Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Monday, October 18, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
As more and more hospitals nationwide begin implementing COVID-19 vaccination mandates for their workers, immunization rates have been rising rapidly, despite fears of widespread labor shortages. More health care centers are also expected to follow after President Biden announced last month that he would require most of them that accept Medicaid or Medicare funding to vaccinate their employees.
In Washington, Monday marks the deadline for certain workers to get vaccinated or lose their jobs. Here’s what to know about the requirement, and how many state employees have complied.
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.
WSU football coach Nick Rolovich fired after refusing to take COVID-19 vaccine
Nick Rolovich came to Washington State as a fun-loving coach, known nationally for his off-the-wall antics and an ability to win.
Less than two years, and 11 games later, Rolovich has been fired, and will be known nationally as one of the highest-profile terminations for refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Washington State athletic director Pat Chun said WSU had “initiated the separation process” with Rolovich and four of his assistant coaches for not complying with the state mandate that all state employees be fully vaccinated by Monday.
Defensive coordinator Jake Dickert has been named acting head coach.
“This is a disheartening day to be here today,” Chun said in a Monday evening news conference. “Our football team is hurting, our WSU community is fractured, and today will have a lasting impact on the young men on our team and the remaining coaches on the staff.
“As the director of athletics and the steward of this department, I take full responsibility for hiring Nick. … We believed we had found the perfect fit and a long-term solution for Washington State football. Unfortunately, we stand here today making a transition.”
Defensive tackles coach Ricky Logo, cornerbacks coach John Richardson, quarterbacks coach Craig Stutzmann and offensive line coach Mark Weber are also being let go.
Federal judge rejects bid to block Oregon vaccine mandate
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A federal judge on Monday denied a last-minute bid by more than three dozen state employees, health care providers and school staff to temporarily stop the state’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate.
U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon rejected their motion for a temporary restraining order, marking the first federal judge’s ruling after several state court decisions thwarting similar efforts to block Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s and the Oregon Health Authority’s power to require that certain workers to get the vaccines or risk losing their jobs, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.
At least 10 vaccine mandate challenges have been filed in state and federal court since September.
“In the middle of a global pandemic while infections and hospitalizations continue at high rates, Plaintiffs are not likely to succeed in showing that their individual interests in remaining unvaccinated outweigh the State’s interest in public health and welfare,” the judge wrote in a 55-page opinion.
State workers have had two months to prepare for the governor’s deadline to be fully vaccinated, which came Monday for about 5,000 employees. It originally extended to about 43,000 executive branch employees, but the deadline for most is now Nov. 30 following negotiations with government employees’ unions.
The judge found the plaintiffs failed to show they will be irreparably harmed by the vaccine mandate. While he said some state employees may face firing for failure to be vaccinated, he added that “it’s still only money,” and they can get their job back or pay reinstated if they prevail in the case at a later point.
The coronavirus is still mutating. Will that matter?
Coronavirus infections are down across much of the United States. Hospitalizations, too. Deaths are finally dropping from their dismaying late-summer peak of more than 2,000 a day. Most people are vaccinated, and booster shots are gaining approval. Officials in the United States are hoping the worst of the pandemic is over.
But so much depends on the virus itself. It is not static. It mutates. Delta, the variant of SARS-CoV-2 now causing virtually all infections in the United States, is more than twice as transmissible as the virus that emerged in Wuhan, China. The possibility of further significant mutations in the virus looms like a giant asterisk over any discussion of the trajectory of the pandemic.
In recent weeks, scientists who closely monitor the virus have said it still appears to have plenty of room to evolve.
“I see nothing that suggests this virus is quieting down,” said Kristian Andersen, an immunologist at Scripps Research. “I don’t think this virus is as transmissible as it can be.”
Scientists are tracking dozens of “sublineages” in the delta line of viruses, each with a slightly different array of mutations. One of those sublineages has spread with unusual speed in the United Kingdom recently and is gaining attention from researchers.
Decline in COVID cases slows as Washington state hospitals sort through vaccination deadline
The state’s COVID-19 vaccination deadline for thousands of employees arrives at the end of Monday, pushing health care facilities throughout Washington to scramble to sort through remaining compliance records and take stock of potential service cuts.
Last week, the state hospital association reported about 88% of hospital workers were fully vaccinated. Washington State Hospital Association CEO Cassie Sauer said during a Monday news briefing there’s been “some movement” in the group of workers who were partially vaccinated, had a pending exemption request or hadn’t yet submitted their vaccine verification information.
The hospital association had said last week that it expected to lose anywhere from 2% to 5% of hospital staff — between 3,000 and 7,500 employees — because of the mandate. But Sauer said Monday that that estimate might be on the higher end.
While hospitals survey the impact of the mandate on their workforce, the state’s decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations has started to slow, with hardly any decrease in intubated patients. As of Monday, there were 1,025 COVID-19 patients in Washington hospitals, compared to 1,101 last week, Sauer said.
A heart-stopping moment: How a mild case of COVID changed this man’s life
When Derek Stipetich sees friends these days, some notice that he has lost weight and is using a leg brace. If they ask him what happened, he asks a question back: “Do you have time for a story?”
When Stipetich tested positive for the coronavirus last fall, he quarantined himself at home away from his wife, Jodie, and daughter Cheyenne and experienced some intestinal distress as his only symptom. By the time his quarantine period was over, he felt fine.
For Stipetich, 50, a lifelong fitness fanatic, weightlifter and bodybuilder, the only side effect was that he couldn’t lift quite as much. “Everything seemed normal except for whenever I was training, I couldn’t lift as hard or heavy as I used to — my strength had been zapped,” he said.
But after Stipetich started sleeping upright, wedged in a corner against the couch, his wife went online and found a primary care physician who could see him that day. On May 28, Stipetich drove to the noon appointment.
The doctor “looked me in the face and said, ‘You have [atrial fibrillation]. You have to go to the ER right now.’”
By the time Jodie Stipetich and daughters Cheyenne, 14, and Sierra, 21, got to AGH, Stipetich was behind the doors of the cardiac catheterization lab.
When the doctors came out, it was to tell the family Stipetich was being placed on an ECMO machine, considered a form of life support and was in the most extreme form of heart failure. In the end, he needed heart transplant to survive.
Although they didn’t know it right away, doctors now believe the culprit in Derek’s decline was his COVID-19 infection almost six months before.
Seattle touts 99% compliance with employee vaccine mandate hours before deadline
Just hours before the deadline, the city of Seattle reported Monday morning that 99% of its employees are in compliance with the mayor’s vaccine mandate.
By 11:59 p.m. Monday, all Seattle city employees have to be vaccinated against COVID-19, per an August order by Mayor Jenny Durkan. As of Monday morning, 94% of the city’s 11,000 employees had been vaccinated and an additional 5% have filed paperwork to be exempted from the order. The remaining 150, or about 1%, had not yet complied.
At a news conference Monday, Durkan said she was “so proud” of the compliance numbers, and made a last minute plea to those who hadn’t filed paperwork.
Asked what would happen to those out of compliance at midnight, Durkan put the onus on employees to make the choice about maintaining their jobs.
“If people make the choice that they don’t want to keep their jobs because they don’t want to be vaccinated, they will have that choice,” she added. “I hope they don’t make it.”
Durkan also said the city would work with those employees who make an effort to comply.
Read the full story.
Chicago chief: Unvaccinated cops risk retirement benefits
Chicago’s police chief has put into writing a threat that officers could be fired if they don’t comply with the city’s COVID-19 vaccination policy, adding that those who choose to retire rather than adhere to the policy might be putting their retirement benefits at risk.
In a memo sent Sunday night, Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said that those officers who do choose to retire rather than comply “may be denied retirement credentials,” the Chicago Tribune reported.
As it has done throughout this dispute, the Fraternal Order of Police posted instructions on its website about what officers should do if given a direct order to report on the city portal their vaccination status. This time, it posted a letter that officers can sign and present to their superiors.
“Complying with this INVALID order and the violation of MY Bargaining, Constitutional and Civil Rights has furthermore caused me severe anxiety while challenging both my religious and moral beliefs. I am in fact complying with this because I am being forced to do so under complete duress and threats of termination,” the document on the website reads.
This follows instructions that FOP President John Catanzara posted on the website with advice that includes using body cameras to record orders to report their vaccination status.
FDA to allow ‘mix and match’ approach for COVID booster shots
WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration is planning to allow Americans to receive a different COVID-19 vaccine as a booster than the one they initially received, a move that could reduce the appeal of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and provide flexibility to doctors and other vaccinators.
The government would not recommend one shot over another, and it might note that using the same vaccine as a booster when possible is preferable, people familiar with the agency’s planning said. But vaccine providers could use their discretion to offer a different brand, a freedom that state health officials have been requesting for weeks.
The approach was foreshadowed Friday, when researchers presented the findings of a federally funded “mix and match” study to an expert committee that advises the Food and Drug Administration. The study found that recipients of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose shot who received a Moderna booster saw their antibody levels rise 76-fold in 15 days, compared with only a fourfold increase after an extra dose of Johnson & Johnson.
Federal regulators this week are aiming to greatly expand the number of Americans eligible for booster shots. The FDA is expected to authorize boosters of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines by Wednesday evening; it could allow the mix-and-match approach by then. The agency last month authorized booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for at least six months after the second dose.
An advisory committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will take up the booster issue Thursday; the agency will then issue its own recommendations. By the end of the week, tens of millions more Americans could be eligible for extra shots.
Read the full story.
Judge denies last-minute effort to block Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate
A last-ditch effort to halt Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for state employees and health-care workers was rejected Monday morning by a judge who ruled that Inslee has acted within his legal authority.
Thurston County Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy denied a request for a temporary injunction in a lawsuit by hundreds of Washington State Patrol troopers, corrections officers, ferry workers and other public employees.
The decision leaves Inslee’s order in place as the Oct. 18 vaccination deadline arrives for hundreds of thousands of public employees, the vast majority of whom already have been vaccinated.
Murphy rejected arguments by an attorney for dissenting employees that the mandate violates their constitutional rights and will cause them irreparable harm, ruling that they were unlikely to prevail on those claims. The bar for an injunction was high, she noted, and would have required plaintiffs to show that Inslee’s vaccine proclamation was unconstitutional on its face.
FAQ: What you need to know about COVID-19 boosters
Federal authorities are on the way to authorizing booster shots for most Americans. Here are answers to some questions.
Q: Are boosters needed because the vaccines aren’t working?
A: No. Ongoing tracking of cases show all three vaccines are working well to prevent serious illness or death, even when tested against the Delta variant. However, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines show a gradually waning protection, and the single-shot Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine has never shown protection as robust as the other two brands. With an additional dose, all three vaccines show a boost in protection.
Q: Am I still considered “fully vaccinated” if I don’t get a booster shot?
A: Yes. Everyone is still considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose in a two-shot series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as the J&J/Janssen vaccine.
Q: So who needs a booster?
A: Federal authorities set out the rules when they authorized a booster shot for the Pfizer vaccine. There are two levels: the folks who “may” get a booster if they really want one; and those who “should” get a booster.
Start with the should: the Centers for Disease Control and prevention wants these groups to get a booster:
- Anyone 65 years of age or older
- Anyone living or working in a long-term care facility
- Anyone 50 or older who has an underlying medical condition.
Cities seek to loosen rules on spending federal pandemic aid
At the Loma Verde Recreation Center south of San Diego, demolition work is underway on a $24 million project that will rebuild the facility from the ground up, complete with a new pool. An hour’s drive to the north, the iconic bridge to the Oceanside pier is deteriorating because the city lacks the money for a roughly $25 million rehabilitation.
A reason one project is moving ahead and the other isn’t revolves around the American Rescue Plan — the sweeping COVID-19 relief law championed by President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats that is pumping billions of dollars to states and local governments.
Under rules developed by the U.S. Treasury Department, some governments have more flexibility than others to spend their share of the money as they want. That’s why the new swimming pool is a go, and the rehabbed pier — at least for now — is a no.
Similar disparities among cities across the country have prompted a pushback from local officials, who want Treasury to loosen its rules before the program progresses much further.
At issue is $350 billion for states, counties and cities that was part of the massive COVID-19 relief bill Biden signed in March. The money is intended to help shore up their finances, pay the ongoing costs of fighting the virus and invest in longer-term projects that could strengthen communities for years to come.
Colin Powell’s death from breakthrough COVID is rare event, data show
The death of former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell following a breakthrough COVID-19 infection shines a high-profile spotlight on what has been a rare phenomenon.
Powell died at 84 from COVID-19 complications despite being fully vaccinated, his family announced on Monday. The decorated former general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was being treated at the Walter Reed National Medical Center.
The available data show that such deaths are exceptionally rare. More than 187 million people in the U.S. had been fully vaccinated as of Oct. 12. Of those, 7,178, or 0.004%, had died of a breakthrough infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of that group, 85% were over the age of 65.
People who come down with COVID-19 after getting vaccinated are also unlikely to wind up in the hospital, the data suggest. Through Oct. 12, 24,717 people had been hospitalized with a breakthrough case, and of that group, 67% were 65 or older.
The numbers reinforce results from the clinical trials of coronavirus vaccines and booster shots that showed that getting inoculated substantially reduces the odds that a recipient will become sick enough to require hospitalization or die if they do become infected.
Older adults who contract breakthrough infections do appear to be at higher risk of more serious outcomes, said Josh Michaud, associate director, global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“Colin Powell, 84 years old, fits that profile,” he said. “Older adults have a greater risk that the infection will progress to a more severe stage, and some will progress all the way to death, unfortunately.”
Why COVID boosters weren’t tweaked to better match variants
More COVID-19 booster shots may be on the way — but when it’s your turn, you’ll get an extra dose of the original vaccine, not one updated to better match the extra-contagious delta variant.
And that has some experts wondering if the booster campaign is a bit of a missed opportunity to target delta and its likely descendants.
“Don’t we want to match the new strains that are most likely to circulate as closely as possible?” Dr. Cody Meissner of Tufts Medical Center, an adviser to the Food and Drug Administration, challenged Pfizer scientists recently.
The simple answer: The FDA last month OK’d extra doses of Pfizer’s original recipe after studies showed it still works well enough against delta — and those doses could be rolled out right away. Now the FDA is weighing evidence for boosters of the original Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
But Pfizer and Moderna are hedging their bets. They’re already testing experimental doses customized to delta and another variant, learning how to rapidly tweak the formula in case a change eventually is needed — for today’s mutants or a brand new one. The tougher question for regulators is how they’d decide if and when to ever order such a switch.
Alpha, delta and more: Why virus variants are causing alarm
Viruses mutate all the time, including the one, SARS-CoV-2, that’s caused the COVID-19 pandemic. Although most genetic changes are innocuous, some can make the mutant more adept at infecting cells, for example, or evading antibodies.
Such “fitter” variants can outcompete other strains, so that they become the predominant source of infections. A succession of more-transmissible variants has emerged over the past year, each harboring a constellation of mutations.
The most worrisome so far is the so-called delta variant. It’s become dominant in much of the world since its discovery in India in October 2020, leading to surges in cases and hospitalizations, especially in places where less than half the adult population has been fully immunized.
But there are others out there.
Russia’s coronavirus infections exceed 8 million
MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s total number of coronavirus infections has topped 8 million, more than 5% of the population, and the daily infection toll hit a new record.
The national coronavirus task force said Monday that 34,325 new infections over the past day raised the pandemic-long total to 8,027,012. It also said 998 people died of COVID-19 in the previous day, bringing the total number of deaths to 224,310.
The death toll is minutely lower than the record 1,002 tallied on Saturday, but shows the country continuing to struggle with the virus as vaccination rates remain low.
Russian authorities have tried to speed up the pace of vaccinations with lotteries, bonuses and other incentives, but widespread vaccine skepticism and conflicting signals from officials stymied the efforts. The task force said Monday that about 45 million Russians, or 32% of the country’s nearly 146 million people, are fully vaccinated.
People with substance-use disorder may be at higher risk for breakthrough COVID cases, study finds
Vaccinated people with substance use disorders may be at a higher risk for experiencing a breakthrough COVID-19 case, a new study shows.
Research conducted earlier in the pandemic showed that people with addictions were already more likely to contract, and experience serious complications from, COVID-19. Now, with the vaccines widespread, that same population is still at risk, according to the study, conducted by researchers at Case Western University and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The last year and a half has been particularly difficult for people in addiction, between the heightened risk for COVID and a rapidly escalating overdose crisis — exacerbated by the pandemic — that killed more than 93,000 people in 2020 alone.
Though the vaccine is still highly effective and the risk of a breakthrough infection relatively low, researchers believe that the high prevalence of other co-occurring health issues among people with addiction may be behind the increased risk for a breakthrough infection. When the study authors controlled for adverse socioeconomic health determinants — like issues with employment and housing — and comorbidities, the risk of breakthrough infections for people with and without a substance use disorder was the same.
The only exception was in patients diagnosed with a cannabis use disorder — a generally younger group of patients who were still found to be more likely to develop a breakthrough infection, even after researchers controlled for other factors.
About 76 million people suffered anxiety because of the pandemic
As the coronavirus spread around the world, some 76 million people reported anxiety problems brought on by the pandemic, a 26% increase from 2019 to 2020, according to research published in the Lancet journal.
Based on data from 48 studies, encompassing 204 countries and territories, the researchers determined that this pandemic-inspired increase brought the global total for anxiety disorders to 374 million people. Women were affected more often than men, and younger people (especially those in their early 20s) more often than older people. Overall, the numbers increased the most in countries hit hardest by the pandemic, most likely affected by such things as business and school closures, social restrictions, job losses, money problems and more.
The pandemic’s impact on mental health worldwide, according to the research, also included an increase in the number of people reporting depression, with about 53 million new cases of depressive disorder in 2020 attributed to the pandemic.
That represents an increase of 28% from the preceding year, bringing the global total of those affected by depression to 246 million people. The researchers noted that “emerging evidence” indicates that the pandemic may be having a similar effect on other health issues, such as eating disorders, furthering the need to strengthen mental health care in most countries.
School says vaccinated kids must stay home for 30 days to protect others, citing debunked claims
In April, a Miami private school made national headlines for barring teachers who got a coronavirus vaccine from interacting with students. Last week, the school made another startling declaration, but this time to the parents: If you vaccinate your child, they’ll have to stay home for 30 days after each shot.
The email from Centner Academy leadership, first reported by WSVN, repeated misleading and false claims that vaccinated people could pass on so-called harmful effects of the shot and have a “potential impact” on unvaccinated students and staff.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has debunked claims that the coronavirus vaccine can “shed or release any of their components” through the air or skin contact. The coronavirus vaccines do not contain a live virus, so their components can’t be transmitted to others.
Colin Powell, exemplary general stained by Iraq claims, dies of COVID-19 complications
WASHIINGTON (AP) — Colin Powell, who served Democratic and Republican presidents in war and peace but whose sterling reputation was forever stained when he went before the U.N. and made faulty claims to justify the U.S. war in Iraq, has died of COVID-19 complications. He was 84.
A veteran of the Vietnam War, Powell rose to the rank of four-star general and in 1989 became the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In that role he oversaw the U.S. invasion of Panama and later the U.S. invasion of Kuwait to oust the Iraqi army in 1991.
But his legacy was marred when, in 2003, he went before the U.N. Security Council as secretary of state and made the case for U.S. war against Iraq at a moment of great international skepticism. He cited faulty information claiming Saddam Hussein had secretly stashed away weapons of mass destruction. Iraq’s claims that it had no such weapons represented “a web of lies,” he told the world body.
In announcing his death on social media, Powell’s family said he had been fully vaccinated.
Employee vaccination rates are high at Washington state’s public universities
There is high anticipation over whether Washington State University will allow its head football coach, the highest paid state employee, to bypass getting a coronavirus vaccine by qualifying for a religious exemption.
Among Coach Nick Rolovich’s 437 colleagues at WSU who have also sought a religious exemption, 22% have been successful as of Oct. 6, according to university records.
But they appear to be a small minority. At WSU and the state’s five other institutions of higher learning, the vaccination rate for employees as of midweek last week was high — ranging from 88% (at least partially vaccinated) on the low end at WSU to 98% on the high end at the University of Washington and The Evergreen State College.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Welcome to COVID vaccine deadline day. What fallout can you expect, now that we’ve hit the moment when most state government, health care and school workers in Washington are required to be fully vaccinated? Our Q&A outlines which workers complied, which didn’t and what happens next.
The Nick Rolovich era could end today as we find out whether WSU will give its football coach — the state’s top-paid employee — a religious exemption from vaccination. His refusal to get a shot puts him in a very small minority as the state’s public universities prepare to cut ties with workers who aren’t vaccinated by today’s deadline.
Nineteen months after one of the first U.S. superspreader events hit the Skagit Valley Chorale, members are finally singing together again, with the infamous outbreak hanging over every decision. The cold, windy outdoor practices have their miserable moments, but still, the return feels “liberating and victorious.”
The pandemic pushed some children out of Washington’s schools. New data tells us who left. Explore the changes in public K-12 and community college enrollment, the upticks in for-profit school enrollment and more.