Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation Friday distributing $2.2 billion in federal money for COVID-19 relief that will aid struggling residents and businesses, as well as schools that are working toward resuming at least some in-person classes.
In Seattle, the first urban public school system in the country to close because of the virus is now among the last to reopen to a broader set of students. Seattle Public Schools and its teachers union are currently divided on a full reopening plan, prompting the district to request mediation services from the state this week.
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.
Pandemic makes prostitution taboo in Nevada’s legal brothels
Before the coronavirus pandemic, tourist-dependent Nevada had a notorious attraction: It was the only place in America where someone could legally pay for sex.
These days, even in the state known for sin, the business is taboo.
Legal brothels have been shuttered for nearly a year, leaving sex workers to offer less-lucrative alternatives like online dates or nonsexual escort services. Those in the industry say many of the licensed prostitutes, who work as independent contractors, have struggled to qualify for unemployment benefits since closures began last March and some have opted to take their work into the shadows, offering sex illegally.
While the business of legal bordellos may seem incompatible with social distancing, sex workers and brothel owners say that’s not the case. Like other close-contact industries such as massage therapy and dental services, they contend brothels should be allowed to reopen with protective measures.
Behind Alaska’s low ‘wasted’ vaccine numbers, a combination of diligence and last-minute random calls
Mark Huber and Cindy Mittlestadt got the call around 5:30 p.m. last Saturday. A friend heard there were some “end-of-the-day excess shots” at the Anchorage School District’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic.
Huber and Mittlestadt were already vaccinated as caregivers of their 34-year-old daughter Tricia, who has cerebral palsy and other developmental disorders and is in a wheelchair, leaving her more susceptible to the virus and reliant on multiple caregivers from outside the home.
Under Alaska’s vaccine rollout, Tricia was too young to get vaccinated despite her health issues.
Huber said the family jumped at the chance Saturday. They got to the school district clinic 20 minutes later. Tricia got her first dose.
Huber called the decision a “no brainer” that gave him no pause even though his daughter technically wasn’t yet eligible.
“The vaccine would go to waste otherwise and that would be the real shame,” he said.
As Alaska’s vaccination program expands, stories like this are popping up: random last-minute connections that deliver precious doses otherwise wasted, or rewards for waiting at a clinic door as the day ends, despite the state policy that only eligible people should be receiving vaccine.
Similar narratives are emerging around the country of leftover vaccines going to “random people” to avoid throwing them away. The two vaccines currently being used need to be administered within six hours after vials are taken out of cold storage and opened. If the vaccines are not used within that period, they need to be tossed.
Skateboarding champion charged for hosting Los Angeles party
A skateboarding world champion is among five people prosecutors in Southern California have charged with organizing parties that were possible superspreader events amid the pandemic.
Nyjah Huston, a four-time world skateboarding champion, and Edward Essa, the owner of a home in the Fairfax District in Los Angeles, held a party last month with at least 40 people that was shut down by police after receiving a complaint. At least two other parties were held at the home last fall, authorities said.
Huston and Essa were both charged with creating a nuisance, a misdemeanor. Neither could be reached for comment, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.
The Jan. 9 party took place when coronavirus cases were surging at an unprecedented rate following the holidays. Hospitals had exhausted their ICU beds capacity and officials were constantly urging residents not to gather in large groups.
Officers had previously shut down events at the home on Sept. 12-13 and Oct. 17 and issued warnings to the residents that large gatherings violated the mayor’s public order, officials said.
After the January party, Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered the L.A. Department of Water and Power to cut off electric service to the home in the 800 block of North Curson Avenue.
State health officials confirm 951 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 951 new coronavirus cases on Saturday.
The update brings the state's totals to 333,794 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. Friday, though the state does not report new death data on weekends or update its data dashboard on Sundays.
The new cases may include up to 700 duplicates, according to DOH.
In addition, 19,033 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 64 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 82,835 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.
Washington's 4 mass vaccination sites closed as weather delayed vaccine deliveries
Washington's four, state-run mass vaccination sites closed this weekend as winter storms across the country delayed vaccine shipments.
The four sites -- in Spokane, Ridgefield, Wenatchee and Kennewick -- hope to reopen in the coming week, but that will depend on vaccines arriving, the state Department of Health (DOH) said. Most of the sites will prioritize those receiving their second vaccine doses this week, as supplies may still be limited.
The four sites, in total, have vaccinated more than 50,000 people since they opened Jan. 26, the health department said.
An estimated 90% of expected vaccine shipments were delayed last week, as cold weather, snow and ice disrupted arrivals, the health department said.
The state now expects to receive its next shipments of Pfizer vaccines Monday and its next shipments of Moderna vaccines by Wednesday.
Spokane will reopen Tuesday if vaccines arrive Monday, DOH said.
Ridgefield will open Tuesday, but will depend on more vaccine arriving in order to stay open the rest of the week.
Wenatchee will open on Monday and Tuesday and will remain open the rest of the week if more vaccine arrives.
Kennewick will reopen Tuesday but will only administer second vaccine doses this week.
UK urges UN resolution for pause in conflicts for virus jabs
Britain circulated a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council on Friday demanding that all warring parties immediately institute a “sustained humanitarian pause” to enable people in conflict areas to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
The proposed resolution reiterates the council’s demand last July 1 for “a general and immediate cessation of hostilities” in major conflicts from Syria and Yemen to Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan and Somalia. The appeal was first made by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on March 23, 2020, to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
The draft “emphasizes the need for solidarity, equity, and efficacy and invites donation of vaccine doses from developed economies to low- and middle-income countries and other countries in need, including through the COVAX Facility,” an ambitious World Health Organization project to buy and deliver coronavirus vaccines for the world’s poorest people.
The British draft stresses that “equitable access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines, certified as safe and efficacious, is essential to end the pandemic.”
It would recognize “the role of extensive immunization against COVID-19 as a global public good for health in preventing, containing, and stopping transmission, in order to bring the pandemic to an end.”
Two Democratic governors see stars dimmed by virus woes
At the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, two Democratic governors on opposite ends of the country were hailed as heroes for their leadership in a crisis. Now they’re leaders on the ropes.
Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gavin Newsom of California are embroiled in distinct political woes. For Cuomo, it’s a federal investigation into whether his administration sought to hide the true toll of the pandemic. For Newsom, it’s fending off a recall effort fueled by opposition to his lockdowns — and his own personal missteps.
But for both men the bottom line is clear: If you’re not careful, the same crisis that can raise your stock can just as easily bring you down.
“We’ve had too many mission accomplished moments,” said Rebecca Katz, a New York City-based Democratic strategist who ran a primary challenge against Cuomo in 2018, in a reference to former President George W. Bush’s premature boast days after the conquest of Iraq.
The COVID-19 virus has been an especially painful illustration of that point. The virus is now stretching into its second year, a timeline few could have comprehended when schools and workplaces were first shuttered last March and governors who control lockdowns played newly prominent roles in Americans’ lives.
Enrollment at U.S. community colleges plummets amid pandemic
Community colleges across the U.S. are seeing significant enrollment declines during the pandemic as students face challenges with finances, family life and virtual learning.
Nationwide, enrollment at community colleges — which offer two-year degrees and vocational training and often attract older students looking to learn new skills — dropped 10% from fall 2019 to fall 2020, according to the National Student Clearinghouse.
That compares to four-year universities, which experienced only slight declines. By contrast, the pandemic has taken a much heavier toll on older adult students who frequently choose the community college route. Many lost jobs or have no time for their own schooling as they supervise their children’s online classes.
“I didn’t know that so many people were struggling,” said Peniella Irakoze, a Phoenix College student who also works part time for the school and is contacting students who didn't return this semester. “So many students aren’t coming back.”
Russia Is Offering to Export Hundreds of Millions of Vaccine Doses. Can It Deliver?
While the United States and European countries are dealing with domestic vaccine shortages, Russia has earned plaudits by sharing its coronavirus vaccine with countries around the world.
So far, more than 50 countries from Latin America to Asia have ordered 1.2 billion doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, buffing the image of Russian science and lifting Moscow’s influence around the world.
Yet, in Russia things are not always what they seem, and this apparent triumph of soft-power diplomacy may not be all that the Kremlin would like the world to think.
While Sputnik V is unquestionably effective, production is lagging, raising questions about whether Moscow may be promising far more vaccine exports than it can supply, and doing so at the expense of its own citizens.
“We still wonder why Russia is offering, theoretically, millions and millions of doses while not sufficiently progressing in vaccinating its own people,” the European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, told a news conference Wednesday. “This question should be answered.”
‘Promotoras’ playing role in vaccine outreach for Latino communities
Community health workers are taking information about the COVID-19 vaccine directly to Latino communities in the San Diego area.
The "promotoras" stand outside supermarkets. They carry flyers with phone numbers to call for assistance to schedule an appointment for the vaccine or to find a place nearby to receive free testing.
Part of the San Diego Latino Health Coalition, the promotoras are trained to answer questions from the community. They are the moms, aunts or comadres who live in the neighborhood, and know their community well. They converse in the same language, and with their familiarity it’s hard to ignore them.
“Pásele, mascarillas gratis,” meaning, “we have free masks” or “We are giving out information about the COVID vaccine for you to read,” they tell people entering and exiting grocery stores in City Heights.
They want to safely reach those who do not have easy access to transportation or to a computer, or those who don’t have time to call and schedule an appointment because of work.
Israel agrees to vaccinate Palestinian workers, Palestinian officials say
Israel, which has faced criticism from human rights groups for not extending its world-leading vaccination program to Palestinian territories under its control, agreed Friday to inoculate 100,000 Palestinians who regularly cross into Israel to work, according to the Palestinian Minister of Health.
The vaccinations, which will occur at ad hoc centers set up along the line dividing Israel from the West Bank, she said, would mark the largest delivery of the protectant serum to the five million Palestinians living there and the Gaza Strip.
Authorities there are largely depending on vaccines yet to be distributed by an internationally-funded effort targeting poor countries, as well independent purchases they are making on the open market.
To date, Palestinians have gotten access to about 10,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik vaccine donated by Moscow, 2,000 of which of arrived in Gaza Thursday. Israel also sent 5,000 doses in early February to inject health workers
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