Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, September 4, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Health officials said Thursday that 108 COVID-19 cases have been linked to the Northwest Washington Fair in Lynden.
Whatcom County Health Department spokesperson Jennifer Moon told The Bellingham Herald in an email Thursday that the number may continue to increase as they continue to investigate cases.
Meanwhile, three schools in Vancouver were placed on lockdown as a safety precaution Friday after anti-mask protesters tried to access school grounds. The lockdowns in Washington came a day after a father of an Arizona student who was ordered to quarantine at home confronted the school’s principal with zip ties.
More on the COVID-19 pandemic
- Coronavirus daily news updates for Sept. 18
- Big gap between Pfizer, Moderna vaccines seen for preventing COVID hospitalizations
- FDA advisory panel backs COVID-19 boosters only for seniors, high-risk
- Amid fears of “twindemic,” 8 things to know about getting your flu shot
- Full coverage of the coronavirus here and around the world
Kentucky governor calls special session on handling COVID-19
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear announced Saturday that he’s calling Kentucky’s Republican-led legislature into a special session to shape pandemic policies as the state struggles with a record surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
The return of lawmakers to the state Capitol starts Tuesday and marks a dramatic power shift in coronavirus-related policymaking in the Bluegrass State following a landmark court ruling. Since the pandemic hit Kentucky, the governor mostly acted unilaterally in setting statewide virus policies, but the state Supreme Court shifted those decisions to the legislature.
“Now, that burden will fall in large part on the General Assembly,” Beshear said Saturday. “It will have to carry much of that weight to confront unpopular choices and to make decisions that balance many things, including the lives and the possible deaths of our citizens.”
Beshear had sole authority to call a special session and set the agenda. At a news conference Saturday, he outlined pandemic issues he wants lawmakers to consider, including policies on mask-wearing and school schedules amid growing school closures due to virus outbreaks. But GOP House and Senate supermajorities will decide what measures ultimately pass.
Beshear told reporters Saturday he’s had good conversations with top GOP lawmakers and that draft legislation was exchanged.
Read the full story here.
Union announces tentative deal with Inslee over vaccine mandate for Washington state workers
OLYMPIA — Washington’s largest state worker union has announced a tentative agreement with Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration on parts of the governor’s vaccine mandate.
The deal announced by the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) doesn’t change the substance of the requirement ordered by Inslee last month: State workers must be completely vaccinated by Oct. 18 or they will lose their job.
But if workers ratify the deal this coming week, there will be a little wiggle room as they seek religious or medical exemptions.
For instance, if a state worker’s exemption request is denied, the worker can use up to 45 days of paid or unpaid leave to get fully vaccinated, according to an outline of the deal. That 45-day window will also apply to workers whose exemption is approved, but where an accommodation can’t be found for them by the state to work in a role where they interact with fewer people.
If a state worker has requested an exemption by Sept. 13 and is cooperating with the state’s process, and officials are still reviewing the exemption on Oct. 18, the worker will not lose any pay until a decision is provided on the exemption.
Read the full story here.
What to do if you can’t pay your loans during the pandemic
As the coronavirus pandemic carries on and the economy recovers, some U.S. workers still face financial uncertainty.
For those struggling to keep up with their debt, there are relief options available from banks, lenders and the federal government. If you can’t pay your loans or soon won’t be able to, one of these programs may be able to help.
Federal student loans
In August, the U.S. Department of Education extended the federal student loan payment pause through Jan. 31, 2022. The pause was set to expire Sept. 30, 2021, and the administration has made it clear that this is the last extension. For an extra four months, federal student loan borrowers and borrowers with defaulted Federal Family Education Loan Program loans can take advantage of several relief measures
Interest waiver: Federal student loan interest rates will remain at 0% through the end of January. Borrowers don’t need to take any action to put this into place. However, check your student loan statements each month to ensure that interest isn’t charged on your federal loans through January.
Payment suspension: Federal student loan borrowers also have extended relief when it comes to monthly student loan payments. Payments on Direct Loans owned by the Department of Education are paused until Jan. 31. This payment suspension is also automatic.
This suspension does not make your student loan debt disappear, but it does allow you to save on monthly payments through January. If you’re working toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you will continue to receive credit during the suspension period if you work full time for a qualifying employer.
Borrowers can also choose to continue making payments during this temporary deferment. If you continue regularly scheduled student loan payments, the entire payment will be applied to your principal balance, which helps you pay down the debt faster.
If you use automatic payments, these may have been automatically suspended at the start of the deferment period. Contact your servicer to start automatic payments again.
Suspended collections activities: Collections activities for federal student loans have been paused since March 2020, and defaulted loans from the Federal Family Education Loan Program were added to the list of eligible loans in March 2021. Borrowers who have defaulted on FFEL loans since March 13, 2020, will have their seized wages and tax returns automatically restored, have their defaulted accounts set to good standing and have refunds offered on voluntary payments made since that date until Jan. 31. More here.
Police, firefighters sue Gov. Brown over vaccination mandate
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A coalition of police and firefighters is suing Gov. Kate Brown over her mandate requiring COVID-19 vaccination for state workers.
The lawsuit, filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court, says the plaintiffs are the Oregon Fraternal Order of Police along with troopers from around the state and firefighters at the Kingsley Field Air National Guard Base in Klamath County, KOIN-TV reported.
It names the governor and the state of Oregon as defendants.
The group is asking a judge to declare Brown’s executive order “unenforceable,” claiming it allegedly works against existing Oregon statutes and would result in wrongful termination of employees, according to the lawsuit.
The order, which was announced in August as Brown reinstated an indoor mask mandate amid a surge of COVID-19 cases, requires all executive branch employees with the state of Oregon to be fully vaccinated on or before Oct. 18 or six weeks after a vaccine receives full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. More here.
U.S. COVID death toll hits 1,500 a day amid delta scourge
Brian Pierce, a coroner in Baldwin County, Alabama, thought he had seen the last of the coronavirus months ago as the area’s death count held steady at 318 for most of the spring and summer. But then in July and August, the fatalities began mounting and last week, things got so bad the state rolled a trailer into his parking lot as a temporary morgue.
“I think most people were thinking, ‘We’re good,'” he said. “Life was almost back to normal. Now I’m telling my kids again to please stay home.”
Nationally, COVID-19 deaths have climbed steadily in recent weeks, hitting a seven-day average of about 1,500 a day Thursday, after falling to the low 200s in early July – the latest handiwork of a contagious variant that has exploited the return to everyday activities by tens of millions of Americans, many of them unvaccinated. The dead include two Texas teachers at a junior high, who died last week within days of each other; a 13-year-old middle schoolboy from Georgia; and a pregnant nurse, 37, in Southern California who left behind five children.
What is different about this fourth pandemic wave in the United States is that the growing rates of vaccination and natural immunity have broken the relationship between infections and deaths in many areas.
The daily count of new infections is rising in almost every part of the country. But only some places – mostly southern states with lower vaccination rates – are seeing a parallel surge in deaths. The seven-day average of daily deaths is about a third of what it was in January, the pandemic’s most deadly month, but is forecast to continue rising as high numbers of patients are hospitalized.
While most regions with increasing deaths have lower vaccination rates, that isn’t the case for all of them. More here.
Red Sox outbreak serves as reminder of how COVID could affect October
BOSTON – A few hours before the Boston Red Sox played their first game of a crucial September homestand Friday night, with a chilly breeze offering a reminder of the proximity of October, Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom stood in the stands a dozen rows above the field, mask on, phone out. A few seats and a safe distance away sat trainer Brad Pearson, also hunched over his phone, as if waiting for news.
Bloom and Pearson have spent hours in impromptu meetings like these over the last week, checking their phones, hoping they wouldn’t bring news of another positive coronavirus test even though most of the last seven days have included at least one.
Red Sox Manager Alex Cora, meanwhile, has spent most of this week hoping neither Bloom or Pearson’s names popped up on his phone, knowing full well that any early morning text message probably meant he would need to shuffle his lineup yet again.
Friday, Bloom and Pearson learned before the game that speedy rookie Jarren Duran was experiencing symptoms. Cora pulled Duran from the lineup and told him to stay away from the team. By the time the Red Sox had beaten the Cleveland Indians, 8-5, Duran had tested positive, the ninth Red Sox player sidelined by a COVID-19 outbreak that simply won’t go away.
Outbreaks like theirs are an unyielding part of Major League Baseball’s reality, even as many around the game hoped vaccine availability and well-honed protocols would allow the season to proceed without too many of them – especially this time of year. More here.
North Central Washington reaches highest all-time COVID-19 case rates
COVID-19 case rates in North Central Washington broke all-time pandemic records in late August as some counties saw rates top 1,000 per 100,000 for the first time.
Chelan County’s 14-day COVID rate climbed to 1,075.8 new cases per 100,000 on Sept. 1, the highest case rate recorded since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Chelan-Douglas Health District data.
In Douglas County, the 14-day case rate for Sept. 1 was 1,090.3, also a new record, according to health district data.
The highest case rate in North Central Washington is in Grant County where the 14-day rate reached 1,117.4 per 100,000, according to the Grant County Health District.
Okanogan reported 87 new COVID-19 cases on Aug. 31, the highest count for a single day, according to Okanogan County Public Health. On Sept. 1, its COVID-19 case rate reached 1,069 per 100,000. More here.
COVID surges in unvaccinated communities are sending more kids to the hospital
At least 452 children in the United States have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, a tiny fraction of the 639,000 deaths among the nation’s adults. That lopsided tally has led many to downplay the pandemic’s toll on kids.
But two new studies issued Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention make clear that children have hardly received a free pass. And especially since the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines and the Delta variant, kids’ prospects rest largely on the decisions made by the adults that surround them.
When adults and eligible adolescents get vaccinated in large numbers, younger children are at greatly reduced risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19, the new reports show. Conversely, when few are willing to get the jab, the pediatric wings of hospitals will fill — as they did in COVID-19 hotspots across the country in mid-August.
A study that examined hospitalization rates in 99 counties across 14 U.S. states found that the rate at which children were being hospitalized for COVID-19 had jumped five-fold in the span of about seven weeks this summer. For the youngest patients — those under 4 — hospitalization rates jumped by a factor of 10. More here.
August was Oregon’s third-deadliest month for COVID-19; might September be worse?
August’s toll included a 67-year-old school board member and civic pillar in Tillamook; a 19-year-old woman in Union County; a 78-year-old Portland man; and a patient in Roseburg who died waiting for a bed to open up in an overloaded intensive care unit.
They were among at least 378 people who died of COVID-19 in Oregon last month, the third-highest monthly tally of the pandemic. (The number isn’t final – it sometimes takes weeks for death certificates to be reported to the state.)
It’s a shocking total for many reasons, not least of which is that July’s death count numbered just 62, one of the lowest monthly totals of the entire pandemic.
The delta variant has erased all the progress Oregon made last spring, when vaccines became widely available. The new, highly contagious delta strain is spreading even among the vaccinated, but deaths are overwhelmingly concentrated among those who haven’t been inoculated. More here.
Virus pummels French Polynesia, straining ties with Paris
PAPEETE, Tahiti (AP) — France’s worst coronavirus outbreak is unfolding 12 time zones away from Paris, devastating Tahiti and other idyllic islands of French Polynesia.
The South Pacific archipelagos lack enough oxygen, ICU beds and morgue space – and their vaccination rate is barely half the national average. Simultaneous outbreaks on remote islands and atolls are straining the ability of local authorities to evacuate patients to the territory’s few hospitals.
“The problem is, there are a lot of deaths before we get there,” lamented Vincent Simon, the head of the regional emergency service.
French Polynesia is France’s latest challenge in juggling resources to battle the pandemic in former colonies that stretch around the world. With more than 2,800 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, it holds France’s record for the highest infection rate.
And that’s only an estimate: Things are so bad that the multi-ethnic territory of about 300,000 has stopped counting new infections as local health authorities redeployed medical staff to focus on patient care and vaccinations instead of testing. More here.
Germany urges vaccine shots; warns of fall COVID-19 surge
BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s top health official is urging more citizens to get vaccinated, warning Saturday that if the vaccination numbers don’t go up the country’s hospitals may get overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients toward the end of the year.
“We need at least 5 million vaccinations for a safe autumn and winter,” Health Minister Jens Spahn tweeted.
More than 61% of the German population, or 50.9 million people, are fully vaccinated, but that’s less than in other European countries. The daily vaccination rate has been dropping for weeks, while new infection cases have been going up again.
On Saturday, Germany’s disease control agency reported 10,835 new COVID-19 cases, up from 10,303 a week ago.
“The number of people who have been vaccinated is too low to prevent an overburdening of the health system,” the health minister told daily Hannoversche Zeitung. He said currently 90% of COVID-19 patients in intensive care are unvaccinated, the German news agency dpa reported. More here.
Concerns rise over UK flu outbreak amid vaccine delays
LONDON (AP) — One of the U.K.’s largest suppliers of seasonal influenza vaccines warned Saturday that there could be delivery delays of up to two weeks as a result of a shortage of truck drivers.
In a statement that has accentuated concerns about the potential scale of this winter’s flu outbreak, vaccine company Seqirus blamed “unforeseen challenges linked with road freight delays” for the disruption to deliveries in England and Wales.
The company said it “is working hard to resolve the delay to allow customers to reschedule their influenza vaccination clinics.”
Though the severity of flu outbreaks vary each year, there are concerns that past lockdowns put in place to combat the coronavirus pandemic might make U.K. residents more susceptible to the flu in the coming months. More here.
Health officials advise White House to scale back booster plan for now
WASHINGTON — Top federal health officials have told the White House to scale back a plan to offer coronavirus booster shots to the general public later this month, saying that regulators need more time to collect and review all the necessary data, according to people familiar with the discussion.
Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who heads the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned the White House on Thursday that their agencies may be able to determine in the coming weeks whether to recommend boosters only for recipients of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — and possibly just some of them to start.
The two health leaders made their argument in a meeting with Jeffrey Zients, the White House pandemic coordinator. Several people who heard about the session said it was unclear how Zients responded. But he has insisted for months that the White House will always follow the advice of government scientists, wherever it leads. More here.
Florida grapples with COVID-19’s deadliest phase yet
MIAMI (AP) — Funeral director Wayne Bright has seen grief piled upon grief during the latest COVID-19 surge.
A woman died of the virus, and as her family was planning the funeral, her mother was also struck down. An aunt took over arrangements for the double funeral, only to die of COVID-19 herself two weeks afterward.
“That was one of the most devastating things ever,” said Bright, who also arranged the funeral last week of one of his closest friends.
Florida is in the grip of its deadliest wave of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, a disaster driven by the highly contagious delta variant.
While Florida’s vaccination rate is slightly higher than the national average, the Sunshine State has an outsize population of elderly people, who are especially vulnerable to the virus; a vibrant party scene; and a Republican governor who has taken a hard line against mask requirements, vaccine passports and business shutdowns. More here.
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