Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, Feb. 17, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 much of the United States recovers from a weekend winter storm, health officials are concerned about the weather’s impact on the coronavirus vaccination drive.
In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday the state will expand COVID-19 testing resources for nearly 50 school districts — part of an effort to get more K-12 students back to in-person learning.
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.
Property tax bills are arriving in King County, but they won’t reflect pandemic’s impact
King County residents awaiting their property tax bills shouldn’t expect a break because of the pandemic, County Assessor John Wilson said Wednesday.
Across the county, property taxes will increase by an average of 4%, according to the county assessor’s office, though some areas where voters approved tax hikes will see double-digit increases.
The assessor sets values based on data from January of the previous year. So, the bills arriving any day now are based on January 2020 values, before the pandemic hit locally and hammered the economy. Increases are driven more by new levies and tax measures approved by voters than by rising property values, according to the assessor’s office.
Property owners in several areas of South King County will see the highest increases this year: 18% in Algona, 15% in Maple Valley, 13% in Pacific and 11% in Enumclaw. Those areas saw increases because of voter-approved levies for several school districts and a regional fire district, according to the assessor’s office.
Mariners will be able to have fans at spring training games, but at less than 20% capacity
PEORIA, Ariz. — As Mariners’ pitchers and catchers reported to the team’s complex at scheduled times throughout Wednesday for the team’s extensive physicals, the array of fields around the complex were basically empty.
Come Thursday morning, the familiar and inimitable sound of metal spikes walking on concrete and baseballs striking leather catchers’ gloves at high rates of velocity will permeate throughout the six-field complex. Similar to robins chirping, it’s a sweet sound signifying spring is coming.
Except only the players and approved Mariners’ staff members will hear it.
The practice fields will be closed to fans for all of spring training, according to the Peoria Spring Training COVID-19 operations plan created by the City of Peoria and the Peoria Sports Complex, released on Feb. 9, which also used recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state and local health officials, the Cactus League, MLB, the Mariners and San Diego Padres.
Pressure mounts on Cuomo over COVID deaths at nursing homes
ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced mounting challenges to his leadership on the coronavirus pandemic Wednesday as state lawmakers threatened to strip him of the power to issue emergency orders and federal investigators scrutinized his administration’s handling of nursing home data.
The U.S. Justice Department has been examining the governor’s coronavirus task force and trying to determine whether the state intentionally manipulated data regarding deaths in nursing homes, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.
The people, who weren’t authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Cuomo administration had not been cooperative with prosecutors, especially in the early stages of the probe, and for months had not produced documents and other data the Justice Department had requested.
Native Americans embrace vaccine, virus containment measures
CHEROKEE, N.C. — Joyce Dugan did not hesitate before sitting down inside the Cherokee Indian Hospital for her second and final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. “I’m proud of our hospital,” the 72-year-old former tribal chief said as a nurse quietly prepped her arm. “I’m proud that we’re able to get these shots.”
While minority communities across the United States have struggled to trust the vaccine, the opposite is true for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, a Native American tribe of 16,000 in western North Carolina, and other tribes across the country, which were also quick to adopt coronavirus prevention measures.
The federal Indian Health Service said Tuesday that it has administered nearly 385,300 doses of COVID-19 vaccines. At a rate of about 18,490 per 100,000, that’s higher than all but five U.S. states, according to an AP analysis of federal data.
The trend owes itself both to a harsh reality — Native Americans and Alaskan Natives are four times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and tradition. Community before self has long been a core principle in Native American culture.
Microsoft vaccine scheduling software deal ended by Iowa
Iowa is backing out of a plan to use Microsoft software for registering patients and scheduling COVID-19 vaccinations, the latest challenge to the software giant’s efforts to make money helping states overwhelmed with residents looking for shots.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced the change of heart in a news conference Wednesday, saying state officials concluded it would be too hard to combine existing scheduling systems and were trying to avoid disruptions. The state will instead focus on bolstering its current systems. Just last week, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and members of his administration complained about significant glitches in that state’s Microsoft-built vaccination scheduling system.
“After learning more about the breadth of Microsoft’s solution and reviewing the challenges faced by some other states in their rollouts, and speaking with our vaccine partners, we have made the determination not to move forward with the contract,” Iowa’s Reynolds said.
“It quickly became apparent that integrating the many already existing registration and scheduling platforms that are used by some of our public health departments, pharmacies, as well as other vaccine providers, it would not be possible in a timely manner without significant disruption to their current systems and we did not want to slow down the progress that we’re making.”
Inslee: Canada won’t require COVID-19 testing for residents of Point Roberts, Wash.
Canada won’t require COVID-19 testing for residents of Point Roberts traveling through Canada for any essential services, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday.
The Consulate General of Canada informed Inslee’s office about the decision Wednesday, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
That move will allow Point Roberts residents — of whom there are approximately 1,300 — from having to take get a test on either side of the border.
Travel between Point Roberts — a waterfront U.S. enclave connected to British Columbia — and the rest of Washington state requires a 25-mile trip through Canada.
“Point Roberts residents have had very real concerns about transit ever since the pandemic struck, and this exemption will ease some of the burden,” Inslee said in prepared remarks. “I want to thank the Canadian government for hearing our request, and to the state’s congressional delegation, who continue working on border access issues for Point Roberts residents.”
State health officials confirm 1,055 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,055 new coronavirus cases and 50 new deaths on Wednesday.
The update brings the state's totals to 330,807 cases and 4,759 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.
The new cases may include up to 200 duplicates, according to DOH.
In addition, 18,861 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 97 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 82,201 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,329 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.
Fact-checking Harris’ claim that Biden vaccine plan was ‘starting from scratch’
“There was no national strategy or plan for vaccinations. We were leaving it to the states and local leaders to try and figure it out. And so in many ways, we’re starting from scratch on something that’s been raging for almost an entire year!” — Vice President Kamala Harris, in an interview with Axios, Feb. 15, 2021
— — —
“We certainly are not starting from scratch because there is activity going on in the distribution.” — Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in remarks at the White House, Jan. 21
— — —
Many readers have asked us to examine these apparently conflicting statements. There was even a Fox News report wondering why we had not quickly written a fact check. We had been working on a fact check on this issue even before Harris’ interview was released — regarding similar remarks by President Joe Biden — but it takes time to interview people, especially when there is a federal holiday.
On the face of it, Fauci’s statement appears to be in direct conflict with Harris’ claim. After all, he was intimately involved in battling the coronavirus pandemic during the Trump administration. But it’s not quite so simple. Few people realize that he said something more after his first comment — which might explain why he did not dispute Harris’ overall comment when he was interviewed about it on CNN a day later.
A large part of how you look at this depends on your definition of “plan” or “starting from scratch.”
Vaccination of whole Brazilian city spares it from shortages
As Brazil’s mayors and governors start sounding the alarm over dwindling supplies of coronavirus vaccines, there are no such complaints in Serrana, a city that Sao Paulo’s state government selected to test city-wide vaccination.
The city is small, but the task is sizeable: administering shots over eight weeks to the entire population aged 18 and up — 30,000 people. The study, known as Project S, entails follow-ups with each participant to shed light on the extent to which vaccination with the CoronaVac shot reduces spread of the virus.
Inês Aparecida Giolo, 61, was among among the first participants in the study, receiving her shot Wednesday morning at a school near her home.
“It’s a lot of joy, because it’s not just me, it’s for the whole city. So we are very happy,” said Giolo.
The idea of vaccinating an entire city came about last year, during the pandemic’s peak, as a means to obtain answers to countless questions in an organized manner, according to Dimas Covas, director of Sao Paulo’s Butantan Institute, which is distributing the CoronaVac vaccines and is a partner in the experiment.
“This will allow us to know in depth what is happening with vaccinated people, but also with the pandemic: the number of people affected, hospital needs,” Covas said at the opening ceremony Wednesday.
Serrana — with about 45,000 inhabitants, one quarter the population of Providence, Rhode Island — was one of the worst-hit cities in Sao Paulo state, with about 5% of its population contracting the virus, said Marcos Borges, director of the State Hospital of Serrana, also part of Project S.
First coronavirus vaccines arrive in Gaza Strip following blockage by Israel
The first coronavirus vaccines reached the Gaza Strip on Wednesday when 2,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik serum crossed into the heavily guarded enclave of almost 2 million Palestinians.
The shipment arrived after Palestinian officials accused Israel of blocking it for political purposes when an initial attempt at delivery was turned back Monday at a military checkpoint.
Israel maintains tight control over goods and people entering Gaza, and some right-wing Israeli politicians and activists want to condition the delivery of vaccines on the release of hostages and human remains held by Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that governs the enclave.
“We warn [Israel] against the consequences of the spread of coronavirus in Gaza,” said Ismail Radwan, a former Hamas minister. “The resistance will not be blackmailed, and we will not pay a price for letting the vaccine into the Gaza Strip.”
Israeli officials would not comment on the reasons for the two-day delay in granting permission for the vaccine to enter Gaza, saying only that the request had been under review by the country’s National Security Council and the military agency that controls access to Gaza.
Vaccine shipments to Washington state delayed, some appointments could be too
Some shipments of coronavirus vaccine to Washington state have been delayed this week due to snow-related disruptions in shipping and airport travel around the country, according to Cassie Sauer, president of the Washington State Hospital Association.
Sauer said some people’s vaccine appointments across Washington could be postponed over the next few days. Shipments of Moderna vaccine, she said, seem to be more commonly delayed.
Hospitals have been shifting around their vaccine supply to keep scheduled appointments. "Some folks received theirs. Others did not," Sauer said. "There’s been a lot of intra-hospital movement to cover folks today or tomorrow."
Weather is slowing deliveries from FedEX and UPS hub facilities in the Southeast, The Washington Post reported.
Vaccine shortages cause strain for U.S. diplomats
U.S. diplomats serving in countries with poor medical infrastructure and high coronavirus infection rates are venting frustrations about the way top officials in Washington are distributing the vaccines for the virus, according to meeting notes, interviews and documents obtained by The Washington Post.
The limited supply of the vaccines has forced State Department leaders to make difficult and unenviable decisions, and has created humbling experiences for U.S. diplomats representing the world’s wealthiest country.
Managing the shortage is an early challenge for Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has pledged to restore “morale and trust” in his department.
At least 13 foreign governments offered to inoculate U.S. officials serving abroad with their own supplies of U.S.-made Moderna and Pfizer vaccines — a gesture the State Department has accepted, said senior U.S. officials. The department is evaluating offers from at least eight other countries that are willing to do the same.
In Russia, some State Department personnel appealed to Moscow for doses of its Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine after Washington could not promise the delivery of U.S.-made vaccine in the near future, officials said. The Sputnik vaccine has not been approved by the World Health Organization or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The State Department is not recommending that its employees take it but is permitting them to make their own health decisions.
The pandemic has killed more than 2.4 million people worldwide.
“It’s embarrassing for the world’s richest country to require the charity of other nations when it comes to vaccines,” said one U.S. diplomat posted to the Middle East, “especially when you consider that the best vaccines were made in the U.S.”
That’s not the only indignity.
Thousands of service members saying no to COVID-19 vaccine
By the thousands, U.S. service members are refusing or putting off the COVID-19 vaccine as frustrated commanders scramble to knock down internet rumors and find the right pitch that will persuade troops to get the shot.
Some Army units are seeing as few as one-third agree to the vaccine. Military leaders searching for answers believe they have identified one potential convincer: an imminent deployment. Navy sailors on ships heading out to sea last week, for example, were choosing to take the shot at rates exceeding 80% to 90%.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeff Taliaferro, vice director of operations for the Joint Staff, told Congress on Wednesday that “very early data” suggests that just up to two-thirds of the service members offered the vaccine have accepted.
That’s higher than the rate for the general population, which a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation put at roughly 50%. But the significant number of forces declining the vaccine is especially worrisome because troops often live, work and fight closely together in environments where social distancing and wearing masks, at times, are difficult.
The military’s resistance also comes as troops are deploying to administer shots at vaccination centers around the country and as leaders look to American forces to set an example for the nation.
Bosnian Serb health workers get COVID-19 jabs in Serbia
Hundreds of Bosnian Serb medical workers crossed into Serbia to receive a COVID-19 vaccine shot on Wednesday after Belgrade donated vaccine doses to neighboring nations in a bid to highlight its regional reach and influence.
Serbia, a country of 7 million, has vaccinated more than 660,000 of its own people with the first of two doses. It has started administering the second shot, mainly with China’s Sinopharm vaccines, along with Russia’s Sputnik V and to a lesser extent, jabs from Pfizer-BioNTech.
The Bosnian Serbs were vaccinated in three Serbian towns that are close to the border with Bosnia. About 2,000 health staff from Bosnia’s Republika Srpska entity have applied for the jabs and several hundred will receive them daily, officials said.
US govt seizes over 10M phony N95 masks in COVID-19 probe
Federal agents have seized more than 10 million fake 3M brand N95 masks in recent weeks, the result of an ongoing investigation into counterfeits sold in at least five states to hospitals, medical facilities and government agencies.
The most recent seizures occurred Wednesday when Homeland Security agents intercepted hundreds of thousands of counterfeit 3M masks in an East Coast warehouse that were set to be distributed, officials said.
Investigators also notified about 6,000 potential victims in at least 12 states including hospitals, medical facilities and others who may have unknowingly purchased knockoffs, urging them to stop using the fake medical-grade masks. Officials encouraged medical workers and companies to go to 3Ms website for tips on how to spot fakes.
Crippling weather hampers vaccine deliveries, distribution
The icy blast across much of the U.S. injected more confusion and frustration into the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination drive Wednesday just when it was gathering speed, snarling vaccine deliveries and forcing the cancellation of countless shots around the country.
Across a large swath of the nation, including Deep South states like Georgia and Alabama, the snowy, slippery weather either led to the closing of vaccination sites outright or held up the necessary shipments, with delays expected to continue for days.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said people in charge of vaccination efforts need to find ways to be more resilient to weather, “just like mailmen can deliver the mail through sleet or snow.”
Italy’s Draghi urges unity, courage in fight against virus
Premier Mario Draghi urged Italy’s polarized politicians Wednesday to unite behind his new government to help the country confront the coronavirus pandemic and the economic devastation it has wrought, saying Italy has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to create a more sustainable, equitable and healthy nation for future generations.
Draghi's Cabinet is expected to win mandatory votes of confidence in both the Senate and lower Chamber of Deputies after he secured broad-based support for a technical-political government that Italy’s president asked him to form as an emergency response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Draghi, the former European Central Bank chief who is widely credited with having saved the euro, pledged a similar all-out effort to bring the country out of the pandemic. Since the virus first erupted in Italy at this time last year, the country has reported over 94,000 deaths related to COVID-19, more than any other European country except Britain.
He said the principal aim of his administration was to confront the pandemic and save Italian lives “with all means,” including reinforcing the public health care system, bringing the civil protection and armed forces into the nation’s vaccination campaign and ensuring that families can weather the economic fallout from lockdowns.
North Macedonia begins COVID-19 vaccination
North Macedonia began administering vaccinations against the coronavirus Wednesday from a first batch of 4,680 doses of Pfizer vaccines donated by neighboring Serbia over the weekend.
A doctor and head nurse in the main COVID-19 center at the infectious diseases clinic in the capital, Skopje, were the first to receive the shots.
Authorities in North Madedonia, which is seeking to join the European Union, signed an agreement to procure 200,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine last week.
St. Louis jail tensions ‘boiled over’ amid COVID-19 worries
Detainees have complained for decades about conditions inside St. Louis’ jails, but when COVID-19 worries were added to the mix, the tension reached breaking point.
In the predawn hours of Feb. 6, 117 inmates at the downtown City Justice Center broke free from their cells. They smashed windows, set fires and tossed chairs, a filing cabinet and other items through the broken glass onto the street four stories below. A corrections officer was briefly hospitalized.
“These were just very angry, defiant, very violent people that we house at the justice center,” Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards said at a news conference that day.
It was the third uprising at the downtown jail since December. Advocates say concerns about COVID-19 are at the heart of the anger.
“They were fed up and scared for their lives,” said Tracy Stanton of EXPO, a non-profit advocacy group made up of former detainees. “This last resistance happened because they still were not being heard. At this point, the pot had boiled over.”
U.K. gets approval to infect healthy volunteers in world’s first coronavirus ‘challenge trial’
Britain will become the first country to deliberately infect healthy volunteers with the coronavirus, now that the country’s ethics body has approved a “human challenge trial.”
The effort, funded by the British government, aims to accelerate scientific understanding of vaccines and treatments.
The first stage will see up to 90 adults, aged 18 to 30, exposed to the coronavirus “in a safe and controlled environment” to gauge the smallest amount of virus needed to cause infection, the government said in a statement on Wednesday.
The government has said that in subsequent stages it hopes to quickly assess vaccines and conduct head-to-head comparisons.
Infecting healthy people with a potentially deadly virus — even in small doses and controlled settings — is controversial.
Robert Read, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Southampton, said the current vaccines, while very good against most of the strains circulating, “may not actually be the last vaccines that we use globally.” The human challenge trials could “give ourselves the potential to test new vaccines very quickly, and that’s really the primary purpose of this effort.”
The volunteers in the first study will receive about $6,243 for their participation, which will involve 17 days of quarantining at the Royal Free Hospital in north London and follow-ups over 12 months.
Japan minister says supply will determine vaccine progress
Japan will inoculate a group of health workers on Wednesday as it belatedly begins a massive coronavirus vaccination drive, with progress depending on the availability of vaccine supplies from Europe, Japan’s vaccine minister said.
On Sunday, the government formally issued the country’s first COVID-19 vaccine approval, for shots developed and supplied by Pfizer Inc. that have already been used in many other countries since December.
Japan fell behind after it asked Pfizer to conduct clinical tests with Japanese people in addition to the company’s earlier tests in six other nations. Taro Kono, the Cabinet administrative minister tasked with the vaccine mission, said it was necessary to address the concerns of many Japanese about safety in a country known for low vaccine confidence.
“So at the end of the day we might have started slower but we think it will be more effective," he said.
EU hails deals to get more vaccine shots, tackle variants
Amid signs that more infectious coronavirus variants are spreading unchecked across Europe, governments and EU leaders scrambled Wednesday to speed up vaccine efforts that have been hampered by limited supplies and to fund ways to hunt down variants and counter them.
The European Union announced Wednesday that it has agreed to buy a further 300 million doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine and was injecting almost a quarter of a billion euros (almost $300 million) into efforts to combat virus variants.
The news came only hours after Pfizer and BioNTech said they had signed a deal to deliver an additional 200 million vaccine doses to the bloc.
Authorities: Men posed as US marshals to avoid wearing masks
Two men are accused of pretending to be federal marshals and flashing phoney credentials to get out of wearing facial coverings at a South Florida resort hotel.
When the staff at the Wyndham Deerfield Beach Resort asked Walter Wayne Brown Jr., 53, and Gary Brummett, 81, to cover their faces, the men refused, and threatened to arrest employees and saddle the hotel with a fine, the South Florida SunSentinel reported.
The scheme collapsed when one employee thought they were acting suspicious and called police on Feb. 11. Officers and a real U.S. marshal arrived and arrested the men on charges of impersonating a federal officer.
At town hall, Biden touts plans, offers reassurance
In his first official trip away from Washington since taking office, President Joe Biden on Tuesday offered reassurance to Americans about the availability of the coronavirus vaccines and optimism that his $1.9 trillion relief bill was the kind of ambitious plan that could restore the U.S. economy.
“Now is the time we should be spending,” he said at a CNN town hall in Milwaukee that included not just his own supporters but Trump voters and independents. “Now is the time to go big.”
On the coronavirus, he said that every American who wanted a vaccine would be able to get one “by the end of July this year," saying the U.S. will have over 600 million doses, enough to vaccinate every single American.
The town hall’s question-and-answer format gave the president an opportunity to practice what has been his signature brand of personal politics for decades. When an independent voter asked him how her son with a preexisting condition could get the vaccine, for instance, Biden told her, “If you’re willing, I’ll stay around after this is over and maybe we can talk a few minutes and see if I can get you some help.”
Catch up on the past 24 hours
• Frustrated about finding a COVID-19 vaccine? So is columnist Danny Westneat, who writes about how, instead of getting mad, four guerrilla techies in the Seattle area invented the state's first one-stop shot-finder. And here's our updating guide to who's eligible right now.
• Washington state is adding at least 48 school districts to its COVID-19 testing program, including several in Western Washington, in an effort to return more students to buildings.
• Double-masking can boost your protection, but not all masks should be layered. Here's a detailed look at the most effective masking strategies.
• Getting the first vaccine is like you've "started a cold car." But after that, people's bodies rev up differently, infectious-disease experts explain as they lay out possible side effects to prepare for.
• Seattle's City Council is vowing to distribute vaccines equitably by lifting several barriers.
• The U.S. must "stop pussyfooting around" and take immediate steps to cut airborne transmission of the virus in workplaces, a dozen scientists told the Biden administration.
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