It’s Fourth of July weekend, and Americans enjoying some sorely missed freedoms are expected to travel and gather for cookouts and fireworks in numbers not seen since pre-pandemic days. But some question if the country is rushing into celebrations, especially since less than half the country is fully vaccinated, and the highly contagious delta variant is threatening new outbreaks.

And big questions around the virus’ origin still remain, though as the World Health Organization draws up plans for the next phase of its probe of how the pandemic started, numerous experts say the political tensions between the U.S. and China make it impossible for a WHO investigation to find credible answers.

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.

(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)


Zoo animals are getting experimental coronavirus vaccines

The Oakland Zoo in California started this week with bears, mountain lions, tigers and ferrets, the first of about 100 animals that are set to receive an experimental vaccine against the coronavirus over the summer.

Zoetis, a veterinary pharmaceutical company, is donating 11,000 doses of the vaccine to about 70 zoos as well as sanctuaries, universities and other animal conservation sites in 27 U.S. states — and the Oakland Zoo is one of the first to benefit. The vaccine is solely for animals, goes through a different approval process than for people and cannot be used to protect humans.

“It means a lot more safety for our beautiful animals,” said Dr. Alex Herman, vice president of veterinary services at the Oakland Zoo. “Our very first animals to get vaccinated at the zoo were two of our beautiful and elderly tigers.”

The vaccine donation is the latest development in the patchwork reaction to animals that have become infected with the virus.

From the start of the pandemic, pet owners, zookeepers, fur farmers and scientists all had their own particular concerns about animal infections. Pet owners have worried about the health of beloved cats and dogs, while public health researchers and public health officials have cautioned that some animal species — domestic or wild — could become a reservoir where the virus can live and mutate even as the world tries to stamp it down in people.

Read the whole story here.

—James Gorman, The New York Times

Biden to host Independence Day party at White House, signaling pandemic victory even as contagious variant spreads

In a televised address in March, President Joe Biden offered a hopeful but tempered vision of where the country would be on the Fourth of July, saying there was a “a good chance” that “small groups will be able to get together” — and quickly adding, “That doesn’t mean large events with lots of people.”

But on Sunday, a sea of 1,000 largely maskless people will flow onto the South Lawn of the White House for an Independence Day party that marks the first large-scale event hosted by Biden as president, a barbecue that will serve as a marker of sorts for an America returning to normal.

But as the plans for celebration have grown bigger, the coronavirus has evolved as well. A new, more contagious “delta” variant is now responsible for more than 1 in 4 U.S. infections, largely among people who have not been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The spread of the delta variant is alarming health officials worldwide. The number of new coronavirus cases increased across Europe for the first time in 10 weeks, the World Health Organization said Thursday. In the United States, health officials in Los Angeles County are recommending that even vaccinated people wear face coverings indoors. The White House has announced it will scramble “surge response” teams to combat the highly transmissible variant.

That backdrop for Sunday’s celebration suggests the tensions that Biden’s administration will face in coming months. The White House wants to take credit for ramping up vaccinations and overseeing a huge reduction in infections and deaths. But if handled poorly, that message could suggest the pandemic is over — a notion that is inaccurate, politically risky and potentially deadly.

Read the whole story here.

—Annie Linskey and Dan Diamond, The Washington Post

Students walk the streets of hard-hit California neighborhood seeking COVID vaccine holdouts

Aaron Gonzalez isn’t too surprised when he meets someone in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood who doesn’t want a COVID-19 vaccine.

As a paid community ambassador, he’s working to educate residents about the safety and efficacy of vaccines in one of the Bay Area’s hardest-hit neighborhoods, providing information, answering questions about the shots and sometimes even registering them for a dose right then and there.

But he knows he can’t convince everyone, at least not right away — his own aunt doesn’t want to be vaccinated despite a bout with COVID-19 that required lengthy hospitalization.

“I try to convince them but I don’t push,” he said. “My aunt says, ‘I have natural immunity.'”

The on-the-ground effort is one of many in the Bay Area, where vaccination rates are among the highest in the nation, but those who have not yet gotten a shot are harder to reach and can require additional resources or persuasion as part of a regional effort to get to herd immunity.

Read the whole story here.

—Leonardo Castaneda, Mercury News

How Oregon underwear company Arq became an Instagram hit during pandemic lockdown

During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 70% of American workers were doing their jobs from home, which meant, for many of them, a chance to dress down. Way down.

Enter: Arq, a McMinnville, Ore.-based underwear company, specializing in simple undergarments for adults, babies and children.

Arq is a break-out star of pandemic-era Instagram, the place where many people turned when stores shut down, where fashion advice comes from regular people and “regular people.”

Read about how the company went from $180,000 in gross sales in 2018 to about $7.5 million in 2020 here.

—Lizzy Acker,

Afghanistan finds deadly fungal infection in COVID patients

A deadly fungal infection known as “black fungus’ that first surfaced in Indian COVID-19 patients has been detected in Afghanistan, which is in the middle of a brutal third wave of the coronavirus, Health Minister Wahid Majroh said Saturday.

Afghanistan has recorded one death from the fungus, which has been detected in two other patients, he said.

In Afghanistan, where people rarely wear masks and there is no social distancing, the numbers of new cases have been steadily rising, with 1,272 new cases in the past 24 hours and 92 deaths. The testing rate in Afghanistan is barely 4,000 a day. Since the pandemic began last year, Afghanistan has recorded 124,757 cases and 5,199 deaths though the figures are believed to be wildly underreported.

Read the whole story here.

—The Associated Press

A portrait of neighborhoods in Queens, New York, surviving after the pandemic

Every day along Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, people stream off the elevated subway into a swarm of activity. Vendors ring bells and shout in Spanish — “Masks! Water! Shaved ice!”— as smoke rises from grilling meat and cumbia music competes with the rumble of the train.

A vibrant energy seems to have returned to the cluster of neighborhoods in north central Queens that became the first epicenter of the coronavirus in the country. A year ago, thousands had fallen ill, and hundreds had died.

But beneath the bustle lies desperation. The vendors, whose broad array of street food reflects the area’s diversity, often have lost steady jobs and do not know how else to make money. Residents and many business owners have fallen far behind on rent, protected only by a state moratorium on evictions that is set to expire at the end of the summer. Food pantry lines remain long.

“The beauty of what we see is that the immigrant community always finds a way to get by,” said Francisco Moya, a local Democratic city councilman. But it should not be confused with recovery, he added. “What you see on Roosevelt Avenue — it’s survival.”

Read the whole story here.

—Annie Correal and Victor J. Blue, The New York Times

Why the delta variant could end Australia’s pursuit of ‘COVID zero’

For Australia, and other nations pursuing a "COVID zero" strategy, the highly contagious delta variant is forcing more restrictions as it spreads a new wave of infections through communities where many people remain unvaccinated.

The Delta mutation has already raced from Sydney across Australia, carried on flights and by people visiting schools, hospitals, hair salons and a mass vaccination hub. Half of the country’s 25 million people have been ordered to stay home as the caseload, now at around 200, grows every day. State borders are closed, and exasperation — another lockdown 16 months into the pandemic? — is intensifying.

It’s a sudden turn in a country that has spent most of the past year celebrating a wildly successful policy of total COVID suppression. With closed borders, widespread testing and efficient tracing, Australia has quashed every previous outbreak, even as almost every other country has lived with the virus’s unceasing presence, often catastrophically.

Read the whole story here.

—Damien Cave, The New York Times

Enrollment in scouting groups dropped during the pandemic

Membership in the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts has plunged during the pandemic, according to new enrollment figures released by the youth organizations, which had already been hampered by assorted legal, financial and societal issues.

The groups estimated that they had lost 1.7 million members between them since 2019, with the Boy Scouts of America enrollment dropping by about 62% and the number of youth members of the Girl Scouts of the USA falling by nearly 30%.

The downturn came as young people across the nation were confined to virtual learning and after-school programs to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the latest obstacle for the groups’ retention efforts.

The timing is particularly nettlesome for the Boy Scouts of America, which filed for bankruptcy protection in February 2020 amid an avalanche of sexual-abuse claims that now exceeds 82,000 cases.

Read the whole story here.

—Neil Vigdor, The New York Times

Lawyers want to ask prospective jurors about their views on coronavirus

Lawyers are routinely allowed to ask prospective jurors personal questions, such as whether they’ve been victims of a crime, their views on race, whether they trust the police, etc. Now, as jury trials in Georgia have resumed, lawyers want to ask potential jurors about their views on the coronavirus.

Questions that have played out in the news since March 2020 are every bit as relevant in the courtroom.

Lawyers want to know whether prospective jurors would feel comfortable serving inside a courtroom, with strangers, who may or may not be vaccinated.

Defense lawyers in particular would like to know whether jurors trust the science or, more specifically, the government.

“Anti-vaxxers could be good for the defense because most of them don’t trust the government,” Atlanta criminal defense attorney Bruce Harvey said. “You always want to see if there are any anti-government feelings out there.”

Read the whole story here.

—Bill Rankin, The New York Times

‘We are all victims’: How Republicans became the party of the persecution complex

The story of a local Republican comparing coronavirus vaccine rules to the Holocaust seemed, at first glance, to have a limited shelf life.

After the story was reported in this newspaper, state Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen — who wore a yellow Star of David and also said, preposterously, that “we’re all Jews” — doubled down, but then later issued an apology after there were some calls for him to resign. The end — right?

Equating yourself to Holocaust victims is obviously both offensive and delusional. This is true almost no matter what is happening to you. But it’s especially so when all that’s happening is the government is asking you, but not forcing you, to take a potentially pandemic-ending vaccine.

But there’s a bigger issue here — one that keeps happening, to the point of becoming an epidemic of its own. It’s that half our political system, the Republican half, is becoming consumed with victimhood and grievance.

Read the rest of Westneat's column here.

—Danny Westneat

Postpartum depression on the rise, especially for women of color, during COVID-19 pandemic

Postpartum depression cases may have increased dramatically over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts say, citing an increase in calls from women asking for help from local nonprofit organizations, along with lengthening hospital waiting lists.

Women of color continue to be among the most affected, in part because many do not have health insurance or their insurance covers little or no therapy, said Misty Richards, one of the directors of the Maternal Outpatient Mental Health Services program at UCLA. Evidence suggests that some Latina mothers may hesitate to seek help because of stigmas associated with mental illness, as well as cultural expectations surrounding motherhood and the traditional roles of women in Latin societies.

In addition, many of those afflicted are not being screened for postpartum depression, despite California’s maternal mental health bill, AB 2193, which went into effect on July 1, 2019, and requires that obstetricians and gynecologists screen mothers for these conditions during and after pregnancy and ensure that they get any needed treatment.

Read the whole story here.

—Selene Rivera, Los Angeles Times

Las Vegas is bouncing back, but the virus is on the rise, too

Fifteen months after the pandemic transformed Las Vegas from flamboyant spectacle to ghost town, Sin City is back.

Tourists are streaming in again, gambling revenue has hit an all-time high, the Las Vegas Strip has its first new casino in a decade, and big concerts are starting at a gleaming new stadium. Plexiglass panels installed to separate gamblers at the poker and blackjack tables have largely been removed, the world-famous buffets are reopening, and nightclub dance floors are packed.

Vice President Kamala Harris was set to visit Saturday for what the White House is calling the “America’s Back Together” tour celebrating progress against the virus.

But that progress is threatened: Nevada this week saw the highest rate of new COVID-19 cases in the country, hospitalizations are on the rise again, and the highly contagious delta variant has become the most prevalent form of the virus in the state, adding urgency to the campaign to get more people vaccinated.

Read the whole story here.

— Michelle L. Price, The Associated Press

'Starting to feel normal' as 28,000-plus attend Mariners game

“It’s a beautiful day,” said Edgar Batiste, a sausage vendor outside of T-Mobile Park, where the Mariners hosted some 28,638 fans. “I’ve been waiting on this day.”

Batiste and his sausage crew make up one part of the Mariners’ game-day atmosphere, one which is beginning to seep back into the surroundings of T-Mobile Park. Lines of fans — less than 6 feet apart — waiting for the Home Plate Gate to open were serenaded by a band playing a jazz version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Bunting, usually reserved for opening day, hung from the banisters. 

For fans like Angela and Josh Baker, the return to business as usual is vastly appreciated, even if the progress isn’t as fast as some may like. 

“It’s starting to feel normal again,” Angela Baker said. “It’s inch by inch, but this is what we’re looking for. We’ve been locked away for over 14 months so we just need that freedom to get back to normal life like concerts and movies and sporting events and everything else.”

Read the whole story here.

—Andy Yamashita

Europe races to increase vaccinations as delta variant spreads

Countries across Europe are scrambling to accelerate coronavirus vaccinations and outpace the spread of the more infectious delta variant, in a high-stakes race to prevent hospital wards from filling up again with patients fighting for their lives.

The urgency coincides with Europe’s summer holiday months, with fair weather bringing more social gatherings and governments reluctant to clamp down on them. Social distancing is commonly neglected, especially among the young, and some countries are scrapping the requirement to wear masks outdoors.

Incentives for people to get shots include free groceries, travel and entertainment vouchers, and prize drawings. The president of Cyprus even appealed to a sense of patriotism.

The risk of infection from the delta variant is “high to very high” for partially or unvaccinated communities, according to the European Centre for Disease Control, which monitors 30 countries on the continent. It estimates that by the end of August, the variant will account for 90% of cases in the European Union.

Read the whole story here.

—Barry Hatton, The Associated Press