Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, September 23, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 United States’ COVID-19 death toll topped 200,000 on Tuesday, a bleak reminder that our country has the highest confirmed death toll from the virus in the world. President Donald Trump continues to insist a vaccine will be ready before the November presidential election.

In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee issued new guidance Tuesday for business meetings, professional development training and similar activities.

Throughout Wednesday, on this page, we’ll post updates on the outbreak and its effects on the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest and the world. Updates from Tuesday are here, and all our coronavirus coverage can be found here.

China to let in more foreigners as virus recedes

BEIJING — Foreigners holding certain types of visas and residence permits will be permitted to return to China starting next week as the threat of coronavirus continues to recede.

The new regulation lifts a months-long blanket suspension covering most foreigners apart from diplomats and those in special circumstances.

Beginning Monday, foreign nationals holding valid Chinese visas and residence permits for work, personal matters and family reunions will be permitted to enter China without needing to apply for new visas, according to the regulation.

Those whose permits have expired can reapply. Returnees must undergo two weeks of quarantine and follow other anti-epidemic measures, the regulation said.

Some exceptions may still be made, with the foreign ministry communicating to some journalists that the regulation may not apply to them. Journalist visas have recently opened up as a new front in the diplomatic confrontation between Washington and Beijing.

The announcement was made jointly by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Immigration Administration on Wednesday.

—Associated Press

‘Are people to be left to die?’ Vaccine pleas fill UN summit

JOHANNESBURG — If the United Nations was created from the ashes of World War II, what will be born from the global crisis of COVID-19?

Many world leaders at this week’s virtual U.N. summit hope it will be a vaccine made available and affordable to all countries, rich and poor. But with the U.S., China and Russia opting out of a collaborative effort to develop and distribute a vaccine, and some rich nations striking deals with pharmaceutical companies to secure millions of potential doses, the U.N. pleas are plentiful but likely in vain.

“Are people to be left to die?” Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, a COVID-19 survivor, said of the uncertain way forward.

More than 150 countries have joined COVAX, in which richer countries agree to buy into potential vaccines and help finance access for poorer ones. But the absence of Washington, Beijing and Moscow means the response to a health crisis unlike any other in the U.N.’s 75 years is short of truly being global. Instead, the three powers have made vague pledges of sharing any vaccine they develop, likely after helping their own citizens first.

This week’s U.N. gathering could serve as a wake-up call, said Gayle Smith, president of the ONE Campaign, a nonprofit fighting preventable disease that’s developing scorecards to measure how the world’s most powerful nations are contributing to vaccine equity.

—Associated Press

Trump calls FDA’s plan for tougher vaccine standards a ‘political move’

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday said a plan by the Food and Drug Administration to issue tough new standards for emergency approval of a coronavirus vaccine “sounds like a political move” and warned that the White House might reject it.

Trump said he had “tremendous trust in these massive companies” developing prospective vaccines and suggested that they, not federal regulators, could best determine when a vaccine should be made available to the American people. “When you have great companies coming up with these vaccines, why would they [the FDA] have to be, you know, adding great length to the process? We want to have people not get sick.”

“I don’t see why it should be delayed further,” he said. “That is a lot of lives you’re talking about.”

His comments raised questions about the integrity of the vaccine approval process on the same day that four top administration health officials, including FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, in a Senate hearing, tried to reassure the public that any vaccine decision would be free of political interference and based strictly on data reviewed by FDA career scientists.

Trump suggested that the vaccine makers were getting good results in their late-stage trials. In fact, the trials have not produced any results — it’s too early. The White House, the FDA and the companies do not know yet whether the vaccines work.

—Associated Press

Push to reopen private schools arrives in federal court

SANTA FE, N.M. — A federal judge on Wednesday weighed whether pandemic-related occupancy limits on private schools in New Mexico violate constitutional rights to equal protection and freedom of assembly, in a case closely watched by the Trump administration.

The lawsuit by the father of a 7th-grader at a prep school in Albuquerque says the state is violating the U.S. Constitution by setting more stringent restrictions at private schools regarding the return to classrooms, as the coronavirus rages unchecked by vaccines. The school in question, Albuquerque Academy, is providing online instruction only — though some private schools have resumed in-person instruction.

A state public health order limits in-person instruction to 25% of maximum room capacity, while the public schools can submit reopening proposals to the state Public Education Department with guidelines for a 50% occupancy limit or allowances for 6-feet of social distancing.

Plaintiff’s attorney Deena Buchanan described the plaintiff’s daughter is a shy middle-school student who is cut off from vital social and academic interaction — while far more people legally assemble in preschools, houses of worship and retail stores.

—Associated Press

As tax collections rebound, Washington state’s projected $9-billion budget shortfall is cut in half

OLYMPIA — Federal stimulus money pumping through parts of Washington’s economy. Loosened business restrictions. A spike in cannabis sales. An improvement in the real-estate market.

Those factors have — at least for now — improved tax collections and slashed by half what had been a projected $8.8 billion state budget shortfall through 2023, according to a state economic forecast released Wednesday.

The state’s projected shortfall is now approximately $4.2 billion through 2023, according to the Washington Economic and Revenue Forecast Council.

If it holds, the improved economic picture means fewer difficult decisions for Washington lawmakers as they write the next state operating budget. That two-year spending blueprint touches every corner of Washington, funding parks, prisons, K-12 schools, and mental-health and foster-care programs.

But a slew of industries — from hotels and restaurants, to construction and air travel — are still having problems, said Stephen Lerch, executive director of the council.

Read the full story here.

—Joseph O'Sullivan

Fauci schools Sen. Rand Paul over New York, herd immunity

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the typically reserved infectious disease expert, put Sen. Rand Paul on blast during a testy congressional hearing Wednesday after the Kentucky Republican trash-talked New York’s coronavirus response.

Paul, who remains skeptical of face masks and social distancing despite contracting COVID-19 in March, posited the dubious argument that New York’s actually done a poor job fighting the virus and that the state’s only seeing low infectious rates at the moment because enough residents have been exposed to it and developed “community immunity.”

“How can we possibly be jumping up and down and saying, ‘Oh, Gov. Cuomo did a great job’ — he had the worst death rate in the world,” Paul said.

The Brooklyn-born doctor wouldn’t have any of Paul’s science-defying criticism of his home state.

“You misconstrued that, senator, and you’ve done that repetitively in the past,” Fauci said.

The doctor explained that New York’s death toll is particularly high because it “got hit very badly” at the outset of the pandemic, when “some mistakes” were made because very little was known about the virus.

Fast-forward to today, New York is seeing infection rates near 1% or lower because guidelines on disinfection, face masks and social distancing are being rigorously followed, Fauci said.

“Or they’ve developed enough community immunity that they’re no longer having the pandemic,” Paul interrupted.

“I challenge that, senator,” Fauci fired back, prompting Paul to try to interject again.

“Please, sir, I would like to be able to do this because this happens with Sen. Rand all the time,” Fauci said.

Read the full story here.

—New York Daily News

Trudeau says Canada is in a second COVID-19 wave

TORONTO (AP) — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday that Canada is in a second wave of COVID-19 and warned the country is on the brink of a fall season that could be much worse than the spring.

Trudeau noted that when Canada went into lockdown March 13 there were 47 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, and that Tuesday alone, Canada had well over 1,000. Many provinces slowly reopened over the summer.

“We can’t change today’s numbers or even tomorrow’s – those were already decided by what we did, or didn’t do, two weeks ago,” Trudeau said in a rare nationally televised address.

“But what we can change is where we are in October, and into the winter. It’s all too likely we won’t be gathering for Thanksgiving, but we still have a shot at Christmas.”

Trudeau urged Canadians to keep wearing masks and to download the government’s COVID-app that lets a person know if they’ve come in close contact with someone who has tested positive.

“Together, we have the power to get this second wave under control,” he said.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Washington confirms 509 new coronavirus cases, 11 deaths

Health officials have confirmed the state has seen 509 new coronavirus cases and 11 additional deaths in Washington.

The update brings the state’s totals to 83,702 infections and 2,081 deaths, meaning that 2.5% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the state Department of Health (DOH). The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.

Health officials also reported that 7,349 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus. In King County, the state’s most populous, state health officials have confirmed 21,650 infections and 759 deaths.

Health officials have confirmed the state has seen 509 new coronavirus cases and 11 additional deaths in Washington since Monday.

The update brings the state’s totals to 83,702 infections and 2,081 deaths, meaning that 2.5% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the state Department of Health (DOH). The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.

Health officials also reported that 7,349 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus. In King County, the state’s most populous, state health officials have confirmed 21,650 infections and 759 deaths.

On Tuesday, DOH said it still was unable to report updated negative tests results. This comes after a data error yesterday, which required the department to retract its Monday update.

—Brendan Kiley

Missouri governor, opponent of mandatory masks, has COVID-19

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican who has steadfastly refused to require residents to wear masks, tested positive for the coronavirus, his office said Wednesday.

Parson was tested after his wife, Teresa, tested positive earlier in the day. Teresa Parson had experienced mild symptoms, including a cough and nasal congestion, spokeswoman Kelli Jones said. She took a rapid test that came back positive and a nasal swab test later confirmed the finding. The governor’s rapid test showed he tested positive and he is still awaiting results from the swab test.

“I want everybody to know that myself and the first lady are both fine,” Parson said in a video posted on his Facebook page.

“Right now I feel fine. No symptoms of any kind,” Parson said in the video. “But right now we just have to take the quarantine procedures in place.”

Gov. Parson postponed several events through the remainder of the week. He and his wife had been traveling around the state this week for events that included a ceremonial bill signing in Cape Girardeau, where a photo posted Tuesday on the governor’s Facebook page showed both of them wearing masks.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

A single-shot coronavirus vaccine from Johnson & Johnson will be tested in 60,000 people

The first coronavirus vaccine that aims to protect people with a single shot has entered the final stages of testing in the United States in an international trial that will recruit up to 60,000 participants.

The experimental vaccine being developed by pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson is the fourth vaccine to enter the large, Phase 3 trials in the United States that will determine whether they are effective and safe. Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer of J&J, predicted that there may be enough data to have results by the end of the year and said the company plans to manufacture 1 billion doses next year.

Three other vaccine candidates have a head start, with U.S. trials that began earlier in the summer, but the vaccine being developed by Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, a division of J&J, has several advantages that could make it logistically easier to administer and distribute if it is proved safe and effective.

The company is initially testing a single dose, whereas the other vaccines being tested in the United States require a return visit and second shot three to four weeks after the first one to trigger a protective immune response. The J&J vaccine can also be stored in liquid form at refrigerator temperatures for three months, whereas two of the front-runner candidates must be frozen or kept at ultracold temperatures for long-term storage.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

70% of imported KN95 masks (not the N95) fail U.S. filtration standards, study finds

Up to 70% of KN95 masks do not meet the U.S. standards for effectiveness, according to a new study by ECRI, a Pennsylvania-based patient safety organization.

The findings suggest an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 for health care workers and patients at hospitals that imported the masks from China to deal with massive shortages of protective equipment during the early days of the pandemic. (N95 masks meet the U.S. standards for effectiveness.)

Public health experts have already criticized KN95 masks for featuring ear loops instead of straps that go around the head and neck. This feature prevents the mask from sealing effectively against the wearer’s face, experts say.

ECRI researchers looked at nearly 200 KN95 masks from 15 manufacturers, including models purchased by some of the country’s largest health care systems, and found that 60% to 70% of the imported masks do not filter 95% of aerosol particles. They tested the masks by attaching them to a machine, which then blew particles at the mask. Researchers then counted the particles that were found on the inner portion of the mask. The study was published Tuesday.

Read the full story here.

—The Philadelphia Inquirer

Photos from Sept. 23: Push-ups for violating mask rules, a Sherpa is buried in Nepal, tourists visit Paris as virus continues its path

—Courtney Riffkin

Genetic study shows coronavirus mutating amid rapid U.S. spread

Scientists in Houston on Wednesday released a study of more than 5,000 genetic sequences of the coronavirus, which reveals the virus’s continual accumulation of mutations, one of which may have made it more contagious.

That mutation is associated with a higher viral load among patients upon initial diagnosis, the researchers found.

The new report did not find that these mutations made the virus deadlier, but that it became more transmissible, which could have implications for the formulation of vaccines.

The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, was posted Wednesday on the preprint server MedRxiv.

Read the story here.

—The Washington Post

Another spate of COVID-19 cases on UW's Greek Row

Another 13 students connected to the University of Washington's Greek Row have tested positive for the coronavirus, the university reported Tuesday.

Public Health — Seattle & King County and the university are addressing the cases among members of fraternity and sorority houses near the Seattle campus, the university said.

Over the summer, more than 150 in 15 fraternity houses tested positive for COVID-19, the student newspaper reported.

Interfraternity Council President Erik Johnson told The Daily the most recent cases are considered isolated because they all arose in one chapter's house and its live-out facilities.

The Daily reported that the outbreak appears to be spreading more slowly than the one in the summer when it raced from 38 cases on June 30 to 151 across 15 houses within a week.

—Christine Clarridge

Thanks? Putin offers new coronavirus vaccine to U.N. staffers for free

What do you do when Vladimir Putin offers you Russia’s new coronavirus vaccine, for free?

United Nations staff in New York and around the world are now facing that choice, after the Russian president offered Tuesday to provide them the Sputnik-V vaccine in a speech to this year’s General Assembly marking the body’s 75th birthday.

Only results from small early studies on the Russian vaccine have been published, raising concerns among some scientists that the vaccine isn’t ready yet for widespread use. The offer from Putin sparked a new round on social media of last month's memes about Putin, the vaccine and potential bizarre side effects.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Madrid needs military help, more doctors to fight virus wave

Authorities in Madrid want to hire more doctors and get urgent help from Spain’s military and police to fight a second wave of coronavirus infections that might force them into expanding restrictions on free movement that are controversial.

The Spanish capital needs Spain’s central government to relax regulations so it can hire 300 additional doctors from outside the European Union, regional vice-president Ignacio Aguado said Wednesday.

Madrid also wants central authorities to erect military tents as makeshift facilities to host virus testing, wants soldiers to disinfect public buildings and wants 222 national police deployed by Monday to help enforce quarantines and restrictions in hard-hit areas.

Madrid has seen rate of 772 infections per 100,000 inhabitants in 14 days, nearly three times the national average of 287. In contrast, the European average last week was 76 cases per 100,000 people over 14 days.

“The situation is not going well, neither in Spain nor in Madrid,” Aguado told a news conference.

Read the story here.

—Aritz Parra, The Associated Press

France’s defense chief misled nation on troops’ virus safety

France’s defense minister has admitted to misleading the nation about virus protections for air force personnel who evacuated French citizens from the hard-hit Chinese city of Wuhan and have been suspected of links to France’s first confirmed COVID-19 cluster.

The revelation Tuesday by Defense Minister Florence Parly to a Senate investigating committee is a further blow to the credibility of French President Emmanuel Macron’s government as it battles rebounding infections.

New restrictions on gatherings were expected Wednesday as the numbers of virus cases and hospitalizations mount.

With over 31,400 confirmed virus-related deaths, France has the third-highest death toll in Europe after Britain and Italy. France is now reporting about 10,000 new infections a day.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

NIH officer retires ahead of report on his spreading virus misinformation

It would have been a dangerous assertion in the middle of a deadly pandemic no matter where it came from: that wearing masks has “little to no medical value” and could do more “harm” than wearing no mask at all.

But it was especially remarkable given the source. Published on the right-wing website RedState, it turned out to have been written under a pseudonym by William B. Crews, a public-affairs officer at the National Institutes of Health, promoting the same type of discredited information about dealing with the virus that his employer was working aggressively to beat back.

Crews abruptly retired from the NIH as The Daily Beast prepared to expose his clandestine role as purveyor of misinformation.

But by that point, writing for RedState under the name Streiff, Crews had published a slew of incorrect claims about this virus this year, some even directly attacking his boss, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Read the story here.

—Zach Montague, The New York Times

UK government defends new virus strategy; experts skeptical

LONDON — The British government on Wednesday defended its strategy for combating a second wave of COVID-19 cases amid criticism that its new slate of restrictions will not be enough to stop an exponential spread of the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled the new rules — including a 10 p.m. curfew on bars and restaurants, increased use of face masks and once again encouraging people to work from home — in a televised address on Tuesday night.

Many health experts said they did not think the government’s plan would be sufficient to stop the rapid rise in new COVID-19 infections.

Read the full story here.

—Danica Kirka / The Associated Press

Telling COVID’s story: At UN, leaders spin virus storylines

The subject: coronavirus. The status: urgent. The solutions: as diverse as the nations they lead.

With the 75th annual U.N. General Assembly reduced to recorded speeches because of the pandemic, leaders are using this week as an opportunity to depict the pandemic from the vantage points of their nations and themselves — and present their visions of efforts to fight the virus and advocate what they believe must be done.

Here's a smattering of myriad ideas from speeches on Tuesday, the first day of the general debate.

—Peter Prengaman / The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

The first coronavirus vaccine that aims to protect people with a single shot has entered the final stages of testing in the U.S., in a trial that will recruit up to 60,000 participants. And although adults may be able to get a vaccine by next summer, kids will have to wait — perhaps far longer.

The United States' COVID-19 death toll has topped 200,000. That's nearly half the number of Americans killed in World War II, and by far the highest toll in the world. A widely cited UW model predicts it will double by the end of the year. Behind every number is the story of a human life whose loss is felt by countless other people. Our Lives Remembered series tells some of those stories.

(Design by Frank Mina / The Seattle Times)
Meet some of the people Washington state has lost to COVID-19

The Pentagon used taxpayer money meant for masks and swabs to make jet-engine parts and body armor instead.

Social gatherings are getting trickier as cooler, wetter weather pushes us inside. One solution: pandemic pods, also known as quarantine bubbles. Epidemiologists offer advice on how to create them and set the ground rules.

Is Halloween canceled? Not exactly, but it’s never been scarier for parents. Know the CDC's guidelines on safe ways to have fun, along with these practical do’s and don’ts.

Look up! Coronavirus test kits may drop from the sky as Walmart tests the use of drones to deliver to customers' homes.

Local Jews are marking the ancient High Holidays with the help of technology, which has forced some spiritual adjustments.

—Kris Higginson

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