Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, Sept. 18, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated. Click here to see all the most recent news about the pandemic, and click here to find additional resources.

The state of the pandemic remains dire in hospitals as rationing medical care has become a reality in a few parts of the U.S. On Thursday, Idaho officials announced the state would activate crisis standards of care statewide.

The impacts are being felt by both COVID and non-COVID patients alike. Two hospitals in Spokane County have been postponing elective and nonurgent procedures since August, often citing a shortage in hospital beds.

A government advisory panel consisting of experts outside the Food and Drug Administration rejected a plan on Friday to give Pfizer COVID-19 boosters to the general population. The panel, which provided a nonbinding recommendation, endorsed the extra vaccine does only for those who are 65 or older or run a high risk of severe disease.

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.


Navigating the pandemic
(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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The COVID crisis is now a garbage crisis, too

Across Brazil, recycling plants stopped running for months. In Uganda, a junkyard is short on reusable plastics. And in Indonesia’s capital, disposable gloves and face shields are piling up at a river mouth.

Surging consumption of plastics and packaging during the pandemic has produced mountains of waste. But because fears of COVID-19 have led to work stoppages at recycling facilities, some reusable material has been junked or burned instead.

At the same time, high volumes of personal protective equipment, or PPE, have been misclassified as hazardous, solid-waste experts say. That material often is not allowed into the normal trash, so a lot of it is dumped in burn pits or as litter.

Experts say a problem in both cases is that an early fear — that the coronavirus could spread easily through surfaces — has created a hard-to-shake stigma around handling perfectly safe trash. Many scientists and government agencies have since found that the fear of surface transmission was wildly overblown. But old habits die hard, especially in countries where waste disposal guidelines have not been updated and officials are still preoccupied with fighting fresh outbreaks.

The sight of gloves and masks littering the world would have been unthinkable before the pandemic, said Anne Woolridge, who leads a working group on health care waste for the International Solid Waste Association.

“But because everybody’s saying anything to do with the pandemic is a medical waste, it’s put pressure on the system,” she said.

Read the full story.

—The New York Times
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A TV meteorologist of 33 years declined the vaccine, citing personal freedoms. He was fired

When storms or snow blasted Michigan’s Upper Peninsula over the past three decades, viewers turned to Karl Bohnak as their trusted guide.

Bohnak has been known not just for his steady approach to the forecast but also viral moments and bloopers that helped make the WLUC meteorologist an amiable community mainstay.

But when he refused to get vaccinated against the coronavirus as part of the media company’s mandate for all employees, Bohnak said this week that he was fired after 33 years as the station’s weatherman.

The vaccination mandate at Gray Television, WLUC’s parent company, went into effect Wednesday, according to a copy of the policy obtained by The Washington Post — the same day that Bohnak announced on Facebook that he had been dismissed.

Read the full story.

—The Washington Post

Study suggests children’s eyesight may have worsened in pandemic lockdown

Young students who recently endured a year of pandemic lockdowns may have suffered deteriorating eyesight, according to a study published Thursday in Jama Ophthalmology.

The study, conducted by the Sun Yat-sen University School of Public Health, was based on data from annual eye exams given to more than 2,000 students in a dozen primary schools in Guangzhou, China, from 2018 to 2020.

About 13% of second-grade students who had eye exams in 2018 developed nearsightedness by 2019, according to the study. By comparison, more than 20% of those who had eye exams in 2019 became nearsighted by 2020, a statistically significant difference. Initial tests of both groups showed that about 7% of the students were nearsighted.

The effects on the eyesight of students ages 9 and older appeared to be negligible, the researchers said. The findings suggested that younger children were more susceptible to environmental effects on their vision.

The study did not explore the hours children spent in front of computer screens as part of remote learning, or the time spent reading books — avid young readers may develop nearsightedness as well — so it is not possible to draw conclusions about the effects of screen time on their eyesight.

Read the full story.

—The New York Times

They shunned COVID-19 vaccines but embraced antibody treatment

Lanson Jones did not think that the coronavirus would come for him. An avid tennis player in Houston who had not caught so much as a cold during the pandemic, he had refused a vaccine because he worried that it would spoil his streak of good health.

But contracting COVID-19 shattered his faith in his body’s defenses — so much so that Jones, nose clogged and appetite vanished, began hunting for anything to spare himself a nightmarish illness.

The answer turned out to be monoclonal antibodies, a 1-year-old, laboratory-created drug no less experimental than the vaccine. In a glass-walled enclosure at Houston Methodist Hospital this month, Jones, 65, became one of more than a million patients, including Donald Trump and Joe Rogan, to receive an antibody infusion as the virus has battered the United States.

Vaccine-resistant Americans are turning to the treatment with a zeal that has, at times, mystified their doctors, chasing down lengthy infusions after rejecting vaccines that cost one-hundredth as much. Orders have exploded so quickly this summer — to 168,000 doses per week in late August, up from 27,000 in July — that the Biden administration warned states this week of a dwindling national supply.

Read the full story.

—The New York Times
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Washington teachers take it slow, help kids learn basic social skills during the first weeks of in-person school

In Danielle Woods’ fifth grade classroom at Leschi Elementary School in Seattle, desks aren’t arranged in groups anymore. Woods doesn’t have a shared carpet where students used to sit together, or tables where they used to congregate. 

Students pass a school bus after being dropped off at Rising Star Elementary School on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021.  218246

Now students bring blankets and towels to sit on during their outdoor lunch on the blacktop. A big chunk of the day is spent wiping desks and washing hands. Woods scooches around the edge of the classroom trying to get to all of her students, but with 28 desks all 3 feet apart, “it feels tight,” she said.

It’s been nearly three weeks since Seattle Public Schools and most other districts in Western Washington returned to school buildings, and teachers and students alike are adjusting to a new normal. For many, it marks the first time they have had a full-time, in-person schedule since schools were forced to close in March 2020. 

Teachers like Woods are working to assess where their students are not just academically, but socially. It’s a mixed bag every school year, Woods said, but this year the differences are stark. For example, Woods has students reading from the second-grade level up to an eighth-grade level. 

“I will say, we are taking it slow and slowing down quite a bit because some kids haven’t been in a [school] building for two years, so there are a lot of basic social skills we’re reteaching,” Woods said. 

Read the full story.

—Monica Velez, The Seattle Times

Schools get the brunt of latest COVID wave in South Carolina

In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter. Classes, schools and entire districts have gone virtual, leaving parents frustrated and teachers quitting weeks into the school year.

Since ending South Carolina’s state of emergency on June 7, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster has maintained that parents alone should decide if children wear masks in schools, even as the state’s new cases soared from 150 a day on average to more than 5,000.

“We spiked the football too early. Instead of continuing to listen to medical professionals and interpreting the data, he has been guided by Republican Governors Association talking points,” Democratic state Sen. Marlon Kimpson of Charleston said of McMaster.

The Republican-dominated Legislature added the provision that effectively stopped most school mask mandates despite guidance from their own state health and education officials, who have said the statewide mask ban in schools took away one of their best tools to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Now teachers, students and parents are struggling with the fallout as more young people contract the delta variant, forcing nearly two dozen schools and two entire districts — a number that shifts daily, usually upward — back to online learning within a month of returning in person.

Read the full story.

—The Associated Press

Column: Wondering why society went off-kilter during the pandemic? It was all predicted in this book

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Blaine Woodcock, a critical care nurse, attends a COVID patient at Kootenai Health regional medical center in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on Sept. 6. On Thursday, Sept. 16, health officials activated crisis standards of care across the entire state. (Sgt. Kaden D. Pitt / DVIDS U.S. Army via AP)

When I wrote last week about how northern Idaho was surging with COVID cases, to the point that hospitals had triggered a plan to ration medical care, I got a slew of correspondence from people there saying: No we aren’t.

“We don’t have any outbreaks here,” one insisted. “I know a few people working in Kootenai Health, the largest hospital in the area, and they are not busy at all. They are actually overstaffed in the ER.”

Wrote another: “I am in Coeur d’Alene and serve hundreds of customers and I’ve heard of nobody that’s been hospitalized, or who has even got COVID. I am disgusted at the inaccuracy of your article.”

Said a third: “More fearmongering by the media about our so-called ‘pandemic.’”

I wrote back to these Idahoans, attaching an alert from Kootenai Health itself, the main hospital in their own town, Coeur d’Alene. It’s entitled “Kootenai Health implements crisis standards of care as COVID-19 cases soar.” It details how the hospital is so jammed it converted its conference room into an overflow field clinic for COVID patients.

One of the Idahoans wrote back, not to say he may have misjudged the situation, but to instead accuse the hospital of now being part of my conspiracy: “My initial thought on reading this is the hospital may be falsely reporting to get more COVID funding. I will dig into it.”

Is this normal? More than a year and a half into our pandemic odyssey, I find this ongoing behavior to be the most baffling part of the story — that there remains a group of citizens, not sure how large, who refuse to acknowledge that a major health event is even happening. Or if it is, that it’s a big deal.

But it turns out this denial behavior is not only normal, it was totally foreseeable, according to Steven Taylor, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, B.C.

Taylor would know because he predicted it. He wrote a remarkable little book back in 2019 called “The Psychology of Pandemics.” Its premise is that pandemics are “not simply events in which some harmful microbe ‘goes viral,’” but rather are mass psychological phenomena about the behaviors, attitudes and emotions of people.

Read the full column.

—Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat
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Demand for COVID testing grows in Yakima Valley, rest of the state

Demand for COVID testing has increased in the Yakima Valley and statewide as infection rates have increased.

The community testing site at Yakima Valley College tested an average of 612 people a day from Monday through Friday this week, with the Sunnyside site picking up another 250 people a day. That’s higher than daily testing numbers this summer. When the testing site was at Yakima’s State Fair Park last month, the site averaged about 400 tests a day, site commander Michael Vachon said.

The demand for testing has increased partly because schools are requiring tests for kids who show symptoms of COVID-19, Vachon said. In some cases, kids can’t return without a negative test.

The staff is getting through more tests at the YVC walk-up site, reaching 100 tests in an hour, Vachon said. That compares to about 60 tests an hour at the former drive-thru site.

At YVC, people stand in line where they are registered and get instructions for receiving test results. Once a person reaches the testing trailer, the swab test takes 20-30 seconds, Vachon said.

“We can get more people through faster,” he said.

At worst, wait times can total 20 minutes, Vachon said. The site is outdoors, and people wear masks and stay 6 feet apart.

Read the full story.

—Yakima Herald-Republic

Big gap between Pfizer, Moderna vaccines seen for preventing COVID hospitalizations

Amid persistent concerns that the protection offered by COVID-19 vaccines may be waning, a report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that America’s workhorse shot is significantly less effective at preventing severe cases of disease over the long term than many experts had realized.

Data collected from 18 states between March and August suggest the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reduces the risk of being hospitalized with COVID-19 by 91% in the first four months after receiving the second dose. Beyond 120 days, however, that vaccine efficacy drops to 77%.

Meanwhile, Moderna’s vaccine was 93% effective at reducing the short-term risk of COVID-19 hospitalization and remained 92% effective after 120 days.

Overall, 54% of fully vaccinated Americans have been immunized with the Pfizer shot.

The surprising findings came as a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recommended against offering booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine to all Americans ages 16 and older. In a striking rebuke, 16 of 18 experts told the agency it had not mustered enough data to make a third shot the norm.

In lengthy briefings to the panel, representatives from Pfizer pointed to clinical trial results involving 306 mostly healthy participants to argue that a booster “restores” the 95% vaccine effectiveness rate seen earlier in the pandemic.

Company officials also touted evidence from Israel, which rolled out boosters after seeing a rise in hospitalizations among people who were fully vaccinated. Those hospitalizations dropped dramatically after third doses were given, Israeli scientists have said.

But panel members made clear that the despite Pfizer’s aggressive stance, it had not gathered enough evidence that a third shot was safe for young people and for those at lesser risk of becoming severely ill with COVID-19.

Read the full story.

—The Los Angeles Times

Portland Public Schools gives employees extra time to report whether they’re vaccinated

Portland Public Schools has granted employees an extension of more than six weeks to report their vaccination status, officials said this week.

The district reported in mid-August that it had reached a deal with employee unions to require all employees to submit evidence of their vaccination status by Aug. 31, the day before students would report to campus.

But district spokeswoman Karen Werstein said by email Thursday that district officials still do not know the vaccine status of 12% of their workers, some 900 plus people. And she said the deadline for all workers to inform human resources of their status has been moved to Oct. 18, the same deadline set by the state for employees of all Oregon school districts.

Employees who are not fully vaccinated are supposed to submit to weekly testing in the meantime, Werstein noted. But she did not respond to questions about how many employees have undergone testing nor explain how district officials are enforcing that requirement among employees whose status they don’t know.

The district also did not respond to requests for information concerning the frequency of testing for staff who currently remain unvaccinated.

The district’s mid-August announcement gave parents and the public reassurance that no unvaccinated employees or contractors would be allowed on school campuses or to interact with children unless they submitted to weekly COVID-19 testing.

Read the full story.

—oregonlive.com
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Tourists attack NYC restaurant host over vaccine proof, police say

It began as a simple request that is becoming part of New York’s pandemic routine: A host at a popular Italian restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side asked three would-be customers for proof that they had been vaccinated as required for those seeking to dine indoors.

But the encounter quickly escalated, as the customers, women from Texas, became irate and refused to provide the proof needed to enter the restaurant, Carmine’s, police and a restaurant spokesperson said. The host offered to seat them outdoors, where such proof is not required.

“It just erupted from there,” said Jeffrey Bank, CEO of Alicart Restaurant Group, which owns Carmine’s.

The tourists began to punch the host, who is 24, leaving her bruised and scratched and breaking her necklace. She was evaluated at a hospital and is now resting at home, Bank said.

“It’s obviously upsetting,” he said. “She knows that she didn’t do anything wrong.”

Restaurants across New York City have been grappling with how best to adhere to the new mandate, which requires people to prove they have received at least one dose of a virus vaccine before dining indoors and which began being enforced Monday.

Most of the burden of enforcement has fallen on restaurant employees, particularly front-of-house staff members who are typically the first to engage with customers.

“We’re forced to play these cops,” said Adam Keita, an owner of Daughter, a coffee shop in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. “Our goal is to serve people coffee. Our goal isn’t telling people how to live their lives.”

Read the full story.

—The New York Times

Access, travel rules influence missionary vaccine policies

Missionaries visiting the Philippines return to the U.S. at Salt Lake International Airport in March 2020. Faith groups are taking various approaches to COVID-19 vaccines for missionaries. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gives unvaccinated missionaries assignments in their home countries. The Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board requires the COVID-19 vaccine. (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

COVID-19 vaccine refusal rates may be high among white evangelical Christians, but the International Mission Board — which deploys thousands of missionaries — is not hesitant about the shot.

The global agency of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest evangelical Protestant denomination in the U.S., announced this month it is requiring vaccinations for missionaries they’re sending into the field amid the pandemic.

The IMB may be the first U.S. missionary agency known to have such a mandate, according to leaders in the field, as other faith groups approach the issue in a variety of ways including limiting where people can serve and making considerations for uneven global access to the vaccines.

“This is a very common-sense decision,” said Ed Stetzer, a Southern Baptist who is dean of Mission, Ministry and Leadership at Wheaton College. “Mission-sending agencies from the United States have the real opportunity to be vaccinated, and they’re going to places around the world that don’t.”

The IMB policy applies to both current and future missionaries as well as some staff members. Among the reasons it cited for the measure are health concerns and the fact that increasing numbers of countries are implementing their own vaccine requirements — some field personnel have reported needing to show proof to board airplanes and subways or enter restaurants and malls.

In a statement announcing the policy, IMB leaders acknowledged that it could be a deal-breaker for some people considering missionary work or currently serving with the organization.

Read the full story.

—The Associated Press

Nonprofit started by actor Sean Penn aids Georgia vaccine drive

A disaster relief organization founded by actor Sean Penn is boosting Georgia’s drive to inoculate people against the coronavirus, though some of its pop-up vaccine clinics have struggled to attract people.

CORE has offered COVID shots at hundreds of sites in big and small communities around the state, including schools, farmers’ markets and meat plants. But it has had few takers at some locations — a likely reflection, at least in part, of skepticism about vaccines in Georgia. The percentage of people who are fully vaccinated in the state is well below the national average, and that’s a big factor in Georgia’s nearly three-month surge in COVID infections and hospitalizations.

On a recent weekday, one person came in to get inoculated over six hours at an Atlanta church where CORE was offering the Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines. State health officials say regardless of how many people show up at each site, the group has been a key partner in their mobile vaccination efforts.

“We feel like every opportunity is not wasted if we can get a shot in an arm,” said Chris Rustin, a senior advisor to the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health.

CORE, which stands for Community Organized Relief Effort, is also offering vaccines in Washington, D.C., Oakland, California, New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles and a county in North Carolina. Penn started the organization in 2010 after a catastrophic earthquake claimed tens of thousands of lives in Haiti, and it still works in the country.

Read the full story.

—The Associated Press
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Alaska air base declares public health emergency amid COVID

Military leaders on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson have declared a public health emergency and encouraged all personnel to avoid places that do not require masks or social distancing in response to increasing COVID-19 cases in Alaska, officials said.

“We’ve all seen COVID-19 cases continue to spread rapidly across our nation, the state of Alaska and in our local community,” U.S. Air Force Col. Kirsten Aguilar, 673d Air Base Wing and JBER commander, said in a statement Friday. “After close consultation with JBER mission commanders, I have decided to declare a Public Health Emergency.”

Aguilar said the declaration will remain in effect for 30 days, but could be shortened or extended based on cases and community transmission of COVID-19.

The base has also transitioned to Health Protection Condition Bravo, which means Aguilar will be able to implement additional measures to protect against the spread of the coronavirus.

“If the situation continues to worsen, additional measures to protect the force will be implemented, including restricting access to off-base establishments,” the statement said.

Hospitalizations and COVID-19 cases across the state have increased as a result of the highly contagious delta variant. Alaska on Friday reported more than 1,200 newly confirmed cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins.

Read the full story.

—The Associated Press

Top doctors say not so fast to Biden’s boosters-for-all plan

Just one month ago, President Joe Biden and his health advisers announced big plans to soon deliver a booster shot of the coronavirus vaccine to all Americans. But after campaigning for the White House on a pledge to “follow the science,” Biden found himself uncharacteristically ahead of it with that lofty pronouncement.

Some of nation’s top medical advisers on Friday delivered a stinging rebuke of the idea, in essence telling the White House: not so fast.

Biden’s Aug. 18 announcement that the federal government was preparing to shore up nearly all Americans’ protection had been made with great fanfare. It was meant to calm the nerves of millions of Americans fearful of a new, more transmissible strain of the coronavirus.

“The plan is for every adult to get a booster shot eight months after you got your second shot,” Biden said, noting that his administration would be ready to begin the program on Sept. 20.

Biden added the qualification that third doses would require the signoff of health officials at the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but his public message glossed over the nuance.

“Just remember,” he said, “as a simple rule: Eight months after your second shot, get a booster shot.”

Biden’s plan drew immediate outrage from global health groups that encouraged the United States and other well-off nations to refrain from administering boosters until poorer countries could provide first doses to their most vulnerable citizens.

“Viewed from a global perspective, this is a squandering of a scarce global resource, as a consequence of which people will die,” said Dr. Peter Lurie, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “I feel completely comfortable saying this,” he added, acknowledging that domestic political considerations weigh differently on presidents.

The Biden plan was criticized, too, by medical professionals, who cited a lack of safety data on extra doses and raised doubts about the value of mass boosters, rather than ones targeted to specific groups.

Read the full story.

—The Associated Press

Washington state workers are getting exemptions to avoid the COVID-19 vaccine — but will they keep their jobs?

Washington government agencies are granting hundreds of religious and medical exemptions for state workers who don’t want to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

But so far, agencies like the Washington State Patrol have granted just a handful of accommodations that would allow workers exempted from getting the vaccine to keep their jobs by working in a position or schedule that protects others from potential infection.

Those clashing data points highlight the tensions over Gov. Jay Inslee’s order that state and school employees as well as thousands of health care workers get vaccinated by Oct. 18, or lose their jobs.

At least 8% of state workers subject to the mandate are seeking to avoid vaccination. If those employees left their jobs over the mandate, it could hobble government services, from the ferry systems to the foster-care program.

Read the full story.

—The Seattle Times