Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, February 25, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

Canada became the first country to authorize the use of a plant-based COVID-19 vaccine.

Medicago’s two-dose vaccine is approved for people between 18 and 64 years old, but there’s little data on the effectiveness on people 65 and older, Canadian vaccine regulators said.

Meanwhile, England lifted all coronavirus restrictions, including isolation requirements for people who tested positive for COVID-19. Additionally, people with low incomes will no longer receive financial support for any loss of income during their COVID-19 isolation period.

At the same time, Hong Kong is now requiring people to have proof of vaccination to enter shopping malls, restaurants and other public spaces.

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 the rest of our coronavirus coverage and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington.

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Illinois governor to end mask mandate for schools next week

Illinois will end its mask mandate for schools starting next week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Friday night.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is no longer urging people to wear masks in most indoor settings, including schools, where COVID-19 poses a “low” or “medium” risk to the general public and the local health care system. That covers more than three-quarters of Illinois counties currently.

Pritzker announced on Twitter that he would lift the state mandate effective Monday.

An Illinois Supreme Court order issued late Friday found that a Springfield judge’s Feb. 4 order preventing statewide enforcement of the mask mandate should be vacated because a lower appellate court recently found the case to be moot.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press
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King County to lift indoor mask mandate next month

King County will lift its indoor mask mandate next month as long as local COVID-19 trends hold or improve, the county’s health officer announced Friday following new federal changes that loosen nationwide guidelines for face coverings.

The news marks a reflection of recent falling hospitalization and infection numbers, which skyrocketed to record levels during the region’s surge of the omicron variant, and improving vaccination levels, according to a statement from King County health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin.

If county residents can maintain decreasing COVID trends, the mask mandate would lift March 21, the same day Gov. Inslee has announced the Washington state mask mandate will end for schools, child care facilities, grocery stores, gyms, bars and other indoor establishments.

Under new classification methods from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, King County is considered to be at a “low COVID-19 community level,” though Duchin noted that the classification “does not mean COVID is over.”

Read the full story here.

—Elise Takahama

The week in fake news: Social media tales that fail the truth test

Queen Elizabeth isn't taking ivermectin and the CDC didn't say pandemic rules are delaying children's development. Here are The Associated Press' fact-checks. 

Changes in national child development milestones not tied to pandemic

Claim: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly lowered the milestones for early childhood development in response to the pandemic.

The facts: Experts relied on research done prior to the pandemic to recommend changes to childhood development milestones used by pediatric professionals to identify developmental delays or disabilities. But social media users are misrepresenting updates to the milestones, such as communication or cognitive behaviors, to falsely claim that changes were made because of the effects of the pandemic on children from masks and lockdowns.

Posts shared on social media shared screenshots of the updates and tied them to the pandemic. “You know how The Parents have been screaming about developmental delays caused by masks? Well @CDCgov just took care of this for us by lowering milestones. The “new normal,” is kids with developmental delays,” one tweet said.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

State health officials confirm new coronavirus cases, deaths

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 3,497 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday and 3,117 on Thursday. It also reported 99 more deaths over those days.

The update brings the state's totals to 1,417,498 cases and 11,831 deaths, meaning that .83% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Thursday. New state data is reported on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Friday's update included 33 fewer hospitalizations from Wednesday's update due to data cleaning and reconciliation by DOH and local health jurisdictions, DOH said.

In addition, 57,630 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 364,510 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,519 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in late 2020, the state and health care providers have administered 13,021,749 doses and 67% of Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to vaccination data, which the state updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Providers are currently giving an average of about 9,275 vaccine shots per day.

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. State health officials recommend reviewing the dashboard's epidemiologic curves tab for the most accurate representation of the state's COVID-19 spread.

—Daisy Zavala
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Justin Bieber postpones Tacoma Dome concert due to COVID-19

Bad news, Beliebers. Justin Bieber’s long-awaited Tacoma Dome concert will not take place Saturday as planned.

It seemed like a longshot after word came last weekend that the Canadian pop star had reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 after opening night of his Justice Tour. His Thursday show in Los Angeles became the third show on the tour to be delayed, and now his Tacoma stop is following suit.

According to tour organizers, a new date will be announced “as soon as possible” and tickets for the original date will be honored. Refunds will also be available at the point of purchase.

“Due to the continued recovery of the touring family, we are rescheduling tomorrow night’s show in Tacoma, Washington,” tour organizers said in a statement. “Justin and the Justice Tour family are committed to the health and safety of the entire touring party and crew, and to giving fans the best performance possible. Thanks for the continued support!”

Read the full story here.

—Michael Rietmulder

NYC schools drop outdoor mask mandate; indoor mandate stays

New York City public school students will be allowed to remove their masks outside starting next week but must keep them on indoors for now, Schools Chancellor David Banks said Friday.

The move comes as COVID-19 infections in New York continue to decline after the emergence of the omicron variant fueled a December-January spike.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said earlier this month that she would revisit the issue of school mask rules in the first week of March.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

CDC: Many healthy Americans can take a break from masks

Most Americans live in places where healthy people, including students in schools, can safely take a break from wearing masks under new U.S. guidelines released Friday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlined the new set of measures for communities where COVID-19 is easing its grip, with less of a focus on positive test results and more on what’s happening at hospitals.

The new system greatly changes the look of the CDC’s risk map and puts more than 70% of the U.S. population in counties where the coronavirus is posing a low or medium threat to hospitals. Those are the people who can stop wearing masks, the agency said.

The agency is still advising that people, including schoolchildren, wear masks where the risk of COVID-19 is high. That’s the situation in about 37% of U.S. counties, where about 28% of Americans reside.

The new recommendations do not change the requirement to wear masks on public transportation and indoors in airports, train stations and bus stations. The CDC guidelines for other indoor spaces aren’t binding, meaning cities and institutions even in areas of low risk may set their own rules. And the agency says people with COVID-19 symptoms or who test positive shouldn’t stop wearing masks.

But with protection from immunity rising — both from vaccination and infection — the overall risk of severe disease is now generally lower, the CDC said.

Read the story here.

—Mike Stobbe and Carla K. Johnson, The Associated Press
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Inslee to keep state COVID mask requirements as federal officials prepare to loosen guidance

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is committed to his March 21 date for lifting COVID-19 mask restrictions, according to his office, as federal officials were set Friday to loosen masking guidelines.

In a news conference earlier this month, the governor announced statewide mask requirements would lift on March 21 for schools, child care facilities, grocery stores, gyms, bars and other indoor establishments.

In an email Friday morning, Inslee spokesperson Mike Faulk wrote that, “COVID trends are declining but still remain very high relative to other waves over the pandemic.”

“Our state’s 7-day average for cases, hospitalizations and deaths are roughly equal to what they were at the peak of the Delta surge,” Faulk continued. “We remain committed to March 21 lifting of most mask requirements.”

President Joe Biden’s administration is expected to announce Friday that most Americans will no longer be advised to wear masks in indoor public settings to protect against COVID-19 transmission, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Read the story here.

—Joseph O'Sullivan

COVID-stricken mom reunites with baby 2 months after birth

After giving birth, most new moms can’t wait to see their child.

For Macenzee Keller, it would take more than two months, as she fought for her life against COVID-19 while under sedation and breathing with the help of machines.

Mother and child were reunited earlier this month when Keller’s mom brought the healthy baby boy, named Zachery, to her hospital bedside.

Keller was not vaccinated against COVID-19, and says she planned to wait until after she delivered to get the shot. She’d heard that some people feel sick for a day after getting the vaccine, “and I was just nervous that if I did get it, it would cause complications to Zachery.”

Doctors told her she has to wait a couple more weeks before she can be vaccinated now.

In hindsight, when asked if she would have made the same choice, she said, “I don’t know. Part of me says I would have got the vaccine, but then another part of me still says that I didn’t want to risk anything.”

Read the story here.

—Kathy McCormack, The Associated Press

Another casualty of Russia’s invasion: Ukraine’s ability to contain COVID

While Ukraine is under attack by Russia, Ukraine’s civilian population is also under siege from the coronavirus, a situation only likely to worsen.

The fighting in Ukraine’s east is forcing a mass migration to the west that is crowding mass transit centers and trains and jamming roads. Video images of the large numbers of Ukrainians on the move show understandably few signs of face coverings, even as the country is just getting past a record high point in its infection rate.

The coronavirus outlook for those fleeing the fighting is grim, according to Dr. Eric S. Toner, a senior scholar at the Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.

Read the story here.

—Adeel Hassan, The New York Times
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What the pandemic’s ‘next normal’ could look like in the U.S.

The White House, intensifying its efforts to develop a new coronavirus strategy, is evaluating a blueprint by outside experts whose recommendations include stronger air filtration systems in public buildings, billions of dollars in research and a major upgrade to the nation’s public health system.

The team of more than two dozen experts was led by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a University of Pennsylvania bioethicist who advised President Joe Biden’s transition team. The group includes former federal officials who have served presidents of both parties. They have spent much of this week meeting behind closed doors with government scientists and top health officials.

The New York Times obtained a draft copy of their 136-page plan from a person involved in the sessions, who said the White House has asked the Emanuel team to provide cost estimates for some of its recommendations.

Entitled “Getting to and Sustaining the Next Normal: A Roadmap for Living With Covid,” the plan strikes the same “Things are getting better but we’re not out of the woods yet” tone that the president himself has adopted in recent weeks. It provides a guide for bringing the nation out of crisis mode at a time when, the authors write, the United States is still “far from a normal situation.”

Read the story here.

—Sheryl Gay Stolberg, The New York Times

Coronavirus pandemic not over, German health minister warns

Germany’s health minister warned Friday that the coronavirus pandemic isn’t over yet, noting that the country is still seeing record infections and high numbers of deaths.

The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s disease control agency, reported 210,743 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 226 deaths in the past 24 hours. Officials say laboratory data suggests there may be a large number of undetected cases.

“We need to be careful not to think that the pandemic is over,” Health Minister Karl Lauterbach told reporters in Berlin.

A subtype of the omicron variant, dubbed BA.2, could lead to a further rise in cases, he said.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Hong Kong’s new COVID cases top 10,000 in spiraling outbreak

Hong Kong on Friday reported another sharp jump in new COVID-19 cases to more than 10,000 in the latest 24-hour period as it battles its worst outbreak of the pandemic.

The new daily case count reached 10,010, health officials said, after topping 6,000 last week and 8,000 earlier this week in a spiraling outbreak. The city has been reporting about 50 deaths a day, many among the unvaccinated elderly.

The government has announced plans to test everyone in the semi-autonomous Chinese city of 7.4 million people next month as it tries to adhere to a zero-COVID policy modeled on the strict mainland China approach.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Catch up on the past 24 hours

Most Americans will no longer be advised to wear masks inside as the U.S. government significantly eases the guidelines today, according to two people familiar with the matter. So how will you decide whether (and when) to put away your masks? Public health officials recently shared their thoughts on making the daily decisions ahead. 

What the "next normal" may look like: While this Washington prepares to drop its indoor mask mandate, the other Washington is mapping out bigger-picture changes on a federal level. Here are the key points from a 136-page blueprint that's making its way through the White House.

“Stealth omicron” is steadily advancing. Scientists are learning more about the coronavirus strain that's now causing more than a third of new omicron cases around the world.

Soon, you won't need a mask inside if you visit Oregon, which is speeding up its timeline as COVID-19 cases fall. Another state is moving far faster with defiant new guidance titled "Buck the CDC."

—Kris Higginson