This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Tuesday, Oct. 19, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Washington State University on Monday fired its head football coach Nick Rolovich for refusing to get vaccinated. On the same day, judges separately ruled against last-ditch legal bids to halt COVID-19 vaccination mandates in Washington and Oregon.
Meanwhile, as vaccination deadlines loomed for thousands of public-sector employees statewide, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office reported that 99 percent of the city’s 11,000 employees had complied with the city’s requirement by either submitting proof of vaccination or an exemption application ahead of a midnight cut-off.
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.
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Nearly 1,900 Washington state workers quit or are fired over COVID vaccine mandate
OLYMPIA — About 3% of the 63,000 Washington state workers subject to Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate have left their jobs or were terminated as this week’s deadline passed.
So far, 1,887 state employees were terminated or left their positions over the mandate that they be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or lose their jobs, according to the Office of Financial Management.
Another roughly 3%, or 1,927 workers, received an accommodation that allows them to work in a less-public role without being vaccinated.
And additional 4.6% of state workers — nearly 2,900 — are still in a state of flux, according to a statement by OFM Tuesday afternoon.
That means they may have more time to get the vaccine or could be retiring, according to OFM. Others in that group could still be waiting to see if they get an accommodation — and if not, could still lose their jobs. Those outcomes will be determined in the weeks to come.
Of the state workers still employed, more than 92% are verified as vaccinated.
Puerto Rico leads nation’s vaccination rates
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico has the highest percentage of fully vaccinated people against coronavirus in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a milestone celebrated by local officials, who hail the island’s vaccination campaign a success.
“This means hundreds, if not thousands, of lives saved,” said Daniel Colón Ramos, president of the coalition of scientists that offers Gov. Pedro Pierluisi public policy recommendations on the pandemic. “There are people who are literally living their lives with normalcy who would not be here if it weren’t for these efforts.”
According to CDC data, 72.2% of the island’s total population of about 3.3 million was fully vaccinated as of Oct. 19. The U.S. territory of Guam, along with Vermont, followed. The island also has among the lowest COVID-19 community transmission rates in the United States to date. It has reported 18 cases per 100,000 residents in the last seven days, a “moderate” level, compared to Florida’s “substantial” community transmission rate of 79.5 cases per 100,000 residents over the last week.
“It is no coincidence that Puerto Rico has the highest number of vaccinated and the lowest number of cases,” said Colón Ramos, who added the island had reached this goal despite the pandemic starting on the island amid a devastating sequence of earthquakes and with fewer resources available to tackle it than other places in the U.S.
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South African regulator rejects Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine
he South African drug regulator has rejected the Russian-made coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V, citing some safety concerns the manufacturer wasn’t able to answer.
The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority, or SAHPRA, said in a statement Tuesday that the request for Sputnik V to be authorized could “not be approved at this time,” referring to past failed HIV vaccines that used a similar technology. But the regulator added that its review process was continuing and that it was open to any further safety data from the Russian manufacturer.
A late-stage study published in the journal Lancet last year in more than 20,000 participants found that Sputnik V was safe and about 91% effective in preventing people from becoming severely ill with COVID-19.
Sputnik V uses two types of harmless viruses known as adenoviruses to carry the spike protein into the body, which then primes the immune system to produce antibodies against COVID-19. SAHPRA said concerns have been raised about the safety of Adenovirus Type 5, which is used in one of the Sputnik V doses. The other dose contains Adenovirus Type 26, which is also used by Johnson & Johnson.
South African officials pointed to two failed research studies testing an HIV vaccine also using Adenovirus Type 5, which found men who were vaccinated had a higher risk of being infected with HIV.
In a statement, Sputnik V’s manufacturer called the concerns about the vaccine’s vector “completely unfounded.”
More than 170 Seattle officers, firefighters off duty one day after vax deadline
Just one day after the deadline for Seattle city employees to become vaccinated against the coronavirus, 176 Seattle police officers and firefighters are unable to report to work as the city’s mandate took effect and hundreds of employees failed to comply or sought exemptions, according to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office.
While the city boasted 99% of its roughly 11,000 employees were in compliance with the mandate of as of Monday’s deadline, 5% of those employees filed for or received a religious or medical exemption from the vaccine.
Now, some of those roughly 520 employees will be given temporary accommodations to work off-site, while others face uncertainty as they seek accommodations to maintain their jobs without vaccines.
Meanwhile, departments that rely heavily on front-line workers, especially first responders, are facing staffing shortfalls.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas tested positive Tuesday for COVID-19 and is isolating at home, the agency said.
The secretary has been fully vaccinated and is experiencing only “mild congestion,” DHS said in a statement.
The agency said he will work from home under the protocols recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention.
DHS said contract tracing is being done to check for possible exposure among others.
COVID outbreak causes Edmonds school to shut down
Hundreds of students in a Snohomish County school will switch to remote learning Wednesday after 26 students tested positive for coronavirus in the last 10 days, forcing the school to shut down.
Madrona K-8 School, in the Edmonds School District, was closed to students on Tuesday. Teachers were given one day to prep for the transition to remote learning, said Harmony Weinberg, a district spokesperson.
Most employees were working at the school after the building was cleaned Tuesday morning, and teachers will be teaching students virtually out of their classrooms starting Wednesday, school officials said. There are about 90 employees.
The district is planning to reopen the school to in-person learning on Nov. 1. Madrona is the first school in the district to close due to the virus, Weinberg said.
“We’ve done this before so families … are familiar with the process,” Weinberg said. “We’ve been preparing and knew that this could be a possibility as we started the school year. We have plans in place.”
US high court won’t block vaccines for Maine health workers
The U.S. Supreme Court declined Tuesday to block a vaccine requirement imposed on Maine health care workers, the latest defeat for opponents of vaccine mandates.
It was the first time the Supreme Court weighed in on a statewide vaccine mandate. It previously rejected challenges of vaccine requirements for New York City teachers and Indiana University staff and students.
Justice Stephen Breyer rejected the emergency appeal but left the door open to try again as the clock ticks on Maine’s mandate. The state will begin enforcing it Oct. 29.
The Maine vaccine requirement that was put in place by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills requires hospital workers and nursing home workers to get vaccinated or risk losing their jobs.
Washington state health department reports 1,627 new coronavirus cases and 88 new deaths
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,627 new coronavirus cases and 88 new deaths on Tuesday.
The update brings the state’s totals to 702,425 cases and 8,322 deaths, meaning that 1.2% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Monday. Tallies may be higher earlier in the week because new state data isn’t reported on weekends.
In addition, 38,895 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 36 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state’s most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 159,701 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,940 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 9,429,191 doses and 59.4% of Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to vaccination data, which the state updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Providers are currently giving an average of about 16,672 vaccine shots per day.
The DOH says its daily case reports may also include duplicate test results, results assigned to the wrong county, results that are reported for today but are actually from a previous day, occasional false positive tests and other data discrepancies. Because of this, the previous day’s total number of cases plus the number of new daily cases does not add up to the new day’s total number of cases. State health officials recommend reviewing the dashboard’s epidemiologic curves tab for the most accurate representation of the state’s COVID-19 spread.
State agency inadvertently releases employees’ vaccine status
Oregon’s central administrative agency inadvertently released the COVID-19 vaccination status of more than 40,000 state employees to two media outlets.
The Oregonian/OregonLive reports a spreadsheet sent to them and the Statesman Journal was supposed to contain the latest vaccination rates and vaccine exemption rates for each executive branch agency overseen by Gov. Kate Brown.
Brown issued an executive order in August requiring all executive branch employees — along with individuals working in educational and health care settings — to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by Monday at midnight.
Instead, Oregon Department of Administrative Services External Relations Director Adam Crawford emailed a file to the outlets Monday containing vaccination status by employee name.
Crawford took the blame for the data release and asked that the personal information not be reported. “It’s a mistake on my part,” he said.
The newspapers said they will not publish the full dataset.
In secret vaccine contracts with nations, Pfizer took hard line in push for profit, report says
The coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech has proven a success. First to receive emergency use approval in the United States, the Pfizer shot has become the world’s most popular, with 3.5 billion purchased. Sales could double in 2022, according to projections.
But the rapid proliferation of the vaccine, under contracts negotiated between the company and governments, has unfolded behind a veil of strict secrecy, allowing for little public scrutiny of Pfizer’s burgeoning power, even as demand surges amid new negotiations for one of the world’s most sought-after products.
A new report by Public Citizen, a consumer rights advocacy group that gained access to a number of leaked, unredacted Pfizer contracts, released Tuesday sheds light on how the company uses that power to “shift risk and maximize profits,” the organization argues.
The Manhattan-based pharmaceutical giant has maintained tight levels of secrecy about negotiations with governments, over contracts that can determine the fate of populations. The “contracts consistently place Pfizer’s interests before public health imperatives,” said Zain Rizvi, the researcher who wrote the report.
Dr. Georgy Arbolishvili doesn’t need to see government statistics or hear about the records being broken every day for infections and deaths to know that Russia is struggling through a particularly alarming phase of the coronavirus pandemic.
He simply looks around his filled-to-capacity intensive care unit at Moscow’s Hospital No. 52.
With only about a third of Russia’s 146 million people vaccinated against COVID-19, the country has hovered near 1,000 reported deaths per day for weeks and surpassed it on Saturday — a situation that Arbolishvili says “causes despair.”
“The majority of ICU patients in grave condition are unvaccinated,” he told The Associated Press. These illnesses “could have been very easily avoided if a person had been vaccinated.”