Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, October 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
U.S. regulators on Wednesday approved extending COVID-19 boosters to people who got the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine and said anyone eligible for an extra dose can get a brand different from the one they received initially.
The Food and Drug Administration’s decisions to allow “mixing and matching” of vaccine shots mark a big step toward expanding the U.S. booster campaign, which began with extra doses of the Pfizer vaccine last month. See if you qualify for a booster shot in Washington.
Meanwhile, children ages 5 to 11 will soon be able to get a COVID-19 shot at their pediatrician’s office, local pharmacy and potentially even their school, the White House said Wednesday as it detailed plans for the expected authorization of the Pfizer shot for elementary school youngsters in a matter of weeks.
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.
Compare vaccination rates across Washington state agencies with our updating tracker
We’re tracking vaccination rates, employee accommodations and job losses for large state agencies now that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s deadline for public workers to get the coronavirus vaccine has passed. This data from the Office of Financial Management will be updated weekly.
On Aug. 20, the governor put in place some of the strictest mandates in the U.S., requiring state and school employees, as well as hundreds of thousands of health care workers, to show proof of vaccination by Oct. 18 or face termination.
If an unvaccinated worker was granted a religious or medical exemption, their employer is required to try to set up accommodations within their workplace. Labor unions throughout the state have negotiated some agreements with employers about possible accommodations and extensions, allowing many workers about 30 extra days to become compliant with the mandate.
AP FACT CHECK: Biden overstates his record on COVID vaccine
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden botched the numbers behind the COVID-19 vaccine rollout Thursday as he stretched to take all the credit for the surge of shots once he was in office.
A look at his remarks during a CNN town hall event:
BIDEN: “When I first was elected, there were only 2 million people who had COVID shots in the United States of America — and the vaccine. Now we got 190 million, because I went out and bought everything I could do and buy in sight and it worked.”
THE FACTS: No, that’s not how the vaccine rollout in the U.S. happened. Biden is overstating his part.
First, it’s not true that 2 million people had shots when he was elected in November. The COVID-19 vaccines were still awaiting emergency authorization then. The first shots were administered to the public in mid-December.
Nearly 16 million doses had been administered by Jan. 20, the day Biden took office. And Biden didn’t buy up all the doses — the Trump administration had purchased 300 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna in December, weeks before Biden was inaugurated.
New Zealand sets 90% vaccination target to end lockdowns
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand’s government on Friday set an ambitious target of fully vaccinating 90% of all eligible people to end coronavirus lockdowns.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had been under pressure to provide a pathway to freedom for people living in Auckland, who have been in lockdown for more than two months.
Under the new framework, people living in the largest city will regain many of their freedoms once 90% of people 12 and older across each of three districts are fully vaccinated.
Other parts of the country without community spread of the virus will gain even broader freedoms once they hit the 90% target. However, people will be required to use new vaccine certificates to visit places like bars, restaurants and gyms.
Idaho hospitals have been in crisis for weeks. Has that affected COVID-19 vaccine uptake?
BOISE, Idaho — Major Idaho hospitals have been operating in crisis standards of care for weeks.
And for months, elected representatives, public health officials and hospital leaders have been pleading with Idaho residents to get vaccinated, which they have said is the only viable path to ending the pandemic more quickly.
But data show that those pleas have not been heeded by much of the public. Over the past month, the number of new people getting vaccinated has fallen while the hospitals have been in crisis.
The sluggish uptake prompted Dr. Steven Nemerson, the chief clinical officer at Saint Alphonsus Health System, to say on Oct. 12 that the state has “lost the war” with COVID-19, and that the virus is here for the long haul.
State health officials confirm 3,167 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 3,167 new coronavirus cases and 46 new deaths on Thursday.
The update brings the state's totals to 708,032 cases and 8,417 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. Wednesday.
In addition, 39,170 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 125 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 160,822 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,949 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 9,454,044 doses and 59.5% 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 15,831 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.
Another effort to block Oregon vaccine mandate denied
A second federal judge in Oregon has rejected an emergency motion to halt the state’s vaccine mandate or make an exception for state workers who have contracted COVID-19.
U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken ruled that the U.S. Constitution offers no fundamental right to refuse a vaccination and that the mandated shots are in the state’s interest to stem the spread of disease and protect Oregon’s citizens, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.
Aiken additionally saw no need to exempt unvaccinated workers from the vaccine mandate if they already had the virus.
DeSantis to convene legislature to fight vaccine mandates
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday said he will call state lawmakers back to work early to pass legislation to combat coronavirus vaccine mandates enacted by businesses.
The Republican governor said he will convene a special session of the GOP-controlled statehouse in November to address vaccine requirements. He didn’t specify a starting date.
“At the end of the day, you shouldn’t be discriminated against based on your health decisions,” he said during a news conference. “We want to provide protection for people, we want to make it clear that, in Florida, your right to earn a living is not contingent upon whatever choices you’re making in terms of these injections.”
Many other states are considering anti-mandate bills. GOP Texas Gov. Greg Abbott last week issued an executive order to prohibit any entity from requiring vaccines.
In broad terms, DeSantis outlined policy goals for the special session, including holding businesses liable for adverse reactions to vaccines, removing legal liability protections for employers with vaccine mandates and added protections for people fired for not being vaccinated.
California maskless woman in store convicted of trespassing
A Southern California woman who refused to wear a mask or leave a grocery store last year was convicted of trespassing and obstructing a business or customers.
The jury found Marianne Campbell Smith guilty on Wednesday and Orange County Superior Court Judge John Zitny sentenced her to 40 hours of community service, a year of informal probation and a $200 fine, the Orange County Register reported.
Smith, 57, was arrested on Aug. 15, 2020 at Mother’s Market in the city of Costa Mesa, where an anti-mask protest against California’s mask mandate to prevent the spread of the coronavirus was happening nearby.
In a statement in court before sentencing, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said the case centered on property rights.
“The defendant wanted to make this about masks and freedom,” Spitzer said. “This trial was about a private business and workers just trying to comply with health orders. Instead she bullied her way around the store and yelled at masked elderly shoppers that they were part of a government conspiracy.”
Smith said she cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition and her lawyer said she went into the store to get food, not to protest.
Ukraine hits all-time death record amid vaccine hesitancy
Coronavirus infections and deaths in Ukraine surged to all-time highs Thursday amid a laggard pace of vaccination, with overall inoculations among the lowest in Europe.
Ukrainian authorities reported 22,415 new confirmed infections and 546 deaths in the past 24 hours, the highest numbers since the start of the pandemic.
Authorities have blamed a spike in infections on a slow pace of vaccination in the nation of 41 million. Ukrainians can choose between Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Sinovac vaccines, but only about 15% of the population is fully vaccinated, Europe’s lowest level after Armenia.
Overall, the country has registered over 2.7 million infections and 62,389 deaths.
Ukraine has faced a steady rise in contagion in the past few weeks, which forced the government to introduce restrictions on access to public places and the use of public transport. Starting Thursday, proof of vaccination or a negative test is required to board planes, trains and long-distance buses.
The restrictive measures have made a black market for counterfeit vaccination certificates blossom, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy chaired a meeting earlier this week on ways to combat the practice. Police said they suspect workers at 15 hospitals across the country of involvement in issuing false vaccination certificates.
Belgium braces for another surge in COVID-19 cases
Belgium’s government warned Thursday that the country could well be on the cusp of another major surge in COVID-19 cases despite its high vaccination rate.
Though the government recently relaxed the mandatory use of facemasks, it is again starting to encourage the population to use them to counter a rise in cases reminiscent of the first three surges of the past 1 1/2 years.
Belgium, a nation of 11 million, again has over 3,000 infections a day, an increase of 50% compared to the week earlier. Hospital admissions are at 80 a day now, an increase of over 40%.
Expert panel takes up complicated COVID-19 booster questions
Influential government advisers are deciding Thursday how best to expand the nation’s COVID-19 booster campaign, including whether and when it’s OK to “mix and match” brands for the extra dose.
The advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are slated to discuss who should get extra doses of the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines — and the bigger question of getting a different brand for the booster than people’s original vaccination.
The Food and Drug Administration authorized both steps Wednesday, as part of a federal push to broaden booster access for the U.S. public. But the CDC, guided by its advisory panel, provides the final blessing.
About two-thirds of Americans eligible for COVID-19 shots are fully vaccinated, and several million have gotten additional doses of Pfizer’s vaccine after the FDA and CDC gave that go-ahead last month. While health authorities hope boosters will shore up waning immunity against milder coronavirus infections, all the vaccines still offer strong protection against hospitalizations and death — and getting the unvaccinated their first shots remain a priority.
US unemployment claims fall to new pandemic low of 290,000
The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to a new low point since the pandemic erupted, evidence that layoffs are declining as companies hold onto workers.
Unemployment claims dropped 6,000 to 290,000 last week, the third straight drop, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s the fewest people to apply for benefits since March 14, 2020, when the pandemic intensified. Applications for jobless aid, which generally track the pace of layoffs, have fallen steadily from about 900,000 in January.
New initial claims for unemployment benefits i n Washington fell 8.4% to 4,917 for the week that ended Oct. 16, from 5,368 the prior week, according to data from the federal Department of Labor. The Washington state Employment Security Department reports its own figures later Thursday; those often differ slightly from the federal numbers.
Unemployment claims are increasingly returning to normal, but many other aspects of the job market haven’t yet done so. Hiring has slowed in the past two months, even as companies and other employers have posted a near-record number of open jobs. Officials such as Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell had hoped more people would find work in September as schools reopened, easing child care constraints, and enhanced unemployment aid ended nationwide.
Yet so far, that hasn’t happened. Instead, some observers are starting to consider whether some of those who had jobs before the pandemic, and lost them, may have permanently stopped looking for work.
‘We are coming for you,’ a Port Angeles doctor is told as public health workers find themselves in crisis
As she leaves work, Dr. Allison Berry keeps a vigilant eye on her rearview mirror, watching the vehicles around her, weighing if she needs to take a more circuitous route home. She must make sure nobody finds out where she lives.
When the pandemic first hit the northern edge of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Berry was a popular family physician and local health officer, trained in biostatistics and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University. She processed COVID-19 test kits in her garage and delivered supplies to people in quarantine, leading a mobilization that kept her counties with some of the fewest deaths in the nation.
But this summer, as a delta variant wave pushed case numbers to alarming levels, Berry announced a mask mandate. In September, she ordered vaccination requirements for indoor dining.
By then, to many in the community, the enemy was not the virus. It was her.
Berry should be attacked “on sight,” one resident wrote online. Someone else suggested bringing back public hangings. “Dr. Berry, we are coming for you,” a man warned at a public meeting. An angry crowd swarmed into the courthouse during a briefing on the COVID-19 response one day, looking for her, and protesters also showed up at her house, until they learned that Berry was no longer living there.
“The places where it is most needed to put in more stringent measures, it’s the least possible to do it,” Berry said. “Either because you’re afraid you’re going to get fired, or you’re afraid you’re going to get killed. Or both.”
Some colleges put new vaccine mandates in place — for the flu
After a pandemic-disrupted year of safety measures and Zoom lectures, the promise of coronavirus vaccines offered U.S. universities a shot at normalcy this fall. The virus has not been wiped completely from campuses, but major outbreaks have so far been rare.
The arrival of flu season, however, poses an added challenge.
Colleges are ideal breeding grounds for viruses, and some public health experts are predicting that this year’s flu season will be more severe than the last. To guard against outbreaks, a number of major universities are going beyond their usual autumn flu vaccine pushes — and enacting mandates.
Can new variants of the coronavirus keep emerging?
Can new variants of the coronavirus keep emerging?
Yes, as long as the virus that caused the pandemic keeps infecting people. But that doesn’t mean new variants will keep emerging as regularly, or that they’ll be more dangerous.
With more than half the world still not vaccinated, the virus will likely keep finding people to infect and replicating inside them for several months or years to come. And each time a virus makes a copy of itself, a small mutation could occur. Those changes could help the virus survive, becoming new variants.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the delta variant is twice as contagious as earlier versions of the virus. And while it could still mutate to become more infectious, it probably won’t double its transmission rate again, says Dr. Adam Lauring, a virus and infectious disease expert at the University of Michigan.
“We’ve seen a stage of rapid evolution for the virus. It’s been harvesting the low-hanging fruit, but there’s not an infinite number of things it can do,” Lauring says.
India celebrates 1B vaccine doses, hopes to speed 2nd shots
India celebrated giving its billionth COVID-19 vaccine dose on Thursday, a hopeful milestone for the South Asian country where the delta variant fueled a crushing surge earlier this year and missteps initially held back its inoculation campaign.
About half of India’s nearly 1.4 billion people have received at least one dose while around 20% are fully immunized, according to Our World in Data. Many of those shots have come in just the past couple of months, after the rollout languished in the first half of the year amid vaccine shortages and problems with the system for rolling them out.
The success of the campaign has been credited with driving down coronavirus cases since the devastating months at the start of the year when India was recording hundreds of thousands infections a day, hospitals buckled under the pressure, and crematoriums and graveyards became overwhelmed.
Moscow to shut shops, schools as COVID-19 deaths soar
Authorities in Moscow on Thursday announced plans to shut restaurants, cinemas and non-food stores and introduce other restrictions later this month, as Russia registered the highest daily numbers of new coronavirus infections and deaths since the start of the pandemic.
The government coronavirus task force reported 36,339 new confirmed infections and 1,036 deaths in the past 24 hours. That brought Russia’s death toll to 227,389, by far the highest in Europe.
President Vladimir Putin has voiced consternation about vaccine hesitancy and sought to urge more to come forward for jabs.
Vaccine doubts fuel doctor’s rise in Minnesota governor race
WATERTOWN, Minn. (AP) — The small-town family doctor angling to become Minnesota’s next governor smiled, leaned into the camera and told his Facebook viewers that Sweden had just paused the Moderna vaccine for people under age 30 over “significant concern” about heart inflammation.
Dr. Scott Jensen, clad in a white lab coat, quickly pivoted: “So what happens to military people who are threatened with a dishonorable discharge if they are unwilling to potentially put their heart health at risk?”
The post swiftly racked up thousands of views and favorable comments — evidence of Jensen’s early success in tapping conservative anger at the Democratic strategy of trying to vaccinate, mask and social-distance America out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Messages like the video have been a key part of how Jensen, a former state senator with a reputation as a moderate before the pandemic hit, has emerged as the early frontrunner among Republicans seeking to unseat Democratic Gov. Tim Walz.
Jensen’s video drew a cautionary label from Facebook attesting to the safety of vaccines. Earlier this year, he had been temporarily banned from advertising on the site and was kicked off TikTok for allegedly spreading misinformation, though the social media platforms never said exactly why.
The Minnesota Board of Medical Practice has opened — and dropped — four investigations against Jensen, based on anonymous allegations that he spread misinformation and gave bad advice about COVID-19. Jensen has discussed the cases on social media but declined to release the letters he received from the board, whose investigations are not public unless they result in disciplinary action.
Olympic torch arrives in Beijing under a cloud of protests and COVID fears
The Olympic torch arrived in Beijing on Wednesday, beginning a countdown to a Winter Games being held under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic and calls for a boycott over China’s rights abuses in Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang.
The arrival ceremony, like the official lighting of the Olympic flame in Athens on Monday, unfolded without spectators, one of many concessions to COVID-19 that will severely restrict access to the Games, which begin on Feb. 4.
China, with the “full support” of the International Olympic Committee, is planning to hold the Games with even greater health protocols than those in place during the Summer Olympics in Tokyo this year.
Only vaccinated and screened residents of China will be able to attend as spectators, while athletes, broadcasters, journalists and others working at the Olympic sites will be confined to one of three bubblelike environments for their entire visit. Those not vaccinated face 21-day quarantines upon arrival.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Thanksgiving travel could be extra rough this year. A federal vaccine mandate means that just days before the holiday, the TSA may fire what's looking like a big group of unvaccinated airport screeners.
More Americans will soon be eligible for booster shots. Influential experts are telling the CDC today about who should get boosters of the Moderna and J&J vaccines, after the FDA yesterday signed off on those shots for some Americans. Check our guide to see if you already qualify for a booster or might soon.
Ex-WSU football coach Nick Rolovich was "demonized" and fired "merely for being devout in his Catholic faith," his lawyer said yesterday as he announced Rolovich will sue the university. Their allegations of deceit and wrongdoing come days after the coach failed to comply with a vaccine mandate.
Pfizer's vaccine strongly fights the delta variant in teens, but only about half of them are fully vaccinated in the U.S. The new research comes as federal officials plan to vaccinate younger kids within weeks.
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