Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Monday, June 27, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
How will the pandemic change the future of work? Microsoft is struggling to meet its goal of having employees work in the office 50% of the time. Boeing is getting pushback from workers who don’t want to give up their home office. And COVID-19 has forced many who work in health care to reckon with work-life balance, as hospitals face staff shortages and pandemic burnout.
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 the rest of our coronavirus coverage and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington.
Congress on Friday passed a bill to extend a pandemic-era program through the summer that provided free meals to students regardless of income. But lawmakers added a caveat that means fewer youths will qualify in the fall.
The $3 billion Keep Kids Fed Act was praised by advocates who called the lunch waivers a critical source of nutrition for low-income children. The measure also provides schools with a higher reimbursement rate per meal for the next school year and offers more-flexible guidelines for school nutrition programs coping with supply chain problems and short staffing.
But it also reinstates a requirement, suspended during the pandemic, that low-income students above the poverty line pay a reduced price for their meals, rather than getting them free. The provision was added to the bill at the request of Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
Read the story here.
Dozens of South Florida pharmacies, community health centers, children’s hospitals and pediatricians received delivery this week of the first COVID-19 vaccines available for children as young as 6 months old — much earlier than anticipated after state officials missed a deadline for preordering the shots.
But pediatricians and public health advocates working to vaccinate newly eligible children under 5 said they are being forced to throw away the majority of the doses they have ordered because Gov. Ron DeSantis will not authorize state programs to administer the vaccines for infants and toddlers, effectively cutting off supply to many family doctors.
Pediatricians say they can no longer turn to their county health department to supply them with smaller amounts of the vaccine, which is what many doctors have been doing to procure the vaccine for older kids and adults, said Dr. Lisa Gwynn, a University of Miami pediatrician and president of the Florida Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics.
Read the full story.
Q: Will the airlines reimburse me if I test positive for COVID? I don’t want to lose $700. – Mike Surinak
A: Travelers are usually offered a credit or voucher when coronavirus disruptions hit. Lots of airlines promote they’ve waived change fees or still offer flexibility on certain tickets. But refunds don’t get the same billing on airline websites.
That makes sense. Many customers will be fine getting a credit or voucher if it is with an airline they will fly again someday, and airlines don’t want to lose your cash. But they also don’t want people on their planes with the coronavirus, either (in fact, websites like Southwest’s spell this out: If you have the coronavirus, please don’t fly). Does that mean they will give you a refund if you test positive near your travel day? Most will at least consider it, but answers vary by airline.
Read the full story here.
Digital censors quickly deleted a hashtag “the next five years” Monday as online discussion swirled in response to reported remarks of Beijing’s Communist Party secretary saying that the capital city will normalize pandemic prevention controls over the course of the next five years.
Beijing’s Communist Party chief, Cai Qi, made the remarks Monday morning as part of a report on the Party’s management of the city.
“In the next five years, Beijing will resolutely, unremittingly, do a good job in normalizing pandemic prevention controls,” according to a cached version of the remarks in Beijing Daily, the main Communist Party mouthpiece in the capital city.
The current version of the Beijing Daily no longer has the phrase “in the next five years.” On Weibo, the hashtag “the next five years” was deleted. A search for it on the social media platform turns up a notice saying the topic could not be displayed “according to relevant laws, regulations and policies,” a common error message for topics deleted by the app’s censors.
Throughout the pandemic, China has stuck to its strategy of “clearing to zero” or “zero-COVID.” It relies on mass testing, surveillance, and strict lockdowns to stop the virus from transmitting widely in the community.
Read the story here.
In a reversal for President Joe Biden, a federal appeals court in New Orleans on Monday agreed to reconsider its own April ruling that allowed the administration to require federal employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The new order from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans vacates an earlier ruling by a three-judge panel that upheld the mandate. The new order means a block on the mandate imposed in January by a Texas-based federal judge remains in effect, while the full court’s 17 judges take up the appeal.
Biden had issued an order Sept. 9 requiring that more than 3.5 million federal executive branch workers undergo vaccination, with no option to get regularly tested instead, unless they secured approved medical or religious exemptions.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Brown, who was appointed to the District Court for the Southern District of Texas by then-President Donald Trump, issued a nationwide injunction against the requirement in January. At the time, the White House said 98% of federal workers were already vaccinated.
Brown’s ruling was followed by back-and-forth rulings at the 5th Circuit.
Before the pandemic, there was no room in the budget for Kate Murphy’s children to buy lunch at school. She and her husband would buy in bulk and make bag lunches at home. So the free school meals that were made available to students nationwide amid the crisis have brought welcome relief, especially since her husband lost his job last year at a bakery company that closed.
The free meals gave the Essex Junction, Vermont, family one less thing to worry about.
“We make just too much money (literally by just a few dollars) to qualify for free or reduced lunches and other food-related benefits, but not enough to truly ever feel financially comfortable,” Murphy, a mother of four and administrator at a trust company, said by email.
The pandemic-era federal aid that made school meals available for free to all public school students — regardless of family income levels — is ending, raising fears about the effects in the upcoming school year for families already struggling with rising food and fuel costs.
For families already strained by inflation and the end of other federal help like expanded child tax credits, advocates say cuts to the aid could mean turning more frequently to food banks.
“Families across the country are facing a very difficult reality of having to chose between feeding their kids or filling up their gas tank or purchasing medicine,” said Vince Hall, chief government relations officer for Feeding America, a nonprofit network of foodbanks.
The rules are set to revert to how they were before the coronavirus pandemic with families that are eligible based on income levels required to apply for their children to receive free or reduced-price lunch. Schools in predominantly low-income areas will be allowed to serve breakfast and lunch to everyone for free, as before.
Read the story here.
A pair of studies from U.N. agencies and other development groups paint a grim picture for a generation of Latin American students, who have lost almost half their school days since the pandemic started and whose reading and math skills are falling drastically behind.
Four-fifths of children at the end of primary school are now unable to understand a simple written text, up from half before the pandemic, according to the reports. Only sub-Saharan Africa has worse educational outcomes.
School closures in Latin America lasted longer than anywhere else except South Asia — an average of 225 days, compared with 141 days for schools around the world overall. Lack of access to computers and the internet means that many children dropped out or received poor instruction. Average scores in reading and math for third and sixth-graders may be worse today than they were 10 years ago, wiping out a decade of modest advances, according to one report — and the effects could be permanent. Today’s students can expect to have 12% lower incomes throughout their lifetime, meaning a loss of $1,565 in average annual earnings, the studies found.
Read the story here.
People with hearing loss have a new ally in their efforts to navigate the world: Captions that aren’t limited to their television screens and streaming services.
The COVID pandemic disrupted daily life for people everywhere, but many of those with hearing loss took the resulting isolation especially hard. “When everyone wears a mask they are completely unintelligible to me,” said Pat Olken of Sharon, Massachusetts, whose hearing aids were insufficient. (A new cochlear implant has helped her a lot.)
But the solutions out there are clearly not a one-size-fits-all model and do not meet the needs of a lot of people based on cost, access, a lot of different things.
Enter easy-to-access captions, which have long been around but gained new life from smartphone apps and the pandemic.
During the pandemic, the shift to online meetings and school meant videoconferencing services became a tool of survival — but captions came only after a big push. Zoom added live transcription to its free service only in October 2021, but the meeting’s host has to enable them. Google Meet was quicker to make captions available to everyone for free in May 2020; Microsoft Teams, a workplace messaging app, did so that June.
“We need captioning everywhere and we need people to be more sensitive,” Olken said. “The more I advocate the more other people benefit.”
The airport lines are long, and lost luggage is piling up. It’s going to be a chaotic summer for travelers in Europe.
After two years of pandemic restrictions, travel demand has roared back, but airlines and airports that slashed jobs during the depths of the COVID-19 crisis are struggling to keep up. With the busy summer tourism season underway in Europe, passengers are encountering chaotic scenes at airports, including lengthy delays, canceled flights and headaches over lost luggage.
Nearly 2,000 flights from major continental European airports were canceled during one week this month, with Schiphol accounting for nearly 9%, according to data from aviation consultancy Cirium. A further 376 flights were canceled from U.K. airports, with Heathrow accounting for 28%, Cirium said.
It’s a similar story in the United States, where airlines canceled thousands of flights over two days last week because of bad weather and labor struggles just as crowds of summer tourists grow.
Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO of the Advantage Travel Group, which represents about 350 U.K. travel agents, said airports have staff shortages, and it’s taking a lot longer to process security clearances for newly hired workers.
“They’re all creating bottlenecks in the system,” and it also means “when things go wrong, that they’re going drastically wrong,” she said.
Read the story here.
U.S. health authorities are facing a critical decision: whether to offer new COVID-19 booster shots this fall that are modified to better match recent changes of the shape-shifting coronavirus.
Moderna and Pfizer have tested updated shots against the super-contagious omicron variant, and advisers to the Food and Drug Administration will debate Tuesday if it’s time to make a switch — setting the stage for similar moves by other countries.
Current COVID-19 vaccines saved millions of lives around the world in just their first year of use. And the Moderna and Pfizer shots still offer strong protection against the worst outcomes — severe illness and death — especially after a booster dose.
But those vaccines target the original coronavirus strain and between waning immunity and a relentless barrage of variants, protection against infections has dropped markedly. The challenge is deciding if tweaked boosters offer a good chance of blunting another surge when there’s no way to predict which mutant will be the main threat.
Read the story here.
Boeing has ordered some of its remote workforce back to the office to help the company ramp up production and fix supply-chain problems. But like many employers navigating the pandemic as it winds down, the aerospace giant is getting pushback from workers who resent giving up their “home” offices when other colleagues don’t have to.
Employees in Boeing’s parts-procurement operations who are still working fully or partly remotely learned Monday that most will be required to be in the office full time starting in July, Boeing confirmed Saturday.
The company declined to say how many workers are affected by the directive, which was announced internally Monday by Brian Baird, vice president of supply chain.
The back-to-office move, which comes after two-plus years of remote work for thousands of Boeing workers, is needed to support stepped-up production at a time when Boeing is facing parts-related delays, company officials said.
“Minutes and seconds count in response time to help satisfy our customer on issues that are getting in the way of delivery,” said Stan Deal, Boeing executive vice president and head of commercial airplanes operations, to employees in an internal company video posted Tuesday and shared with The Seattle Times.
Boeing wouldn’t say when or whether other areas in the company will require remote or hybrid workers to spend more time in the office.
In a statement Saturday, Boeing said back-to-office decisions are left to individual business units. But the statement emphasized that Boeing values “face-to-face collaboration” and said the push for more in-person work will continue.
Boeing also didn’t say what fraction of its Puget Sound-area workforce, which was nearly 56,000 as of Jan. 1, currently works remotely or partly remotely.
A little under half of those employees have been working in-person in Boeing manufacturing facilities for most of the pandemic, but around half of Boeing’s 14,500 engineers and tech workers are still working remotely most of the time, said Bill Dugovich, spokesperson for their union, the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace.
Although Dugovich has heard that some engineers are being called back in, he said there hasn’t yet been a broad back-to-office push. “There’s been a lot of talk about people coming back into the workplace, but so far, it doesn’t seem to have materialized,” Dugovich said.
Some workers in procurement operations said Monday’s back-to-office directive was an unwelcome surprise. Some predicted the back-to-office policy would lead them and colleagues to consider leaving for other, more flexible companies or even retiring early.
Read the story here.
When Allan Kinyua arrives for his evening shift at the UW Medical Center near Northgate, the special care unit buzzes with energy. Staffers cart meals and medical equipment in and out of patient rooms, pausing occasionally to check records and doctor notes.
Kinyua, a certified nursing assistant, is in charge of eight of the 17 patients. One has COVID-19. Another is legally blind and coming from the intensive care unit. Some need assistance breathing or help going to the bathroom. Many have heart or lung issues.
Evening after evening in early 2020, Kinyua would start a shift by taking a COVID patient to the bathroom. By morning, they’d be intubated. When he would return the following night, the patient would be dead, the room already getting prepped for the next one.
Since then, more than 13,000 Washingtonians have died from COVID. Still, Kinyua, who moved from Kenya 3½ years ago, has pushed forward in the health care field, even deciding last year to pursue his nursing degree in an accelerated program.
As thousands of students like him finish their classes this summer, the state’s newest crop of registered nurses will start to bolster the strained health care systems throughout the region.
While omicron’s contagious subvariants led to a spring surge of infections and hospitalizations, COVID antivirals became more accessible and deaths stayed low. But it’s still a difficult time for health care staffers while patients, now mostly people whose conditions have worsened after delaying care, continue to pour in.
“I think back to when I graduated from nursing school” about 30 years ago, said Darcy Jaffe, senior vice president for safety and quality at the Washington State Hospital Association. “There were staffing shortages back then as well, but we didn’t have as much unknown as we have right now about what health care is going to look like in the next few years,” she said.
Read the story here.
It’s one of the scariest things about testing positive for COVID-19: What if the symptoms persist for months?
Most people with COVID start feeling better within a few days to a few weeks. But for some, a wide range of symptoms can persist for more than a month after the initial infection. These post-COVID conditions, which are often called long COVID, can be debilitating.
And unfortunately, it’s not that rare.
New data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s ongoing Household Pulse Survey shows that nearly one-third of Washington adults who tested positive for COVID experienced symptoms for three months or longer. The survey was conducted from June 1 to 13, and was completed by roughly 63,000 respondents nationally.
According to the data, an estimated 2.1 million Washingtonians age 18 and older have tested positive for the coronavirus or been diagnosed with COVID by a health care provider. Of those, about 31%, an estimated 662,000, had symptoms that persisted for several months or more.