Nearly all of Washington state is “on the path to runaway transmission rates of COVID-19,” public health officials warned this week as more infections are found per day than ever before.
President Donald Trump has been striking a more optimistic tone in his newly restarted daily briefings, ignoring alarming metrics that show just how much America is struggling in its fight against the virus. On Wednesday, he announced $5 billion in aid to nursing home facilities.
Throughout Thursday, on this page, we’ll be posting updates on the pandemic and its effects on the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest and the world. Updates from Wednesday can be found here, and all our coronavirus coverage can be found here.
Durkan and 70-plus other mayors ask White House to ramp up COVID-19 testing supplies
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and more than 70 other U.S. mayors have sent a letter to the White House Coronavirus Task Force calling on the Trump administration to make “full use” of the Defense Production Act to scale up testing supplies.
“As the COVID-19 infection rate continues to rise in many of our communities and businesses require testing to protect their employees, the need for increased testing is critical to our response,” the letter said.
“Our national testing system must be able to rely on sustained supplies for the next 24 months.”
In a news release, Durkan said she warned about testing needs when the pandemic first emerged and now wants to “sound the alarm again.”
“As the virus surges across the entire country, we know that supply chains are at capacity,” she said. “We need our federal government to step up and harness the ingenuity and innovation of American companies to provide the supplies needed to save lives.”
Are children ‘stoppers’ of COVID-19 as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos claims?
“More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don’t get it and transmit it themselves, so we should be in a posture of — the default should be getting back to school kids in person, in the classroom.” — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, in an interview on “The Conservative Circus” (iHeart radio), July 16
Could children actually be “stoppers” of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus? That would be great news — if true. The interruption of school threatens to create a learning deficit — and many parents may find it difficult to return to work if children are not in classes.
DeVos’ view was echoed by President Donald Trump news briefing Wednesday. “They do say that they [children] don’t transmit very easily, and a lot of people are saying they don’t transmit,” he said. “They don’t bring it home with them. They don’t catch it easily; they don’t bring it home easily.”
An Education Department spokesperson supplied four reports from around the world, including one from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggesting children don’t contract or spread the virus the way that adults do, in contrast to how they spread influenza.
Numerous other studies, however, contradict DeVos’ assertion.
Michael T. Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, said that too often people have latched on to studies that later turn out to be flawed. “There have been so many studies, sometimes with strident conclusions, only to be blown out of the water later” when conditions change, he said. “The bottom-line message is that school-age kids will see transmissions. How much is unclear, but they definitely are not brakes.”
Virus means Mexican emigrants send fewer dollars to hometown
In the weeks he spent flat on his back in his Brooklyn bunk, wracked with pain and struggling to breathe, Axayacatl Figueroa could think of nothing but the small town and the family he had left behind in Mexico.
Each month, he had sent $300 or $400 to his wife and son in San Jerónimo Xayacatlán. The money was hard earned: For more than a decade, he cleaned pork, cut meat and boned chickens in the basement kitchen of a Vietnamese restaurant.
But now, Figueroa had COVID-19. There was no work, and there was no money to send home.
“I felt desperate. I couldn’t do anything,” he said.
Florida man faces felony charges for pointing gun at Walmart shopper over masks
A Florida man is facing felony charges for pointing a gun at another Walmart shopper who had told him to wear a mask, officials said Thursday.
Vincent Scavetta, 28, was charged with aggravated assault with a firearm and improper exhibition of a firearm after surrendering Wednesday to Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies. At a Thursday hearing, bail was set at $15,000.
According to an arrest report, Scavetta admitted to sheriff’s investigators he was the shopper in surveillance video who pulled a gun during a July 12 argument with Chris Estrada, who had told him to wear a mask because of the coronavirus pandemic. Palm Beach County requires masks be worn in stores.
Arab economies to shrink by 5.7% amid virus fallout
The pandemic will exact a heavy toll on Arab countries, causing an economic contraction of 5.7% this year, pushing millions into poverty and compounding the suffering of those affected by armed conflict, a U.N. report said Thursday.
The U.N.’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia expects some Arab economies to shrink by up to 13%, amounting to an overall loss for the region of $152 billion.
Another 14.3 million people are expected to be pushed into poverty, raising the total number to 115 million — a quarter of the total Arab population, it said. More than 55 million people in the region relied on humanitarian aid before the COVID-19 crisis, including 26 million who were forcibly displaced.
Arab countries moved quickly to contain the virus in March by imposing stay-at-home orders, restricting travel and banning large gatherings, including religious pilgrimages.
Arab countries as a whole have reported more than 830,000 cases and at least 14,717 deaths. That equates to an infection rate of 1.9 per 1,000 people and 17.6 deaths per 1,000 cases, less than half the global average of 42.6 deaths, according to the U.N.
But the restrictions exacted a heavy economic toll, and authorities have been forced to ease them in recent weeks. That has led to a surge in cases in some countries, including Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories.
3 in 4 Americans back mandatory masks, new poll shows
Three out of four Americans, including a majority of Republicans, favor requiring people to wear face coverings while outside their homes, a new poll finds, reflecting fresh alarm over spiking coronavirus cases and a growing embrace of government advice intended to safeguard public health.
The survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research also finds that about two-thirds of Americans disapprove of how President Donald Trump is handling the outbreak, an unwelcome sign for the White House in an election year shaped by the nation’s battle with the pandemic.
More than four months after government stay-at-home orders first swept across the U.S., the poll spotlights an America increasingly on edge about the virus. The federal government’s response is seen as falling short, and most Americans favor continued restrictions to stop the virus from spreading even if they might hamstring the economy.
Support for requiring masks is overwhelming among Democrats, at 89%, but 58% of Republicans are in favor as well. The poll was conducted before Trump, who for months was dismissive of masks, said this week that it’s patriotic to wear one.
“Not wearing a mask, to me, poses a greater risk of spreading the COVID,” said Darius Blevins, a 33-year-old Republican-leaning independent from Christiansburg, Virginia, who works in bank operations. Blevins said he wears a mask in public because “it’s much more effective than not wearing the mask.”
It’s an opinion echoed by data analyst James Shaw, an independent who tilts Democratic. “If you understand the facts, there is really no issue,” said Shaw, 56, of Noble, Illinois. “The data is crystal clear.”
Deaths up in South Africa, where virus surging like ‘wildfire’
Global hot spot South Africa is seeing a “huge discrepancy” between confirmed COVID-19 deaths and an unusually high number of deaths from natural causes, while Africa’s top health official said Thursday the coronavirus is spreading there “like wildfire.”
A new report by the South African Medical Research Council, released late Wednesday, shows more than 17,000 additional deaths from May 6 to July 14 as compared to data from the past two years, while confirmed COVID-19 deaths are 5,940.
“The numbers have shown a relentless increase — by the second week of July, there were 59% more deaths from natural causes than would have been expected,” the report says.
The council’s president, Glenda Gray, said the excess deaths could be attributed to COVID-19 as well as other widespread diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis while many health resources are redirected toward the pandemic.
South Africa now has the world’s fifth-largest caseload, though some South Africans are thought to be avoiding health facilities as fears of the new virus spread and public hospitals are overwhelmed.
The country has more than half the confirmed cases on the African continent with 394,948, and the toll was expected to surpass 400,000 by the end of Thursday.
Why are coins hard to find during the pandemic?
Why are coins hard to find during the pandemic?
The Federal Reserve has seen a significant decline of coins in circulation because people are not spending them as regularly at businesses, many of which are either temporarily closed or not accepting cash.
Coins are still plentiful. In April, the U.S. Treasury estimated more than $47.8 billion were in the market, up by more than a billion dollars compared to last year.
But in recent months, people have not been spending those coins at places like laundromats, banks, restaurants, or shops because the businesses are closed, or people are not visiting them as often as they were before the pandemic.
“The typical places where coin enters our society have slowed or even stopped the normal circulation of coin,” said the Federal Reserve, which manages coin inventory, in a June statement.
Owner of Ann Taylor and Lane Bryant, a big mall retailer, files for bankruptcy
The owner of Ann Taylor and Lane Bryant, which just a few years ago was one of the country’s largest clothing retailers for women and girls, filed for bankruptcy Thursday, after declining sales and high debt were exacerbated by store closures mandated by coronavirus lockdowns.
The company, Ascena Retail Group, will close “a select number” of Ann Taylor, Lane Bryant, LOFT and Lou & Grey stores as well as all of its Catherines locations, the company said in a Chapter 11 filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Eastern District of Virginia.
The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on retailers, especially apparel sellers and other mall-based chains that might have otherwise stayed afloat, perhaps even for a short period, without turning to bankruptcy court.
Ascena, based in Mahwah, New Jersey, is at least the ninth prominent retailer to file for bankruptcy since early May, on the heels of Brooks Brothers and Sur La Table this month, and in the wake of J. Crew, Neiman Marcus Group, J.C. Penney Co., Lucky Brand, Stage Stores and GNC.
Ascena was known for decades as Dress Barn, the clothing chain founded in 1962 by Roslyn S. Jaffe, who noticed that there were few options for stylish and affordable women’s work attire even as more women were entering the workforce.
Layoffs, tensions over Black Lives Matter posts roil Seattle Children’s Museum
The two big headlines of this summer — COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement — have roiled through Seattle Children’s Museum, putting it in hibernation for the foreseeable future.
On Monday, Seattle Children’s Museum (SCM) laid off nine of its remaining employees, saying a nine-week federal Paycheck Protection Program loan had expired, leaving a skeleton crew of six.
“The remainder of the employees, including me, will be laid off at some point in the near future,” said SCM director Christi Stapleton Keith. (Pandemic shutdowns forced SCM to lay off most of its 21-member staff in March — the PPP loan allowed a handful to come back from early May until late July.)
The layoffs hit in the middle of a weeks-long controversy over three official SCM social-media posts, including lists of suggested children’s books, that went up on May 30 and began with the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”
Keith had edited out “Black Lives Matter” shortly after the posts went up, angering staff, which told SCM management it was going on strike.
“We were prepared to suspend our labor,” employee Anthony Noceda explained, until five demands were met: reinstatement of the original posts; an apology from Keith to the staff, particularly staff members of color; a public apology from Keith explaining why she edited out “Black Lives Matter”; a private meeting between SCM staff and the museum’s board; and the revocation of Keith’s administrative access to SCM’s Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Obama blasts Trump, praises Biden in new 2020 campaign video
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama stepped up their attacks on President Donald Trump and defended their time in the White House in a new video showing their first in-person meeting since the coronavirus outbreak began.
The 15-minute video, posted online Thursday, is the latest maneuver to get the former president involved in the 2020 campaign for his former vice president.
In an interview-style conversation, the former president and vice president pointed to their administration’s signature health-care law and blamed Trump for stoking division and animosity among Americans from the moment he entered the 2016 presidential race.
They also were sharply critical of the Republican president’s efforts to combat the coronavirus, which has killed more than 140,000 Americans.
“Can you imagine standing up when you were president and saying, ‘It’s not my responsibility, I take no responsibility’?” Biden says, offering a line of attack similar to his recent campaign speeches when he asserted that Trump “quit” on the country and has “waved the white flag” in the pandemic.
“Those words didn’t come out of our mouths while we were in office,” Obama replies.
The pair is shown in the video wearing masks while arriving at an office, then sitting down well apart from each other to observe social distancing for a bare-faced chat. Biden’s campaign billed it as their first face-to-face meeting since the coronavirus pandemic began.
Virus sends unemployment claims up for first time since March
WASHINGTON — The viral pandemic’s resurgence caused the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits to rise last week for the first time in nearly four months, evidence of the deepening economic pain the outbreak is causing.
The increase in weekly jobless claims to 1.4 million served to underscore the outsize role the unemployment insurance system is playing among the nation’s safety net programs — just when a $600 weekly federal aid payment for the jobless is set to expire at the end of this week.
All told, the Labor Department said Thursday that the total number of people receiving jobless benefits fell 1.1 million to 16.2 million. That was a hopeful sign that even as layoffs remain persistently high, some companies are still recalling workers.
Washington state’s initial unemployment claims during the week ended July 18 were 34,639, down from 45,622 the prior week, according to Department of Labor figures. Later today, the state’s Employment Security Department releases its own numbers, which may differ from the federal data.
White House drops payroll tax cut as GOP unveils virus aid
WASHINGTON — The White House has reluctantly dropped a bid to cut Social Security payroll taxes as Republicans unveil a $1 trillion COVID-19 rescue package on Thursday, ceding to opposition to the idea among top Senate allies.
“It won’t be in the base bill,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, speaking on CNBC about the payroll tax cut, killing for now an idea that has been a major demand of President Donald Trump.
The legislation, set to be released Thursday morning by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., comes amid alarming developments on the virus crisis.
McConnell’s package is an opening GOP bid in talks with top Capitol Hill Democrats in a negotiation that could be rockier than talks in March that produced a $2 trillion rescue package. GOP senators and Trump are at odds over priorities, and Democrats say it’s not nearly enough to stem the health crisis, reopen schools and extend aid to jobless Americans.
As fewer people fly, airlines announce big losses
The average daily number of travelers passing through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport dipped in the week July 12-18, reversing the trend of slow growth after the sharp drop that accompanied the onset of the pandemic.
Air cargo volumes at Sea-Tac continue to go up, though still considerably below pre-pandemic levels.
Airlines — including American, Southwest and Seattle-based Alaska Air — have announced staggering losses. Alaska’s CEO cited “the biggest demand contraction in the history of aviation.”
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Schools go 100% remote: Several of King County’s biggest districts, including Seattle and Bellevue, yesterday said they intend to keep their doors closed this fall. The plans affect more than 150,000 children and leave several urgent questions unanswered. This comes as a new poll reflects many Americans’ deep unease with reopenings. (President Donald Trump, though, says he’s comfortable sending his son and grandchildren.) Parents nationwide are rushing to hire tutors and create “learning pods” … and that’s raising big concerns.
Nearly all of Washington state is “on the path to runaway transmission rates of COVID-19,” health officials are warning as hospitalizations and positive tests rise.
U.S. hospitalizations have risen almost back to their April peak. But this phase of the pandemic is spiking differently, with younger patients and a widening geographic area. California is staggering, with more than 12,000 new cases reported in just 24 hours. Oregon’s surge has sparked new mandates. And President Donald Trump is promising $5 billion to help nursing homes ward off another wave of deaths.
“It’s stressful trying to get people to stay at their tables.” Seattle servers are speaking out about what it’s like to work in a reopened restaurant amid COVID-19 risks, and whether they feel comfortable dining out themselves.
Can you contract the coronavirus twice? It’s too early to draw sweeping conclusions, but scientists are puzzling over a growing number of reports that, if accurate, could complicate efforts to make a long-lasting vaccine.
A $1 trillion COVID-19 rescue package will be unveiled this morning by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, despite a GOP revolt. Here’s what we know about the plan.
Couples are stressed and families are in a pressure cooker. Enter the Seattle-based Love Lab, in which therapists say they’re tapping technology to bring low-cost therapy to couples battling relationship stress amid the pandemic.
The Twitterverse is having a laugh over Gov. Jay Inslee, who’s using catchphrases from the 2004 teen comedy “Mean Girls” to make masks happen.
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