Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, Oct. 2, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated. Click here to see all the most recent news about the pandemic, and click here to find additional resources.
The United States has hit a staggering, heartbreaking milestone in its fight against COVID-19: 700,000 U.S. residents have died from the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That number — which exceeds the number of people who died in America during the 1919 Spanish flu pandemic — was reached 22 months after the first official death was reported in January 2020. Nearly 100,000 of those deaths have been reported in the past four months, the result of the spread of the virulent Delta variant of the virus.
Washington State, which reported the first case of Covid in the U.S. in January 2020, has recorded 7,765 deaths and just under 661,000 infections, according to the Department of Health.
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.
COVID-19 outbreak at Clallam Bay prison tops 160 cases, as staff has lower vaccination rate than prisoners
CLALLAM BAY, Clallam County — A COVID-19 outbreak at the Clallam Bay Corrections Center continues to grow, according to health officials.
The outbreak at the prison on the Olympic Peninsula northwest of Seattle began in early August with five staff members, The Peninsula Daily News reported. The state Department of Corrections dashboard shows it had grown to 55 staff members and 107 inmates as of late September.
The dashboard also shows the people lodged at the facility as of last Saturday had a higher rate of full vaccination at over 50% than the staff at nearly 41%.
Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, said there’s been an uptick in vaccination demand by prison staff this week, as the vaccine mandate compliance date approaches.
Rachel Ericson, deputy communications director for the DOC, said this week that no one in custody with COVID-19 at Clallam Bay has been hospitalized but three staff members have been.
Back in the classroom, teachers are finding pandemic tech has changed their jobs forever
MaryRita Watson says her job as a fourth- and fifth-grade reading specialist is 110% more stressful these days.
As the delta variant continues to spread across the United States and leads to more coronavirus exposure among students, Watson says she has been forced to embrace the hybrid model of teaching, where she simultaneously has to educate students both in-person and virtually.
“It’s difficult. I feel like the students who are at home aren’t getting the best of me, and then at times, the students at school aren’t getting best of me,” says Watson, who teaches at Oakbrook Elementary School in Summerville, S.C. She has switched between in-person and virtual classes over the last year and half due to the pandemic.
Watson is among millions of teachers across the nation who are in their second year of teaching either in-person, online or both – depending on the state, city and district they live in. Like many other professions, teachers’ jobs have become increasingly complex due to the pandemic.
This year, many students are back in the classroom, but teachers have to constantly adapt if there is virus exposure. There aren’t specific guidelines on how best to teach students using the many technologies that are available. Teachers are also struggling to keep students engaged while learning new tech tools that are required to make online classes successful.
Private jet market grapples with surge in get-me-away demand
Even people who can normally afford to charter a private jet at a moment’s notice are being forced to be patient and, often, pay more.
It’s all because of the pandemic.
Early on, few people were flying at all — or really had anywhere to go. Since then, demand for high-end travel, in particular, has increased exponentially as more of the wealthy opt to avoid airport lines and crowded commercial flights. But so many are flocking to private jets, there are not enough planes and pilots to serve them.
That has been coupled with the same supply chain problems that have plagued many other parts of the economy. Want a replacement tire for a jet and someone to swap it out? What could once be done in a few hours may now take a week or more, one jet company said.
As a result, providers that used to be able to quickly send out a jet to members have been changing their terms. XO, for instance, now requires 72 hours’ notice, up from 24. Ascension has gone to 24 hours from 10.
Two studies suggest newer coronavirus variants are getting better at traveling by air
Newer variants of the coronavirus such as alpha and delta are highly contagious, infecting far more people than the original virus. Two new studies offer a possible explanation: The virus is evolving to spread more efficiently through air.
The realization that the coronavirus is airborne indoors transformed efforts to contain the pandemic last year, igniting fiery debates about masks, social distancing and ventilation in public spaces.
Most researchers now agree that the coronavirus is mostly transmitted through large droplets that quickly sink to the floor and through much smaller ones, called aerosols, that can float over longer distances indoors and settle directly into the lungs, where the virus is most harmful.
The new studies don’t fundamentally change that view. But the findings signal the need for better masks in some situations, and indicate that the virus is changing in ways that make it more formidable.
“This is not an Armageddon scenario,” said Vincent Munster, a virus expert at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who led one of the new studies. “It is like a modification of the virus to more-efficient transmission, which is something I think we all kind of expected, and we now see it happening in real time.” More here.
3rd Alaska hospital invokes crisis care mode in COVID spike
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A third Alaska hospital has instituted crisis protocols that allow it to ration care if needed as the state recorded the worst COVID-19 diagnosis rates in the U.S. in recent days, straining its limited health care system.
According to data collected by Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, one in every 84 people in Alaska was diagnosed with COVID-19 from Sept. 22 to Sept. 29. The next highest rate was one in every 164 people in West Virginia.
Fairbanks Memorial Hospital said Friday it activated the Crisis Standards of Care policy because of a critical shortage of beds, staffing and monoclonal antibody treatments, along with the inability to transfer patients to other facilities.
In mid-September, Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, the state’s largest hospital, invoked the policy as did the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. for its hospital in Bethel, in southwest Alaska.
“The move to Crisis Standards of Care is not something we take lightly,” Fairbanks Chief Medical Officer Dr. Angelique Ramirez said in a statement. “This is in response to a very serious surge of COVID in our community.”
The move came the same day the state reported 1,044 new cases, 108 of them in the Fairbanks area. The hospital says 35% of its patients on Saturday were being treated for COVID-19. More here.
The summer coronavirus surge has started to ebb, but delta’s danger remains
The summer surge of U.S. coronavirus cases has started to ebb after exposing the grave danger the virus still poses in areas where large swaths of the population lack immunity.
A nationwide decline in new infections and hospitalizations is fueled by sharp drops in Southern states that were hit hard by the highly contagious delta variant. Hospital admissions nationwide crested above a weekly average of 100,000 in early September and are still at levels not seen since the winter, before vaccines were widely available. New infections plateaued in the first half of September, averaging above 150,000 daily, and are now on track to slip below 100,000.
In places like Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and the Carolinas, the latest wave appears to be following a similar pattern of a sharp spike followed by steep plunge seen in the United Kingdom, India and other places battered by delta. Epidemiologists say this pattern suggests the virus is rapidly burning through pockets of unvaccinated people before hitting a wall.
“In any epidemic wave, you have to have susceptibles,” said David Rubin, who monitors coronavirus trends as director of PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Between increasing vaccination and the sheer number of people infected, they likely reached a level where they don’t have any susceptibles left, so the virus is being blocked and it’s one of those disappearing moments.”
Experts including Rubin are now paying attention to states in the North and Upper Midwest that are starting to see cases and hospitalizations creep up, which was expected after schools reopened and people gather indoors with few restrictions as chilly weather returns. Case upticks alone are not cause for alarm if hospitalization spikes do not follow, experts said. Public health leaders have largely accepted the novel coronavirus will never be vanquished, instead turning into an endemic threat such as the flu and other respiratory viruses. More here.
Mormon president thanks members for following COVID guidance
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints kicked off a twice-annual conference Saturday by urging members to listen to the faith’s leaders when they seek “pure truth” and expressing gratitude for those who have followed church guidance, which has been to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.
Church President Russell M. Nelson acknowledged that the world is “still dealing with the ravages of COVID-19 and its variants.” And while he didn’t mention vaccines specifically, he thanked members for following the advice of church leaders, medical experts and government officials.
The Utah-based faith has repeatedly encouraged its 16 million members worldwide to limit the spread by getting vaccines and wearing masks.
“One of the plagues of our day is that too few people know where to turn for truth. I can assure you that what you will hear today and tomorrow constitutes pure truth,” said Nelson, speaking from inside a mostly empty conference center in Salt Lake City.
The conference is taking place again without full attendance due to the pandemic, but for the first time in two years leaders were back at the faith’s 20,000-seat conference center with several hundred people watching in person. The church’s well-known choir, the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, was also back in person to sing between speeches.
Leaders delivered speeches at the previous three conferences inside a different, smaller building at church headquarters in Salt Lake City with no choir and no attendees. Those conferences were the first to take place without full attendance in more than 70 years. More here.
He worked quietly for decades. Then the world needed a lifesaving vaccine
PHILADELPHIA — For months, the postcards and letters have flowed in from across the world, slipped under the door of Drew Weissman’s austere fourth-floor office at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.
Brisbane, Australia. Lynnwood, Wash. New York City. In looping cursive, strangers write to thank this reticent 62-year-old scientist whose years of painstaking work with a scientific partner, Katalin Kariko, formed the backbone of coronavirus vaccines.
“You’ve made hugs and closeness possible again.”
“Thank you for your research efforts and persistence.”
Weissman is bewildered by the outpouring — and even more incredulous at requests for autographs and photos. The world’s appreciation is jarring to this researcher who doesn’t talk much and whose face rarely flickers with emotion. He is just as straight-faced in accepting some of the biggest awards in science and medicine, including the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award that often precedes a Nobel Prize, as he is unflustered and matter-of-fact in recounting the long, frustrating run-up to this moment.
For more than two decades, Weissman and Kariko worked shoulder-to-shoulder at the lab bench to turn messenger RNA, the genetic instruction books that tell cells how to build proteins, into medicine. If DNA is the blueprint of life, mRNA is the work order that makes it happen. They were convinced this natural process could be harnessed to revolutionize how vaccines are made and transform how diseases are treated.
But the typical gatekeepers in science — journal editors, grant reviewers, investors — weren’t convinced. Messenger RNA was unstable, prone to fall apart. When it was injected into animals, it triggered an inflammatory response, making them sick, not better. More here.
Seattle tour operators that have survived COVID-19 tell how they made it — and what they make of travel’s future
Travel workers have had a particularly rough go of things during the coronavirus pandemic.
Practically overnight, their livelihoods went from being rooted in a lucrative, global industry to a grounded one. The travel industry has continued to have stops and starts as waves of this pandemic have come and gone; the promise of vaccines and summer activities led to a hopeful moment, but then came the surge of the delta variant.
Caught in the middle were tour operators and guides. We spoke with three creative operators with Seattle ties to find out how they survived the last 18 months, and how they’re thinking of their businesses — and travel as a whole — going forward.
For Sarah Murdoch, the pandemic started with a blow. She’d spent 20 years as an Italy tour guide for Rick Steves Europe, which came to an end when the company reduced employee hours and laid off guides last summer.
Luckily, Murdoch had started her own touring business on the side six years before, Adventures with Sarah, focusing on destinations outside of Europe like Southeast Asia, Morocco and Egypt. After the layoffs, she threw her energy into expanding her business. She sewed and sold a lot of travel-themed masks, and started cooking demonstrations for her 50,000 Facebook followers in a series she called “Cucina Quarantena.” That led to a Patreon page, where devoted fans could pay for additional content, like live walking tours around Italy. “That’s been paying my mortgage, actually,” she says. “My fans really backed me up.” More here.
Russia counting on antibody tests; West notes tool’s limits
MOSCOW (AP) — When Russians talk about the coronavirus over dinner or in hair salons, the conversation often turns to “antitela,” the Russian word for antibodies — the proteins produced by the body to fight infection.
Even President Vladimir Putin referred to them this week in a conversation with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, bragging about why he avoided infection even though dozens of people around him caught the coronavirus, including someone who spent a whole day with the Kremlin leader.
“I have high titers,” Putin said, referring to the measurement used to describe the concentration of antibodies in the blood. When Erdogan challenged him that the number Putin gave was low, the Russian insisted, “No, it’s a high level. There are different counting methods.”
But Western health experts say the antibody tests so popular in Russia are unreliable either for diagnosing COVID-19 or assessing immunity to it. The antibodies that these tests look for can only serve as evidence of a past infection, and scientists say it’s still unclear what level of antibodies indicates protection from the virus and for how long.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention says such tests should not be used to establish an active COVID-19 infection because it can take one to three weeks for the body to make antibodies. Health experts say tests that look for the virus’s genetic material, called PCR tests, or ones that look for virus proteins, called antigen tests, should be used to determine if someone is infected. More here.
Make them pay? The unvaccinated have already cost up to $850 million in Washington state
As I’ve been writing these past weeks on society’s conundrum of the unvaccinated, there’s been a rising chorus, both from readers and some medical commentators, that it’s past time for a harsher approach: Making them pay.
“Who’s paying the hospital cost?” asked reader Raymond Cooper. “I am tired of those who do not have a legitimate reason for not being vaccinated. Make them pay for any treatment they receive!”
“Just like we do smokers, we should make them pay higher medical premiums,” suggested another.
“I am pissed off, appalled, angry, sad, tired about this whole debacle,” summed up reader Geraldine Desper of Renton. “Insurance should become very expensive for people who won’t get vaccinated, like Delta Air Lines is doing.”
Delta was one of the first out of the gate in this “make them pay” movement, announcing a $200 per month surcharge for voluntarily unvaccinated employees. This touched off a flurry of commentary, from economists and medical writers, about how the current health system, which is blind to vax status, may be prolonging the pandemic. More here.
Have we been doing self-care all wrong?
In the spring of 2020, Crystal McEwen lost her mother to COVID-19 and her husband to an affair. McEwen, a day-care teacher, provided in-home care for her mother, who suffered from bipolar schizoaffective disorder and early onset dementia. Due to strict visitation restrictions in Brooklyn’s overwhelmed hospitals, McEwen couldn’t be with her mother in her last hours. “My mother was my baby,” she said. “But all of a sudden, I didn’t have a family.”
To deal with her grief, McEwen, 38, sought out a therapist, began journaling, developed a meditation practice and increased the time she spent in prayer.
At about the same time, Samantha Purnell, 24, a real estate agent, began investing in new wellness products and documenting her experiences on TikTok, where her videos have amassed more than 8 million views. She calculates that she spends close to $1,000 a month on blowouts, nail appointments, gym classes, self-tanners, massages, makeup, skin-care products, a journal and a subscription to a meditation app. “I call it recharging my beauty batteries,” she said.
Both Purnell and McEwen describe their practices as self-care.
The term now represents a baffling range of meanings. Karla Scott, a professor of communication at St. Louis University, who has been studying the language of self-care for 27 years, says it can refer to any practice that sustains and supports well-being. “If you perform any action that constitutes caring for yourself, you are doing self-care,” she said. More here.
China is building a chain of giant COVID quarantine centers
China is asking city governments to create specialized quarantine facilities that can house thousands of overseas arrivals, as the country continues to take a zero-tolerance approach to keeping out COVID-19.
Local authorities have until the end of October to convert or build the hubs, National Health Commission official Cui Gang told a briefing this week, with the requirement for at least 20 rooms for every 10,000 residents. The goal is to prevent the country’s quarantine facilities from becoming “scattered” and “disorganized,” Cui said.
Cities will also need to provide a list of backup accommodation locations to ensure the effectiveness of their quarantine systems, Cui said.
The move comes as an outbreak of the delta variant slows in the northern Chinese city of Harbin, near the Russian border, and an earlier flare-up in southeastern Fujian province looks to be contained.
The highly contagious virus strain breached a country that has some of the world’s toughest pandemic measures, making it a standard-bearer for the so-called COVID Zero strategy that aims to snuff out all infections. The approach, which helped countries like China, New Zealand and Singapore minimize deaths for most of the pandemic, is now being questioned as other parts of the world start to open up despite ongoing cases. Critics say it is isolationist and less effective against the more transmissible delta. More here.
A Leschi restaurant is offering COVID tests and Pfizer vaccines, including booster shots
BluWater Bistro, a restaurant in Seattle’s Leschi neighborhood, will offer COVID-19 PCR tests and Pfizer vaccines in a partnership with UW Medicine on Wednesday and on Oct. 27 from 12 to 2 p.m.
Vaccines will be available to those who still need their first or second shots, and booster shots will be available for certain groups. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those eligible are people who got both shots of the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago and are 65 and older, or are 18 and older and live in long-term care settings, have certain underlying medical conditions, or work or live in high-risk settings.
Bart Evans, the owner of BluWater Bistro, says UW Medicine reached out to him over the summer about the possibility of holding a vaccination event at the restaurant. Evans loved the idea because he believed it would help more people in the neighborhood get vaccinated.
He says BluWater Bistro is a place where Leschi residents are comfortable. Evans thinks this familiarity will make neighbors open to getting a vaccine at the restaurant, even if they weren’t willing to go out of their way for it before. Though he doesn’t know of other restaurants in Seattle offering vaccines, he thinks it’s a great model because people feel connected to their neighborhood restaurants. Evan also says Leschi has many older residents who would benefit from getting a booster shot.
“We’re a neighborhood restaurant,” Evans says. “And it’s great for the neighborhood.”
Around 20 people have already signed up for a vaccination, many of whom are getting a booster shot. But Evans also says he has “selfish” reasons for hosting the vaccination event. More here.
COVID-19 deaths eclipse 700,000 in US as delta variant rages
It’s a milestone that by all accounts didn’t have to happen this soon.
The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 eclipsed 700,000 late Friday — a number greater than the population of Boston. The last 100,000 deaths occurred during a time when vaccines — which overwhelmingly prevent deaths, hospitalizations and serious illness — were available to any American over the age of 12.
The milestone is deeply frustrating to doctors, public health officials and the American public, who watched a pandemic that had been easing earlier in the summer take a dark turn. Tens of millions of Americans have refused to get vaccinated, allowing the highly contagious delta variant to tear through the country and send the death toll from 600,000 to 700,000 in 3 1/2 months.
Florida suffered by far the most death of any state during that period, with the virus killing about 17,000 residents since the middle of June. Texas was second with 13,000 deaths. The two states account for 15% of the country’s population, but more than 30% of the nation’s deaths since the nation crossed the 600,000 threshold. More here.
Deadline nears for Washington state workers to get COVID vaccine under Inslee order
OLYMPIA — As deadlines draw near for tens of thousands of state workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, some Washington agencies have started sending separation notices to employees who have not shown they are vaccinated.
Meanwhile, other large agencies — like the Washington State Patrol, Department of Corrections, and the Department of Social and Health Services — are scrambling to determine who hasn’t yet gotten their shots.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency order requires roughly 63,000 state workers to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or lose their jobs.
Inslee has said workers must get their final shot by Oct. 4 — which is Monday — to be fully vaccinated. The mandate — which also applies to school employees and hundreds of thousands of private health care workers — is one of the strictest in the nation. There’s no opt-out option to instead get regularly tested.
To meet the timeline, most unvaccinated workers would have to get the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the next couple days. Other workers — like those who have had their requests for exemptions or accommodations denied by the state — may have more time to get Moderna or Pfizer shots. More here.
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