Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, May 14, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
The day that many have been waiting for — a widespread easing of COVID-19 restrictions — has finally arrived, with an announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowing fully vaccinated Americans to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings. President Joe Biden called Thursday a “great day for America.”
In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee followed suit in relaxing guidelines: The state will lift its broad COVID-19 economic restrictions by June 30, or sooner if 70% or more of state residents over the age of 16 have gotten at least their first shot before then.
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.
Let’s face it: Lawmakers adjust to new mask guidance
WASHINGTON — Jill Biden says finally going mask-free feels like “we’re moving forward.” A Republican senator says going unmasked “certainly helps the flow of conversation.”
But the conversation on the House floor on Friday approached sniping as lawmakers objected to being required to keep masking up until all 435 of them get their COVID-19 shots.
Across Washington, the government is adjusting to new federal guidance easing up on when masks should be worn.
“So much for following the science,” Rep. Greg Murphy, R-N.C., a urologist, said after complaining that he’d have to put his mask back on after his House floor speech despite being fully vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that fully vaccinated people — those who are two weeks past their last required dose of a COVID-19 vaccine — can stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings. Partially vaccinated or unvaccinated people should keep wearing masks, the guidance says.
But on Capitol Hill, lawmakers have to keep wearing masks on the House floor, according to a memo from the Office of the Attending Physician, Dr. Brian Monahan.
Walmart to allow vaccinated shoppers, workers to go maskless
BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, said Friday that it won’t require vaccinated shoppers or workers to wear a mask in its U.S. stores unless state or local laws say otherwise.
Vaccinated shoppers can go maskless immediately, the company said. Vaccinated workers can stop wearing them on Tuesday. As an incentive, Walmart said it is offering workers $75 if they prove they’ve been vaccinated.
Customers won’t be asked but rather held to an “honor system” regarding their vaccination status, Walmart said.
Workers, however, will need to answer “yes” to a vaccination question in a daily health assessment in order to go maskless, the company said in a memo to employees posted on its corporate website.
Fox News viewers are getting mixed messages about whether to take the coronavirus vaccine
If you’re a Fox News fan, your opinion of whether you should get the coronavirus vaccine may depend on when and who you watch.
On his 8 p.m. show, opinion host Tucker Carlson has consistently derided efforts to promote vaccination. “Almost 4,000 people died after getting the COVID vaccines,” he warned last week, implying causation where experts say there is none, and relying on self-reported and unverified data from the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System.
But elsewhere on the schedule, many other Fox commentators have talked up the benefits of vaccination — sometimes clashing with their own colleagues on air.
“There is so much freedom,” Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt said during a segment on Monday morning, telling viewers that she and her two co-hosts have been vaccinated. “I will tell you when I got it, it was just like, ‘OK, now I know I’m not going to get (the virus). I’m not going to die from it if I do get it.”
Meanwhile, Fox News anchors such as Bret Baier, Dana Perino and Bill Hemmer have posted photos on Instagram of themselves getting a shot. Harris Faulkner, who hosted a town hall meant to “debunk common myths” about the vaccine, told viewers in a public service announcement in February to get it if they can.
Beset by virus, Gaza’s hospitals now struggle with wounded
Just weeks ago, the Gaza Strip’s feeble health system was struggling with a runaway surge of coronavirus cases. Authorities cleared out hospital operating rooms, suspended nonessential care and redeployed doctors to patients having difficulty breathing.
Then, the bombs began to fall.
This week’s violence between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers has killed 119 Palestinians, including 31 children, and wounded 830 people in the impoverished territory.
“Before the military attacks, we had major shortages and could barely manage with the second (virus) wave,” said Gaza Health Ministry official Abdelatif al-Hajj by phone as bombs thundered in the background. “Now casualties are coming from all directions, really critical casualties. I fear a total collapse.”
Who were we and what were we thinking? A return to offices frozen in time
Ellery Frahm is an archaeologist who unearths artifacts spanning half a million years of human history, all around the globe. But he recently unearthed a perplexing ancient artifact close to home. It was a Post-it note from last March, recovered from the debris of his Yale University office.
Written on it? A phone number. Whose number? A mystery.
“I suppose I could call it and ask, and say who I was, and what did they want?” he says.
But that would be a bit awkward, wouldn’t it? More than a year later? Who we were then, what we wanted — it was different.
Frahm is one of many office workers who were abruptly sent home last year and never summoned back until now. They have returned to workspaces frozen in time, full of strange relics: Notes for projects abandoned long ago. Dusty tchotchkes. Expired snacks. Unwashed coffee mugs. Hand sanitizer stations installed at the very beginning of the pandemic, back when we thought maybe a few weeks of germaphobia might get us over.
Proof of vaccination now available online in Washington
Vaccinated Washingtonians can now officially prove online they've received their COVID-19 shot or shots, according to the state Department of Health. In order to see your immunization records, register on MyIR Mobile — a DOH partner — for free to view your immunization needs and history.
The site also also allows access to printable records for those who want to fulfill school requirements.
States, business sort out what new CDC mask guidance means
More than a dozen states quickly embraced new federal guidelines that say fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear masks indoors or out in most cases. But other states and cities and some major businesses hesitated amid doubts about whether the approach is safe or even workable.
As many business owners pointed out, there is no easy way to determine who has been vaccinated and who hasn’t. And the new guidelines, issued Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, essentially work on the honor system, leaving it up to people to do the right thing.
Labor groups and others warned that employees at stores, restaurants, bars and other businesses could be left exposed to the coronavirus from customers and could be forced into the unwanted role of “vaccination police.”
But in Malvern, Pennsylvania, owner Sean Weinberg took down the mask signs Friday at Restaurant Alba, which he runs with his wife. He also emailed his employees to let them know they can forgo masks at work if they are fully vaccinated.
“It’s just a headache we don’t want to have to fight any more,” Weinberg said.
Many major retailers, however, said they will still require masks in stores while they are reviewing their policies.
Washington state health officials confirm 2,463 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 2,463 new coronavirus cases and four fewer deaths, a result of a reporting error, as of Friday evening.
The update brings the state's totals to 421,757 cases and 5,622 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. Thursday.
The new cases may include up to 1,800 duplicates, according to DOH.
In addition, 23,159 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 100 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 106,940 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,540 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 6,152,091 doses and 36.01% 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 44,080 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.
Cuba rolls out locally produced mass vaccines while awaiting study results
Thousands of Cubans have begun receiving new, locally produced vaccines against COVID-19 in the past few days as the socialist government has ramped up an inoculation campaign — even before releasing formal Phase III data on the vaccines’ effectiveness and safety.
The campaign is being closely watched by many across Latin America and the world who see Cuba’s vaccines as a possible way to ease global shortages.
The vaccines are a point of pride for a small and relatively poor nation of 11 million people that has prioritized its medical sector and has long boasted of exporting its own pharmaceuticals across the globe. While other Latin American nations are producing foreign vaccines under license, only Cuba so far has developed its own.
Oregon asks businesses to check COVID-19 vaccine status
Oregon’s state health officer said Friday businesses will be asked to either enforce mask policies or check whether customers have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
The comments by Dr. Dean Sidelinger came as he said the state was still working on releasing more detailed guidance for businesses. Late Thursday Gov. Kate Brown said Oregon would immediately follow direction from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier in the day that eased indoor mask-wearing and social distancing for fully vaccinated people.
Brown said Oregonians who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear masks or social distance in most public spaces, adding the state would provide more specific instructions soon.
Sidelinger said for now businesses will have to determine how to verify a person’s vaccine status.
Desperate for workers, US restaurants and stores raise pay
U.S. restaurants and stores are rapidly raising pay in an urgent effort to attract more applicants and keep up with a flood of customers as the pandemic eases.
McDonald’s, Sheetz and Chipotle are just some of the latest companies to follow Amazon, Walmart and Costco in boosting wages, in some cases to $15 an hour or higher.
The pay gains are, of course, a boon to these employees. Restaurants, bars, hotels and stores remain the lowest-paying industries, and many of their workers ran the risk of contracting COVID-19 on the job over the past year while white-collar employees were able to work from home.
States and cities are easing business restrictions as COVID-19 deaths and cases plummet, and in places like Florida, Nevada, and Texas, restaurant traffic is above or near pre-pandemic levels, according to OpenTable, a software provider to the industry.
What families need to know now that younger teens are COVID vaccine eligible in Washington state
The pool of those ineligible for a COVID-19 vaccine continues to shrink after federal and state governments added 12- to 15-year-olds to the approved list.
The emergency approval of the two-shot Pfizer vaccine makes about 378,000 more people eligible in the state. There were some 650,000 Pfizer doses available at pharmacies, health clinics and hospitals throughout Washington this week, said Michele Roberts, the state’s acting assistant secretary of health in charge of the vaccine rollout.
Activating 12- to 15-year-olds to be vaccinated against COVID-19 does pose questions for families and for providers administering shots. We answer some of those questions in this week’s FAQ Friday.
US warns extremists may strike as virus restrictions ease
A national terrorism alert issued Friday warns that violent extremists may take advantage of the easing of pandemic restrictions to conduct attacks.
The alert does not cite any specific threats. But it warns of potential danger from an increasingly complex and volatile mix that includes domestic terrorists inspired by various grievances, racial or ethnic hatred and influences from abroad.
Those threats were exacerbated by COVID-19, which spawned conspiracy theories and deepened anger at the government in some quarters over the shutdown of the economy. As virus conditions improve, the alert says new dangers loom.
“Violent extremists may seek to exploit the easing of COVID-19-related restrictions across the United States to conduct attacks against a broader range of targets after previous public capacity limits reduced opportunities for lethal attacks,” the bulletin said.
Misinformation surges amid India’s COVID-19 calamity
The man in the WhatsApp video says he has seen it work himself: A few drops of lemon juice in the nose will cure COVID-19.
“If you practice what I am about to say with faith, you will be free of corona in five seconds,” says the man, dressed in traditional religious clothing. “This one lemon will protect you from the virus like a vaccine.”
False cures. Terrifying stories of vaccine side effects. Baseless claims that Muslims spread the virus. Fueled by anguish, desperation and distrust of the government, rumors and hoaxes are spreading by word of mouth and on social media in India, compounding the country’s humanitarian crisis.
“False claims can discourage people from getting vaccines, seeking the doctor’s help, or taking the virus seriously,” said Rahul Namboori, co-founder of Fact Crescendo, an independent fact-checking organization in India.“The stakes have never been so high.”
Delta will require new hires to be vaccinated against virus
Delta Air Lines will require new employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 starting Monday.
The airline won’t impose the same requirement on current employees, more than 60% of whom are vaccinated, a Delta spokesman said Friday.
The unwitting are the target of COVID-19 falsehoods online
Dr. Michelle Rockwell lost a pregnancy in December and shared her heartache with her 30,000 Instagram followers. Weeks later, she received the COVID-19 vaccine and posted about that, too.
By February, Rockwell was getting past the grief and finally starting to experience moments of joy. But then, to her horror, social media users began using her posts to spread the false claim that she miscarried as a result of the shot.
“They said horrible things to me, like how could I possibly get the vaccine, that I was a baby killer, and that I would be infertile forever and would never have babies again,” said Rockwell, a 39-year-old family medicine doctor from Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Even though she knows that research shows the vaccine is safe for pregnant women, she said the posts brought her trauma to the surface and hurt her “to the core.”
People across the country have found themselves swept into the misinformation maelstrom, their online posts or their very identities hijacked by anti-vaccine activists and others peddling lies about the outbreak.
Many retailers will still require masks — at least for now — even with new CDC guidance
Many of the country’s largest retailers will keep requiring masks in their stores despite eased national restrictions, though industry groups and workers’ advocates fear enforcement will become increasingly difficult and contentious.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear masks in most situations. Workers unions blasted the policy change, saying it creates confusion and puts store employees at increased risk of getting sick.
Target, Home Depot, Harris Teeter and Wegmans Food Markets are among the chains that will continue to require masks in stores, though they are reviewing new CDC guidance and reevaluating store policies.
Others, like Trader Joe’s, have updated their policies and will no longer require fully vaccinated shoppers to wear masks, though it was unclear how the retailer would determine which shoppers have been inoculated.
Passengers miss India-Australia flight because of COVID-19
Around half the passengers due to arrive on a flight from India to Australia on Saturday after a two-week travel ban have been grounded because they either have COVID-19 or are considered a close contact of someone who does.
The Australian government-chartered Qantas flight is capable of flying home 150 Australian citizens and permanent residents stranded in India. It will be the first passenger flight between the two countries since Australia imposed a travel ban on April 30.
Australian High Commissioner to India Barry O’Farrell said “a number” of passengers booked to fly would not board the flight in New Delhi on Friday because they had tested positive for COVID-19.
Petition with 350,000 signatures wants Tokyo Games canceled
An online petition with more than 350,000 signatures calling for the Tokyo Games to be canceled was submitted Friday to local organizers, the International Olympic Committee and others.
The Olympics are scheduled to open in just 10 weeks on July 23 in the midst of a pandemic with Tokyo and other areas under a state of emergency. Cases continue to rise in Japan, where less than 2% of the population has been fully vaccinated.
The petition campaign — called “Stop Tokyo Olympics” — was drafted by well-known lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya, who has also run for governor of Tokyo. He said the response was surprising but acknowledged that this was too little, and probably too late.
Is it now reasonable to discuss the end of the pandemic?
For more than a year, everyone has wondered when this dreadful pandemic will end. The answer has always been “not for a long time.” That answer, however, has been overtaken by events – at least in the United States.
The end of the pandemic may not be near, exactly, but it’s no longer rash, impolitic or scientifically dubious to broach the topic. The pandemic as we know it – a massively disruptive, lethal and terrifying health emergency that for months and months has been killing at rates comparable to cancer – could soon begin a gradual fade into memory.
New coronavirus infections in the United States have dropped to their lowest rate since mid-September and, if trends continue, will within days be lower than they have been in nearly 11 months.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Gov. Jay Inslee has eased mask rules for vaccinated people and set Washington on course to lift its broad COVID-19 restrictions by June 30, if not sooner. Here's how this leap toward normalcy will work, and a breakdown of what you can and can't do starting Tuesday, when all counties will be in the third phase of reopening.
What to make of the new mask guidance: The CDC's news that vaccinated Americans can largely ditch their masks helps clear the way for much of normal life to resume, but prepare for plenty of confusion. Here's help making sense of what this means and how it could play out. Many stunned epidemiologists, who had expected mask-wearing for at least another year, aren't taking them off yet. And some Americans may slap them back on when flu and cold season arrive.
While some Seattle business owners are jumping for joy and scrambling to find more workers, others are fretting that Inslee's reopening plan puts them in a pickle when it comes to masks and vaccines. And many big national retailers share that "damned if you do, damned if you don't" feeling. Here's what we know about their plans for mask policies.
Washington schools are expected to fully open with in-person learning in the fall, the state’s top education official said yesterday, but this may not look the same as in the Before Times.
With the Olympics just over two months away, Japan is locking down harder today as COVID-19 surges "extremely rapidly." Less than 2% of its population is fully vaccinated, for reasons that go back decades.