Even as some Americans worry that coronavirus-related restrictions were hastily lifted in the United States, many are relaxing precautions taken during the COVID-19 pandemic and resuming everyday activities, a new poll shows.
Meanwhile, Washington inches closer to reopening. With a new school year is right around the corner, many questions remain about whether students will be required to get vaccinated for COVID-19 before returning to classrooms. Here’s what you need to know.
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.
‘Protected them to death’: Elder-care COVID rules under fire
Barbara and Christine Colucci long to remove their masks and kiss their 102-year-old mother, who has dementia and is in a nursing home in Rochester, New York. They would love to have more than two people in her room at a time so that relatives can be there too.
“We don’t know how much longer she’s going to be alive,” Christine Colucci said, “so it’s like, please, give us this last chance with her in her final months on this earth to have that interaction.”
Pandemic restrictions are falling away almost everywhere — except inside many of America’s nursing homes. Rules designed to protect the nation’s most vulnerable from COVID-19 are still being enforced even though 75% of nursing home residents are now vaccinated and infections and deaths have plummeted.
Frustration has set in as families around the country visit their moms and, this Father’s Day weekend, their dads. Hugs and kisses are still discouraged or banned in some nursing homes. Residents are dining in relative isolation and playing bingo and doing crafts at a distance. Visits are limited and must be kept short, and are cut off entirely if someone tests positive for the coronavirus.
Afghanistan running out of oxygen as COVID surge worsens
Afghanistan’s is racing to ramp up supplies of oxygen as a deadly third surge of COVID-19 worsens, a senior health official told The Associated Press in an interview Saturday.
The government is installing oxygen supply plants in 10 provinces where up to 65% of those tested in some areas are COVID positive, health ministry spokesman Ghulam Dastigir Nazari said.
By WHO recommendations, anything higher than 5% shows officials aren’t testing widely enough, allowing the virus to spread unchecked. Afghanistan carries out barely 4,000 tests a day and often much less.
Afghanistan’s 24-hour infection count has also continued its upward climb from 1,500 at the end of May when the health ministry was already calling the surge “a crisis,” to more than 2,300 this week. Since the pandemic outbreak, Afghanistan is reporting 101,906 positive cases and 4,122 deaths. But those figures are likely a massive undercount, registering only deaths in hospitals — not the far greater numbers who die at home.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan received 900 oxygen cylinders from Iran on Saturday, part of 3,800 cylinders Tehran promised to deliver to Kabul last week. The shipment was delayed by Iran’s presidential elections, said Nazari.
Afghanistan has even run out of empty cylinders, receiving a delivery of 1,000 last week from Uzbekistan.
California unveils system to provide digital COVID-19 vaccine records
Officials unveiled a new system Friday through which Californians can access a digital copy of their COVID-19 vaccination record.
While everyone who’s been inoculated for COVID-19 should have received a white paper card from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention detailing where and when they got their shots, state officials said an electronic option will give residents an alternative.
Though the California Department of Public Health “recommends that vaccinated Californians keep their paper CDC card in a safe and secure place, we recognize that some people might prefer an electronic version,” state epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan said Friday.
More than 22 million Californians have received at least one vaccine dose to date, federal figures show, so “the odds are someone’s going to misplace” their physical record, Pan told reporters.
“This is really no different than someone’s vaccine card,” she said. “It’s an optional tool for Californians to use to be a touch more convenient, and one of many ways people can show and verify that they’ve been vaccinated.”
The new portal, accessible through myvaccinerecord.cdph.ca.gov, pulls from records already maintained within and accessible through the state’s immunization registry systems.
Cuba decided to make its own COVID-19 vaccines. Now it needs syringes
Cuba, which says it has developed five COVID-19 vaccine candidates and immunized about 2 million people in the island of 11 million, apparently didn’t plan for a crucial part of its vaccination campaign: syringes.
As COVID-19 cases have spiked in recent weeks, the lack of syringes looms as a major challenge for the island, where a crushing recession has triggered a food crisis and shortages of medicine and basic necessities. Trump-era sanctions made it harder for Cuba to buy syringes from major manufacturers, which are already swamped with orders from bigger, richer countries.
Making matters worse, some of Cuba’s vaccines require three doses, meaning the Caribbean nation needs more syringes per capita than most countries using the double shots made by Pfizer, Astrazeneca, Moderna and the single-dose jab by Janssen. Cuba is aiming to vaccinate all of Havana’s 2 million population by September and a total of about 10 million people by the end of the year.
When it became clear the island wouldn’t manage on its own, aid organizations in the U.S. and Europe sprang into action. They launched campaigns to collect donations to buy syringes and have them shipped to the island to help narrow a deficit of as many as 25 million syringes.
The response in just little over a month has been “phenomenal,” according to Global Health Partners, a New York-based NGO that’s leading the Saving Lives campaign. Others in Spain, Italy and Latin American nations like Argentina and Honduras have also contributed. Cubans living abroad launched campaigns in cities all over the world, and in Miami a caravan against the U.S. embargo last month also collected local donations.
State health officials report 523 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 523 new coronavirus cases on Saturday.
The update brings the state's totals to 447,203 cases and 5,820 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. Friday. The state does not report new death data on weekends or update its data dashboard on Sundays.
In addition, 25,002 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 31 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 111,557 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,610 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 7,586,602 doses and 48.1% 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 29,769 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.
When anti-vaxxers want to come to your wedding
Their “Love in the Time of Covid” cards in each save-the-date envelope spelled it out clearly: This October wedding would be a vaccinated-only event. After all, the groom’s father, who is vaccinated against COVID-19 but immunocompromised, needed to be sure he could safely attend.
Still, Michelle and her fiance knew what would probably happen once invitees began tearing open their mail. Some, like their bridesmaids and groomsmen — all 22 of whom got vaccinated against COVID-19 as early as they possibly could – would RSVP without a second thought. Others, though, “were not going to get the vaccine, were going to be mad at us for requiring that and would make sure that we knew they were upset and then angrily not come,” says Michelle, a 34-year-old in Phoenix.
The couple didn’t expect a third scenario — like, say, someone who hadn’t been vaccinated showing up anyway. But then a family member disclosed some shocking intel: Michelle’s father and stepmom were planning to lie about having gotten the vaccine.
“That obviously threw everything completely for a loop,” she says. Not only are Michelle and her father very close, but he’s also helping pay for the event. She couldn’t imagine her father simply not coming at all.
Still, she has no plans to relax the rules on his behalf – especially when his presence would pose a risk to the groom’s family.” My future mother-in-law saw the COVID inserts and texted me to thank me,” she says. She’s still trying to figure out the best way forward.
If planning a wedding in a normal year is stressful, planning a wedding in 2021 is especially so.
Even as rural Texas lags in vaccinations, COVID-19 is diminished statewide
Texas COVID-19 hospitalizations are at their lowest point in more than a year as the state surpasses more than half of eligible residents vaccinated against the coronavirus, a promising sign that comes months after Gov. Greg Abbott lifted his statewide mask order and moved to open businesses at 100% capacity.
Abbott has touted the state’s vaccine numbers and declining COVID-19 cases, but parts of Texas are still reporting low vaccination rates. Interest in the vaccine has waned and health experts warn that COVID-19 could continue to spread unless local and state health officials find a way to inoculate more of the state.
Roughly 200 of Texas’ 254 counties have yet to reach 50% of eligible residents vaccinated with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a benchmark set by the Texas Department of State Health Services. That number declines further when including children younger than 12, who aren’t yet authorized to receive the vaccine but can still spread the virus.
Even the state health agency’s goal of 50% is significantly lower than experts’ estimates of the percent of the population that must be protected from the virus to reach herd immunity, the point at which each infected person transmits the disease to an average of fewer than one other person, and it starts to die out. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has said the number could be as high as 85%.
Partygoers, police injured at curfew-busting rave in France
French police clashed with party-goers as they tried to break up an unauthorized rave in western France, authorities said Saturday. A 22-year-old man lost his hand and several others were injured amid the violence, including police.
The tensions erupted in a field near the Brittany town of Redon on Friday night, just two days before France lifts an overnight virus curfew that’s been in place for more than eight months and has prompted growing frustration among young people.
Police repeatedly fired tear gas and charged clusters of violent partygoers who hurled metal balls, gasoline bombs and other projectiles at security forces, according to images shared online and comments by the top government official in the region, prefect Emmanuel Berthier. Local authorities estimated about 1,500 people took part in the event despite a local ordinance banning it.
Metal fans mosh at 1st UK live music festival since pandemic
Thousands of heavy metal fans were camping, singing — and even moshing — on Saturday at Britain’s first full music festival since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The three-day Download Festival, taking place at Donington Park in central England, is one of a series of test events to see whether mass gatherings can resume without triggering outbreaks of COVID-19.
About 10,000 fans, a tenth of the festival’s pre-pandemic attendance, secured tickets to watch more than 40 U.K.-based bands including Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, Enter Shikari and Bullet for My Valentine.
Attendees all took COVID-19 tests before the event, and don’t have to wear masks or follow social distancing rules during the festival.
Promoter Andy Copping said there was a “real sense of euphoria” at the event, which runs through Sunday, despite the wet weather lashing much of the U.K. after several weeks of warm sunshine.
Nordstrom and others try to predict: What are we going to wear
Ties. Dozens of patterns, colors and fabrics — discounts on 300 different styles. That’s what Nordstrom had planned for its big sale last July. The company had worked with trend forecasters and talked with designers, but history was its best guide. Based on previous sales, the retailer was confident that shoppers would be seeking out deals on office apparel such as ties, dresses, heels and handbags. By the end of February 2020, it had ordered everything it planned to sell at the event.
Months later, the world had rearranged itself in a way no trend forecasters could have predicted. The summer sale was pushed to August and had just 15 types of ties. (People did still sometimes dress up for Zoom calls.)
“There was nothing for staying home and working remote,” Teri Bariquit, Nordstrom’s chief merchandising officer, said in an interview. The retailer threw itself into tracking terms that newly isolated customers were searching for on its website and on Google (“cozy” and “slippers” among them). It frantically contacted suppliers to buy more activewear and children’s apparel. And it created a tool so that customers could build lists of products they wanted from the sale before it even started.
The world of retail runs on predicting the future. What you buy in July was decided on in November. Trendspotting used to happen largely in person — retailers had eyes and ears on the ground, hunting for cool. Now it is an obsessive study in web traffic and reviews, Instagram and TikTok posts, bridal registry data, and restaurant and hotel bookings. This was always a piece of the puzzle for many chains, but it became central to their survival in the past year.
So as we are preparing to head back into the real world, what we will buy and wear once we’re out there is being dictated more than ever by our lives online.
EU recommends opening to Americans to rescue the summer
BRUSSELS — In a rush of hope that Europe has turned the page on its pandemic ordeal, the European Union on Friday urged its member countries to open their doors to U.S. leisure travelers after more than a year of tight restrictions and economic slump.
Most countries are expected to open to Americans immediately — if they haven’t already — including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece, among others. For the tourism powerhouses of Europe, especially, the ruling offered long-awaited relief that they could begin recouping their economic losses from the pandemic as summer weather arrives.
“We have a lot of American guests, and we actually stayed in touch with them over the pandemic,” said Richard Fischer, 37, a general manager at the Circus Hotel, in the heart of Berlin. “They are really looking forward to coming, and we are looking forward to having them!”
A recent rise of cases in Europe involving coronavirus variants prompted some caution about the EU’s move, and calls for continued vigilance. But after an early struggle to secure vaccines for many Europeans, the improvements in vaccination and case counts that allow the opening are crucial signals that the European bloc can still deliver for its members in times of trouble — a significant moment of cohesion in the wake of Britain’s exit from the union.
Virus surge claims brightest minds at Indian universities
Sajad Hassan sat at his professor’s hospital bedside for three nights, doing most of the talking as his friend and mentor breathed through an oxygen mask and struggled with a suspected COVID-19 infection.
Both were confident the 48-year-old academic would be heading home soon, until a coronavirus test came back positive and physicians ordered him moved to the isolation ward — known by many at the university hospital as the “dark room” because so few who entered came out alive.
“I could visibly see fear in his eyes,” Hassan recalled.
Two days later Dr. Jibraeil was dead, one of nearly 50 professors and non-teaching staff at AMU, one of India’s top universities, who fell victim to the coronavirus as it ripped through through the country in April and May. AMU’s tragedy was repeated across India as schools suffered similar blows to their faculty, and the loss of their knowledge — and in many cases friendship and guidance — has been devastating to the academic community.
“The virus took away our brightest minds,” said Shafey Kidwai, spokesman for AMU, or Aligarh Muslim University.
One of the oldest universities in India, AMU has produced generations of politicians, jurists and scholars. The university has been the seat of modern education for many Muslims in the Indian subcontinent and an intellectual cradle for the community. It was primarily founded to educate India’s Muslims, who now make up about 14% of the country’s population.
Over the last two months, local newspapers and the university’s Facebook page were filled with the obituaries of its professors — all lost to the pandemic.
Judge blocks CDC from enforcing virus rules for cruise ships in Florida
A federal judge ruled on Friday that, beginning July 18, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will no longer be allowed to enforce its rules intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus on cruise ships in Florida.
In his ruling, the judge, Steven Merryday of U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, granted Florida’s request for a preliminary injunction blocking the CDC from enforcing the rules in Florida’s ports, finding that they were based on “stale data” and failed to take into account the prevalence of effective vaccines.
The judge said that beginning July 18 the rules “will persist as only a nonbinding ‘consideration,’ ‘recommendation’ or ‘guideline,’ the same tools used by CDC when addressing the practices in other similarly situated industries, such as airlines, railroads, hotels, casinos, sports venues, buses, subways, and others.”
The ruling was a victory for Florida, a cruise industry hub that had challenged the rules in April, arguing that they were crippling the industry and causing the state to lose hundreds of million of dollars. Merryday said that more than 13 million cruise passengers and crew members had embarked and disembarked in Florida and patronized Florida’s businesses in 2019.
University of Minnesota studies COVID-19 vaccine effect in weakened immune systems
New University of Minnesota research is assessing whether COVID-19 vaccines protect people with compromised immune systems — a key group excluded from vaccine clinical trials.
While evidence shows COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness in the general population, there is little known about how the shots work in people with HIV or taking immune-suppressing drugs as part of their cancer care or organ transplants, said Dr. Amy Karger, a lead investigator of the university study.
“We really need to dig deeper and look at these groups, where we know they have something that could be impairing their ability to mount an immune response,” she said.
Minnesota has counted 604,291 infections with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and 7,531 deaths — including 115 infections and four deaths reported Friday. The state also reported 132 COVID-19 hospitalizations, down from 699 on April 14 at the peak of this spring’s wave.
Vaccination progress in Minnesota has been credited with shortening the duration and severity of the spring wave — with more than 3 million people 12 and older in the state receiving at least a first shot and nearly 2.8 million people completing the one- or two-dose series.
While other researchers study whether people need booster doses over time to maintain protection, Karger said the U study will establish whether the initial doses work in the immunocompromised population. The study is part of a $6.7 million grant the U received as part of the national SeroNet research group.
8 new do’s — and 1 don’t — for post-pandemic restaurant etiquette
It seemed as if it happened overnight — like some gigantic unseen hand flipped a switch from “PANDEMIC” back to “NORMAL.” At brunch-time on Sunday, June 13, 2021, the many restaurants along Seattle’s Capitol Hill Pike-Pine corridor were bustling with the kind of unmasked, mimosa-toasting crowds that would’ve struck fear into hearts mere weeks ago. Would-be diners approached various host stands, only to be turned away; places were full to the allowed 50% capacity (and some clearly beyond, which very recently would’ve warranted a shudder and/or a report to the health department). On the sidewalks, barefaced citizens strolled right past each other, inhaling and exhaling freely, nary a one crossing the street. No one appeared to even notice the light rain.
No magic is at work here, however — this is science. Seattle’s at the vanguard of COVID-19 vaccination, with 70%-plus now inoculated and ready to resume life as we knew it, including dining out, indoors, even. Our restaurants are set to reopen at full capacity by the end of the month. After a year-plus of isolation and dread, this is legitimate cause for collective celebration.
With our newfound, newly deep appreciation of the meaning of hospitality — somewhere pleasant to go, amazingly outside your own home, where people bring you deliciousness, treat you with kindness and do your dishes, where others are also gathered as a part of this miraculous thing called life — let’s take a moment to think about how we can do our part, about how to be the best patrons we can be. Here are eight new do’s — and one don’t — for post-pandemic restaurant-going.
Experts feared fewer Washington students would request college financial aid — they’re right.
So far this year, only 44% of Washington high school seniors have sent in paperwork that could help them get state or federal financial aid for college. It’s the lowest rate on record since 2016, and 4 percentage points behind this time last year.
A rate this low — and this late into the 2021-22 college-going season — suggests a troubling pattern, and may be a harbinger of who winds up in college classrooms this fall and how they pay for it.
It’s a significant setback because application completion was gradually ticking upward in the years before the pandemic. Now, school and financial aid leaders are racing to glean lessons from years past that might help students and families get their forms in.
What experts say they’ve found so far: Students need basic help understanding the financial aid process, and this kind of coaching is most effective when it happens during regular school hours — not at lunch or after the school day ends. Encouragement from a trusted adult at school, and constant prodding to fill out the forms, helps too. And college-bound programs targeted toward students of color can translate into high financial aid completion rates.
All of this was made harder during the pandemic.
Experts also learned another pandemic-era lesson: Many, many more students are taking a so-called “gap year” — time off between high school and college.
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