Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, June 24, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

Even though Washington’s COVID-19 vaccination rate remains below the 70% threshold required for early reopening, the state’s new cases, deaths and hospitalizations continue to decrease, health department officials said Wednesday. Still, they said, that doesn’t mean the pandemic is over.

Meanwhile, U.S. public health leaders are seeking to reassure Americans that COVID-19 shots are safe after reports that a relatively small number of mostly young men had suffered a heart problem after being immunized.

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.

Parts of Sydney going into lockdown as virus outbreak grows

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Parts of Sydney will go into lockdown late Friday as a coronavirus outbreak in Australia’s largest city continued to grow. 

Health authorities reported an additional 22 locally transmitted cases and imposed a weeklong lockdown in four areas, saying people could leave their homes only for essential purposes.

The outbreak of the highly contagious delta variant was first detected last week, and 65 people have been infected.

“If you live or work in those local government areas, you need to stay at home unless absolutely necessary,” said Gladys Berejiklian, the premier of New South Wales state.

She said the lockdown, which was due to go into effect just before midnight, would have a significant impact on businesses, especially in the central business district of the city of more than 5 million people. 

—Associated Press

Inside the extraordinary effort to save Trump from COVID-19

A five-day stretch in October 2020 — from the moment White House officials began an extraordinary effort to get President Donald Trump lifesaving drugs to the day the president returned to the White House from the hospital — marked a dramatic turning point in the nation’s flailing coronavirus response.

Trump’s brush with severe illness and the prospect of death caught the White House so unprepared that they had not even briefed Vice President Mike Pence’s team on a plan to swear him in if Trump became incapacitated.

For months, the president had taunted and dodged the virus, flouting safety protocols by holding big rallies and packing the White House with maskless guests. But just one month before the election, the virus that had already killed more than 200,000 Americans had sickened the most powerful person on the planet.

Trump’s medical advisers hoped his bout with the coronavirus, which was far more serious than acknowledged at the time, would inspire him to take the virus seriously. It was, several advisers said, the last chance to turn the response around. And once the opportunity passed, it was the point of no return.

—The Washington Post

Washington employers will see smaller tax hikes as recovery buoys unemployment system

Unemployment claims jumped in Washington last week, but the state also got some good news: the rapidly recovery economy means employers face smaller-than-expected tax increases to restore the depleted unemployment system.

Washingtonians filed 7,544 new, or “initial,” claims for unemployment insurance benefits last week, a 9.5% increase over the prior week, the state Employment Security Department reported Thursday. 

The increase, likely fueled in part by seasonal layoffs at schools, contrasted with new claims nationally, which fell 1.7% to 411,000, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday. 

But Washington also got a rosier forecast for its unemployment trust fund, which has been heavily depleted by hundreds of thousands of layoffs during the pandemic.

Read the full story here.

—Paul Roberts

Inslee vents about Point Roberts as Canadian border remains closed due to COVID-19

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday blasted the continued closure of the border between the United States and Canada and the toll it is taking on the Washington community of Point Roberts.

That Whatcom County community — which is connected by land to British Columbia — has been largely isolated from the U.S. mainland after the two countries closed their land border last spring to nonessential crossings to control the spread of COVID-19. 

“I’d like to see the border open tomorrow, particularly [for] vaccinated people, and I see no reason we can’t do that,” Inslee said during the regularly scheduled news conference on the state’s response to the pandemic

“And I’m disappointed that the federal government has not been able to agree to reopen this border, I’m egregiously disappointed,” Inslee said.

The governor added that he has “expressed that position in a number of ways, as forcefully as I can.”

Read the full story here.

—Joseph O'Sullivan

German business sentiment rises as pandemic ebbs

Germany’s businesses are more optimistic than they’ve been in almost three years, according to a closely watched survey by Munich’s Ifo institute released Thursday.

Sentiment among German managers rose to 101.8 points in June, from 99.2 in May, its highest since November 2018. The upbeat mood was partly spurred by declining coronavirus infections and the reopening of large parts of the economy.

Analysts had expected a more moderate increase in optimism from the questionnaire of about 9,000 businesses conducted every month.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

State health officials report 543 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 543 new coronavirus cases and 9 new deaths on Thursday.

The update brings the state's totals to 449,491 cases and 5,898 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. Wednesday.

In addition, 25,324 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 37 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 112,205 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,652 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.

UN: Many countries saw a rise in cannabis use during pandemic

Around 275 million people used drugs worldwide last year, while over 36 million people suffered from drug use disorders, according to the World Drug Report released Thursday by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime in Vienna.

The report also said many countries saw a rise in the use of cannabis during the coronavirus pandemic. In surveys of health professionals across 77 countries, 42% said cannabis use had increased. A rise in the non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs was also observed in the same period.

According to the latest global estimates, 36.3 million people, or 13% of the total number of people who use drugs, suffer from drug use disorders, the report said.

Read the story here.


Washington blood banks, hospitals issue urgent call for donors amid critical shortage

Blood banks say Washington is facing a critical blood shortage with a drop in donations at a time when hospital operations are resuming after being postponed during the pandemic. They’re issuing an urgent call for more donors to help keep hospitals running smoothly and to save lives.

“The current blood supply situation is precarious,” Bloodworks executive Vicki Finson said. “We are critically short of all blood types, and we’ve been that way for a few weeks now, which is new for us. This is the lowest inventory levels … since the pandemic.”

Blood transfusions are essential for a number of hospital operations, from organ transplants to surgeries to supporting cancer patients.

Read the story here.

—Daniel Wu

San Francisco to require vaccinations for all city employees

San Francisco city workers will be required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus when a vaccine receives full federal approval.

The policy covering 35,000 municipal workers may be the first by any city or county in the U.S., the San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday.

Employees who refuse to get vaccinated and don’t get an exemption could be fired, the Chronicle said.

The three COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the U.S. are being dispensed under emergency authorization by the Food and Drug Administration.

They are expected to receive full approval in several months. San Francisco city employees will then have 10 weeks to get their shots.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

US jobless claims tick down to 411,000 as economy heals

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits dropped last week, a sign that layoffs declined and the job market is improving.

The Labor Department said Thursday that jobless claims declined just 7,000 from the previous week to 411,000. The number of weekly applications for unemployment aid has fallen steadily this year from about 900,000 in January. The level of unemployment claims generally reflects the pace of layoffs.

As the pandemic fades, states and cities are lifting more business restrictions — California just fully reopened June 15 — and the economy is picking up as consumers are traveling, eating out more, and visiting movie theaters and amusement parks. Growth could top 10% at an annual rate in the April-June quarter, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

With many employers desperate to hire, some states are starting to cut off pandemic-related unemployment aid programs in response to business complaints that the assistance is making it harder for them to find workers.

Read the story here.

—Christopher Rugaber, The Associated Press

Spokane nursing student wins third $250,000 prize in Washington’s COVID-19 vaccine lottery

In an appearance on TVW Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced the third winner of the state’s “Shot of a Lifetime” vaccine lottery. This time, a nursing student from Spokane claimed the $250,000 prize.

Identified as Marissa P., she was the first among cash-prize winners so far to join Inslee in making the announcement.

“Stay healthy, stay safe and go get the vaccine,” she said.

At the beginning of June, Inslee announced that the state would give out more than $2 million in prizes to vaccinated Washingtonians to incentivize the shots. The grand-prize drawing for $1 million will be held July 13.

Read the story here.

—Christine Clarridge

Inslee extends eviction ban in Washington through Sept. 30

Gov. Jay Inslee Thursday announced an extension of the ban on evictions through Sept. 30 in an effort to help Washington tenants navigate the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the new version, landlords are prohibited from evicting tenants for past-due rent accrued between Feb 29, 2020, and July 31 of this year until a rental assistance program and an eviction-resolution program are operational in their county.

Starting Aug. 1, renters will be expected to pay full rent, unless they have already negotiated an alternative with the landlord or are actively seeking rental assistance money. Landlords under the new order must offer tenants a repayment plan before the eviction process is started.

The new ban also removes some types of housing from the existing order, including hotels and motels, Airbnbs, long-term care facilities and other nontraditional housing.

Read the story here.

—Joseph O'Sullivan and Heidi Groover

CDC extends eviction moratorium a month, says it’s last time

The Biden administration on Thursday extended the nationwide ban on evictions for a month to help millions of tenants unable to make rent payments during the coronavirus pandemic but said this is expected to be the last time it does so.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, extended the evictions moratorium from June 30 until July 31. The CDC said that “this is intended to be the final extension of the moratorium.”

A Biden administration official said the last month would be used for an “all hands on deck” multi-agency campaign to prevent a massive wave of evictions. One of the reasons the moratorium was put in place was to try to prevent further spread of COVID-19 by people put out on the streets and in shelters.

As of the end of March, 6.4 million American households were behind on their rent, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Nearly 1 million said eviction was very likely in two months, and 1.83 million said it was somewhat likely in the same period.

Read the story here.

—Ashraf Khalil, The Associated Press

Nearly all COVID deaths in US are now among unvaccinated

Nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. now are in people who weren’t vaccinated, a staggering demonstration of how effective the shots have been and an indication that deaths per day — now down to under 300 — could be practically zero if everyone eligible got the vaccine.

An Associated Press analysis of available government data from May shows that “breakthrough” infections in fully vaccinated people accounted for fewer than 1,200 of more than 853,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations. That’s about 0.1%.

And only about 150 of the more than 18,000 COVID-19 deaths in May were in fully vaccinated people. That translates to about 0.8%, or five deaths per day on average.

Read the story here.

—Mike Stobbe and Carla K. Johnson, The Associated Press

‘Scary’ Sydney virus cluster blamed on delta variant grows

Sydney is going through one the “scariest” times of the pandemic as a cluster of the highly contagious delta variant infects more people, an Australian state leader said on Thursday.

Authorities say the cluster spread from a Sydney airport limousine driver who tested positive last week. He was not vaccinated, reportedly did not wear a mask and is suspected to have been infected while transporting a foreign air crew. The cluster had grown to 36 cases by Thursday.

Police were considering charging the driver and his employer with a range of offenses, Police Force Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys said.

“Since the pandemic has started, this is perhaps the scariest period that New South Wales is going through,” New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

In pandemic, drug overdose deaths soar among Black Americans

As the COVID-19 pandemic intensified America’s opioid addiction crisis in nearly every corner of the country, many Black neighborhoods suffered most acutely.

The portrait of the opioid epidemic has long been painted as a rural white affliction, but the demographics have been shifting for years as deaths surged among Black Americans. The pandemic hastened the trend by further flooding the streets with fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid, in communities with scant resources to deal with addiction.

In the city of St. Louis, deaths among Black people increased last year at three times the rate of white people, skyrocketing more than 33%. Black men in Missouri are now four times more likely than a white person to die of an overdose.

Read the story here.

—Claire Galofaro, The Associated Press

UN-backed program trims forecast to supply COVID-19 vaccine

A public health group that manages the U.N.-backed program to ship COVID-19 vaccines to poor countries is paring back its supply forecast for this year by more than 100 million doses, largely because a key Indian manufacturer has focused on needs at home.

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, says it now projects that the COVAX program can supply just under 1.9 billion doses this year — including about 1.5 billion provided for free to 92 poor countries — down from original targets of more than 2 billion doses.

The shortfall comes because the Serum Institute of India — a pivotal producer of vaccines for COVAX — has reverted supplies to needy people in India, as its government scrambled to fight a spike in infections.

So far, COVAX has only distributed about 90 million doses, far short of its original plans.

Read the story here.

—Jamey Keaten, The Associated Press

What should I know about the delta variant?

The delta variant is a version of the coronavirus that has been found in more than 80 countries since it was first detected in India. It got its name from the World Health Organization, which names notable variants after letters of the Greek alphabet.

Viruses constantly mutate, and most changes aren’t concerning. But there is a worry that some variants might evolve enough to be more contagious, cause more severe illness or evade the protection that vaccines provide.

Experts say the delta variant spreads more easily because of mutations that make it better at latching onto cells in our bodies. In the United Kingdom, the variant is now responsible for 90% of all new infections. In the U.S., it represents 20% of infections, and health officials say it could become the country’s dominant type as well.

Although it is more transmissible, it’s not clear yet whether the variant makes people sicker.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Washington state’s COVID-19 numbers are showing promise, but the worrisome gamma strain is rising fast. Don’t let your guard down, one state health official says: "Every time you take your eye off this virus, it does something super-squirrelly."

The delta variant is also on the rise, threatening to power a fall surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Here are the key facts about this variant.

A Seattle scientist says he dug up deleted data on the virus. The information zapped by the National Institutes of Health adds fuel to the debate over where the virus came from.

Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will carry a new warning about heart inflammation, but the side effect is "extremely rare," according to an unusual joint statement from top U.S. health officials, medical organizations and others.

A big COVID-19 outbreak has hit the Northwest detention center in Tacoma, with 29 immigrants testing positive.

—Kris Higginson