Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Tuesday, September 29, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
Why the Philippines became the worst place to be amid pandemic
The Philippines fell to last place in Bloomberg’s COVID Resilience Ranking of the best and worst places to be amid the pandemic, capping a steady decline over the course of 2021.
The monthly snapshot — which measures where the virus is being handled the most effectively with the least social and economic upheaval — ranks 53 major economies on 12 data points related to virus containment, the economy and opening up.
The Philippines’ drop to No. 53 reflects the challenges it’s facing from the onslaught of the delta variant, which has hit Southeast Asia particularly hard amid difficulties containing the more contagious strain and slow vaccination rollouts. The region, which recently had the worst outbreak in the world, populates the September Ranking’s lowest rungs, with Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam all in the bottom five.
2nd Alaska hospital invokes crisis protocol in COVID spike
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A second hospital in Alaska has invoked crisis standards of care, allowing a committee of physicians to determine clinical decisions regarding patient treatment as the state continues to see a spike in COVID-19 cases.
The Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corp. in Bethel announced the activation of the guidelines in a statement posted on its website Wednesday, the same day the facility was operating at capacity. The standards allow overwhelmed hospitals to modify their usual, expected level of care.
Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, the state’s largest health care facility, earlier invoked the same guidelines.
Health officials at the Bethel hospital said there may be delays transferring people to a referring hospital, along with expanded nurse-patient ratio and longer wait times for elective procedures like colonoscopies and pediatric dental procedures. The decision to continue these types of elective procedures are made on a daily or weekly basis.
“We’re doing the best for every single patient, regardless of what resources are available at any given time. Unfortunately, however, as a result of the current surge in COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalization and limited resources statewide, we are now in a position of making these difficult decisions on a daily basis,” Dr. Ellen Hodges, the hospital’s chief of staff, said in the statement.
United Airlines says nearly all workers met vaccine mandate deadline, 593 could face termination
Nearly all of United Airlines’ U.S.-based employees have been vaccinated, the company said Tuesday, touting the success of its policy after becoming the first U.S. carrier to require the vaccine among its workforce.
United’s deadline for meeting the requirement was Monday, and the carrier said Tuesday it has begun the process of terminating 593 employees who declined to be vaccinated and did not apply for a health or religious exemption. The company said less than 3% of its roughly 67,000 workforce applied for exemptions, while 1% didn’t comply.
“This is a historic achievement for our airline and our employees as well as for the customers and communities we serve,” chief executive Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart wrote in a memo to employees. “Our rationale for requiring the vaccine for all United’s U.S.-based employees was simple – to keep our people safe – and the truth is this: Everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated, and vaccine requirements work.”
Frontier Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines also require employees to be vaccinated, although Frontier offers employees the option of showing proof of a negative coronavirus test. Other carriers, including American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines, have encouraged employees to be vaccinated but have not made announcements about a requirement since President Joe Biden this month said he would mandate the shot or weekly testing at companies with more than 100 employees.
COVID vaccination rates have jumped in Washington since August, with continued decline in infections
COVID-19 vaccination rates in Washington have risen significantly in the last month, adding to hospital and health officials’ wary optimism about recent virus trends as winter approaches. Still, they warned Wednesday, hurdles remain.
State health officials saw a 25% increase in the number of people who have initiated the coronavirus vaccination process since mid-August, Michele Roberts, acting assistant secretary of the state Department of Health, said during a Wednesday news conference.
Overall, more than 4.9 million Washingtonians have received at least one vaccine dose, more than 76% of the state’s eligible population. On average, nearly 15,000 people have been vaccinated per day over the past seven days, according to the state’s data dashboard.
“We’re closing the gap,” Roberts said. She added that the state is still waiting on information from the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on shots for kids younger than 12 years old.
Hospitalizations and infections continue to decline statewide, a trend that’s remained fairly consistent since both peaked a few weeks ago, said Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary of DOH’s COVID-19 response.
Despite encouraging trends, the pandemic rages on, Fehrenbach said.
White House moves to shield pandemic response if the government shuts down
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is striving to insulate the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic from a shutdown that looms if Congress cannot agree on a plan to keep the government funded past midnight Thursday.
Federal regulators would continue their review of coronavirus vaccines and treatments, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would pursue its pandemic-related responsibilities, including tracking cases, hospitalizations and deaths, according to interviews and a contingency staffing plan issued by the White House’s budget office.
And while the National Institutes of Health would keep only one-fourth of its nearly 5,000 staff in their jobs, the government’s main engine of biomedical research would “continue to support priority COVID-19 research and development, grants research and oversight and contracting activities,” according to an administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal plans.
If a shutdown materializes, the official said, the administration “will take every step it legally can to mitigate the impacts … on our pandemic response.”
Vaccination rates take big jump in U.S. Latino communities
The share of Hispanic adults in the U.S. who say they have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine reached 73% in September, an increase of 12 percentage points from July, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey.
The increase was the fastest of any demographic group in the survey, and it put the reported vaccination rate for Hispanic adults slightly ahead of that of white adults.
Experts say that disparities in vaccination rates and access persist in may parts of the country. But they said that the strong increases among Hispanic and Latino adults in the national poll signaled that on-the-ground vaccination efforts focused on the group were paying off.
State health officials confirm 2,729 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health reported 2,729 new coronavirus cases and 63 new deaths on Wednesday.
The update brings the state's totals to 654,710 cases and 7,654 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. Tuesday. Tallies may be higher earlier in the week because new state data isn’t reported on the weekends.
In addition, 36,503 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 115 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 150,923 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,863 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 9,010,529 doses and 57.6% 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 14,053 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.
COVID-19 vaccines for kids could improve outlook for everyone — if enough parents say yes
A national increase in COVID-19 infections over the last month has closed schools, worried parents, and heightened urgency for the authorization of vaccination for younger children.
The expansion of vaccine eligibility to about 28 million U.S. kids appears closer than ever — expected within weeks, possibly before October’s end — and it could improve the pandemic outlook for everyone.
Vaccinations in kids could boost population immunity, quash cases in schools, and help fend off a severe fall or winter surge. Most important, pediatricians said, the vaccine offers long-awaited protection for children from the real danger of catching the virus.
But it all depends on how many parents decide to immunize their children — something that remains a question mark, despite pediatricians’ firm endorsements of the vaccine.
Some fear boosters will hurt drive to reach the unvaccinated
The spread of COVID-19 vaccination requirements across the U.S. hasn’t had the desired effect so far, with the number of Americans getting their first shots plunging in recent weeks. And some experts worry that the move to dispense boosters could just make matters worse.
The fear is that the rollout of booster shots will lead some people to question the effectiveness of the vaccine in the first place.
“Many of my patients are already saying, ‘If we need a third dose, what was the point?’” said Dr. Jason Goldman, a physician in Coral Springs, Florida.
The average daily count of Americans getting a first dose of vaccine has been falling for six weeks, plummeting more than 50% from about 480,000 in early August to under 230,000 by the middle of last week, according to the most recently available federal data.
An estimated 70 million vaccine-eligible Americans have yet to start vaccinations, despite a summer surge in infections, hospitalizations and deaths driven by the delta variant.
‘Weird tension’ as workers return to the office but still Zoom all day
Nick Kneer was excited to go back to the office. After working from home for about a year and a half, Kneer had missed the camaraderie he had with his co-workers at the Ohio-based university library system where he works as a communications coordinator. He was counting down until he could mingle with students and staff again.
But his excitement quickly faded after the reality of in-person work turned out to be far from what he expected.
To avoid contracting the delta variant, he ended up locked in a “windowless, cinder block room” — his temporary office — attending most of his meetings via Zoom.
“It was definitely a bummer,” he said.
As many office workers head back to the office — even as the delta variant spreads across the United States — some employees are facing a bizarre new reality: They’re still spending most of their time isolated and glued to their computers for Zoom meetings, email and Slack. With more companies implementing permanent hybrid working options — in which some employees work from home and others in the office — the virtual nature of work may far outlive the pandemic. And with it, so may the quirks of the new office environment.
“There’s this weird tension,” said Brian Kropp, chief of HR research for the research firm Gartner. “We want everyone back in the office, but we still want everyone to do work by video.”
As COVID-19 roars on, health workers once saluted as heroes now get threats
More than a year after U.S. health care workers were saluted for saving lives in the COVID-19 outbreak and celebrated with nightly clapping from windows and balconies, some are being issued panic buttons in case of assault and ditching their scrubs before going out in public for fear of harassment.
Across the country, doctors and nurses on the front lines against the coronavirus are dealing with hostility, threats and violence from patients angry over safety rules designed to keep the scourge from spreading.
“A year ago, we’re health care heroes and everybody’s clapping for us,” said Dr. Stu Coffman, a Dallas-based emergency room physician. “And now we’re being in some areas harassed and disbelieved and ridiculed for what we’re trying to do, which is just depressing and frustrating.”
Cox Medical Center Branson in Missouri started giving panic buttons to up to 400 nurses and other employees after assaults per year tripled between 2019 and 2020 to 123, a spokeswoman said. One nurse had to get her shoulder X-rayed after an attack.
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.
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.
China kills 3 housecats that tested positive for COVID-19
A city in northern China has killed three housecats after they tested positive for COVID-19, according to a local media report Wednesday, as the country takes increasingly strict measures to contain new outbreaks.
The authorities in Harbin, where 75 cases have recently been discovered, said the action was taken because there was no available treatment for animals with the disease and they would have endangered their owner and other residents of the apartment complex in which they lived, Beijing News online said.
The owner tested positive for the virus on Sept. 21 and went into isolation after leaving food and water out for the three cats.
A community worker dropped in and gave the cats coronavirus tests, which twice came back positive. Despite an online appeal by the owner, identified only as Miss Liu, the cats were put to sleep Tuesday evening.
Pet ownership is increasingly popular in China, and the newspaper’s report on the case drew more than 52,000 comments.
Slovenia police use water cannons at anti-COVID pass protest
Police fired tear gas and water cannons in Slovenia’s capital on Wednesday at thousands of protesters who oppose tough anti-coronavirus measures in the small European Union nation.
About 10,000 protesters, chanting “Freedom! Freedom!” tried to block a major highway north of Ljubljana when the police intervened, the second such incident in Slovenia within a month.
The protest, organized mostly by groups against the use of COVID-19 vaccine passes, took place as Slovenia suspended the use of the Johnson & Johnson shot on Wednesday while it investigates the death of a 20-year-old woman who had received one.
The woman who died was the second recipient of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in Slovenia to have experienced a serious health condition that wasn’t COVID-19, the official STA news agency reported. About 120,000 people in Slovenia have received the vaccine.
YouTube is banning prominent anti-vaccine activists and blocking all anti-vaccine content
YouTube is taking down several video channels associated with high-profile anti-vaccine activists including Joseph Mercola and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who experts say are partially responsible for helping seed the skepticism that’s contributed to slowing vaccination rates across the country.
As part of a new set of policies aimed at cutting down on anti-vaccine content on the Google-owned site, YouTube will ban any videos that claim that commonly used vaccines approved by health authorities are ineffective or dangerous. The company previously blocked videos that made those claims about coronavirus vaccines, but not ones for other vaccines like those for measles or chickenpox.
Misinformation researchers have for years said the popularity of anti-vaccine content on YouTube was contributing to growing skepticism of lifesaving vaccines in the United States and around the world. VIn July, President Joe Biden said social media companies were partially responsible for spreading misinformation about the vaccines, and need to do more to address the issue.
AP-NORC poll: Virus fears linger for vaccinated older adults
Bronwyn Russell wears a mask anytime she leaves her Illinois home, though she wouldn’t dream of going out to eat or to hear a band play, much less setting foot on a plane. In Virginia, Oliver Midgette rarely dons a mask, never lets COVID-19 rouse any worry and happily finds himself in restaurants and among crowds.
She is vaccinated. He is not.
In a sign of the starkly different way Americans view the coronavirus pandemic, vaccinated older adults are far more worried about the virus than the unvaccinated and far likelier to take precautions despite the protection afforded by their shots, according to a new poll out Wednesday from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
While growing numbers of older unvaccinated people are planning travel, embracing group gatherings and returning to gyms and houses of worship, the vaccinated are hunkering down.
“I’m worried. I don’t want to get sick,” says Russell, a 58-year-old from Des Plaines, Illinois, who is searching for part-time work while collecting disability benefits. “The people who are going about their lives are just in their own little bubbles of selfishness and don’t believe in facts.”
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Forget WSU's football coach and the other spectacles. The quieter, more important story is that the vaccine mandates are working in Washington state, columnist Danny Westneat writes.
What to expect if you get a booster: The CDC has analyzed the side effects people report after the third dose of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, compared with the second. You have your pick of places to get a booster, now that Seattle and King County have reopened many vaccine clinics to meet demand.
In one of the nation's reddest and least vaccinated places, pride over being "pretty rugged individuals out here in the West" is colliding with losses as COVID-19 infections reach nearly four times the U.S. rate. Nationwide, the extreme political divide over the virus comes into sharp focus in these graphics comparing what's happening in red and blue states.
How far will kids' vaccines carry us toward the pandemic's end? They could improve the outlook for everyone — if enough parents say yes, and that's looking like a wild card. Under the new timeline, though, the shots may not be available until after Halloween.
Flying with kids has gotten more complicated. This Q&A unpacks the mask rules, the exemptions — and what happens if a child refuses to wear a mask.
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