Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, June 16, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

About six months after COVID-19 vaccines started rolling out in Washington, King County has reached the 70% vaccination threshold, triggering a two-week countdown until the county’s mask mandate is rescinded. The state, however, won’t fully reopen until the end of June or when 70% of residents 16 and older have one vaccine dose, whichever comes first.

Still, some concerns remain, particularly surrounding the highly transmissible delta variant in the state, which continues to slowly spread in Washington

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.

Japan set to ease virus emergency ahead of Olympics

TOKYO — Japan is set to announce a decision Thursday to ease a coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo and six other areas this weekend, with new daily cases falling just as the country begins making final preparations for the Olympics starting in just over a month.

Japan has been struggling since late March to slow a wave of infections propelled by more contagious variants, with new daily cases soaring above 7,000 at one point and seriously ill patients straining hospitals in Tokyo, Osaka and other metropolitan areas. 

Daily cases have since subsided significantly and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to downgrade the state of emergency when it expires on Sunday to less stringent measures. 

Despite concerns by medical experts and the public over the potential risks of holding the Olympics, Suga has said he is determined to hold a “safe and secure” Games starting July 23.

—Associated Press

Black community has new option for health care: the church

MILWAUKEE — Every Sunday at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, the Rev. Joseph Jackson Jr. praises the Lord before his congregation. But since last fall he’s been praising something else his Black community needs: the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We want to continue to encourage our people to get out, get your shots. I got both of mine,” Jackson said to applause at the church in Milwaukee on a recent Sunday. 

Members of Black communities across the U.S. have disproportionately fallen sick or died from the virus, so some church leaders are using their influence and trusted reputations to fight back by preaching from the pulpit, phoning people to encourage vaccinations, and hosting testing clinics and vaccination events in church buildings.

Some want to extend their efforts beyond the fight against COVID-19 and give their flocks a place to seek health care for other ailments at a place they trust — the church.

—Associated Press

Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett got vaccinated but says he ‘can’t force’ anyone else to do the same

RENTON — Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett revealed Wednesday he has gotten the COVID-19 vaccine, saying he did so “because I wanted to be able to see my family.’’

While Lockett is not only one of Seahawks’ biggest names, he was also elected by teammates as the player rep to the NFL Players Association. He said he won’t tell any of his teammates what to do.

“I’m not about to force people to get it or anything like that,’’ Lockett told media via Zoom following Wednesday’s minicamp practice. “Like I think at the end of the day it’s their decision. But for me, you know I made the best decision that was right for me and my family. And so I ended up getting it. But all I can do is just tell them what I know and tell them why I decided to get it. But I can’t force somebody what they want to do with their life.’’

Lockett’s comments came a few hours after the NFL made it clear that it is essentially hoping to force players to get it, announcing it has reached an agreement with the NFLPA on updated protocols for the 2021 training camp and preseason.

Read the full story here.

—Bob Condotta

Interim trial data shows low effectiveness for CureVac shot

BERLIN — German vaccine maker CureVac said Wednesday that interim data from late-stage testing of its coronavirus shot show a comparatively low effectiveness in protecting people against COVID-19.

The results appear to be a significant setback for CureVac’s efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine, and the company’s stock value tumbled in after-hours trading.

While not all the data from its trial involving 40,000 participants in Latin America and Europe have been assessed yet, the company said interim results show the vaccine has an efficacy of 47% against COVID-19 disease of any severity. 

This did not meet what the company said were its “prespecified statistical success criteria,” though it didn’t state what those were.

—Associated Press

Vaccine effort turns into slog as infectious variant spreads

As cases tumble and states reopen, the potential final stage in the U.S. campaign to vanquish COVID-19 is turning into a slog, with a worrisome variant gaining a bigger foothold and lotteries and other prizes failing to persuade some Americans to get vaccinated.

“The last half, the last mile, the last quarter-mile always requires more effort,” Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday.

While two of the states slammed hardest by the disaster, California and New York, celebrated their reopenings this week with fireworks and a multimillion-dollar drawing, hospitalizations in parts of Missouri are surging and cases are rising sharply in Texas, illustrating the challenges the country faces this summer.

One major concern is the highly contagious and potentially more severe delta variant of the coronavirus that originated in India. While health officials say the vaccines are effective against it, the fear is that it will lead to outbreaks in states with lower vaccination rates.

—Associated Press

‘Completely normal’: Grant County Fair to go on without restrictions

As it looks now, the 2021 Grant County Fair will go on without restrictions on crowd size for carnival rides, the livestock sale or the concert venues.

Gov. Jay Inslee had announced the lifting of all pandemic-related restrictions on outdoor events as of June 30.

“So what does that mean for us?” Fairgrounds director Jim McKiernan said this week. “It means from Aug. 17 through 21, it’s the biggest party in Grant County. So we want to see you here.”

Fairgrounds officials had been making plans in case restrictions remained in place, but those plans aren’t necessary now.

All restrictions affecting the carnival have been removed, and the livestock show and sale will proceed as normal. Music will be featured each night, and a ticket to the fair will provide access to the concerts. Some VIP seating will be available, with tickets going on sale July 1.

Read the story here.

—Cheryl Schweizer, Columbia Basin Herald, Moses Lake, Wash.

State health officials report 547 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 547 new coronavirus cases and one new death on Wednesday.

The update brings the state's totals to 445,686 cases and 5,801 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. Tuesday.

In addition, 24,911 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 32 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 111,306 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,609 deaths.

The Seattle Times is not reporting full vaccination numbers Wednesday because the state has recently incorporated data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its data dashboard is out of date.

There are minor differences between state counts and CDC counts, as the agencies have had difficulty sharing data from people vaccinated by the Department of Defense, the federal Bureau of Prisons and Veterans Affairs. Also, the CDC uses data for people age 18 and up, while Washington uses data for people age 16 and up.

As of Wednesday, DOH reported 67.2% of Washingtonians 16 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine and said the dashboard contains the most accurate information the department "has control over."

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.

—Elise Takahama

NY lifts more COVID-19 rules as it hits vaccination mark

With 70% of adults in New York having received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state would celebrate by easing many of its remaining social distancing rules and shooting off fireworks.

Effective Tuesday, the state lifted rules that required many types of businesses to follow cleaning protocols or take people’s temperatures or screen them for recent COVID-19 symptoms.

Movie theaters will no longer have to leave empty seats between patrons. Restaurants will no longer be forced to sit parties at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart. Stores won’t have to limit how many customers they admit. New York had previously allowed businesses to stop enforcing social distancing and mask rules for vaccinated patrons.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

UK to require COVID-19 shots for nursing home workers

Britain will require COVID-19 vaccinations for nursing home workers in England, arguing that the need to protect vulnerable residents outweighed employees’ right to choose whether to get the jab.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the new rules Wednesday together with plans for a public consultation on extending the vaccine requirement to National Health Service workers. He described the vaccination mandate as a sensible step to save lives.

“The vast majority of staff in care homes are already vaccinated but not all, and we know that the vaccine not only protects you but protects those around you,” he told the House of Commons. “Therefore we will be taking forward the measures to ensure the mandation as a condition of deployment for staff in care homes.”

The regulations, pending parliamentary approval, take effect in October.

Unions have objected to mandatory vaccinations, in part because it treats those workers differently than the general population.

Read the story here.

—Danica Kirka, The Associated Press

Japan looks to ease virus emergency ahead of Olympics

Japan is expected to ease a coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo and most other areas this weekend, with new daily cases falling just as the country begins making final preparations for the Olympics starting in just over a month.

Japan has been struggling since late March to slow a wave of infections propelled by more contagious variants, with new daily cases soaring above 7,000 at one point and seriously ill patients straining hospitals in Tokyo, Osaka and other metropolitan areas.

Daily cases have since subsided significantly and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to downgrade the state of emergency when it expires on Sunday to a less-stringent quasi-emergency for several weeks.

Despite concerns raised by medical experts and the public over the potential risks of holding the Olympics, Suga has said he is determined to hold a “safe and secure” games starting July 23.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

As COVID recedes, colds and common viruses are back, especially among children

Gina and Rob Domaoal’s son, Eli, had been back in day care for five days after the coronavirus shut it down last year when the 20-month-old spiked a 102-degree fever.

Tests showed Eli was infected with two viruses at once: a rhinovirus, which causes the common cold, and parainfluenza, another respiratory illness that can be more serious.

Such feverish children in the Atlanta area are part of a pattern of viral infections that pediatricians, infectious-disease specialists and epidemiologists have noticed cropping up this spring in the United States, especially in the South. These common viruses are showing up at a distinctly uncommon time of year — and sometimes with uncommon virulence among children whose immune systems did not begin building up familiarity with them while the pandemic kept people isolated at home.

The comeback of ordinary viruses is widely regarded as a dark underside of a season in which the coronavirus has been receding in much of the nation as vaccinations provide protection. As a result, people are shedding masks and abandoning social distancing — and resuming spreading viral droplets.

Read the story here.

—Fenit Nirappil and Amy Goldstein, The Washington Post

In Argentina, pandemic exacts a heavy toll on tango culture

The empty, dark dance floor at the Viruta Tango Club in Buenos Aires is a symbol of the pandemic-induced crisis facing dancers and musicians of an art form known for close physical contact and exchanging partners.

Like other venues of its kind, the Viruta club has been closed since March 8, 2020, around the time that Argentine authorities decreed a strict quarantine in hopes of reducing the spread of COVID-19. The club used to host hundreds of tango dancers between Wednesday and Sunday.

“For those of us who make a living from tango, our self-esteem is on the floor,” said Horacio Godoy, a dancer, historian and club organizer.

Read the story here.

—Debora Rey, The Associated Press

France eases mask rules; will end nightly virus curfew

France on Wednesday eased several COVID-19 restrictions, with authorities saying it’s no longer always mandatory to wear masks outdoors and halting an 8-month nightly coronavirus curfew this weekend.

The surprise announcement by French Prime Minister Jean Castex comes as France is registering about 3,900 new virus infections a day, down from 35,000 in the March-April peak.

Castex welcomed the “very good news” and said the curfew will be lifted on Sunday, 10 days earlier than expected. The decision was made at a government meeting focusing on the virus.

“It’s actually improving more rapidly that we had hoped for,” Castex said. “My dear fellow citizens, I say it, I feel it: we are experiencing an important moment, a happy moment of return to a form of normal life again.”

Wearing a mask will still remain mandatory outdoors in crowded places like street markets and stadiums, he said. People are also required to wear a mask indoors in public spaces, including at work — with an exception for restaurants and bars.

Read the story here.

—Sylvie Corbet, The Associated Press

COVID hits Ecuador doctors who delayed wedding to treat sick

They were a pair of young doctors in love who put off marriage to save lives.

As the pandemic raged in Ecuador last year, they posted a social media photo of themselves dressed in biohazard suits kissing and holding a sign saying: “Today was to be our wedding day, but instead…”

David Vallejo and Mavelin Bonilla’s decision to postpone their May 23, 2020, wedding to treat COVID-19 patients at a large public hospital in southern Quito moved many people in Ecuador and beyond.

But within months, both would come down with COVID-19.

Read the story here.

—Gonzalo Solano, The Associated Press

Royal Caribbean delays Odyssey of the Seas’ first cruise after 8 crew members test COVID positive

Royal Caribbean International has postponed the inaugural sailing of its Odyssey of the Seas cruise ship “out of an abundance of caution” after eight crew members tested positive for COVID-19, the company’s CEO said.

Odyssey of the Seas was set to sail from Fort Lauderdale on July 3 and make stops in the Caribbean. Its sailing is now postponed until July 31. A simulation cruise, originally scheduled for late June, will also be rescheduled.

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley announced the changes late Tuesday in a statement posted on Facebook.

Read the story here.

—Michelle Marchante, Miami Herald

Regeneron drug reduces COVID patient deaths in large study

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc.’s antibody cocktail reduced the risk of death by 20% among hospitalized covid-19 patients who don’t have a natural antibody response of their own, according to a large study by University of Oxford researchers.

The results suggest there would be six fewer deaths over 28 days for every 100 patients given the company’s casirivimab and imdevimab combination of monoclonal antibodies. Patients who got the cocktail also spent four days fewer in the hospital on average, and had less of a need for a ventilator.

The combined therapy is already authorized in the U.S. for treating covid outpatients at risk of developing severe symptoms. The data reported Wednesday will be used to seek expanded emergency use for the drug cocktail for this large subset of hospitalized patients, Regeneron said in an email.

Read the story here.


Pockets of unvaccinated Americans threaten to prolong pandemic

As much of the country emerges from masking and social distancing, undervaccinated pockets in the U.S. still threaten to bring the virus roaring back.

Less than 25% of the population is fully vaccinated in at least 482 counties, according to an analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data by Bloomberg News. Many of these counties are more rural and less economically advantaged than the rest of the U.S., and a majority of their voters in the last presidential election chose Donald Trump, according to the analysis of 2,700 U.S. counties.

Though more than 174 million Americans have received at least one dose of a vaccine, accounting for about 64.6% of the adult population, such averages belie stark gaps in vaccination rates at a local level. With more contagious versions of the virus like the delta variant taking hold, this creates opportunities for further spread.

Maimuna Majumder, a health informatics researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital, said viruses don’t spread at a national or statewide level but among friends, family and neighbors in a community, passing it to each other as people go about their daily lives.

Read the story here.

—Kristen V. Brown, Bloomberg

EU members agree to lift travel restrictions on US tourists

The European Union is recommending that its 27 member countries start lifting restrictions on tourists from the United States.

EU members agreed Wednesday to add the U.S. to the list of countries for which they should gradually remove restrictions on non-essential travel. The move was adopted during a meeting in Brussels of permanent representatives to the bloc.

The recommendation is non-binding, and national governments have authority to require test results or vaccination records and to set other entry conditions.

The EU has no unified COVID-19 tourism or border policy, but has been working for months on a joint digital travel certificate for those vaccinated, freshly tested, or recently recovered from the virus.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

A highly transmissible coronavirus variant is spreading in Washington, and UW virologists are worried.

King County's mask mandate is ending in two weeks, now that residents have hit a key vaccination threshold. This will happen around the time the state fully reopens, one of the last five in the nation to do so.

A poker-night superspreader infected 10% of a Washington town. What happened next showed the vaccine divide is only getting wider, columnist Danny Westneat writes as he looks at the state's most and least vaccinated places. 

A glimpse of Washington's possible future: Californians hugged, partied and grinned without masks yesterday as the state fully reopened. This isn't the first time it's tried, and the celebrations came just as the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 equaled the number of Americans who died of cancer in 2019. But reopening is safer this time around, many say.

Everyone’s going to Hawaii, but the resorts aren’t ready.

—Kris Higginson