Coronavirus daily news updates, June 15: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world

Table of Contents 10:00 pm, Jun. 15, 2021 Airbnb says it plans to prevent landlords

Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Tuesday, May 15, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 the COVID-19 death toll nears 600,000 in the United States, a racial gap appears to be emerging again, with Black Americans dying at higher rates than other groups.

Meanwhile, vaccine maker Novavax said Monday its COVID-19 shot was highly effective against the disease, potentially offering the world yet another weapon against the virus.

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 and the world.

Jobless benefits for new claimants to jump by nearly 50% in Washington state

In a perverse twist of the pandemic economy, Washington is boosting the weekly benefit for some jobless workers by nearly 50% starting next month — the largest increase on record, the Employment Security Department announced Tuesday.

And employers might not need to endure another tax increase to pay for it.

The benefit increase stems from a state policy that ties jobless benefits to the state’s average wage, which thanks to a grim statistical quirk increased during the pandemic even as tens of thousands of workers lost their jobs.

As a result, the minimum weekly unemployment benefit will increase by $94, to $295, for workers who file their first jobless claim on or after July 4. (Workers already receiving benefits will continue to receive benefits at the current level.) That’s the biggest increase since the ESD began tracking such data, during the Great Recession, said Paul Turek, ESD’s state economist.

Read the full story here.

—Paul Roberts

Retail sales fell in May, in latest sign of a bumpy recovery

Retail sales fell more than expected last month, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday, a sign of the uneven recovery of the American consumer and a shift in spending patterns as the country reopens after the coronavirus pandemic.

The 1.3% decline in May followed months of ups and downs in retail spending.

After falling to record lows about a year ago, sales bounced back sharply this spring, only to swing from month to month, driven by the ebb and flow of government stimulus and the persistence of the virus. The data from April was revised Tuesday to show an increase of 0.9%.

Still, economists said that the broader recovery remained on track. Rather than signaling a fundamental weakness, last month’s spending data shows that consumers have most likely spent all they need to furnish their homes or upgrade their phones during the homebound months of the pandemic. Now, they are shifting their purchases to restaurants, lodging and travel, as vaccination rates rise and people feel safer venturing out.

—The New York Times

Highly transmissible COVID-19 strain spreading in Washington state, say UW virologists

Researchers at UW Medicine’s Virology Laboratory are tracking the statewide spread of the highly transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant in Washington, with 170 cases detected as of Monday.

The lab identifies strains of the virus through genome sequencing of positive screening tests. According to a UW Medicine post, the process identifies the strains present locally and across Washington state.

“It’s something that we’re really concerned about when we’re watching those numbers over time,” said Dr. Pavitra Roychoudhury, acting instructor for the Department of Laboratory Medicine & Pathology.

The Delta variant, also known as B.1.617.2, is more transmissible than other mutations of the virus, health experts say.

Read the full story here.

—Christine Clarridge

Man pleads guilty in $20M fraud on coronavirus aid programs

A Chinese man who prosecutors say tried to get $20 million in federal aid for distressed businesses pleaded guilty Tuesday to two criminal charges.

Muge Ma entered the plea in Manhattan federal court to bank fraud and aggravated identity theft, admitting the fraud that authorities say he carried out from his luxury Manhattan condominium.

Authorities said Ma, 37, applied to at least five banks for over $20 million in government-guaranteed loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, submitting fraudulent bank, tax, insurance and payroll records in support of his false claim that he was paying millions in employee wages.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Vaccine laggard Japan steps up shots with company efforts

Japanese companies have joined the effort to speed up the country’s lagging coronavirus vaccine rollout before the Tokyo Olympics begin next month.

SoftBank arranged for the inoculation of medical professionals at a Tokyo office Tuesday and plans 15 other such sites to vaccinate 150,000 employees, their families, and another 100,000 people living nearby, SoftBank’s CEO Masayoshi Son said.

Japan’s vaccine rollout has been the slowest among developed nations, with about 5% of its population fully vaccinated. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is determined to hold the Olympics in Tokyo and, despite questions about whether it’s even possible, has pledged to vaccinate the country’s 36 million older people by the end of July.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

State health officials report 457 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 457 new coronavirus cases and 18 new deaths on Tuesday.

The update brings the state’s totals to 445,155 cases and 5,800 deaths, meaning that 1.3% 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 Sundays and COVID-related deaths aren’t reported on the weekends.

In addition, 24,879 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 32 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state’s most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 111,201 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,617 deaths.

The Seattle Times is not reporting full vaccination numbers Tuesday because the state has recently incorporated data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its data dashboard is out of date.

There are minor differences between state counts and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counts, as the agencies have had difficulty sharing data from people vaccinated by the Department of Defense, the federal Bureau of Prisons and Veterans Affairs. Also, the CDC uses data for people age 18 and up, while Washington uses data for people age 16 and up.

Currently, 67.2% of state residents have at least one vaccine dose, according to DOH. Gov. Jay Inslee’s office said they do not expect to hit 70% this week.

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.

—Elise Takahama

10 California residents get $1.5M richer via vaccine jackpot

 Gov. Gavin Newsom doled out $1.5 million each to 10 vaccinated winners at Universal Studios on Tuesday to mark the end of the state’s coronavirus restrictions.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, center, celebrates with other guests after the Vax for the Win lottery contest during a news conference at Universal Studios in Universal City, Calif., Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Starting Tuesday, there were no more state rules on social distancing, and no more limits on capacity at restaurants, bars, supermarkets, gyms, stadiums or anywhere else. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

California Governor Gavin Newsom, center, celebrates with other guests after the Vax for the Win lottery contest during a news conference at Universal Studios in Universal City, Calif., Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Starting Tuesday, there were no more state rules on social distancing, and no more limits on capacity at restaurants, bars, supermarkets, gyms, stadiums or anywhere else. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

The $15 million total was the final part of Newsom’s $116.5 million so-called “Vax for the Win” program, an effort to encourage residents to get vaccinated and hasten California’s recovery in the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed 3.8 million globally and 600,000 nationwide.

Tuesday, hailed as California’s reopening, meant the end of many coronavirus-related restrictions — such as masks, social distancing and capacity limits in most settings. Universal Studios encouraged guests to be masked and vaccinated but did not require it.

Read the story here.

—Stefanie Dazio, The Associated Press

Many post-COVID patients are experiencing new medical problems, study finds

Hundreds of thousands of Americans have sought medical care for post-COVID health problems that they had not been diagnosed with before becoming infected with the coronavirus, according to the largest study to date of long-term symptoms in COVID-19 patients.

The study, tracking the health insurance records of nearly 2 million people in the United States who contracted the coronavirus last year, found that one month or more after their infection, almost one-quarter — 23% — of them sought medical treatment for new conditions.

Those affected were all ages, including children. Their most common new health problems were pain, including in nerves and muscles; breathing difficulties; high cholesterol; malaise and fatigue; and high blood pressure. Other issues included intestinal symptoms; migraines; skin problems; heart abnormalities; sleep disorders; and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

Post-COVID health problems were common even among people who had not gotten sick from the virus at all, the study found. While nearly half of patients who were hospitalized for COVID-19 experienced subsequent medical issues, so did 27% of people who had mild or moderate symptoms and 19% of people who said they were asymptomatic.

—Pam Belluck, The New York Times

King County hits 70% vaccination mark, mask mandate to disappear in two weeks

King County has reached the 70% vaccination threshold, triggering a two-week countdown until the county’s mask mandate is rescinded, the county’s public health department announced Tuesday.

Seventy percent of county residents, age 16 and older, have now received either the one dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine, or both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, Public Health – Seattle & King County announced.

The county’s mask mandate will remain in effect until two weeks from today, or June 29.

Read the story here.

—David Gutman

899 people got expired vaccine doses at Times Square site

Nearly 900 people received expired COVID-19 vaccine doses at a vaccination site in Times Square this month, health officials said Tuesday.

The 899 people who received doses of the Pfizer vaccine at the former NFL Experience building in Times Square between June 5 and June 10 should schedule another Pfizer shot as soon as possible, the New York City Health Department said.

Officials said there is no danger from the expired shots and that those who got them have received e-mails, phone calls, and are also being sent letters to make sure they are aware of this situation.

—The Associated Press

US COVID-19 deaths hit 600,000, equal to yearly cancer toll

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 topped 600,000 on Tuesday, even as the vaccination drive has drastically brought down daily cases and fatalities and allowed the country to emerge from the gloom and look forward to summer.

The number of lives lost, as recorded by Johns Hopkins University, is greater than the population of Baltimore or Milwaukee. It is about equal to the number of Americans who died of cancer in 2019. Worldwide, the COVID-19 death toll stands at about 3.8 million.

The milestone came the same day that California and New York lifted most of their remaining restrictions, joining other states in opening the way, step by step, for what could be a fun and close to normal summer for many Americans.

“Deep down I want to rejoice,” said Rita Torres, a retired university administrator in Oakland, California. But she plans to take it slow: “Because it’s kind of like, is it too soon? Will we be sorry?”

With the arrival of the vaccine in mid-December, COVID-19 deaths per day in the U.S. have plummeted to an average of around 340, from a high of over 3,400 in mid-January. Cases are running at about 14,000 a day on average, down from a quarter-million per day over the winter.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

A high school marked unvaccinated students at prom with Sharpie. Parents called it Nazi Germany

Prom night at Exeter High School was an enchanted evening without masks — a socially distanced, outdoor gathering of dancing and games that the class of 2021 might not have envisioned taking place during the coronavirus pandemic. To help make it happen, the New Hampshire high school earlier this month asked the 300-plus attendees the big night’s even larger question: Are you vaccinated?

Students who could show they were vaccinated were reportedly marked with a red Sharpie, while attendees who were unvaccinated or unable to provide their vaccine cards were labeled with a number in black Sharpie.

But the school has faced blowback in recent days after a Republican state legislator shared concern from some parents who were reportedly incensed over their children being singled out as unvaccinated. State Rep. Melissa Litchfield noted on Facebook that parents called the decision “beyond tolerable” and likened the students having their hands marked as part of contact tracing as treatment comparable to “prisoners in Nazi Germany.”

Read the story here.

—Timothy Bella, The Washington Post

In Oman, fungal infection detected in some COVID-19 patients

Oman announced Tuesday that its doctors have detected a potentially fatal fungal infection afflicting some coronavirus patients, the first such known cases on the Arabian Peninsula as the sultanate faces a surge in COVID-19 infections that has swamped its hospitals.

The country’s Health Ministry reported that three COVID-19 patients in Oman have become infected with mucormycosis, a life-threatening condition commonly known as “black fungus,” which has spread quickly among virus patients in hard-hit India. It wasn’t immediately clear what condition the three patients were in.

Although the disease remains relatively rare, its sudden increase has stirred fears among doctors and health officials struggling to combat COVID-19 surges around the world.

The fungal condition first prompted global concern as India battled a devastating wave of the coronavirus.

Paramedics shift a patient infected with black fungus to Mucormycosis ward of a government hospital in Ahmedabad, India, Friday, May 21, 2021. India’s confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths remained below record levels in the last 24 hours, but authorities are worried about fungal infection that attacks those with weak immune systems. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

Paramedics shift a patient infected with black fungus to Mucormycosis ward of a government hospital in Ahmedabad, India, Friday, May 21, 2021. India’s confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths remained below record levels in the last 24 hours, but authorities are worried about fungal infection that attacks those with weak immune systems. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

Black fungus existed in India before the virus wave, but the condition stoked fears as it took hold in thousands of people either infected with COVID-19 or recently recovered from the disease.

Read the story here.

—Isabel Debre, The Associated Press

Many post-COVID patients are experiencing new medical problems, study finds

Hundreds of thousands of Americans have sought medical care for post-COVID health problems that they had not been diagnosed with before becoming infected with the coronavirus, according to the largest study to date of long-term symptoms in COVID-19 patients.

The study, tracking the health insurance records of nearly 2 million people in the United States who contracted the coronavirus last year, found that one month or more after their infection, almost one-quarter — 23% — of them sought medical treatment for new conditions.

Those affected were all ages, including children. Their most common new health problems were pain, including in nerves and muscles; breathing difficulties; high cholesterol; malaise and fatigue; and high blood pressure. Other issues included intestinal symptoms; migraines; skin problems; heart abnormalities; sleep disorders; and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

Post-COVID health problems were common even among people who had not gotten sick from the virus at all, the study found. While nearly half of patients who were hospitalized for COVID-19 experienced subsequent medical issues, so did 27% of people who had mild or moderate symptoms and 19% of people who said they were asymptomatic.

Read the story here.

—Pam Belluck, The New York Times

Charitable giving in the U.S. reaches all-time high in 2020

For people who are passionate about contributing to the greater good, there are ways to prioritize charitable giving and make the greatest impact on issues. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

For people who are passionate about contributing to the greater good, there are ways to prioritize charitable giving and make the greatest impact on issues. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Galvanized by the racial justice protests and the coronavirus pandemic, charitable giving in the United States reached a record $471 billion in 2020, according to a report released Tuesday that offers a comprehensive look at American philanthropy.

The Giving USA report says Americans gave more to charity last year than in 2019, despite an economic downturn that disrupted the paychecks of millions. Faced with greater needs, estates and foundations also opened up their pocketbooks at increased levels — resulting in a 5.1% spike in total giving from the $448 billion recorded for 2019, or a 3.8% jump when adjusted for inflation.

Although wealthy individuals contributed to the spike in giving to educational nonprofits and other charities, the findings for the report come from an analysis of IRS tax data for 128 million U.S. households, as well as other surveys. It’s the first study to provide a comprehensive look into how donors — big and small — stepped up to meet the increased needs brought forth by the economic crisis, racial unrest and a global pandemic that has killed an estimated 600,000 Americans.

Read the story here.

—Haleluya Hadero, The Associated Press

What to know about testing and vaccine requirements for travel in U.S. and abroad

A traveller takes photos of windows titled “Harmonic Convergence,” by artist Christopher Janney, Friday, May 28, 2021, at Miami International Airport in Miami. The Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau is anticipating hotel occupancy levels to surge above pre-pandemic levels. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

A traveller takes photos of windows titled “Harmonic Convergence,” by artist Christopher Janney, Friday, May 28, 2021, at Miami International Airport in Miami. The Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau is anticipating hotel occupancy levels to surge above pre-pandemic levels. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

As vaccinations ramp up and regulations loosen for people in the United States, many are planning travel for summer and beyond, with experts predicting that July 4 will be the biggest travel weekend since the beginning of the pandemic.

But with regulations shifting, people might have questions about testing or vaccination requirements for their trips. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently eased travel recommendations to more than 100 countries. Some countries are completely open to vaccinated travelers, while others require a negative coronavirus test result in order to enter.

In the United States, the CDC has advised that vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks in most places and released new travel guidelines that said domestic travel is safe for them. But travelers must take note of local advice and regulations, as these can vary state by state.

To learn more about testing and vaccinations before domestic or international travel, read the story here.

—Concepción de León, The New York Times

More evidence suggests COVID-19 was in US by Christmas 2019

This 2020 electron microscope image shows the spherical coronavirus particles from what was believed to be the first U.S. case of COVID-19. (C.S. Goldsmith, A. Tamin/CDC via AP)

This 2020 electron microscope image shows the spherical coronavirus particles from what was believed to be the first U.S. case of COVID-19. (C.S. Goldsmith, A. Tamin/CDC via AP)

A new analysis of blood samples from 24,000 Americans taken early last year is the latest and largest study to suggest that the new coronavirus popped up in the U.S. in December 2019 — weeks before cases were first recognized by health officials.

The analysis is not definitive, and some experts remain skeptical, but federal health officials are increasingly accepting a timeline in which small numbers of COVID-19 infections may have occurred in the U.S. before the world ever became aware of a dangerous new virus erupting in China.

The pandemic coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China in late 2019. Officially, the first U.S. infection to be identified was a traveler — a Washington state man who returned from Wuhan on Jan. 15 and sought help at a clinic on Jan. 19.

But research since then has suggested a small number of infections occurred earlier.

Read the story here.

—Mike Stobbe, The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Beware of vaccine lottery scams. Fraudsters are contacting Washingtonians and impersonating lottery officials to extract personal information, state officials warn. The best way to protect yourself: Know how to tell a fake lottery call from a real one.

The White House will host a July 4 “independence from COVID” bash. The shindig will take place even though the U.S. is not expected to quite reach President Joe Biden’s vaccination goal by then. See how Washington state is faring on vaccinations in the charts with today’s live updates.

California, the first state to lock down, reopened almost fully today with no more capacity limits and far fewer mask rules. Residents are “learning how to be human again,” some more shakily than others.

A Delta pilot confronted an apocalyptic scene as airlines slashed flights in March 2020 and he dropped off a plane for storage. Now, 435 days later, another pilot has discovered his “pandemic time capsule.”

One side effect of the pandemic: The Girl Scouts have 15 million boxes of unsold cookies.

—Kris Higginson