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 It is no longer being updated.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

A half year of pandemic purgatory has left Washington workers and businesses struggling, and schools in limbo. Total case numbers in the state have risen to 51,849, with deaths at 1,494, as of Friday night, with significant racial and geographic disparities. Testing remains insufficient and the future is hard to predict.

Throughout Sunday, on this page, we’ll post Seattle Times journalists’ updates on the outbreak and its effects on the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest and the world. Updates from Saturday can be found here, and all our coronavirus coverage can be found here.

(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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Live updates:

Coronavirus deaths reach 1,501 across Washington state

The State Department of Health reported 786 new COVID-19 cases in Washington as of Saturday night, and seven additional deaths. 

The latest numbers, released Sunday, bring the total count to 52,635 cases with 1,501 deaths. That means 2.9% of people who have been diagnosed with the virus in Washington have died.

This week, Washington state is at a turning point where the outbreak could explode, as in Florida, or might flatten so that hospitals avoid becoming overwhelmed. Read our special Sunday report that explains why "there's no certain end in sight," and some deadly inequities. Hispanic residents account for 43% of cases while only 13% of the state population.

There have been 15,673 more tests reported for the coronavirus in Washington, according to DOH, of which 5% came back positive.

The state's most populous county, King County has seen the highest numbers, reaching 14,417 diagnoses and 644 deaths, as of Saturday. Yakima County, which has been a hot spot, has had 9,629 cases and 194 deaths. In Okanogan County, another farming area where cases are spiking, there have been 605 confirmed cases and 2 deaths.

The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Saturday.

—Heidi Groover, Mike Lindblom
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Vancouver beachgoers encounter health officer's face on a sign

Vancouver, B.C. - After crowds at a drum circle filled a Stanley Park beach this week, an artist installed a sign of their health officer, as a reminder to socially distance.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, who projects logic and calm in her daily COVID-19 briefings, is known affectionately as "Aunt Bonnie." Yet she scowls on a stencil by a Vancouver mural artist, who told CBC News it was "a gentle reminder that although we might be over COVID, it's not over us."

British Columbia has waged a relatively strong struggle against coronavirus, though it now faces an uptick. Health authorities reported 27 new cases Friday, with three people currently under intensive hospital care. They count 3,419 cumulative cases and 119 deaths, compared to 51,849 cases and 1,494 deaths in Washington state.

Read the report by CBC here.

—Mike Lindblom

Mask skeptics are happy to sell you one

Public health experts say masking is essential for the U.S. to climb out of the COVID-19 pandemic. The outbreak has spread to more than 4.1 million and killed more than 145,000 in the country, crippled the economy and thrown the upcoming school year into chaos.

But broad skepticism of masks remains, largely along party lines, with polls showing that Republicans are less likely to wear masks than Democrats or independent voters. 

One skeptic, Texan Don Caple, thinks masks are a "communistic move" by the government, but will still sell you one for $10. Read more.

—Los Angeles Times

Workers praise Disney virus safety, but will visitors come?

Guests wear masks as required on July 11 to attend the official reopening day of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.  (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP, File)
Guests wear masks as required on July 11 to attend the official reopening day of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP, File)

Two weeks after Disney World started opening theme parks for the first time since closing in March because of COVID-19, Disney World's future and that of central Florida's tourism-reliant economy are uncertain. It's unclear when and if tourists will return.

More than 75 million visitors came to Orlando in 2018, mostly due to its reputation as a theme park mecca, which also includes Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando. But the coronavirus has upended Orlando’s status as the most visited place in the U.S.

In the week that Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom started welcoming back visitors, occupancy of hotel rooms in the Orlando area was down more than 60% from the previous year, a much deeper drop than the state as a whole, according to STR, which tracks hotel data.

Less than half of Disney World’s 43,000 unionized workers have been recalled to their old jobs, contributing to two Orlando-area counties having the state’s highest unemployment rates last month.

Will visitors ever come back?

—Associated Press
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Meet the tiny Italian island where the coronavirus didn't spread

People enjoy sun and fresh water on a beach on Giglio island, near Tuscany, Italy, Wednesday, June 24, 2020.  (AP Photo/Paolo Santalucia)
People enjoy sun and fresh water on a beach on Giglio island, near Tuscany, Italy, Wednesday, June 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Paolo Santalucia)

A tiny Italian island braced for the rapid spread of the coronavirus after several visitors had fallen ill with COVID-19.

But days passed and none of Giglio’s islanders developed any COVID-19 symptoms even though the conditions seemed favorable for the disease to spread like wildfire. 

The Gigliesi, as the residents are known, socialize in the steep alleys near the port or on the granite steps that serve as narrow streets in the hilltop Castle neighborhood, with densely packed homes built against the remnants of a fortress erected centuries ago to protect against pirates. 

A cancer researcher stuck on the island decided to try to find out why the virus wasn't spreading on the island. Read more about what she found.

—Associated Press

Coronavirus upends lives in the Middle East

Turmoil is universal in the wake of the pandemic, but the despair is particularly pronounced in the Middle East, where wave after wave of war, displacement and disease have left a generation feeling bitter and hopeless.

While in the West, many who have become unemployed believe they will eventually get their jobs back or somehow recover from the recession, the pandemic in some Arab countries was the final blow to economies now on the cusp of complete collapse.

The strains are also made harder because, in the Arab world, lives for young adults tend to be more scripted than for their counterparts in the West. Cultural expectations put more pressure on males to earn enough so they can move out, marry and provide for families.

“For many young people, seeing economies crumble the way that they are and seeing their prospects vanish before their eyes … it’s undoubtedly going to be taking a huge toll on mental health and well-being,” said Tariq Haq, a Beirut-based senior employment specialist with the U.N. labor agency.

Read the full story here.

—Associated Press

Pelosi criticizes Republican stimulus proposal as $600 employment benefit expires, evictions loom

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday assailed Republican “disarray” over a new pandemic relief package as the White House suggested a narrower effort might be necessary, at least for now.

The California Democrat panned the Trump administration’s desire to trim an expiring temporary federal unemployment benefit from $600 weekly to about 70% of pre-pandemic wages. “The reason we had $600 was its simplicity,” she said from the Capitol.

The administration’s chief negotiators — White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — were returning to the Capitol later Sunday to put what Meadows described as “final touches” on a $1 trillion relief bill Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is likely to bring forward Monday.

Both Mnuchin and Meadows said narrower legislation might need to be passed first to ensure that enhanced unemployment benefits don’t run out for millions of Americans. Pelosi has said she opposes approving a relief package in piecemeal fashion.

Read more about the negotiations here.

—Associated Press
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Coronavirus raises stakes in races for state Legislature

The global coronavirus pandemic has magnified the stakes in races for the Washington state House and Senate.

When they return as scheduled in January, state lawmakers will likely face excruciating decisions on taxes and spending to balance an $8.8 billion projected state budget shortfall through 2023. The new class of legislators will also consider policing reforms in light of the protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd.

They must also grapple with Washington’s persistent preexisting problems, such as homelessness and housing affordability, and continuing to rebuild the state’s struggling mental-health care system.

All 98 House seats are up for election, along with 26 Senate seats. Ballots started going out two weeks ago.

See how key races are playing out.

—Joseph O'Sullivan

How the fight against COVID-19 is going in Washington state

Six months since the first person in Washington — the first person in the nation — tested positive for the novel coronavirus, health officials are saying we’re “in an explosive situation.”

Our health care system isn’t being overwhelmed. But we have not suppressed the virus. Experts say we may be where Florida — currently one of the hardest-hit states with infections — was several weeks ago. Poised to see all the charts and curves go the wrong way, but not too late to stop them.

In Washington, more people are diagnosed each day than ever, partly because more people can get a test but also because the virus continues spreading.

The pandemic has cast a spotlight on the deadly inequities in our state, as COVID-19 has disproportionately sickened Hispanic people, who account for 43% of cases but just 13% of the population.

Schools, businesses, hospitalizations: Here’s what’s going well in Washington state, what’s not, and what might come next.

—Seattle Times staff

Laid-off workers will get more time to sign up for COBRA

People who’ve been laid off or furloughed from their jobs now have significantly more time to decide whether to hang on to their employer-sponsored health insurance, according to a recent federal rule.

Under the federal law known as COBRA, people who lose job-based coverage because of a layoff or a reduction in hours generally have 60 days to decide whether to continue health insurance. But under the new rule, that clock doesn’t start ticking until the end of the COVID-19 “outbreak period,” which started March 1 and continues for 60 days after the COVID-19 national emergency ends. That end date hasn’t been determined yet.

By extending the time frame to sign up for COBRA coverage, people have at least 120 days to decide whether they want to elect COBRA, and possibly longer depending on when they lost their jobs.

Some health policy experts question the usefulness of the change, given how expensive COBRA coverage can be for consumers, and how limited its reach: It isn’t an option for people who are uninsured or self-employed or who work for small companies.

In Washington state, residents may find more affordable plans through the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.

“For ideological reasons, this administration can’t do anything to expand on the Affordable Care Act’s safety net,” said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. “So they’re using these other vehicles. But it’s really a fig leaf. It doesn’t do much to actually help people.”

Read the full story here.

—Kaiser Health News
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Catch up on the past 24 hours

It's been a week of retreat for President Donald Trump as he backs down from long-held positions related to the pandemic after polls showed they didn't align with public attitudes or, in at least one case, his Republican allies.

Federal public health officials have released a new strategy that vows to improve data collection and take steps to address stark inequalities in how the disease is affecting Americans.

Baseball is back, with masked players and stands full of empty seats — or cardboard cutouts. See photos from around the league, and catch up with the Mariners.

Washington's restaurants have largely been left to self-police if employees get COVID-19. Restaurateurs say direction from state and county health officials has been spotty. And now, with new rules limiting indoor dining to "members of the same household," they've again been left to figure out how to enforce ever-evolving safety policies.

Mike Sherstad of Clear Conscience Sealants, sprays a disinfectant inside the kitchen of Grillbird, a restaurant that shut down for two weeks after an employee tested positive for COVID-19 with asymptomatic symptoms. 
 (Amanda Snyder / The Seattle Times)
Mike Sherstad of Clear Conscience Sealants, sprays a disinfectant inside the kitchen of Grillbird, a restaurant that shut down for two weeks after an employee tested positive for COVID-19 with asymptomatic symptoms. (Amanda Snyder / The Seattle Times)

Around the world: