Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Sunday, Feb. 21, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Another grim milestone is approaching as the U.S. nears a year of pandemic life and death: 500,000 lives lost to COVID-19. That’s more than any other country, and more Americans than were killed in World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War.
Amid the losses are growing reasons for optimism as case counts and deaths continue to decline from post-holiday peaks, and vaccination rates steadily climb.
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.
Tanzania’s president admits country has COVID-19 problem
Tanzania’s president is finally acknowledging that his country has a coronavirus problem after claiming for months that the disease had been defeated by prayer.
Populist President John Magufuli on Sunday urged citizens of the East African country to take precautions and even wear face masks — but only locally made ones. Over the course of the pandemic he has expressed wariness about foreign-made goods, including COVID-19 vaccines.
The president’s comments came days after the country of some 60 million people mourned the death of one of its highest-profile politicians, the vice president of the semi-autonomous island region of Zanzibar, whose political party had earlier said he had COVID-19. The president’s chief secretary also died in recent days, though the cause was not revealed.
Read the full story here.
This Seattle bus driver’s life changed amid the pandemic, and during her 33 years behind the wheel
Veteran metro bus driver Barbara Wright-Young places her hand over her heart often as she tells me how her job of 33 years has changed during the coronavirus pandemic.
Days start by arriving at Sodo’s Ryerson Base extra-early to disinfect every surface she’ll be touching on her coach. A plexiglass shield around the driver’s seat gives her a measure of protection against the airborne virus.
Ridership is limited at 25% capacity, but no matter how few people board Route 125 from West Seattle to downtown, she’s on the lookout for them. And many are looking out for her, too.
“I get cookies, homemade gingerbread, pies. One of my passengers … made me some banana bread for Christmas,” she says.
The appreciation from her regular passengers means a lot to her. So does the MASKS REQUIRED message that now flashes across her coach. She won’t even open the door for anyone who isn’t wearing one.
“People refuse to wear masks because they think this thing is a joke. It’s not a joke. This is serious; this is about life and death,” says Wright-Young, whose sister, Mary, tested positive for COVID-19 and passed away in June.
There’s something else she does at the start of every shift. “What I do before I pull out this bus in the morning is, I say a prayer. My prayer is: ‘God keep me safe; keep my passengers safe.’ ”
See a larger version of Campanario's sketch here. Seattle Times news artist Gabriel Campanario has been capturing Seattle's places and people in hand-drawn sketches for more than a decade.
Indian pharmaceutical giant warns countries of vaccine delays
The CEO of the Indian pharmaceutical giant that dozens of countries are counting on to supply them with COVID-19 vaccines said Sunday that their deliveries might be delayed because it had been “directed” to fill domestic needs before export orders.
“Dear countries & governments,” the executive, Adar Poonawalla of the Serum Institute of India, wrote in a tweet in which he warned of delays. “I humbly request you to please be patient,” he wrote, adding that his company had been directed to prioritize “the huge needs of India and along with that, balance the needs of the rest of the world. We are trying our best.”
He did not say who had issued the directive, and the Serum Institute did not immediately return requests for comment.
India produces three-fifths of the world’s supply of all kinds of vaccines, and the country’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, has launched one of the world’s largest and most ambitious vaccination campaigns, aiming to inoculate India’s 1.3 billion people. Read the full story here.
Beyond 100M: Biden team aiming for bigger vaccine numbers
It sounded so ambitious at first blush: 100 million vaccination shots in 100 days.
Now, one month into his presidency, Joe Biden is on a glide path to attain that goal and pitching well beyond it to the far more ambitious and daunting mission of vaccinating all eligible adults against the coronavirus by the end of the summer.
Limited supply of the two approved COVID-19 vaccines has hampered the pace of vaccinations — and that was before extreme winter weather delayed the delivery of about 6 million doses this past week. But the United States is on the verge of a supply breakthrough as manufacturing ramps up and with the expectation of a third vaccine becoming available in the coming weeks.
That means the act of delivering injections will soon be the dominant constraint, and it’s prompting the Biden administration to push to dramatically expand the universe of those who will deliver injections and where Americans will meet them to get their shots. Read the full story about the U.S. vaccine timeline.
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. Read the full story here.
U.S. approaches 500,000 deaths from COVID-19
Roughly one year since the first known death by the coronavirus in the United States, an unfathomable toll is nearing — the loss of a half-million people.
No other country has counted so many deaths in the pandemic. More Americans have perished from COVID-19 than on the battlefields of World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined.
The milestone comes at a hopeful moment: New virus cases are down sharply, deaths are slowing, and vaccines are steadily being administered.
But there is concern about emerging variants of the virus, and it may be months before the pandemic is contained.
Fauci details vaccine delays, expresses optimism on morning talk shows
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said some 6 million vaccine doses were delayed by bad weather last week.
Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” one of three interviews he did on Sunday talk shows, Fauci said the pace of vaccinations should accelerate and "we’ll get it up to where we need to be by the middle of the week."
Fauci also said that the half-million U.S. coronavirus deaths likely to be marked Sunday or Monday is "stunning," "devastating" and "almost unbelievable."
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Fauci said the U.S. could be approaching normality toward the fall or winter of this year.
But he cautioned that with about 13% of the population having received at least one shot, the U.S. is not yet nearing herd immunity. Fauci said he does not want people to interpret recent declines in new cases and conclude "we're out of the woods now."
Read the whole story here.
What will happen to Seattle's post-pandemic downtown?
When will vaccines allow tourists to return to downtown Seattle? When will large employers reopen their center city offices?
These and other questions about the new normal, if and when it arrives, hang over Seattle's urban core.
After months of deserted streets and shuttered storefronts, the businesses, institutions and individuals that depend on downtown Seattle are desperate to see it come back to life, but have little certainty whether or when it can regain its earlier vitality.
Read the whole story on Seattle's downtown nearly a year into the pandemic here.
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Catch up on the last 24 hours
Here are a selection of recent COVID-19 stories from around the U.S.:
--In Nevada, 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.
--Los Angeles prosecutors have charged a skateboarding superstar and four others with organizing parties that were possible superspreader events at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among those charged are Nyjah Huston, a four-time world skateboarding champion, and Edward Essa, the owner of a home where authorities say parties have been repeatedly shut down by police since last fall.
--Alaska's vaccine distribution strategy seems to be working efficiently, with fewer than 100 wasted doses and more than 137,000 people with at least one shot in their arms through Thursday.
--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. All colleges and four-year universities experienced only slight declines, beating many predictions that the outcome during the pandemic would be worse.
--A startup offering an alternative competitor to Amazon's cashierless store checkout system is getting a boost from the pandemic, which has driven increased interest in the technology.
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