Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, May 19, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Officials are now making a push to get younger Americans vaccinated, and a top White House aide on Tuesday shared the struggles his teenage son has experienced since contracting COVID-19 last fall, urging young people to get vaccinated even if they feel they’re at relatively lower risk for serious complications than older Americans.
Meanwhile, employers are starting to rehire their workers. But many are hesitant to come back after more than a year of layoffs and lockdowns, combined with enhanced unemployment benefits and stimulus checks.
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.
Facing shifting guidance, many Seattle-area businesses keep mask requirements
Not everyone is rushing toward a maskless future.
A week after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Gov. Jay Inslee loosened mask requirements for people who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, many businesses in King and Pierce counties are still playing it safe.
“We’re easing in for our employees and customers, many who aren’t ready to just rip that Band-Aid right off,” said Denise Moriguchi, president and CEO of Uwajimaya. For now, masks are still required in Uwajimaya stores. The company plans to reevaluate its policy in about a week, Moriguchi said.
Some stores are forging ahead and allowing vaccinated shoppers to browse mask-free. Others, meanwhile, are bracing for more confusion as they await more information from local officials.
“I can’t reiterate enough that this is hard and this is confusing,” said Andrea Reay, president and CEO of the Seattle Southside Chamber, which includes businesses in South King County.
Unwinding a year’s worth of pandemic restrictions will bring a flood of questions and public health implications. While some shoppers may be eager for fewer rules, many businesses are still unsure whether — and how — to check vaccine status if they begin to allow fully vaccinated customers to go mask-free.
New law gives Oregon tenants until 2022 to pay back rent
PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed a measure into law Wednesday that gives tenants facing financial struggles during the coronavirus pandemic more time to pay their past-due rent.
People now have until Feb. 28, 2022, to pay back rent, instead of facing a July deadline.
“Everyone deserves a warm, safe, dry place to call home — and during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been particularly critical that Oregonians be able to stay in their homes,” Brown said.
Senate Bill 282 also protects renters from the long-term effects of not making payments on time by barring reporting to consumer credit agencies and removing back rents from consideration when submitting future rental applications. The law also bars landlords from denying applicants based on pandemic-era evictions and allows such evictions to be kept secret.
Schwarzenegger, Abrams make pitch for movie theater return
LOS ANGELES — Arnold Schwarzenegger chanted with enthusiasm, “We are back! We are back!” before he spoke Wednesday about the importance of resurrecting the theatrical experience for moviegoers.
“Now it’s time to get back to the big screen,” Schwarzenegger told a socially distanced audience at AMC Century City 15 theater in Los Angeles.
The actor and former California governor was joined by filmmakers and major Hollywood studio executives as part of the “Big Screen is Back” initiative. Other speakers included J.J. Abrams, Maggie Q, Sam Richardson, Janicza Bravo and David Bruckner.
“If you have the movie and you don’t have the theaters, you don’t have nothing,” Schwarzenegger said. “Yes, we’ve seen over the past year in the pandemic, that people watch movies on their little iPhone and iPad and put on their glasses to see what’s going on there. They are missing special and visual effects and all the great stuff you usually see on the big screen.”
The gathering was one of the first in-person events for the industry to showcase its biggest upcoming projects. The three-hour event also featured movie clips and trailers from Disney, Sony and other studios.
Seller of vaccine disinformation has YouTube channel removed
A major online seller of disinformation about COVID-19 and its vaccines has had one of its channels removed from YouTube, days after an Associated Press investigation detailed how they work with other spreaders of false information to make money.
The Truth About Vaccines YouTube channel was taken down this week, Ty and Charlene Bollinger said in a post Tuesday on the messaging app Telegram. The Bollingers’ channel had about 75,000 subscribers but some of its videos had a much broader reach, including one that had over 1.5 million views and featured Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a prominent voice in the anti-vaccine movement.
A message that greets visitors to the channel says the account was “terminated for violating YouTube’s Community Guidelines.” YouTube said it terminated the account because it violated its policies barring ”COVID-19 medical misinformation,” and had three strikes in a 90-day period. YouTube started banning anti-vaccine misinformation in October.
Still, the Bollingers operate The Truth About Cancer, another YouTube channel with more than 166,000 subscribers. Anyone who goes to that channel and searches “vaccines” will find videos that sow distrust and fear about vaccines or push disinformation about COVID-19. At least one includes debunked falsehoods about the presidential election.
With COVID deaths rising, an overwhelmed India grieves loss of twins who lived, died together
NEW DELHI — Joefred and Ralfred Gregory moved through life as one.
They went to the same college. They studied the same thing. They wore matching clothes. They trimmed their beards the exact same way.
Identical twins, they were two handsome young men in northern India who above all else really loved each other. And when they both were struck by COVID-19 last month and hospitalized, it was like they shared one sick body.
Hours after Joefred died, Ralfred’s mother told him that his brother was still alive, to keep his spirits up. The next day, on May 14, Ralfred died, too.
The touching story of the twins who lived and died together has spread fast and wide on Indian social media, puncturing this nation’s numbing statistics — the daily COVID-19 case numbers, the death counts, the infection rates.
This is a country that has suffered so much and keeps suffering. Although India’s overall case numbers have dropped this past week, the deaths keep going up. On Wednesday, India broke a world record for the most reported COVID deaths in a single day: 4,529.
Washington state health officials confirm 855 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 855 new coronavirus cases and 20 new deaths on Wednesday.
The update brings the state's totals to 424,903 cases and 5,673 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. Tuesday.
In addition, 23,428 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 58 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 107,632 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,554 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 6,424,110 doses and 38.23% 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 46,410 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.
Virus dispute could force Iowa schools leader out of job
Like superintendents across the U.S., the leader of Iowa’s largest school system has faced plenty of criticism from parents, politicians and teachers as he tried to educate children while also keeping them safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.
But as pressure eases in many districts thanks to plummeting infection rates, uncertainty appears to be building around Des Moines schools Superintendent Thomas Ahart, who last week had a contract extension rejected and this week will argue that his license shouldn’t be revoked. The result could be that as the 31,000-student district plans for a return to normal classroom learning this fall, the superintendent who led them through a tumultuous year is ousted from his job.
“That’s just bizarre,” said Paul Hill, an education professor at the University of Washington and founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education who follows national school trends. “This is the first time I’ve actually seen some place going to the point of turning a partisan difference about a school reopening into a threat to somebody’s job.”
The situation in Des Moines stood out because the district’s stand contrasted with the Republican governor’s push to reopen classrooms quickly even as Iowa dealt with some of the nation’s highest infection rates.
Singapore chides Indian politician for false virus claims
Singapore criticized an Indian politician on Wednesday for making unfounded claims on social media that a new COVID-19 variant in Singapore was particularly harmful to children and could cause a fresh surge of infections in India.
Singapore’s Foreign Ministry said the comments were made by Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi, India’s capital territory, who called for a halt in air traffic between the two nations because of the new “Singapore variant.”
Singapore has already banned flights from India over the high number of cases there.
Waiting for local guidance on masks? 'Respect the rules of the room,' says state secretary of health
Following new national guidance allowing vaccinated people to ditch facial coverings, state health officials on Wednesday advised Washingtonians to respect each other, avoid shaming people who want to keep their masks, and not to game the system amid this moment of transition.
During a weekly Zoom update Wednesday, Dr. Umair Shah, the state’s secretary of health, said the state had been caught off-guard by the CDC's announcement last week easing mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people.
As a result, the Department of Health wasn't prepared with its own clear guidelines, which Shah said would be released by the end of the week.
In the meantime, Shah recommended that Washingtonians "respect the rules of the room you're in" and avoid shaming others for continuing to mask up.
When asked about the possibility that people might try to game the system by claiming to be vaccinated just to stop wearing their masks, Assistant Secretary of Health Michele Roberts responded by saying: "Shame on them. We each need to do our part."
Republicans rebel against mask requirement in House chamber
Republicans are rebelling against the requirement that they wear a mask on the House floor, stoking tensions with majority Democrats who are refusing to change the rules despite updated guidance from federal health officials.
The GOP lawmakers opted to keep their mask off during votes Tuesday, with some taking care to stand in the well of the chamber to ensure that spectators, colleagues and C-SPAN’s cameras could not miss them.
The mask revolt in the House has been brewing for months, with some Republicans chafing at the extra safety precautions imposed during the pandemic and bolstered after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Democrats imposed mask-wearing requirements last year when many Republicans, defying public health guidance, refused to wear face coverings.
Seattle-area high school students create filmed performance of their experiences during COVID
Even before the pandemic halted performance as we know it, Intiman Theatre planned on this past year as being a period of semi-dormancy. But it hasn’t been all quiet behind the scenes.
Since 2017, Intiman’s STARFISH Project has offered free after-school technical theater training for high school students, teaching them everything from lighting to costume design to stage management.
The 2020-21 program moved to a remote model, with students learning the ropes over Zoom, aided by a mailed kit of gear that included 40-some items, such as a sketchbook, fabric shears and a tiny Raspberry Pi computer.
The project is reaching its culmination: a 90-minute filmed performance titled “2020 Vision: Through Our Eyes,” which Intiman will stream on-demand for free May 28-June 6.
Though training, planning and rehearsals were largely conducted online, much of the performance is being filmed in-person at Broadway Performance Hall, one of the venues at Seattle Central College, where Intiman is beginning its next chapter in a unique partnership.
Changed by pandemic, many workers won’t return to old jobs
There’s a wild card in the push to return to pre-pandemic life: Many workers don’t want to go back to the jobs they once had.
Layoffs and lockdowns, combined with enhanced unemployment benefits and stimulus checks, gave many Americans the time and the financial cushion to rethink their careers. Their former employers are hiring again — and some, like Uber and McDonald’s, are offering higher pay — but workers remain hesitant.
Nate Mullins quit his job as a bartender last November after clashing with managers over mask rules and worrying that he would spread the coronavirus to his immune-compromised sister.
Mullins’ unemployment checks don’t match what he was making at his Oak Harbor, Washington bar, but they’re enough to get by while he looks for jobs that would provide health care and retirement benefits.
Workers like Mullins are one reason U.S. hiring slowed in April. In March, U.S. job openings rose 8% to a record 8.1 million, but overall hiring rose less than 4%, according to government data.
“This opportunity to take a step back and really think about what you’re doing really changed my mind,” said Mullins, 36. “(It) made me think long-term for the first time.”
Greek Fire Service rescuers get mandatory vaccination order
Greek authorities say they are introducing a compulsory COVID-19 vaccination requirement for members of the fire department’s special rescue service.
The country’s fire chief, Lt. Gen. Stefanos Kolokouris, signed an order Tuesday stating that members of the rescue service must be vaccinated against the coronavirus or transferred to another department within the Fire Service.
The order is the first time COVID-19 vaccines were made mandatory for anyone in Greece.
EU takes big step toward relaxing travel for vaccinated
The European Union took a step toward relaxing travel rules for tourists from outside the 27-nation bloc Wednesday when EU ambassadors agreed on measures to allow in fully vaccinated visitors.
The ambassadors also agreed to ease the criteria needed for nations to be considered COVID-19 safe and from which all tourists can travel, depending on their coronavirus and vaccination status.
The executive commission also proposed permitting EU member nations to decide individually whether to allow in travelers immunized with vaccines approved by the World Health Organization for emergency use, which include the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine.
India sets global record for daily coronavirus deaths
India on Wednesday reported more coronavirus deaths in a single day than any other country at any time during the pandemic, while infections continued to spread through vast rural areas with weak health systems.
The Health Ministry reported a record 4,529 deaths in the past 24 hours, driving India’s confirmed fatalities to 283,248. It also reported 267,334 new infections, as daily cases remained below 300,000 for the third consecutive day. The numbers are almost certainly undercounts.
The previous record for most daily deaths from the coronavirus was set on Jan. 12 in the United States, when 4,475 people died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Over the last month, India’s COVID-19 fatalities have jumped six-fold.
‘You are here to save lives’: Meet the helpers at a Seattle COVID vaccination site
It’s an hour before doors open in the busy world of Lumen Field Event Center, and the room echoes with sounds of preparation. Click-click-click of syringes being filled. Screeching of chairs moving to socially distant spots. A call for someone, a go for someone else, blasting from handheld radios.
The twice-weekly COVID-19 vaccine clinic, the largest civilian-run mass-vaccination site in the U.S., is a well-choreographed dance. During each shift, between 200 and 300 workers — wearing vests and lanyards of different colors to denote the dozen specific roles they play — move thousands of people through the sprawling location. About half are paid employees, and the rest are volunteers.
The Seattle site has administered more than 50,000 vaccine doses. On this day, officials are expecting to add 1,600 to the total.
Each person vaccinated will cross paths with at least a dozen paid workers and volunteers, however briefly, during their journey from anxious check-in to bandaged-arm exit.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Vaccinated or not, keep your mask on inside public spaces, King County’s top health official is urging as the agency looks at whether it's unwise to apply the CDC's eased guidance here.
Seattle is offering vaccines in public schools for eligible students, and pop-up clinics at private schools start today. Plus, Lumen Field Event Center has a youth-focused vaccination event today. Here's the roundup.
Visiting Oregon soon? You might not need a mask, depending on which businesses you enter, but you will need proof of vaccination to take it off.
The European Union is opening the door to vaccinated travelers from most countries, paving the way for a more normal summer tourism season.
Teeth whitener. Prom dresses. Luggage. What Americans are buying these days speaks volumes about their eagerness to unmask and get on with life, cheerful retailers say.
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