A few days before an evaluation of each Washington county’s coronavirus metrics, Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday altered the criteria used to determine whether a county moves from one COVID-19 reopening phase to another, making it easier for counties to remain in their current phases.

Meanwhile, local and state health officials are discouraging Washingtonians from making long trips across the state to get vaccinated — despite eligibility requirements — because doses are allocated to counties based on population and equity, and making an appointment could potentially take one away from a someone who lives or works in that area.

Now that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say those who are vaccinated can travel without quarantining before and afterwards, Seattleites are gearing up to navigate the ways the pandemic has changed how we travel.

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.

CEO at troubled COVID vaccine plant received 51% compensation boost in 2020

Emergent BioSolutions, the troubled manufacturer at the heart of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine production problems, gave its chief executive officer a 51% increase in total compensation in 2020, to $5.6 million, according to a public filing Friday.

The annual proxy disclosure by the publicly traded company said CEO Robert Kramer received $893,000 in salary, a $1.2 million bonus, $2.1 million in stock awards, and $1.4 million in stock options.

The company said in its filing for investors that Emergent’s response to the pandemic last year played a role in Kramer’s bonus, citing the expansion of its contract manufacturing business and other advances, including a successful bond offering. It had a 41% increase in revenue in 2020. Kramer rose to the top job at the company in 2019 after serving in a number of other high-level executive jobs there since 2012.

Emergent did not respond to a request for comment Saturday.

Read the rest of the story here.

—The Washington Post

Alaska governor to launch ad campaign for tourism industry

JUNEAU, Alaska — Gov. Mike Dunleavy has announced that Alaska will conduct a national advertising campaign to support its tourism industry.

The Republican governor also reiterated in a Friday news conference his assertion that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should allow a cruise season.

“This is an economic death grapple right now with individuals that are focused on health,” Dunleavy said.

Read the rest of the story here.

—The Associated Press

With CDC saying it’s safe for those vaccinated against COVID-19 to travel again, Seattleites weigh pros and cons

Iris Dimpsey and her mother Tanya are about to board an airplane for San Francisco. They’re carrying mixed emotions along with their baggage. 

Iris is a 17-year-old senior at Seattle Academy embarking on a tour of three colleges she’s considering attending next fall. It’s supposed to be one of life’s great experiences. But Iris isn’t fully vaccinated yet, and it’s just not as much fun as it should be.

“I am a little stressed,” she said. “But I’m going because I have to look at colleges and stuff. And I feel like that’s really necessary for me to be able to choose a college. So, I’m a little worried.”

Tanya Dimpsey is an old hand at flying amid a pandemic after helping care for an ill relative in Texas. It’s no fun, she knows, and she feels for her daughter. While the campuses are technically open, they’ll be touring them via app and aren’t even allowed to go into the buildings Iris will be spending the next four years in. But life goes on, Dimpsey said, even in the time of COVID-19.

“Given the year of disappointments, I think we’ve all adjusted our expectations,” she said. “We’re grateful that we have the opportunity and can afford to visit the schools. You make do with the opportunities that are available and recognize that, again, everyone’s safety is important.”

The Dimpseys are doing the same complicated internal math as millions of other Americans who are itching to get out of their homes and into an adventure as COVID-19 vaccinations start to impact our travel habits.

Read the rest of the story here.

—Chris Talbott

Supreme Court lifts California’s COVID ban on group Bible study in homes

The Supreme Court, citing religious liberty has lifted another of California’s COVID restrictions, holding the state may not prevent people from gathering in homes for Bible study and prayer meetings.

The court issued a 5-4 order near midnight Friday barring the enforcement of a state restriction that was due to expire Thursday.

The court’s conservatives slammed the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for what they called another “erroneous” decision in favor of the state.

“This is the fifth time the court has summarily rejected the 9th Circuit’s analysis of California’s COVID restrictions on religious exercise,” they said in Tandon vs. Newsom.

Read the rest of the story here.

—Los Angeles Times

Olympia lawmaker says his bill to ban ‘vaccine passports’ has no chance this session but he hopes to win support for next year

Rep. Jim Walsh introduced a bill this week to prohibit the use of so-called “vaccine passports,” controversial systems that prove individuals are vaccinated against COVID-19.

And although Walsh, R-Aberdeeen, says the bill has no chance in the current legislative session — and the state hasn’t unveiled any plans for vaccine passports — the conservative lawmaker’s announcement proved to be a lightning rod online.

The idea, he proclaimed in a video in front of the Capitol, isn’t to pass it this session, but to generate “grassroots support” for the next legislative session. Currently, the bill has 20 co-sponsors, all Republicans.

Although they remain controversial, some countries have already implemented vaccine passports. On a federal level, the White House has said they would not be considering any such system. Press secretary Jen Psaki told journalists that the administration was concerned with Americans’ privacy rights, according to news reports. And statewide, there are no immediate plans for such a system, according to a spokesperson for Gov. Jay Inslee.

Read the rest of the story here.

—The (Centralia) Chronicle

State health officials confirm another 1,503 COVID-19 infections

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,503 new coronavirus cases Saturday, bringing the total confirmed infections since the pandemic began to 376,230.

Washington doesn't report new deaths on weekends. As of Friday, the state reported 5,322 deaths, or 1.4% of the confirmed infections. There have been 20,961 people hospitalized because of the virus, according to the DOH's COVID-19 Data Dashboard.

More than 3.9 million vaccine doses have been administered to Washingtonians, and 20.85% of the population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The hospitalization data reported Saturday is incomplete because of data processing issues, DOH stated. The department said it expects to report complete data Monday.

In addition, negative test results data from November 21–30, 2020, are incomplete. Thus negative test results and percent positivity for that period, hospitalization data and case counts should be interpreted with caution.

The DOH says its daily case report may include data discrepancies, such as duplicate test results, results assigned to the wrong county or the wrong day, and occasional false positive tests.

That means 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. Health officials recommend reviewing the dashboard's epidemiologic curves tab for the most accurate representation of the state's COVID-19 spread.

—Jim Brunner

Business groups in Washington ask Inslee not to roll some counties to Phase 2

Nearly 70 state business organizations are urging Gov. Jay Inslee to delay for three weeks any decision to return some counties to more restrictive coronavirus standards, which would hurt businesses.

Inslee has said he will announce Monday if any counties will move backward because of rising COVID-19 cases. Currently, all counties in the state are in Phase 3.

Moving some counties back to Phase 2 would punish struggling businesses while doing little to stop the spread of COVID, the business groups said in a letter sent Friday night to Inslee.

The letter was signed by groups including the Association of Washington Business, the Washington Hospitality Association and numerous chambers of commerce across the state.

Read the rest of the story here.

—Associated Press

Introverts are dreading a return to the noise, crowds and small talk of ‘normal’ life

During a sad, tragic year, it was introverts who found a silver lining. There was more time alone, more peace and less of the personal and professional pressures they find so draining. The calendar was suddenly, blissfully empty. Life slowed down.

And now we’re returning to the pre-pandemic world, or as close as we can get. Like everyone else, introverts are excited about seeing family and close friends in person, dining in restaurants, traveling and all the other pleasures of a good life. But most are not interested in facing the forced small talk, the big parties, the noisy open offices and all the demands of extroverts who think more is more and introverts should try harder.

Social scientists correctly predicted that introverts were best suited to weather the stress of the past year. After months of lockdown, the question now is if introverts can teach the rest of us something about moving forward.

Read the rest of the story here.

—Washington Post

Some rural counties in Oregon still battle COVID vaccine hesitancy

Nearly a month ago, Joseph P. Fiumara Jr. started noticing a worrisome trend at COVID-19 vaccine clinics run by his health department in eastern Oregon: more and more appointments for first doses went unclaimed.

Even as additional Umatilla County residents became eligible, doses sat unused. In stark contrast to the Portland area, where appointments can be gone in a flash, even walk-in clinics hadn’t filled up.

The county kept accruing a surplus of doses. Enough to start raising questions.

“Why do we only have 100 people planning to come?” Fiumara wondered last week in advance of a two-day clinic where 800 first doses would be made available.

It’s not an easy question to answer.

Read the rest of the story here.


Vaccine shortages hit poor countries

As many as 60 countries, including some of the world’s poorest, might be stalled at the first shots of their coronavirus vaccinations because nearly all deliveries through the global program intended to help them are blocked until as late as June.

COVAX, the global initiative to provide vaccines to countries lacking the clout to negotiate for scarce supplies on their own, has in the past week shipped more than 25,000 doses to low-income countries only twice on any given day. Deliveries have all but halted since Monday.

During the past two weeks, according to data compiled daily by UNICEF, fewer than 2 million COVAX doses in total were cleared for shipment to 92 countries in the developing world — the same amount injected in Britain alone.

On Friday, the head of the World Health Organization slammed the “shocking imbalance” in global COVID-19 vaccination. WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus said that while one in four people in rich countries had received a vaccine, only one in 500 people in poorer countries had gotten a dose.

The vaccine shortage stems mostly from India’s decision to stop exporting vaccines from its Serum Institute factory.

Read the rest of the story here.

—Associated Press

Reforms follow deadly year in New York nursing homes

After a deadly year in New York’s nursing homes, state lawmakers have passed legislation intended to hold facility operators more accountable for neglect and potentially force them to spend more on patient care.

Rules passed in recent days as part of a state budget deal would require for-profit homes to spend at least 70% of their revenue on direct patient care, including 40% on staffers who work directly with residents.

Under the deal, set to be signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, home operators will also face limits on their profit margins. Any profits in excess of 5% would have to be sent to the state.

“The goal is here to not only protect people in nursing homes but to dissuade bad actors from coming into this business,” Sen. Gustavo Rivera, Senate health committee chair, said. New York’s budget would also send $64 million to nursing home and acute care facilities to increase nurse staffing levels.

Read the rest of the story here.

—Associated Press

Washington may soon be first state to guarantee lawyers for low-income tenants facing eviction

Washington may soon become the first state in the country to ensure that low-income tenants have legal representation when faced with an eviction, an idea lawmakers see as a way to head off a feared wave of evictions once pandemic-era rental restrictions are lifted. 

Washington’s Senate Bill 5160 is likely to pass the state Legislature after years of organizing by tenant advocates across the country who say guaranteeing lawyers for tenants during evictions, also known as “right to counsel,” keeps people in their homes at far higher rates than the current system. 

The bill passed the state Senate and House and now goes back to the Senate for final approval. It would provide attorneys to tenants who receive certain public assistance, have been involuntarily committed to a public mental health facility, can’t afford a lawyer or who have incomes at 125% or below the federal poverty level.

A last-minute amendment added to the  bill would also lift the state’s moratorium on evictions less than three months from now.

There’s still significant uncertainty about whether there would be enough help for tenants by the time the statewide eviction moratorium lifts.

Read the rest of the story here.

—Sydney Brownstone

Siblings in Washington state find closure a year after COVID thrashed choir

With dish soap, brushes and plastic water jugs in hand, Carole Rae Woodmansee’s four children cleaned the gravestone their mother shares with their father, Jim. Each scrub shined engraved letters spelling out their mother’s name and the days of her birth and death: March 27, 1939, and March 27, 2020.

Carole passed away on her 81st birthday.

That morning marked a year since she died of complications of COVID-19 after contracting it during a choir practice that sickened 53 people and killed two — a superspreader event that would become one of the most pivotal transmission episodes in understanding the virus.

For the siblings, the somber anniversary offered a chance at closure after the pandemic stunted their mourning. They were finally holding a memorial befitting of their mother’s footprint in the community.

Of the more than 550,000 people who have died of the virus in the United States, Carole was among the first. Her death came just weeks after the first reported outbreak at a nursing home in Kirkland, about an hour south of Mount Vernon. Carole, who survived heart surgery and cancer, had fallen ill at her home. Bonnie took care of her until they called the paramedics.

The rehearsal of the Skagit Valley Chorale, a community choir made up mostly of retirees and not associated with the church where they practiced, happened two weeks before Gov. Jay Inslee shut down the state. The choir had taken the precautions known at the time, such as distancing themselves and sanitizing. But someone had the virus.

“I think this outbreak in the choir is viewed … as the one event that really woke people up to the idea that the virus could be spreading through the air,” said Linsey Marr, a Virginia Tech professor and expert in airborne transmission. Marr was among 239 experts who successfully lobbied the World Health Organization to change its guidelines on transmission.

Read the rest of the story here.

—Associated Press

More Black Americans open to vaccines after outreach efforts

Campaigns aimed at Black communities across the U.S. are making headway in the effort to persuade people that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. With millions of dollars in assistance from President Joe Biden’s administration, local groups have urged Black Americans to roll up their sleeves for shots and set aside what for some is a shared historical distrust of science and government.

A poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research in late March found that about 24% of Black American adults said they will probably or definitely not get vaccinated. That’s down from 41% in January. The latest number shows Black Americans leaning against getting shots in almost the same proportion as white Americans at 26% and Hispanic Americans at 22%.

Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said attitudes toward the vaccine among Black Americans have taken “almost a 180-degree turnaround” as outreach campaigns have worked to combat misinformation.

Read the rest of the story here.

—Associated Press