Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, September 2, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Most U.S. employers are planning or considering requirements for a COVID-19 shot by the end of the year, according to a new survey released Wednesday.
The survey, conducted by consultant Willis Towers Watson, found that a majority of 961 employers polled nationally — 52 percent — are now planning or weighing options ranging from a strict vaccination order for all employees to limiting access to work spaces to inoculated workers.
Meanwhile, Wednesday kicked off Seattle Public Schools and surrounding districts’ return to full-time, in-person learning since the pandemic started. For some children, this week marks the first time in 17 months they’ve stepped foot on school grounds. Among all schools nationwide, Seattle-area classrooms were some of the first to close, and the last to reopen during the pandemic.
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.
Kim orders tougher virus steps after N. Korea shuns vaccines
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered officials to wage a tougher epidemic prevention campaign in “our style” after he turned down some foreign COVID-19 vaccines offered via the U.N.-backed immunization program.
During a Politburo meeting Thursday, Kim said officials must “bear in mind that tightening epidemic prevention is the task of paramount importance which must not be loosened even a moment,” the official Korean Central News Agency reported Friday.
While stressing the need for material and technical means of virus prevention and increasing health workers’ qualifications, Kim also called for “further rounding off our style epidemic prevention system,” KCNA said.
Kim previously called for North Koreans to brace for prolonged COVID-19 restrictions, indicating the nation’s borders would stay closed despite worsening economic and food conditions. Since the start of the pandemic, North Korea has used tough quarantines and border closures to prevent outbreaks, though its claim to be entirely virus-free is widely doubted.
Florida governor appeals ruling on masks in schools
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has appealed a judge’s ruling that the governor exceeded his authority by ordering school boards not to impose strict mask requirements on students to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
The governor’s lawyers took their case Thursday to the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. DeSantis wants the appeals court to reverse last week’s decision by Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper, which essentially gave Florida’s 67 school boards the power to impose a student mask mandate without parental consent. Cooper’s ruling was automatically stayed by the appeal.
DeSantis, a Republican, said at a news conference earlier this week that he is confident the state will win on appeal by linking the mask mandate order to the Parents Bill of Rights law. That law, the governor said, reserves for parents the authority to oversee their children’s education and health.
Cooper found, however, that the Bill of Rights law exempts government actions that are needed to protect public health and are reasonable and limited in scope — such as masking students to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
United Center requiring proof of vaccination, negative test
CHICAGO (AP) — The United Center in Chicago is requiring people attending events, including Bulls and Blackhawks games, to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.
The policy announced Thursday by the venue takes effect immediately and applies to fans as well as arena and team employees.
The United Center will accept printed or digital proof of vaccination or negative test. That includes a photo of the original vaccine card, negative test or a digital vaccine card through the CLEAR app. Anyone under 12 can provide proof of a negative test.
There will be no testing at the arena.
State health officials confirm 4,393 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 4,393 new coronavirus cases and 32 new deaths on Thursday.
The update brings the state's totals to 571,468 cases and 6,643 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, 31,671 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 565 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 137,039 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,754 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 8,581,209 doses and 55% 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 15,141 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.
US hospitals hit with nurse staffing crisis amid COVID
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a nurse staffing crisis that is forcing many U.S. hospitals to pay top dollar to get the help they need to handle the crush of patients this summer.
The problem, health leaders say, is twofold: Nurses are quitting or retiring, exhausted or demoralized by the crisis. And many are leaving for lucrative temporary jobs with traveling-nurse agencies that can pay $5,000 or more a week.
It’s gotten to the point where doctors are saying, “Maybe I should quit being a doctor and go be a nurse,” said Dr. Phillip Coule, chief medical officer at Georgia’s Augusta University Medical Center, which has on occasion seen 20 to 30 resignations in a week from nurses taking traveling jobs.
“And then we have to pay premium rates to get staff from another state to come to our state,” Coule said.
Tens of billions of dollars in pandemic aid for hospitals and nursing homes sits unused
Tens of billions of dollars designated by Congress to help hospitals, nursing homes and other health-care providers stave off financial hardship from the coronavirus pandemic are sitting unused, because the Biden administration has not released the money.
As many hospitals bulge again with COVID-19 patients, a wide swath of the health-care industry is exasperated that federal health officials have not made available any more of the aid since President Joe Biden took office. About $44 billion from a Provider Relief Fund created last year remains unspent, along with $8.5 billion Congress allotted in March for medical care in rural areas.
With the coronavirus’s delta variant fueling a fourth pandemic surge, health-care institutions, lobbyists and lawmakers have ratcheted up complaints to senior Biden administration health officials, imploring them to decide how the money will be divided and when it will be distributed.
“There’s just no good reason for the administration to be sitting on these funds,” said Mark Parkinson, president and chief executive of the American Health Care Association, a trade group that represents nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. Many are running short on money, he said, because the virus’s heavy concentration in long-term-care centers early in the pandemic is still prompting potential patients and residents to stay away.
King County to require masks at large outdoor gatherings, regardless of COVID vaccination status
Masks will soon be required at all outdoor events in King County with 500 or more people, regardless of vaccination status, the county’s top health official announced Thursday.
The new requirement comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to surge throughout the region, driven by the contagious delta variant, King County health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said in a statement. The order, which applies to everyone age 5 and up, will go into effect next Tuesday.
“We will continue to adapt our response measures to the reality of the evolving COVID-19 outbreak,” Duchin said in the statement. “The Delta variant is more contagious through the air, causes more severe illness in adults, and we have a high level of community transmission in King County and Washington state.”
He added that while outdoor events are much safer than indoor ones, risks still exist when large groups of people are in “close, prolonged contact.”
COVID medical bills are about to get bigger
Americans will most likely pay significantly more for COVID medical care during this new wave of cases — whether that is a routine coronavirus test or a lengthy hospitalization.
Earlier in the pandemic, most major health insurers voluntarily waived costs associated with a COVID treatment. Patients did not have to pay their normal copayments or deductibles for emergency room visits or hospital stays.
Most COVID tests were free, too.
The landscape has since changed, as the pandemic persists into its second year. Federal law still requires insurers to cover testing at no cost to the patient when there is a medical reason for seeking care, such as exposure to the disease or a display of symptoms. But more of the tests sought now do not meet the definition of “medical reason” and are instead for monitoring.
Pandemic is linked with a rise in childhood obesity, study finds
The coronavirus pandemic has been especially tumultuous for children as they hunkered down over the past year and a half, experiencing disrupted schooling, increased social isolation and heightened anxiety at a time when millions of households have been buffeted by upheaval.
The crisis, it turns out, has also been linked to substantial excess weight gain among children and adolescents, according to a recent study published in the medical journal JAMA.
The researchers found a 9% increase in obesity among children ages 5 to 11, with an average weight gain of 5 pounds during the pandemic. Among adolescents, 16- and 17-year-olds gained an average of 2 additional pounds, they found.
The study, which analyzed electronic health records for nearly 200,000 young people in the Kaiser Permanente health network in Southern California, confirms what many Americans have experienced firsthand: The pandemic expanded waistlines.
COVID-19 hospitalizations rise in Alaska as virus spreads
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The number of Alaskans hospitalized with COVID-19 has risen, worrying health care providers who are facing staffing issues and fatigue and wondering when the latest wave of cases might peak.
“I think our hope right now is that we’re going to hit the peak this month. I’m speaking purely from a hope standpoint,” said Jared Kosin, president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association.
He added: “Nobody can figure out when we’re going to hit the ceiling, and that is what makes this so challenging.”
The state reported Wednesday that about 160 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized. A state health official described the level as on par with a previous peak around the end of 2020.
What can employers do if workers avoid COVID-19 vaccines?
What can employers do if workers avoid COVID-19 vaccines?
They can require vaccination and fire employees who don’t comply, or take other actions such as withholding company perks or charging extra for health insurance.
Businesses for months have been encouraging workers to get vaccinated, in some cases offering incentives like time off or gift cards. But more are taking a harder stance and requiring vaccinations for any remaining holdouts, a push that has gained momentum since Pfizer’s vaccine recently received full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Employers “feel like they’ve sort of hit that point where the unvaccinated are not going to do it unless there’s something significant making them do it,” said Wade Symons, a partner with Mercer, a benefits consultant.
Greek health care workers protest compulsory vaccinations
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Hundreds of Greek health care workers, accompanied by ambulances with sirens blaring, marched through central Athens on Thursday to protest regulations mandating coronavirus vaccines for anyone working in their sector.
Under the regulation, which went into effect Wednesday, any health care worker who isn’t vaccinated against COVID-19 or hasn’t recovered from the disease within the last six months will be suspended from work without pay.
About 400 protesters rallied outside the health ministry in the center of the Greek capital, before marching to parliament accompanied by about a dozen ambulances. The protesters say they are not against vaccinations, but object to making them compulsory, and say the measure will lead to staff shortages.
The government counters that the measure — which applies to all health care workers in the private and public sector as well as to workers in care homes for the elderly — is necessary to protect the most vulnerable amid a third surge of COVID-19 infections in the country.
‘Most days I’m really over it’: Restaurants have reopened, but restaurant workers are struggling more than ever
Brandon Medina spends Wednesday through Sunday evenings cooking for Ethan Stowell Restaurants’ rotating pop-ups that started during the pandemic at the former location of gastropub Bramling Cross in Ballard. Medina says he loves his team of three, composed of himself, the chef and the sous chef. And he loves cooking, something he’s dedicated his life to over the last six years.
But recently, his job as a prep and line cook has been wearing him down. Like many other restaurants in the country, he says Stowell’s pop-ups are short-staffed due to a severe labor shortage in the hospitality industry that’s making it extremely difficult to hire cooks, servers and bartenders as restaurants reopen and demand for labor surges.
With people dining out in numbers again in Seattle, Medina says it’s hard to keep up with the orders coming out of the dining room. Business income in Washington’s food service industry was up around 67% in the second quarter of 2021 from the second quarter of 2020, back to just 3% shy of 2019’s second quarter business income for the industry, per the Washington State Department of Commerce.
To make things even busier, one pandemic behavior change that might be here to stay is the continuing popularity of to-go orders. Some days, Medina’s team has 60 to-go preorders before dinner service even starts. And because of widespread supply chain issues that are causing food purveyors to come up short on orders, Medina sometimes doesn’t get the ingredients he needs to prep until after dinner service starts — making for hectic shifts where he’s prepping and cooking at the same time.
“Most days, I’m really over it,” he says. “Every cook I know is overworked. Every cook I know is tired.”
When will the COVID delta surge end?
The United States has entered the fourth wave of the pandemic — or fifth, depending on which expert you ask. As the vaccination campaign lags and the contagious delta variant spreads, cases and hospitalizations are at their highest since last winter. COVID-19 deaths, too, are on a steady incline.
After every other peak has come a trough, however, often for reasons that were not immediately obvious. In Britain, where the variant is also the dominant form of the coronavirus, daily cases fell from a peak of 60,000 in mid-July to half that within two weeks, though they have since been climbing again.
In India, the numbers spiked to more than 400,000 daily cases this spring; experts estimated that the true figure could be more than 20 times greater. The unimaginable toll shocked many who had declared that the country had successfully eluded the virus. But then, in June, infections fell drastically.
Scientists are struggling to understand why delta outbreaks in those countries dissipated, even if temporarily, and what that may mean for similar surges, including the one in the U.S.
Hundreds of parents lined up at a chiropractor’s office after he signed mask-exemption forms for students
A line of people snaked past a tattoo parlor and pet groomer at the powder-blue Twin Palms Plaza strip mall in Venice, Fla., on Monday as parents waited for a chiropractor to sign forms freeing their children from school mask requirements.
“This is not a political thing,” Dan Busch, a chiropractor at Twin Palms Chiropractic, told WFLA on Tuesday. “I am not an anti-mask person or an anti-vax person, but I am a pro-freedom, pro-choice person.”
Busch reportedly signed more than 500 exemption forms before the school district’s superintendent updated the requirements, telling parents on Tuesday that an acceptable exemption could only be approved by a licensed medical doctor, osteopathic physician or nurse practitioner.
School mask requirements have become a flash point of debate across the country, with board meetings erupting into chaos over disputes about the mandates. A superintendent in Texas reported last month that a parent pulled a teacher’s face mask off during a disagreement. And a Florida father was arrested outside his daughter’s school last week after clashing with a student about masks.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
When will the delta surge end? Nationwide, coronavirus cases are at their highest level since last winter, and overflowing hospitals are cramming patients into every available space (like the parking garage above). Scientists are looking at the places where delta outbreaks have dissipated and what their data means for surges like the one we're seeing now.
Businesses and schools that ask for COVID-19 vaccine proof will face a steep fine under a new Florida law.
Religious exemptions are becoming the next battleground as people aim to avoid vaccination. How can you tell if someone is sincere? As states decide in different ways, "people are being taught how to game the system."
Washington state government workers, we'd like to hear from you about the COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
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