporarily closed or not accepting cash.

Coins are still plentiful. In April, the U.S. Treasury estimated more than $47.8 billion were in the market, up by more than a billion dollars compared to last year.

Coins are more scarce during the pandemic as people stop spending them at places like laundromats, banks, restaurants or shops because the businesses are closed, or people are not visiting them as often as they were before. (AP Illustration / Peter Hamlin)
Coins are more scarce during the pandemic as people stop spending them at places like laundromats, banks, restaurants or shops because the businesses are closed, or people are not visiting them as often as they were before. (AP Illustration / Peter Hamlin)

But in recent months, people have not been spending those coins at places like laundromats, banks, restaurants, or shops because the businesses are closed, or people are not visiting them as often as they were before the pandemic.

“The typical places where coin enters our society have slowed or even stopped the normal circulation of coin,” said the Federal Reserve, which manages coin inventory, in a June statement.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Owner of Ann Taylor and Lane Bryant, a big mall retailer, files for bankruptcy

The owner of Ann Taylor and Lane Bryant, which just a few years ago was one of the country’s largest clothing retailers for women and girls, filed for bankruptcy Thursday, after declining sales and high debt were exacerbated by store closures mandated by coronavirus lockdowns.

The company, Ascena Retail Group, will close “a select number” of Ann Taylor, Lane Bryant, LOFT and Lou & Grey stores as well as all of its Catherines locations, the company said in a Chapter 11 filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Eastern District of Virginia.

The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on retailers, especially apparel sellers and other mall-based chains that might have otherwise stayed afloat, perhaps even for a short period, without turning to bankruptcy court.

Ascena, based in Mahwah, New Jersey, is at least the ninth prominent retailer to file for bankruptcy since early May, on the heels of Brooks Brothers and Sur La Table this month, and in the wake of J. Crew, Neiman Marcus Group, J.C. Penney Co., Lucky Brand, Stage Stores and GNC.

Ascena was known for decades as Dress Barn, the clothing chain founded in 1962 by Roslyn S. Jaffe, who noticed that there were few options for stylish and affordable women’s work attire even as more women were entering the workforce.

Read the story here.

—The New York Times

Layoffs, tensions over Black Lives Matter posts roil Seattle Children’s Museum

The two big headlines of this summer — COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement — have roiled through Seattle Children’s Museum, putting it in hibernation for the foreseeable future.

On Monday, Seattle Children’s Museum (SCM) laid off nine of its remaining employees, saying a nine-week federal Paycheck Protection Program loan had expired, leaving a skeleton crew of six.

“The remainder of the employees, including me, will be laid off at some point in the near future,” said SCM director Christi Stapleton Keith. (Pandemic shutdowns forced SCM to lay off most of its 21-member staff in March — the PPP loan allowed a handful to come back from early May until late July.)

The layoffs hit in the middle of a weeks-long controversy over three official SCM social-media posts, including lists of suggested children’s books, that went up on May 30 and began with the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”

Keith had edited out “Black Lives Matter” shortly after the posts went up, angering staff, which told SCM management it was going on strike.

“We were prepared to suspend our labor,” employee Anthony Noceda explained, until five demands were met: reinstatement of the original posts; an apology from Keith to the staff, particularly staff members of color; a public apology from Keith explaining why she edited out “Black Lives Matter”; a private meeting between SCM staff and the museum’s board; and the revocation of Keith’s administrative access to SCM’s Facebook and Instagram accounts.

Read the story here.

—Brendan Kiley

Obama blasts Trump, praises Biden in new 2020 campaign video

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama stepped up their attacks on President Donald Trump and defended their time in the White House in a new video showing their first in-person meeting since the coronavirus outbreak began.

The 15-minute video, posted online Thursday, is the latest maneuver to get the former president involved in the 2020 campaign for his former vice president.

In an interview-style conversation, the former president and vice president pointed to their administration’s signature health-care law and blamed Trump for stoking division and animosity among Americans from the moment he entered the 2016 presidential race.

They also were sharply critical of the Republican president’s efforts to combat the coronavirus, which has killed more than 140,000 Americans.

“Can you imagine standing up when you were president and saying, ‘It’s not my responsibility, I take no responsibility’?” Biden says, offering a line of attack similar to his recent campaign speeches when he asserted that Trump “quit” on the country and has “waved the white flag” in the pandemic.

“Those words didn’t come out of our mouths while we were in office,” Obama replies.

The pair is shown in the video wearing masks while arriving at an office, then sitting down well apart from each other to observe social distancing for a bare-faced chat. Biden’s campaign billed it as their first face-to-face meeting since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Virus sends unemployment claims up for first time since March

Special events workers who were forced out of work because of the COVID-19 pandemic marched Tuesday, July 21, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Marchers organized by Utah Live Event Industry Association aimed to draw attention and legislative support to the people and businesses who put on concerts, theater, sports, and other live events which mostly have gone dark since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March. They’re called it a “peaceful walk for work.” The silent parade showcased families struggling to make ends meet since events have been canceled, with no end to the restrictions in sight. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Special events workers who were forced out of work because of the COVID-19 pandemic marched Tuesday, July 21, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Marchers organized by Utah Live Event Industry Association aimed to draw attention and legislative support to the people and businesses who put on concerts, theater, sports, and other live events which mostly have gone dark since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March. They’re called it a “peaceful walk for work.” The silent parade showcased families struggling to make ends meet since events have been canceled, with no end to the restrictions in sight. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

WASHINGTON — The viral pandemic’s resurgence caused the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits to rise last week for the first time in nearly four months, evidence of the deepening economic pain the outbreak is causing.

The increase in weekly jobless claims to 1.4 million served to underscore the outsize role the unemployment insurance system is playing among the nation’s safety net programs — just when a $600 weekly federal aid payment for the jobless is set to expire at the end of this week.

All told, the Labor Department said Thursday that the total number of people receiving jobless benefits fell 1.1 million to 16.2 million. That was a hopeful sign that even as layoffs remain persistently high, some companies are still recalling workers.

Washington state’s initial unemployment claims during the week ended July 18 were 34,639, down from 45,622 the prior week, according to Department of Labor figures. Later today, the state’s Employment Security Department releases its own numbers, which may differ from the federal data.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

White House drops payroll tax cut as GOP unveils virus aid

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks with reporters about the coronavirus relief package negotiations, at the White House, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks with reporters about the coronavirus relief package negotiations, at the White House, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — The White House has reluctantly dropped a bid to cut Social Security payroll taxes as Republicans unveil a $1 trillion COVID-19 rescue package on Thursday, ceding to opposition to the idea among top Senate allies.

“It won’t be in the base bill,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, speaking on CNBC about the payroll tax cut, killing for now an idea that has been a major demand of President Donald Trump.

The legislation, set to be released Thursday morning by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., comes amid alarming developments on the virus crisis.

McConnell’s package is an opening GOP bid in talks with top Capitol Hill Democrats in a negotiation that could be rockier than talks in March that produced a $2 trillion rescue package. GOP senators and Trump are at odds over priorities, and Democrats say it’s not nearly enough to stem the health crisis, reopen schools and extend aid to jobless Americans.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

As fewer people fly, airlines announce big losses

The average daily number of travelers passing through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport dipped in the week July 12-18, reversing the trend of slow growth after the sharp drop that accompanied the onset of the pandemic.

It’s not just Sea-Tac. Nationally, the Transportation Security Administration said it screened nearly 4.7 million people last week, a drop from 4.8 million the prior week.

Air cargo volumes at Sea-Tac continue to go up, though still considerably below pre-pandemic levels.

Airlines — including American, Southwest and Seattle-based Alaska Air — have announced staggering losses. Alaska's CEO cited “the biggest demand contraction in the history of aviation.”

Click here to see more charts showing how the pandemic is affecting the economy, including home sales and jobs.

—Seattle Times business staff
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Catch up on the past 24 hours

Seattle Public Schools said it is recommending that classes be held remotely, scrapping its plans to bring students back into school buildings, including the pictured Magnolia Elementary School, in the fall. (Amanda Snyder / The Seattle Times, file)
Seattle Public Schools said it is recommending that classes be held remotely, scrapping its plans to bring students back into school buildings, including the pictured Magnolia Elementary School, in the fall. (Amanda Snyder / The Seattle Times, file)

Schools go 100% remote: Several of King County's biggest districts, including Seattle and Bellevue, yesterday said they intend to keep their doors closed this fall. The plans affect more than 150,000 children and leave several urgent questions unanswered. This comes as a new poll reflects many Americans' deep unease with reopenings. (President Donald Trump, though, says he's comfortable sending his son and grandchildren.) Parents nationwide are rushing to hire tutors and create "learning pods" … and that's raising big concerns.

Nearly all of Washington state is "on the path to runaway transmission rates of COVID-19," health officials are warning as hospitalizations and positive tests rise.

U.S. hospitalizations have risen almost back to their April peak. But this phase of the pandemic is spiking differently, with younger patients and a widening geographic area. California is staggering, with more than 12,000 new cases reported in just 24 hours. Oregon's surge has sparked new mandates. And President Donald Trump is promising $5 billion to help nursing homes ward off another wave of deaths.

"It’s stressful trying to get people to stay at their tables." Seattle servers are speaking out about what it's like to work in a reopened restaurant amid COVID-19 risks, and whether they feel comfortable dining out themselves.

Can you contract the coronavirus twice? It's too early to draw sweeping conclusions, but scientists are puzzling over a growing number of reports that, if accurate, could complicate efforts to make a long-lasting vaccine.

A $1 trillion COVID-19 rescue package will be unveiled this morning by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, despite a GOP revolt. Here's what we know about the plan.

Couples are stressed and families are in a pressure cooker. Enter the Seattle-based Love Lab, in which therapists say they're tapping technology to bring low-cost therapy to couples battling relationship stress amid the pandemic.

The Twitterverse is having a laugh over Gov. Jay Inslee, who's using catchphrases from the 2004 teen comedy "Mean Girls" to make masks happen.

—Kris Higginson

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