Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Monday, July 26, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

Stoked by the virulent delta variant and continued vaccine hesitancy, cases of COVID-19 are spiking once again. Although cases, hospitalizations and deaths are still well below the pandemic’s peak, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said Sunday that he’s considering recommending that everyone — vaccinated or not — return to wearing masks.

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.


Navigating the pandemic
(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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Churchgoers with face masks will be removed, Tennessee pastor says. ‘I’m sick of it’

A Tennessee pastor threatened to boot mask-wearers from his Tennessee church as some places are taking additional measures to help protect against the more contagious coronavirus delta variant.

“If they go through round two and you start showing up (with) all these masks and all this nonsense, I will ask you to leave,” pastor Greg Locke told his Nashville-area congregation during a service on Sunday. “I will ask you to leave. I am not playing these Democrat games up in this church.”

Locke’s comments at Global Vision Bible Church come as some U.S. communities reconsider face mask recommendations during the continued spread of the delta variant. Locke in his sermon criticized officials for eyeing potential restrictions.

“I ain’t playing these stupid games,” Locke said in a video posted to Facebook on Sunday. “A bunch of pastors talking about how much they want to see people heal and they’re afraid to baptize people because of a delta variant — I’m sick of it.”

Locke during his sermon also vowed to keep his church open in Mount Juliet, east of Nashville.

—The News & Observer
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California, NYC to workers: Get vaccine or face weekly tests

California and New York City announced Monday that they would require all government employees to get the coronavirus vaccine or face weekly COVID-19 testing, and the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first major federal agency to require health care workers to receive the shot.

Meanwhile, in a possible sign that increasingly dire health warnings are getting through to more Americans, vaccination rates began to creep up again, offering hope that the nation could yet break free of the coronavirus if people who have been reluctant to receive the shot are finally inoculated.

The announcements are the “opening of the floodgates” as more government entities and companies impose vaccine mandates after nationwide vaccination efforts “hit a wall,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health.

“Some people find mask mandates annoying, but the reality is they’re temporary. We can’t do them forever,” he said. “Vaccine mandates have to be one of the major paths moving forward because they get us closer to the finish line. Mask mandates just buy you a little more time.”

—Associated Press

Australian city Melbourne ends 5th COVID-19 lockdown

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s second-most populous city Melbourne will end its fifth lockdown on Tuesday with the Victoria state government declaring it had beaten an outbreak of the highly contagious COVID-19 delta variant for a second time.

The five-day lockdown across Victoria ends at 11:59 p.m., allowing schools, pubs and restaurants to reopen, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said. But people will not be allowed to have visitors in their homes for another two weeks.

“This lockdown … sends a very clear message that we have seen off two delta outbreaks,” Andrews said. “I don’t think there’s a jurisdiction in the world that has been able to achieve that, and every Victorian should be proud of that.”

Sydney, Australia’s most populous city where the delta outbreak began in mid-June when a limousine driver was infected while transporting a U.S. air crew from the airport, remains in lockdown indefinitely after more than four weeks. The new outbreak has claimed 10 lives.

The New South Wales state government on Tuesday reported 172 new infections in the latest 24-hour period, a new daily record.

—Associated Press

Questions about COVID-19 vaccine decision sure to come for WSU’s Nick Rolovich at Pac-12 football media day

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — One thing is already inherently clear about Washington State’s experience at Pac-12 football media day in 2021: it’ll be unlike any other since the conference’s inaugural gathering 30 years ago.

That is saying something, considering last year’s event, held exclusively via Zoom because of the COVID-19 pandemic, was unique.

The 2021 event should offer more normalcy for the schools attending, but recent developments in Pullman guarantee a different media day for a smaller than usual contingent of Washington State representatives.

We’ll start there as we focus on the top Cougar story lines to watch as WSU takes the podium — and the virtual podium — Tuesday morning at the W Hollywood Hotel.

Read the full story here.

—The Spokesman-Review
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Alternate Olympic surfer: Rival ‘selfish’ for COVID report

ICHINOMIYA, Japan — An aggrieved Olympic surfing alternate forced into a futile race against time to catch a wave in Japan is slamming a competitor’s officials as “selfish” for not being transparent about his rival’s positive COVID-19 test that cost him a shot at the sport’s historic Summer Games debut.

Angelo Bonomelli, 30, is the frustrated Italian surfer who, by a hair, missed out on the sport’s Olympic debut because Portugal’s Frederico Morais, 29, waited until the last minute to disclose his reported infection — despite the long list of coronavirus rules, restrictions and realities set for the Tokyo Olympics.

That meant it became impossible for Bonomelli or the next eligible alternate, Carlos Munoz of Costa Rica, to make it to Tokyo on time, which ultimately left a startling hole in the surf zone Sunday, the first day of the men’s inaugural Olympic surfing competition.

Bonomelli in an interview with The Associated Press said Portugal’s National Olympic Committee should’ve fessed up sooner about the reported infection of a virus that has already killed more than 4 million people in one of the worst global health crisis in modern history.

“I just think (it’s) not fair for me to blow a lifetime opportunity,” Bonomelli said in a message. “There is some negligence.”

—Associated Press

Oregon’s most populous county recommends masking

PORTLAND, Ore. — Health officials in Oregon’s most populous county said Monday they strongly recommend that people wear masks in all indoor public spaces regardless of vaccine status.

Multnomah County officials said in news release that the advisory was issued in response to COVID-19 cases increasing largely because of the highly-contagious delta variant. Portland is in Multnomah County.

Public Health Director Jessica Guernsey said if people don’t act, we can expect an exponential rise in cases, especially in pockets with low vaccinations.

“This could lead to preventable hospitalizations and even death,” Guernsey said in the news release. “Masking is a step we can all take right now to keep businesses open and move ahead with our plans for the school year.”

—Associated Press

State health officials confirm 846 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 846 new coronavirus cases and 11 new deaths on Monday.

The update brings the state's totals to 469,308 cases and 6,089 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. Sunday. 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, 26,498 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 140 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 116,154 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,678 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 8,105,754 doses and 52.3% 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 9,292 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.

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Moderna expanding kids vaccine study to better assess safety

Moderna said Monday it plans to expand the size of its COVID-19 vaccine study in younger children to better detect rare side effects, such as a type of heart inflammation recently flagged by U.S. health authorities.

The company said it is in talks with the Food and Drug Administration to enroll more study participants under age 12. It had intended to test the vaccine in about 7,000 children, with some as young as 6 months. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company said via email it hasn’t decided on how many kids might be added.

The announcement comes as U.S. COVID-19 cases are rising and schools prepare to welcome students back to classrooms. At the same time, regulators continue to review cases of a rare type of heart inflammation called myocarditis that has been reported in a small number of teenagers who got the Moderna or Pfizer shots.

Pfizer said on Monday that if it makes changes to its vaccine testing in children, it will provide an update then. The New York-based company is testing its vaccine in up to 4,500 children in the United States and Europe.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Public health officials in Snohomish, other Western Washington counties urge mask use indoors as COVID cases rise

Rising cases of COVID-19 coupled with the emergence of the highly infectious delta variant have prompted health officers from eight Western Washington counties to recommend mask-wearing in indoor public spaces.

Health officials from the counties, which include Snohomish, King and Pierce, recommend all people, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks when in indoor public places. King County’s health officer, Dr. Jeff Duchin, first issued the this guidance Friday, but now officials in Snohomish, Pierce, Kitsap, Clallam, San Juan, Grays Harbor and Jefferson counties have done the same.

The joint statement from the counties said they have come together on the issue of indoor masking to better protect “our communities.”

“This step will help reduce the risk of COVID-19 to the public, including customers and workers, help stem the increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in many parts of the state and decrease the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant,” the joint statement said.

State health officials have discussed masking in public indoor spaces but aren’t making the same recommendation. The state’s epidemiologist, Dr. Scott Lindquist, said state officials support local jurisdictions doing more.

Read the story here.

—Ryan Blethen

Biden says long-term effects of COVID-19 can be considered a disability under federal civil-rights laws

President Joe Biden said Monday that long-term symptoms of COVID-19 could be considered a disability under federal civil-rights laws, an announcement timed to coincide with the 31st anniversary of the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act.

Many Americans seemingly recovered from the virus still face lingering challenges like breathing problems, brain fog, chronic pain and fatigue, Biden said during a ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House, where he signed a proclamation commemorating the 1990 law that passed with bipartisan support.

"These conditions can sometimes rise to the level of a disability,” Biden said. “So we’re bringing agencies together to make sure Americans with long covid, who have a disability, have access to the rights and resources that are due under the disability law, which includes accommodations and services.”

Earlier Monday, the Biden administration released guidance stating that what is known as “long covid” could be considered a disability under various federal civil rights laws that would afford protections against discrimination in employment, housing and other areas.

Read the story here.

—John Wagner, The Washington Post
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California to require proof of vaccination for state workers

California will require state employees and all health care workers to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or get tested weekly as officials aim to slow rising coronavirus infections, mostly among the unvaccinated.

The new rule will take effect next month, officials announced Monday. There are at least 238,000 state employees, according to the California controller’s office. Health officials couldn’t immediately provide an estimate on size of the health care workforce in the nation’s most populated state.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Louisiana Rep. Higgins says he, wife, son have coronavirus

Republican Rep. Clay Higgins of Louisiana, a critic of mask mandates and public health restrictions during the pandemic, said he, his wife and son have contracted the coronavirus.

He made the announcement on Facebook Sunday night. He said he and his wife had been infected last year, but this time around is much more difficult. He has not said whether he has been vaccinated.

“This episode is far more challenging. It has required all my devoted energy,” he said. “We are all under excellent care, and our prognosis is positive.”

Higgins is the second member of Congress to announce in the last week that they’d contracted the virus. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Republican who represents parts of southwest Florida, said July 19 that he had tested positive. Buchanan said he had been fully vaccinated and was experiencing mild symptoms.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Researchers link ‘heavy wildfire smoke’ in Reno to increased risk of contracting COVID-19

Cases of COVID-19 rose sharply last year in Reno, Nevada, when heavy layer of wildfire smoke settled over the city, according to scientists at the Desert Research Institute, and they and other scientists are postulating that there is a link between air pollution and increased susceptibility to the new coronavirus.

“Our results showed a substantial increase in the COVID-19 positivity rate in Reno during a time when we were affected by heavy wildfire smoke from California wildfires,” said Daniel Kiser, a co-lead author of the study published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology. “This is important to be aware of as we are already confronting heavy wildfire smoke … with COVID-19 cases again rising in Nevada and other parts of the western U.S.”

Kiser, an assistant research scientist of data science at the institute, said he became interested in studying the effect of the microscopic particulate matter from wildfires after reading a Canadian scientist’s article on the dual effect of confronting both issues at the same time.

Read the story here.

—Cathie Anderson, The Sacramento Bee
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Work-from-home benefits could stir up new battles between workers and their bosses

Not having to commute was the equivalent of a big bonus for many employees this year — but, in the future, bosses may expect more hours in exchange for remote work, an economist says. (Danlin Zhang/The New York Times)

Millions of Americans have gotten a taste of working from home during the pandemic, and, boy, have they liked it.

Almost two-thirds of U.S. workers in a McKinsey survey at the start of the year said they wanted to work from home at least three days a week when the pandemic was over.

But battles are coming. People tend to think the fights will be over whether employers will allow remote work in the future. But a more vexing struggle may be over whether employers take most or all of these newfound benefits for themselves — not by prohibiting remote work but by expecting more hours from employees once the labor market is not as favorable to workers as it is right now.

Read the story here.

—The New York Times

Fauci says US headed in ‘wrong direction’ on coronavirus

The United States is in an “unnecessary predicament” of soaring COVID-19 cases fueled by unvaccinated Americans and the virulent delta variant, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert said Sunday.

“We’re going in the wrong direction,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, describing himself as “very frustrated.”

He said recommending that the vaccinated wear masks is “under active consideration” by the government’s leading public health officials. Also, booster shots may be suggested for people with suppressed immune systems who have been vaccinated, Fauci said.

Fauci praised Republicans, including Govs. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and Ron DeSantis of Florida, and the second-ranking House leader, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, for encouraging their constituents to get vaccinated. Their states have among the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

“This is an issue predominantly among the unvaccinated, which is the reason why we’re out there, practically pleading with the unvaccinated people to go out and get vaccinated,” Fauci said.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Driven by pandemic, social media use surged in Seattle

The pandemic transformed how we live in so many fundamental ways, perhaps we didn’t even notice all of the changes. One is how the pandemic has affected our use of social media.

Did you find yourself turning more to Facebook or Instagram to keep in touch with family and friends, at a time when you were all cooped up at home and practicing social distancing? Perhaps you spent more time on Twitter looking for news and opinions on the pandemic. Or maybe you found yourself with more free time and went down a YouTube “rabbit hole.”

New data from market-research firm Nielsen shows that adults in the Seattle metro area (which includes King, Pierce and Snohomish counties) have spent a lot more time on social media during the pandemic.

Read the story here.

—Gene Balk / FYI Guy