Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, June 23, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Although the U.S. government is stepping up its efforts to get younger Americans vaccinated against COVID-19, the White House on Tuesday acknowledged President Joe Biden will fall short of reaching his goal of vaccinating 70% of all American adults with at least one shot by Independence Day. It added that it will likely take several more weeks to reach the milestone.
Meanwhile, more than 70% of Americans age 30 or older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, though concern has been growing about the spread of a new variant that threatens to set the country back.
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.
Falling short: Why the White House will miss its vax target
WASHINGTON — Standing in the State Dining Room on May 4, President Joe Biden laid out a lofty goal to vaccinate 70% of American adults by Independence Day, saying the U.S. would need to overcome “doubters” and laziness to do it. “This is your choice,” he told Amercians. “It’s life and death.”
As for the ambition of his 70% goal, Biden added: “I’d like to get it at 100%, but I think realistically we can get to that place between now and July Fourth.”
With the July Fourth holiday approaching, the White House acknowledged this week that Biden will fall shy of his 70% goal and an associated aim of fully vaccinating 165 million adults in the same time frame. The missed milestones are notable in a White House that from the outset has been organized around a strategy of underpromising and overdelivering for the American public.
A half-dozen officials involved in the vaccination campaign, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the missed target candidly, pointed to a combination of factors, including: the lessened sense of urgency that followed early success in the vaccination campaign; a decision to reach higher than a play-it-safe lower goal; and unexpectedly strong recalcitrance among some Americans toward getting a shot.
Ohio ends incentive lottery with mixed vaccination results
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio, the state that launched the national movement to offer millions of dollars in incentives to boost vaccination rates, planned to conclude its program Wednesday — still unable to crack the 50% vaccination threshold.
The state’s not alone in mixed results for prize giving.
Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s May 12 announcement of the incentive program had the desired effect, leading to a 43% boost in state vaccination numbers over the previous week. But numbers of vaccinations have dropped since then.
“Clearly the impact went down after that second week,” DeWine acknowledged Wednesday.
Multiple other states followed Ohio’s lead, including Louisiana, Maryland, and New York state, with the impact on vaccinations hard to pin down.
Washington state’s COVID numbers show promise, but don’t let your guard down, says health secretary
At 68%, Washington’s COVID-19 vaccination rate remains below the 70% threshold required for early reopening, but the state’s new cases, deaths and hospitalizations continue to decrease, health department officials said Wednesday.
That doesn’t mean the pandemic is over, however, or that people should let their guard down, or ignore mask and social distancing guidelines, said Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah at the state Department of Health’s weekly update.
“Every time you take your eye off this virus it does something super-squirrelly,” said Shah. It’s a virus that has “broken every rule in the playbook.”
“Do not forget, the pandemic is not over until it’s truly over,” he said.
Washington state projects tax revenues to rise by $2.6 billion through 2023, as economy recovers from COVID-19
OLYMPIA — Fueled by a surge in state sales tax collections and other improving revenue numbers, Washington’s coffers continue to swell, as parts of the economy revive and the COVID-19 pandemic begins to gradually recede.
An additional $838 million in existing taxes is expected for the current two-year state operating budget, according to a new forecast by the Washington State Economic Revenue and Forecast Council. That budget cycle ends June 30.
Then, the council projects almost $1.8 billion more than previously expected in existing taxes for the 2021-23 budget cycle.
It’s a legitimate chunk of change for that roughly $59 billion operating budget approved by state lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee this spring. It takes effect July 1.
COVID-19 vaccine creators win prestigious Spanish prize
Seven researchers whose work contributed to designing COVID-19 vaccines have won Spain’s prestigious Princess of Asturias award for scientific research.
The award panel announced Wednesday it had chosen Hungary’s Katalin Karikó, Americans Drew Weissman and Philip Felgner, Germany’s Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci, Canadian Derrick Rossi and Sarah Gilbert of the United Kingdom as this year’s prizewinners.
The panel said the seven were “leading figures in one of the most outstanding feats in the history of science.”
“With their long careers in pure research, they led the way to innovative applications such as obtaining, in an extraordinarily short space of time, effective vaccines to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” the citation said. “Their work constitutes a prime example of the importance of pure research for the protection of public health the world over."
Fast spread of delta variant in U.S. exposes poorly vaccinated regions to renewed COVID danger
The rapid spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus is poised to divide the United States again, with highly vaccinated areas continuing toward post-pandemic freedom and poorly vaccinated regions threatened by greater caseloads and hospitalizations, health officials warned this week.
The highly transmissible strain is already taxing hospitals in a rural, lightly vaccinated part of Missouri, and caseloads and hospitalizations are on the rise in places such as Nevada, Arkansas and Utah, where fewer than 50% of the eligible population has received at least one dose of vaccine, according to data compiled by The Washington Post.
One influential model, produced by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, predicts a modest overall surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths this fall. But experts think that most damage will occur in localized pockets where large numbers of people have declined to be vaccinated or have not gained access to the shots.
State health officials report 813 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 813 new coronavirus cases and 46 new deaths on Wednesday.
The update brings the state's totals to 448,945 cases and 5,889 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.
The new cases may include a backlog of cases that date back to November 2020, DOH said.
In addition, 25,287 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 206 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 112,120 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,650 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 7,681,944 doses and 48.9% 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 24,996 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.
As infections soar, Siberian region imposes 2-week lockdown
Buryatia, a republic in Siberia, on Wednesday became the first Russian region to announce a lockdown because of a surge in coronavirus infections.
The lockdown, which will take effect Sunday and last for two weeks, is to “reverse the epidemic situation, which has been worsening for a fifth straight week,” the republic’s coronavirus task force said.
Coronavirus infections in Russia have surged in recent weeks, with the daily tally of new cases growing from around 9,000 in early June to over 17,000 on Friday.
Buryatia, a region of 985,000 people just north of Mongolia, went from reporting about 90 new infections a day in the beginning of June to over 200 a day last week. It is the only Russian region so far that has imposed several lockdowns since the beginning of the pandemic.
CDC, other officials tout coronavirus vaccines despite rare heart risk to the young
U.S. public-health leaders sought to reassure Americans that COVID-19 shots are safe and to get vaccinated after reports that a relatively small number of mostly young men had suffered a heart problem after being immunized.
About 1,200 cases of heart inflammation have been reported in people who received messenger RNA COVID-19 vaccines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The numbers were reported at a Wednesday meeting of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
After the numbers were made public, top U.S. health officials, regulators and doctors said that the risk potentially posed by shots developed by the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE partnership and Moderna Inc. is extremely low, and that it is much more likely that the coronavirus itself would pose a serious threat to people’s health.
Heightened concern about possible cardiovascular side effects could threaten vaccine uptake among young adults and adolescents just as more of them become eligible to receive shots.
Tokyo shapes up to be no-fun Olympics with many rules, tests
The Tokyo Olympics, already delayed by the pandemic, are not looking like much fun: Not for athletes. Not for fans. And not for the Japanese public.
They are caught between concerns about the coronavirus at a time when few are vaccinated on one side and politicians who hope to save face by holding the games and the International Olympic Committee with billions of dollars on the line on the other.
While the number of new cases has been receding in Tokyo, only about 7% of Japanese are fully vaccinated — and even though the government is now supercharging its vaccine drive after a slow start, the vast majority of the population still won’t be immunized when the games start.
‘Time to play’: Michigan reopens 15 months after pandemic
After 15 months of capacity restrictions and being hit by the country’s worst surge of coronavirus infections this spring, Michigan is fully open.
Limits on large indoor gatherings such as weddings and funerals are gone. So is a broad requirement that the unvaccinated be masked indoors, a rule that remains in about a dozen states. Unvaccinated teen athletes will no longer have to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.
Michigan is among the last states to lift gathering caps, which frustrated the business community. Last year, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer faced an alleged plot to kidnap her over COVID-19 rules after drawing the ire of then-President Donald Trump. He tweeted calls to “LIBERATE” Michigan and other states that had seen conservative-led protests against stay-at-home orders.
Seattle scientist digs up deleted coronavirus genetic data, adding fuel to the covid origin debate
A Seattle scientist has incited a new skirmish over the origin of the coronavirus, reporting that he has retrieved potentially significant genetic data about SARS-CoV-2 that had been stored and later deleted from a digital archive at the National Institutes of Health.
Jesse Bloom, a computational biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, posted his findings on the preprint server bioRxiv, where papers that have not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a journal have been landing by the thousands since the start of the pandemic.
Bloom, who retrieved the data through Google Cloud, does not claim that it advances one theory or another, but he contends it bolsters evidence that the virus was circulating in Wuhan,China, before a December outbreak of covid-19, the illness caused by the virus, that was linked to a market selling live animals.
What is not in dispute is that the data was deleted from a database at NIH. The data was included in a preprint paper posted in March 2020 and published that June in the journal Small.
NIH released a statement Wednesday saying that a researcher who originally published the genetic sequences asked for them to be removed from the NIH database so that they could be included in a different database. NIH said it is standard practice to remove data if requested to do so.
Jim Bakker, his church settle lawsuit over COVID-19 claims
Jim Bakker and his southwestern Missouri church will pay restitution of $156,000 to settle a lawsuit that accuses the TV pastor of falsely claiming that a health supplement could cure the coronavirus.
Missouri court records show that a settlement agreement was filed Tuesday. It calls for refunds to people who paid money or gave contributions to obtain a product known as Silver Solution in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The settlement also prohibits Bakker and Morningside Church Productions Inc. from advertising or selling Silver Solution “to diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat or cure any disease or illness.” Bakker, in the agreement, does not admit wrongdoing.
Republican Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt sued Bakker and Morningside in March 2020 and sought an injunction ordering Bakker to stop selling Silver Solution as a treatment for COVID-19 on his streaming TV program, The Jim Bakker Show.
Lisbon drives virus surge as Portugal is chided for failings
The Lisbon region’s surge in COVID-19 cases is powering ahead, with new infections pushing Portugal’s daily new cases to a four-month high as a report by health experts finds fault with the government’s pandemic response.
Portugal on Wednesday reported almost 1,500 new cases, two-thirds of them in the capital region where 2.8 million people live. The national 14-day cumulative COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people has risen to 130 — over double what it was three weeks ago.
Experts blame the delta variant for Lisbon’s virus spread, estimating it accounts for more than 70% of cases. A report by health experts into Portugal’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic warned that the country is not learning from what happened over the past 15 months. The report said there was “a worrying absence of drawing conclusions from what went wrong.”
Unvaccinated Missourians fuel COVID: ‘We will be the canary’
As the U.S. emerges from the COVID-19 crisis, Missouri is becoming a cautionary tale for the rest of the country: It is seeing an alarming rise in cases because of a combination of the fast-spreading delta variant and stubborn resistance among many people to getting vaccinated.
Intensive care beds are filling up with surprisingly young, unvaccinated patients, and staff members are getting burned out fighting a battle that was supposed to be in its final throes.
The hope among some health leaders is that the rest of the U.S. might at least learn something from Missouri’s plight.
“If people elsewhere in the country are looking to us and saying, ‘No thanks’ and they are getting vaccinated, that is good,” said Erik Frederick, chief administrative officer at Mercy Hospital Springfield, which has been inundated with COVID-19 patients as the variant first identified in India rips through the largely non-immunized community. “We will be the canary.”
The state now leads the nation with the highest rate of new COVID-19 infections, and the surge is happening largely in a politically conservative farming region in the northern part of the state and in the southwestern corner, which includes Springfield and Branson, the country music mecca in the Ozark Mountains where big crowds are gathering again at the city’s theaters and other attractions.
Jill Biden touts vaccine in poorly inoculated Mississippi
First lady Jill Biden visited one of the states least vaccinated against COVID-19 on Tuesday, encouraging residents of Mississippi to get their shots and telling them, “The White House, our administration — we care about you.”
“I’m here today to ask all of the people who can hear my voice, who can see my face, to get their shot,” Biden said after visiting a clinic at Jackson State University, one of the largest historically Black universities in the country. Biden later encouraged people who were getting vaccinated in Nashville, Tennessee, with the help of country singer Brad Paisley later Tuesday evening.
Mississippi and Tennessee have consistently ranked among the U.S. states with the fewest number of residents vaccinated against COVID-19, along with Alabama. Approximately 30% of Mississippi’s total population is fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Health.
The first lady said she wanted to visit states like Mississippi and Tennessee because the current vaccination rates are “just not enough.”
How COVID-19 can damage the brain
Stanford researchers have found signs of inflammation, genetic changes and impaired circuitry in the brains of people killed by COVID-19, important clues to the mysterious “brain fog” and mental struggles reported by many patients.
The research also reveals haunting similarities between the brains of those killed by COVID and other degenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
“This intense state of this viral infection causes changes in the brain that could explain the symptoms that we see,” said Tony Wyss-Coray, professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford.
COVID-19 is a disease that mainly attacks the lungs, but also has bewildering mental effects.
Patients welcomed the research, saying it shows that the mental toll of so-called “Long COVID” is real.
153 people resigned or were fired from a Texas hospital system after refusing to get COVID-19 vaccine
More than 150 health-care workers who did not comply with a Houston-based hospital system’s vaccine mandate have been fired or resigned, more than a week after a federal judge upheld the policy.
Houston Methodist — one of the first health systems to require the coronavirus shots — terminated or accepted the resignations of 153 workers Tuesday, spokeswoman Gale Smith said. Smith declined to specify how many were in each category.
Earlier this month, a federal district court judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by one of those employees who alleged the policy was unlawful and forced staffers to be “guinea pigs” for vaccines that had not gone through the full Food and Drug Administration approval process.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Washington state will fully reopen a week from today, if not sooner, but it's still racing to reach its vaccination target. Meanwhile, the U.S. will miss President Joe Biden's July 4 vaccination goal, so now there's a new goal.
"Heinous acts" are skyrocketing on airplanes as passengers return. Airlines and unions are pleading for federal help after thousands of disruptions so far this year, and masks are a key flashpoint. But lifting mask rules may not help.
When will the pandemic end? It's up to you, kind of, and it will be more about emotions than numbers. Experts are explaining the psychology of what's ahead of us.
The next question: What will you wear when "normal" life returns? “If it was lounge-y enough, comfortable enough, boring enough, gray enough to wear in 2020, we’re not buying it for 2021,” one fashion-world leader says as retailers place their bets on what all of us will want.