Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, Sept. 30, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
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.
Meanwhile, 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.
In Washington, D.C., 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.
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.
Slammed by COVID, statewide system helps transfer rural Washington patients to available hospital beds
Swamped by the fifth wave of COVID-19, hospitals across rural Washington have transferred hundreds of patients to metro areas since July 1, according to statewide data.
More than half of those 414 transferred patients have gone to King County hospitals, according to data by the Washington Medical Coordination Center.
Run out of Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, the MCC serves as a clearinghouse for placing patients around the state when the hospital where they arrive can’t take them, according to Dr. Steven Mitchell, medical director of the MCC.
United Airlines says some workers facing termination got vaccinated
United Airlines says the number of employees facing termination for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 has dropped nearly by half, to 320, as more workers provide evidence of vaccination.
An airline spokeswoman said Thursday that the declining number of potential firings shows that the company’s policy of requiring vaccinations is working.
United Airlines announced in August that it would require its 67,000 U.S. employees to get vaccinated, calling it an important safety measure. Employees faced a deadline this Monday to upload images of their vaccination cards showing that they had gotten at least one shot.
United said that more than 99% of its workers have either become vaccinated or applied for a medical or religious exemption. People whose exemption requests are approved will be put on medical or other leave status and could lose their income.
State health officials confirm 2,914 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 2,914 new coronavirus cases and 72 new deaths on Thursday.
The update brings the state's totals to 657,626 cases and 7,726 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, 36,630 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 127 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 151,467 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,871 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.
Big drop in US teen vaping seen with COVID school closures
Teen vaping plummeted this year as many U.S. students were forced to learn from home during the pandemic, according to a government report released Thursday.
U.S. health officials urged caution in interpreting the numbers, which were collected using an online questionnaire for the first time. But outside experts said the big decrease in electronic cigarettes use is likely real and makes sense given that young people often vape socially.
For months, tobacco experts have speculated about the potential effect of school closures on vaping, given most teens vape with their friends and get e-cigarettes from their peers.
UK families see hard times ahead as COVID programs end
Diana Gaglio has been in the economic crosshairs of the pandemic for the past 18 months.
The 53-year-old from Bedfordshire, north of London, was furloughed from her job as entertainment manager for a holiday company when COVID-19 gutted the travel industry, then lost her job altogether just before Christmas. Now her temporary job at a virus testing center is coming to an end, just as the government scraps the emergency program that provided an income the last time she was out of work.’
Gaglio is one of millions of people across the U.K. who are facing a long, bleak winter as the rising cost of living coincides with the end of government programs that once shielded households from the economic fallout of COVID-19.
The biggest of those programs, which sought to preserve jobs by subsidizing the wages of workers whose hours were cut due to the pandemic, ends on Thursday. Some 1.6 million people were still supported by the so-called furlough program this month, down from a high of 8.9 million in May of last year.
Singapore strategy of living with COVID raises concern, hope
Living through the coronavirus pandemic in Singapore, Joys Tan followed the rules that helped the city-state keep its cases low: keeping her distance from others, wearing a mask and getting herself vaccinated.
Nobody in her family had contracted the virus, and it was with confidence that she had dinner at her godmother’s house earlier this month, even with infections rising rapidly, fueled by the delta variant, as the government pushed ahead with a strategy of “living with COVID” as an endemic disease with a gradual relaxation of restrictions.
Two days later, Tan learned her godmother had tested positive for COVID-19, forcing her into precautionary quarantine herself.
With a hard-line lockdown early in the pandemic, the major business and trade hub of Singapore was able to keep the spread of new coronavirus cases to the single or low double-digits for nearly a year. Now as it’s embarking on a high-profile test of reopening, they’re skyrocketing, and hit a new record of 2,258 on Wednesday, laying bare the challenges faced.
But there is also evidence the plan is working, with its focus more on the severity of infections and hospitalizations than the number of daily cases.
With about 82% of the population over age 12 fully vaccinated, according to the Health Ministry, hospitals have not become overwhelmed, with 98% of new cases either asymptomatic or with mild symptoms.
Only 0.2% of infected people have required ICU care and 0.1% have died — more than 65% of whom were either unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated.
Messy, incomplete U.S. data hobbles pandemic response
The contentious and confusing debate in recent weeks over coronavirus booster shots has exposed a fundamental weakness in America’s ability to respond to a public health crisis: The data is a mess.
How many people have been infected at this point? No one knows for sure, in part because of insufficient testing and incomplete reporting. How many fully vaccinated people have had breakthrough infections? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided to track only a fraction of them. When do inoculated people need booster shots? American officials trying to answer that have had to rely heavily on data from overseas.
Critically important data on vaccinations, infections, hospitalizations and deaths are scattered among local health departments, often out of date, hard to aggregate at the national level — and simply not up to the job of battling a highly transmissible and stealthy pathogen.
“We are flying blind,” said Ali Mokdad, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, who spent two decades working for the CDC. “With all our money, with all our know-how, we have dropped the ball. … We don’t have the data. We don’t have the good surveillance system to keep us informed.”
The dearth of timely, comprehensive data complicated the ability of the nation’s top public health officials and infectious-disease experts to reach a consensus on the need for booster shots. The experts looked at conflicting data from Israel, the United Kingdom and the U.S., and came up with a bewildering set of recommendations. The debate seemed to confuse more than clarify the necessity of an additional shot.
As deaths rise, vaccination sites remain empty in Bosnia
Hospitals across Bosnia are again filling with COVID-19 patients gasping for air, and the country’s pandemic death toll is rising. Yet vaccination sites are mostly empty and unused coronavirus vaccines are fast approaching their expiration dates.
When the European Union launched its mass vaccination campaign, non-member Bosnia struggled along with most other Balkan nations to get supplies. By late spring, however, hundreds of thousands of doses started pouring into the country.
But after an initial rush of people clamoring to get jabbed, demand for shots quickly slowed. It is now down to a trickle even though Bosnia has Europe’s highest coronavirus mortality rate at 4.5%, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Dr. Edin Drljevic, an infectious disease specialist at one of Bosnia’s largest hospitals, in Sarajevo, thinks the disconnect is partly a result of authorities failing to properly promote vaccination against COVID-19.
“At first, we only had negative publicity because of the failure to secure vaccines, but once the vaccines finally started arriving, mainly through donations, people became picky,” he said.
Consumers get online tool to check nursing home vaccine data
Families and patients have a new online tool to compare COVID-19 vaccination rates among nursing homes, Medicare announced Tuesday, addressing complaints from consumer groups and lawmakers that the critical data had been too difficult to find.
The information is now being made available through the “ Care Compare ” feature at Medicare.gov, the online tool for basic research on quality and safety issues at nursing homes. Consumers will be able to compare up to three nursing homes at the same time, and the webpage shows vaccination rates for residents and staff, as well as national and state averages.
Nursing home residents are a tiny proportion of the U.S. population, but they have borne a crushing burden from the COVID-19 pandemic, accounting for more than 150,000 deaths, or roughly 1 in 5.
Data for individual facilities is available by using this comparison function on medicare.gov
Nursing home staffers are the bigger concern, since only about 64% are vaccinated, roughly the same share as the adult population. The virus commonly gets into facilities via staffers who have been exposed in nearby communities and unwittingly pass the infection on to residents.
Anchorage mayor backs use of yellow stars by mask opponents
The mayor of Alaska’s largest city pushed back against a proposed mask mandate before the Anchorage Assembly and defended the use of yellow Stars of David wore by people in opposition to the proposal.
The hearing started Tuesday and was expected to continue Thursday, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
The proposal before the Anchorage Assembly would require people to wear masks in indoor public spaces and outdoors at large events
Mayor Dave Bronson called the proposed mask mandate “reckless and ill conceived,” and said it was based on inconclusive science.
Some in the crowd were wearing yellow Stars of David with “Do not comply” written on them to show their opposition.
There were some objections to people wearing the stars. But Bronson said the star really means is that within the Jewish culture, the message is “never again.” He added: “I think us borrowing that from them is actually a credit to them.”
School board group asks US for help policing threats
A group representing school board members around the country asked President Joe Biden on Thursday for federal assistance to investigate and stop threats made over policies including mask mandates, likening the vitriol to a form of domestic terrorism.
Parents and community members have been disrupting meetings and threatening board members in person, online and through the mail in a trend that merits attention from federal law enforcement agencies, the National School Boards Association said in a letter to Biden.
“Whatever you feel about masks, it should not reach this level of rhetoric,” NSBA Interim Executive Director Chip Slaven told The Associated Press by phone.
School boards around the country have been disrupted by unruly attendees out to interfere with business and silence other viewpoints.
Typically, threats toward school board members are handled by local law enforcement. But the association asked for the federal government to get involved to investigate cases where threats or violence could be handled as violations of federal laws protecting civil rights. It also asked for the Justice Department, FBI, Homeland Security and Secret Service to help monitor threat levels and assess risks to students, educators, board members and school buildings.
Australian state’s 50% jump in COVID-19 blamed on sport fans
Australia’s Victoria state on Thursday reported a jump of more than 50% in daily COVID-19 cases, which authorities largely blame on Australian Rules Football parties last weekend that breached pandemic regulations.
State capital Melbourne traditionally hosts the annual grand final which the football-obsessed city celebrates with a long weekend.
Because of Melbourne’s lockdown, two Melbourne teams played for the national premiership on Saturday in the coronavirus-free west coast city of Perth.
Contact tracers found a third of Victoria’s 1,438 new infections reported on Thursday had broken pandemic rules by attending social gatherings on the Friday public holiday and on game day, officials said.
Jeroen Weimar, commander of Victoria’s COVID-19 response, said time would tell whether the infection jump was “one big rogue day” or part of a grave new trend.
"This is a direct consequence of hundreds of decisions made on Friday and Saturday last week and the question now is how we manage this going forward,” he added.
Melbourne’s lockdown is set to end on Oct. 26 when 70% of the state’s population aged 16 and older is expected to be fully vaccinated.
West Virginia’s governor wants residents to get vaccinated for his dog. But not enough are getting the shot.
Before she gathered her staff for a Zoom meeting two weeks ago, Laura Jones wrestled over how to tell them that everyone must receive a coronavirus vaccination by Oct. 1.
“I avoided calling it a mandate; I said it was a requirement,” said Jones, executive director of Milan Puskar Health Right, a free clinic in Morgantown, W.Va., whose board of directors made the call.
Right after Jones’s announcement, two out of a handful of holdouts got their shots – a couple more small victories in West Virginia’s uphill battle against the rampaging virus.
The rural, heavily Republican state now has one of the nation’s highest case counts and lowest vaccination rates. As the Biden administration is forcing companies with more than 100 employees to require coronavirus vaccinations or mandatory testing, the notion of imposing mandates is fraught in West Virginia – even in Democratic-leaning places like Morgantown and with a staunchly pro-vaccine Republican governor.
The governor, Jim Justice, has forcefully and plainly urged his residents to get vaccinated but has railed against top-down enforcement. He has put his political weight instead behind a quirky vaccination sweepstakes named after his bulldog. It’s a calculated risk, designed to unite fiercely independent Appalachian residents – one by one – behind a common goal. And it leaves school districts, businesses and health-care providers like Jones to navigate local politics – and sometimes protests – as they decide what measures will best protect their populations.
At Idaho hospitals, COVID-19 patients are sucking up oxygen at ‘astounding rates’
Add oxygen to the list of resources Idaho health care providers must manage closely as COVID-19 continues to surge through the state.
One major regional supplier has expressed concern to hospital leaders about the mounting need for oxygen, which is often used to treat COVID-19 patients who have issues breathing.
Elias Margonis, the president of Norco Inc. — which is based in Boise and supplies oxygen to hospitals in the Pacific Northwest and Mountain West — sent a letter to customers Monday noting that oxygen is being used at “astounding rates.” He asked hospital customers to conserve the resource where possible.
“While there is not an immediate shortage of oxygen, there is a tremendous amount of growing stress to the supply chain network,” the letter said. “Many hospitals have already pushed their bulk storage systems to limits of requiring emergency upgrades.”
“The hospitals in the Treasure Valley are probably in their highest mode of oxygen consumption that we’ve ever seen,” he said. "... it’s just amazing how much of it is being used to treat patients that chose not to get vaccinated. It’s unfortunate.”
It’s flu vaccine time, even if you’ve had your COVID shots
Amid all the focus on COVID-19 vaccinations, U.S. health experts have another plea: Don’t skip your flu shot.
Flu cases have dropped to historically low levels during the pandemic. The U.S. and Europe experienced hardly any flu last winter, and the Southern Hemisphere just ended its second flu season of the coronavirus pandemic with little to report.
But with U.S. schools and businesses reopened, international travel resuming and far less masking this fall, flu could make a comeback. The big question is whether it will trickle in or roar back and put extra pressure on hospitals already struggling with COVID-19 surges.
“People are sick to death of hearing about having to roll on out and get vaccines of any sort,” said flu specialist Richard Webby of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
Yet after 18 months of little influenza exposure, “we probably as a population don’t have as much immunity against this virus as we typically might,” Webby said. “It makes absolute sense to go on out and get that vaccine and at least prepare for something that, you know, could be quite severe.”
Biden vaccine mandate splits US on party lines: AP-NORC poll
A survey of Americans on President Joe Biden’s plan to require most workers to get either vaccinated or regularly tested for COVID-19 finds a deep and familiar divide: Democrats are overwhelmingly for it, while most Republicans are against it.
With the highly contagious delta variant driving deaths up to around 2,000 per day, the poll released Thursday by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that overall, 51% say they approve of the Biden requirement, 34% disapprove and 14% hold neither opinion.
About three quarters of Democrats, but only about a quarter of Republicans, approve. Roughly 6 in 10 Republicans say they disapprove. Over the course of the outbreak, Democrats and Republicans in many places have also found themselves divided over masks and other precautions.
Sixty-four percent of vaccinated Americans say they approve of the mandate, while 23% disapprove. Among unvaccinated Americans, just 14% are in support, while 67% are opposed. Most remote employees approve, but in-person workers are about evenly divided.
Lynden Christian Schools to go to remote learning amid surge in COVID-19 cases
Lynden Christian Schools is switching back to remote learning for two weeks in the midst of an outbreak of COVID-19 cases to avoid being shut down by the Whatcom County Health Department.
An email was sent to parents this week informing them that in-person classes would be canceled this week and and that remote learning would begin on Thursday, The Bellingham Herald reported after obtaining a screenshot of the email.
The school closed classrooms voluntarily to avoid being shut down by the county health department, which found that the school had multiple cases or exposures in nearly every grade and classroom, and that several classrooms and grades met the health department’s operating definition of a school-associated outbreak.
“The temporary closure of Lynden Christian Schools is an unfortunate but necessary step to halt the spread of COVID-19 in the school environment and prevent further risk to the whole community,” said Dr. Amy Harley, co-health officer for Whatcom County, in a health department statement. “We support the school board’s decision to temporarily close in-person instruction and extracurricular activities in order to quickly curtail the current outbreak so that the school can reopen for in-person learning when it’s safe to do so.”
Vietnam to end virus lockdown in largest city after 3 months
Vietnam will lift the lockdown in its largest city on Friday, ending nearly three months of restrictions on movement to curb a coronavirus surge.
People in Ho Chi Minh City, a metropolis of 10 million, will be able to leave their homes, restaurants can serve take-away meals and other essential businesses can open, the city said on its website Thursday.
Ho Chi Minh City along with 18 southern provinces went into lockdown in mid-July when cases started to surge.
In the past three months, the delta variant of the virus has infected 770,000 people and killed over 19,000, according to the health ministry. Most of Vietnam’s COVID-19 deaths occurred in this wave, with Ho Chi Minh City accounting for the majority of them.
In a letter to the editor, a man said his relative ‘is past’ COVID and ‘completely immune,’ then came the absurd twist
Over the years, Charles Chamberlain has fired off dozens of letters to the editor of his local newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times. The Spring Hill, Fla., man has pontificated on oil prices, Social Security and the influence of money in politics. He has railed against former president Donald Trump’s false election fraud claims and the “cold, calculating and cynical” ethics of herd immunity.
Chamberlain, 81, is no fan of Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who he said has sacrificed public health for partisan politics amid a pandemic that has killed more than 54,000 Floridians. So when DeSantis appointed Joseph Ladapo — a controversial physician who has questioned the safety of the coronavirus vaccines — to serve as the state’s new surgeon general, Chamberlain was, naturally, peeved.
Nevertheless, he was interested in what Ladapo had to say about natural immunity, particularly the surgeon general’s comment that a previous coronavirus infection “protects people from getting very ill and also protects people from being infected again.”
So Chamberlain cast off another letter to the Times.
“Florida’s new surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, is spot-on with his observation that the best form of prevention from COVID-19 is for persons to have an infection because this will provide the best immunity,” Chamberlain wrote. “I am aware that he is correct because of a recent experience with a member of my family. He had a severe infection from COVID-19. He is past that now and is completely immune — not only for COVID-19 but flu and other respiratory infections as well.”
Chamberlain concluded that “Dr. Ladapo’s recommendation works.” Then, he ended the letter with an absurdist twist: “Of course we are burying this family member next week.”
The letter, which was published Sept. 23, quickly gained traction online, including in one tweet that amassed more than 4,300 retweets and 21,000 likes.
“This may be the only newspaper letter to the editor worth reading until the end,” one person remarked.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Jackie Whited, a Wenatchee intensive care director, got COVID-19 before vaccines were available. She wound up with what may be a lifelong health problem — but she's back to working long hours to help a flood of desperately ill COVID-19 patients who are still "fighting with you to say this is not real." A look inside her hospital tells a story that's playing out across rural Washington, with medical centers so swamped that they're sending hundreds of patients to King County.
Vaccination rates have risen significantly in Washington and infections have dropped this month. But teens are far less vaccinated than adults, according to the latest data.
One family went to get flu vaccines, and their 4-year-old accidentally walked out with a COVID-19 shot.
Primetta Giacopini, age 105, survived two world wars and the Spanish flu, which killed her mother when Primetta was a toddler. But this month, her remarkable life ended the way it began — in a pandemic, as she died of COVID-19.
There are times in this pandemic when words feel vastly inadequate. That's where a new emoji comes in, expressing "quite the pandemic mood."
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