Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, September 25, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 U.S. launched their effort to offer boosters of Pfizer’s vaccine to Americans as health officials emphasized that the unvaccinated Americans is still primary issue.
“We will not boost our way out of this pandemic,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A group of public health experts advising Western states’ governors agreed with the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions recommendations to give booster shots to people 65 and older, those living in long-term care facilities and people 50 to 64 years old with underlying medical conditions.
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.
A Caribbean island’s audacious pandemic tourism experiment
Every day at noon, a melodic chime reverberates across the Caribbean island of Montserrat. For nearly two months, Krystal Bajkor, a visitor from North Carolina, assumed it was a clock marking time.
“I thought it was just an adorable feature of the small island,” said Bajkor, a former financial analyst who is currently writing a children’s book.
Then in June, her husband, a management consultant, learned that the pleasant-sounding “clock” was, in fact, a daily test of the volcano warning system. The Soufriere Hills volcano, which buried large swaths of the island in rocks and ash in the late 1990s, continues to be active, producing a cloud of hot gas, which appears to hover over its crater.
The meaning of the chime is one of those things that Bajkor might have missed had she been a typical tourist. Before the pandemic, most visitors to Montserrat floated in for maybe a day, anchoring their sailboats in the port or scurrying off the ferry for a hike before returning to nearby Antigua for the night.
Now in order for a tourist to even set foot on Montserrat’s black sand beaches, she must pass a rigorous background check and make at least $70,000 a year. Until recently, she also had to commit to sticking around for at least two months. In exchange, visitors get almost exclusive access not only to beaches, but also an alternate reality, roughly the size of Manhattan, where the coronavirus does not seem to exist.
Read the full story here.
Restaurant hosts are suddenly at the front of the COVID wars
Caroline Young was thrilled to be hired two years ago as a host at Café Poêtes in Houston. She was pursuing an undergraduate degree in hospitality, so she thought the experience in fine dining would be invaluable. She wanted to be the first person to greet arriving diners.
Initially, she said, most guests seemed glad to see her. Since the pandemic, not so much.
“I have been screamed at. I have had fingers in my face. I have been called names. I have had something thrown at me,” she said. One customer hurled a water glass at her feet and stormed out after she repeatedly asked him to put on a mask. “I have never been yelled at like that before in my life, until I was asking people to simply put a piece of cloth over their face that I was wearing eight to 10 hours a day.”
Read the full story here.
Idaho morgues are running out of space for bodies as COVID-19 deaths mount
Dave Salove has watched his morgue fill with bodies. COVID-19 victims have poured into the funeral home he runs in Boise, Idaho, in recent weeks, as the state contends with an unprecedented spike in deaths driven by the delta variant of the coronavirus. His 16-slot refrigeration room is over capacity. Other funeral homes have neared a tipping point, too.
Intent on avoiding the makeshift morgues that cropped up in the Northeast during the pandemic’s first wave, Salove this week brought in a refrigerated trailer to hold the growing number of dead. By Friday, there were seven corpses inside, up from two the day before. Six more were on their way from another facility.
“I’d barely gotten it installed, and we had to start using it,” Salove said. “Right now, we are seeing that spike.”
As COVID-19 deaths reach record highs in the state of 1.8 million, hard-hit areas are struggling to keep pace with the surge in victims. Some hospitals, funeral homes and coroners say they’ve been pushed to the limit. Some morticians have even started embalming bodies that wouldn’t normally need the procedure so they don’t have to refrigerate them, The Idaho Statesman reported.
11 more restaurant closures in the Seattle area, including a couple of longtime-beloved spots
The roll call of restaurants and bars we’ve lost is getting longer due mostly to the pandemic. Many bistro and bar owners cited drops in neighborhood foot traffic, the continued office closures, the labor shortage and the high cost of food due to a breakdown in the supply chain as reasons they’ve closed shop.
But first some good news — or at least what qualifies as such in these trying times: After social media lost its mind over rumors of Beth’s Cafe’s demise, management from that brunch haunt posted on Facebook that the closure is only temporary and that the Green Lake cafe hopes to “be back in [three to six] months — or whenever COVID is more under control.” Management noted that it “couldn’t get enough business to make it financially viable. … We think a lot of this has to do with COVID and the fact that a lot of people didn’t know we’d reopened from our previous close due to COVID.”
Two other beloved drinking dens we thought already had their last calls, Good Bar in Pioneer Square and The College Inn Pub in the University District, have also found second lives. Seth Howard, Al Donohue and Jen Gonyer purchased the subterranean dive by the University of Washington and upgraded the drink list with hoppy ales from Cloudburst Brewing, which was just crowned “The Brewery and Brewer of the Year” by the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. But fear not, students, The College Inn Pub still carries Pabst Blue Ribbon on draft. “The only menu item that has not returned is the bagel dog — partly due to sourcing issues and partly due to our desire to take the microwave out of the kitchen and shove it in a closet,” said new owner Howard, who also runs Collins Pub downtown.
Federal judge deals blow to vaccine mandate for NYC teachers
New York City schools have been temporarily blocked from enforcing a vaccine mandate for its teachers and other workers by a federal appeals judge just days before it was to take effect.
The worker mandate for the nation’s largest school system was set to go into effect Monday. But late Friday, a judge for the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a temporary injunction and referred the case to a three-judge panel on an expedited basis.
Department of Education spokesperson Danielle Filson said officials seeking a speedy resolution by the circuit court next week.
“We’re confident our vaccine mandate will continue to be upheld once all the facts have been presented, because that is the level of protection our students and staff deserve,” Filson said in an email.
After holiday, South Korea posts record for COVID cases
South Korea reported its highest number of new coronavirus infections for a single day Friday, soon after a long holiday weekend.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 2,434 new infections, surpassing the previous record of 2,221 infections set last month.
At a briefing Friday, health officials said the spike was partly because of the Chuseok holiday, when many people traveled across the country and spent time with friends and family. The government is encouraging people to get tested following the holiday.
Chuseok is roughly equivalent to Thanksgiving in the United States, and was observed from Monday through Wednesday. The Korea Transport Institute estimated that over 32 million people would travel over the holiday.
Alaska’s hospitals struggle amid a worsening outbreak
Alaska, once a leader in vaccinating its citizens, is now in the throes of its worst coronavirus surge of the pandemic, as the delta variant rips through the state, swamping hospitals with patients.
As of Thursday, the state was averaging 125 new cases a day for every 100,000 people, more than any other state in the nation, according to recent data trends collected by The New York Times. That figure has shot up by 46% in the last two weeks, and by more than twentyfold since early July.
On Wednesday, the state said it had activated “crisis standards of care,” giving hospitals legal protections for triage decisions that force them to give some patients substandard care. The state also announced an $87 million contract to bring in hundreds of temporary health care workers.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican, said that while hospitals were strained, he did not see a need to implement restrictions aimed at curbing transmission. Still, he encouraged people who had not yet received a vaccination to seriously consider it.
Pandemic creates troubling cycle of decline of physical activity and mental health, study says
Exercise — known to help lift moods and counter symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety — could help.
But it can be hard to get moving.
A study in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports lays the blame not on laziness or lack of motivation, but on a cycle created and perpetuated by the pandemic.
Hope collides with doubt, while COVID deaths soar, in the E.U.’s least-vaccinated country
Tucked away at the edge of a Sunday market in this rural village 100 miles north of the capital, a small team of health-care workers was trying to defy the odds.
They knew that most people in the area were skeptical of coronavirus vaccines – and some are outright hostile – but the doctor, nurses and their driver showed up for patients like Denislav Iliev.
“I realized that COVID is an actual problem, and I wanted to get protected in some way,” said Iliev, an 18-year-old who is starting college this fall. “I wanted to do my part in it.”
On that day, the government-sponsored mobile vaccination unit immunized about 15 people at the market, a local hub where vendors sell still-flopping fish, fresh produce and secondhand clothing. After about four hours, the crew moved on to the other villages on its route, hoping to administer another couple dozen doses.
It’s a painfully slow process – especially in the European Union’s least-vaccinated country.
Changes in booster shot guidance leads to confusion, chaos for doctors and the vaccinated
Even in Idaho, which has one of the lowest coronavirus vaccination rates in the country, clinics have been gearing up for an onslaught of calls and emails requesting booster shots.
Administrators at the Primary Health Medical Group updated their website Thursday and then set about redoing it Friday, when government eligibility recommendations for boosters suddenly changed to include workers in high-risk jobs. Even then, the clinic’s CEO had to figure out which occupations that meant.
“Who’s at high risk? I had to look it up. Is it firemen? I don’t know,” said David Peterman. “This is so confusing to the public and creates mistrust. And we can’t have that right now. Right now, we need the public to say, ‘let’s get vaccinated.’ And for those that need boosters, we need to say, ‘that this is safe, and this is what we need to do.'”
Confusion over boosters, which has been brewing for months, heightened over the past week as government regulators and advisers met to hash out the pros and cons of doling out third doses.
Pitch your idea for improving public education to The Seattle Times Student Voices project
Are you a high school- or college-age youth with an idea for changing the public education system? Are you looking for a way to introduce your ideas to a wider audience?
The Seattle Times Student Voices project is launching into its sixth year, and we are looking for youth to write essays about how schools can do a better job of serving students. We’ll work with you to polish your essay, then publish it in The Seattle Times this school year.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, experts, educators and students alike have said that schools cannot go back to “normal.” Business as usual, so to speak, is not helping all students succeed and access the resources they need. We want to know what you think.
Maybe you want schools to have more mental health counselors or a more multicultural faculty. Maybe you want to talk about sex ed or graduation requirements. Maybe you want to spotlight an educator or program that’s helping to make things right.
This cruise ship had an infamous coronavirus outbreak. Now, it’s set to sail again
The cruise ship that stranded thousands of passengers for days off the California coast in one of the nation’s first cruise ship coronavirus outbreaks returns to sea Saturday for the first time in 18 months.
The Grand Princess will depart from the Port of Los Angeles for a five-day cruise to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, part of a phased effort by the nation’s cruise companies to relaunch the badly battered $150-billion industry after a historic shutdown.
Among the changes enabling its launch: only vaccinated passengers and staff are allowed onboard, masks are mandatory in common areas, and many cabins will have new air-filtering technology.
“Given what happened last year, it’s very important for [the cruise company] that the passengers and crew are safe,” said Lara Handler, who is taking the cruise Saturday with her husband, Blake, to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. Before the pandemic, the couple booked cruises almost once a year.
Third judge blocks Tennessee governor’s mask opt out in schools
A third federal judge has blocked Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s order allowing families to opt out of school mask mandates.
The decision, handed down by U.S. District Judge Waverly Crenshaw late Friday, is the latest development in the ongoing legal battle over Lee’s order launched by parents and advocates alarmed over the spike in coronavirus cases in Tennessee’s schools.
Lee issued the order in August after a handful of Republican lawmakers demanded the governor call a special session so the GOP-dominant General Assembly could halt mask mandates in schools and other COVID-19 safety measures. Many students have been attending classes without masks ever since as pediatric hospitalizations reached record highs.
Crenshaw’s order only applies to Williamson County, an affluent region just south of Nashville. Earlier that day, a separate judge halted Lee’s executive order in Knox County. A week prior, another judge indefinitely banned Lee’s order after families argued the governor’s executive order endangered their children.
Israel says US booster plan supports its own aggressive push
Israel is pressing ahead with its aggressive campaign of offering coronavirus boosters to almost anyone over 12 and says its approach was further vindicated by a U.S. decision to give the shots to older patients or those at higher risk.
Israeli officials credit the booster shot, which has already been delivered to about a third of the population, with helping suppress the country’s latest wave of COVID-19 infections. They say the differing approaches are based on the same realization that the booster is the right way to go, and expect the U.S. and other countries to expand their campaigns in the coming months.
“The decision reinforced our results that the third dose is safe,” said Dr. Nadav Davidovitch, head of the school of public health at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University and chairman of the country’s association of public health physicians. “The main question now is of prioritization.”
The World Health Organization has called for a moratorium on boosters until at least the end of the year so that more people in poor countries can get their first two doses, but Israeli officials say the booster shot is just as important in preventing infections.
South Africa’s vaccine train takes doses to poor areas
When Wongalwethu Mbanjwa tried to get a COVID-19 vaccination and found his local center closed, a friend told him there was another option: Get one on the train.
So Mbanjwa did.
Not any train, but South Africa’s vaccine train — which has now made its way to the small town of Swartkops on the country’s south coast. Carrying doctors, nurses and, crucially, vaccine doses, it has a mission to bring vaccines closer to people in small towns and poorer parts of South Africa, which has the continent’s highest number of coronavirus infections at more than 2.8 million.
The train is parked at the Swartkops rail station, the first stop on a three-month journey through the poor Eastern Cape province. It will stay for about two weeks at a time at seven stations in the province to vaccinate as many people as possible.
COVID-19 vaccine boosters could mean billions for drugmakers
Billions more in profits are at stake for some vaccine makers as the U.S. moves toward dispensing COVID-19 booster shots to shore up Americans’ protection against the virus.
How much the manufacturers stand to gain depends on how big the rollout proves to be.
The Biden administration last month announced plans to give boosters to nearly everybody. But U.S. regulators have rejected the across-the-board approach and instead said third shots of Pfizer’s vaccine should go to people who are 65 and older and certain others at high risk from COVID-19.
Still, the crisis is constantly evolving, and some top U.S. health officials expect boosters will be more broadly authorized in the coming weeks or months. And that, plus continued growth in initial vaccinations, could mean a huge gain in sales and profits for Pfizer and Moderna in particular.
This says it all: Congressman proposes ‘Masks Off Act’ for schools as 29% of COVID cases in his area are in schoolchildren
Last week when I featured the psychologist who had predicted we humans would veer off-kilter in a pandemic, he said the one thing he hadn’t foreseen is how much the public health effort would get bizarrely undermined from the top down.
This stubborn failure of political leadership continues today. There was another glaring example of it this past week in the Tri-Cities region.
I keep focusing on the Tri-Cities, in Central Washington, because it has been a hot spot for coronavirus as well as for political psychodrama. On cue, the congressman there, Rep. Dan Newhouse, has picked the peak of a local surge to plunge into the pandemic culture wars by co-sponsoring a new bill called the “Masks Off Act.”
The bill is like a totem for our time. Introduced as schools have been struggling to get back to full-time in-person learning, it seeks not to bolster the overall public health effort, but to reward parents, in taxpayer dollars, who are fleeing from it.
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