Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, June 30, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

Washington health officials celebrate reopening, but keeping close eye on variantsThough the World Health Organization recently urged even fully vaccinated people to wear masks as the coronavirus’ delta variant spreads in the U.S. and other countries, strict masking requirements will not be coming back to Washington state.

Meanwhile, as virus restrictions roll back, health professionals across the nation are treating children with previous mental health issues that worsened during the pandemic as well as those facing new challenges. In Washington, a recent survey found nearly 60% of high school students — and almost half of the state’s middle schoolers — said they were sad or depressed most days during the pandemic.

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.

The WA State Department of Health has set a press conference today at 2:15 p.m. to discuss the state’s reopening from COVID.
Watch here:


(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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Washington state Rep. Jim Walsh apologizes for wearing yellow Star of David to protest COVID vaccine rules

State Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, said Wednesday he is “terribly sorry” for wearing a yellow Star of David on his shirt at an event over the weekend in protest of COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

The backtracking, during an appearance on a conservative radio talk show, came after Walsh’s use of the symbol drew widespread condemnations, including from Democratic and Republican colleagues in the state Legislature as well as by Jewish organizations.

Walsh had the star — an infamous symbol Nazis forced Jews to wear during the Holocaust — affixed to his shirt during a speech to a conservative group at a Lacey church on Saturday. He said it was meant to make a point about vaccine mandates that he opposes.

“It’s an echo from history,” Walsh wrote on a Facebook page about the symbol. “In the current context, we’re all Jews.”

His comparison of a publichealth vaccination campaign with the Nazi genocide that killed 6 million Jews during World War II attracted national attention and criticism.

Read the full story here.

—Jim Brunner
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Biden behind on global vaccine sharing, cites local hurdles

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden came up well short on his goal of delivering 80 million doses of coronavirus vaccine to the rest of the world by the end of June as a host of logistical and regulatory hurdles slowed the pace of U.S. vaccine diplomacy.

Although the Biden administration has announced that about 50 countries and entities will receive a share of the excess COVID-19 vaccine doses, the U.S. has shipped fewer than 24 million doses to 10 recipient countries, according to an Associated Press tally. The White House says more will be sent in the coming days and stresses that Biden has done everything in his power to meet the commitment.

It’s not for lack of doses. All the American shots are ready to ship, the White House said. Rather, it’s taking more time than anticipated to sort through a complex web of legal requirements, health codes, customs clearances, cold-storage chains, language barriers and delivery programs. Complicating matters even further is that no two shipments are alike.

One country requires an act of its Cabinet to approve the vaccine donation, others require inspectors to conduct their own safety checks on the U.S. doses, and still others have yet to develop critical aspects of their vaccine distribution plans to ensure the doses can reach people’s arms before they spoil.

—Associated Press

California virus cases rising as delta variant spreads

LOS ANGELES — California broadly reopened its economy barely two weeks ago and since then an especially contagious coronavirus variant has spread among the unvaccinated, a development that has health officials on edge and already has prompted Los Angeles County to strongly recommend everyone resume wearing masks inside.

The nation’s most populous state is averaging close to 1,000 additional cases reported daily, an increase of about 17% in the last 14 days. Officials expected an increase when capacity limits were lifted for businesses and most mask restrictions and social distancing requirements were eliminated for vaccinated people.

But public health officials raised concern this week with the more transmissible delta variant spreading among the unvaccinated, who comprise the vast majority of new infections. LA County, where a quarter of the state’s nearly 40 million people live, recommended Monday that vaccinated residents resume wearing face coverings indoors after detecting that about half of all cases were the delta variant.

—Associated Press

Customers at Ballard restaurants look forward to returning to a maskless world

On the day COVID restrictions lifted in Washington state, several residents eating at Ballard restaurants on Wednesday said they were relieved local businesses could at last resume full operations and hopefully start to recover financially.

Sean Flanigan, a 39-year-old eating at La Carta De Oaxaca, said restaurants deserve to be able to make money.

“The ones that were able to get through were resilient," he said. “I think it’s a good day for these owners to have some hope and some light.” 

Another La Carta De Oaxaca patron, Sarita Sylvester, who was sipping a chili-margarita with a friend, said she's not too worried about COVID-19 cases rising because of the reopening but still brings her mask with her when she goes out.

“I’m excited,” she said. “I think everybody is really pumped for things to be back to normal, but in a mindful way. Nothing needs to blast open.” 

John Ketchpaw, 41, sat at a table outside Venture Coffee eating a sandwich Wednesday afternoon and said he feels “mostly OK” about restaurants being allowed to open at 100% capacity. 

“I feel pretty good that I’m not going to bring anything home to my kids, but that’s mostly because I’m vaccinated,” Ketchpaw said. “There are people out here who aren’t. I think they are foolish, and we’re going to find out how foolish they are.”  

He says he’s been going out to eat a bit in the last few months, but only took his kids out to places like ice cream shops where his kids could stay outside with distance between them and other people. He said if he took his kids to a restaurant now, he’d go inside and order and make sure his kids stay outside the whole time. 

He thinks dining out is still inconvenient for people with kids, though he’s happy with the new outdoor dining areas in Ballard that were created in response to the pandemic.  

—Jade Yamazaki Stewart
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Washington has reopened, but what does that mean?

And on the 476th day, Washington returned — sort of, mostly, cautiously, officially if not practically — to normal.

On March 11, 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee told schools to get ready to shut down and banned all large gatherings in the Puget Sound region, making Washington among the first states in the nation to impose broad economic and social restrictions to combat the coronavirus pandemic. More severe mandates soon followed.

One year, three months, two weeks and five days later, the last of those major restrictions melted away on Wednesday.

Restaurants and bars can pack in the diners again. Theaters and museums can throw their doors open. Social distancing: Buh-bye. Mandatory masks: Mostly out. Concerts, crowds, full capacities: In.

Limited restrictions remain in place, including for indoor events of 10,000 or more people. Unvaccinated people will still have to wear masks at indoor work places.

And masks will still be required for everyone — regardless of vaccination status — on public transit and in schools, health care facilities, long-term care facilities and child care centers.

Read the full story here.

—David Gutman

Washington health officials celebrate reopening, but keeping close eye on variants

While Washington state public health officials are celebrating the state’s reopening Wednesday, they’re keeping a close eye on emerging coronavirus variants.

It’s been a long journey from when the first confirmed coronavirus case in the United States was detected in Washington in January 2020, to the arrival of vaccines in December, to Wednesday, when most of the last remaining restrictions were lifted.

Though the pandemic isn’t over, state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah highlighted some achievements in the state’s handling of the crisis: Washington had the fifth lowest case count, seventh lowest death rate and the ninth highest percentage of the population fully vaccinated in the country.

“We’re grateful for everyone who stayed home, kept their distance, wore masks, got vaccinated,” Shah said Wednesday. “We know that hard work and that sacrifice saved lives and paved the way to reopening.”

Read the full story here.

—Amanda Zhou

‘It’s a perfect storm’ — 5 Seattle chef/owners on how the end of COVID restrictions affects their restaurants and bars

COVID-19 restrictions for restaurants and bars in Seattle are over at last. It feels, as Renee Erickson says further down in this story, unreal: No more masks required (except, importantly, if you’re not vaccinated). Indoor seating allowed back to normal times literally overnight, from only 50% to full capacity. Social distancing all done, so those barstools that have been turned upside down for more than a year now await … don’t they?

Of course, there is cause for celebration, but don’t expect places to reopen fully right away — and things will be different out there. With staff hard to come by, just getting reservations may be tough. Businesswise, the restaurant industry remains a tightrope walk for many, now and for the foreseeable future.

Here are five local chef/owners on how this pivotal moment feels, the work that lies ahead and the understanding they hope to gain from those seated at the tables and on the other side of the bar.

Read the full story here.

—Bethany Jean Clement and Tan Vinh
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State health officials report 350 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 350 new coronavirus cases and ten new deaths on Wednesday.

The update brings the state's totals to 451,595 cases and 5,930 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, 25,505 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — seven new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 112,529 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,656 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 7,813,386 doses and 50.1% 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 16,231 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.

'I’ve been waiting for this': Lake City brewery patrons thrilled to return to unmasked conversations

Bartender Cesar Velazquez, left, serves customers Hunter Sachs and Rob Keil at Hellbent Brewing’s newly opened bar top in Seattle’s Lake City neighborhood. (Akash Pasricha / Seattle Times)

At Hellbent Brewing, a brewery in Seattle's Lake City neighborhood, owners said they're excited to have reopened their bar top, so customers can once again sit across from bartenders and have conversations in close proximity.

“The heart of bartending is being face to face,” said Jack Guinn, co-owner of Hellbent. As of Wednesday, if customers are vaccinated, they no longer need to wear masks indoors.

Until Wednesday, patrons have had to approach the bar and pick up their beverages while masked and then return to their tables to drink. The sidewalk outside the brewery on the way to the tables has stains from beer spills, which Guinn said has happened more frequently because patrons aren’t allowed to sip their drinks before walking back to their seats.

On Wednesday afternoon, however, the bar top was bustling, with half a dozen unmasked customers sitting across the bartender at 3 p.m.

“I’m thrilled. I’ve been waiting for this,” said Hunter Sachs, 67, while drinking an IPA at the bar.

Hellbent’s owners are looking forward to no longer having to be “mask police” indoors. They said reminding people to keep their masks on multiple times a day has been “draining."

“Most people don’t get into this business to tell people what to do all the time,” said Guinn. “It’s more about showing people how to have a good time.”

—Akash Pasricha

Downtown Seattle plans series of reopening events

Mayor Jenny Durkan and the Downtown Seattle Association will hold a series of "Welcome Back Weeks" in July. The events are part of the city's effort to usher back workers, visitors and businesses to downtown.

While there will be promotions across neighborhoods, three events will take place in the Chinatown-International District, Pioneer Square, and Westlake. 

Here are the events coming up next month.

Hing Hay Park from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Chinatown-International District on July 17 and 18:

  • Martial arts demonstrations, lion dances and cultural performances
  • Live music from Hollis, Chong the Nomad, Evan Flory Barnes, Bleachbear, Daniel Pak, Massive Monkees, Chrysalis Circus and Totem Star.
  • Pop-up vaccine clinic offering Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines.

Occidental Square from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Pioneer Park on July 24:

  • Live music from Shaina Shepherd, Shenandoah Davis and The Black Tones.
  • Free screen printing from Party Hat Gallery
  • A "Found Fashion" exhibition from Path with Art
  • Pop-up vaccine clinic offering Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines.

Westlake Park and Pacific Place from 12 to 8 p.m. in Westlake on July 25

  • "Halloween in July" event where children can dress up and trick-or-treat at local stores.
  • Sidewalk sales and food trucks
  • Free face painting, a costume contest, dance classes and workshops
  • Performances from El Vez, Teatro Zinzanni, SANCA's Cirrus Circus, Lelavision and Up Up Circus
  • Pop-up vaccine clinic offering Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines.

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Inslee, local officials celebrate state reopening with festivities in Tacoma

Gov. Jay Inslee joined several local and state officials in Tacoma on Wednesday afternoon to celebrate Washington's easing of COVID-19 restrictions with music, food trucks and performances.

“This is the right place to be today in Washington," Inslee said to a crowd at Wright Park in Tacoma. He went on to thank police, firefighters, and workers in health care and agriculture for their services during the pandemic.

Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards, Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier and House Speaker Laurie Jinkins also made appearances at the festivities Wednesday.

“There’s nothing better than giving real hugs without masks to real people here," Jinkins said.

Meanwhile, the Tacoma Democratic Socialists of America handed out flyers to the crowd on the dangers the pandemic still poses, particularly for renters and those without homes.

On Wednesday evening, Inslee will continue his "Washington Ready" mini-tour with a stop at River Square Park in Spokane. On Thursday morning, he plans to raise a “Washington Ready” flag above the Space Needle.

—Joseph O'Sullivan

Gym owners say reopening won't mean immediate change

While Seattle may have formally reopened, local gym owners say the eased restrictions don't change much for now.

Clint Tannehill, an owner of Cue Athletics, said he is getting rid of all COVID restrictions Wednesday, but that it won’t drastically change the gym’s business immediately.

“I think (business) will grow, but I don’t think it’s going to be drastic, like ‘Oh, it was opening day and everything flourished,'" he said.

Director of Rainer Health and Fitness Alicia Haskins said the gym hasn’t lifted any restrictions yet, and are brainstorming a plan to ease restrictions starting Thursday. The gym has so far required guests to wear masks and socially distance, whether they’re vaccinated or not.  

She said some people have been asking to eliminate her mask rules, while others have told her they are thankful for the restrictions as it makes them feel safe bringing their families to the gym. 

“It feels like we’ve been put in a very tough decision,” she said. “It’s on the business to decide policy on masks.”  

Haskins said she doesn’t want to turn off customers who want to work out maskless, but she also doesn’t want to endanger anyone or turn away worried customers. The plan is to speak with staff and make a decision by the end of the day.  

—Jade Yamazaki Stewart

Puget Sound transit systems will return to full capacity in July

Buses, trains and ferries in the Puget Sound region will operate at full capacity starting in July.

On Saturday, King County Metro buses will return to normal capacity, the agency announced, as will other Metro-operated services such as the Seattle streetcar, water taxis, van pools and Access paratransit.

On Metro buses, full capacity is 51 people standing and sitting on 40-foot bus and 83 people on a 60-foot bus.

Regular passenger limits will also begin Saturday on Sound Transit’s Link light rail and Express bus routes.

Read the story here.

—Michelle Baruchman
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Easing of COVID restrictions comes as relief for Chinatown International District restaurant

The loosening of COVID restrictions was a huge relief for Jackie Xu, who works at 663 Bistro in Chinatown International District.

“I wish it came a few days earlier,” Xu said. “Wearing masks in a heat wave ... inside the kitchen it was like 100 [degrees]."

Xu was a lot more comfortable Wednesday as he stacked steaming baskets of pork buns and delivered takeaway bags for a small queue of customers inside the restaurant, all still masked. 

Washington state's reopening won’t fix everything for 663 Bistro, though. It stayed open through the pandemic by changing the restaurant entirely, axing its sit-down dining and adding dim sum to bolster a new takeout-only menu. 

Takeout orders have gone down a little as other restaurants reopened in-person dining, Xu said. But even now that most restrictions are lifted, Xu’s not sure 663 Bistro will restart in-person dining. The income is about the same without in-person dining, and it’s been hard to find additional waiters.

“People don’t want to work for minimum wage,” he said. “We’re not like some big corporation.”

That means it’s been up to Xu and a friend to help Xu’s father keep the restaurant — a 15-year family business — going. 

“You have to depend a lot more on family,” Xu said. 

—Daniel Wu

Moderna says vaccine works against delta variant, as WHO warns of global spread

The coronavirus vaccine developed by U.S. biotech firm Moderna is effective against the highly contagious delta variant, the company said in a release, offering some hope even as the World Health Organization warned that the variant has now spread to at least 96 countries.

Moderna said Tuesday that blood samples from fully vaccinated individuals produced antibodies against multiple variants and that researchers measured only a “modest reduction in neutralizing titers” against the particularly virulent delta, which was first identified in India.

“As we seek to defeat the pandemic, it is imperative that we are proactive as the virus evolves,” Moderna chief executive Stéphane Bancel said in a statement. “These new data are encouraging and reinforce our belief that the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine should remain protective against newly detected variants.”

Read the story here.

— Erin Cunningham, The Washington Post

Locally-owned movie theaters open with limited capacity

The Majestic Bay in Ballard, reopening July 2 after a lengthy closure, will initially operate at 50% capacity, said operator Aaron Alhadeff. He expects they will move to 100% capacity soon thereafter. Vaccinated patrons will not be required to wear masks (on the honor system), though staff will be masked – at least initially – and have been vaccinated as a requirement for employment.

Alhadeff noted that the situation is complicated, particularly for families with children under 12, and said that the theater’s policies are fluid and could change rapidly.

The Ark Lodge Cinemas in Columbia City will continue to operate at 50% (or less) capacity for the “near future,” said co-owner David McRae. Guests are strongly encouraged to wear masks when not eating or drinking, and the staff (all of whom are fully vaccinated) will continue to be masked.

The theater is currently open limited hours Thursday through Sunday. Private rentals are available on other days.

—Moira Macdonald
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Understaffed Tunisian hospital battles coronavirus spike

A man infected with the COVID-19 virus lays on a bed in the Iben El Jazzar hospital in Kairouan, Tunisia, Monday, June 28, 2021.Confirmed virus infections in Tunisia have grown sharply over the last month to the highest daily levels since the pandemic began, while the vaccination rate remains low, according to data from John’s Hopkins University. The data indicate that Tunisia has reported Africa’s highest per-capita death toll from the pandemic, and is currently recording one of the highest per-capita infection rates in Africa. (Photo/Aimen Othmani)

Over the past month, confirmed virus infections in Tunisia have reached the highest daily levels since the pandemic began.

At Ibn Jazzar Hospital in Kairouan, patients in the hospital’s overfilled COVID-19 ward are dying daily amid a spike in coronavirus infections in the North African country. Each room devoted to COVID-19 patients packs in five or six beds and the dead lie among the living there.

Tunisia has reported Africa’s highest per-capita death toll from the pandemic, and is currently recording one of the highest per-capita infection rates in Africa, the data indicates.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

UAW-represented auto workers won’t need masks if vaccinated

Unionized auto workers in the U.S. who have been fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus will no longer have to wear face masks at work.

A virus task force with representatives from Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler (now Stellantis) and the United Auto Workers union made the decision Monday. It’s effective July 12.

About 150,000 factory workers from all three companies have been wearing masks, keeping safe distances, cleaning equipment and taking other precautions since factories reopened in May of last year. Other precautions will remain in place.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Brazil’s Bolsonaro under fire after vaccine deal allegations

FILE – In this May 26, 2021 file photo, a demonstrator holds an image of the Brazilian flag covered in fake blood and the Portuguese phrase “Bolsonaro Genocide” during an anti-government protest by unions against President Jair Bolsonaro’s policies to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in Brasilia, Brazil. Brazil’s Senate is publicly investigating how the death toll got so high, focusing on why Bolsonaro’s government ignored opportunities to buy vaccines for months. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres, File)

Accusations that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro turned a blind eye to possible corruption in a deal to purchase coronavirus vaccines have heightened threats to his presidency, including a move to recommend slapping him with a criminal charge.

The claims have added impetus to the opposition’s impeachment drive and left the Brazilian leader’s allies in Congress evaluating the costs of their support.

Bolsonaro, who has been targeted by nationwide street protests in recent weeks, has called the Senate committee investigating the government’s COVID-19 response a “national shame” aimed at undermining his administration. For two months, the nationally televised hearings have largely focused on why his Health Ministry ignored opportunities to buy vaccines while Bolsonaro relentlessly pushed hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug that rigorous studies have shown to be ineffective in treating COVID-19.

Read the story here.

—Débora Álvares, The Associated Press
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How bad is the pandemic in North Korea?

FILE – In this April 15, 2021, file photo, a man and a woman wearing face masks walk along a street on the Day of the Sun, the birthday of late leader Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang, North Korea. After saying for months that it kept the coronavirus completely at bay, North Korea on Wednesday, June 30, 2021, came its closest to admitting that its anti-virus campaign has been less than perfect. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin, File)

After saying for months that it kept the coronavirus at bay, North Korea on Wednesday came closest to admitting that its anti-virus campaign has been less than perfect.

Kim Jong Un’s mention of a “great crisis” created by a “crucial” failure in national pandemic measures during a ruling party meeting has triggered outside speculation about how bad the situation in North Korea may be.

While North Korea has told the World Health Organization it has not found a single coronavirus infection after testing more than 30,000 people, experts widely doubt its claim considering its poor health infrastructure.

The North’s state media said Kim berated senior party and government officials for neglecting “important decisions of the party on taking organizational, institutional, material, scientific and technological measures as required by the prolonged state emergency epidemic prevention campaign.” Some observers are speculating that the decision to publicly address a major setback in the fight against the pandemic could also be an appeal for outside help.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Welcome to your new normal: COVID restrictions ease across Washington state

Physical distancing: Nixed. Occupancy limits at businesses: Gone. Mask requirements: Lifted for outdoor spaces and sporting events.

Washington’s next new normal is here.

Wednesday’s sunrise greeted a state no longer beholden to government-imposed restrictions on business and social life to stem the tide of the coronavirus.

As the clock rolled past midnight into early Wednesday, businesses — like restaurants, bars, fitness centers and retail stores — became free of 50% indoor occupancy limits. At the same time, 6-foot physical-distancing requirements lapsed.

Some restrictions will remain, such as on indoor events of 10,000 or more people. Unvaccinated people will still have to wear masks at indoor work places.

Read the story here.

—Joseph O'Sullivan and Paul Roberts

Tuskegee relatives promote COVID-19 vaccines in ad campaign

In this June 4, 2021 photo provided by the Ad Council, former Mayor Omar Neal, left, speaks during an interview in Tuskegee, Ala., as part of an ongoing multimillion-dollar education campaign aiming to encourage confidence in COVID-19 vaccination. Neal is a nephew of Freddie Lee Tyson, a hard-working family man of deep faith who unwittingly became part of the U.S. government’s infamous syphilis experiment on Black men decades ago. ‘’When we don’t take the vaccine, we’re kind of doing to ourselves what the government did to those men at Tuskegee,’’ he says. (Ad Council via AP)

Tuskegee is the one-word answer some people give as a reason they’re avoiding COVID-19 vaccines. A new ad campaign launched Wednesday with relatives of men who unwittingly became part of the infamous experiment wants to change minds.

Omar Neal, 63, a former mayor of the Alabama town, said he was hesitant at first about the shots. Neal is a nephew of Freddie Lee Tyson, who was among several hundred Black men who decades ago became involved without their consent in the federally backed syphilis study.

For 40 years, Black men in Tuskegee, Alabama, were subjected to experimentation without their knowledge. Most of the 600 men had syphilis — including Tyson, who got infected before birth — but they were left untreated so researchers could study the natural history of the disease. Many died from a disease that can be cured with penicillin.

Neal and other Tyson relatives are among the Tuskegee descendants involved in the ads, which focus on vaccine hesitancy among Black Americans. They say vaccination is needed to help communities of color and curb a disease that has disproportionately affected Black Americans.

‘’Don’t deny ourselves the opportunity the men were denied,’’ Tyson’s 76-year-old daughter, Lillie Tyson Head, said in one of the ads.

Read the story here.

—Lindsey Tanner, The Associated Press
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Masks again? COVID variant’s spread prompts reconsideration of precautions

Throughout the pandemic, masks have ranked among the most contentious public health measures in the United States, symbolizing a bitter partisan divide over the role of government and individual liberties.

Now, with a new variant of the coronavirus rapidly spreading across the globe, masks are again the focus of conflicting views, and fears, about the course of the pandemic and the restrictions required to manage it.

In May, federal health officials said that fully vaccinated people no longer needed to mask up, even indoors. But that was before the spread of the Delta variant. Worried by a global surge in cases, the World Health Organization last week reiterated its long-standing recommendation that everyone — including the inoculated — wear masks to stem the spread of the virus.

The highly infectious form of the virus first detected in India and later identified in at least 85 countries now accounts for 1 in 5 infections in the United States.

Read the story here.

—The New York Times

Virus infections surging in Africa’s vulnerable rural areas

Residents of Zvimba, in rural Zimbabwe have their temperatures taken before seeking treatment at the local hospital Friday, June, 25, 2021. A new surge of the coronavirus is finally penetrating Africa’s rural areas, where most people on the continent live, spreading to areas that once had been seen as safe havens from infections that hit cities particularly hard. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

A new surge of the coronavirus is penetrating Africa’s rural areas, where most of the continent’s people live, spreading to areas that once had been viewed as safe havens from infections that hit cities particularly hard.

With facilities in the countryside ill-prepared to fight the coronavirus, residents worry that the next graves being dug could be for their neighbors — or even themselves.

The village of Zvimba, 110 kilometers (68 miles) from Harare, has yet to record a major spike in infections, but it sits in a province that is the current epicenter of the virus.

“It is now on our doorsteps. It’s scary,” said Pelagia Bvukura, who lives in a rural part of north-central Zimbabwe

Africa has recorded over 5.3 million cases and is experiencing the worst of a wave driven by more contagious and deadlier variants. The continent recorded a 39% increase in new cases in the week from June 14-20, according to the World Health Organization.

Read the story here.

—Farai Mutsaka, The Associated Press

Variant surge at border forces Bangladesh into new lockdown

A patient is transported on a stretcher at the Medical College Hospital in Rajshahi, 254 kilometers (158 miles) north of the capital, Dhaka, Bangladesh, June 16, 2021. Rajshahi has become one of the latest hotspots for the deadlier delta variant of the coronavirus. Bangladeshi authorities are increasingly becoming worried over the quick spread of coronavirus in about two dozen border districts close to India amid concern that the virus could devastate the crowded nation in coming weeks. (AP Photo/ Kabir Tuhin)

The crowds of COVID-19 patients and worried kin are new scenes for the 1,200-bed Rajshahi Medical College Hospital, near Bangladesh’s border with India which serves border communities being overrun by the more infectious delta variant first detected in neighboring India.

Over 450 people with COVID-19 were admitted on Tuesday to the state-run hospital in Rajshahi district’s main city.

Rising infections and crowded hospitals are being seen across Bangladesh, where a stringent lockdown starts Thursday. The government will deploy military soldiers, paramilitary border officers and riot police to enforce the lockdown, set initially for one week.

Authorities warn that the rapid surge in border areas is accelerating the virus’ spread further into Bangladesh, and the increasing number of infections from the delta variant could devastate the South Asian nation of more than 160 million people.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Catch up on the past 24 hours

Washington state is officially reopen. As the clock rolled past midnight, physical distancing rules vanished. So did some mask requirements, along with occupancy limits at restaurants, gyms, stores and more. But some restrictions remain, and unvaccinated people won't enjoy the same freedoms as everyone else. Here's a breakdown of what you should know about this seismic shift, which comes with a fresh round of uncertainty and questions.

Is it really a good idea to drop your mask? That depends. Washington state yesterday amended its guidance on when unvaccinated and vaccinated people should mask up, although strict mask rules won't be coming back (for now). That came after the World Health Organization urged everyone to stay masked because of worries over the delta variant. In our state, though, the worries about variants are different. 

A Washington lawmaker wore a yellow Star of David, evoking Nazi persecution, to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates. A local Holocaust education leader called State Rep. Jim Walsh's use of the infamous symbol — used to identify Jews first for exclusion, and then for extermination — deeply offensive.

Most Washington high schoolers felt sad or depressed during the pandemic, according to the state's first look at how their generation fared emotionally in an unprecedented period of loss. The situation was nearly as grim for middle schoolers, although almost all students were at least “slightly hopeful.” Looking ahead, youth nationwide face serious mental-health challenges navigating re-entry. Here are resources for finding help.

—Kris Higginson