The fifth wave of coronavirus infections has swamped rural hospitals in Washington, forcing them to transfer patients to Seattle and other more populated areas where hospitals are only slightly less crowded. Neighboring Idaho, where the virus is running rampant, is facing a shortage of oxygen in hospitals.
Meanwhile, the numbers continue to show that vaccination rates are on the rise throughout the state, although some demographics — particularly teenagers — are lagging.
In Washington, D.C., a group representing school board members around the country asked President Joe Biden on Thursday for federal assistance to investigate and stop threats made over policies including mask mandates, likening the vitriol to a form of domestic terrorism.
Parents and community members have been disrupting meetings and threatening board members in person, online and through the mail in a trend that merits attention from federal law enforcement agencies, the National School Boards Association said in a letter to Biden.
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.
Anchorage mask mandate debate will extend into next week
A highly contentious debate over a proposed mask mandate for Alaska’s largest city that has included Holocaust imagery and a gay slur will continue into a fourth session next week.
After hearing testimony for days, the Anchorage Assembly extended the public comment period about the proposed ordinance to Monday during its Thursday evening meeting, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
Mayor David Bronson, who opposes the mask mandate, apologized on Thursday for comments supporting residents’ wearing homemade yellow Stars of David, like the patches Holocaust victims wore. Those who wear them claim mask mandates are similar to what Jews faced in Nazi Germany.
Four people at Wednesday’s meeting were arrested, including a man who called the assembly’s vice chair, Chris Constant, a homophobic slur.
Somalia opens nation’s 1st public oxygen plant amid pandemic
Somalia has opened the country’s first public oxygen plant as the Horn of Africa nation with one of the world’s weakest health systems combats COVID-19.
The oxygen plant was installed Thursday at a hospital in the capital, Mogadishu. It is expected to produce 1,000 cylinders of oxygen a week.
The scarcity of medical oxygen has hurt response efforts across many African nations as the delta variant of the coronavirus now drives the bulk of infections on the continent of 1.3 billion people.
Somalia has one of the highest case fatality rates from COVID-19 in Africa, and few measures are enforced to slow the spread of the virus.
Supreme Court justice axes appeal of NYC school vaccine plan
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Friday denied an emergency appeal from a group of teachers to block New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for public school teachers and other staff from going into effect.
The teachers had filed for the injunction with Sotomayor on Thursday, in an effort to keep the mandate from going into effect Friday.
Under the mandate rules, the roughly 148,000 school employees had until 5 p.m. Friday to get at least their first vaccine shot. Those who didn’t face suspension without pay when schools open on Monday.
Retailers’ latest headache: Pandemic shutdowns at their Vietnamese suppliers
After a bruising 18 months of the pandemic, this fall represented a fresh start for apparel company Everlane. It was preparing to release a slew of new products, with September marking the beginning of an ambitious marketing campaign around its denim.
Instead, Everlane has spent this month scrambling just to get jeans — along with other products like bags and shoes — out of Vietnam, where a surge in coronavirus cases has forced factories to either close or operate at severely reduced capacity with staff living in on-site bubbles.
The crisis in Vietnam, which has grown in recent years to become the second-biggest supplier of apparel and footwear to the United States after China, is the latest curveball to be tossed at the retail industry, which has been battered by the pandemic. Vietnam made it through the first part of the pandemic relatively unscathed, but now the delta variant of the coronavirus is on a rampage, highlighting the uneven distribution of vaccines globally and the perils that new outbreaks pose to the world’s economy.
State health officials confirm 3,284 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 3,284 new coronavirus cases and 39 new deaths on Friday.
The update brings the state's totals to 660,910 cases and 7,765 deaths, meaning that 1.2% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Thursday.
In addition, 36,754 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 124 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 152,022 COVID-19 diagnoses and 8,079 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 9,052,241 doses and 57.8% 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 14,067 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.
India announces COVID-19 tests and quarantine for Britons
India said Friday that British nationals arriving in the country will be subjected to COVID-19 tests and a 10-day mandatory quarantine, in response to the same measures imposed on Indians visiting the U.K.
India has been demanding that Britain revoke what it called a “discriminatory” advisory that includes Indians even if they are fully vaccinated with the Indian-made AstraZeneca shots.
India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had discussed the issue with British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in a meeting in New York earlier this week.
A foreign ministry official said that starting on Monday, all British arrivals, irrespective of their vaccination status, will have to undertake RT-PRC test within 72 hours before travel, another test on arrival in India and the third one eight days later.
Trains packed with commuters as Japan fully ends emergency
Japan fully came out of a coronavirus state of emergency for the first time in more than six months as the country starts to gradually ease virus measures to help rejuvenate the pandemic-hit economy as the infections slowed.
At Tokyo’s busy Shinagawa train station, a sea of mask-wearing commuters rushed to their work despite an approaching typhoon, with some returning to their offices after months of remote work.
The emergency measures, in place for more than half of the country including Tokyo, ended Thursday following a steady fall in new caseloads over the past few weeks, helping to ease pressure on Japanese health care systems.
Alabama lawmakers OK plan to build prisons with virus cash
Amid a national debate over the use of pandemic relief funds, Alabama lawmakers swiftly approved a plan Friday to tap $400 million from the American Rescue Plan to help build two super-size prisons, brushing off criticism from congressional Democrats that the money was not intended for such projects.
In a bipartisan vote that brought few dissents, the Alabama Senate voted 29-2 to approve the $1.3 billion prison construction plan, and 30-1 to steer $400 million of the state’s $2.1 billion from the rescue funds to pay for it.
The Republican called the construction plan “a major step forward” for the prison system that faces federal court orders and a lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice.
President Joe Biden’s sweeping $1.9 trillion COVID-19 rescue package was signed in March, providing a stream of funds to states and cities to recover from the pandemic. Alabama’s plan prompted sharp criticism from some congressional Democrats who said prison construction was not the intent of the relief bill. Republicans said the rules give them discretion to spend the money on what they see as their greatest need.
Koch-backed group fuels opposition to school mask mandates, leaked letter shows
The letter sounds passionate and personal.
It is motivated, the author explains, by a desire to “speak up for what is best for my kids.” And it fervently conveys the author’s feelings to school leaders: “I do not believe little kids should be forced to wear masks, and I urge you to adopt a policy that allows parental choice on this matter for the upcoming school year.”
But the heartfelt appeal is not the product of a grass roots groundswell. Rather, it is a template drafted and circulated this week within a conservative network built on the scaffolding of the Koch fortune and the largesse of other GOP megadonors.
That makes the document, which was obtained by The Washington Post, the latest salvo in an inflamed debate over mask requirements in schools, which have become the epicenter of partisan battles over everything from gender identity to critical race theory. The political melee engulfing educators has complicated efforts to reopen schools safely during a new wave of the virus brought on by the highly transmissible delta variant.
COVID cases are falling, but US on the brink of 700,000 dead
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A decline in COVID-19 cases across the United States over the past several weeks has given overwhelmed hospitals some relief, but administrators are bracing for yet another possible surge as cold weather drives people indoors.
Health experts say the fourth wave of the pandemic has peaked overall in the U.S., particularly in the Deep South, where hospitals were stretched to the limit weeks ago. But many Northern states are still struggling with rising cases, and what’s ahead for winter is far less clear.
Unknowns include how flu season may strain already depleted hospital staffs and whether those who have refused to get vaccinated will change their minds.
An estimated 70 million eligible Americans remain unvaccinated, providing kindling for the highly contagious delta variant.
“If you’re not vaccinated or have protection from natural infection, this virus will find you,” warned Mike Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.
California pushes 1st US vaccine mandate for schoolchildren
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday announced the nation’s first coronavirus vaccination mandate for schoolchildren, requiring that all elementary through high school students get the shots once the vaccine gains final approval from the U.S. government for different age groups.
The government has fully approved the COVID-19 vaccine for those 16 and over but only granted an emergency authorization for anyone 12 to 15. Once federal regulators fully approve it for that group, the state will require students in seventh through 12th grades to get vaccinated in both public and private schools. Newsom said he expects that requirement to be in place by July 1.
California will require the COVID-19 vaccine for students in kindergarten through sixth grades after it gets final federal approval for children 5 to 11.
“We want to end this pandemic. We are all exhausted by it,” the Democratic governor told reporters at a San Francisco middle school.
Seattle police chief urges vaccination ahead of mandate deadline to avoid staffing disruption
Interim Seattle police Chief Adrian Diaz is urging department staff to get vaccinated ahead of the city’s COVID-19 vaccination deadline for city workers, warning of a possible staffing challenge if they fail to do so.
In a letter to staff Friday, Diaz said the agency has to assume it has hundreds of unvaccinated individuals based on current vaccination information submitted to the department.
“This could create a disruption to unit of assignments,” Diaz wrote.
Mayor apologizes for backing mask critics’ Holocaust imagery
The mayor of Alaska’s largest city apologized Thursday for his comments supporting some residents’ use of Holocaust imagery to liken a proposed citywide mask mandate to the oppression of Jewish people in Nazi Germany.
Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson has said he staunchly opposes the mask proposal and initially defended the use of yellow Stars of David worn by other critics this week at heated public hearings. Such imagery has been used by opponents of mask and vaccine mandates across the U.S., drawing condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish organizations.
Assembly member Forrest Dunbar, who is Jewish, read from a letter he received from his rabbi: “I believe it is a constitutional right to protest for your values. But I request that you do not use symbols that diminish the 6 million Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust.”
On Thursday, the mayor issued a statement apologizing for his remarks.
“I understand that we should not trivialize or compare what happened during the Holocaust to a mask mandate, and I want to apologize for any perception that my statements support or compare what happened to the Jewish people in Nazi Germany,” Bronson said.
In policy shift, Alaska Air requires COVID-19 vaccine for employees
Alaska Air Group told employees Thursday evening they will be required to get a COVID-19 vaccination, with some exceptions — a shift from the policy laid out last month that only encouraged and rewarded vaccinated employees.
In an email to all Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air employees, the company said that in accordance with the White House executive order that requires all federal contractors to have their workers vaccinated, “All employees will now be required to be fully vaccinated or be approved for a reasonable accommodation.”
That replaces the policy Alaska announced last month, which paid vaccinated employees $200 and required regular testing for others.
U.S. coronavirus death toll nears 700,000 despite wide availability of vaccines
Nearly 700,000 people across the United States have now died of the coronavirus, a milestone that few experts had anticipated months ago when vaccines became widely available to the American public.
An overwhelming majority of Americans who have died in recent months, a period in which the country has offered broad access to shots, were unvaccinated. The United States has had one of the highest recent death rates of any country with an ample supply of vaccines.
The new and alarming surge of deaths this summer means that the coronavirus pandemic has become the deadliest in American history, overtaking the toll from the influenza pandemic of 1918 and 1919, which killed about 675,000 people.
“This delta wave just rips through the unvaccinated,” said Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan. The deaths that have followed the wide availability of vaccines, he added, are “absolutely needless.”
‘Mandates are working’: Employer ultimatums lift vaccination rates, so far
As California’s requirement that all health care workers be vaccinated against the coronavirus took effect Thursday, major health systems reported that the mandate had helped boost their vaccination rates to 90% or higher. In New York, another mandate that began this week compelled thousands of hospital and nursing home workers to get shots. And at several major corporations, executives reported surges in vaccination rates after adding their own requirements.
Until now, the biggest unknown about mandating COVID-19 vaccines in workplaces has been whether such requirements would lead to compliance or to significant departures by workers unwilling to get shots.
“Mandates are working,” said John Swartzberg, a physician and professor at the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. “If you define ‘working’ by the percentage of people getting vaccinated and not leaving their jobs in droves.”
COVID is killing rural Americans at twice the rate of urbanites
Rural Americans are dying of COVID at more than twice the rate of their urban counterparts — a divide that health experts say is likely to widen as access to medical care shrinks for a population that tends to be older, sicker, heavier, poorer and less vaccinated.
While the initial surge of COVID-19 deaths skipped over much of rural America, where roughly 15% of Americans live, nonmetropolitan mortality rates quickly started to outpace those of metropolitan areas as the virus spread nationwide before vaccinations became available, according to data from the Rural Policy Research Institute.
Since the pandemic began, about 1 in 434 rural Americans have died of COVID, compared with roughly 1 in 513 urban Americans, the institute’s data shows. And though vaccines have reduced overall COVID death rates since the winter peak, rural mortality rates are now more than double urban rates — and accelerating quickly.
Australia to lift 18-month COVID-19 travel ban next month
Australia has outlined plans to lift a pandemic ban on its vaccinated citizens traveling overseas from November. But no date has yet been set for welcoming international tourists back.
Travel restrictions that have trapped most Australians and permanent residents at home over the past 18 months would be removed when 80% of the population aged 16 and older were fully vaccinated, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday.
Australia introduced some of the toughest travel restrictions of any democracy in the world on people entering and leaving the island nation on March 20 last year.
There are a few exceptions from the ban including government employees and essential workers and hundreds of thousands failed to reach relatives’ death beads, missed funerals or weddings and have yet to be introduced to grandchildren because of restrictions aimed at keeping COVID-19 out of Australia.
Justice Kavanaugh tests positive for coronavirus, has no symptoms
The Supreme Court says Justice Brett Kavanaugh has tested positive for coronavirus.
The high court said in a press release Friday that Kavanaugh has no symptoms and has been fully vaccinated since January. Kavanaugh and all the other justices had a routine coronavirus test ahead of Friday’s ceremonial investiture for Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
The court says Kavanaugh’s wife and daughters are also fully vaccinated, and they tested negative on Thursday. The court says Kavanaugh and his wife will not attend the ceremony.
Sri Lanka lifts 6-week virus lockdown amid economic worries
Sri Lanka lifted a six-week lockdown Friday as COVID-19 cases and deaths decline but will restrict people’s movement for work and obtaining essentials only — which are running short in the island country amid economic worries.
The lockdown was imposed Aug. 20 and extended three times as Sri Lanka grappled with a COVID-19 surge caused by the delta variant. The government has ramped up vaccination in recent months, with more than 50% of the 22 million people fully inoculated.
New daily infections have since fallen to below 1,000 and deaths to under 100, from a peak of over 3,000 cases and more than 200 deaths early September. The country has reported more than 516,000 infections and 12,847 deaths.
Texas man who refused mask arrested for restaurant stabbing
Police in Texas have arrested a man who was accused of stabbing a restaurant manager with a pocketknife after being told he needed to wear a mask.
The stabbing happened in March at a Jack in the Box restaurant in League City, just southeast of Houston. Authorities had issued an arrest warrant for James Schulz Jr. shortly after the stabbing occurred but he wasn’t taken into custody until this week, police said.
At the time, police said Schulz refused to follow the restaurant’s policy requiring him to wear a mask to protect against the spread of the coronavirus. Police said he then attacked the manager.
US consumer spending rebounded in August despite COVID
U.S. consumer spending accelerated in August amide a surge in COVID-19 cases, even as soaring demand and snarled supply chains kept inflation high.
Consumer spending rose 0.8% in August, up from a decline of 0.1% in July. Income rose by a smaller 0.2%, the Commerce Department reported Friday. That suggests consumers dug into their savings to fuel more spending. Americans bought more furniture, clothes, and groceries, while the delta variant caused them to pull back on traveling and eating out.
The report showed inflation stayed high: Consumer prices increased 0.4% in August from July, the same increase as the previous month. In the past year, prices rose 4.3%, up slightly from the previous month and the highest in more than three decades. Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, core inflation increased 0.3% in August and 3.6% from a year earlier, the same figures as the previous month. The unchanged readings are a sign inflation could be leveling off.
Overall, the data signaled that despite a dent to consumer confidence, Americans are still spending enough to drive the economy forward.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Political anger over masks and vaccines is hitting what may be a new high as the pandemic bites deeply into communities outside the Puget Sound area where vaccination rates lag. COVID-19 deaths in many of those areas have climbed steeply, with maps showing how starkly the situation has flipped since last year.
An experimental pill sharply cuts the worst effects of COVID-19, according to Merck, which plans to ask health officials to authorize its use. If cleared, this would be the first pill shown to treat the virus.
Need a vaccine this weekend? Monday is the last day many state workers, teachers and others can get a vaccine to keep their jobs, and they’ll need to pick the Johnson & Johnson shot. Here’s how to find it.
One nation has nearly run out of people to vaccinate, turning it into a cutting-edge laboratory where questions about the pandemic's endgame can begin to play out. But Portugal's experience is also providing a note of caution.
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