Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Tuesday, May 18, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
As the demand for COVID-19 vaccines drops in the United States, President Joe Biden said Monday that the country will share an additional 20 million shots with the world in the coming six weeks — marking the first time that U.S.-controlled doses of vaccines authorized for use in the country will be shared overseas.
Confusion about federal and state mask mandates continues. While some states, like New York and Washington, are allowing fully vaccinated residents to ditch their masks, others are waiting a bit longer. California, for example, won’t lift its mask requirement until mid-June.
Locally, King County public health officials have promised to offer some clarity about mask-wearing later this week.
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 the 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.
Tokyo Games organizers get plea to cancel from medical body
TOKYO — The IOC and Tokyo Olympic organizers start three days of virtual meetings Wednesday and will run into some of the strongest medical-community opposition so far with the games set to open in just over eight weeks.
The meetings are headed by IOC Vice President John Coates, who will attempt to again assure the Japanese population that the games will be “safe and secure.”
Much of Japan, including Tokyo and Osaka, is under a state of emergency, which forced IOC President Thomas Bach to cancel a trip to Japan this month. Only about 1-2% of the population is fully vaccinated, and opposition to the Olympics is running at 60-80% in numerous polls.
In one of the strongest statements so far, the 6,000-member Tokyo Medical Practitioners’ Association called for the Olympics to be canceled in a letter sent last week to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, and Seiko Hashimoto, the head of the organizing committee.
The letter was made public this week on the group’s website.
“We believe the correct choice is to the cancel an event that has the possibility of increasing the numbers of infected people and deaths,” the letter said.
Restrictions reimposed as virus resurges in much of Asia
TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taxi drivers are starved for customers, weddings are suddenly canceled, schools are closed, and restaurant service is restricted across much of Asia as the coronavirus makes a resurgence in countries where it had seemed to be well under control.
Sparsely populated Mongolia has seen its death toll soar from 15 to 233, while Taiwan, considered a major success in battling the virus, has recorded more than 1,000 cases since last week and placed over 600,000 people in two-week medical isolation.
Hong Kong and Singapore have postponed a quarantine-free travel bubble for a second time after an outbreak in Singapore of uncertain origin. China, which has all but stamped out local infections, has seen new cases apparently linked to contact with people arriving from abroad.
The resurgence hasn’t come close to the carnage wrought in India and parts of Europe, but it is a keen reminder that the virus remains resilient, despite strict mask mandates, case tracing, mass testing and wider deployment of the newest weapon against it — vaccinations.
That’s setting back efforts to get social and economic life back to normal, particularly in schools and sectors like the hospitality industry that are built on public contact.
‘City in transition’: New York vies to turn page on pandemic
NEW YORK — More than a year after coronavirus shutdowns sent “the city that never sleeps” into a fitful slumber, New York could be wide awake again this summer.
Starting Wednesday, vaccinated New Yorkers can shed their masks in most situations, and restaurants, stores, gyms and many other businesses can go back to full capacity if they check vaccination cards or apps for proof that all patrons have been inoculated.
Subways resumed running round-the-clock this week. Midnight curfews for bars and restaurants will be gone by month’s end. Broadway tickets are on sale again, though the curtain won’t rise on any shows until September.
Officials say now is New York’s moment to shake off the image of a city brought to its knees by the virus last spring — a recovery poignantly rendered on the latest cover of The New Yorker magazine. It shows a giant door part-open to the city skyline, letting in a ray of light.
Is the Big Apple back to its old, brash self?
King County launches new help for tenants behind on rent. Here’s how to apply
King County tenants with low incomes can now apply for a new round of financial help to pay off rent owed during the pandemic.
As the expected June 30 end of the state’s eviction moratorium nears, the county on Tuesday opened applications for tenants who owe past rent because of the pandemic. The assistance, paid directly to landlords, is funded by $145 million in federal stimulus dollars and is the largest county rental-assistance effort so far.
To qualify, renters must live in King County and have an income of less than $40,500 for an individual and about $58,000 for a family of four. Tenants must have experienced financial hardship from the pandemic and be experiencing housing instability or at risk of homelessness.
Renters can apply for help at rent-help.kingcounty.gov. Find phone numbers for help in other languages at rent-help.kingcounty.gov/tenant. Citizenship is not required, and the county says it will not ask about immigration status.
Oregon health officials release updated mask guidance
PORTLAND, Ore. — Under updated mask guidelines in Oregon, which were released Tuesday, businesses can now choose whether or not customers will still be required to wear a mask.
But in order to do that, customers must provide proof that they have been fully vaccinated.
“If (businesses, employers and faith institutions) have a process to review vaccination records and show that people are fully vaccinated, they’re free to serve customers in that manner,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state’s epidemiologist. “If they don’t want to, or cannot implement a system like that, they can continue to operate under the OHA (Oregon Health Authority) guidance that requires masks and physical distancing.”
Everyone — vaccinated or not— is still required to wear a mask while on public transportation and in schools, hospitals and clinics, homeless shelters, correctional facilities and long-term care facilities.
Monet’s gardens reopening, a picture-perfect pandemic tonic
GIVERNY, France — Beneath the scudding clouds and amid the luscious blooms, the gardeners tend the flowerbeds that were the pride and joy of impressionist painter Claude Monet, with pink and white striped tulips, diaphanous peonies, sky-blue forget-me-nots and myriad other flowers together creating a living art work.
The frustration for the gardeners has been that they’ve had no one to share their handiwork with. Like theater shows that weren’t seen and symphonies that went unheard, the splendors of Monet’s house and gardens were locked away while the coronavirus pandemic raged in France.
After a closure of more than six months, the gardens at Giverny that inspired Monet’s world-famous paintings of water lilies and other masterpieces reopen on Wednesday.
They join French cafés, restaurants, cinemas and museums in being allowed to once again welcome customers and visitors who are eager for life to resume. For the moment, they’ll have to settle for meals and drinks served outdoors and limits on numbers. Still, after months of privations and restrictions, it’s a start. The virus has killed more than 107,000 people in France.
The blockbuster movie makes a comeback this summer
After more than a year of benching its biggest spectacles, Hollywood is ready to dazzle again.
From “F9” and “In the Heights” to “The Suicide Squad” and “Black Widow,” there will be a steady stream of blockbusters populating multiplexes across the country for the first time since March 2020. For streaming-weary audiences, the promise of air conditioning, popcorn, soda fountains, 60-foot screens and state-of-the-art sound could be a welcome respite from the living room and virtual watch parties. Not to mention the ever-romantic concept of the shared experience.
For beleaguered movie theaters, it’s not a moment too soon.
The modern summer movie season, which runs from May through Labor Day, regularly accounts for over $4 billion in revenue and makes up around 40% of the year’s grosses. Last year, summer earnings were $176 million, down 96% from 2019. Although theaters have been ramping up operations for a while, this summer will prove to be the biggest litmus test so far about whether habits have changed irrevocably during the pandemic.
In some ways, the calendar looks like a do-over of last summer.
UK job market improving as lockdown measures are eased
Further evidence emerged Tuesday to show that the British economy is recovering strongly, with the number of people on payroll increasing as coronavirus lockdown measures are eased.
The Office for National Statistics found that the number of payroll workers rose by 97,000 between March and April, a period when some lockdown restrictions were eased. At the end of March, pubs and restaurants were allowed to reopen in an outdoor setting, for example.
Though the most recent figures show an improvement, the U.K. has clearly seen jobs lost during the pandemic, with 772,000 fewer people on the payroll than before it struck in spring 2020.
Washington state health officials confirm 676 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 676 new coronavirus cases and 13 new deaths on Tuesday.
The update brings the state's totals to 424,050 cases and 5,653 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. Monday. Tallies may be higher earlier in the week because new state data isn’t reported on Sundays and COVID-related deaths aren’t reported on the weekends.
In addition, 23,370 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 93 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 107,462 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,550 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 6,337,924 doses and 37.54% 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 42,521 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.
More California counties see COVID-19 case improvements
Five more California counties will move to less restrictive tiers because of improving COVID-19 conditions and no counties regressed, the state Department of Public Health said Tuesday.
Orange, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara and Amador counties are moving from the orange, or moderate, tier to the yellow, or minimal, tier. Tehama County is improving from the red, substantial, tier to orange.
The moves will put 13 counties in yellow, 35 in orange, 10 in red. No counties are in the purple, or substantial, tier.
Santa Clara County’s health officer, Dr. Sara Cody, immediately announced that new yellow tier rules will implemented Wednesday. Among the local rules being lifted are requirements that businesses maximize the number of staff who are teleworking.
Seattle offering in-school shots at Seattle Public Schools
In-school vaccinations will be offered at Seattle Public Schools' middle schools and high schools until the end of the school year, according to Mayor Jenny Durkan.
The Seattle Fire Department began offering the Pfizer vaccine at 52 in-school vaccination clinics, including four hosted by UW Medicine or Swedish, and three in-school clinics at charter schools on Monday, according to a statement from the mayor's office.
These vaccination clinics do not require an appointment, and all students 12 and older are eligible to get vaccinated. Students need to provide written guardian consent before getting the shot. Consent forms will be emailed from each school. Printed copies can be requested from a student’s school, and the form is available in Amharic, traditional Chinese, Korean, Somali, Spanish and Vietnamese.
In addition, the Fire Department is hosting three pop-up vaccination clinics that will offer vaccinations to students at 20 private schools before the end of the school year. Students’ families and caregivers are also able to get vaccinated at these pop-ups. Details on upcoming pop-ups are as follows:
- Seattle Preparatory School
- Wednesday, May 19, from 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
- Bishop Blanchet High School
- Wednesday, May 19, from 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
- Holy Family Bilingual Catholic School
- Wednesday, May 26, 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
The city will also be teaming up with Swedish Health Services to provide youth-focused vaccination sites at Lumen Field Event Center and Franklin High School this week.
Details on these clinics are as follows:
- Lumen Field Event Center
- Wednesday, May 19, 1:30 – 5:30 p.m.
- Saturday, May 22, 11:15 a.m. – 5:45 p.m.
- Franklin High School
- Saturday, May 22, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Mexico rushes vaccines for teachers so schools can reopen
Mexico mounted a final push Tuesday to get all of the country’s 3 million school teachers vaccinated so it can reopen schools, perhaps by the second half of June.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that getting kids back into classrooms was an urgent necessity, as much for their social development as anything else.
Vaccination teams fanned out in Mexico City and four other states Tuesday to give teachers coronavirus shots. Officials estimate that about 2.1 million teachers at private and public schools have already been vaccinated, and hope to inject almost 520,000 this week.
Agriculture groups ask Inslee to ease emergency rules on farmworker housing
Two agricultural groups will appeal to Gov. Jay Inslee to repeal or loosen up emergency rules for farmworker housing.
Earlier this month, the state Department of Health and Department of Labor & Industries revised emergency rules to replace a version that was about to expire.
The revision included easing some regulations, such as ones related to medical monitoring of those under isolation due to exposure to COVID-19. The revision also addresses vaccinated workers for the first time, allowing vaccinated workers to share common areas if they maintain physical distancing and mask use and that vaccinated workers could be transported in the same vehicle as long as they wear a face covering.
However, other restrictions have remained in the rules, which include 50% capacity for housing and the prohibition of bunk beds except for those in cohort groups that work and live together.
The Washington Farm Bureau, a statewide trade organization, and Wafla, a nonprofit that assists agricultural employers with labor issues, has sued the state agencies, arguing that rules issued in January were a rollover of policies established at the start of the pandemic and disregard industry feedback, improved understanding of COVID-19 transmission and best safety practices.
EXPLAINER: How worrying is the variant first seen in India?
For the first time in months, people across England are meeting indoors at pubs, restaurants, cinemas, gyms and elsewhere as coronavirus rules were relaxed this week, but Britons are being warned to be cautious because of a worrying variant first detected in India.
The COVID-19 variant first identified in India has been classified as a “variant of concern” by Britain and the World Health Organization, meaning there is some evidence that it spreads more easily between people, causes more severe disease, or might be less responsive to treatments and vaccines.
But how worrisome is the variant?
Celebrity stylist gives free haircuts to isolated clients
Roberto Novo has styled the hair of a constellation of stars, from singer Britney Spears to supermodel Naomi Campbell. But during the pandemic, he’s turned his talents to the heads of lesser known, older New Yorkers — and he’s done it for free.
The Argentina-born stylist welcomes them to his Manhattan apartment or visits them in their homes. His two French bulldogs keep everyone company. He calls his initiative “Free haircut and puppy love.”
It started last summer when he and his dogs visited a client who had been isolated for months due to the pandemic. Seeing how happy it made her, he asked if she had friends in her apartment building who might be interested in a free hairdo.
“It doesn’t get any better than that — bring some joy to senior citizens in these hard times,” Novo said. “People really suffer with this situation right now. So if God blessed me (to help) with a simple haircut, making somebody happy, that’s a gift.”
Clinic helps long-haul patients in London’s “COVID triangle”
Gary Miller drove a London taxi. Rohit Patel worked behind the till in a supermarket. Barry Bwalya was in customer service.
When the coronavirus tore through their London neighborhoods in early 2020, they all got sick. More than a year later, they are still struggling.
“It’s like a rollercoaster,” said Miller, a previously fit, gym-loving 57-year-old who is coping with leg and joint pain, headaches and breathlessness. “There are times that I see light at the end of the tunnel. I feel like I’m taking one step forward, and then all of a sudden — bang — I’m ill again and I take two steps back.”
Even as London looks to life after lockdown, thousands of people are still grappling with long-term physical and mental effects of the virus. Help is coming through “long COVID” clinics, where medics, patients — and Britain’s overstretched health system — are confronting the virus’s enduring effects.
Vaccinated or not, keep your masks on, urges King County’s top health official
Despite the CDC’s recent guidance relaxing mask mandates for vaccinated people, King County’s top public health official is strongly encouraging residents to keep wearing masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer with Public Health — Seattle & King County, said that for now, Seattle and King County residents are encouraged to continue wearing masks while the agency evaluates its broader mask mandate.
Duchin said on Twitter that he agreed with a statement claiming it was unwise for the CDC “to lift the mask mandate for vaccinated people so early… The point of vaccinating most of the population is to get us all to the point where we halt viral transmission & everyone can then interact unmasked.”
Biden adviser makes personal appeal to young to get shots
A top White House aide made his pitch for young people to get vaccinated personal, sharing the struggles his own son has dealt with on an ongoing basis since contracting COVID-19 last fall.
Andy Slavitt, President Joe Biden’s senior adviser for the coronavirus, revealed during a White House briefing Tuesday that one of his sons came down with the virus late last year and continues to suffer lingering side effects. He used it to appeal to younger Americans to roll up their sleeves, even if they feel they’re at relatively lower risk than older Americans to serious consequences from the virus.
“Unfortunately, he is one of the many Americans battling long term symptoms,” Slavitt said of his son. “Six months later, he still suffers from tachycardia, shortness of breath and ongoing and frequent flu-like symptoms.”
Slavitt said that the surest way for young Americans to avoid a similar fate is to get vaccinated themselves.
Feds seize $3.6M from company over sale of fake N95 masks
The federal government has seized $3.6 million from the bank account of a company involved in a deal to sell $4.5 million in overpriced, counterfeit N95 masks to the state of Maine.
The U.S. attorney is seeking to force the company, Med-Tech Resource LLC of Eugene, Oregon, to forfeit the money and reimburse the state for 1.8 million fake respirators purchased by the state. But the company’s CEO already agreed to refund the state, the Portland Press Herald reported.
Homeland Securities Investigations began looking into the matter in February, around the time a National Recall Alert Center notified Maine that the state had purchased masks that might be counterfeit, according to a forfeiture claim filed on Friday.
Experts urge strict workplace air quality standards, in wake of pandemic
Clean water in 1842, food safety in 1906, a ban on lead-based paint in 1971. These sweeping public health reforms transformed not just our environment but expectations for what governments can do.
Now it is time to do the same for indoor air quality, according to a group of 39 scientists. In a manifesto of sorts published Thursday in the journal Science, the researchers called for a “paradigm shift” in how citizens and government officials think about the quality of the air we breathe indoors.
The timing of the scientists’ call to action coincides with the nation’s large-scale reopening as coronavirus cases steeply decline: Americans are anxiously facing a return to offices, schools, restaurants and theaters — exactly the type of crowded indoor spaces in which the coronavirus is thought to thrive.
There is little doubt now that the coronavirus can linger in the air indoors, floating far beyond the recommended 6 feet of distance, the experts declared. The accumulating research puts the onus on policymakers and building engineers to provide clean air in public buildings and to minimize the risk of respiratory infections, they said.
“We expect to have clean water from the taps,” said Lidia Morawska, the group’s leader and an aerosol physicist at Queensland University of Technology in Australia. “We expect to have clean, safe food when we buy it in the supermarket. In the same way, we should expect clean air in our buildings and any shared spaces.”
India reports record day of virus deaths as cases level off
India’s total virus cases since the pandemic began swept past 25 million on Tuesday as the country registered more than 260,000 new cases and a record 4,329 fatalities in the past 24 hours.
The numbers continue a trend of falling cases after infections dipped below 300,000 for the first time in weeks on Monday. Active cases in the country also decreased by more than 165,000 on Tuesday — the biggest dip in weeks.
But deaths have continued to rise and hospitals are still swamped by patients.
India has recorded nearly 280,000 virus deaths since the pandemic began. Experts warn that both the number of deaths and total reported cases are likely vast undercounts.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
All Washington counties are officially in the third phase of reopening today. Here's what you can and can't do now.
What will Washington’s summer camps look like? Overnight and day camps are planning for an uncertain season as COVID-19 case numbers and guidance shift.
Vaccinated? You can unmask at Mariners games. Starting immediately, fans who show proof of vaccination will get a wristband that allows them to go mask-free at T-Mobile Park. And this week, vaccinated fans will get other special perks, too.
Some vaccinated Americans will keep their masks on, maybe forever. They're starting to become targets for public ire, but the benefits — some of them surprising — are outweighing the reasons to unmask.
Think the pandemic made you forget how to drive well? "Every time I park it’s slanted," one woman says, and she's far from alone. Experts explain the brain science behind this, and how to get back in gear.
Expect to see a flood of Seattle bars and restaurants offering outside seating well into next spring, now that the City Council has extended its free outdoor-dining permits to help the struggling industry recover. This has "saved our businesses," one owner says.
Do you have children too young to be vaccinated yet? As the broad unmasking leaves families trying to navigate sticky situations, we'd like to hear from you.
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