Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Tuesday, February 15, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

A study in its early stages found that people who exercised for 90 minutes after receiving a COVID-19 or flu shot produced more antibodies than people who did not.

Meanwhile, over a thousand New York City workers were fired for refusing to comply with the city’s vaccine mandate. City officials sent notices in late January to 4,000 employees. Three-quarters of those employees had already been on unpaid leave for months for failing to comply with an earlier deadline.

At the same time, officials in Hong Kong announced plans to make COVID-19 vaccines available to children as young as 3. The decision comes as the city documented a record 2,071 daily cases on Monday and was expecting cases to double on Tuesday.

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.

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Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell emphasizes COVID recovery, crime in first State of the City address

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell delivered his first State of the City address Tuesday, promising sweeping changes to public safety, COVID-19 recovery and housing, among other priority areas.

In the speech, delivered remotely to the Seattle City Council, Harrell shared short-term plans — including a promise to bring city staff back to in-person work in mid-March — and long term goals for his administration — like ending the city’s decade-old criminal justice reform consent decree through police reform. 

Harrell also shared a more detailed look at his priorities and how his administration would approach each issue to create the “one Seattle” introduced in his inauguration address six weeks ago.

With rising crime, COVID-19 recovery and housing at the forefront, Harrell promised to address each issue by “going back to the basics” of city government and working collaboratively with the Council he was addressing.

Read the full story here.

—Sarah Grace Taylor
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California bills aim at social media, medical disinformation

Two California Democratic lawmakers took separate aim Tuesday at pandemic disinformation they argue receives a broad audience and misplaced credibility through social media platforms — rejecting concerns that their legislation might carry free speech or business privacy considerations.

Sen. Richard Pan’s proposal, which still is being finalized, would require online platforms like Facebook to publicly disclose how their algorithms work and how they promote user content, including which data sets are used and how they rank the prominence of user posts.

The platforms would also be required to confidentially share more detailed information with researchers, with the goal of creating more responsible algorithms.

Assemblyman Evan Low said his bill would label doctors’ promoting of misinformation or disinformation about COVID-19 to the public as unprofessional conduct that could draw disciplinary action from the California Medical Board. Disinformation is generally considered to be intentional or deliberate falsehoods, while misinformation can be inadvertent.

Read the full story here.

—Don Thompson, The Associated Press

COVID outbreak grows at southwest WA prison

The number of active COVID-19 cases jumped to 41 among incarcerated individuals at Larch Corrections Center, a nearly 193% increase since Friday, according to a Monday bulletin from the Washington Department of Corrections.

The minimum-security prison near Yacolt was placed on facilitywide outbreak status Feb. 7 after four inmates in the living unit tested positive. Incarcerated individuals who test positive are being temporarily relocated to the Elkhorn Unit to help stop the virus’s spread, according to the department.

Active cases among staff decreased from seven to six between Friday and Monday, the DOC bulletin shows.

To date, 322 incarcerated individuals and 65 staff members have tested positive, according to the DOC. The majority of those cases came during an outbreak in late 2020, with more than 90% of the inmate population testing positive.

Read the full story here.

—Jessica Prokop, The Columbian

AP sources: White House seeks another $30B for COVID battle

The Biden administration is telling Congress that it needs an additional $30 billion to press ahead with the fight against COVID-19, officials said Tuesday.

Two people familiar with the administration’s plan confirmed key details: $17.9 billion for vaccines and treatments, $4.9 billion for testing, $3 billion to cover coronavirus care for uninsured people, and $3.7 billion to prepare for future variants. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss deliberations between the administration and lawmakers over the supplemental funding.

Separately, Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri told reporters he’d spoken with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, and that “I think they are going to be proposing a $30 billion supplemental.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki addressed the need for more money without specifying the amount being sought.

Read the full story here.

—Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Zeke Miller, The Associated Press
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Instead of chasing variants, vaccine scientists seek a universal coronavirus vaccine

Volunteers are rolling up their sleeves to receive shots of experimental vaccines tailored to beat the omicron variant — just as the winter coronavirus surge begins to relent.

By the time scientists know whether those rebooted vaccines are effective and safe, omicron is expected to be in the rear-view mirror. Already, mask mandates are easing. People are beginning to talk about normalcy.

The disconnect highlights the exhausting scientific chase of the last year — and the one that lies ahead. And it underscores a more pressing, overarching conundrum: Is chasing the latest variant a viable strategy? Instead of testing and potentially deploying a new shot when a new variant pops up, what if a single vaccine could thwart all iterations of this coronavirus and the next ones, too?

“You don’t want to play this whack-a-mole approach,” said David R. Martinez, a viral immunologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “This could go on forever.”

Read the story here.

—Carolyn Y. Johnson, The Washington Post

Virginia governor seeks March 1 end to school mask mandates

School mask mandates in Virginia would end on March 1 if the General Assembly adopts amendments made by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin to just-passed legislation on the issue.

The legislature passed a bill Monday giving parents and students the ability to opt out of mandates imposed by local school boards. But the legislation would not have taken effect until July 1.

On Monday night, Youngkin added an emergency clause to the legislation that allows it to take effect immediately upon passage. He also added a provision giving school districts until March 1 to develop plans to comply with the law.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Levi brand boss exits after dispute over school-mask opposition

A top Levi Strauss & Co. executive said she left the denim maker after more than two decades because her outspoken opposition to covid-19 policies in schools created a fraught work environment for her.

Jennifer Sey, who was the company’s global brand president, said she passed up a $1 million severance package that would have come with a nondisclosure agreement so she could publicly discuss the circumstances of her departure. She shared her story in a 1,700-word post in the Substack newsletter of writer and editor Bari Weiss.

In the post, Sey described her two-decade rise through the company as marketing director and chief marketing officer, culminating in her naming as brand president in 2020. At the onset of the covid-19 pandemic, she frequently wrote op-eds and appeared on news shows and at rallies to advocate for schools to reopen without mask rules.

“I felt — and still do — that the draconian policies would cause the most harm to those least at risk, and the burden would fall heaviest on disadvantaged kids in public schools, who need the safety and routine of school the most,” she wrote.

Read the story here.

—Jordyn Holman, Bloomberg
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Senate confirms Biden’s FDA pick despite political divisions

The Senate narrowly confirmed President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday pushing past a thicket of political controversies that threatened to derail what was initially expected to be an easy confirmation.

The 50-46 vote means Dr. Robert Califf, a cardiologist and prominent medical researcher, will again lead the powerful regulatory agency, which he briefly headed during the end of President Barack Obama’s administration.

The FDA hasn’t had a permanent leader in more than a year despite playing a central role in the COVID-19 response effort, reviewing the vaccines, drugs and tests used to fight the pandemic.

The razor-thin vote underscores the increasing political polarization around the health care issues FDA oversees and contrasts with Califf’s overwhelming support just six years ago. The Senate previously confirmed him to the job by a vote of 89-4.

Read the story here.

—Kevin Freking and Matthew Perrone, The Associated Press

Zimbabwe to stop paying unvaccinated government workers

Zimbabwe’s government says it will stop paying salaries of staff who are unvaccinated against COVID-19, while ordering those who have received jabs to report for work at their offices “with immediate effect,” after more than a year of most government employees working from home, state media reported Tuesday.

The southern African country has in recent weeks relaxed restrictions on public gatherings as cases of the omicron variant appear to have started receding.

Staff without proof of vaccination will be barred from their workplaces, face “disciplinary proceedings” and forfeit their pay, the state-run Herald newspaper reported, citing a government notice seen by The Associated Press.

The government in September last year ordered all its 500,000 workers to get vaccinated against the virus. The country’s largest labor federation has gone to the courts to challenge vaccine mandates imposed by the government and private employers.

Read the story here.

—Furai Mutsaka, The Associated Press

Anti-vaccine husband faced terrible choice as his pregnant wife fought for her life

When the COVID-19 vaccines came along, police officer Chris Crouch, 30, became outspoken against them, espousing views that were common in his workplace and much of Texas. Despite his family’s pleading, Chris and his wife Diana were adamant they did not need to be vaccinated. They did wear masks, but only when required.

Chris felt vaccine mandates infringed on personal liberties, a perspective promoted by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other prominent Republicans. And he and Diana also worried that the shots had been developed too quickly. As Chris liked to say, “God gave us our immune system and we could fight the viruses with our own immune system.”

But when his pregnant wife Diana, 24, was in intensive care with COVID and he had some horribly difficult decisions to make, he questioned his earlier certainty.

And as he stared at his wife and saw her suffering, he couldn’t shake the question that kept popping into his head: “Was this my fault?”

He struggled with how strongly he had held to beliefs about the vaccines without really examining them. Increasingly, he felt a responsibility to warn others about his mistakes, so he began writing to friends, family and even strangers on Facebook, urging them to get the shots. Somewhere along the way, he got vaccinated himself.

“When you sit there and you see your wife on life support because of COVID, you throw out politics,” he said later. “None of that matters anymore.”

Read the story here.

—Ariana Eunjung Cha, The Washington Post
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Ottawa’s police chief resigns amid truck protest in Canada

Ottawa’s police chief resigned Tuesday amid criticism of his inaction against the trucker protests that have paralyzed Canada’s capital for over two weeks, while demonstrators elsewhere across the country abandoned another one of blockades at the U.S. border.

Trucks with horns blaring rolled out of the southern Alberta town of Coutts, ending the siege that had disrupted trade for more than two weeks. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police earlier this week arrested 11 people at the blockaded crossing and seized a cache of guns and ammunition.

The two developments came a day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked extraordinary emergency powers to try to end the occupation in Ottawa and elsewhere around the country. Across Canada and beyond, the question in the coming days will be whether it works.

In Ottawa, the bumper-to-bumper demonstration by hundreds of truck drivers against the country’s COVID-19 restrictions — and the failure of Police Chief Peter Sloly to break the siege early on — have infuriated many residents. They have complained of being harassed and intimidated by protesters.

Read the story here.

—Rob Gillies and Ted Shaffrey, The Associated Press

S. Korean COVID deaths rise, hope rests on high booster rate

South Korea reported its highest number of COVID-19 deaths in a month Tuesday as U.S. health authorities advised Americans to avoid traveling to the country grappling with a fast-developing omicron surge.

The 57,177 new cases reported by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Tuesday was another one-day record and more than a 12-fold increase from the levels seen in mid-January, when omicron became the dominant strain.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its travel notice for South Korea to level 4, the highest risk, advising Americans to avoid travel to the country or to make sure they are fully vaccinated if traveling is necessary.

Read the story here.

—Kim Tong-Hyung, The Associated Press

Europe warns of COVID rise in east, like Russia, Ukraine

The head of the World Health Organization’s Europe office said Tuesday that health officials are turning their attention to growing rates of COVID-19 infection in Eastern Europe, where six countries — including Russia and Ukraine — have seen a doubling in case counts over the last two weeks.

Dr. Hans Kluge said the 53-country region, which stretches to former Soviet republics into central Asia, has now tallied more than 165 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 1.8 million deaths linked to the pandemic — including 25,000 in the last week alone.

“Today, our focus is towards the east of the WHO European region,” Kluge said in Russian at a media briefing, pointing to a surge in the highly transmissible omicron variant. “Over the past two weeks, cases of COVID-19 have more than doubled in six countries in this part of the region (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine).”

“As anticipated, the omicron wave is moving east: 10 eastern Member States have now detected this variant,” he said.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Cook Islands confirms first coronavirus case, 2 years into pandemic

The Cook Islands, one of the few places left in the world that had not reported any coronavirus infections, detected its first case on Sunday.

Prime Minister Mark Brown said in a briefing Sunday that the individual who tested positive arrived in Rarotonga, the largest of the Cook Islands, on Thursday. The person was tested Sunday after learning that a family member who was a close contact had tested positive in New Zealand the day before. The individual was asymptomatic and was isolating and under observation Sunday at private holiday accommodations, Brown said.

The remote South Pacific nation had been bracing for a potential spate of infections in recent days. Officials announced Saturday that a traveler tested positive for the omicron variant upon returning to New Zealand last week after eight days on the islands – although Brown said the case confirmed Sunday was “not connected” to that visitor.

It was “helpful,” Brown added, that the individual had been staying in private accommodations rather than at a resort or hotel.

Read the story here.

—The Washington Post

Indonesian new virus cases set record as omicron spreads

Indonesia reported a record number of new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday driven by the highly transmissible omicron variant.

The country confirmed 57,049 new infections, more than the previous record of about 56,700 set last July, when the delta variant overwhelmed hospitals on the main island of Java. The national COVID-19 task force also reported 134 deaths on Tuesday.

Indonesia had largely recovered from last year’s surge, which was among the worst in Southeast Asia, and new daily infections had fallen to about 200 by December. But cases have been sharply rising again with omicron’s arrival.

Read the story here.

—Niniek Karmini, The Associated Press

COVID put thousands of procedures in WA on hold, frustrating patients and worrying surgeons

Scott Matsuda’s cancer was worsening.

He was diagnosed with myelofibrosis — a rare type of leukemia — 15 years ago, and for the most part had been able to keep it from spreading too quickly.

In late 2019, however, it became obvious he would soon need a bone marrow transplant, the 67-year-old said.

He had a medical team at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. He found a donor. He and his family made arrangements to stay near the treatment center after the procedure.

“Then, in the beginning of March [2020], everything got shut down,” he said.

Matsuda is among thousands of Washingtonians whose medical procedures have been pushed back during the pandemic, as hospitals cleared space for a crush of COVID-19 patients. Delayed procedures vary widely, from colonoscopies to cancer care — anything that, if postponed, is not anticipated to cause harm to a patient within 90 days, according to a recent emergency order from Gov. Jay Inslee that paused all elective care.

Read the story here.

—Elise Takahama
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Australia sets reopening date for vaccinated international travelers

The Australian government plans to reopen its borders to vaccinated travelers later this month.

According to Reuters.com, tourists from any country in the world who have received a full dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine will be allowed to enter Australia for the first time since March 2020, starting on Feb. 21.

To enter, travelers must present a negative rapid antigen test or Polymerase chain reaction test taken within 24 hours of departure.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats.

Read the full story here.

—Donald Wood, TravelPulse

Catch up on the last 24 hours

In some of the surest steps so far toward a new normal for the Seattle area, Microsoft and Expedia separately announced plans Monday to broadly reopen their Washington offices.

Taking a long, brisk walk, jog or bike ride after your next COVID-19 or flu vaccine might amplify the benefits of the shot, according to a new study of exercise and immunization.

Religious exemptions are increasingly becoming a workaround for unvaccinated hospital and nursing home workers who want to keep their jobs in the face of federal mandates that are going into effect nationwide this week.

Dr. Deborah Birx has a memoir coming out this spring that will focus on her contentious time as White House coronavirus task force coordinator in the administration of President Donald Trump.

—Seattle Times staff