Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, Feb. 12, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
President Joe Biden’s team is charging ahead in its fight against the coronavirus, starting each day by reviewing statistics on new cases and deaths, people in hospitals, COVID-19 tests administered, vaccine doses shipped and shots injected. On Thursday, Biden announced the United States will have enough supply of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the summer to inoculate 300 million Americans.
In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday all but six of Washington’s 39 counties will now be able to loosen COVID-19 restrictions and bring back limited indoor dining and live entertainment, and reopen gyms. Here’s what’s now permitted.
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.
New claims erupt of cover-up by Cuomo over nursing home coronavirus toll
ALBANY, N.Y. — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and his administration faced new allegations Friday that they had covered up the scope of the coronavirus death toll in New York’s nursing homes, after a top aide to the governor admitted that the state had withheld data because it feared an investigation by the Trump Justice Department.
The remarks by the top aide, Melissa DeRosa, made in what was supposed to be a private conference call with Democratic lawmakers, came as a cascading series of news reports and a court order have left Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, scrambling to contain the political fallout over his oversight of nursing homes, where more than 13,000 people have died in the pandemic in the state.
Lawmakers from both parties have called for stripping the governor of the emergency powers that he has exercised during the pandemic, while Republicans have demanded the resignations of top Cuomo administration officials and new federal investigations.
DeRosa’s jarring admission came when she was asked about ongoing delays in giving lawmakers nursing home death data.
On WHO trip, China refused to hand over important data
Chinese scientists refused to share raw data that might bring the world closer to understanding the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, independent investigators for the World Health Organization said Friday.
The investigators, who recently returned from a fact-finding trip to the Chinese city of Wuhan, said disagreements over patient records and other issues were so tense that they sometimes erupted into shouts among the typically mild-mannered scientists on both sides.
China’s continued resistance to revealing information about the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, the scientists say, makes it difficult for them to uncover important clues that could help stop future outbreaks of such dangerous diseases.
Chinese officials urged the WHO team to embrace the government’s narrative about the source of the virus, including the unproven notion that it might have spread to China from abroad, according to several members of the team. The WHO scientists responded that they would refrain from making judgments without data.
Thurston County judge dismisses Eyman challenge to Inslee COVID-19 mask order
A Thurston County Superior Court judge Friday rejected a legal challenge brought by Tim Eyman, Clint Didier and others seeking to strike down Gov. Jay Inslee’s mask requirement.
Friday’s ruling from the bench is the latest upholding of Washington’s government orders seeking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 amid the pandemic.
Opponents have argued that orders such as business restrictions or facial-covering requirements to stem the virus infringe on constitutional rights or are overextensions of the governor’s emergency powers.
Eyman, a longtime anti-tax activist, and conservatives like Didier, a Franklin County commissioner and former candidate for U.S. Congress, have opposed such requirements.
In this case, Eyman attorney Stephen Pidgeon contended there was no proof that masks prevent the spread of COVID-19, and there was therefore no rational basis for the government to require them. He also contended the requirement violated the First Amendment.
Pentagon approves 20 more COVID-19 vaccination teams
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has approved the deployment of 20 more military vaccination teams that will be prepared to go out to communities around the country, putting the department on pace to deploy as many as 19,000 troops if the 100 planned teams are realized. The troop number is almost double what federal authorities initially thought would be needed.
Chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Friday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s latest approval brings the number of COVID-19 vaccination teams so far authorized to 25, with a total of roughly 4,700 service members. He said the teams, which largely involve active duty forces, are being approved in a phased approach, based on the needs of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
So far, only one of the first five teams approved last week has actually been announced and deployed. That 222-member team from Fort Carson, Colorado, has arrived in Los Angeles, where it will help with a federally run vaccination site at California State University. The team is expected to begin providing vaccines to the public on Tuesday, but will likely do some initial vaccinations, including of team members, on Monday.
He added that the department expects to have more details soon on where the other four will deploy.
Lawmakers don’t extend disaster order, ask Dunleavy for help
JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska lawmakers, facing a looming deadline and disorganization in the House, are asking Gov. Mike Dunleavy to issue a new disaster declaration to aid the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic despite legal questions surrounding his authority to act.
Dunleavy, a Republican, was criticized for issuing successive orders between November and January, when lawmakers weren’t meeting, with legislators from both parties questioning the legal underpinnings of his actions. Under state law, a disaster emergency proclamation is not to remain in effect more than 30 days unless extended by the Legislature.
Megan Wallace, a top attorney for the Legislature, in a September memo requested by Senate Democratic Leader Tom Begich, said no statutory provision authorizes a governor to issue a second declaration for the same emergency.
Dunleavy, in at least two prior orders, cited new phases of the response in issuing them, such as growing case counts and the anticipated availability of vaccines. Lawmakers did not challenge those orders in court.
Biden may struggle to get new $3,000 benefit to many of America’s poorest families
President Joe Biden may struggle to deliver his proposed $3,000-per-child benefit to millions of America’s poorest families, according to policy experts, posing a potential challenge for one of the administration’s central economic priorities.
The congressional Democrats’ proposal — to use the Internal Revenue Service to provide monthly payments of $300 to millions of families for each child younger than 6, as well as $250 for each child aged 6 to 17 — is included in the $1.9 trillion economic relief package the White House is hoping to pass in a matter of weeks. White House officials have embraced the plan, citing estimates that it could cut child poverty in the United States by as much as 50 percent.
But having the IRS stand up a new program starting in July to send payments for approximately 66 million American children could prove a challenge.
Experts warn the administration could struggle to reach two vulnerable groups likely to be among those who need help the most: households where incomes are so low families don’t file federal income taxes and families experiencing changes in their living arrangements.
Celebrating Lunar New Year during a pandemic
Ksitigarbha Temple in Lynnwood opened its doors Friday for its first public event in almost a year on the first day of the Lunar New Year — The Year of the Ox.
In accordance with state guidelines, Ksitigarbha Temple members said they were limiting the number of people at the Buddhist temple; limiting the number of parking spaces; and preparing to turn away attendees when they reached capacity.
Community members were asked to wear masks and were able to use hand-sanitizing stations. People prayed at indoor and outdoor shrines.
“The beginning of the year, we believe it reflects the whole year,” says Jason Tang, also known as Minh Hanh, a monk at the temple. “Our members feel it’s important to worship and make offerings to the Buddha so they can have a good rest of the year.”
State health officials confirm 1,123 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,123 new coronavirus cases and 42 new deaths on Friday.
The update brings the state's totals to 327,167 cases and 4,675 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. Thursday.
The new cases may include up to 200 duplicates, according to DOH.
In addition, 18,604 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 73 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 81,330 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,311deaths.
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.
FDA agrees Moderna can increase vaccine supply in each vial
WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration has informed the drugmaker Moderna that it can put up to 40% more coronavirus vaccine into each of its vials, a simple and potentially rapid way to bolster strained supplies, according to people familiar with the company’s operations.
While federal officials want Moderna to submit more data showing the switch would not compromise vaccine quality, the continuing discussions are a hopeful sign that the nation’s vaccine stock could increase faster than expected, simply by allowing the company to load up to 14 doses in each vial instead of 10.
Moderna currently supplies about half of the nation’s vaccine stock. A 14-dose vial load could increase the nation’s vaccine supply by as much as 20% at a time when governors are clamoring for more vaccine and more contagious variants of the coronavirus are believed to be spreading quickly.
Merkel says German vaccine centers will be full by April
German Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed back Friday against critics of the country’s slow COVID-19 vaccine rollout, saying vast vaccination centers set up last year will be full to capacity by April.
In an interview with public broadcaster ZDF, Merkel acknowledged that there was “disappointment” at the slow start, but insisted that it was surprising there even was a vaccine just one year after the virus was first discovered.
Germany began vaccinating older people in December and has so far administered some 3.8 million shots. But the vast inoculation centers set up in exhibition halls and sports arenas have seen few patients, as many of the shots were given to people in nursing homes or hospitals.
Czechs in chaos with political infighting amid virus surge
With a new, highly contagious coronavirus variant gaining force, the already hard-hit Czech Republic was in chaos on Friday after lawmakers deprived the government of a powerful tool to tackle the pandemic.
The lower house of Czech Parliament late Thursday refused the minority government’s request to extend a state of emergency, a measure that gives Cabinet powers to impose and keep in place strict nationwide restrictive measures and limit individual rights.
Ministers have warned the move will further worsen the situation and might cause the struggling health system to collapse. Opposition parties say the current lockdown isn’t working.
Weather closes Clark County vaccine site; appointments reset for Tuesday
Due to winter weather safety concerns, the Clark County mass vaccination site at the fairgrounds will be closed Friday and Saturday.
People with appointments scheduled for either of these days will be able to get their COVID-19 vaccines next week, the state Department of Health announced on Friday.
"Staff on site will honor your first dose appointment anytime during operating hours, which are 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. February 16," the health department said. "We thank you for your patience and we promise your vaccine is waiting for you."
Some Public Health - Seattle & King County testing sites to close due to weather; vaccinations continuing in Kent
Public Health - Seattle & King County will cancel operations at several of its COVID-19 testing sites over the weekend due to the snowy weather forecast.
More information will be available Friday afternoon on the organization’s website.
As of Friday afternoon, the county planned to continue operations at its mass vaccination site at the ShoWare Center in Kent. Appointments at its Auburn site have been moved to Kent through Saturday.
“We are thinking hard about all contingencies around vaccine safety, storage and handling,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, the organization’s public health officer. “We’re going to be cautious about only bringing out of storage the number of doses that seem necessary.”
Duchin said people who are unable to make vaccine appointments this weekend will be able to reschedule appointments, adding that people should not put themselves at risk traveling to the site.
Portugal’s relief at falling COVID-19 cases tempered by fear
After Portugal figured for about two weeks last month as the world’s worst-hit country by size of population, anxiety over the recent pandemic peak has eased slightly.
The number of COVID-19 patients in hospital and in intensive care fell Thursday for the third straight day. The health ministry reported the fewest hospitalizations since Jan. 20 and the fewest patients in ICUs for almost two weeks.
But Portugal’s seven-day average of daily deaths remained the world’s highest, at 2.05 per 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University.
WHO chief warns of complacency as global virus cases drop
The head of the World Health Organization said Friday that the drop in confirmed COVID-19 infections around the world was encouraging, but cautioned against relaxing restrictions that have helped curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the number of reported infections globally has declined for the fourth week in a row, and the number of deaths also fell for the second consecutive week.
Tedros said. “We should all be encouraged, but complacency is as dangerous as the virus itself.”
The global body said so far about 1.9 million newly confirmed cases were registered worldwide, down from more than 3.2 million the previous week.
Pandemic takes a toll on exhausted UK funeral directors
Funeral director Hasina Zaman recently helped a family say goodbye to a young man in his 30s who had died from COVID-19, on the same day she was planning a service for a husband and wife, both also lost to the virus.
Since the pandemic struck, Zaman’s phone has rarely stopped ringing, with bereaved people seeking help that she is not always able to provide.
“Every week I think I don’t have what it takes,” said Zaman, whose company Compassionate Funerals serves a multicultural, multi-faith community in east London. The small firm normally arranges about five funerals a week, but COVID-19 has driven the number as high as 20.
Funeral home staff are under pressure in many places, but the burden is especially intense in Britain, where more than 115,000 people with the virus have died, one of the highest per capita death tolls in the world.
Police emphasize clampdown on crowds as Mardi Gras nears
Crowds are usually welcome and even encouraged in tourist-dependent New Orleans in the days leading up to Mardi Gras but as the final weekend of the 2021 season began Friday, police warned that crowds won’t be tolerated amid efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Police chief Shaun Ferguson held a news conference with state police and the New Orleans sheriff to drive home the point, saying a bar closure order that took effect Friday would be enforced through Fat Tuesday, the end of the annual pre-Lenten festivities.
Mardi Gras celebrations last year are now believed to have contributed to an early surge of infections in Louisiana.
From ‘herd immunity’ to ‘variant,’ here are some COVID-19 terms worth knowing
Early in the pandemic, terms like “bending the curve,” “facial coverings” and “antigen tests” became part of dinner-table conversations.
Every new development of the coronavirus pandemic introduces the public to words phrases and data points normally bandied about by public health workers, scientists and researchers.
With the introduction of vaccines and a push to find a way to open businesses and get children back in school a number of words and phrases have risen to the level of everyday conversations.
We explain what some of the current buzzwords being used to talk about the pandemic, such as "herd immunity" and "variant," this week.
CDC: Strong evidence in-person schooling can be done safely
The nation’s top public health agency on Friday provided a roadmap for reopening schools in the middle of a pandemic, emphasizing mask wearing and social distancing and saying vaccination of teachers is important but not a prerequisite for reopening.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the long-awaited update, but it cannot force schools to reopen, and agency officials were careful to say they are not calling for a mandate that all U.S. schools be reopened.
They said there is strong evidence now that in-person schooling can be done safely, especially at lower grade levels, and the guidance is targeted at schools that teach kindergarten up to 12th grade.
The agency also emphasized hand washing, disinfection of school facilities, diagnostic testing and contact tracing to find new infections and separate infected people from others in a school.
Viral Vegas: Deaths jump, tourism slumps amid long pandemic
Six weeks ago, thousands of New Year’s revelers gathered beneath the neon-lit marquees on the Las Vegas Strip — even though the big annual fireworks show was called off due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The sight of the big crowd, including many people without masks, spurred fears that COVID-19 infections would skyrocket, followed by hospitalizations and then deaths.
That’s exactly what happened. January was Nevada’s deadliest month since the pandemic began, with 1,132 deaths. December was second. In mid-January, more than half of the hospitals in and around Las Vegas reported being at least 90% full.
“We have an industry that invites people from all over the world to come here, and unfortunately when they come here, they can bring disease with them,” said Brian Labus, a longtime epidemiologist at the regional Southern Nevada Health District.
Amazon sues New York AG, says state can’t regulate COVID protocols
Amazon.com is suing the New York state attorney general, arguing that she’s exceeding her authority in seeking to penalize the company for alleged failures in its pandemic safety protocols and treatment of workers at New York City warehouses.
In a complaint filed Friday in Brooklyn federal court, Amazon says Attorney General Letitia James’s office has threatened to sue if the retail giant doesn’t comply with a list of demands, which include subsidizing public bus service and reducing production targets required of workers in its warehouses.
The Seattle-based company seeks a court order that would prevent the New York attorney general from seeking to regulate Amazon’s actions in response to COVID-19, as well as claims of retaliation by workers who protest working conditions. Amazon says those responsibilities fall to the federal government.
Microsoft system blamed for N.J. vaccine-booking glitches
Five weeks of stumbles by Microsoft on New Jersey’s COVID-19 vaccine-booking software have left the state pushing for daily fixes on almost every part of the system and doubting it will ever operate as intended, according to members of Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration.
The glitches — and attempted fixes that forced one mega-site to go offline temporarily — have led New Jersey to rely more on the county- and hospital-operated websites that are working well and have helped schedule more than 1.2 million doses in the most densely populated state in the country.
Officials say those systems are successfully booking thousands of people. They fear the state’s booking portal, run on Microsoft software and functioning for just a limited number of residents, won’t withstand broad demand.
In late January, the Redmond-based company touted its Microsoft Vaccination Management platform — usable by those seeking shots and by health providers — to register, schedule, track supplies and otherwise streamline the biggest inoculation effort in U.S. history.
But the platform has yet to work correctly for New Jersey in the state’s effort to inoculate its residents against the coronavirus, according to two administration officials who asked not to be identified discussing contractual issues.
How Seattleites are celebrating the Lunar New Year amid COVID-19 restrictions
Bright yellow flowers decorate the shrine in Amy Ly’s West Seattle home. Her family lights a newly purchased incense set, filling the house with the familiar smells of Lunar New Year.
Her mother and grandmother are busy preparing red envelopes, filled with money for younger family members who show respect for their elders. As Ly, a senior at the University of Washington, travels back and forth between home and her University District apartment, she helps her family clean and decorate to prepare for the coming festivities. According to the Chinese zodiac, 2021 is the year of the ox; people born in the year of the ox are known for their methodical, dependable work ethic.
But this year, red envelope exchanges will be made via car drop-off, and her family will attempt to connect with cousins, elders, aunts and uncles over Zoom.
“We’ve made it clear to each other as a household that we would not see our family,” Ly said. “Despite the fact that we do want to celebrate with them.”
As families in the Seattle area prepare for yet another holiday spent within COVID-era restrictions, some have chosen to wait rather than celebrate online or in socially distant fashion.
This Lunar New Year does not feel “normal.” Yet, for many people, it has redefined the importance of familial celebrations they once took for granted.
Chinese vaccine will pull Hungary ahead of EU, PM says
Hungary will be able to vaccinate millions more people against the coronavirus by the end of May than other European countries with similarly sized populations due to its plans to use vaccines from China and Russia, the Hungarian prime minister predicted in a radio interview Friday.
Hungary can vaccinate 3.5 million more people by the end of May than a European country of the same size and population. Said Orban, "I think this is huge.”
Orban’s government has criticized the pace of the European Union’s vaccine rollout and in recent months sought vaccines from countries China and Russia, countries outside the bloc’s common procurement program. A government decree streamlined Hungary’s vaccine approval process by allowing any vaccine administered to at least 1 million people worldwide to be used without undergoing review by the country’s medicines regulator.
Black hospital faces vaccine mistrust from own staff
Just 37% of the 600 doctors, nurses and support staff at Roseland Community Hospital have been vaccinated even though health care workers are first in line. Many holdouts come from the mostly Black, working class neighborhoods surrounding the hospital, areas hard hit by the virus yet plagued with vaccine reluctance.
The irony hasn’t escaped organizers of a vaccination campaign at the 110-bed hospital, which until recently was overflowing with coronavirus patients. If seeing COVID-19 up close and personal isn’t enough to persuade people to get vaccinated, what will?
Rhonda Jones, a 50-year-old nurse at the hospital, has treated many patients with severe COVID-19, a relative died from it, and her mother and a nephew were infected and recovered, but she is still holding out.
The vaccines “came out just too fast’ and haven’t been adequately tested, she said. She doesn’t rule out getting vaccinated, but not any time soon.
’’I always tell my patients, just because a doctor orders you medication, you have to ask; you don’t take it just because,’’ Jones said. “Nursing school teachers always told us, when in doubt, check it out.”
Catch up on the past 24 hours
• The state's public school districts have less than three weeks to put together reopening plans including safety measures, virus-tracking tools and how they plan to measure and address student learning loss. Chris Reykdal, state schools superintendent, set an earlier deadline than state lawmakers did in allocating millions in federal funds. This is not an order for schools to reopen; that is left to individual districts. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden, under pressure to order schools open, said he’s waiting to hear from the CDC, which could have guidance on that today.
• Most of the state can move into the second phase of reopening, in which limited indoor dining is allowed, along with gyms and some other indoor entertainment, Gov. Jay Inslee said yesterday. The state’s south-central region is the only one left in the more restrictive phase, which one lawmaker called “heartbreaking.” Here’s what you can and can’t do around Washington in Phase 2.
• FAQ Friday: What does “herd immunity” really mean? Are a mutation and a variant the same thing? A guide to the language of COVID-19.
• “Open season” by April? Dr. Anthony Fauci says “virtually everybody and anybody in any category could start to get vaccinated” in the coming months. Here’s how to get a vaccine in Washington state.
• When then-President Donald Trump contracted COVID-19 last October, he was much sicker than he or his aides let on, new reporting shows.
• President Joe Biden wants to spend nearly $2 trillion to pull the economy out of its continued trouble in the pandemic. The plan has much to recommend it, writes business columnist Jon Talton.
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