Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, Oct. 15, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 case counts are decreasing across the state, all large events in Washington will soon require proof of vaccination or a negative test. Gov. Jay Inslee announced the new policy Thursday, which applies to indoor events with more than 1,000 people and outdoor events with more than 10,000.
Meanwhile, U.S. health advisers said Thursday that some Americans who received Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine at least six months ago should get a half-dose booster to rev up protection against the coronavirus.
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.
Survey: Most U.S. churchgoers trust their clergy for COVID vaccine guidance, but clergy aren’t really offering it
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, clergy have been among prominent figures in the news and on social media discussing vaccines. Some have described them as “the mark of the beast” or an infringement on religious liberty, while others have framed the shots as a moral and religious duty. But a new survey out Friday finds the majority of regular churchgoers have heard little if anything, positive or negative, from their clergy about vaccines.
The survey by Pew Research adds new details about the complex role of religion in America during the pandemic.
Done during September, it finds that 61% of regular attendees – people who go to religious services at least once a month – have at least “a fair amount” of confidence in the religious leaders at their house of worship to provide guidance about coronavirus vaccines. That trust varies depending on the group. On the high end, 78% of people who go to Black Protestant churches say they have that confidence in their leaders while, on the low end, only 56% of Catholics say it. Sixty-one percent is about the same level of confidence churchgoers express in public health officials on vaccine issues, and higher than their faith in local officials (50%), state officials (49%) and the news media (41%).
However, while most regular attendees said they trust their cleric, 54% said that leader “hadn’t said much about the vaccine either way,” Pew found.
Chicago mayor takes police union head to court over vaccines
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Friday that she took her fight with the head of the city’s police officers union to court, arguing that his call for officers to ignore the order to report their COVID-19 vaccination status was illegal.
The mayor said in a statement that the city’s law department filed a complaint in Cook County Circuit Court for injunctive relief against Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara, whom she accused of “engaging in, supporting and encouraging work stoppage or strike.”
Lightfoot asked the court to prohibit the union and its officers from “engaging in any concerted refusal to submit vaccination status information” to the city’s portal. She also asked it to order Catanzara to stop urging members to refuse to provide their vaccination status information and to “issue a retraction and disavowal of his … directives to FOP members that they refuse to submit vaccination status information.”
Lightfoot said that by urging union members to not report their COVID-19 by Friday’s deadline, Catanzara put the public in danger.
“By doing so, and by predicting that 50% or more officers will violate their oaths and not report for duty, Catanzara is encouraging an unlawful strike and work stoppage which carries the potential to undermine public safety and expose our residents to irreparable harm, particularly during an ongoing pandemic,” she wrote in the court filing.
Made in India virus kits boost testing, and local industry
As the first wave of the pandemic began to take hold in India, Sanchi Jawa and her 59-year-old father, Harish Jawa, realized that they had the symptoms of a COVID-19 infection. They decided to isolate and get tested — but this was no easy task during the spring of 2020.
The father and daughter had to make multiple calls to several private labs in the capital of New Delhi before they could arrange for the gold standard in COVID-19 testing — a real-time reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction test, or RT-PCR.
It cost nearly $70 per test. A price Sanchi, 29, a digital marketer, and her father, a successful business owner, could afford but was out of reach for the majority of Indians, who have a per capita income of less than $160 per month, according to the World Bank.
“It (RT-PCR tests) should be accessible to the common man, and everybody should be able to get it done,” Sanchi said.
Over a year later, most Indians can access PCR tests at a fraction of the cost — due to a large-scale public-private partnership, known as InDx, that set up the local know-how and infrastructure to manufacture these tests within India.
State health officials confirm 2,651 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 2,651 new coronavirus cases and 36 new deaths on Friday.
The update brings the state's totals to 695,016 cases and 8,234 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, 38,482 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 138 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 158,435 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,924 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 9,370,030 doses and 59.2% 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 18,507 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.
States can start ordering vaccines for kids 5- to 11 soon
U.S. health officials are setting the stage for a national COVID-19 vaccination program for children, by inviting state authorities to order doses of Pfizer vaccine.
Child-sized doses could become available in about three weeks, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidance on how to expand their vaccination programs, to include the nation's 28 million children ages 5 to 11. More than 540 children in the U.S. have died from COVID-19, out of a total national death toll of 720,000 people.
Protests greet debut of Italy’s workplace COVID pass rule
Protests erupted in Italy as one of the most stringent anti-coronavirus measures in Europe went into effect Friday, requiring all workers, from magistrates to maids, to show a health pass to get into their place of employment.
Police were out in force, schools ended classes early and embassies issued warnings of possible violence amid concerns that the anti-vaccination demonstrations could turn violent, as they did in Rome last weekend.
The so-called “Green Pass” shows proof of vaccination, a recent negative test or of having recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months. Italy already required them to access all sorts of indoor environments, including restaurants, museums, theaters, and long-distance trains.
But the addition of the workplace requirement has sparked heated debate and opposition in a country that was a coronavirus epicenter early in the pandemic and where vaccination rates are among the highest in Europe.
“Today they are stepping on our Constitution,” said an anti-vaccine protester, Loris Mazzarato. “I say NO to this discrimination.”
Washington state jobless claims rise as claims nationwide fall
New unemployment claims in Washington state increased 7.9% last week to 5,193, up from 4,814 the prior week, according to data on the Employment Security Department’s website.
Nationally, new initial unemployment claims decreased 10.9% to 293,000 last week, down from 329,000 the prior week, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Still, Washington claims are significantly below what they were for this week in 2019, before the pandemic, when unemployment claims totaled 6,336.
Over 1.2 million people from Washington have collected more than $21.4 billion in unemployment benefits since March 2020. The federal government has provided about three-quarters of those funds. The tally compares to $1 billion the ESD has annually paid out, on average, in each of the previous 10 years, according to the department.
Cities, police unions clash as vaccine mandates take effect
Police departments around the U.S. that are requiring officers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 are running up against pockets of resistance that some fear could leave law enforcement shorthanded and undermine public safety.
Police unions and officers are pushing back by filing lawsuits to block the mandates. In Chicago, the head of the police union called on members to defy the city’s Friday deadline for reporting their COVID-19 vaccination status.
Seattle’s police department sent detectives and non-patrol officers to emergency calls this week because of a shortage of patrol officers that union leaders fear will become worse because of vaccine mandates.
The standoffs are playing out at a time when many police departments already are dealing with surging homicide rates and staff shortages unrelated to the vaccine. Cities and police leaders are now weighing the risk of losing more officers to resignations, firings or suspensions over their refusal to get vaccinated.
Delayed city inspections latest headache for Seattle apartment developers in pandemic era
The appliances were in and the paint was dry in 20 new Central District apartments, but the doors weren’t open to tenants.
Developer Ken Tousley was still waiting for a Seattle Fire Department inspection of the addition to this building, among the final steps needed to rent the new apartments.
Email updates told him he was 57th in the city’s queue and then, puzzlingly, a few days later he was 72nd. He felt better when he got an appointment on the books, but says that was canceled on the day of when the inspector called in sick.
The city has been working through a backlog of requests for fire marshal inspections, a key step to getting the final OK to occupy a new building. The department blames a spate of recent retirements just as the local construction industry was bouncing back from the pandemic and projects were nearing completion.
For those building new apartments, the delays were the latest in a series of headaches reaching far beyond the Fire Department. The time needed to get city permits has stretched longer in recent years. Pandemic supply chain issues have added a host of new complications.
Anchorage mask rule in effect after override of mayor’s veto
The governing body of Alaska’s largest city has overridden the mayor’s veto of an emergency order instituting a mask mandate for 60 days.
The Anchorage Assembly on Thursday overturned, on a 9-2 vote, Mayor Dave Bronson’s veto of the measure requiring masks on most everyone in indoor public spaces, Alaska Public Media reported.
The assembly had held a public hearing for a regular mask measure that drew so much opposition and had so many people wanting to comment, it stretched over multiple days.
But during a meeting Tuesday in which the proposal was not being heard, the Assembly approved an emergency ordinance putting a mask mandate in place.
Bronson, a staunch critic of COVID-19 mandates, had vetoed the ordinance Wednesday.
New Mexico judge denies lab workers’ claim in vaccine fight
A New Mexico judge on Friday denied a request by dozens of scientists and others at Los Alamos National Laboratory to block a vaccine mandate, meaning workers risk being fired if they don’t comply with the lab’s afternoon deadline.
The case comes as New Mexico extends a mask mandate for indoor spaces across the state, citing persistently high levels of community spread. Nearly 263,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the state since the pandemic began in 2020.
While the vaccination rate among adults in New Mexico continues to hover around 71.5%, the rate among lab employees and contractors is much higher. The lab said last week that more than 96% of workers had at least one shot, but it’s not known how many have since become fully vaccinated, how many have requested exemptions or how many could end up being fired for declining the shots.
The legal challenge was backed by 114 scientists, nuclear engineers, research technicians, designers, project managers and other workers at the lab. Some are specialists and have high security clearance for the work they do, which ranges from national defense to infrastructure improvements and COVID-19 research.
The workers claim the mandate is a violation of their constitutional rights and that lab management has created a hostile work environment.
Attorneys for the lab argued in court Thursday that being vaccinated was a condition of working at Los Alamos. Lab management had announced the vaccine requirement in August.
Pfizer-BioNTech ask EU agency to OK vaccine for kids 5-11
Pharmaceutical company Pfizer and biotechnology company BioNTech said Friday they have requested to have their coronavirus vaccine licensed for children ages 5 to 11 across the European Union. If EU regulators agree, it would be the first opportunity for younger children in Europe to get immunized against COVID-19.
Pfizer and BioNTech said they submitted data to the European Medicines Agency, including late-stage results from a study testing their COVID-19 vaccine in more than 2,200 children ages 6 months to 11 years. The children received a lower dose than what’s normally given to adults.
The companies said in a statement that the results showed a “strong immune response” in the children and that the vaccine was also found to be safe. There are currently no COVID-19 vaccines licensed for use in children younger than 12 in Europe or North America; the ones made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are authorized for children 12 and older in the European Union.
FDA panel endorses booster shot for J&J COVID-19 vaccine
A panel of U.S. health advisers endorsed booster doses of Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine Friday, saying they should be offered at least two months after immunization.
J&J has asked the Food and Drug Administration for flexibility with its booster, arguing the extra dose adds important protection as early as two months after initial vaccination — but that it might work better if people wait until six months later.
The FDA’s advisory panel voted unanimously that a booster should be offered without setting a firm time. The advisers cited growing worry that recipients of J&J’s vaccination seem to be less protected than people who got two-dose Pfizer or Moderna options — and that most got that single dose many months ago.
UK: 43,000 may have received false negative COVID results
British health officials said Friday that 43,000 people may have been wrongly told they don’t have the coronavirus because of problems at a private laboratory.
The U.K. Health Security Agency said the Immensa Health Clinic Ltd. lab in the central England city of Wolverhampton has been suspended from processing swabs after the false negatives.
Will Welfare, the agency’s public health incident director, said it was working “to determine the laboratory technical issues” behind the inaccurate tests.
The issue was uncovered after some people who were positive for COVID-19 when they took rapid tests went on to show up as negative on more accurate PCR tests.
The health agency said that “around 400,000 samples have been processed through the lab, the vast majority of which will have been negative results, but an estimated 43,000 people may have been given incorrect negative PCR test results,” mostly in southwest England. The incorrect results were given between Sept. 8 and Oct. 12.
FDA panel takes up tough questions on J&J COVID-19 boosters
U.S. health advisers on Friday tackled who should get boosters of Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine and when — and whether using a competing brand for the second dose might provide better protection.
The push for boosters kicked off last month after the Food and Drug Administration authorized third doses of the Pfizer vaccine for seniors and younger adults with health problems, jobs or living conditions that place them at higher risk from the coronavirus. On Thursday, an FDA advisory panel unanimously recommended a half-dose booster of the similar Moderna vaccine for the same groups.
Friday, the same panel discussed a booster of J&J’s vaccine — but the decision is more complex. Moderna and Pfizer asked the FDA to OK boosters at least six months after immunization, but J&J proposed a sliding schedule with an extra dose as early as two months later.
Adding another twist, the experts also will discuss preliminary data from a government “mix-and-match” study that suggested J&J recipients may have a far stronger immune response if they get either a Moderna or Pfizer booster rather than a second J&J dose.
The FDA will use its advisers’ recommendations to decide whether to authorize boosters for both J&J and Moderna, likely next week, after which another government agency will rule on who should roll up their sleeves.
Russia breaks record again for COVID-19 deaths, infections
Russia’s daily tolls of coronavirus infections and deaths surged to another record on Friday, a quickly mounting figure that has put a severe strain on the country’s health care system.
The government’s coronavirus task force reported 32,196 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 999 deaths in the past 24 hours.
The record for daily COVID-19 deaths in Russia has been broken repeatedly over the past few weeks, as fatalities steadily approach 1,000 in a single day. It comes amid increasing infections and a reluctance by authorities to toughen restrictions that would further cripple the economy.
The government said this week that about 43 million Russians, or just about 29% of the country’s nearly 146 million people, are fully vaccinated. Authorities have tried to speed up the pace of vaccination with lotteries, bonuses and other incentives, but widespread vaccine skepticism and conflicting signals from officials stymied the efforts.
Despite the mounting toll, the Kremlin has also ruled out a new nationwide lockdown like the one early on in the pandemic that badly hurt the economy, eroding President Vladimir Putin’s popularity.
Newly discovered bat viruses give hints to COVID’s origins
In the summer of 2020, half a year into the coronavirus pandemic, scientists traveled into the forests of northern Laos to catch bats that might harbor close cousins of the pathogen.
The fecal samples the collected turned out to contain coronaviruses, which the scientists studied in high-security biosafety labs, known as BSL-3, using specialized protective gear and air filters.
Three of the Laos coronaviruses were unusual: They carried a molecular hook on their surface that was very similar to the hook on the virus that causes COVID-19, called SARS-CoV-2. Like SARS-CoV-2, their hook allowed them to latch onto human cells.
“It is even better than early strains of SARS-CoV-2,” said Marc Eloit, a virus expert at the Pasteur Institute in Paris who led the study, referring to how well the hook on the Laos coronaviruses binds to human cells.
The findings have significant implications for the charged debate over COVID’s origins, experts say. Some people have speculated that SARS-CoV-2’s impressive ability to infect human cells could not have evolved through a natural spillover from an animal. But the new findings seem to suggest otherwise.
Wyoming district where student arrested extends mask mandate
A mask-wearing mandate will continue for at least another month in a Wyoming school district where a student who wouldn’t wear a mask got arrested for allegedly refusing to leave her high school.
Grace Smith, 16, might not be involved in future confrontations at Laramie High School, however. The junior said she was withdrawing after being “bullied, discriminated against and worst of all, legitimately threatened.”
Albany County School District No. 1 trustees voted 6-1 later in the meeting to extend the district’s mask mandate for everybody inside district buildings until Nov. 12. The mask requirement had been set to expire this Friday.
Wyoming has had one of the lowest vaccination rates and highest COVID-19 rates in the U.S. but the district is among just a few in Wyoming to require masks this fall. Smith’s anti-mask stance is widespread in this conservative state, where Republican Gov. Mark Gordon has vowed not to return to mask mandates since imposing an unpopular one last winter.
Laramie — home to the University of Wyoming, which has been requiring masks in most of its buildings this fall — has been somewhat more receptive to masks than many Wyoming communities which also have had heated debates over masks this fall.
Police arrested Smith at her high school Oct. 7 after she served two consecutive, two-day suspensions for not wearing a mask.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
If you're going to a big outdoor or indoor event in Washington, you'll soon need proof of vaccination or a recent negative test under a new order announced yesterday. Here are the details, along with what to do if you've lost your vaccination card.
Many Americans who got the Moderna vaccine should get a booster shot, U.S. health advisers recommended yesterday, but they steered away from a "let it rip" approach for everyone. Today they're focusing on who should get Johnson & Johnson boosters.
The cruise industry says it’s safer than other vacations. But "the devil is in the details," COVID-19 experts say, outlining which details matter most.
Was this our final COVID-19 surge? There are reasons for optimism, although patterns that defy explanation should serve as a "wake-up call," scientists say.
One of the world’s toughest quarantine regimes is finally ending. “We can’t live here in a hermit kingdom,” one official says as a nation that walled itself off moves away from its famed quarantine hotels.
A new mom died of COVID-19 before making a baby registry. A nurse — and hundreds of strangers — pitched in to help baby Carmen and her stunned father.
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