May 29, 2024

Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, October 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

About nine in 10 public school employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in Washington state, the state education department announced this week. The 89% vaccination rate for school workers — who were among the first granted access to vaccines — is slightly lower than that of other state employees, whose total vaccinated numbers stands at about 93%. Nearly all of the rest, about 10%, were granted a religious or medical exemption by their school district, a rate seven percentage points higher than that of other state agencies combined. Most of the exemptions, which are granted by individual school district human resources departments, are for religious reasons. 

Up to 12,000 Air Force personnel have rejected orders to get fully vaccinated against the coronavirus despite a Pentagon mandate. Officials say it is too late for them to do so by Tuesday’s deadline. The vast majority of active-duty airmen, 96.4%, are at least partially vaccinated and nearly 87% of active duty troops are fully vaccinated, though hesitancy among military reservists and National Guard members drives down the rate for the entire military to about 68%. Religious objections have centered on the fetal cell lines used in some aspects of vaccine development — essentially reproductions of cells from abortions performed in the 1970s and ’80s; the shots themselves don’t contain the actual cells. A regimen of numerous vaccines is required upon joining the military and even more if troops are deployed overseas. Some of the required vaccines for diseases like Rubella, chickenpox and hepatitis A also were developed using similar cells.

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.

Sweden’s pandemic response faulted as too slow, unprepared

Sweden’s response to the spread of coronavirus was too slow and its preparations to handle a pandemic were insufficient, a stinging official report concluded Friday.

The Scandinavian country has stood out among European nations for its comparatively hands-off response to the pandemic, emphasizing individual responsibility and choices instead of mandated government health measures.

In its preliminary findings, the new report said Sweden’s initial protection measures were “insufficient to stop or even sharply limit the spread of infection,” and that its solution to counter the outbreak “was based on voluntariness and personal responsibility, rather than more intrusive measures.”

It added that Swedish laws were “insufficient to deal with a serious epidemic or pandemic outbreak,” and that the country’s infection control system was decentralized, making “it unclear who is responsible for the whole when a serious infectious disease affects the country.”

Earlier this week, Sweden passed the threshold of 15,000 deaths with COVID-19.

Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren told Swedish news agency TT that she agreed with the criticism, saying it “could have been done differently.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Nearly 5% of unvaccinated adults have quit their jobs over mandates, poll finds

As more workplaces initiate a vaccine mandate policy for employees, nearly 5% of unvaccinated workers have decided to quit their jobs in protest, a new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation said.

The survey also found that one-quarter of workers said their employer has mandated vaccination, a sharp rise from the 19 percent who said the same answer in September.

President Biden announced last month that all businesses with more than 100 employees must require all workers to receive a COVID-19 vaccine or be subject to weekly testing. The new policy — which was put into the hands of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration — is still under review but could potentially cover over two-thirds of private businesses if implemented, NBC News reported.

According to the KFF survey, one-third of unvaccinated workers who are still employed said they would rather quit their job than adhere to the federal mandates.

“Right now only a quarter of workers say that their employer has required them to get a vaccine, so it’s still quite hypothetical for these workers who say they would leave their jobs,” said Lunna Lopes, a senior survey analyst at the Kaiser Family Foundation. She added that the results indicate “a sense of people’s attitudes” toward mandated action.

Read the story here.

—Brandon Sapienza, New York Daily News

West Virginia: First to worst in COVID-19 vaccine efforts

When COVID-19 vaccines first became available, Ric Griffith’s family-owned drugstore was among 250 mom-and-pop pharmacies that helped West Virginia get off to the fastest start of any state in vaccinating its residents.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice went on national news shows to declare West Virginia — a place that regularly ranks near the bottom in many health indicators — “the diamond in the rough.”

Nine months later, those days are a distant memory. Demand for the vaccine has almost dried up, the question of whether to get a shot has become a political hot button, and West Virginia’s vaccination rate has plummeted to the lowest among the states.

The governor, who spent months preaching the virtues of the vaccine to reluctant West Virginians, is still doing that but is also promoting a new law that would allow some exemptions to employer-imposed vaccination requirements.

And those shots? They’re mostly sitting on shelves.

Read the story here.

—John Raby, The Associated Press

Ruling: Can’t fire unvaccinated while mandate is challenged

Louisiana’s largest health system cannot fire or otherwise discipline north Louisiana employees who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 while the mandate’s legality is in court, a state appeals court says.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal in Shreveport ruled Thursday, just a day before Ochsner Health’s Friday deadline for its 32,000 employees across Louisiana and in a small part of Mississippi to be fully vaccinated or face dismissal.

State District Judge Craig Marcotte had thrown out a lawsuit brought Oct. 5 by dozens of employees at Ochsner’s Shreveport location. The three-judge appellate panel ordered him to hold a hearing on the mandate and to block enforcement until its legality is decided.

Read the story here.

—Janet McConnaughey, The Associated Press

Why these L.A. teachers and school workers defied vaccine mandates, and what it cost them

Former film-production teacher Jamal Y. Speakes Sr. can no longer get past the perimeter fence of Valley Oaks Center for Enriched Studies in Sun Valley, California, because he refused a COVID-19 vaccination. He applied for a religious exemption and got one, but could no longer teach in person. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Two teachers, a teaching assistant and a cafeteria manager — all were opposed to the COVID-19 vaccination mandate for Los Angeles school employees. One remains teaching but lost a beloved position; another was fired outright. An employee who won an exemption is out of work anyway. And yet another gave in to a jab at the last minute, but only because of a family crisis.

Their anti-vaccine views are outliers among some 73,000 colleagues, 95% of whom have had at least one shot. But they paid a price for holding to personal beliefs in the face of public-health policy mandates and experts who cite strong evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.

The Los Angeles Unified School District was among the first school systems in the nation to require employees to be vaccinated. The Oct. 15 deadline prompted a last-minute surge among thousands who were hesitant. No vaccine meant no entry onto a campus — and likely no job.

Similar vaccination deadlines — and decisions — are approaching for workers across the country as vaccine mandates go into place.

Veteran high school teacher Jamal Y. Speakes Sr. applied for a religious exemption and got one. The cost? He had to give up the popular film-production program he built at Valley Oaks Center for Enriched Studies in Sun Valley. His classes concentrated on teaching students behind-the-camera skills.

“In the light of my seriously held God-following beliefs, my heart, soul and mind belong to the Almighty Creator Elohim,” said Speakes, 50, “it is against my faith and conscience to have any of this injected into my body. I truly believe the God-given immune system has been proven to be the strongest against communicable disease.”

He has other justifications, too, including a wariness “as an African American male with the prolonged negative history with this country and its governmental experiments.” He’s referring, in part, to the Tuskegee experiments, from 1932 to 1972, in which U.S. government researchers used Black men with syphilis to study the effects of the disease rather than trying to treat or cure them.

Read the story here.

—Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times

Mandatory arbitration cases have soared during the pandemic

U.S. employers relied heavily on arbitration in the first months of the pandemic, pushing a record number of complaints involving discrimination, harassment, wage theft and other grievances through a closed-door system largely weighted against consumers and workers, according to a report being released this week.

Companies closed nearly 14,000 arbitration cases in 2020, according to the American Association for Justice (AAJ), the industry group for trial lawyers. That’s 17% more filings year over year, in a system with no path for appeal.

“We’ve outsourced our justice system, as far as workers and consumers are concerned,” said Julia Duncan, senior director of government affairs at AAJ.

Mandatory arbitration — which requires employees and consumers to mediate disputes with the business instead of a court — has become the norm in corporate America. The practice disproportionately affects low-wage workers and industries like retail with large numbers of female and Black employees, the Economic Policy Institute found.

In recent years, a number of corporations including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Uber have begun rolling back forced-arbitration clauses, particularly for sexual harassment claims. Others, though, have doubled down on the practice: At least 240 companies have registered or updated mandatory arbitration clauses during the pandemic, according to the AAJ report.

The House Judiciary Committee this week is marking up the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal Act, which would prohibit forced arbitration in all forms. The measure previously passed the House in 2019 with bipartisan support but was not taken up by the Senate.

Read the story here.

—Abha Bhattarai, The Washington Post

US intel doesn’t expect to determine origins of COVID-19

FILe – Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines introduces President Joe Biden during a visit to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in McLean, Va., on July 27, 2021. U.S. intelligence agencies say they likely won’t ever be able to conclude whether COVID-19 spread by animal-to-human transmission or leaked from a lab. The Director of National Intelligence issued a paper Friday, Oct. 29, that elaborates on findings released in August of a 90-day review ordered by Biden. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Barring an unforeseen breakthrough, intelligence agencies won’t be able to conclude whether COVID-19 spread by animal-to-human transmission or leaked from a lab, officials said Friday in releasing a fuller version of their review into the origins of the pandemic.

The paper issued by the Director of National Intelligence elaborates on findings released in August of a 90-day review ordered by President Joe Biden. That review said that U.S. intelligence agencies were divided on the origins of the virus but that analysts do not believe the virus was developed as a bioweapon and that most agencies believe the virus was not genetically engineered.

China has resisted global pressure to cooperate fully with investigations into the pandemic or provide access to genetic sequences of coronaviruses kept at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which remains a subject of speculation for its research and reported safety problems. Biden launched the review amid growing momentum for the theory — initially broadly dismissed by experts — that the virus leaked from the Wuhan lab. Former President Donald Trump and his supporters long argued that a lab leak was possible as they sought to deflect criticism of his handling of the pandemic.

Read the story here.

—Nomaan Merchant, The Associated Press

FDA paves way for Pfizer COVID-19 vaccinations in young kids

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday paved the way for children ages 5 to 11 to get Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

The FDA cleared kid-size doses — just a third of the amount given to teens and adults — for emergency use, and up to 28 million more American children could be eligible for vaccinations as early as next week.

One more regulatory hurdle remains: On Tuesday, advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make more detailed recommendations on which youngsters should get vaccinated, with a final decision by the agency’s director expected shortly afterwards.

“With this vaccine kids can go back to something that’s better than being locked at home on remote schooling, not being able to see their friends,” said Dr. Kawsar Talaat of Johns Hopkins University. “The vaccine will protect them and also protect our communities.”

A few countries have begun using other COVID-19 vaccines in children under 12, including China, which just began vaccinations for 3-year-olds. But many that use the vaccine made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech are watching the U.S. decision, and European regulators just began considering the companies’ kid-size doses.

Read the story here.

—Lauran Neergaard and Matthew Perrone, The Associated Press

Halloween brings more fun and less fear as COVID cases fall

Grayson Martin, 3, poses in his costume as his parents Rachelle and Patrick Martin, look on, during a visit to Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, in Salt Lake City. Coronavirus cases in the U.S. are on the decline, and trick-or-treaters can feel safer collecting candy. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Witches and warlocks, ghosts and ghouls can breathe a little easier this year: Coronavirus cases in the U.S. are on the decline, and trick-or-treaters can feel safer collecting candy.

And while a new poll indicates Halloween participation is rebounding but still short of pre-pandemic levels, an industry trade group says people who are celebrating are driving record-level spooky spending this year.

Sales of candy, costumes and décor are up at least 25% over last year and are predicted to set a new high, between $10 to $11 billion, said Aneisha McMillan, spokeswoman for the trade group Halloween and Costume Association.

“People are really getting the Halloween spirit,” she said.

Read the story here.

—Lindsay Whitehurst and Terry Tang, The Associated Press

Virus is surging again in Europe as winter looms

Coronavirus cases may be falling in much of the world, but they are on the rise again in Europe, where pandemic restrictions have been relaxed and cold weather has moved into some northern and eastern countries.

From Oct. 18 through Sunday, more than half the world’s new confirmed cases were reported in Europe, a World Health Organization report said, and it was the only region that reported an increase in both new infections and coronavirus deaths. Low vaccination rates in Eastern Europe are partly to blame for the grim numbers.

Europe recently overtook the United States in daily cases per capita, with nearly 29 cases per 100,000 people, compared with about 22 in the United States, according to Our World In Data.

The countries hit hardest now are concentrated in Eastern Europe with the Baltic nations — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — each averaging more than 100 new daily cases per 100,000 people, according to a New York Times database.

Read the story here.

—Monika Pronczuk and Todd Gregory, The New York Times

Russia marks another daily deaths record as infections soar

A food delivery courier rides a bicycle in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. Russia has recorded another record of daily coronavirus deaths even as authorities hope to stem contagion by keeping most people off work. Moscow introduced the measure starting from Thursday, shutting kindergartens, schools, gyms, entertainment venues and most stores, and restricting restaurants and cafes to only takeout or delivery. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Russia on Friday recorded another record of daily coronavirus deaths as authorities hoped to stem contagion by keeping most people off work.

The government’s coronavirus task force reported 1,163 deaths in 24 hours, the largest daily number since the pandemic began. The latest deaths brought the total toll to 236,220, by far the highest in Europe.

To contain the spread of infection, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a work shut down from Oct. 30 to Nov. 7, when most state organizations and private businesses are to suspend operations. He encouraged Russia’s worst-hit regions to start sooner, and some ordered most residents off work earlier this week.

The number of new daily cases in Russia rose by 39,849 on Friday, just below an all-time record reported the previous day.

Read the story here.

—Vladimir Isachenkov, The Associated Press

In China, 300 coronavirus cases means public shaming, marooned travelers and a nationwide dragnet

With tourists stranded at vacation spots, major cities under lockdown and whole train-loads of passengers placed in quarantine, Chinese authorities have enlisted vast swaths of the population to track down and smother the country’s third outbreak of the delta variant this year.

And in case, people haven’t gotten the point about how committed China is to eliminating the virus while most of the world shifts toward mitigation, the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV on Wednesday released an interview with a Beijing-based lawyer in which he explained that failure to follow coronavirus protocols could constitute “endangering public safety in dangerous ways” – a crime, he added, that carries the death penalty.

On Friday, the National Health Commission reported 48 symptomatic coronavirus infections from local spread, bringing the number of confirmed cases from the latest outbreak to more than 300 people across 14 provinces.

In many countries, those kinds of numbers would be untroubling or even a cause for celebration. But in China authorities have once again launched something akin to a nationwide manhunt to restrain the virus by tracking down the transmission chain and quarantining anyone with exposure – no matter how fleeting and irrespective of whether they had been vaccinated.

The containment measures often vary significantly across regions, with some local authorities focusing on theatrical but ineffective measures like using drones to spray disinfectant, often releasing promotional videos of their efforts.

Read the story here.

—Christian Shepherd, The Washington Post

Air Force is first military branch to face rejection of vaccine mandate as thousands avoid shots

Senior Airman Rendall Powell, 412th Test Wing, receives a COVID-19 vaccination shot from Lt. Col. Yvonne Storey, 412th Medical Group, at the Airman and Family Readiness Center on Edwards Air Force Base, California, Aug. 25. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III issued a memorandum directing mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for service members. John F. Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, said only Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccines will be mandatory. (Air Force photo by Katherine Franco)

Up to 12,000 Air Force personnel have rejected orders to get fully vaccinated against the coronavirus despite a Pentagon mandate and officials say it is too late for them to do so by Tuesday’s deadline, posing a first major test for military leaders whose August directive has been met with defiance among a segment of the force.

The vast majority of active-duty airmen, 96.4%, are at least partially vaccinated, according to data from the Air Force. But officials have warned that, barring an approved medical or religious exemption, those who defy lawful orders to be fully immunized are subject to punishment, including possible dismissal from the service or they could be charged in the military justice system.

The challenge now confronting Air Force leaders — how to address potential large-scale dissent in the face of a top health priority that has been deeply politicized — is a bellwether for the dilemma that’s in store across the military’s other services, which have staggered compliance deadlines ranging from the end of November to the middle of next summer and in some cases have experienced far greater resistance to President Joe Biden’s mandate.

A wave of dismissals could jolt the Air Force personnel system and cause significant challenges within units that must be ready to respond to crises at a moment’s notice, especially if some vital jobs — like pilots or aircraft maintainers — are overrepresented among those who could face expulsion.

Read the story here.

—Alex Horton, The Washington Post

30,000 people gather for a climate summit in a pandemic; what could go wrong?

Starting on Sunday, world leaders, negotiators from 190 countries, British royals, official observers, journalists, activists, celebrities — and as many as 100,000 demonstrators — will descend on Glasgow, Scotland, to try to save the planet from runaway warming.

What could go wrong? A lot. Even apart from possible failure of the talks.

The COP26 climate summit, postponed last year because of the pandemic, is going forward despite a soaring spike in COVID in Britain, where case levels now rival last winter’s peak.

The British and Scottish governments, serving as hosts, are expecting up to 30,000 official attendees — who will be meeting indoors, huddling in tense talks, for hours and hours a day, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12 and potentially longer. It will be the largest ever summit hosted in Britain. Organizers are scrambling to make sure the conference does not morph into a superspreader event.

Read the story here.

—William Booth, The Washington Post

NYC braces for fewer cops, more trash as vax deadline looms

Firefighters rally outside Mayor Bill De Blasio’s residence Gracie Mansion to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers, Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, in New York. The city is bracing for a worker shortage as tens of thousands of municipal employees remain unvaccinated. (AP Photo/Jeenah Moon)

Mounting trash. Closed firehouses. Fewer police and ambulances on the street.

That’s the possibility New York City is bracing for come Monday as a COVID-19 vaccine mandate looms and thousands of municipal workers remain unwilling to get the shots.

Police officers, firefighters, garbage collectors and most other city workers face a 5 p.m. Friday deadline to show proof they’ve gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Workers who don’t comply will be put on unpaid leave starting Monday.

Mayor Bill de Blasio held firm on the mandate as firefighters rallied Thursday outside his official residence, sanitation workers appeared to be skipping garbage pick ups in protest and the city’s largest police union went to an appeals court seeking a halt to the vaccine requirement.

Pat Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association, said the hard deadline “sets the city up for a real crisis.” Andrew Ansbro, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, warned longer response times will “be a death sentence to some people.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Has the virus infected huge numbers of younger children?

A healthcare worker administers a COVID-19 test on a child in the Mission District of San Francisco in August. (Mike Kai Chen/The New York Times)

A startling statistic emerged as advisers to the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday debated use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 5 to 11. According to one federal scientist, by June an estimated 42% of these children had already been infected with the coronavirus.

That figure was much higher than anyone expected. But the estimate, which was from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, might have overstated the percentage of children who were infected, several experts said. Among other flaws, the percentage was based on tests known to have a high rate of “false positives” — signaling the presence of antibodies where there are none.

And even if unexpectedly high numbers of children have been infected, parents should not assume that they are shielded from the virus and don’t need the vaccine. Immunization will cement that protection now and against future virus variants, said Scott Hensley, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

Read the story here.

—Apoorva Mandavilli, The New York Times

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Washingtonians have a new way to show proof of vaccination. We successfully tested the online WA Verify tool, which is arriving just after King County’s new rules on vaccine verification went into effect.
See if you’re eligible for a booster shot by checking our new flow chart and taking a more detailed look at who qualifies. 

Up to 12,000 Air Force personnel have rejected orders to get vaccinated, raising concerns about the military branch’s readiness to respond to crises.

Some parents were eager to get the coronavirus vaccine, but now they’re wavering on vaccinating their kids. What they decide could change the pandemic’s trajectory. Reliable information on this is competing with a maelstrom of untrue claims and startling statistics that may not be quite what they seem — like the one about how many kids have already been infected.

An island nation has reported its first-ever COVID-19 case, brought in by a plane traveler. Now the under-resourced health system faces big troubles if the virus takes hold.

—Kris Higginson