Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, Feb. 10, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 Democrats work to speed President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan through Congress, the president on Tuesday met with a handful of leading business executives to discuss the economic package.
Meanwhile, scientists continue to work on virus vaccines, including one that could work against all coronaviruses.
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.
‘Overwhelm the problem’: Inside Biden’s war on COVID-19
WASHINGTON — The meetings begin each day not long after dawn. Dozens of aides report in, coffee in hand, joining by Zoom from agency headquarters, their homes or even adjacent offices.
The sessions start with the latest sobering statistics meant to focus the work and offer a reminder of what’s at stake: new coronavirus cases, people in hospitals, deaths. But they also include the latest signs of progress: COVID-19 tests administered, vaccine doses shipped, shots injected.
Where the last administration addressed the pandemic with the vernacular of a natural disaster — using the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s mantra of a “federally supported, state managed and locally executed” response — Biden’s team is borrowing from the Pentagon and the doctrine of overwhelming force.
It’s a strategy facing urgent tests after Biden inherited an inconsistent vaccine distribution plan and with the emerging threats from new virus variants.
The goal, Biden aides say, is as simple as it is ambitious: After a year of being on defense they want to take the fight to the virus — to “overwhelm the problem,” a kind of mantra for the team.
3 vaccine sites to close over Portland winter storm forecast
PORTLAND, Ore. — An Oregon hospital system has canceled vaccine clinics for Saturday and Sunday because of a major winter snowstorm expected to hit the Portland area.
Oregon Health & Science University said Wednesday that it was closing its vaccine clinics for safety over forecasted snow and freezing temperatures. The city will likely get roughly 2 inches of snowfall from Thursday to Friday, according to the National Weather Service.
Three sites will be closed, including Hillsboro Stadium.
OHSU said it is rescheduling appointments, including for “a large contingent of patients 80 and older.”
Chicago begins return to classrooms after bitter union fight
CHICAGO — Chicago parents Willie and Brittany Preston have spent nearly a year wrestling with online school schedules for their six children, often with everyone hovered over devices around the dining room table.
Starting Thursday, they’ll get relief. Their youngest daughter, 4-year-old Lear, returns to class as the nation’s third-largest school district slowly reopens its doors following a bitter fight with the teachers union over COVID-19 safety protocols.
In the next few weeks, four of Willie Preston's children will go back as part of the district’s gradual reopening plans for pre-K-8. The Chicago Teachers Union accepted the plan after weeks of bitter talks that included defying district orders, threats from the city that they would be locked out of district teaching and a potential strike.
Under the deal, the city will set aside 1,500 vaccinations each week for teachers after an initial 2,000 doses for those who are returning first. There are also metrics allowing for schools to shut down when infections spike, for instance outbreaks in multiple classrooms over a short period. The agreement also makes plans for teachers who are at higher risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19 or take care of someone who is.
Alaska now to offer vaccines to nonresident seafood-industry workers hit by coronavirus outbreaks
Alaska officials will allow seafood-industry workers from other states equal access to coronavirus vaccines, a policy shift made Wednesday in the aftermath of outbreaks that flared in plants and on offshore processing ships.
“While working in our state or fishing in our waters, we intend to protect your workers with the same standard of care we are extending to all Alaskans,” stated a letter emailed Wednesday from the office of Gov. Mike Dunleavy to seafood and other industry officials.
Alaska seafood workers are vital to producing the fish burgers and other staples of the nation’s seafood supply. They often are at risk for serious outbreaks of the novel coronavirus that in recent weeks has infected hundreds and stalled production at some major plants.
Most are not Alaska residents. For weeks, state officials have told seafood-industry representatives that their employees, if they come from other states, will not be eligible for receiving vaccines when other industry workers from Alaska are offered these shots.
Many of these industry workers are employed by Seattle-based seafood companies that make up much of this industry.
How to turn on — and off! — a Zoom cat filter
So you’re interested in becoming a cat for your next Zoom? I can show you how to do that.
Just make sure you learn how to turn it off, too.
A Texas attorney made headlines when he showed up for a virtual court hearing using a filter that transformed his face into a very sad kitten. “I’m not a cat,” attorney Rod Ponton told a judge as he struggled to switch off the software.
Turns out his computer was running software called Dell Webcam Central that can transform faces filmed through its webcam into avatars including a kitten, cat, baby and alien. Social media sleuths spotted Ponton’s particular kitty in Dell software, which the company later acknowledged.
The software that does this is actually pretty advanced augmented reality, or AR, technology. What that means for you: Newer computers can run the software needed to make this happen on a Zoom call, but some older ones don’t have the horsepower.
Relief is on the way to Washington’s strapped COVID-19 vaccine rollout
As Washington closes in on 1 million COVID-19 shots administered, the state is finally able to plan vaccinations more than one week in advance, health officials said Wednesday.
For the first time, the federal government is forecasting vaccine allocations three weeks ahead of time, eliminating what has been a vexing, weekly scramble to match supply and demand, said Michele Roberts, acting assistant health secretary.
“This will help us develop a multiweek strategy to help with consistency and predictability, which will help both the providers on the ground and all of the public who are looking for places to be vaccinated,” she said in a news briefing.
The federal government has also told states to expect increased vaccine shipments “in the coming weeks and months,” Roberts added. A third vaccine — Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot regimen — could be available as early as next month if the FDA grants emergency use authorization later this month, as expected.
There’s also work underway to streamline the often-clunky systems used to determine eligibility for the vaccine and schedule appointments, said state Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shah.
NY allows stadiums to reopen for sports, entertainment
ALBANY, N.Y. — Large arenas and stadiums in New York can soon reopen for sports and entertainment at 10% of their normal capacity under a plan announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday, despite concern from public health experts about still-high rates of COVID-19 infections and the threat of more contagious variants.
Cuomo said major stadiums and arenas with a capacity of 10,000 people or more can reopen with limited spectators starting Feb. 23.
The Barclays Center, which has about 17,700 seats for basketball games, has already received state approval to reopen Feb. 23 for the Brooklyn Nets’ home game against the Sacramento Kings. And the New York Knicks and New York Rangers said they plan to host about 2,000 fans at every game, starting with Feb. 23 and Feb. 26 games at Madison Square Garden.
The Nets and and Knicks are among about a dozen of the 30 NBA teams that are allowing some fans to attend games, according to the league’s website. It’s unclear how many states allow thousands to attend indoor concerts.
A New York Yankees spokesperson called Cuomo’s announcement an “encouraging first step.”
State health officials report 1,228 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,228 new coronavirus cases and 45 new deaths on Wednesday.
The update brings the state's totals to 324,706 cases and 4,603 deaths, meaning that 1.4% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.
In addition, 18,516 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus, which include 14 fewer cases than reported Tuesday, due to processing issues. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 80,796 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,295 deaths.
On Dec. 16, DOH’s case, hospitalization and death counts started including both confirmed cases and probable cases in its total count. According to DOH, probable cases refer to people who received a positive antigen test result but not a positive molecular test result, while confirmed cases refer to those who have received a positive molecular test result.
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.
U.K. coronavirus restrictions to include hotel quarantines, threats of fines and prison
LONDON — Britain, besieged by a more contagious coronavirus strain and alarmed by the potential of new and imported variants, is about to launch the toughest travel restrictions in Europe, including mandatory hotel quarantines and 1o-year prison terms for those who lie on entry forms.
The government has already shut down almost all travel by international visitors from 33 countries seen as viral hotspots, including Brazil and South Africa.
Beginning Monday, British citizens returning from those “red list” countries must quarantine for 10 days in designated hotels, under police guard, costing travelers £1,750 or about $2,400. Travelers must submit to multiple coronavirus tests before release. Those who try to elude quarantine face $14,000 fines.
The threat of prison time is for anyone found guilty of misleading authorities over having recently been in a red list country.
7 destinations that are allowing travelers vaccinated for COVID-19
With coronavirus vaccination efforts mounting in many parts of the world, some travelers may be looking forward to their inoculation in hopes of traveling again. And while there are growing arguments against vaccine passports, some nations have begun allowing vaccinated travelers to bypass the usual entry requirements, like a 14-day quarantine.
European nations and remote tropical islands are among the destinations welcoming vaccinated travelers even though health experts remain uncertain about coronavirus vaccines’ ability to prevent transmission of the virus.
Most vaccines “have not proven that they decrease transmission, so the patient may still get mild or asymptomatic versions of the disease and they may then be able to transmit it,” said Carlos Acuna-Villaorduna, an infectious-disease physician at Boston Medical Center. “We don’t know yet, but there are groups studying that.”
The risk associated with allowing vaccinated travelers, for now, is that they might carry a contagious amount of the virus without being sick and infect unvaccinated people in the destination they are visiting. Perhaps for that reason, some nations allowing vaccinated visitors are still requiring coronavirus tests before arrival.
Here are the destinations that have so far announced that they will allow vaccinated travelers to enter, and what the terms of entry are.
With vaccines in more drugstores, pharmacies go on hiring sprees
Phones are ringing with plentiful job opportunities. Prospective employers are dangling five-figure signing bonuses. Businesses are hounding universities for potential recruits.
The job market is booming — at least if you’re a pharmacist.
The U.S. vaccination drive is entering a new phase this week with the start of a federal program that will send more doses of COVID-19 vaccines into drugstores and grocery store pharmacies.
In preparation, pharmacy chains are in the middle of a hiring spree, competing to quickly recruit pharmacists and support staff to inoculate customers.
Pharmacies are turning to universities for help finding vaccinators. Training programs are enrolling record numbers of students and workers looking to learn how to give vaccines. And pharmacists like Maurice Shaw have been inundated with job opportunities.
“For a two-week period, the same numbers kept calling and calling and calling,” said Shaw, who lives near Springfield, Illinois. “It’s like the job market flipped overnight.”
Lilly COVID-19 antibody combo gets U.S. emergency authorization
Eli Lilly’s combination antibody drug for COVID-19 was cleared for emergency use by U.S. regulators, providing doctors with a treatment option that is expected to be better able to combat new coronavirus mutations.
The Food and Drug Administration authorized the treatment for use in COVID-positive adults and children 12 and older who are at high risk of developing severe forms of the disease or progressing to the hospital, according to a fact sheet posted Tuesday by the agency.
The combo treatment is the second antibody therapy from the Indianapolis-based drugmaker to gain an emergency authorization from the FDA. In November, the agency cleared bamlanivimab, one of the two antibodies used in the cocktail, for use in non-hospitalized, high-risk patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms of COVID-19.
Winter weather closes COVID community-testing sites in Snohomish County
Concerned about winter weather conditions, Snohomish Health District has announced that its five community-based COVID testing sites will be closed Thurs-Sun.
King County has not yet announced any testing-site closures.
Another film of false coronavirus claims got millions of views before Facebook, YouTube banned it
While thousands of families grieved the loss of loved ones and the United States’ coronavirus death toll surpassed 350,000 in early January and continued to rise, a new film parroting false claims about the pandemic began to spread to millions of social media users.
The video, called “Planet Lockdown,” racked up more than 20 million views and engagements, according to the social media monitoring tool CrowdTangle, in late December and January. It went largely unnoticed by the social media platforms playing host to the misinformation until the liberal media watchdog group Media Matters for America published a detailed accounting of the film’s spread on Monday.
The film was full of false claims about the virus, including that the coronavirus vaccine may cause infertility (it does not) and that the shots contain microchips (they do not), as well as baseless claims of mass voter fraud in the presidential election. Facebook and YouTube had already banned users from posting content promoting the false microchip claim and other misinformation related to the pandemic.
Following the Media Matters report, tech giants including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok began scrubbing promotional clips of the film from their platforms for violating rules against misinformation. GoFundMe also removed a fundraising page for postproduction costs associated with the film, which had raised more than $8,000, according to a screenshotof the site captured by the Internet Archive.
Florida gov takes aim at media for Super Bowl virus coverage
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis again lashed out at the news media when he suggested Wednesday a bias in coverage of the pandemic, even as concerns swirl over more contagious strains of COVID-19 potentially spreading at gatherings celebrating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ victory in the Super Bowl.
“The media is worried about that, obviously,” DeSantis said during a news conference in Venice.
“You don’t care as much when it’s a peaceful protest,” he continued. “You don’t care as much if you’re celebrating a Biden election. You only care about if it’s people you don’t like.”
DeSantis has routinely asserted that there is a bias against conservatives and Republicans, particularly among reporters who have asked tough and sometimes uncomfortable questions about the governor’s handling of the public health crisis.
But when a journalist asked DeSantis about the spread of a more contagious variant of the virus in the context of super-spreader events following the Super Bowl, the governor took it as an unjustified hit against the home team.
“I’m a Bucs fan,” the governor proclaimed. “I’m damned proud of what they did on Sunday night.”
Government investigating massive counterfeit N95 mask scam
Federal authorities are investigating a massive counterfeit N95 mask operation in which fake 3M masks were sold in at least five states to hospitals, medical facilities and government agencies. The foreign-made knockoffs are becoming increasingly difficult to spot and could put health care workers at grave risk for the coronavirus.
These masks are giving first responders “a false sense of security,” said Steve Francis, assistant director for global trade investigations with the Homeland Security Department’s principal investigative arm. He added, “We’ve seen a lot of fraud and other illegal activity.”
Officials could not name the states or the company involved because of the active investigation.
Nearly a year into the pandemic, fraud remains a major problem as scammers seek to exploit hospitals and desperate and weary Americans. Federal investigators say they have seen an increase in phony websites purporting to sell vaccines as well as fake medicine produced overseas and scams involving personal protective equipment. The schemes deliver phony products, unlike fraud earlier in the pandemic that focused more on fleecing customers.
Ford’s next pandemic mission: Clear N95 masks and low-cost air filters
Ford Motor Co. is rolling out clear face masks with N95-level filtration, in what could be the largest-scale effort to produce masks designed to improve communication while offering medical-grade protection against the coronavirus.
Masks make it more difficult to hear what the wearer is saying and impossible for those who rely on lip reading. The ability to read facial expressions also is crucial, as most communication is nonverbal, particularly for those in education, travel, sales and other sectors.
The auto giant has been producing face masks, ventilators and face shields since March, through the launch of its Project Apollo, which organized Ford engineers to work with health officials and devise product solutions to deal with the coronavirus pandemic just days after the first wave of lockdowns. Since then, Ford has given away tens of millions of masks and is now turning proceeds from its health-care products toward manufacturing the clear respirators and air filtration kits, Baumbick said.
The new masks, which the company announced last week, will be washable and feature anti-fog technology, Baumbick said. They will be available this spring, pending N95 certification, but spokesman Mike Levine said pricing and distribution details were not yet available.
Here’s how to know if you’re breathing other people’s breath
With its five wall-length windows, Nick Crandall’s restaurant, Railroad Pub & Pizza, can bring in a lot of outside air. In late December, though, Washington state regulators said the restaurant could not qualify as “outdoor” dining, and would have to close because of heightened coronavirus restrictions.
So Crandall went to Facebook to protest, giving a video tour of the Burlington, Skagit County, pub and its vast, garage-door-style windows. “I’m just kind of curious on what the science is for outdoor dining, how much airflow you need to do,” he said. He took aim at the state’s Democratic governor, Jay Inslee, suggesting he use “common sense.” The video was viewed more than 73,000 times.
It may sound like yet another politicized, Trump-era battle over coronavirus restrictions — yet this one ended in something that looks less like polarization and more like compromise. After Crandall and others complained and took to the media, state regulators introduced a new policy, which appears to be one of the first of its kind, allowing certain restaurants to count as “open air” dining even if they have four walls. In a new pandemic trend, these establishments can open up large windows or doors and actively measure levels of carbon dioxide, the gas we all exhale when breathing, as a key indicator of how much fresh air is circulating.
Now Crandall’s restaurant is open again — with a CO2 monitor whose reading he tries to keep under 450 parts per million, only slightly higher than levels in the outside air, per state policy.
It’s part of a new wave as scientists, citizens and businesses including gyms, restaurants and bars try to quantify the airborne coronavirus risk in hopes of staying open. Sales of handheld carbon dioxide monitors have boomed, so much that one popular model, the $250 Aranet4, sold out rapidly, requiring its Latvia-based manufacturer, SAF Tehnika, to dramatically ramp up production.
WHO experts recommend use of AstraZeneca vaccine
Independent experts advising the World Health Organization on Wednesday recommended the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine even in countries that turned up worrying coronavirus variants in their populations.
There had been doubts about the vaccine’s effectiveness against a variant that emerged in South Africa.
The advice is used by health care officials worldwide, but doesn’t amount to a WHO green light for the U.N. and its partners to ship the vaccine.
AstraZeneca is considered an important part of the world's vaccine arsenal as it needs only regular refrigeration and not the far colder temperatures required of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that the group has already recommended for use.
CDC urges proper mask fit, double masks in some cases to protect against virus variants
Federal health officials on Wednesday urged Americans to consider wearing two masks as one of several strategies to better protect themselves against the threat of more contagious variants of the coronavirus.
“We know that universal masking works,” said John T. Brooks, medical officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 response. “And now these variants are circulating … whatever we can do to improve the fit of a mask to make it work better, the faster we can end this pandemic.”
Two methods substantially boost fit and protection, according to a CDC report and guidance released Wednesday. One is wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask. The second is improving the fit of a single surgical mask by knotting the ear loops and tucking in the sides close to the face to prevent air from leaking out around the edges and to form a closer fit.
Both of those methods reduced exposure to potentially infectious aerosols by more than 95% in a laboratory experiment using dummies, the report said.
Canada to require negative COVID test at land border
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday that starting next week any nonessential traveler arriving in Canada by land will need to show a negative PCR-based COVID-19 test or face a fine if they don’t have one.
Trudeau said customs officers can’t send Canadians back to the U.S. if they don’t have a test because they are technically on Canadian soil but said the fine will be up to $3,000 Canadian (US$2,370) and the traveler will be subject to extensive follow up by health officials if they don’t show a negative test.
So-called snowbirds who reside in warm U.S. states part-time are included in the COVID-19 test requirement.
Last month, Trudeau announced stricter restrictions on air travelers in response to new, likely more contagious variants of the novel coronavirus.
AP-NORC poll: A third of US adults skeptical of COVID shots
About 1 in 3 Americans say they definitely or probably won’t get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a new poll that some experts say is discouraging news if the U.S. hopes to achieve herd immunity and vanquish the outbreak.
The poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that while 67% of Americans plan to get vaccinated or have already done so, 15% are certain they won’t and 17% say probably not. Many expressed doubts about the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness.
The poll suggests that substantial skepticism persists more than a month and a half into a U.S. vaccination drive that has encountered few if any serious side effects. It found that resistance runs higher among younger people, people without college degrees, Black Americans and Republicans.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s leading infectious-disease scientist, has estimated that somewhere between 70% and 85% of the U.S. population needs to get inoculated to stop the scourge that has killed close to 470,000 Americans. More recently, he said the spread of more contagious variants of the virus increases the need for more people to get their shots — and quickly.
Nearly 33 million Americans, or about 10% of the population, have received at least one dose, and 9.8 million have been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
• We want our shots. The Seattle area ranks second among major metro areas for our willingness to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, a new survey found. This contrasts with a separate national study in which one-third of U.S. adults said they wouldn’t or probably wouldn’t get vaccinated. Here’s our updating guide to how to get your vaccine.
• We’re hearing from a lot of readers who wish it were easier to schedule a vaccine appointment, and the King County Council took aim yesterday at organizations that gave preferential treatment to the wealthy or well-connected.
• The owner of a Kent sports bar who defied the state’s indoor dining ban has agreed to pay a $2,400 fine and says he’ll follow the rules going forward.
• A UW student contracted the UK variant of the virus and is recovering, officials said this week.
• A huge new study found that people with dementia are twice as likely to contract the coronavirus.
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