Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, May 21, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Though mask requirements have been a source of confusion for people locally and nationwide in the past week, King County’s health officer gave clearer guidance on mask requirements Thursday, saying that — vaccinated or not — most everyone should wear a mask when indoors and in a public space. He added that last week’s federal pronouncement that vaccinated people need not mask up indoors was poorly planned and “counterproductive.”
The state Department of Health continues its targeted approach to vaccinate harder-to-reach populations, and on Thursday announced it would close two mass-vaccination sites next week, instead expanding the state’s mobile clinics.
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.
At Seattle school vaccine clinics, students say they hope to return to ‘like it was before’
A group of youngsters played soccer on the playfield of West Seattle’s Pathfinder K-8 school Thursday afternoon to tunes from Lady Gaga and Disney movies. Nearby, in a covered area, classmates sat socially distanced in chairs under the basketball hoops, looking at iPads or shouting to their friends through their masks from 6 feet away.
“Can I go now?” one student asked from his chair as he rubbed his newly vaccinated arm, wanting to join hisfriends. Not yet, an adult said. Everyone needed to wait the 15 minutes required after the COVID-19 vaccine.
The playfield of Pathfinder K-8 captured much of what it’s been like for young adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic — a lot of waiting and social distancing as the world grapples with a deadly virus. But this moment signaled hope for the preteens and teens, and their families: Soon, they might be able to see their friends and teachers again, maybe even without masks.
Pathfinder K-8 was the site of one of 52 COVID-19 vaccination clinics held at Seattle K-8, middle and high schools over a two-week period, with the goal of vaccinating 17,000 students before the end of the school year. Across King County, in-school clinics have been held at 43 schools in a dozen districts this week, with more scheduled, according to Public Health — Seattle & King County.
Downtown’s coming back, maybe. Pick your scenario
Anyone who tells you with certainty what’s going to happen to downtown Seattle as America gradually reopens from the pandemic is a liar.
But that doesn’t mean some very smart people don’t have informed opinions, at least about cities in general, and we can extrapolate some scenarios locally.
Downtown was especially important pre-pandemic because it generated more than half of Seattle’s business taxes, was the regional employment hub with 81% of the city’s office space and 55% of its jobs, and held important tourism (78% of hotel rooms), convention and arts assets.
Some national commentators are expecting major changes to downtowns everywhere.
NYU marketing professor Scott Galloway said many companies will be more comfortable with employees working remotely part of the time. That could bring a big shift for cities.
“If you look at a 20-30% destruction in gross demand for office space, you’re talking about the GDP of Japan flowing out of the office-industrial complex into residential,” he recently told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “The transition of time and capital from offices to residential is a tsunami.”
Are you going back to your pre-COVID restaurant job — or are you staying away for good?
Even as restaurants prepare to fully reopen next month — and as consumer demand for dining out soars — a shortage of restaurant workers is threatening the battered industry’s recovery.
We’d like to hear from people in the business. If you’re an owner or manager, are you finding it harder to hire than before the pandemic?
If you worked in restaurants and bars before the pandemic, are you back on the job or getting ready to come back? If so, what brought you back? If you’ve stayed away or switched careers, what factors led to that decision?
Mariners have at least one player test positive for COVID-19
Four players are out for now, could there be more missing in the coming days?
On Friday afternoon, roughly seven hours before their game vs. the Padres at Petco Park, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that at least one Mariners player in the team’s traveling party had tested positive for COVID-19.
MLB sources confirmed the report that the Mariners have at least one player who has tested positive for COVID-19 with the possibility of a second player.
At 3 p.m. PT, when they must submit their starting lineup for a 7 p.m. game, the Mariners confirmed a player with a positive test while announcing a slew of roster moves, including placing four players on the COVID-19 injured list, which has no minimum requirement of days served.
Read the full story here.
Mandates remain a local decision, but officials can’t stop Washington businesses from requiring masks
From the federal government to local authorities, guidance over masking during the COVID-19 pandemic has differed greatly in recent weeks.
On Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee added a bit more direction to help clarify the state’s position.
In his latest update to his “Healthy Washington” emergency proclamation, Inslee clarified that local jurisdictions have the authority to continue mask mandates, as King County confirmed it would do on Thursday. But officials throughout the state cannot stop businesses from requiring customers to wear face coverings.
Furthermore, Inslee clarified that businesses in places not bound by a local mandate may adopt an “honor system” in their establishments and assume customers not wearing masks have been fully vaccinated, according to the latest update to his “Healthy Washington” emergency proclamation.
Inslee also issued a new proclamation Friday requiring that employers obtain proof of vaccination or self-attestation from an employee before allowing them to work on-site without a mask. Employers may also continue to require workers to wear masks regardless of vaccination status.
Alaska gains jobs but doesn’t reach pre-pandemic levels
JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska had 19,100 more jobs in April than it did the same month in 2020 but the numbers still lagged what they were before the pandemic, the state labor department reported Friday.
There were an estimated 297,200 nonfarm jobs in Alaska last month, compared to 278,100 in April 2020 and 322,400 in April 2019, the report shows.
The report provides a comparison to April 2020, the first month in which huge job losses hit as pandemic fears prompted business closures and restrictions. The department said industries that recovered the largest numbers of jobs last month were those that took the biggest hits last spring, such as leisure and hospitality, which last month had 6,300 more jobs than a year earlier.
Washington state health officials confirm 1,651 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,651 new coronavirus cases and 12 new deaths on Friday.
The update brings the state's totals to 427,494 cases and 5,702 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.
DOH added that the case count is high due to a backlog in their system. DOH will also not have updated data online through the weekend due to scheduled maintenance
In addition, 23,560 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 82 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 108,120 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,559 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 6,541,234 doses and 39.15% 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 47,497 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.
Kennedy Center Honors will be shorter, subdued in response to pandemic
WASHINGTON (AP) — This year’s Kennedy Center Honors will be a slimmed-down affair as the nation emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.
The 43rd class of honorees includes country music legend Garth Brooks, dancer and choreographer Debbie Allen, actor Dick Van Dyke, singer-songwriter Joan Baez and violinist Midori. They were being honored Friday night at a medallion ceremony that had been delayed from December 2020.
Instead of the usual packed several-hour black-tie event, followed by dinner, Friday’s festivities will run just 90 minutes with a limited audience. The musical performances and tributes — traditionally the centerpiece of the event — are split into two other nights; one took place Thursday and the second is scheduled for Saturday.
All the events will be edited into a television special, which will be broadcast on CBS on June 6.
Oregon officials bet that lottery will boost COVID-19 shots
SALEM, Ore. — Oregon officials are betting that the desire to win $1 million in a lottery will boost the percentage of Oregonians who are vaccinated against the coronavirus.
With only half of the people living in Oregon either fully or partially vaccinated, Oregon Lottery officials approved a plan Friday to hold a lottery. Those who have been vaccinated by June 27 will be eligible.
“It’s never been easier to get a vaccine, so don’t miss your shot to enter,” Gov. Kate Brown said.
She told reporters this is an effort to raise the percentage of adult Oregonians who get vaccinated to 70% in order to fully reopen the state. The Oregon Health Authority says 50% of Oregonians are vaccinated, with 39% having completed the series and 11% in progress.
Seattle teams take cautious approach to increasing fan capacity
Expanding fan access to games through additional COVID-19 vaccine-only sections and other measures is being contemplated for next month by Seattle’s active professional sports teams ahead of a possible full July reopening of venues across the board.
But despite Gov. Jay Inslee last week newly allowing unlimited expansion of vaccine-only seating, the Mariners, Sounders and Storm say they’re sticking with current capacity limits for now, given tickets have already been sold for upcoming or ongoing homestands. They’re also weighing the possibility of Inslee fully reopening sports venues to fans as part of a broader lifting of state COVID-19 restrictions by June 30 or sooner if at least 70% of Washingtonians over age 16 have had their first vaccination shot.
Given only a month or so remains before Inslee might fully reopen venues — and the limited home games remaining before them — local teams are weighing the benefits of interim capacity boosts against the risk of alienating some fans if they appear to be cramming in as many people as possible to make up for lost time.
Woodland Park Zoo expands areas open to visitors
As part of an ongoing reopening effort, Woodland Park Zoo is expanding visitor access to more of its spaces, said zoo staff in a media release Friday morning. Most of the zoo’s exhibits are open again, including the Temperate Wetlands, Conservation Aviary and Family Farm (where contact areas remain closed). A new exhibit, Dinosaur Discovery, which employs 20 life-size dinosaurs, is also open, as are outdoor and indoor dining areas.
In addition to the expansion of areas open to patrons, the zoo clarified its policy regarding facial coverings. In keeping with the recent directive from Public Health — Seattle & King County, it is requiring masks for all visitors over age 5 in all indoor spaces, including shopping areas, restrooms, indoor exhibits and indoor dining areas. The zoo is also encouraging mask-wearing in its outdoor spaces for everyone over age 5.
The updates are effective starting Saturday, May 22, and will be in place for several weeks, said zoo staff.
As the zoo approaches full reopening, visitors can follow along with updates at zoo.org/visit.
Alaskans could have access to vaccination records via app
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaskans could soon access their vaccination records through their phones and other devices.
The state health department is working to adopt technology that would give residents easy access to immunization records, which could also provide proof of COVID-19 vaccinations, Alaska’s News Source reported.
The state plans to use the consumer access portal MyIR Mobile, whose technology is already available in Arizona, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Seattle Symphony welcomes an audience back to Benaroya Hall for the first time in 14 months
An orchestra, a concert hall, and an evening of great live music.
For Seattle Symphony fans, this magical combination was once commonplace, but it has been unavailable for more than 14 months as the pandemic barred live audiences from Benaroya Hall.
Not anymore. On Thursday evening, about 150 mask-wearing, temperature-scanned, invited attendees — socially distanced around the 2,500-seat hall — heard the symphony and conductor/pianist Inon Barnatan perform the first live concert with an audience in the hall since a “Celebrate Asia” program on March 8, 2020.
California to drop social distancing requirements in June
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California’s top health official says the state no longer will require social distancing and will allow full capacity for businesses when the state reopens on June 15.
State health director Dr. Mark Ghaly said Friday that dramatically lower virus cases and increasing vaccinations mean it’s safe for the state to remove nearly all restrictions next month.
He said California intends to follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on wearing masks and traveling domestically and overseas.
California was the first state to issue a statewide shutdown as the virus emerged in March 2020 and at the start of 2021 it was the nation’s epicenter for the disease. Nearly 63,000 people have died from the virus in California, the most in any state in the nation.
Tiny countries hope for a big boost from COVID vaccine tourism
Book a three-night hotel stay in the European microstate of San Marino, and your room could come with a bonus amenity: A coronavirus vaccine.
The Maldives, another small country with a high vaccination rate and a tourism-dependent economy, has plans for a similar campaign. And while wealthy “vaccine tourists” once faced criticism for crossing international borders in search of a shot, a growing number of nations that are awash in vaccine supplies have indicated that they’ll gladly share their surplus doses with anyone who can get on a plane.
Earlier this spring, international travelers rushed to book trips to Serbia, which wound up with an oversupply of vaccine doses and invited foreigners to sign up for appointments. Though that option is no longer available, global travel agencies have started offering package tours of Russia, which dispenses its Sputnik V vaccine to travelers willing to spend three days in the country afterward so that their reaction can be monitored, and return again the next month for the second dose.
Skagit County leaders unlikely to push beyond CDC’s mask guidance
As federal guidance on wearing face masks relaxes for those fully vaccinated against COVID-19, there has been some confusion as to what changes and what doesn’t.
King County’s health officer announced a directive Thursday that “strongly encouraged” people to continue wearing masks in all indoor public areas, vaccinated or not, until 70% of the population is vaccinated. The county also created incentives to help encourage vaccines among its residents.
Skagit County is unlikely to go that far.
All three Skagit County commissioners said they intend to rely on the CDC guidance, which says vaccinated people are largely safe without a mask, though masks should be worn by all in settings such as public transit, hospitals, jails, prisons, planes and homeless shelters. The guidance also states that unvaccinated people must still abide by masking and social distancing guidelines to protect both themselves and other vulnerable individuals.
What activities can unvaccinated children do? Here’s what the experts say
As vaccinated Americans return to many parts of their pre-pandemic lives this summer, one group will be left out: children younger than 12, who cannot yet be vaccinated. So what should families with young children do when everyone else starts socializing again?
We asked experts as part of an informal New York Times survey. The group of 828 who responded included epidemiologists, who study public health, and pediatric infectious disease physicians, who research and treat children sick with diseases like COVID-19.
They noted that this phase was temporary. Pfizer has said vaccines for children ages 2 and older could come as soon as September. Of the survey respondents with young children, 92% said they would vaccinate their own children as soon as a shot was approved. (Only five said no; some were undecided.) In the meantime, families with young children may need to retain more precautions, like masking and distancing, than their childless friends do. But they said some minimally risky activities could help counteract the mental health effects of pandemic living.
New England Patriots' team plane gives flight to China’s vaccine diplomacy
MIAMI — The New England Patriots’ team plane has delivered 500,000 Chinese-made COVID vaccines to El Salvador — and in the process inadvertently inserted itself into a testy, geopolitical fight for influence in Latin America.
The “Pats Plane” was greeted upon arrival in San Salvador early Wednesday, just after midnight, by China’s top diplomat to the tiny Central American country. Ambassador Ou Jianhong said China “would always be a friend and partner” of El Salvador. Her comments were a not-so-subtle dig at the Biden administration, which in recent weeks has slammed President Nayib Bukele over the removal of several Supreme Court magistrates and a top prosecutor, which it warned undermines El Salvador’s democracy.
Judge: Iowa school leader improperly kept kids out of school
DES MOINES, Iowa — The leader of Iowa’s largest school district violated his duty by not complying with a law intended to ensure students could learn in classrooms during the pandemic, an administrative law judge ruled, without specifying how he should be punished.
Administrative Law Judge David Lindgren said during an Iowa Board of Educational Examiners hearing Thursday that Des Moines Superintendent Thomas Ahart “violated an ethical duty to comply with all laws applicable to the fulfillment of this professional obligations as alleged.”
Ahart is facing potential sanctions because the Des Moines school board violated a state mandate early in the 2020-2021 academic year that districts must offer at least half-time in-person learning. For two weeks to start the school year, Des Moines offered only virtual instruction.
Ontario resuming use of AstraZeneca, but only as second dose
TORONTO — Canada’s most populous province is resuming use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, but only as a second dose for those who’d received it initially, officials said Friday.
Ontario and several other provinces stopped giving out first doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca earlier this month on concerns over reported links to rare blood clots, which previously led some European countries to restrict its use.
The Ontario government said that decision was also based on the increased supply of alternative vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna and a downward trend in cases.
Pfizer-BioNTech pledge 2B doses to less wealthy nations
ROME (AP) — American pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German company BioNTech pledged Friday to deliver 2 billion doses of their COVID-19 vaccine to middle- and low-income countries over the next 18 months, amid international calls for more vaccine solidarity.
The companies, which together developed the first vaccine to be authorized for use in the United States and Europe, made the announcement at a global health summit in Rome co-hosted by the European Union’s executive arm and Italy.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said they expect to provide a billion of the doses this year and another billion in 2022.
Sniffing Labrador Retrievers join Thai coronavirus fight
BANGKOK — Thailand has started deploying a canine virus-detecting squad in hopes of quickly identifying people with COVID-19 as the country faces a surge in cases. Angel, Bobby and Bravo are among six Labrador Retrievers that have been trained by researchers at the veterinary faculty of Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University to sniff out a unique odor that people with COVID-19 produce in their sweat, the researchers say.
Since May 10, the three have tested more than 1,000 samples from college staff, students and people outside the university. The results so far are impressive. After a few seconds of sniffing sweat samples placed in metal containers, the dogs can tell which people have COVID-19 infections. If there’s no trace of infection, the dog will walk pass the sample. If it is positive, it will sit in front of it.
Argentina locks back down as coronavirus infections soar
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentina is imposing its first strict coronavirus lockdown of the year starting Saturday due to surging levels of coronavirus infections and a soaring death toll.
The measures, due to last until the end of the month, will limit circulation and suspend social, business, educational, religious and sporting activities. Workers with essential jobs will be exempted.
At the start of the pandemic, Argentina imposed one of the world’s longest quarantines between March and July. The negative impact that imposed on the economy — and the national mood — left the government with little room to maneuver. But a combination of vaccine scarcity and more contagious variants of the virus has put Argentina’s health sector again on the verge of collapse.
On Tuesday, the South American country exceeded its daily record of virus infections and COVID-19 deaths with 35,543 new cases and 745 deaths. The subsequent two days saw similar high infection rates. Overall, Argentina has seen 3.4 million confirmed coronavirus infections and more than 72,000 deaths.
Japan expands state of emergency, approves 2 more vaccines
TOKYO — Japan on Friday expanded a coronavirus state of emergency hours after it approved the use of two more vaccines in an effort to contain a worrying surge in infections nine weeks ahead of the opening of the Tokyo Olympics.
Although there’s no forced lockdown, the state of emergency allows prefectural governors to demand that shops and public establishments close or shorten their hours. It has expanded from the hotspots of Osaka and Tokyo in late April to other regions earlier this month, currently covering 42% of Japan’s population.
Earlier Friday, Japan approved the production and use of Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines. Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said the two vaccines will help speed up inoculations. Japan has administered one or more vaccine doses to roughly 5 million people, or just 4% of the population, using the Pfizer shots that were approved in February.
A new reason to swipe right? Dating apps adding vax badges
The White House is pushing a new reason to swipe right: vaccination badges and “super swipes” for people who’ve gotten their coronavirus shots.
The Biden administration said Friday it’s teaming up with dating apps to showcase the benefits of getting a shot.
Apps like Hinge, Tinder, Match and Bumble are offering special incentives to people who roll up their sleeves, including badges showing vaccination status and free access to premium content. BLK and Chispa will boost profiles of those who are vaccinated, to make them more visible to potential matches. And OkCupid will even let users filter out potential partners based on whether they’ve gotten a vaccine.
Thailand reports 1st cases of Indian coronavirus variant
BANGKOK, Thailand — Thailand on Friday said it has detected its first locally transmitted cases of the coronavirus variant discovered in India, as it announced the formal rollout of its national vaccination plan next month.
The Ministry of Public Health said 36 cases of the Indian variant were found in a camp for construction workers in Bangkok. Of those, 21 are Thai, 10 are from Myanmar and five from Cambodia, said Dr. Supakit Sirilak, chief of the Medical Sciences Department.
The government has banned the arrival of any non-Thais from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal in an effort to prevent the spread of the variant.
Thailand reported 3,481 new coronavirus cases and 32 more deaths on Friday. Its total number of confirmed cases has now grown to 123,066 since the outbreak started, including 94,203 reported since a surge broke out at the beginning of April. It has reported 735 deaths, including 641 since April.
Spain gears up for summer, lifts restrictions on UK tourists
MADRID — Spain is revving up for a return of summer tourists, with Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Friday offering an upbeat outlook after his government lifted travel restrictions on British visitors and the European Union moved a step closer to allowing cross-border travel.
Sánchez said those two developments will bring “a very much better summer” than last year, when the tourist industry in one of the world’s most popular vacation destinations was crushed by limits on travel and gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are hugely thrilled at the prospect of our tourism industry recovering, of the streets of our towns and cities filling up once more,” he told an annual tourism congress in Madrid.
Spain is lifting its restrictions on travelers from the United Kingdom beginning Monday. In 2019, Britain sent 18 million people to Spain, the most of any country.
Alabama city throws ‘Tardy Gras’ parade as pandemic ebbs
MOBILE, Ala. — With both COVID-19 hospitalizations and vaccinations ebbing, Alabama’s port city is putting on a Mardi Gras-style parade that will feel at least a little like the Carnival celebrations that were canceled earlier this year because of the pandemic.
Plastic beads and other trinkets will fly as nearly 30 floats from Mardi Gras groups snake through downtown Mobile on Friday night with high school marching bands, squeals and blaring speakers providing a soundtrack for the party, which coincides with a ship commissioning. Tens of thousands of spectators are expected.
It’s definitely not a Mardi Gras parade: Those can only be held during Mardi Gras, the period before Lent. But it will feel a lot like one, which is a big part of the goal after months of lockdowns, illness, deaths and face masks. Call it Tardy Gras, perhaps.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Wait, wait, keep that mask on if you live in King County. The top health officer there, calling the CDC's new guidance “counterproductive,” has issued a new directive on covering up indoors — whether you're vaccinated or not — until the county hits a key threshold. The exception: It's OK to unmask if a business uses an approved method to check everyone's vaccine status.
So … this is confusing, because didn't Gov. Jay Inslee say Washington state would go with the CDC's guidance on masks? Yes. Our FAQ explains who's supposed to wear masks and when.
Maskless in Seattle?! Editorial cartoonist David Horsey shares his take on the jarring realities here.
Hope is arriving as Washington's kids get vaccines at school, looking forward to life "like it was before." More than 40 schools have hosted vaccination clinics so far. The kids coming in have been excited, and it shows in the numbers: Washington’s vaccination rate for ages 12 to 15 is more than double the national average. Here's our guide to getting a vaccine.
Who is and isn't getting vaccinated: A clear geographic pattern has emerged across the U.S., worrying health experts who see unvaccinated areas as fertile ground for new variants.
A highly contagious virus originating far from America’s shores triggers deadly and fast-spreading outbreaks. Shots are available, but a divided public agonizes over getting jabbed. No, we're not talking about the coronavirus. Old records are shedding light on a 1700s pestilence with uncanny parallels to our pandemic.
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