Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, June 26, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
With temperatures expected to surpass 100 degrees this weekend, Gov. Jay Inslee has lifted COVID-19 capacity restrictions — which restricted indoor spaces to 50% — for cooling centers run by governments and nonprofits.
Also because of the heat, many COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites in Seattle and King County are closing or altering their hours this weekend, local officials say.
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.
UK health minister resigns after breaching coronavirus rules
LONDON — U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has led the country’s response to the coronavirus, resigned Saturday, a day after apologizing for breaching social distancing rules with an aide with whom he was allegedly having an affair.
Hancock had been under growing pressure since the tabloid Sun newspaper published images showing him and senior aide Gina Coladangelo kissing in an office at the Department of Health. The Sun said the closed circuit television images were taken May 6 — 11 days before lockdown rules were eased to allow hugs and other physical contact with people outside one’s own household.
In a resignation letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Hancock said the government owed it “to people who have sacrificed so much in this pandemic to be honest when we have let them down.”
“And those of us who make these rules have got to stick by them and that’s why I’ve got to resign,” he wrote.
1st post-pandemic cruise ship from US sails away
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The first cruise ship to leave a U.S. port since the coronavirus pandemic brought the industry to a 15-month standstill sailed away on Saturday with nearly all vaccinated passengers on board.
Celebrity Edge departed Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at 6 p.m. with the number of passengers limited to about 40% capacity, and with nearly all 1,100 passengers vaccinated against COVID-19. Celebrity Cruises, one of Royal Caribbean Cruise’s brands, says 99% of the passengers are vaccinated, well over the 95% requirement imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A giant greeting was projected on a wall of one of the port buildings: “Someday is here. Welcome back.”
China says no strings attached to vaccine shipments overseas
BEIJING — China said Saturday that it provides vaccines to other countries with no political conditions attached, responding to a story by The Associated Press saying China pressured Ukraine into withdrawing from a multi-country statement on human rights in China’s Xinjiang region by threatening to withhold a COVID-19 vaccine shipment.
A statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it welcomed Ukraine’s decision to take its name off the statement at a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, adding “we haven’t heard that Ukraine has encountered any difficulty in importing vaccines from China.”
The Associated Press, citing diplomats from two Western countries, reported that Ukraine had pulled its name from the statement Thursday after China warned it would block a planned shipment of at least 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines unless it did so. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
China’s written response to AP did not directly address the specific charge, but said, “China’s provision of vaccines and anti-epidemic materials to other countries is not meant to gain benefits from other countries and there isn’t any geopolitical purpose nor any political conditions attached.”
Ukraine had briefly joined the statement by over 40 countries presented by Canada at the Human Rights Council on Tuesday. The statement urged China to allow immediate access for independent observers to Xinjiang, where human rights groups have alleged mistreatment of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in the region.
Tamiflu-like drugs face long odds against COVID ‘runaway train’
The flu fighter Tamiflu is one of the most recognizable antiviral medications in the world — but its weaknesses suggest that devising a similarly simple treatment for COVID-19 will be challenging.
After spending some $20 billion to develop vaccines at top speed, the U.S. is turning its attention to treating COVID-19 after a person is infected. Last week, health officials said the Antiviral Program for Pandemics will use $3.2 billion to target drugs for COVID and other viruses with the potential to foment pandemics.
Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious-disease official and adviser to President Joe Biden, compared the hoped-for drugs to Tamiflu, which was used in 2009 to counter a milder pandemic of swine flu. But that medication’s history shows the pitfalls of expecting antivirals to contain an explosive infection like COVID.
“Putting that as your first line of defense is a dangerous choice to make,” said Stephanie DeWitte-Orr, who studies antivirals and immunity at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. While antivirals are an important backup in the fight against COVID, she said, in most cases, that’s all they should be — a backup plan.
State health officials report 426 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 426 new coronavirus cases on Saturday.
The update brings the state's totals to 450,404 cases and 5,902 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, though the state does not report new death data on weekends or update its data dashboard on Sundays.
In addition, 25,383 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 28 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 112,339 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,652 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 7,721,076 doses and 60% 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 21,888 vaccine shots per day.
Cities are making COVID-era street changes permanent. Some are facing pushback.
Paris barred most cars from the majestic road that goes past the Louvre Museum, then months later announced it would keep it that way. New York followed suit, making permanent a program that clears space on public roads for walking, biking and, in the case of 34th Avenue in Queens, Mexican folk dance classes.
In San Francisco, officials are weighing whether to keep part of John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park closed to cars, prompting a tussle among drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and a fine arts museum that lost easy public access to its facilities.
Leaders in other cities are pushing to do the same, seeing an opportunity to cement progress in making streets safer, more enjoyable and less polluting. The moves have also roiled long-running debates about the role of the automobile and the purpose of public streets.
N.C. State, derailed by COVID issues, is out of the College World Series after NCAA decision
North Carolina State’s baseball team was one win from its first College World Series final before a disastrous encounter with NCAA health protocols led first to a strange loss Friday and then a decision to declare Saturday’s game a no-contest, ending the team’s run in Omaha.
Friday’s game against reigning champion Vanderbilt veered into the bizarre, when the Wolfpack found out less than two hours before the first pitch that they would have just 13 eligible players. They elected to play on, and were competitive in a 3-1 loss that forced a deciding game Saturday. But in the middle of the night, the NCAA’s Division I Baseball Committee declared that game a no-contest because of health protocols, putting Vanderbilt back in the final and ending N.C. State’s season. The decision, according to the committee, was made on the recommendation of the championship’s medical team and the local health department.
“The NCAA and the committee regret that N.C. State’s student-athletes and coaching staff will not be able to continue in the championship in which they earned the right to participate,” the committee said in a statement. “Because of privacy issues, we cannot provide further details.”
The news brought to mind several other similar cases: VCU, forced out of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament the day before its first game; the Cleveland Browns, whose roster and coaching staff were hit by covid-related absences before an NFL playoff game; and golfer Jon Rahm, forced to withdraw from a recent PGA Tour event he was leading after a positive test.
Ending state of emergency could cut wide swath in Georgia
ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s plan to end the 15-month state of emergency on July 1 is worrying workers, citizens and others who benefitted from the temporary measures put into place to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kemp’s administration used his added powers to change millions of Georgia lives in ways big and small, from relaxing rules on licensing medical professionals, to easing weight limits on some commercial trucks, to accepting increased federal aid for families in need.
What happens once the emergency declaration ends is uncertain. Kemp has said he will issue a new order in its place next week, though he has given few details.
“We worked together — along with the Department of Public Health, dozens of state agencies, local leaders, private sector partners, and countless others — to protect both lives and livelihoods,” Kemp wrote in his announcement Tuesday. “Our economic momentum is strong, and people are getting back to normal. We have emerged resilient, and I thank all Georgians for doing their part.”
States hesitant to adopt digital COVID vaccine verification
Customers wanting to wine, dine and unwind to live music at the City Winery’s flagship restaurant in New York must show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination to get in. But that’s not required at most other dining establishments in the city. And it’s not necessary at other City Winery sites around the U.S.
If City Winery tried doing such a thing at its places in Atlanta and Nashville, “we would have no business, because so many people are basically against it,” said CEO Michael Dorf.
Across the U.S., many hard-hit businesses eager to return to normal have been reluctant to demand proof of vaccination from customers. And the public and the politicians in many places have made it clear they don’t care for the idea.
In fact, far more states have banned proof-of-vaccination policies than have created smartphone-based programs for people to digitally display their vaccination status.
U.S. life expectancy drop during pandemic shows ‘price people pay for systemic racism’
By the time a mysterious respiratory disease began circling the globe in early 2020, American life spans had already been under two decades of steady downward pressure from fatal drug overdoses, suicides, gun violence and chronic illnesses linked to poverty and despair.
Americans were in trouble, with an average life expectancy that had sunk below that of any other affluent country.
Now, new research finds that the COVID-19 pandemic has delivered another crushing blow to longevity in the United States. In just two years, the pandemic that has killed more than 600,000 Americans has slashed close to two years off the average life expectancy.
An American born in 2018 could expect to live 78.7 years, on average. At the end of 2020, that number had fallen to 76.9 years, according to research published this week in the medical journal BMJ.
That precipitous drop — more than eight times steeper than in any other country in the U.S.’ economic league — now puts American life spans on par with those seen in Peru, Colombia, Chile and Thailand. Not since World War II have Americans experienced such a steep dive in longevity.
But those averages hide an even more shocking reality in communities of color. The pandemic’s power to shorten the lives of Black and brown people in the U.S. has been even more striking.
Complaints about PayPal, Venmo, other mobile pay apps surge during pandemic
There was cash in the PayPal account — but it mysteriously disappeared.
In another account, PayPal put the funds of a small business on hold — for six months — because it mistakenly thought the company was selling weight-loss products.
More than $3,000 in a Venmo account was lost in translation between the app and the holder’s bank account.
And one anguished user pleaded for government help after Square, which owns CashApp, left the owner unable to access money. “I will possibly be out on the street because of this and am just asking for what is rightfully mine,” the user complained. “I desperately need it.”
About four of every five American consumers use a mobile payment app, and hundreds of bereft Californians — and thousands of others around the nation — have pleaded for official intervention to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau since 2018, with an enormous spike in complaints during the pandemic.
As virus surges in Uganda, hospitals accused of profiteering
KAMPALA, Uganda — As he struggled to breathe earlier this month, Dr. Nathan Tumubone was tormented by thoughts of hospitalization as a COVID-19 patient. Thinking of the costs involved, he knew he wanted to stay home.
He and his wife “steamed” up to five times a day, inhaling what they felt was the relieving vapor rising from a boiling concoction of herbs.
“The truth is I didn’t want to go to hospital,” said the general practitioner. “We’ve seen the costs are really high, and one wouldn’t want to get in there.”
As virus cases surge in Uganda, making scarce hospital beds even more expensive, concern is growing over the alleged exploitation of patients by private hospitals accused of demanding payment up front and hiking fees.
Uganda is among African countries seeing a dramatic rise in the number of infections amid a severe vaccine shortage. The pandemic is resurging in 12 of Africa’s 54 countries, the World Health Organization reported Thursday, saying the current wave is “picking up speed, spreading faster, hitting harder.”
Africa’s top public health official, John Nkengasong of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday that Africa’s third wave is “very devastating” as the delta variant drives infections in many countries.
The vaccine lottery is a dud. How about just paying people to get the shots instead?
Gov. Jay Inslee was doing his best barker routine the other day — exhorting, pleading, and ultimately luring with shiny objects, as he tried to get the holdouts and skeptics to step inside the tent.
“Why the heck would you not get this vaccination?” he said. “It could save your life, and it’s free! It has the added benefit of protecting everybody around you that you love!”
“If that’s not enough,” he added later, “you could still win cash or other prizes through Shot of a Lifetime.”
Washington state has done a decent job, overall, at getting vaccinated up. Sixty-eight percent of people 16 and older have had at least one shot, and about 60% are fully vaccinated. But we’re stuck. The number of shots each day is on a steady slide, with the data starting to suggest that about a third of the state’s adults may not get fully vaccinated no matter what.
It’s pretty clear the lottery giveaways — the weekly cash prizes of $250,000 and the Xboxes and sports tickets and so forth — aren’t working.
Finland sees spike in virus cases from returning soccer fans
HELSINKI — Finnish health authorities have detected a spike in coronavirus cases that has been traced to soccer fans returning from neighboring Russia following European Championship matches in St. Petersburg.
The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare on Saturday urged “all passengers who have traveled from St. Petersburg to Finland by any bus company to apply for a coronavirus test.”
“Any bus or minibus may have been exposed,” the institute said.
Finland played two of its Euro 2020 group games in St. Petersburg, facing Russia on June 16 and Belgium on Monday. At least 2,000 Finns are estimated to have traveled to the city for those matches.
With travel restrictions barely easing, U.S.-Canada border towns stuck in economic limbo
BLAINE — At Border Mailbox and Parcel, just minutes from the U.S.-Canada border, owner Doug Hornsby all but trips over the economic fallout of the pandemic every time he comes to work.
Before COVID-19, Hornsby’s customers were primarily Canadians who used his Blaine address for their online purchases to take advantage of cheaper U.S. shipping.
But that bit of globalization ground to a halt in March 2020, when the pandemic shut the border to nonessential travelers — and turned Hornsby’s shop into a kind of package purgatory, with thousands of unretrieved purchases.
“I have stuff that’s been here 16 months,” the 71-year-old grouses as he steps around a 65-inch flat screen TV that showed up last spring and hasn’t moved since.
Nor is it clear when it will move. Canada recently announced it will start easing some border restrictions, on July 5. But other restrictions have been extended through July 21 and a full reopening won’t happen until 75% of Canadians are fully vaccinated, which is likely many months away.
Financial challenges linger for Washington tenants and landlords. Will government help last?
This month, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan extended the city’s eviction moratorium for the fifth time, this one through Sept. 30. Gov. Jay Inslee announced a new “bridge” policy to limit evictions through the end of September. And the Biden administration extended the nationwide ban for one more month.
Most immediately, elected officials say the slow rollout of rent assistance pushed them to extend the bans.
Yet another round of short-term extensions underscores the difficulty of keeping thousands of renters from tipping over into homelessness, especially in a state with rising costs of living and a shortage of affordable housing. Meanwhile, landlords are also awaiting hundreds of millions of dollars in government aid meant to pay off some back rent.
For Maria Ruelaz, paying $1,300 a month in rent for her one-bedroom Tukwila apartment has felt “pretty impossible” since her husband lost his job last fall. They’re sometimes left weighing whether to pay for rent or other needs, like toiletries.
Landlord Robert Akhtar said 13 tenants are behind on rent at apartments he owns in SeaTac, some by more than $20,000, and some whose debt predates the pandemic. In total, he said he is owed $110,000.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
The Washington state Department of Health reported 481 new coronavirus cases and 4 new deaths on Friday.
Federal authorities have transferred hundreds of detainees from the southern border to the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma since the beginning of June, and 29 people held at the facility have tested positive for COVID-19.
The Seattle Times wants to know what COVID-19 changes and adaptations society should hang onto, post-pandemic, to advance equity. Please click here to share your thoughts.
For every coronavirus infection that was recorded in the United States in mid-2020, nearly five asymptomatic cases went undetected, according to a new study by the National Institutes of Health.
The first cruise ship to board passengers at a U.S. port in 15 months is set to sail Saturday from the industry’s South Florida hub in a symbolic stride toward normalcy that will be watched closely by health experts as vaccines curb the spread of COVID-19.
Europe is “on thin ice” in its battle against COVID-19, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday as EU leaders agreed that vaccinations should be sped up to fight the highly contagious delta variant.
Japan may move to a four-day work week, marking official acceptance of a once-fringe approach that has gained increasing purchase internationally amid workplace changes wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.
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