Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, July 16, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 COVID-19 pandemic caused disruptions to regular health services and triggered vaccine misinformation, causing about 25 million children across the world to miss routine immunizations that protect them against common diseases.
Officials in the U.K. announced that people 50 or older will be offered a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose in the fall.
Meanwhile, just outside Seattle, a group of Eastside Fire & Rescue firefighters filed a legal claim seeking $171.5 million in damages after they lost their jobs for failing to comply with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
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 the rest of our coronavirus coverage and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington.
New CDC rating for COVID in Tri-Cities means thousands of workers in WA must wear masks
Both Benton and Franklin counties have new ratings of “high” for COVID-19 community levels from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Statewide, 13,434 residents have died of complications of COVID since the start of the pandemic, including 100 in the past week, according to data from the Washington state Department of Health.
Did nature heal during the pandemic ‘anthropause’?
The pandemic was, and remains, a global human tragedy. But for ecologists, it has also been an unparalleled opportunity to learn more about how people affect the natural world by documenting what happened when we abruptly stepped back from it.
A growing body of literature paints a complex portrait of the slowdown of human activity that has become known as the “anthropause.” Some species clearly benefited from our absence, consistent with early media narratives that nature, without people bumbling about, was finally healing. But other species struggled without human protection or resources.
Staten Island Ferry cuts service as virus triggers crew shortages
The Staten Island Ferry system is temporarily running less frequently during rush hours because of a surge in coronavirus infections among staff members, a spokesperson for the city’s transportation department said Friday.
Through July 26, ferries will run at 20-minute intervals between 6 and 9 a.m. and 4 and 8 p.m., adding five minutes to usual wait times. The changes mean three boats will run per hour, as opposed to the usual four. At all other hours, ferries will maintain a 30-minute schedule.
Because of the crew shortage, cancellations are possible overnight, the city transportation department said, although it did not say how many employees were out because of the virus.
New York City’s coronavirus positivity rate has been climbing in recent weeks, and was up by 15% in the last seven days, according to city data. But, as it appears New York is facing yet another wave of infections, it seems the city is shrugging off the threat.
As U.S. COVID hospitalizations climb, a chronic nursing shortage Is worsening
American hospitals are once again filling up with coronavirus patients — but not with nurses to care for them. The nation’s chronic shortage of registered nurses is as bad in some parts of the country as it has ever been, experts say, and it is showing signs of getting worse.
Hospitalizations have risen steadily in recent weeks, and the daily average number of people in hospitals who are infected with the coronavirus now exceeds 39,000, the highest it has been since the waning days of the first omicron surge in early March. The rise is being driven largely by BA.5, a rapidly spreading omicron subvariant that is the best yet at evading some antibodies from previous infections or vaccines.
But in the face of the growing need, hospitals across the country say they still cannot find enough nurses.
In New York state, the shortage is at an “all-time high,” said Matthew Allen, a registered nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City and a board member of the New York State Nurses Association. “It’s just historic, more than it’s ever been before,” Allen said, noting that as of last week, Mount Sinai’s hospital network alone had 771 unfilled registered nurse and nurse practitioner positions.
COVID level ‘high’ in King County, CDC recommends masks
COVID transmission is at a “high” level in King County, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which now recommends masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.
King County is one of 14 Washington counties with high levels of COVID transmission, according to the CDC.
Snohomish, Skagit, Thurston, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla, Columbia, Adams, Lincoln and Spokane counties also have high levels of transmission.
King County health officials said Thursday that they are “actively considering” the return of a mask mandate in the county, as transmission levels are now higher than at the peak of last summer’s delta wave, but still much lower than last winter’s omicron wave.
How the World Athletics Championships and Oregon officials have prepared for COVID-19
Organizers expect the 10-day event, which began Friday, to draw close to 200,000 visitors and 1,900 athletes from across the world at a time when COVID may have reached its most contagious levels yet.
Some research estimates every one person infected with the latest subvariants BA.4 or BA.5 can infect about 18 other people. That makes the subvariants nearly twice as contagious as the initial strain of omicron and possibly more contagious than measles, the most infectious known virus in history.
To compete in Eugene, all athletes will be required to test once – showing proof of a negative COVID-19 test before arriving. They won’t be required to undergo a swab again in the days leading up to their competitions, but athletes are on the honor system to comply with rules that they test if they start feeling sick.
COVID deaths reported in Whitman County for first time since early March
The first two COVID-19 deaths in Whitman County since early March were reported this week, according to figures posted on the Washington State Department of Health website.
The deaths raise Whitman County’s total for the pandemic to 92. No information was reported about the people who died.
Deaths were also reported this week in Asotin County in Washington and Clearwater and Lewis counties in Idaho.
BART will lift its COVID mask mandate on Monday — again. But could it be back soon?
The Bay Area’s most on-again, off-again COVID mask mandate is … off again starting Monday.
BART will lift its masking requirement for riders for the second time in three months. But the transit agency’s leaders say if the current wave gets worse the mandate could be back again.
Letting the mandate expire now confounds some Bay Area epidemiologists who see the decision as “non-sensical” at a moment when COVID-19 case counts are once again surging.
When BART leadership decided last spring to extend its mask rules to July 18, the Board of Directors cited safety concerns for immunocompromised riders and children under the age of 5 who could not yet be vaccinated.
But while toddlers gained access to vaccines on June 17, most other public health metrics have only worsened in the intervening months.
San Diego schools will bring back mask mandate Monday amid high county COVID spread
San Diego’s increasingly severe level of COVID-19 transmission prompted San Diego Unified to bring back an indoor mask mandate for students and staff starting Monday.
In May, San Diego Unified set multiple criteria that, if met, would trigger a return to a mask mandate. One of those criteria was if San Diego County entered a “high” level of COVID spread, as determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On Thursday, the county met that threshold.
Starting Monday, everyone at schools and San Diego Unified district offices will have to wear a mask while indoors, the district announced in an email to families on Friday evening.
The mask mandate will last at least two weeks and will affect students attending summer school programs, according to the district.
Just how big is this COVID surge? As reported tests fall off, it’s harder to say
In Sherman Oaks, Julia Irzyk tries to gauge how rampant the coronavirus is in her community, turning to a constellation of data points to guide her.
“I have very little confidence that I would survive COVID,” said Irzyk, who is more vulnerable to the coronavirus because she has lupus and other health conditions.
So Irzyk keeps track of hospitalizations and deaths. She checks data from wastewater monitoring that predicts spikes in the coronavirus. Recently, troubled by what she was seeing in the numbers, she told employees at her talent agency to stop coming to work in the office.
But she puts little stock in one of the simplest numbers regularly shared by health officials: How many COVID-19 cases are being reported.
Those official figures are “relatively worthless at this point,” said Irzyk, who authored a book on disability and the law. “Positive tests are being discovered through home testing — and they’re not reported to anyone.”
The boom in home testing for the coronavirus has meant that health officials never hear about many COVID cases, deflating official counts.
COVID outbreak reported at WA prison
The Washington Department of Corrections reported 20 active COVID-19 cases among incarcerated individuals over the last 14 days at Larch Corrections Center, according to a Wednesday bulletin.
The minimum-security prison near Yacolt, Clark County, was placed on facilitywide outbreak status after one incarcerated individual and three staff members tested positive, the DOC reported last week. There were four active cases among staff members as of Wednesday.
To date, 438 incarcerated individuals and 88 staff members have tested positive at Larch, according to the DOC. The majority of those cases came during an outbreak in late 2020, when more than 90 percent of the inmate population tested positive.
Macao extends lockdown to curb biggest COVID-19 outbreak
The Chinese gambling enclave of Macao on Saturday extended its lockdown by five days as it grapples with the biggest outbreak of the coronavirus in over two years.
Authorities said that industries and commercial companies will remain closed until July 23. The lockdown, which began July 11, had initially been set to expire Sunday.
As part of the lockdown, authorities have suspended dine-in services and ordered all residents to avoid leaving their homes unless absolutely necessary. Those who need to go out must wear KN95 masks or similar.
The city, which has a population of 680,000, recorded 31 infections on Friday. Since its latest outbreak that began June 18, the city has reported some 1,700 infections.