Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, Feb. 24, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 states scramble to catch up on COVID-19 vaccinations delayed by winter storms, the White House on Tuesday promised help is on the way — about 14.5 million doses of the vaccine will be distributed throughout the U.S. this week.
And on Wednesday, U.S. regulators released an analysis that said Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine protects against COVID-19, setting the stage for a final decision on a new and easier-to-use shot to help tame the pandemic.
In Washington, health officials confirmed the first known case of the coronavirus variant discovered in South Africa has popped up in King County. It has been found in 10 states in the U.S.
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.
Ad campaign launches to build public trust in COVID-19 shots
NEW YORK — A public service ad campaign unveiled Thursday aims to convince Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19, telling them “It’s Up to You.”
The campaign by the Ad Council and its partners is focused on those who may be hesitant to get the shots. One print ad reads: “Getting back to hugs starts with getting informed,” and directs readers to a website with information about vaccines in seven languages.
“Our goal is to move them from being hesitant to being confident” in vaccines, said Lisa Sherman, the Ad Council’s president.
As many as 1 in 3 Americans say they definitely or probably won’t get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Some scientists estimate that more than 2 in 3 Americans will need to get vaccinated to stop the epidemic that has killed more than 500,000 people in the U.S.
The large, national campaign is producing an array of English and Spanish ads for TV, billboards, bus shelters, social media and publications that will be rolled out over the next few months. A few of the ads are expected to feature celebrities like the actors Angela Bassett and John Leguizamo, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and the government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Amid COVID-19 pandemic, flu has disappeared in the US
NEW YORK — February is usually the peak of flu season, with doctors’ offices and hospitals packed with suffering patients. But not this year.
Flu has virtually disappeared from the U.S., with reports coming in at far lower levels than anything seen in decades.
Experts say that measures put in place to fend off the coronavirus — mask wearing, social distancing and virtual schooling — were a big factor in preventing a “twindemic” of flu and COVID-19. A push to get more people vaccinated against flu probably helped, too, as did fewer people traveling, they say.
Another possible explanation: The coronavirus has essentially muscled aside flu and other bugs that are more common in the fall and winter. Scientists don’t fully understand the mechanism behind that, but it would be consistent with patterns seen when certain flu strains predominate over others, said Dr. Arnold Monto, a flu expert at the University of Michigan.
Nationally, “this is the lowest flu season we’ve had on record,” according to a surveillance system that is about 25 years old, said Lynnette Brammer of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
GOP rallies solidly against Democrats’ virus relief package
WASHINGTON — Republicans rallied solidly Wednesday against Democrats’ proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill as lawmakers awaited a decision by the Senate’s parliamentarian that could bolster or potentially kill a pivotal provision hiking the federal minimum wage.
Despite their paper-thin congressional majorities, Democratic leaders were poised to push the sweeping package through the House on Friday. They were hoping the Senate, where changes seem likely, would follow quickly enough to have legislation on President Joe Biden’s desk by mid-March.
By late Wednesday, not one Republican in either chamber had publicly said he or she would back the legislation. GOP leaders were honing attacks on the package as a job killer that does too little to reopen schools or businesses shuttered for the pandemic and that was not only wasteful but also even unscrupulous.
“I haven’t seen a Republican yet that’s found something in there that they agree with,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. “I think all Republicans believe in three simple things: They want a bill that puts us back to work, back to school and back to health. This bill is too costly, too corrupt and too liberal.”
The hardening opposition suggested that Biden’s first major legislative initiative could encounter unanimous GOP opposition.
If COVID-19 doubles in the community, it doubles in schools, Seattle disease modeling group finds
A prominent group of Washington disease modelers is attempting to close in on answers to big questions about how the coronavirus spreads between schools and the community, but is facing pushback from a handful of researchers who say the group’s mathematical modeling should be tested against real-world results.
Washington has logged at least 122 coronavirus outbreaks in schools since the start of the pandemic.
In new research released Wednesday, modelers at the Seattle-based Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM) found that the number of infected people who show up to school is proportional to spread in the community. More involved or costly safety measures — like vaccinating teachers and coronavirus testing at schools — may offer limited protective benefit when basic protocols like masking and distancing are in place, they say, but could be key to keeping case counts down if more transmissible coronavirus variants become common. Like the group’s previous work, this study is unpublished and has not been peer reviewed.
The conclusions don’t significantly change the conversation about coronavirus and schools. But, “Now we can really say how much and say precisely why [community transmission] matters,” said Dan Klein, who led the study and is senior research manager at IDM. “If you have twice as much COVID out in the community, COVID shows up at schools twice as often.”
In Colorado, a ‘chef farmer’ pivots to survive the pandemic and heartbreaking loss
LONGMONT, Colo. — Bruised clouds loom over the charred foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and a frigid wind tears at the hand-lettered sign that hangs from a new wooden shelter barely a dozen yards off the road. A 17-year-old lies buried here. “You will not be forgotten,” the sign reads.
In a low-slung greenhouse just steps away, the boy’s father is back to work, coaxing chartreuse baby lettuce to life. Fresh mizuna and tatsoi will soon join sweet spinach, sprouting outdoors under gauzy sheets. The greens are among the few vegetables on Eric Skokan’s Black Cat Organic Farm while the frozen earth holds its breath.
“We’re at the nadir of the year in terms of production,” he says.
At 51, the trailblazing “chef farmer” is slowly emerging from a nadir all his own.
California tops 50,000 virus deaths, including 806 in L.A.
LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County on Wednesday reported another 806 deaths from coronavirus during the winter surge, pushing California’s toll above 50,000, or about one-tenth of the U.S. total from the pandemic.
The county, which has a quarter of the state’s 40 million residents, said the deaths mainly occurred between Dec. 3 and Feb. 3. The Department of Public Health identified them after going through death records that were backlogged by the sheer volume of the surge’s toll.
Johns Hopkins University put California’s overall COVID-19 death toll at 50,890.
The grim figure comes just days after the U.S. recorded a half-million deaths.
FDA says single-dose shot from J&J prevents severe COVID
WASHINGTON — Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine offers strong protection against severe COVID-19, according to an analysis released Wednesday by U.S. regulators that sets the stage for a final decision on a new and easier-to-use shot to help tame the pandemic.
The long-anticipated shot could offer the nation a third vaccine option and help speed vaccinations by requiring just one dose instead of two. Food and Drug Administration scientists confirmed that overall the vaccine is about 66% effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19, and about 85% effective against the most serious illness. The agency also said J&J’s shot is safe.
The analysis is just one step in the FDA’s evaluation. On Friday, the agency’s independent advisers will debate if the evidence is strong enough to recommend the shot. With that advice, the FDA is expected to make a final decision within days.
State health officials confirm 882 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 882 new coronavirus cases and 31 new deaths on Wednesday.
The update brings the state's totals to 336,565 cases and 4,912 deaths, meaning that 1.5% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.
In addition, 19,211 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 51 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 83,357 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,380 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.
First vaccine doses distributed by COVAX land in Ghana
ABUJA, Nigeria — Ghana became the first country to receive a shipment of coronavirus vaccines from a global effort to equitably distribute doses after a plane landed Wednesday with 600,000 AstraZeneca shots.
The rollout is an early step toward getting doses to low- and middle-income countries cut out of the global vaccine race. But the timing and the relatively modest supply — enough for 1% of Ghana’s population — reflect major challenges in the immunization effort.
More than 190 countries signed up to participate in COVAX, a multilateral effort to develop and distribute coronavirus vaccines, but the initiative has struggled to secure enough because wealthy countries snapped up a disproportionate share of early supply.
President Joe Biden last week pledged $4 billion to the effort, reversing the Trump administration’s decision to opt out. Yet the United States and other wealthy countries have so far resisted calls to give doses, rather than funding, to countries in greatest need.
COVAX aims to distribute 2.3 billion doses by the end of 2021 — a significant amount but still well short of demand.
Alaska governor tests positive for coronavirus, has mild symptoms
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday and was at his home near Wasilla with mild symptoms, his office said.
Dunleavy “is still acting in his capacity as the state’s chief executive and will work from home just as he has been since he entered self-quarantine on Sunday,” spokesperson Jeff Turner said by email.
Dunleavy, 59, had been in quarantine since learning Sunday he had been identified as a close contact to someone who had tested positive, his office said. At the time, he felt well and tested negative, and he continued to feel well until Tuesday night, his office said.
He was tested Wednesday, and the results came back positive for the COVID-19 virus, a release from his office said.
Moderna announces a new version of vaccine in hopes of combating variants
Drugmaker Moderna has created a new, experimental form of its coronavirus vaccine to combat a worrisome variant of the virus, and has also begun to increase its overall manufacturing capacity, the company announced Wednesday.
The new version of the vaccine, directed against a variant first identified in South Africa and now found in the United States and dozens of other countries, has been sent to the National Institutes of Health for testing. Studies have suggested that vaccines may be less effective against this variant than against the form that emerged earlier in the pandemic.
But the new version is probably months away from public use. The company outlined several possible approaches for evaluating the experimental form. Initial test results may be available by summer, Dr. Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer, said in an interview.
Moderna’s vaccine uses genetic material called mRNA, a technology that allows researchers to create and adapt vaccines much faster than traditional methods. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is also based on mRNA, and Dr. Ugur Sahin, chief executive of BioNTech, said last month that the company could produce a new version within about six weeks if necessary.
Military begins delivering vaccines in Texas, New York
The U.S. military on Wednesday began delivering shots at coronavirus vaccination centers in Texas and New York and announced that service members will start staffing four centers in Florida and one in Philadelphia next week.
The expanded vaccination effort came as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with military commanders overseeing the COVID-19 response effort. He was visiting the vaccination center in Los Angeles, the first staffed by the new active-duty military teams that are being developed.
The Biden administration has said that delivering the vaccine to Americans is a top priority. The Pentagon is ramping up the deployment of what federal authorities say could be up to 100 vaccination teams around the country.
The stepped-up efforts reflect the extent to which the coronavirus has devastated the United States, killing more than 500,000 Americans. While average daily deaths and new infections have been falling, some experts say too few Americans have been inoculated for the vaccine to be making enough of a difference. The decline instead is attributed to the passing of the holidays, more people staying indoors during the winter and better adherence to mask rules and social distancing.
California has the highest coronavirus death toll in the nation, at more than 49,000. Austin is touring the federally run vaccination site that is set up on the campus of California State University of Los Angeles, which opened last week. The site, on the east side of LA, is staffed by a 222-member military team from Fort Carson, Colorado, and it highlights an effort by state leaders to make the vaccinations more available to communities hit hard by the pandemic.
COVID-19 interrupted a generation of theater artists. Now they wonder what’s next
When Jarrett Johnson stepped onstage for the first time in 2019, he was nervous. For eight years, he had been on active duty with the United States Air Force. He’d stood in front of commanders, colonels and generals. He’d been actively deployed all over the world.
Yet standing in the spotlight on the stage at Erickson Theatre as he portrayed Det. Rob DeBree in a Seattle Central College production of “The Laramie Project” was humbling, Johnson said.
After leaving the military in 2018, Johnson intended to begin a career in information technology, but after taking a course at Seattle Central and experiencing the thrill of performance, Johnson was hooked and immediately began working toward a degree in drama at the University of Washington instead.
Now, Johnson is about to graduate into a landscape in which live performances are greatly restricted, theater work is scarce and online productions try to fill the gap left by the absence of live theater. He is among an entire class of emerging theater artists — fresh from drama programs, hustling between part-time jobs and busy audition schedules, or about to make their big breaks — whose careers have been stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Health network allowed employees’ kin to skip vaccine line
One of Pennsylvania’s largest health networks allowed employees’ family members to skip the COVID-19 vaccine line, raising questions of fairness at a time of strong public demand and scarce supply.
Geisinger’s decision to give special access to employees’ relatives earned a rebuke this week from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which said the health care giant shouldn’t have held vaccine clinics for eligible family members of employees.
“DOH has been in contact with the provider to ensure that going forward they follow the agreement they signed, or risk losing access to first doses of COVID-19 vaccine,” said Maggi Barton, a Health Department spokesperson.
The state agency said it was unaware that Geisinger had arranged for family members to be inoculated until alerted by The Associated Press.
Geisinger said that since the family members who got the shots met the state’s eligibility requirements, it didn’t need to tell the Health Department that it had set aside vaccine for them. Geisinger also insisted it followed state guidelines for vaccine eligibility and administration and said “at no time were we informed that our vaccine program could be at risk.”
On the post-pandemic horizon, could that be … a boom?
The U.S. economy remains mired in a pandemic winter of shuttered storefronts, high unemployment and sluggish job growth. But on Wall Street and in Washington, attention is shifting to an intriguing if indistinct prospect: a post-COVID boom.
Forecasters have always expected the pandemic to be followed by a period of strong growth as businesses reopen and Americans resume their normal activities. But in recent weeks, economists have begun to talk of something stronger: a supercharged rebound that brings down unemployment, drives up wages and may foster years of stronger growth.
There are hints that the economy has turned a corner: Retail sales jumped last month as the latest round of government aid began showing up in consumers’ bank accounts. New unemployment claims have declined from early January, though they remain high. Measures of business investment have picked up, a sign of confidence from corporate leaders.
“We’re extremely likely to get a very high growth rate,” said Jan Hatzius, Goldman’s chief economist. “Whether it’s a boom or not, I do think it’s a V-shaped recovery,” he added, referring to a steep drop followed by a sharp rebound.
Highline School District postpones start of hybrid learning
Highline Public Schools officials announced Wednesday that they are delaying the district's March 1 deadline to start in-person learning for young elementary school students as the district continues negotiating with unions representing its employees.
This week marks a year since the first school in Washington state and the nation shut down due to the coronavirus. In negotiations with districts, teachers unions have demanded stricter safety protocols and access to vaccines before returning to buildings.
The move comes just two days after Seattle Public Schools, which had also planned to offer broader in-person learning on March 1, made the same announcement.
Seattle officials moved the goalpost to March 8, but the Highline announcement did not project when students could come back.
Ukraine: Health workers welcome COVID-19 vaccination drive
Ukraine launched a COVID-19 vaccination campaign Wednesday in hopes of halting the spread of the coronavirus that has put a significant strain on the country’s teetering health care system.
Medical workers and military personnel in different regions of the country were the first to get their shots of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, 500,000 doses of which arrived in the Ukrainian capital from India on Tuesday.
It is better to prevent infections “than to treat the complications of the disease later,” said Yevgeny Gorenko, an intensive care specialist who was the first person to receive a shot on Wednesday.
Ukrainian authorities plan to vaccinate 14.4 million people this year, or about 35% of the country’s 41-million population.
Sleepless in pandemic Seattle? Talk to us
Hey, you with the dark circles under your eyes.
Tell us about your sleep — or lack of it — during the pandemic, and, yes, if your dreams are different from before.
A sampling from a 2020 British Sleep Society study about pandemic life: 69% reported changed sleeping patterns; 46% were sleepier than before; 26% drank more alcohol; 65% reported an impact on their mental health; 17% had nightmares.
Email staff reporter Erik Lacitis at email@example.com.
Please include your phone number (not for publication) for a follow-up interview!
Funky electronics chain Fry’s is no more
Fry’s Electronics, the go-to chain for tech tinkerers looking for an obscure part, is closing for good.
The 36-year-old California-based company said Wednesday in an online posting that the COVID-19 pandemic had made it impossible to continue.
The pandemic has done heavy damage to retailers, but Fry’s was already getting hammered by online competition and a battle between heavy-hitters Best Buy and Amazon.com.
Organ transplant patient dies after receiving lungs infected with COVID-19
Doctors say a woman in Michigan contracted COVID-19 and died last fall two months after receiving a tainted double-lung transplant from a donor who turned out to harbor the virus that causes the disease — despite showing no signs of illness and initially testing negative.
Officials at the University of Michigan Medical School suggested it may be the first proven case of COVID-19 in the U.S. in which the virus was transmitted via an organ transplant. A surgeon who handled the donor lungs was also infected with the virus and fell ill but later recovered.
The incident appears to be isolated — the only confirmed case among nearly 40,000 transplants in 2020. But it has led to calls for more thorough testing of lung transplant donors, with samples taken from deep within the donor lungs as well as the nose and throat, said Dr. Daniel Kaul, director of Michigan Medicine’s transplant infectious disease service.
Coronavirus infection leads to immunity that’s comparable to a COVID-19 vaccine
One of the enduring questions of the COVID-19 pandemic is how much immunity people are left with after recovering from a coronavirus infection. New research suggests the level of protection is comparable to getting a vaccine — at least for a few months.
Among a group of hundreds of thousands of Americans who tested positive for a SARS-CoV-2 infection, the risk of developing a subsequent infection more than three months later was about 90% lower than for people who had not been previously infected and therefore had no immunity to the virus, according to researchers from the National Cancer Institute.
For the sake of comparison, when the vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna were tested in Phase 3 clinical trials, they reduced the risk of developing COVID-19 by at least 94%.
The findings, published Wednesday in JAMA Internal Medicine, could help inform plans for returning workers to their offices, sending students and teachers back to school campuses and allowing more of the economy to reopen.
Hungary rolls out China’s Sinopharm jab amid lagging trust
Doctors in Hungary on Wednesday began administering a COVID-19 vaccine developed in China, making the country the first European Union nation to use a Chinese jab as officials aim to bolster trust in its safety and effectiveness.
General practitioners around the Central European country were instructed to administer the shots, developed by Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm, to elderly patients. The Sinopharm jab brings the number of vaccines currently in use in Hungary to five including the Russian-developed Sputnik V, more than in any other country in the 27-nation EU.
But for the country’s expanded palette of vaccines to be put to full use, officials are seeking to increase lagging public trust in those produced in Eastern countries.
“I ask for all fears to be dispelled about the Chinese and Russian vaccines, because more than 30 million people have received these vaccines without any particular problems,” said Hungary’s chief medical officer, Cecilia Muller.
Diplomatic doses: Israel shares vaccines with allied nations
After jumping out to a quick start in its vaccination campaign, Israel announced Tuesday that it has decided to share a small surplus of its coronavirus vaccines with several friendly countries.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to share the vaccines with his diplomatic partners comes at a time when Israel has come under international criticism for not providing significant quantities to the Palestinians.
Netanyahu’s move is the latest illustration of how coronavirus vaccines have emerged as a kind of diplomatic currency, with countries that have the medicines using their supplies for political gain.
Netanyahu moved aggressively to secure enough vaccines for Israel’s 9.3 million people in deals with Pfizer and Moderna and Israel has already vaccinated roughly half its adult population.
How to improve your mask’s protection against COVID-19: Do’s and don’ts
New research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reemphasized the importance of well-fitting, multilayered masks in preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus. Lab experiments showed wearing a tightly woven cloth mask over a surgical mask reduced the wearer’s exposure to potentially infectious aerosols by as much as 90%.
Here’s how to improve the fit of your mask to protect yourself and others.
- Use a mask with a nose wire to minimize gaps between your face and the mask
- Knot the ear loops of the surgical mask and tuck in the excess material so the sides stay close to your face
- Use a mask with multiple layers or wear a surgical mask under another mask made of tightly woven cloth, such as cotton
‘Don’t worry, come forward’: Asian nations get 1st shots
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin received Malaysia’s first COVID-19 vaccine shot on Wednesday at the start of the inoculation campaign.
“I did not feel anything at all. It was all over before I realize, just like a normal injection. Don’t worry, come forward anytime,” he said at a ceremony broadcast live.
Many nations in the Asia-Pacific region are rolling out the first shots for COVID-19 this week, including Thailand which on Wednesday received the first 200,000 doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine and is expecting another 117,000 doses of AstraZeneca.
Trident Seafoods resumes operations at Aleutian plant in Alaska after monthlong COVID-19 shutdown
The massive and remote Trident Seafoods plant at Akutan resumed some processing Friday, nearly a month after a fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak forced the Seattle-based company to halt operations.
The Alaska plant, perched at the edge of the Bering Sea near the tiny village of about 100 people, is the largest seafood processing facility in North America. Four COVID-19 cases first reported by the company in mid-January quickly expanded in close quarters. Ultimately, more than 40% of 706 workers tested positive. The seafood giant halted operations Jan. 21.
The Akutan outbreak is one of several that swept through fishing vessels and processors this winter.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
• Double down on your protections, local health officials are warning after the variant first discovered in South Africa was confirmed in King County and another "variant of concern" multiplied here. The dominant strain in California, meanwhile, is looking increasingly dangerous and resistant to vaccines. And one newborn baby's whopping viral load is setting off alarm bells about yet another new variant.
• Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine protects against COVID-19, according to a U.S. analysis today that sets the stage for a final decision on its approval.
• Seattle will pinpoint where to put vaccination sites with a new mapping tool, developed by UW, that aims to show which communities are disproportionately affected by the virus.
• Has COVID-19 really killed more Americans than World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined? It turns out President Joe Biden messed up the math.
• Lucia DeClerck, age 105, beat COVID-19. DeClerck, who also survived Spanish flu, two world wars and the deaths of three husbands and a son, credits a quirky lifelong eating habit. And a 103-year-old Seattle veteran who will soon receive Congress' top honor got his second vaccine yesterday. A short, sweet video tells his story.
• The Oregon cafe kept seating customers, then things got nasty. Several people — including one with a gun — blocked officers and threatened them, according to the state. Now the cafe faces a steep price.
• Future vaccines depend on monkeys, but they're in such short supply that there's talk of creating an emergency monkey stockpile in the U.S.