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Coronavirus daily news updates, July 21: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area ...

Coronavirus daily news updates, July 21: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area ...

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After more than a year of planning and despite a recent surge in COVID-19 cases worldwide, the Tokyo Olympics are nearly here. The head of the World Health Organization said Wednesday that eliminating virus risks at the Olympics is impossible, but how infections are handled is what matters most.

Meanwhile, as the spread of the new delta variant prompts concern, conservative media is offering mixed messaging about vaccines. And Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday implored unvaccinated Americans to get the COVID-19 shot, issuing a stark and grave warning of a repeat of last year’s shutdowns if people refuse to protect themselves from the coronavirus.

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 live updates from previous days, plus all our other coronavirus coverage, and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington and the world.

CDC probes deaths in immunized patients in nursing homes

Lagging vaccination rates among nursing home staff are being linked to a national increase in COVID-19 infections and deaths at senior facilities in July, and are at the center of a federal investigation in a hard-hit Colorado location where disease detectives found many workers were not inoculated.

The investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of facilities in the Grand Junction, Colorado, area raises concerns among public health doctors that successes in protecting vulnerable elders with vaccines could be in peril as the more aggressive delta variant spreads across the country.

Nationally about 59% of nursing home staff have gotten their shots, about the same as the overall percentage of fully vaccinated adults — but significantly lower than the roughly 80% of residents who are vaccinated, according to Medicare. And some states have much lower vaccination rates of around 40%.

Some policy experts are urging the government to close the gap by requiring nursing home staffers get shots, a mandate the Biden administration has been reluctant to issue. Nursing home operators fear such a move could backfire, prompting many staffers with vaccine qualms to simply quit their jobs.

Read the story here.

—Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Jason Dearen The Associated Press

COVID-19 cases in US triple over 2 weeks amid misinformation

COVID-19 cases tripled in the U.S. over two weeks amid an onslaught of vaccine misinformation that is straining hospitals, exhausting doctors and pushing clergy into the fray.

“Our staff, they are frustrated,” said Chad Neilsen, director of infection prevention at UF Health Jacksonville, which is canceling elective surgeries and procedures after the number of mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 inpatients at its two campuses jumped to 134, up from a low of 16 in mid-May.

“They are tired. They are thinking this is déjà vu all over again, and there is some anger because we know that this is a largely preventable situation, and people are not taking advantage of the vaccine.”

Across the U.S., the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. rose over the past two weeks to more than 37,000 on Tuesday, up from less than 13,700 on July 6, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Health officials blame the delta variant and slowing vaccination rates. Just 56.2% of Americans have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It is like seeing the car wreck before it happens,” said Dr. James Williams, a clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at Texas Tech, who has recently started treating more COVID-19 patients. “None of us want to go through this again.”

He said the patients are younger — many in their 20s, 30s and 40s — and overwhelmingly unvaccinated.

Read the story here.

—Jim Salter and Heather Hollingsworth, The Associated Press

Biden splits from Trudeau, extending travel curbs at U.S.-Canada land border

The United States on Wednesday renewed its pandemic curbs on nonessential travel at the U.S.-Canada land border for at least a month, marking a split with its northern neighbor and close ally on the restrictions, and fueling rancor on both sides of the frontier.

The Department of Homeland Security said the extension of the measures, which also apply at the U.S.-Mexico land border and are set to expire Aug. 21 was motivated in part by a desire to decrease the spread of the highly transmissible delta coronavirus variant.

The announcement comes several days after Canada said it would begin to open up its borders to some foreigners for discretionary travel, beginning with fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents living in the United States on Aug. 9; and fully vaccinated people from elsewhere on Sept. 7.

Canada and the United States agreed to impose the curbs on nonessential travel at their 5,500-mile land border at the pandemic’s onset in March 2020, renewing them in one-month increments since.

The measures have had limited effects on trade and the movement of some cross-border workers, but they have kept families apart, battered the tourism industry and altered life in close-knit border communities in ways big and small.

Read the story here.

—Amanda Coletta, The Washington Post

Jill Biden to stop in Alaska on her way to Tokyo Olympics

Jill Biden embarked Wednesday on her first solo international trip as first lady, leading a U.S. delegation to the Olympic Games in Tokyo, where the coronavirus is surging and COVID-19 infections have climbed to a six-month high.

She will stop in Alaska on the way to Japan, and in Hawaii before she returns to Washington.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that President Joe Biden and the first lady both felt it was important that the delegation be led “at the highest level,” and that Jill Biden looked forward to the long journey to help support U.S. athletes, who will be competing in some of the starkest conditions for an Olympic Games.

Read the story here.

—Darlene Superville, The Associated Press

South Korea’s latest virus surge spreads outside capital

South Korea reported a new high in daily coronavirus cases Wednesday, as a surge spreading beyond the capital puts pressure on authorities to extend their toughest distancing rules.

New cases have exceeded 1,000 a day for two weeks amid a slow vaccination campaign, lax public vigilance and the spread of more contagious delta variant. A majority of the recent cases have been in the Seoul metropolitan area, but the virus is increasingly spreading beyond the capital.

The 1,784 virus cases detected in the past 24-hour period was the country’s biggest single-day jump since the pandemic began.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

CDC director says delta variant makes up estimated 83% of new U.S. coronavirus cases

The highly infectious delta variant now accounts for an estimated 83% of new coronavirus cases in the United States — a “dramatic increase” from early July, when it crossed the 50% threshold to become the dominant variant in this country, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

In some regions, the percentage is even higher — particularly where vaccination rates are low, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC director, said during a Senate health committee hearing. Vaccines are effective against the delta variant and while almost 60% of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated, less than half of the total U.S. population is.

The new figure comes as new cases have been rising across the United States, though cases, hospitalizations and deaths remain a fraction of their peaks. Still, public health experts are watching the increases with deep concern and Walensky warned last week that “this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” The seven-day average now shows more than 35,000 new daily cases, up from about 11,000 a day not long ago, according to a New York Times database.

Read the story here.

—Sheryl Gay Stolberg, The New York Times

Tokyo virus cases hit 6-month high 2 days before Games open

Tokyo Olympics organizers said 71 of the people accredited for the Tokyo Olympics have tested positive for COVID-19 this month, including an American gymnast and a Czech beach volleyball player.

The total includes 31 people among the tens of thousands of international visitors expected in Japan to compete or work at the Games.

Meanwhile Tokyo’s COVID-19 infections surged to a six-month high Wednesday, logging 1,832 new cases just two days before the Games open.

Tokyo is currently under its fourth state of emergency, which will last until Aug. 22, covering the entire duration of the Olympics that start Friday and end Aug. 8. Fans are banned from all venues in the Tokyo area, with limited audiences at a few outlying sites.

Read the story here.

—Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press

Tunisia’s president orders military to manage virus crisis

Tunisia’s president on Wednesday ordered the military to take over management of the national COVID-19 pandemic response, as the country fights one of Africa’s worst outbreaks.

Soldiers and military medics are already carrying out vaccinations in remote parts of Tunisia. On Tuesday, military trucks transported oxygen to regions in the center and northwest of the country where hospitals are suffering shortages.

Overall, Tunisia has reported more deaths per capita than any African country and among the highest daily death rates per capita in the world in recent weeks. Foreign countries have been pouring in vaccines and other medical aid.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Report: UK border officers to stop routine COVID checks

U.K. border officers have been directed to stop routinely checking whether travelers from many countries have tested negative for COVID-19, British media reported Wednesday, citing leaked government documents.

While the change is designed to reduce waiting times for airport immigration checks, it has raised concerns about importing new coronavirus cases at a time when infection rates in Britain are soaring, the Guardian newspaper reported.

The new policy applies to people arriving from so-called green and amber list countries, the top two levels of the government’s three-tier traffic light system for foreign travel. Everyone entering Britain is still legally required to fill out a passenger locator form and have a negative COVID-19 test even if border officials don’t routinely check their documentation.

The changes come after the government relaxed quarantine rules for amber-list countries, including most of Europe, triggering warnings that holiday travelers might face hours-long lines for airport immigration checks.

Read the story here.

—Danica Kirka, The Associated Press

South African firm to make Pfizer vaccine, first in Africa

A South African firm will begin producing the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the first time that the shot will be produced in Africa, Pfizer announced Wednesday.

The Biovac Institute based in Cape Town will manufacture the vaccine for distribution across Africa, in a move that should help address the continent’s desperate need for more vaccine doses amid a recent surge of cases.

Biovac will receive large batch ingredients for the vaccine from Europe and will blend the components, put them in vials and package them for distribution. The production will begin in 2022 with a goal of reaching more than 100 million finished doses annually. Biovac’s production of doses will be distributed among the 54 countries of Africa.

The development is a critical step in increasing African’s access to an effective COVID-19 vaccine.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

If you got Johnson & Johnson's one-dose vaccine, you're far less protected against COVID-19's quickly spreading delta variant than against the original virus, according to new research that's amplifying talk of booster shots.

The U.S. saw its biggest drop in life expectancy since World War II, driven largely by COVID-19, officials announced.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, angrily confronted Sen. Rand Paul over the virus yesterday.

—Kris Higginson

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