Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Tuesday, September 28, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Seattle and King County will reopen government-led vaccination clinics to help provide booster shots for those who are newly eligible, officials announced Monday. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a vaccine booster shot for anyone 65 years or older who received the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago.
More than two-thirds of Washington workers subject to Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate have gotten their shots, according to state data. The figures released by the Office of Financial Management come a week before a crucial deadline for Inslee’s mandate that state workers get their shots or lose their jobs.
While COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to drop in Washington, state hospital leaders said they’re wary of feeling too optimistic because of so much uncertainty about what the pandemic — and flu season — will bring this winter.
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.
Washington’s moratorium on utility shut-offs is ending. Here are assistance programs
With Washington state’s ban on disconnecting utilities set to lift Thursday, officials are urging customers with overdue water and energy bills to seek assistance.
Gov. Jay Inslee ordered the ban on utility shut-offs due to nonpayment in April 2020, citing the coronavirus public health emergency, and extended the temporary moratorium in July.
The expiration is expected to affect an estimated 283,223 customers with overdue bills, according to Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission spokesperson Emilie Brown.
According to Brown, energy utilities reported $81.5 million in overdue bills as of July, an increase from the $64.9 million reported in January.
It’s not too late for people to apply for assistance funds or set up a payment plan to avoid disconnection, Washington UTC said in a statement Tuesday.
COVID misinformation, rampant in Idaho, fuels animosity toward health care workers
BOISE, Idaho — A constant barrage of misinformation has Idaho health care workers facing increased animosity from some patients and community members, officials say. It’s gotten so bad in northern Idaho that some Kootenai Health employees are scared to go to the grocery store if they haven’t changed out of their scrubs, said hospital spokeswoman Caiti Bobbitt on Tuesday.
“We’ve had patient deaths where the family is like, ‘You killed my daughter, COVID isn’t real,'” Bobbitt said. “Some are spreading rumors that have been hurtful against our staff. Our health care workers are almost feeling like Vietnam veterans, scared to go into the community after a shift. It’s a hard time to be a health care worker.”
Similar instances are happening across the state, said Brian Whitlock, president of the Idaho Hospital Association.
“We’ve had reports of And those become very difficult conversations to have as the patient continues to decompensate,” Whitlock said. “We’re not frustrated with the misinformed. We’re frustrated with those who propagate the misinformation because it’s costing people their lives.”
Misinformation remains rampant in Idaho. Some far-right state lawmakers, political organizations and local leaders — including a pathologist who was recently appointed to the public health board for the state’s most populated region — have been dismissive of COVID-19 vaccines, pushed the use of an anti-parasitic drug to treat coronavirus despite potentially harmful side effects and little evidence it helps, and wrongly claimed that coronavirus case numbers are being inflated.
Red COVID: In U.S., the coronavirus’ partisan pattern is growing more extreme
COVID’s partisan pattern is growing more extreme.
During the early months of COVID-19 vaccinations, several major demographic groups lagged in receiving shots, including Black Americans, Latino Americans and Republican voters.
More recently, the racial gaps — while still existing — have narrowed. The partisan gap, however, continues to be enormous. A Pew Research Center poll last month found that 86% of Democratic voters had received at least one shot, compared with 60% of Republican voters.
The political divide over vaccinations is so large that almost every reliably blue state now has a higher vaccination rate than almost every reliably red state.
CDC decision coming on ‘mix and match’ COVID vaccine boosters, director says
WASHINGTON — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will decide whether to recommend that people “mix and match” their initial COVID-19 vaccine with booster shots from a different manufacturer in late October, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Tuesday.
The National Institutes of Health has been conducting studies on every combination of coronavirus vaccines to test the safety and effectiveness of the pairings.
The CDC currently recommends that people eligible for boosters use the same vaccine they received for their initial doses.
But the new studies may conclude that it is safe, or even preferable, for people to mix and match their first doses of Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccine with another product as their booster shot.
“NIH is running the mix and match studies, and they’re doing all nine combinations — of three of what you got with your first dose, and three of what’s possible with the second dose,” Walensky said in an interview with McClatchy. “Those will be available later in October. And once we see those data, then we will have decisions about who should be getting mixes and matches.”
Study reports mild side effects for third vaccine doses
Americans who received a third dose of a coronavirus vaccine in recent weeks reported side effects at roughly the same rates as they had after their second shots, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday, a reassuring sign about the safety of additional doses.
At the time of the CDC study, which stretched from mid-August to mid-September, additional vaccine doses were only authorized for people with compromised immune systems who had gotten two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine. Last week, though, federal regulators authorized Pfizer booster shots for broad swaths of the general population, making the safety of the additional doses an issue of intense interest for health officials, doctors and ordinary Americans.
Low vaccine rate highlights Wyoming conservative streak
GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) — As her beloved grandmother’s health declined, Lauren Pfenning’s family insisted that she get a COVID-19 vaccine before paying her a final visit.
She spent over a week researching vaccines on the internet and anguished over the decision during and after 12-hour shifts at her job hauling coal in an open-pit mine near Gillette, Wyoming. Her grandmother died earlier this month before she made a decision, but Pfenning stands by her choice to not get vaccinated.
Pfenning embodies the fiercely independent, deeply conservative Wyoming way of life that has defined the state’s response to the pandemic and made it the second-least vaccinated state as of Tuesday, behind only West Virginia. Only 23% of residents in her county have been vaccinated, putting it among the bottom handful of places in America that have not cracked 25% with their COVID-19 immunization rates.
State health officials confirm 2,724 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 2,724 new coronavirus cases and 63 new deaths on Tuesday.
The update brings the state's totals to 652,011 cases and 7,591 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. Monday. Tallies may be higher earlier in the week because new state data isn’t reported on the weekends.
In addition, 36,388 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 175 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 150,206 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,856 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 8,983,222 doses and 57.5% 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 14,733 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.
Facebook groups promoting Ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment continue to flourish
Facebook has become more aggressive at enforcing its coronavirus misinformation policies in the past year. But the platform remains a popular destination for people discussing how to acquire and use ivermectin, a drug typically used to treat parasitic worms, even though the Food and Drug Administration has warned people against taking it to treat COVID-19.
Facebook has taken down a handful of the groups dedicated to these discussions. But dozens more remain up, according to recent research. In some of those groups, members discuss strategies to evade the social network’s rules.
Media Matters for America, a liberal watchdog group, found 60 public and private Facebook groups dedicated to ivermectin discussion, with tens of thousands of members in total. After the organization flagged the groups to Facebook, 25 of them closed down. The remaining groups, which were reviewed by The New York Times, had nearly 70,000 members. Data from CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned social network analytics tool, showed that the groups generate thousands of interactions daily.
‘The Big Delete:’ Inside Facebook’s crackdown in Germany
Days before Germany’s federal elections, Facebook took what it called an unprecedented step: the removal of a series of accounts that worked together to spread COVID-19 misinformation and encourage violent responses to COVID restrictions.
The crackdown, announced Sept. 16, was the first use of Facebook’s new “coordinated social harm” policy aimed at stopping not state-sponsored disinformation campaigns but otherwise typical users who have mounted an increasingly sophisticated effort to sidestep rules on hate speech or misinformation.
In the case of the German network, the nearly 150 accounts, pages and groups were linked to the so-called Querdenken movement, a loose coalition that has protested lockdown measures in Germany and includes vaccine and mask opponents, conspiracy theorists and some far-right extremists.
Facebook touted the move as an innovative response to potentially harmful content; far-right commenters condemned it as censorship. But a review of the content that was removed — as well as the many more Querdenken posts that are still available — reveals Facebook’s action to be modest at best. At worst, critics say, it could have been a ploy to counter complaints that it doesn’t do enough to stop harmful content.
Idaho sees record COVID hospitalizations, ICU admissions for third consecutive week
For the third week in a row, Idaho has set a record for COVID-19 hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions, a record that comes as the state reported 37 new deaths related to the illness.
According to data from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW), an unheard-of 774 patients were in Idaho hospitals on Thursday and Friday with COVID-19. That’s up from 760 patients on Sept. 20, the previous record. Also on Thursday, Idaho set a record of COVID-19 patients in ICUs: 207. Those numbers could increase as more hospitals report data to the state.
Dr. Robert Cavagnol, president of St. Luke’s Clinic, said in a tweet on Monday that the hospital system had 303 COVID-19 patients statewide. Of the COVID-19 patients requiring ICU care, Cavagnol said, all of them were unvaccinated.
“This is a pandemic of unvaccinated people,” he wrote.
Two Europes: Low vaccine rates in east overwhelm ICUs
In a packed intensive care unit for coronavirus patients in Romania’s capital, Bucharest, 55-year-old Adrian Pica sits on his bed receiving supplementary oxygen to help him breathe. “I didn’t want to get vaccinated because I was afraid,” he said.
Around 72% of adults in the 27-nation European Union have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but a stubbornly low uptake of the shots in some eastern EU nations now risks overwhelming hospitals amid a surge of infections due to the more contagious delta variant.
“Until now I didn’t believe in COVID-19,” Pica, who said his early symptoms left him sweating and feeling suffocated, told The Associated Press. “I thought it was just like the flu. But now I’m sick and hospitalized. I want to get a vaccine.”
Bulgaria and Romania are lagging dramatically behind as the EU’s two least-vaccinated nations, with just 22% and 33% of their adult populations fully inoculated. Rapidly increasing new infections have forced authorities to tighten virus restrictions in the two countries, while other EU nations such as France, Spain, Denmark and Portugal have all exceeded 80% vaccine coverage and eased restrictions.
N.C. hospital system fires about 175 workers in one of the largest-ever mass terminations due to a vaccine mandate
A North Carolina-based hospital system announced Monday that roughly 175 unvaccinated employees were fired for failing to comply with the organization’s mandatory coronavirus vaccination policy, the latest in a series of health-care dismissals over coronavirus immunization.
Novant Health said last week that 375 unvaccinated workers — across 15 hospitals and 800 clinics — had been suspended for not getting immunized. Unvaccinated employees were given five days to comply.
Novant Health spokeswoman Megan Rivers tweeted Monday that almost 200 of the suspended workers, including those who had submitted approved exemptions, received their first dose by Friday. The hospital confirmed that the rest of the suspended employees who did not comply were fired, although the exact number of those dismissed was not specified.
“We stand by our decision to make the vaccine mandatory as we have a responsibility to protect our patients, visitors and team members, regardless of where they are in our health system,” Novant Health said in a statement. “We couldn’t be prouder of our team members who made the choice to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and remain part of our team at Novant Health.”
Fear of delta is motivating Americans to get vaccines, survey finds
The delta variant was the main reason that people decided to get vaccinated against COVID-19 this summer and why most say they will get boosters when eligible, according to the latest monthly survey on vaccine attitudes by the Kaiser Family Foundation, released on Tuesday morning. But the survey indicated that nearly three-quarters of unvaccinated Americans view boosters very differently, saying that the need for them shows that the vaccines are not working.
That divide suggests that while it may be relatively easy to persuade vaccinated people to line up for an additional shot, the need for boosters may complicate public health officials’ efforts to persuade the remaining unvaccinated people to get their initial one.
Another take-away from the Kaiser Family Foundation survey: For all the carrots dangled to induce hesitant people to get COVID shots — cash, doughnuts, racetrack privileges — more credit for the recent rise in vaccination goes to the stick. Almost 40% of newly inoculated people said that they had sought the vaccines because of the increase in COVID cases, with more than a third saying that they had become alarmed by overcrowding in local hospitals and rising death rates.
“When a theoretical threat becomes a clear and present danger, people are more likely to act to protect themselves and their loved ones,” said Drew Altman, the Kaiser Family Foundation’s chief executive.
Sanofi drops plans for messenger RNA vaccine against virus
French drugmaker Sanofi said Tuesday it was shelving plans for a COVID-19 vaccine based on messenger RNA despite positive results from early stage testing.
The Paris-based company said it will continue to develop another vaccine candidate that is already undergoing late stage human trials. That vaccine, developed jointly with Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline, is based on the characteristic spike protein of the virus that causes COVID-19.
Messenger RNA vaccines use a different technology that uses genetic information from the virus to trigger an immune response. This technology is already being used in the vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna.
“From a public health perspective, mRNA COVID vaccines are widely available today, and starting a placebo-controlled study in countries where vaccines are available would be extremely challenging, so it does not make sense for us to further advance our mRNA Covid vaccine into Phase 3,” Sanofi said in response to questions from The Associated Press.
Employer vaccine mandates convert some workers, but not all
Businesses that have announced vaccine mandates say some workers who had been on the fence have since gotten inoculated against COVID-19. But many holdouts remain — a likely sign of what is to come once a federal mandate goes into effect.
Even before President Joe Biden’s Sept. 9 announcement that companies with more than 100 workers would have to require vaccinations, dozens of companies, including Amtrak, Microsoft, United Airlines and Disney issued ultimatums to most workers. And smaller companies in New York, San Francisco and New Orleans have been required to implement mandates for customers and workers.
Some mandates seem to have converted hesitant workers. United Airlines said 97% of its workers have been vaccinated even before its deadline took effect Monday. But employers are still dealing with holdouts. Alternatives for those employees include weekly testing, working remotely or away from other staff, or ultimately, termination.
The federal mandate will cover as many as 100 million Americans — private-sector employees as well as health care workers and federal contractors. It is a high-stakes gambit by the president to boost the vaccination rate in the U.S. About 77% of American adults have had one dose of the vaccine, according to the CDC.
New York governor declares ‘disaster emergency’ amid staffing shortage crisis prompted by vaccine resisters
Tens of thousands of health-care workers in New York are likely to have refused a coronavirus vaccine before a state requirement went into effect on Monday, serving as a preview of resistance that the Biden administration’s vaccine requirements will face on a bigger scale in coming weeks.
Resistance to the coronavirus vaccines means large numbers of health-care workers could face dismissals or unpaid leaves of absence in the state, exacerbating an already existing labor shortage in the critical world of medical care during the pandemic.
The Biden administration, meanwhile, is writing its own vaccine requirements, which would apply to a much larger group of workers, effectively anyone working at a firm with more than 100 employees. The clash in New York could presage much bigger confrontations around the country in coming weeks as the Biden administration tries to roll out its new policies and resistance to government measures to mitigate the pandemic animates the country’s right wing.
Officials in New York had braced for the confrontation as the deadline, set as part of the mandate instituted by Democratic former governor Andrew Cuomo last month, neared. Gov. Kathy Hochul late Monday signed an executive order that officials hope could offer some short-term reprieve with staffing shortages. In the six-page order, she temporarily changed the state’s rules to more easily allow health-care workers from other states and countries to begin practicing in New York, among other things.
Biden gets booster shot amid push to increase COVID-19 vaccination rate
President Joe Biden on Monday received a COVID-19 booster shot as part of a broader, public push to promote vaccinations in the hopes of slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“Now, I know it doesn’t look like it, but I am over 65. And that’s why I am getting my booster shot today,” said Biden, 78, before receiving his Pfizer booster shot in front of reporters and photographers at the White House.
Biden’s third shot comes less than one week after health officials approved boosters of Pfizer’s vaccine for Americans over age 65, adults with certain underlying health conditions and people living in long-term care facilities. The government also cleared the way for adult workers facing a high risk of contracting the virus to get boosters. Eligible Americans can get the third shot at least six months after they receive their second.
Biden said he did not suffer any side effects after taking his first and second shots in the winter. Like the booster administered Monday at the White House, Biden received his previous injections in front of reporters in an effort to encourage Americans to be inoculated. First lady Jill Biden is expected to soon get a booster, the president said.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
In less than a week, nearly 63,000 Washington state workers must get vaccines or exemptions, or they'll lose their jobs. The state yesterday provided a snapshot of how this is unfolding, with some agencies far more vaccinated than others.
Need a booster shot? Seattle and King County are reopening vaccine clinics. Here's where to find them. Meanwhile, many parents have their eyes fixed on a first dose that can't come fast enough, with some begging doctors: "Please, please, please give my kid the vaccine. Drop one on the floor. Don't tell anybody."
COVID-19 hospitalizations are dropping in Washington, but deaths are still rising. "It's hard to hold really serious optimism," one health official says as she and others worry that one effective treatment is in short supply.
President Joe Biden and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell got their booster shots Monday, urging Americans across the political spectrum to get vaccinated, and get their boosters when eligible for the extra dose of protection.
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