Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, May 26, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
While global vaccine supplies are still tight, Moderna on Tuesday said its COVID-19 vaccine strongly protects kids as young as 12 — a step that could put the shot on track to become the second option for that age group in the U.S. and another choice for other global regulators.
Meanwhile, more and more public schools are encouraging their younger students to get vaccinated before summer vacation, using mascots, food trucks and prize giveaways to create a pep-rally atmosphere.
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.
Inslee updates COVID-19 guidance for spectator events, including sports games, horse races and rodeos
Gov. Jay Inslee approved on Wednesday an update to the state's guidance for spectator events — including those at stadiums, racetracks and rodeos, among other locations — to increase occupancy and nix requirements for a separate entrance for vaccinated people, according to a statement from his office.
The updates bring spectator events in line with other occupancy restrictions in Phase 3 of the state's coronavirus reopening plan, and are effective immediately.
Under the new guidance, the occupancy for outdoor venues is increased from 25% to 50%, though the state is keeping its cap of 9,000 occupants in a venue. Vaccinated people at a spectator event will also no longer have to use a separate entrance or exit, the statement said.
Read the full spectator guidance here.
Taiwan struggles with testing backlog amid largest outbreak
TAIPEI, Taiwan — Facing Taiwan’s largest outbreak of the pandemic and looking for rapid virus test kits, the mayor of the island’s capital did what anyone might do: He Googled it.
“If you don’t know, and you try to know something, please check Google,” Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je quipped.
Praised for its success at keeping the virus away for more than a year, Taiwan had until May recorded just 1,128 cases and 12 deaths. But the number of locally transmitted cases started growing this month and it soon became clear that the central government was ill prepared not only to contain the virus, but to even detect it on a large scale due to a lack of investment in rapid testing.
That left officials like Ko scrambling to catch up as the number of new infections climbed to some 300 a day. Ko’s search put him in contact with six local companies who make rapid tests and his government was soon able to set up four rapid testing sites in a district that had emerged as a virus hotspot.
Rapid tests, experts say, are a critical tool in catching the virus in its early days. The alternative that Taiwan has been relying on — tests that have to be sent out to a lab for processing — has led to backlogs that may be obscuring the true extent of the outbreak.
Ohio announces 1st $1 million Vax-a-Million lottery winner
COLUMBUS, Ohio — A southwestern Ohio woman won the state’s first $1 million Vax-a-Million vaccination incentive prize, while a Dayton-area teen was awarded the first full-ride college scholarship offered by the program, the state announced Wednesday night.
The winners were selected in a random drawing Monday and had their information confirmed before the formal announcement at the end of the Ohio Lottery’s Cash Explosion TV show.
The lottery announced that Abbigail Bugenske of Silverton near Cincinnati was the $1 million winner, while Joseph Costello of Englewood near Dayton was the college scholarship winner.
“We’re excited that this has inspired so many Ohioans to get vaccinated, and we’re thrilled to announce the winners of the first round of drawings,” said Gov. Mike DeWine.
More than 2.7 million adults signed up for the $1 million prize and more than 104,000 children ages 12 to 17 entered the drawing for the college scholarship, which includes tuition, room and board, and books. Four more $1 million and college scholarship winners will be announced each Wednesday for the next four weeks.
City of Seattle to close all but one of its mass COVID vaccination sites, including at Lumen Field
With the pool of residents still eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine shrinking, the city of Seattle is shutting down all but one of its fixed mass-vaccination sites, including at the Lumen Field Event Center, next month.
The city says because more than 76% of Seattle residents eligible to be vaccinated have received at least one shot and 60% are fully vaccinated, the city-run sites at Lumen Field, Rainier Beach, West Seattle and North Seattle College will close in June, the city announced Wednesday.
The Seattle Fire Department will continue operating its testing and vaccination site in Sodo (3820 Sixth Ave. S.), south of Lumen Field, through summer.
“Now that the vast majority of Seattleites have begun the vaccination process, we are able to safely reopen and recover as a city — without the need for our fixed sites,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a prepared statement.
Miami music festival to return with neighbors’ blessing
MIAMI — One of the world’s top electronic music festivals is returning to downtown Miami next year with the blessing of neighbors who have complained about the event in the past.
Organizers of the Ultra Music Festival announced Tuesday an agreement to settle tensions with the Downtown Neighbors Alliance, the Miami Herald reported. The association representing 13 downtown condominium towers will no longer seek to remove the event from Bayfront Park.
Ultra said in a statement it would address issues like construction schedules, park closures, noise monitoring and traffic management.
Festival organizers and residents found a balance between protecting local lifestyles and hosting large-scale music productions, Ultra spokesman Ray Martinez said. He suggested the event being canceled the past two years might have helped negotiations.
“Maybe the COVID pause gave both sides an opportunity to kind of take a breath, if you will, and come to the table without the impending event looming over either side,” Martinez said.
State health officials confirm 1,758 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health reported 1,758 new coronavirus cases and 19 new deaths on Wednesday.
The update brings the state's totals to 432,170 cases and 5,741 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, 23,940 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 105 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 108,914 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,569 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 6,814,859 doses and 41.22% 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 46,782 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.
Feds take down Medicare scams that preyed on virus fears
The Justice Department announced criminal charges Wednesday against more than a dozen people from Florida to California in a series of Medicare scams that exploited coronavirus fears to bill tens of millions of dollars in bogus claims.
A common hook involved a pandemic variant of identity theft: Fraudsters allegedly offered COVID-19 tests to get the Medicare numbers of unsuspecting patients, and then used that information to bill for lucrative but unneeded genetic tests that can cost thousands of dollars.
The law enforcement actions involved the Justice Department’s criminal division, the FBI, seven U.S. attorney’s offices in six states, as well as the HHS inspector general’s office and other agencies. Bogus billings exceeded $140 million before the schemes were blocked. Attorney General Merrick Garland recently announced the establishment of a special task force to pursue pandemic-related fraud across all government programs, not just health care.
Vaccine inequality in India sends many falling through gaps
As the coronavirus tears through India, night watchman Sagar Kumar thinks constantly about getting vaccines for himself and his family of five amid critical shortages of shots in the country. But even if he knew how to get one, it wouldn’t be easy.
The main way is to register through a government website. But it is in English — a language the 25-year-old Kumar and nearly 90% of Indians can’t speak, read or write — and his family has a single smartphone, with spotty internet service.
And even though his state of Uttar Pradesh gives free shots to those under 45, there is no vaccination site in his village, with the nearest hospital an hour away.
“All I can do now is hope for the best,” Kumar said.
The pandemic’s disparities already were stark in India, where access to health care is as stratified and unequal as many other parts of society. Now wealth and technology is further widening those chasms, and millions are falling through the gaps.
How vaccine passports for global travel will work
Keen to avoid losing another summer of holiday revenue to the coronavirus pandemic, the European Union, some Asian governments and the airline industry are scrambling to develop so-called COVID-19 vaccine passports to help kickstart international travel.
They’re working on systems that would allow travelers to use mobile phone apps to prove they’ve been vaccinated, which could help them avoid onerous quarantine requirements at their destinations.
But the multiple efforts underscore the lack of one central international system to electronically verify vaccination status. The projects also face technical challenges in working together, while questions about privacy and vaccine inequality linger.
Cyprus says people under 50 should use mRNA-based vaccines
Cypriot health authorities on Wednesday advised people aged under 50 to use the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines that are based on the newer, mRNA technology.
The Health Ministry said the decision came after a majority recommendation by its panel of scientific advisers on COVID-19, following “reports of serious incidents concerning blood clots.”
It didn’t provide further details. Cypriot media have reported extensively on the death of a 39-year-old woman — allegedly from a brain hemorrhage — about two weeks after she received an AstraZeneca shot, although it wasn’t clear whether the jab was actually linked with her death.
The ministry’s advisory body also decided unanimously that people who have already got their first AstraZeneca shot and didn’t suffer serious side-effects such as blood clots must receive their follow-up jab, which the ministry said “is particularly significant for their protection from COVID-19 and its variants.”
Immunity to the coronavirus may persist for years, scientists find
Immunity to the coronavirus lasts at least a year, possibly a lifetime, improving over time especially after vaccination, according to two new studies. The findings may help put to rest lingering fears that protection against the virus will be short-lived.
Together, the studies suggest that most people who have recovered from COVID-19 and who were later immunized will not need boosters. Vaccinated people who were never infected most likely will need the shots, however, as will a minority who were infected but did not produce a robust immune response.
Both reports looked at people who had been exposed to the coronavirus about a year earlier. Cells that retain a memory of the virus persist in the bone marrow and may churn out antibodies whenever needed, according to one of the studies, published Monday in the journal Nature.
Biden asks US intel officials to investigate COVID-19 origin
President Joe Biden on Wednesday asked U.S. intelligence officials to “redouble” their efforts to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, including any possibility the trail might lead to a Chinese lab.
After months of minimizing that possibility as a fringe theory, the Biden administration is responding to both U.S. and world pressure for China to be more open about the outbreak.
Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have promoted the theory that the virus emerged from a laboratory accident rather than naturally through human contact with an infected animal.
Biden asked U.S. intelligence agencies to report back on their findings within 90 days.
State says no heart inflammation cases definitively linked to COVID-19 vaccines
The state has not found any definitive cases of young people in Washington who've experienced myocarditis or pericarditis caused by COVID-19 vaccines, according to state Department of Health officials.
The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) said earlier this week that it was investigating a small number of cases in which patients reported post-vaccination symptoms of heart inflammation. But so far, none of these cases have been linked to the vaccine, said Dr. Scott Lindquist, the state's epidemiologist for communicable diseases, at a weekly news briefing Wednesday.
State health officials have asked for assistance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is conducting its own investigation into reports of heart inflammation following vaccination.
Myocarditis and pericarditis are inflammations of the heart muscle and the membrane sac around the heart, usually caused by viral infections, Lindquist said.
Symptoms include chest pain, abnormal heartbeat, and shortness of breath.
Health care providers in Washington, Idaho and Oregon have been notified about this issue so they can be ready to quickly identify symptoms if more cases occur, DOH said in a statement this week.
According to the CDC's vaccine safety group, a very small number of teenagers and young adults vaccinated against the coronavirus may have experienced heart problems. The group’s statement said there were “relatively few” cases and that they may be entirely unrelated to vaccination.
In NY, vaccinated teens can enter raffle for free college
Vaccinated kids aged 12 to 17 will have a chance to win a full ride to public universities and colleges in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.
The governor said the state will raffle off 50 scholarships, which would cover four years of tuition, room and board, books and supplies.
New York will hold weekly drawings on Wednesdays to randomly select 10 winners. Parents or guardians can enter children who have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine since May 12.
Turkish teams on mission to persuade the vaccine-reluctant
In the medieval Turkish city of Mardin, Medine Ereli calls out to a team of medical workers walking along the town’s cobblestoned main street. Her 59-year old husband refuses to get vaccinated, she tells the doctor and nurse, before leading them to Enver Ereli, who’s on the job as a municipal sanitation worker.
The masked health care duo is part of Turkey’s “vaccination persuasion” teams, a recent initiative that aims to promote inoculation against the coronavirus among the country’s most vulnerable population.
Their job is to persuade people who fall in the age groups eligible for the vaccine, but who have so far been reluctant to get their shots.
France to introduce tougher mandatory quarantine for UK
France will impose a mandatory quarantine on visitors from Britain to prevent the spread of a worrying virus variant first detected in India, the French government said Wednesday.
Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said the new measure will be similar to limits imposed in Germany on people traveling from the U.K.
On Sunday, Germany started requiring people arriving from the U.K. to go into quarantine for 14 days. The decision responded to the spread in Britain of the Indian variant.
Malaysian cemeteries face coronavirus surge
Nowhere is Malaysia’s worsening coronavirus surge more apparent than in the cemeteries around the capital.
Infections and deaths spiked again Wednesday with a record 7,478 new cases reported, pushing the country’s tally to 533,367 — a five-fold increase since the start of the year.
The government has resisted calls for a full lockdown — fearing economic catastrophe — but has shut all schools, prohibited dining in restaurants and banned social activities and inter-state travel.
Health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah warned that the country has to “prepare for the worst.”
Slovakia becomes 2nd EU country to approve Russia’s Sputnik
Slovakia on Wednesday became the second European Union country to authorize use of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine, which has not yet been approved by the bloc’s drug regulator.
Slovakia has 200,000 doses of Sputnik V vaccine in stock but had not allowed its use until now. Hungary is the only other EU nation to use Sputnik V, which has not been authorized by the European Medicines Agency.
Belgium suspends J&J vaccine for people under 41 after death
Belgium on Wednesday suspended the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine for people under age 41 following the death of one person who had received the shot.
The government said in a statement it was asking for urgent advice from the European Medicines Agency, the European Union’s drug regulator, before it would consider lifting the suspension. It added that the impact on the national vaccination drive would be very limited.
Belgium was using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for elderly with reduced mobility and the homeless since it only takes one shot to be protected. Those shots will be continued.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Wear a mask in planes and airports, or face punishment. The Homeland Security chief delivered a stern warning yesterday amid a spike in unruly passengers. Hawaii isn't playing around, either: One woman flew there from Seattle, allegedly broke COVID-19 rules and wound up arrested last week.
How common are "breakthrough" infections among people who have been vaccinated? The numbers in a new CDC report are "very reassuring," vaccine experts say, particularly when it comes to the variants that have raised concerns.
Are you itching to ditch masks, or feeling anxious? (Maybe both?) As we cover the changing norms, we'd like to hear what masks mean to you these days.
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