Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, September 16, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Debates over whether booster shots will be necessary for the general U.S. public continue, and on Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration posted much of the evidence its advisory panel will consider ahead of its Friday meeting. The agency struck a neutral tone on the rationale for boosters.
One study from researchers in Israel reported some benefits of a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine in preventing infection and severe illness for adults older than 60 for at least 12 days.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that they will add the COVID-19 vaccine to its slew of required vaccines for permanent resident applicants. The measure goes into effect on Oct. 1. and will be included as a part of the routine medical examination for new immigrants.
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.
GOP prosecutors threaten lawsuits over vaccine requirement
Two dozen Republican attorneys general warned the White House on Thursday of impending legal action if a proposed coronavirus vaccine requirement for as many as 100 million Americans goes into effect.
“Your plan is disastrous and counterproductive,” the prosecutors, led by Attorney General Alan Wilson of South Carolina, wrote in a letter sent to President Joe Biden. “If your Administration does not alter its course, the undersigned state Attorneys General will seek every available legal option to hold you accountable and uphold the rule of law.”
The letter is the latest GOP opposition to sweeping new federal vaccine requirements for private-sector employees, health care workers and federal contractors announced by Biden earlier this month. The requirement, to be enacted through a rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is part of an all-out effort to curb the surging COVID-19 delta variant.
The OSHA rule, which covers nearly two-thirds of the private sector workforce, would last six months, after which it must be replaced by a permanent measure. Employers that don’t comply could face penalties of up to $13,600 per violation.
Amazon to restart coronavirus testing program for warehouse workers
Amazon is working to restart a coronavirus testing program for warehouse workers after shuttering its on-site testing facilities earlier this summer, according to a current Amazon employee familiar with the project. The program, code-named Sunrise, relies on Amazon’s take-home coronavirus test kits, the employee said.
An Amazon spokesperson neither confirmed nor disputed the existence of the Sunrise project. The company is “discussing a number of options related to testing,” the spokesperson said in an email, and is “watching governmental guidance closely.”
The new testing program could help Amazon, the nation’s second-largest employer, adhere to the terms of last week’s presidential mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers either require their workers to be vaccinated, or be tested for the virus weekly.
As world leaders gather in New York for U.N. General Assembly, a vaccine mandate creates confusion and dissent
The debate unfolding around the world over coronavirus vaccine mandates is playing out on a small scale at United Nations headquarters ahead of a meeting of dozens of world leaders in New York next week.
New York City officials have requested that heads of state, and the many diplomats traveling with them, show proof that they are fully vaccinated before entering the U.N. hall for the annual opening of the General Assembly, one of the top diplomatic events of the year.
The decision got the backing of the General Assembly’s president, Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid. In a statement released on Wednesday, New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio and International Affairs Commissioner Penny Abeywardena thanked diplomats for working with them on the issue, calling them “true New Yorkers” for helping the city recover.
Not all governments felt the same camaraderie, however. In a letter to colleagues released on Wednesday, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya called the requirements “a clearly discriminatory measure” and said that they were a violation of the U.N. charter.
The news comes amid broader tensions: Experiments with coronavirus mandates in Europe, the United States and elsewhere have created friction as variants spread — and as countries struggle to balance public health restrictions with individual liberties.
Small agency, big job: Biden tasks OSHA with vaccine mandate
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration doesn’t make many headlines. Charged with keeping America’s workplaces safe, it usually busies itself with tasks such as setting and enforcing standards for goggles, hardhats and ladders.
But President Joe Biden this month threw the tiny Labor Department agency into the raging national debate over federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates. The president directed OSHA to write a rule requiring employers with at least 100 workers to force employees to get vaccinated or produce weekly test results showing they are virus free.
The assignment is sure to test an understaffed agency that has struggled to defend its authority in court. And the legal challenges to Biden’s vaccine mandate will be unrelenting: Republican governors and others call it an egregious example of government overreach. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster vowed to fight the mandate “to the gates of hell.’’
“There are going to be some long days and nights for the folks who are drafting this rule,” says labor lawyer Aaron Gelb, a partner in the Chicago office of Conn Maciel Carey. “It’s an interesting time to be an OSHA lawyer for sure.”
Pandemic tie to vision issues seen in Chinese kids’ study
Research suggests vision problems increased among Chinese schoolchildren during pandemic restrictions and online learning, and eye specialists think the same may have happened in U.S. kids.
A report published Thursday in JAMA Ophthalmology is the latest to show the trend and the results echo those of two earlier Chinese studies.
Researchers from Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou compared data from eye exams given a year apart to about 2,000 children, starting in second grade. Half the children were tested twice before the pandemic, in late 2018 and a year later. The others were tested in late 2019 and again late last year, several months after schools shut down and Chinese authorities imposed quarantines and lockdowns.
Initial tests of both groups done before the pandemic showed nearsightedness about the same — about 7% of second graders. It increased in both groups, but went up more in those retested late last year. By third grade, about 20% of them were nearsighted compared with 13% of those tested again before the pandemic.
State health officials confirm 3,230 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 3,230 new coronavirus cases and 55 new deaths on Thursday.
The update brings the state's totals to 616,871 cases and 7,144 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.
The new cases may include up to 540 duplicates, according to DOH.
In addition, 34,629 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 183 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 144,716 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,818 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 8,798,963 doses and 56.3% 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 13,704 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.
King County customers of restaurants, theaters, gyms must show proof of COVID vaccination or negative test
In King County, eating at a restaurant indoors, seeing a movie in a theater or working out at a gym will require proof of a coronavirus vaccination or a negative test beginning next month, county leaders and health officials announced Thursday.
The health order, issued by Public Health – Seattle & King County Dr. Jeff Duchin, goes into effect Oct. 25 — allowing those who aren’t currently vaccinated to complete both rounds of the Pfizer or Moderna shot by that time. The order applies to most restaurants and bars, indoor recreational venues regardless of size, and outdoor events with 500 people or more.
Customers who aren’t vaccinated or don’t have proof will instead need to show results of a negative COVID-19 test taken within the past 72 hours. Children under age 12, who aren’t yet eligible for a vaccine, are exempt.
The health order doesn’t require vaccines for employees at restaurants and other establishments covered under the new policy, but strongly recommends workers get vaccinated.
Study: Childhood obesity in U.S. accelerated during pandemic
A new study ties the COVID-19 pandemic to an “alarming” increase in obesity in U.S. children and teenagers.
Childhood obesity has been increasing for decades, but the new work suggests an acceleration last year — especially in those who already were obese when the pandemic started.
The results signal a “profound increase in weight gain for kids” and are “substantial and alarming,” said one of the study’s authors, Dr. Alyson Goodman of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s also a sign of a vicious cycle. The pandemic appears to be worsening the nation’s longstanding obesity epidemic, and obesity can put people at risk for more severe illness after coronavirus infection.
Parenting a child under 12 in the age of delta: ‘It’s like a fire alarm every day’
Greg Otto conducts risk assessments for a living, but the cybersecurity consultant from Springfield, Va., never imagined he’d have to do one every time his daughter, 6, and son, 4, stepped outside the boundaries of their home. Playing with next-door neighbors outdoors? Acceptable. School? Necessary. Eating out? No way.
Dance classes where everyone’s masked, and that were prepaid in June when the outlook for coronavirus infections seemed more optimistic? On the fence.
“This is insanity,” said Otto, 37.
Parenting a child under 12 can be maddening and scary during normal times, but the delta variant has taken things to a new level.
With a vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 unlikely to be approved for at least a few more months, parents of young children are weighing a dizzying array of variables every day as they try to navigate the risks of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, against the mental health and physical consequences of social isolation and their own livelihood.
China says it has vaccinated 1 billion people
Chinese health officials announced Thursday that more than 1 billion people have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in the world’s most populous country, or about 72% of its 1.4 billion people.
Through Wednesday, 2.16 billion vaccine doses had been administered and 1.01 billion people had been fully vaccinated, National Health Commission spokesperson Mi Feng said at a news conference.
The announcement came as China battles a new outbreak of the delta variant in the southeastern province of Fujian, where 200 cases have been confirmed in the past six days.
Oregon’s 2nd-largest high school pauses in-person classes due to COVID spread
Oregon’s second-largest high school is halting in-person classes because of COVID-19 spread that is requiring large numbers of students to quarantine at home.
Reynolds High School officials said Wednesday night they will not have class for the rest of this week and will revert to distance learning from Sept. 20-24, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. Classes at the Troutdale campus are expected to resume Sept. 27.
The school enrolled over 2,600 students in the last school year. Its closure is by far the largest in Oregon and it comes shortly after districts began welcoming students back amid the pandemic.
Outbreaks strand some students at home with minimal learning
Within his first week back at school after a year and a half, 7-year-old Ben Medlin was exposed to a classmate with COVID-19, and he was sent home, along with 7,000 other students in the district, for 14 days of quarantine.
Not much learning went on in Ben’s home.
On some days last week, the second-grader was given no work by his teachers. On others, he was done by 9:30 a.m., his daily assignments consisting of solving 10 math problems or punctuating four sentences, according to his mother.
“It was very much just thrown together and very, very, very easy work,” Kenan Medlin said.
As coronavirus outbreaks driven by the delta variant lead districts around the U.S. to abruptly shut down or send large numbers of children into quarantine at home, some students are getting minimal schooling.
Despite billions of dollars in federal money at their disposal to prepare for new outbreaks and develop contingency plans, some governors, education departments and local school boards have been caught flat-footed.
COVID-19 kills Moses Lake couple, orphans their 8-year-old after visit to the fair
It started innocently enough, friends and family assume, with an Aug. 18 trip to the Grant County Fair in Central Washington. It was an annual outing for Tom and Josie Burko and her 8-year-old daughter, Lillie, and this time they brought Tom’s 70-year-old mother, who lives with them, too.
The tractor pull. Livestock shows. Dog showmanship. Cloggers. Music.
Tragedy followed. The Burkos and Lillie, all unvaccinated, at some point contracted COVID-19. Lillie quarantined for two weeks with a cough and recovered. Her grandmother, who was vaccinated, contracted a breakthrough infection and also recovered.
But Josie Burko, 39,died Aug. 28 at their Moses Lake home. Tom Burko, 38, was rushed to a local hospital and struggled for 11 days before succumbing Sept. 8.
Suddenly without her parents, Lillie flew out of Portland International Airport on Tuesday night to start a new life with her aunt and uncle in the San Diego area.
Josie Burko’s sister, Lynn Schuler, said she’s still shocked the family decided to go to the fair. They’d been having conversations for the entire pandemic about staying safe and healthy. Schuler had only pieced together the story after talking with the Burkos’ housemate and Lillie and managing to unlock Josie Burko’s phone.
Zimbabwe orders government workers to get COVID vaccinations
Zimbabwe’s government has ordered all its employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or they won’t be allowed to come to work.
The Public Service Commission, which is in charge of employment conditions for government workers, issued an internal notice Wednesday ordering employees to get vaccinated.
“All civil servants should be vaccinated without delay, and unvaccinated members shall not be allowed to report for duty,” said the notice, which has been seen by The Associated Press.
It wasn’t made clear what would happen to employees who refused to be vaccinated, although state-owned newspaper The Herald reported that the government would adopt a policy where unvaccinated workers wouldn’t be paid.
Alberta leader apologizes, imposes restrictions and passport
The leader of the Canadian province of Alberta apologized Wednesday for his handling of the pandemic and says he’s now reluctantly introducing a vaccine passport and imposing a mandatory work from order two months after lifting nearly all restrictions.
Alberta declared a public health state of emergency as Premier Jason Kenney said hospitals may run out of beds and staff in intensive care units within 10 days.
“It is now clear that we were wrong, and for that I apologize,” Kenney said.
Indoor dining at pubs and restaurants is now banned.
Kenney said COVID is hitting Alberta harder than anywhere else in Canada because they have the lowest rate of vaccination in the country.
Idled Thai taxis go green with mini-gardens on car roofs
Taxi fleets in Thailand are giving new meaning to the term “rooftop garden,” as they utilize the roofs of cabs idled by the coronavirus crisis to serve as small vegetable plots.
Workers from two taxi cooperatives assembled the miniature gardens this week using black plastic garbage bags stretched across bamboo frames. On top, they added soil in which a variety of crops, including tomatoes, cucumbers and string beans, were planted.
The Ratchapruk and Bovorn Taxi cooperatives now have just 500 cars left plying Bangkok’s streets, with 2,500 sitting idle at a number of city sites, according to 54-year-old executive Thapakorn Assawalertkul.
Some drivers surrendered their cars and returned to their homes in rural areas when the pandemic first hit last year because they were so scared, he said. More gave up and returned their cars during the second wave.
New Hampshire lawmaker switches parties, joining Democrats because of GOP views on vaccines, masks
A New Hampshire state representative “reluctantly” switched his party affiliation to Democratic on Tuesday, citing state Republicans’ opposition to masks and coronavirus vaccines.
Rep. William Marsh, a former Republican, said party extremists are edging out moderates like him, and that he had planned to quietly retire but felt his hand was forced by what he called Republicans’ refusal to take reasonable health precautions.
“Politics, I’m afraid, is a team sport,” he told The Washington Post. “You’ve got to work with other people, and if nobody’s interested in what you have to say, you might as well go home.”
Marsh’s announcement comes as the nation faces a new rash of COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant. Daily new infection numbers are rising across the country, including in the Granite State, where cases have increased 16% from last week and deaths are up 36%.
Idaho rations health care statewide as COVID surge continues
Idaho public health leaders on Thursday expanded health care rationing statewide amid a massive increase in the number of coronavirus patients requiring hospitalization.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare made the announcement after St. Luke’s Health System, Idaho’s largest hospital network, on Wednesday asked state health leaders to allow “crisis standards of care” because the increase in COVID-19 patients has exhausted the state’s medical resources.
Crisis care standards mean that scarce resources like ICU beds will be allotted to the patients most likely to survive. Other patients will be treated with less effective methods or, in dire cases, given pain relief and other palliative care.
Thursday’s move came a week after Idaho officials started allowing health care rationing at hospitals in northern parts of the state.
“The situation is dire – we don’t have enough resources to adequately treat the patients in our hospitals, whether you are there for COVID-19 or a heart attack or because of a car accident,” Idaho Department of Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said in statement.
He urged people to get vaccinated and wear masks indoors and in crowded outdoor settings.
Putin: Dozens in inner circle infected with coronavirus
Russian President Vladimir Putin says dozens of his staff have been infected with the coronavirus and that he will continue his self-isolation because of the outbreak.
The Kremlin announced earlier this week that he would self-isolate after someone in his inner circle was infected although Putin had tested negative for the virus and he’s fully vaccinated with Russia’s Sputnik V. But Putin said Thursday the infections were extensive.
“Cases of coronavirus have been identified in my immediate environment, and this is not one, not two, but several tens of people. Now we have to observe the self-isolation regime for several days,” he said by video link to a summit of the Russia-led Collective Treaty Security Organization.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that those infected were “mainly those who take part in ensuring the work and activities of the head of state, his security.” None of the cases are severe, he said.
Although Russia was the first country to roll out a coronavirus vaccine, less than 30% of the country is fully vaccinated.
Will the bus driver ever come? Or the substitute teacher or cafeteria worker?
In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker is activating the National Guard to help with the shortage in bus drivers. In North Carolina, legislators are hoping to ease a cafeteria worker shortage by giving districts federal funding to cover signing bonuses for new hires. And some Missouri districts are wiping away some of the requirements to become a substitute teacher to attract more applicants.
Across the country, school districts are desperate to fill jobs. Some are struggling to retain counselors, teachers and principals, but a more urgent need seems to be for employees who have traditionally operated behind the scenes — cafeteria workers, bus drivers and substitute teachers — according to Chip Slaven, interim director for the National School Boards Association.
Many relatively low-paying industries, like restaurants, are facing worker shortages because of the pandemic. But school districts have for years struggled to recruit and retain workers, according to Slaven, because of the low pay, sparse benefits and erratic schedules.
“You really have to look back before the pandemic,” he said. “You’re seeing a problem that was already bad become worse.”
Catch up on the past 24 hours
A glimmer of hope in Washington state: COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations appear to be flattening as vaccinations rise. But unfortunately, the numbers are plateauing at their highest levels yet. The state reported 3,732 new coronavirus cases and 52 new deaths yesterday. Nationwide, the virus has killed one in every 500 Americans. Track its spread on these maps.
Some WSU alumni are "super frustrated and horribly embarrassed" about the silence around football coach Nick Rolovich's vaccination status. As the deadline approaches for state employees to get fully vaccinated, nearly 4,800 of them have requested exemptions. But Rolovich, the state's highest-paid employee, won't say whether he's among them. "That makes me close my checkbook" to WSU, one alum says.
Can kids be harmed by wearing masks? That claim has gone viral, but there's no scientific evidence to back it up. As COVID-19 outbreaks hit many schools — particularly those without mask mandates — experts are explaining what they do and don't know about masks' effects on kids.
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