Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, June 15, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S. rose last week, further highlighting the reality that virus risks remain despite the removal of safety measures, such as requiring travelers to show negative COVID-19 test results before entering the U.S.

Meanwhile, the mayor of a city in northeastern China apologized for the failure of his administration’s work amid widespread dissatisfaction over the heavy-handed approach to dealing with the pandemic.

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 the rest of our coronavirus coverage and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington.

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Kishida unveils plan to set up pandemic crisis control unit

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced plans Wednesday to establish an infectious disease crisis management agency to better prepare for future pandemics.

Kishida said Japan has managed to significantly slow COVID-19 infections, but it is still too early to “put our guards down.”

His plan to establish the infectious disease crisis management agency was in response to criticism that the government was unprepared and lacked a centralized command center to handle COVID-19, and was hampered by bureaucratic divisions in allocating hospital beds, setting up testing centers and rolling out vaccines.

Kishida said Japan’s two main infection disease research institutes will be combined into one that will be overseen by the Health Ministry and serve as a Japanese version of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Read the story here.

—Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press
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COVID or no, cruise ships are back in Seattle

After being cooped up in her Bonney Lake home for much of the pandemic, Earlene Smith was ready to cruise again.

Hoping for some normalcy and fresh air, she joined her husband, sister and brother-in-law on a Royal Caribbean cruise to Alaska for eight days in May, round-trip from Seattle.

“The cruise staff were very welcoming,” Smith said. “It was good energy.”

The ship left on a Monday. By Thursday, her brother-in-law was feverish, achy and coughing. He’d caught COVID-19, and they still had about half the trip to go.

Even with precautions onboard, COVID infections like the one that Smith’s brother-in-law contracted are not a rare occurrence on cruises. As of Friday, 85 of 93 cruise ships in U.S. waters have reported at least one case of COVID onboard, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The cruise industry, however, is returning and more ships are sailing from Seattle. The Port of Seattle forecasts that about 265 vessels will sail in 2022, compared to 82 last year. The Port estimates the 2022 season, which ends in October, will have an economic impact of $900 million.

The comeback is ramping up despite warnings from the CDC. When the highly transmissible omicron variant drove up case counts in December, the CDC cautioned against cruise travel, regardless of a traveler’s vaccination status.

Read the story here.

—Renata Geraldo

Dolly Parton gives $1M to infectious disease research, again

Dolly Parton is donating $1 million to pediatric infectious disease research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, the organization announced on Wednesday.

The new gift is one of several Parton has made to the center over the years, including a $1 million gift in April 2020 for COVID vaccine research. That gift helped Vanderbilt researchers test an array of drugs aimed at reducing the life-threatening symptoms associated with COVID-19, the center said in a news release. Researchers are also looking at entirely new therapies to both treat COVID-19 and prevent infection.

Parton’s new gift will support a variety of ongoing research at the medical center, including understanding how viruses and bacteria cause disease, understanding and preventing antibiotic resistance, preventing and treating infections, diagnosing and treating infections in children with cancer, and gauging the impact of childhood infections throughout the world, according to the news release.

“Dolly’s previous support to infectious disease research, and also our pediatric cancer program, has already saved countless lives,” said Dr. Jeff Balser, president and CEO of Vanderbilt University Medical Center and dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “This new gift will bolster our defenses against future threats to the safety of this region and society as a whole.”

Parton said she supports the work because she loves children.

“No child should ever have to suffer,” Parton said in a news release. “I’m willing to do my part to try and keep as many of them as I can as healthy and safe as possible.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Fauci tests positive for virus, has mild COVID-19 symptoms

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the face of America’s pandemic response through two White House administrations, has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The 81-year-old Fauci, who is fully vaccinated and has received two booster shots, was experiencing mild COVID-19 symptoms, according to a statement Wednesday from the National Institutes of Health.

Fauci has not recently been in close contact with President Joe Biden or other senior government officials. He tested positive on a rapid antigen test. He is following public health guidelines and his doctor’s advice, and will return to work at the NIH when he tests negative, according to the statement.

Read the story here.

—Carla K. Johnson, The Associated Press
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How COVID did away with the sick day

The tone of the typical isolation postcard is sunny, insistent and aspirational as a holiday greeting: “Thanks to everyone who sent well wishes for @VP,” wrote Doug Emhoff, the second gentleman, on Twitter. “She is feeling good and is working from home.”

Like so many Americans, Vice President Kamala Harris got COVID-19 in late April. Like so many Americans, she worked right through it, seated at her desk surrounded by the signifiers of productivity: binders, pens, pastel Post-it notes. Other COVID-positive political figures assured the public they, too, were forging ahead on their to-do lists: Jen Psaki, Gavin Newsom. Donald Trump, when he had COVID-19, posed for his own working-through-it photos, though he appeared to be signing a blank sheet of paper.

In the world’s only wealthy country that does not guarantee paid sick leave, just working through it — even for those who could take paid time off — is the norm.

Working while sick is an American pastime — one that a vicious pandemic, which sickened millions, somehow didn’t disrupt. Over 100 other countries guarantee some form of paid sick leave. In the United States, a survey of 3,600 hourly workers this spring found that two-thirds of those who had been sick with COVID-19 or other illnesses went to work while sick, according to the Shift Project at Harvard, a research project on work scheduling.

Some 33 million Americans don’t have paid sick leave. Low-income workers are far less likely to be able to take time off when they’re sick; just over half of people in the bottom quarter of wages get paid sick leave, compared to 94% in the top quarter.

But even salaried workers who have paid leave often don’t use the time that they’re allotted. Americans in private industry get an average of seven sick days per year. A survey of large employers, by Mercer, found that nonhourly workers used just half of their sick days in 2021. This number was virtually unchanged from before the pandemic, in 2018, which Mercer analysts attribute partly to the prevalence of sick people working from home. In other words, for some people COVID-19 did away with the sick day instead of reinforcing it.

In an office, workers said, it is sometimes easier to delineate the boundary between work days, which meant coffee and commutes, and sick days, which meant chicken soup.

But those don’t seem to be the rules now. People are plugging in and working even when they’re aching, coughing, feverish and have paid time off.

Read the story here.

—Emma Goldberg, The New York Times

FDA advisers weigh COVID-19 shots for babies, young children

U.S. government advisers met Wednesday to decide whether to endorse COVID-19 shots for babies, toddlers and preschoolers, moving the nation closer to vaccinations for all ages.

Kids under 5 are the last remaining age group in the U.S. to get vaccinated and many parents have been anxiously awaiting Food and Drug Administration action to protect their little children. If all the regulatory hurdles are cleared, shots should be available next week.

The independent advisory panel is considering tot-sized doses from two coronavirus vaccine makers — Pfizer and Moderna.

Read the story here.

—Mike Stobbe and Lindsey Tanner, The Associated Press

Canadians traveling within the country’s borders no longer need to show proof of vaccination

Canada, which has slowly scaled back travel restrictions as the number of coronavirus cases has continued to fall, will suspend another mandate. Starting June 20, people traveling domestically and federal transport workers will no longer have to show proof of vaccination, officials said Tuesday, citing in large part the country’s high vaccination rate.

“It’s clear that the COVID situation is not the same now as it was last fall when we implemented the vaccine mandate,” Omar Alghabra, the country’s minister of transport, said during a news briefing Tuesday. “This is thanks to the millions of Canadians who rolled up their sleeves and got vaccinated.”

The announcement was also made in a 37-second video that featured dance music and promised that the change would “make it easier for Canadians to travel within Canada.”

Canada has kept many of its travel-related mandates as the United States has shed restrictions. But Canada has recently loosened some. In April, the country stopped requiring that vaccinated travelers show proof of a recent negative test to enter Canada.

Still, all travelers must continue to wear masks on federally regulated airplanes and trains and vaccination requirements will remain in place for travelers and crew members on cruises.

Read the story here.

—Maria Cramer and Carly Olson, The New York Times
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China’s factory activity rebounds as anti-virus curbs ease

China’s factory output rebounded in May, adding to a recovery from the latest COVID-induced economic slump after controls that shut down Shanghai and other industrial centers eased.

Industrial production rose 0.7% over a year earlier, recovering from April’s 2.9% contraction, government data showed. Consumer spending edged up compared with April but was lower than a year ago.

China’s ruling party's “zero-COVID” strategy shut down most businesses in Shanghai and fueled fears global manufacturing and trade might be disrupted.

Most factories, shops and other businesses have been allowed to reopen but are expected to need weeks or months to return to normal activity.

Economists have cut forecasts of China’s growth this year to as low as 2%, well below the ruling Communist Party’s target of 5.5%. Some expect activity to shrink in the quarter ending in June before a gradual recovery begins.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Long-haul travelers are wary about the U.S. dropping COVID test requirements

SEOUL, South Korea — The travel industry applauded the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s decision to lift the COVID-19 testing requirement for people entering the United States, but some travelers were wary.

In Asia, where flights to the United States can stretch well beyond 12 hours, people with trips planned said they were worried they would be at greater risk of contracting COVID on planes.

Katharine Jones, a 24-year-old American graduate student in Taiwan, said that she was planning to pack a rapid testing kit for her flight from Taipei to San Francisco on Tuesday and test herself after arriving at the U.S. airport before she meets her family.

More people will travel for leisure without the worry that they might not be able to get home, said Marian Carroll, a spokesperson for the Four Seasons Resorts Bali. “Anything that gets rid of some of that uncertainty helps people feel a lot more comfortable booking,” she said.

Read the story here.

—John Yoon, The New York Times