Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, Feb. 19, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
The United States 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. President Joe Biden is expected to announce the plan Friday.
Meanwhile, Washington is still suffering the effects of this past weekend’s winter storm — an estimated 90% of shipments of vaccine were delayed this week, forcing closures of mass-vaccination sites and rescheduled appointments.
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.
Gov. Jay Inslee will take action on several bills Friday related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including legislation that will distribute $2.2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding for Washingtonians across the state.
Alaska governor says lawmaker misrepresents virus response
JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy said his administration will no longer respond to or participate in hearings led by Sen. Lora Reinbold, telling the fellow Republican in a withering letter that she has used her position to “misrepresent” the state’s COVID-19 response and that her demands for information have gone beyond checks and balances and are “not based in fact.”
“It is lamentable that the good citizens of Eagle River and Chugiak are deprived of meaningful representation by the actions of the person holding the office of Senator,” Dunleavy wrote in the letter dated Thursday. “I will not continue to subject the public resources of the State of Alaska to the mockery of a charade, disguised as public purpose.”
Reinbold has criticized the governor for issuing pandemic-related disaster declarations while the Legislature was not in session and taken aim at health restrictions imposed by local governments, airlines and the Legislature, including mask requirements. Dunleavy emphasized that he refused calls for a statewide mask mandate, seeing it as a local issue.
Health officials say wearing masks and following measures like social distancing help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Despite vaccine delay, officials say Oregon remains on track
PORTLAND, Ore. — Despite historic winter weather across the country that is causing shipment delays and forcing mass vaccination sites to reschedule appointments, Oregon health officials said Friday that the state’s vaccination timeline remains on schedule.
While more than 10,000 vaccine appointments were canceled last week, beginning Monday people 70 and older will be eligible to receive doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and people 65 and older will be eligible March 1.
“I want to reassure every Oregon senior – nothing that’s happened in the past week will slow down our schedule,” Pat Allen, the director of the Oregon Health Authority, said during a news conference Friday.
Last week a massive snow and ice storm swept into the Pacific Northwest and brought the “most dangerous conditions” seen by utility workers — leaving hundreds of thousands without power, including vaccination sites, and delaying a shipment of 67,000 Moderna doses to the state.
However, health officials say that they do not expect “these problems will have a long-term impact on our vaccination schedule.”
YouTube removes Ohio committee video, citing misinformation
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Legislative testimony made Wednesday in support of a GOP-backed effort to limit public health orders made by Ohio’s governor was removed from YouTube after the service deemed it contained COVID-19 misinformation.
The Google-owned platform said it removed content that was uploaded this week to The Ohio Advocates for Medical Freedom channel for violating the company’s terms of services.
The video showed Thomas Renz, an attorney for Ohio Stands Up, a citizen group, make the opening testimony during a House committee hearing on a bill that would allow lawmakers to vote down public health orders during the pandemic.
In the more than 30-minute testimony, Renz made a number of debunked or baseless claims, including that no Ohioans under the age of 19 have died from COVID-19 — a claim that has been debunked by state data.
“We have clear Community Guidelines that govern what videos may stay on YouTube, which we enforce consistently, regardless of speaker,” Ivy Choi, a spokesperson for Google, told The Associated Press. “We removed this video in accordance with our COVID-19 misinformation policy, which prohibits content that claims a certain age group cannot transmit the virus.”
Argentine health minister resigns amid vaccine scandal
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — President Alberto Fernández removed Argentina’s health minister Friday after a well-known local journalist said he had been given a coronavirus vaccination preferentially after requesting one from the minister.
The president “instructed his chief of staff to request the resignation of health minister” Ginés González García, who is in charge of the government’s COVID-19 strategy, said a government official, who was not authorized to release the information and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The firing comes on the heels of reports in recent days that mayors, legislators, activists and people close to political power received vaccine shots despite not being in the priority group of doctors, health personnel and the elderly authorized to receive them.
In a Twitter post, González Garcia said he acceded to the president’s request to step down, but insisted he was forced out over a “misunderstanding.” He said that the “vaccinated people belong to the groups included within the target population of the current campaign.”
Gov. Jay Inslee signs bill distributing $2.2B in federal COVID-19 aid for schools, renters, vaccines
Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation Friday distributing $2.2 billion in federal money for COVID-19 relief aimed at bolstering schools, speeding vaccine deliveries and helping small businesses, renters and immigrants.
The governor signed the measure in a virtual bill-signing ceremony for the package passed by the Legislature this month, freeing up the money to be sent out in the coming weeks.
“As you know, the focus this year is on relief, recovery and resilience, and this legislation will make big progress on all three,” Inslee said.
The relief package, Inslee said, will aid struggling residents and businesses, as well as schools that are working toward resuming at least some in-person classes — an important transition the governor emphasized can be done safely.
The bill included an emergency clause, making the money, part of COVID-relief measures approved by Congress last year, theoretically available immediately. But David Schumacher, director of the Office of Financial Management, estimated it likely will take a couple weeks for funds to start flowing.
Washington high schools return to play knowing the COVID-19 risks, but hopeful about safety protocols
Mount Si High School football player Cole Norah says he’s more thrilled than apprehensive about returning to play during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The senior running back joins athletes across King and Snohomish counties this week in resuming full-fledged team workouts ahead of games next month. Washington is only now launching a delayed fall season for high school sports on a staggered basis, so his Snoqualmie-based team and others have done conditioning drills for weeks in small player pods. A handful of schools statewide have already begun football and soccer games.
As one of the creators of a petition by the Student Athletes of Washington group, which marched on Olympia in September demanding Gov. Jay Inslee allow fall sports, this outcome is something Norah wanted six months ago. He’s confident we’ve since learned enough from sports attempted elsewhere to avoid undue risks.
Around the state, students, coaches, health and athletic officials spent months weighing those risks of restarting high school sports. Moving too soon, or without proper precautions, could spread COVID-19 and lead to illness and death seen in some states where such sports were attempted last fall. Waiting too long could, according to several recent studies, risk serious harm to students’ physical and mental well-being.
Why Long Beach is a model for the vaccine rollout
As virus cases and hospitalizations drop and increasing attention turns to the state’s vaccine rollout, California officials are attempting a fine balancing act between speeding up the process and ensuring that vulnerable populations aren’t shut out.
On Tuesday, Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s secretary of health and human services, said in a news conference that the two goals were not mutually exclusive.
“This notion that we have to make a choice between speed and equity — it’s a false choice,” he said. “We can do both.”
But in a state where officials have repeatedly said that equity was a top priority, and that transparency would be built into the effort, information about who’s getting vaccinated and in what order has been difficult to come by.
So far, more than 3.5 million doses of vaccine have been administered in California, Ghaly said. The rate of vaccinations statewide, he said, has been building day by day, since a surge in hospitalizations over the holidays. According to a New York Times tracker, about 7.4% of the state’s population has gotten at least one shot. That number is 8% for the nation overall.
On the Colville reservation, the vaccination rate is nearly double the state’s, despite challenges
Nespelem, Okanogan County — Michele Thomas’ husband has had the same frustrating experience that many have had trying to get a COVID-19 vaccine: calling and calling his local health district in search of an appointment, and coming up empty.
Thomas, on the other hand, hasn’t had to lift a finger.
The 65-year-old’s phone rang one day last month, with an invitation to get inoculated. And at noon Wednesday, she arrived at the Nespelem Health Center to get her second and final dose of the Moderna vaccine.
The reason for the stark difference between Thomas’ and her husband’s experience is simple: She is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, and he is not.
While health districts across the state have struggled to get and distribute vaccine doses, tribal governments in Eastern Washington have had relative success, despite historical, geographical and technological obstacles.
About 12% of Washington residents had been vaccinated as of Monday, but the number is almost double that on Colville Reservation, where the tribes had inoculated 22% of their nearly 10,000 members as of Wednesday, according to Colleen Cawston, CEO for the Colville Service Unit of Indian Health Services.
How to wear masks with hearing devices
Mallary Saltzman didn’t need to wear a face covering for long before she came to a realization: “Hearing aids, masks, hair and earrings don’t go well together.”
Saltzman, 62, who has moderate hearing loss and relies on hearing aids, quickly became familiar with the logistical headache of trying to keep the devices on her ears while dealing with mask ear loops. There had been at least two instances in which her hearing aids were partially dislodged as she removed her mask, and those close calls, she said, were enough to prompt concern.
“I’m really, really super careful now,” said Saltzman, a part-time librarian who lives in Westfield, N.J. In addition to being critical for communication, her hearing aids cost $3,000 each. “I lose a mask, that’s fine, but I don’t want to lose my hearing aids,” she said.
For Saltzman and many people who use amplification devices such as hearing aids or cochlear implants, wearing masks — and now double-masking — to curb the spread of the coronavirus can be a “frustrating” experience. Audiologists say their patients frequently mention struggling to position mask loops, hearing devices and glasses on their ears, when masks have already made communicating more challenging for those who are hard-of-hearing or deaf.
Here are a variety of solutions you can try that should allow you to more comfortably wear your hearing devices while masked, and not fear losing or damaging the expensive hardware.
State health officials confirm 983 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 983 new coronavirus cases and 19 new deaths on Friday.
The update brings the state's totals to 332,904 cases and 4,822 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 600 duplicates, according to DOH.
In addition, 18,969 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 35 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 82,615 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,357 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.
NCAA allows limited fan attendance at men’s tournament games
The NCAA will allow a limited number of fans to attend all rounds of next month’s men’s basketball tournament in Indiana.
The governing body said Friday it is permitting 25% capacity at the venues to allow for social distancing.
Attendees must wear face coverings, and cleaning and disinfecting efforts will be emphasized at venues in keeping with COVID-19 safety protocols.
People who have had COVID should get single-vaccine dose, studies suggest
Nearly 30 million people in the United States — and probably many others whose illnesses were never diagnosed — have been infected with the coronavirus so far. Should these people still be vaccinated?
Two new studies answer that question with an emphatic yes.
In fact, the research suggests that for these people, just one dose of the vaccine is enough to turbocharge their antibodies and destroy the coronavirus — and even some more infectious variants.
The results of these new studies are consistent with the findings of two others published over the past few weeks. Taken together, the research suggests that people who have had COVID-19 should be immunized — but a single dose of the vaccine may be enough.
“I think it’s a really strong rationale for why people who were previously infected with COVID should be getting the vaccine,” said Jennifer Gommerman, an immunologist at the University of Toronto who was not involved in the new research.
Vatican projects nearly 50M-euro deficit due to COVID losses
The Vatican said Friday it expects a deficit of nearly $60.7 million this year because of pandemic-related losses, a figure that grows to$97 million when donations from the faithful are excluded.
The Vatican released a summary of its 2021 budget that was approved by Pope Francis and the Holy See’s Council for the Economy, a commission of outside experts who oversee the Vatican’s finances.
The publication was believed to be the first time the Vatican has released its projected consolidated budget, part of Francis’ drive to make the Vatican’s finances more transparent and accountable.
‘Vaccine-gate’ roils Peru: Politicians, families and friends secretly got COVID-19 shots
In Peru, they’re calling it "vaccine-gate” — revelations that the then-president, his wife and other well-connected citizens were secretly inoculated against COVID-19 starting in October, before the Chinese-developed shots were available to the public.
The escalating scandal that broke last week has already forced the resignations of Peru’s foreign and health ministers, among nearly 500 people who received so-called courtesy doses.
“Nothing excuses what I did, much less having covered it up,” declared the former health minister, Pilar Mazzetti. “I took this decision with the fears and limitations of a human being and I recognize that this was the worst mistake of my life.”
UK COVID-19 infections falling as govt mulls easing lockdown
Clear evidence emerged Friday that the rate of coronavirus infections across the U.K. is falling sharply, just days before British Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlines a roadmap for potentially easing lockdown restrictions in England following the rapid rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.
The Office for National Statistics said in its weekly infection survey that one in 115 people tested positive for COVID-19 in England in the week to Feb. 12. In the previous week, the rate stood at one in 80. A similar picture emerged in the other three nations of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The latest numbers indicate that the epidemic is getting smaller.
The falling rates of transmission in the U.K., which has Europe’s highest pandemic death toll with around 120,000 deaths, are set to inform the strategies of all four nations over the weeks to come.
Over half of Alaskans 65 and older given vaccine, state says
Alaska public health officials said 58% of residents 65 and older have received a COVID-19 vaccination since distribution efforts began.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said the state hopes to move the process along faster as more contagious and potentially deadly strains of the coronavirus emerge, Alaska’s News Source reported Wednesday.
“Right now, it’s sort of a race against the variants to get people vaccinated,” McLaughlin said Wednesday.
Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said Wednesday that the state wants more Alaskans 65 and older to receive vaccinations.
“I mean 58% is great, but it would be great to be even higher on that,” Zink said.
Pfizer’s vaccine works well after one dose, doesn’t always need ultracold storage
Two positive developments this week could potentially expand access to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine around the world.
A study in Israel showed that the vaccine is robustly effective after the first shot, echoing what other research has shown for the AstraZeneca vaccine and raising the possibility that regulators in some countries could authorize delaying a second dose instead of giving both on a strict schedule.
Pfizer and BioNTech also announced Friday that their vaccine can be stored at standard freezer temperatures, instead of ultracold temperatures, for up to two weeks.
U.S. in a race to find, vaccinate vulnerable homebound people
A group of health care workers hurried out of a Boston hospital on a recent weekday morning, clutching small red coolers filled with COVID-19 vaccines.
Their challenge: Beat traffic, a looming snowstorm and the clock. They had to get shots in the arms of their homebound patients before the vaccines expired in a few hours.
Millions of U.S. residents will need COVID-19 vaccines brought to them because they rarely or never leave home. Doctors and nurses who specialize in home care are leading this challenging push.
Italy: Holocaust survivor’s plug for vaccine sparks hatred
An Italian Holocaust survivor’s attempt to encourage other older adults to receive the anti-COVID-19 vaccine has triggered a wave of anti-Semitic comments and other invective on social media.
Liliana Segre, 90, received the first of the two-shot vaccine series in Milan on Thursday. She urged people who reach her age “to not be afraid and to take the vaccine.”
After Segre’s comments received negative social media attention, Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese denounced the “new and unacceptable attack" as “a very dangerous mix of hate, violence and racism.”
Biden to visit Mich. vaccine plant as winter throws a curve
Extreme winter weather is dealing the first major setback to the Biden administration’s planned swift rollout of coronavirus vaccines just as the national vaccination campaign was hitting its stride.
The disruptions caused by frigid temperatures, snow and ice from Texas to New England left the White House scrambling to work with states to make up “lost ground” even as President Joe Biden was set to visit a Pfizer vaccine manufacturing plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
The president was set to meet with workers at the plant who are producing one of the two federally-approved COVID-19 shots. According to the CDC, the two-dose Pfizer vaccine has been administered about 30 million times since it received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 11.
Seattle Public Schools, first urban school system in U.S. to close from coronavirus, now among last to broadly reopen
Seattle Public Schools, the first urban school system in the country to close due to the coronavirus, is now among the last to reopen to a broader set of students as parents, administrators and teachers across a city split along complicated fault lines.
At the bargaining table, the district and its teachers union are divided on a plan to bring back certain students with disabilities and preschoolers through first graders, prompting the district to request mediation services from the state this week. And while many parents are deeply frustrated with the demands of remote school, a survey of more than 10,000 families eligible to return shows they are divided over sending their kids back.
Earlier this month, Superintendent Denise Juneau walked back a March 1 opening date to offer in-person instruction to more than 11,000 students as negotiations continued with the Seattle Education Association union, which represents 6,000 educators.
A January survey of about half of SEA’s members shows 62% would be unwilling to return to the classroom until “educators have the option to be fully vaccinated.” Thirty-seven percent of those who took the survey do not believe a return to in-person instruction should happen this spring, regardless of the vaccine.
Compared to 275 other Washington state school districts’ weekly averages of the number of students being taught in person, SPS — the state’s largest district with 50,000-plus students — falls near 200th place, according to a Seattle Times analysis.
Virus surges anew in central Europe in face of new variants
Authorities in central Europe warned on Friday that they are seeing a surge in coronavirus cases across their region amid the discovery of new variants.
The Polish health minister, Adam Niedzielski, said the first case of a variant first found in South Africa had been discovered in Poland, and that some 10% of all cases now involve the variant that emerged in England.
“We are entering a crisis situation again. It is up to us where the peak of this third wave will be” Niedzielski said. “Responsible behavior is key.”
The Czech Republic, one of the hardest-hit countries in the 27-member European Union, moved Friday to further tighten restrictive measures amid a surge of the English variant. The government said the worsening situation has forced it to abandon its plans to reopen all stores as early as next week.
Neighboring Slovakia is also badly hit. It became the country with the most COVID-19 deaths by size of population in the world this week amid a surge of the English variant.
The number of COVID-19 patients in Slovakia’s hospitals reached a new record high of 3,900 on Thursday — a situation that has prompted leaders to appeal for outside help. So far, Austria, Poland and Hungary have agreed to deploy medical staff to Slovakia.
EU to double COVAX vaccine funding to 1 billion euros
The European Union’s executive commission on Friday pledged to double its contribution to the World Health Organization’s COVAX program, bringing the 27-nation bloc’s commitment to the initiative to deliver vaccines to poor nations to $1.2 billion.
European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen also announced during the meeting an additional $121.4 million will go to support vaccination campaigns in Africa in partnership with the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Africa reaches 100,000 known COVID-19 deaths as danger grows
Africa has surpassed 100,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 as the continent praised for its early response to the pandemic now struggles with a dangerous resurgence and medical oxygen often runs desperately short.
“We are more vulnerable than we thought,” the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told The Associated Press in an interview reflecting on the pandemic and a milestone he called “remarkably painful.”
He worried that “we are beginning to normalize deaths,” while health workers are overwhelmed.
The 54-nation continent of some 1.3 billion people has barely seen the arrival of large-scale supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, but a variant of the virus dominant in South Africa is already posing a challenge to vaccination efforts.
Germany sees drop in virus cases flatten as variant surges
The head of Germany’s disease control agency warned Friday that a decline in new coronavirus infections the country saw has leveled off while the share of cases involving more contagious variants is rising.
Robert Koch Institute President Lothar Wieler said Germany may be heading toward another “turning point” in the pandemic after weeks of falling infections.
“The decline of recent weeks doesn’t appear to be continuing,” Wieler told reporters in Berlin, noting that in one German state — Thuringia — weekly case numbers are on the rise again.
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, 34 and 44, 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.
The geriatric guise is the latest instance of people trying to cut the line to get vaccinated from the deadly virus.
The Florida women’s costumes may have succeeded before — both had the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention card indicating they had received their first doses, but they were caught this time and referred to deputies when staff noticed the age discrepancies on their drivers’ licenses.
Tanzania’s COVID-denying leader urges prayer as cases climb
Tanzania’s COVID-denying president is calling on citizens for three days of prayer to defeat unnamed “respiratory diseases” amid warnings that the country is seeing a deadly resurgence in infections.
“Maybe we have wronged God somewhere,” populist President John Magufuli told mourners at a funeral for his chief secretary, John Kijazi, on Friday. “Let us all repent.” Magufuli has repeatedly claimed that Tanzania, a country of some 60 million people, defeated COVID-19 with God’s help.
But the local Catholic church, the U.S. Embassy and others have openly warned of a resurgence in cases. And this week the death of the vice president of the semi-autonomous island region of Zanzibar, Seif Sharif Hamad, brought widespread attention after his opposition political party said he had COVID-19.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
• Extreme weather is delaying 90% of the vaccine shipments to Washington state this week and slamming the brakes on second doses for many residents. A pop-up clinic in West Seattle, though, is making progress vaccinating Latino elders. Here's our guide to the challenging task of getting your vaccine, and a look at who's eligible now.
• If you’re a snowbird, think carefully about where to get your vaccine. Our FAQ Friday explains why, and also tackles what you should do if you’re exposed to the virus after vaccination.
• Joe Biden today will use his first big presidential moment on the global stage to unveil a $4 billion plan to help vaccinate the world. (He'll also lay out his vision for dramatically reshaping U.S. foreign policy.)
• How to buy a real N95 mask online: Counterfeits abound on Amazon, one writer learned painfully on his way to scoring the real deal. And what's the difference between an N95 and a KN95? Let's unmask that and look at health experts' latest guidance on best mask strategies.
• About 2.5 million women have left the workforce during the pandemic, and Vice President Kamala Harris is calling it a national emergency.
• Dreadful decision: The founder of the XPrize engineered a conference in a bubble, but it turned into a superspreader event.
• Almost exactly a year ago, a small Italian town suddenly found itself isolated in what felt "like a war film" as it confirmed the first death outside Asia from the coronavirus. How did the virus invade Vo? It's still a mystery as the town's unique story unfolds.
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