Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, Feb. 18, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 on Tuesday offered reassurance to Americans about the availability of the coronavirus vaccines and optimism that his $1.9 trillion relief bill would restore the U.S. economy.
Meanwhile, U.S. diplomats serving in countries with poor medical infrastructure and high virus infection rates are venting frustrations about the way top federal officials are distributing the vaccines.
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.
2.5 million women left the workforce during the pandemic. Harris sees a ‘national emergency.’
WASHINGTON — Vice President Kamala Harris said on Thursday that the 2.5 million women who have left the workforce since the beginning of the pandemic constituted a “national emergency” that could be addressed by the Biden administration’s coronavirus relief plan.
That number, according to Labor Department data, compares with 1.8 million men who have left the workforce. For many women, the demands of child care, coupled with layoffs and furloughs in an economy hit hard by the pandemic, has forced them out of the labor market.
“Our economy cannot fully recover unless women can participate fully,” Harris said on a video call with several women’s advocacy groups and lawmakers, essentially reiterating the argument she made in a Washington Post op-ed published last week.
On the call, the vice president painted a dire picture of the situation that millions of American women are facing during the pandemic. “In one year,” she said, “the pandemic has put decades of the progress we have collectively made for women workers at risk.”
“Women are not opting out of the workforce,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said after attending the panel. “They are being pushed by inadequate policies.”
Two young women in Florida ‘dressed up as grannies’ to get vaccinated, health official says
The coronavirus vaccine is so coveted that two women in Florida went to extremes Wednesday to get inoculated: They dressed as if they were elderly, health officials said.
The women, both younger than 45, wore bonnets, gloves and glasses to disguise themselves as older than 65, the age cutoff to be prioritized to get the coronavirus vaccine in Florida, according to Raul Pino, the director of the health department in Orange County, where Orlando is located. He attributed the deception to growing interest in the vaccine, giving the example of the women while explaining how high demand is in the area.
“This is the hottest commodity that is out there right now so we have to be very careful,” Pino said at a press briefing Thursday.
The geriatric guise is the latest instance of people trying to cut the line to get vaccinated from the deadly virus. Last month, authorities identified a wealthy Canadian couple who had posed as locals in a remote Indigenous community to take doses meant for elders.
Meanwhile, an Indiana health department issued a warning earlier this month against what they called “a substantial lack of morality” after people had lied to vaccination site workers about their addresses, jobs and ages.
Biden rolling out plan for $4 billion global vaccine effort
WASHINGTON — Joe Biden will use his first big presidential moment on the global stage at Friday’s Group of Seven meeting of world leaders to announce that the U.S. will soon begin releasing $4 billion for an international effort to bolster the purchase and distribution of coronavirus vaccine to poor nations, White House officials said.
Biden will also encourage G-7 partners to make good on their pledges to COVAX, an initiative by the World Health Organization to improve access to vaccines, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to preview Biden’s announcement.
Former President Donald Trump declined to participate in the COVAX initiative because of its ties to WHO, the Geneva-based agency that Trump accused of covering up China’s missteps in handling the virus at the start of the public health crisis. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the WHO, but Biden moved quickly after his inauguration last month to rejoin and confirmed that the U.S. would contribute to COVAX.
The $4 billion in U.S. funding was approved by Congress in December and will be distributed through 2022.
California conference in ‘immunity bubble’ spreads COVID-19
CULVER CITY, Calif. — XPrize founder Peter Diamandis thought he could hold a conference in an “immunity bubble” in the middle of California’s COVID-19 surge last month but instead created a superspreader event that infected attendees, staff and himself.
“I was wrong,” Diamandis wrote in a Feb. 12 blog post that detailed the implications of a false sense of security created by negative test results that may lower vigilance and his conclusion that face masks and distancing really are effective.
It was a humbling admission for Diamandis, a high-profile entrepreneur who has degrees in science, engineering and medicine, and came to fame with the original XPrize for the first privately developed manned spaceflights that promoted space tourism.
Diamandis wrote that “it is a story of what questions remain to be answered about the accuracy of testing before we can safely return to work, travel, relax in small groups, or see our kids off to school.”
Diamandis said that for the past nine years he has run a conference called Abundance 360 that draws about 400 entrepreneurs and corporate executives to discuss “exponential technologies.”
Mariners notebook: Morning meetings scrapped as COVID-19 protocols redefine spring training
PEORIA, Ariz. — As the Mariners’ pitchers and catchers, along with the coaching staff, prepared for their first workout of 2021 spring training, manager Scott Servais couldn’t help but feel something was missing.
Given the COVID-19 restrictions, there are a lot of things missing from a typical spring training. But one of Servais’ favorite daily activities — the morning team meeting featuring player introductions, interviews and interactions — has been scuttled due to social distancing and limits on gatherings.
“We really enjoy the morning meetings,” he said Thursday. “It’s an opportunity to kind of get our culture ingrained. It’s an opportunity where players get to learn from each other, know about each other and learn about everybody’s path to get in that rooms.
“But I can’t jam 100 people in the locker room. I can’t do it by protocol. I’m really going to miss that. Our players are going to miss it. Staff is going to miss it. We’ve got to find other ways to get to know our guys and where they’re all at, so that’ll change it a little bit.”
Servais thought about trying to do it on the field, but that also wouldn’t work. He is still taking suggestions to fil that void.
As Israel reopens, ‘Whoever does not get vaccinated will be left behind’
BAT YAM, Israel — Israel has raced ahead with the fastest COVID vaccination campaign in the world, inoculating nearly half its population with at least one dose. Now the rapid rollout is turning the country into a live laboratory for setting the rules in a vaccinated society — raising thorny questions about rights, obligations and the greater good.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet voted this week to open shopping malls and museums to the public, subject to social distancing rules and mandatory masking. For the first time in many months, gyms, cultural and sports events, hotels and swimming pools will also reopen, but only for some.
Under a new “Green Badge” system that functions as both a carrot and a stick, the government is making leisure activities accessible only to people who are fully vaccinated or recovered starting from Sunday. Two weeks later, restaurants, event halls and conferences will be allowed to operate under those rules. Customers and attendees will have to carry a certificate of vaccination with a QR code.
Israel is one of the first countries grappling in real time with a host of legal, moral and ethical questions as it tries to balance the steps toward resuming public life with sensitive issues such as public safety, discrimination, free choice and privacy.
France to donate 5% of its vaccine doses to poorer countries
France is committing to donate 5% of its secured coronavirus vaccine supplies to poorer countries through the World Health Organization-backed Covax program.
A multilateral approach via Covax — a global alliance many developing nations are relying on for inoculations — is the most efficient way to show solidarity, a French official who asked not to be named in line with protocol, said Thursday.
France hopes the U.S. will make financial commitments regarding vaccines during a Group of Seven summit on Friday, the official added.
President Emmanuel Macron has called on the U.S. and Europe to back his proposal to share 4% to 5% of their coronavirus vaccine supplies. In an interview with the Financial Times, Macron said that German Chancellor Angela Merkel supports the idea. He also said that sharing doses with African countries won’t delay domestic vaccination campaigns by “a single day.”
Earlier on Thursday, Bruce Aylward, senior adviser to the WHO director general, said that Macron’s efforts were encouraging, as previous offers to donate doses haven’t materialized yet.
Some 90% of COVID-19 vaccine shipments to Washington are delayed this week, state says
Blasts of cold air, ice and snow sweeping this week through the nation’s center are slowing shipments of COVID-19 vaccines to Washington state.
“Storms are causing delays across the nation and keeping vaccine from getting to our state,” said Michele Roberts, the state Department of Health’s acting assistant secretary.
An estimated 90% of shipments of vaccine have been delayed this week, Roberts said during a Thursday news briefing. The state was expecting about 200,000 doses to arrive for Washington vaccine providers this week.
Extreme weather has been blamed for more than three dozen deaths. It’s left Texans, many who have lost power or water services, shivering in below-freezing temperatures. Meanwhile, much of the rest of the country has been hit with ice and snow.
The weather has fouled up operations at FedEx and UPS hub facilities in the Southeast, according to reports. Air travel also has been disrupted.
People with appointments will be contacted to reschedule next week. The shipping problems could delay second doses for many Washingtonians. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said people should try to get their second dose as close to the recommended interval as possible, but that a six-week interval is acceptable for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
White House announces $4 billion in funding for Covax, the global vaccine effort that Trump spurned
The White House is throwing its support behind a global push to distribute coronavirus vaccines equitably, pledging $4 billion dollars to a multilateral effort the Trump administration spurned.
At a Group of Seven meeting of leaders of the world’s largest economies on Friday, President Biden will announce an initial $2 billion in funding for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to be used by the Covax Facility, senior administration officials said in a briefing.
The United States will release an additional $2 billion over two years once other donors have made good on their pledges, and will use this week’s G-7 summit to rally other countries to do more.
The money, which was appropriated by a bipartisan congressional vote last year, will give a much-needed boost to a program jointly led by Gavi, the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness.
Thomas Bollyky, director of the global health program at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that the money would be significant for Covax, which has struggled to raise the enough funding since it was announced last year.
Pop-up clinic in West Seattle aims to vaccinate vulnerable Latino elders
A West Seattle coronavirus testing site transformed into a three-day pop-up vaccination clinic aims to provide doses to 750 elders in South Park and West Seattle, with a focus on the hard-hit Latino community.
Latinos have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. While they represent 10% of the King County population, Latino residents make up 24% of the confirmed COVID-19 cases and 18% of hospitalizations, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said at a news conference at the site Thursday morning.
On Thursday, 144 people received vaccinations in an area of shipping containers painted a light tan. Spanish translators were available at the entrance for patients with limited English proficiency.
Overall, the site has administered over 71,000 tests for the coronavirus, according to Brian Wallace of the Seattle Fire Department.
The city of Seattle’s goal to turn the West Seattle location into a fixed community vaccination hub will depend on the availability of vaccines. Some of this week’s supply was stuck in transit due to inclement weather, Durkan said.
State reports 1,292 new coronavirus cases and 44 new deaths
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,292 new coronavirus cases and 44 new deaths on Thursday.
The update brings the state's totals to 332,007 cases and 4,803 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. Wednesday.
In addition, 18,934 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 82,402 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,348 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.
Dutch opposition lawmakers back new coronavirus curfew law
Key Dutch opposition parties expressed support Thursday for hastily drawn-up legislation underpinning the Netherlands' coronavirus curfew after a judge ordered the measure scrapped earlier this week.
The lower house of parliament is expected to approve the legislation in a vote later Thursday. That will send the bill to the senate on Friday — the same day that government lawyers go to court to appeal the order banning the 9 p.m.-to-4:30 a.m. curfew.
The curfew, which sparked rioting last month but is very broadly supported and followed, remains in force pending the outcome of the government’s appeal.
A judge in The Hague banned the curfew, saying the law the government used when it introduced the measure last month can only be wielded in pressing emergencies such as a massive dike breach.
China defends use of Twitter, Facebook in virus campaign
The Chinese government defended its use of Twitter and Facebook on Thursday, following a report that it had used its growing social media presence to spread disinformation about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
An Associated Press investigation, conducted in collaboration with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, found that powerful political figures and allied media in China as well as the U.S., Russia and Iran flooded the globe with disinformation about the virus.
The report, published earlier this week, said that Chinese officials went on the offensive in reaction to a narrative — nursed by former U.S. President Donald Trump among others — that the virus had been manufactured by China. Experts have largely ruled out that possibility.
China’s response, though, was to start spreading rumors that the virus had been created by a U.S. military lab and released during an international competition for military athletes in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the new coronavirus was first detected in late 2019.
Massive storms, outages force tough decisions amid pandemic
Ashley Archer, a pregnant, 33-year-old Texas financial adviser, and her husband have been cautious about the coronavirus. They work from home, go out mostly just to get groceries and wear masks whenever they are in public.
But when a friend lost power amid the winter storms that have left millions of Texans without heat in freezing temperatures, the couple had to make a decision: Should they take on additional risk to help someone in need?
Archer said they didn’t hesitate. They took her husband’s best friend into their suburban Dallas home.
“He’s like family,” she said. “We weren’t going to let him freeze at his place. We figured, ‘OK, we’re willing to accept a little bit of risk because you’re not in our little pandemic group.’”
Weighing the risks in the pandemic era is fraught enough. But the storms and outages that have hit a big swath of the U.S. over the past several days have added a whole new layer of complexity.
DIY education: Greek teacher creates TV classes for inmates
Setting up a television channel from scratch isn’t the most obvious or easiest thing for a math teacher to do — especially without prior technical knowledge and for use inside a prison.
But that is exactly the task Petros Damianos, director of the school at Greece’s Avlona Special Youth Detention Center, took on so his students could access the lessons that coronavirus lockdowns cut them off from.
The detention center holds nearly 300 young men and the school Damianos founded there follows the national curriculum and awards graduation certificates equivalent to any Greek school or college. But with internet devices banned in their cells, the prison’s students had no way to continue learning when the coronavirus lockdowns canceled classroom lessons.
Desperate for a solution, Damianos had an idea: he could reach his students through the televisions in their cells if he could figure out how to create a dedicated TV channel to broadcast their classes.
“I very quickly realized — and this is the magic of it, too — that this whole thing is essentially DIY,” Karadosidis said. “Do it yourself, with whatever materials you have, with whatever tools you have, to try to do the best you can.”
Answers to working parents’ questions about workplace rights during the pandemic
The phone line pings with heartbreaking stories:
An employee whose boss told him that he would be fired if his child ever appeared on Zoom.
A mother whose crippling anxiety may qualify her for disability accommodations but who has no idea how to file for benefits.
A working parent, having trouble managing her workload, who was told by her supervisor that she should “just find a babysitter.”
These scenarios come in daily to the Center for WorkLife Law, an advocacy group for working parents that is operated out of the University of California Hastings College of Law. Since April, the group — staffed by four lawyers and a handful of law students — has been operating the free legal advice help line around the clock, advising frazzled callers on how to protect their jobs and seek backup help for their families during the COVID-19 crisis.
Uber, Lyft rerouted for post-pandemic profitability
Uber and Lyft are taking different routes around the roadblock the virus pandemic dropped on their paths to profitability.
The companies have racked up tens of billions of dollars in losses since starting up, and the slump in passenger activity has pushed profitability ever further off into the future. A mix of cost-cutting and shifting the focus from moving people to delivering food has helped them weather the downturn, while raising investors’ confidence that each could finally make a profit before 2021 ends.
Uber has been the more proactive of the two, expanding its food delivery business heartily. Although it lost nearly $1 billion last quarter, that was Uber’s smallest loss since going public in May of 2019. Meanwhile, rival app Lyft posted a loss of $458.2 million during the same period.
Italy’s COVID anniversary commemoration nixed by new variant
One of this weekend’s main events commemorating the anniversary of the start of Italy’s COVID-19 outbreak was canceled Thursday after a cluster of new infections traced to the British variant forced localized lockdowns in hardest-hit Lombardy and around the country.
Brescia’s public hospital, overwhelmed during the initial outbreak last year, had planned a daylong conference on lessons learned, but the hospital announced it was postponing the event after “considering the rapid evolution of the epidemiological situation.”
Italy’s Superior Institute of Health reported last week that the British variant represented some 18% of all new infections, but predicted that the number would rise quickly as the variant spread.
Palestinian president’s rival promises vaccines for Gaza
The United Arab Emirates is sending 20,000 doses of the Russian coronavirus vaccine to the Gaza Strip, a rival to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced Thursday, in a decision that could have repercussions for upcoming elections.
The announcement by Mohammed Dahlan came a day after Abbas’ government managed to deliver 2,000 vaccines to Gaza and appeared to be aimed in part at embarrassing the Palestinian president.
Dahlan, a former senior member of Abbas’ Fatah party, has lived in exile in Abu Dhabi since falling out with the Palestinian president in 2011.
Experts warn against COVID-19 variants as states reopen
As states lift mask rules and ease restrictions on restaurants and other businesses because of falling case numbers, public health officials say authorities are overlooking potentially more dangerous COVID-19 variants that are quietly spreading through the U.S.
Over the past two weeks, the daily averages for both coronavirus cases and deaths have dropped by about half in the U.S., according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
But experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky say the downward trend could reverse itself if new variants take hold.
A more contagious and possibly more deadly variant that was first identified in Britain has been found in at least 42 states. The South Africa one is especially worrisome because of evidence it may diminish the effectiveness of the vaccines.
Anti-vax at the Vatican? You might lose your job
The Vatican is taking Pope Francis’ pro-vaccine stance very seriously: Any Vatican employee who refuses to get a coronavirus shot without a valid medical reason risks being fired.
A Feb. 8 decree signed by the governor of the Vatican city-state says that employees who opt out of vaccination without a proven medical reason could be subject to sanctions up to and including “the interruption of the relationship of employment.”
The decree sparked heated debate Thursday, since its provisions go well beyond the generally voluntary nature of COVID-19 vaccinations in Italy and much of the rest of the world. The Vatican is an absolute monarchy in the heart of Rome that operates independently of Italian law and Italian labor protections.
Zimbabwe starts administering China’s Sinopharm vaccines
Vaccination campaigns are just beginning to be launched across Africa, with jabs being given in just a handful of the continent’s 54 countries.
On Thursday, Zimbabwe started giving COVID-19 vaccinations with Vice President Constantino Chiwenga volunteering for the first jab at a hospital in the capital, Harare.
Zimbabwe received 200,000 doses of Sinopharm on Monday as a donation from China’s government. South Africa, which has approximately 40% of all confirmed infections in Africa, began its vaccination campaign Wednesday using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Africa has a total population of 1.3 billion people and more than 3.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, although that’s believed to be an undercount.
Pandemic spurs art of the reverse knit
It started with a simple sweater. After Harry Styles wore a color-block patchwork cardigan for a “Today” show rehearsal last February, knitters went into a kind of frenzy trying to reverse-engineer the pattern.
So many TikTok and YouTube users shared their process using the hashtag #harrystylescardigan — racking up tens of millions of views — that the creator of the original cardigan, Jonathan Anderson of the brand JW Anderson, released an official pattern and tutorial video.
Knitters and crocheters have always been a resourceful bunch. But the reverse-engineer-knitting craze unfolding on social media owes much to the current moment.
“Crafts bloom when people are stuck at home,” said Abby Glassenberg, president and co-founder of Craft Industry Alliance.
Exposed to COVID-19 after vaccination? Meet these 3 criteria and you won't have to quarantine
What happens if you’re vaccinated and then exposed to COVID-19?
In new guidance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that once you’re fully vaccinated, you don’t need to quarantine if you’re exposed to someone with COVID-19, as long as you meet certain qualifications.
- It’s been at least two weeks since you received your second vaccine dose
- It’s been less than three months since you received your second vaccine dose, and
- You haven’t experienced any symptoms since your COVID-19 exposure
You must meet all three to forgo a quarantine, according to the CDC.
Working remotely? Some cities, states will pay you to move in
As the coronavirus pandemic spurs a migration of skilled workers out of pricey metro areas, a growing number of cities and states are recruiting new homeowners and even renters the old-fashioned way — by bribing them.
Baltimore, Topeka and Tulsa are among the places paying bounties of up to $15,000 to lure remote workers to town.
Video game designer Tyler Jaggers is one taker. He lived in Silicon Valley for years but feared homeownership was far out of his reach where the typical home fetches more than $1 million.
As the coronavirus pandemic raged and wildfire smoke darkened the skies above California, Jaggers joined an exodus of skilled workers leaving the nation’s most expensive cities.
In October, Jaggers paid just $47,000 for a three-story house with a basement, an attic, a back yard, a firepit, and a garage in Topeka, Kansas.
Sweetening the pot was Choose Topeka, a program that offers up to $10,000 to remote workers who move to town and buy a house or $5,000 to those who rent.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
• Life expectancy in the U.S. plunged by a full year during the first half of 2020, as the pandemic fueled the biggest drop since World War II. Health officials' report, released today, breaks down how long we can all expect to live and which communities saw the biggest declines.
• If you have a vaccine appointment, don't be surprised if it's postponed. Hospitals in Washington state are scrambling as nasty weather across the nation delays some shipments.
• Can vaccinated people still spread COVID-19? How long does immunity last? Here’s what scientists know now. And if you’re vaccinated and exposed to COVID-19, you don’t need to quarantine as long as you meet three criteria, the CDC's new guidance says.
• Healthy volunteers will soon be infected with the virus in the world’s first such "human challenge trial."
• You’re not imagining it: The pandemic may be making your hair fall out.
How is the pandemic affecting you?What has changed about your daily life? What kinds of discussions are you having with family members and friends? Are you a health care worker who's on the front lines of the response? Are you a COVID-19 patient or do you know one? Whoever you are, we want to hear from you so our news coverage is as complete, accurate and useful as possible. If you're using a mobile device and can't see the form on this page, click here.
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