Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, Feb. 26, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Coronavirus infection numbers continue to decrease in Washington, and on Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced none of the eight regions of the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan will be going backward toward more restrictions any time soon.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is planning to distribute millions of face masks to Americans in communities hard-hit by the virus beginning next month — part of his efforts to ensure “equity” in the government’s response to the pandemic.
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.
Hong Kong gets Pfizer vaccines as second option
HONG KONG — Over 500,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in Hong Kong on Saturday following a two-day delay due to export procedures, offering a second inoculation option for the city.
The Pfizer-BioNTech shots will be offered to about 2.4 million eligible residents from priority groups such as those aged 60 and above and health care workers.
The 585,000 doses of the vaccine — the first batch of the initial 1 million — arrived from Germany. The remaining doses will be delivered in early March, according to a government statement.
About 70,000 residents who have registered for Hong Kong’s vaccination program, which kicked off on Friday, will receive the shots developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac. The Sinovac vaccines were the first to arrive last week.
Democrats toil to salvage wage increase with stimulus plan on brink of passage
WASHINGTON — Democrats sought on Friday to salvage their bid to push through a large increase in the federal minimum wage as part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, pressing to preserve a key liberal priority without imperiling the chances of an urgently needed pandemic aid package.
A day after a top Senate official effectively knocked the wage hike out of the pandemic aid bill, Democrats rushed to find alternative ways of meeting their goal to impose a $15-per-hour floor for tens of millions of workers across the country.
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, and other top Democrats, were considering a plan that would penalize corporations that pay workers less than $15 per hour, a senior Democratic aide said Friday.
Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, chair of the Finance Committee, said the still-evolving proposal would impose an escalating tax on the payrolls of large corporations, starting at 5%, if any of the company’s workers earned less than a certain hourly wage. It would include what Wyden called “safeguards” to prevent companies from laying off workers and replacing them with contract employees to avoid the tax.
“While conversations are continuing, I believe this ‘plan B’ provides us a path to move forward and get this done through the reconciliation process,” Wyden said in a statement.
Seattle school district labels some educators as “essential” to bring them back to classrooms ahead of reopening agreement with union
In a push to offer more in-person schooling to students with disabilities and preschoolers, Seattle Public Schools has labeled about 700 educators “essential,” in an attempt to fast-track their return to the classroom amid heated negotiations over reopening with its 6,000-member educators union.
The Seattle Education Association union (SEA) said the move was an attempt to force educators back before bargaining had finished. “We are considering all legal avenues, including potentially filing an Unfair Labor Practice,” the union said in a statement.
On Friday evening, the district announced that the 700 educators who work with disabled children and preschoolers received notice to return to school by March 8 for training, with classes resuming for their students by March 11. At least 2,500 students receiving special education services — mainly those with severe to moderate cognitive and physical disabilities — qualify for in-person instruction under the district’s plan to reopen schools.
Though a small number of educators are already working on-site at schools, the current agreement with the union requires bargaining before “making changes to in-person instruction.”
But in its move, the district exercised a provision in that agreement that allows the superintendent to determine “on-site work critical to meet an essential student or business need.” The Seattle School Board authorized the action Thursday night.
Income and spending gains are latest sign of economic recovery
The U.S. economic recovery came perilously close to falling off a cliff at the end of last year. But government aid arrived just in time to prevent a disaster — and possibly paved the way for a dynamic rebound.
Personal income surged a remarkable 10% in January, the Commerce Department reported Friday. Spending increased last month, too, by a healthy 2.4%, largely fueled by a rise in purchases of goods.
The report was the latest sign of the economy’s slow but steady march forward after a series of setbacks.
Yet the data also underscored the extent to which government aid is buoying the economy. The rise in income last month was almost entirely attributable to the $600 government relief checks approved in December and to unemployment insurance payments. And while spending ticked up, purchases of services remained depressed as the pandemic continued to weigh heavily on the leisure and hospitality industries even as coronavirus cases fell.
“Technically, you could say we’re recovering,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist for the accounting firm Grant Thornton. “But the patterns in both income and spending point out the fragility of the recovery without aid to bridge these waters that are poisonous.”
Tribes in legal limbo over federal virus relief funding
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Nearly a year after Congress passed a coronavirus relief bill, some Native American tribes remain in legal limbo over what’s been distributed.
The issue didn’t become any clearer for three tribes that argued during a federal court hearing this week that they were shortchanged under the formula used to dole out a portion of the $8 billion set aside for tribes.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta set deadlines to move the case forward after attorneys for both sides said Thursday they couldn’t reach an agreement on interim payments while the U.S. Treasury Department comes up with a new method to distribute the remaining $533 million.
The department sent out $4.8 billion in payments to tribal governments using federal population data that some tribes said was badly skewed.
The Shawnee Tribe in Oklahoma and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians in Florida were among those given the minimum $100,000 because U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development data showed they had a population of zero. The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation in Kansas has argued it should have received $7.65 million more than it got, based on its own enrollment data.
Tennessee: Vaccines stolen, given to children in 1 county
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s top health officials revealed Friday that the state has requested federal law enforcement investigate alleged theft of coronavirus vaccine doses in the state’s most populous county.
They also announced that a volunteer in Shelby County improperly vaccinated two children despite the shot not being cleared for young minors. Later Friday, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris announced that Dr. Alisa Haushalter, the director of the county health department, has resigned.
The developments come after the state previously announced that roughly 2,400 COVID-19 vaccine doses had been wasted in Shelby County over the past month due to miscommunication and insufficient record-keeping inside the local health department. The county, which includes Memphis, had also built up nearly 30,000 excessive vaccine doses in its inventory.
Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey declined to elaborate on the extent of the theft allegations, but said the Shelby County Health Department only alerted the state about the stolen doses after the state had asked the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to launch their own investigation.
Piercey did say, however, that the stolen shots are believed to have been taken by a volunteer who ran off with the vaccine in syringes — not the actual vials the shots are kept in.
Alaska villages persist with no cases of the coronavirus
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — In an unusual example of the effectiveness of social distancing, residents of a southeast Alaska fishing community have so far escaped the coronavirus pandemic without any infections.
The town of Pelican is one of the Alaska communities that has avoided the illness by remaining isolated, Alaska Public Media reported Thursday.
Pelican, which can only be reached by bush plane or boat, has no recorded cases of COVID-19 and has vaccinated more than half of its adults.
“Everybody claims that it’s so hard to get in and out of here. I say, that’s perfect,” Pelican Mayor Walt Weller said. “There is no better time to be stranded in the middle of nowhere.”
State officials said privacy considerations prevent them from identifying communities without cases. But discussions with residents and social media posts indicate Pelican is not alone.
Flaws in Washington’s unemployment system fuel frustration — and proposed fixes
Almost a year after Washington was hit by the first big pandemic-related layoffs, the state unemployment system is still straining under the crisis, lawmakers and worker advocates say.
Although the flood of jobless claims last spring has receded, thousands of Washingtonians are either waiting for payment from the state Employment Security Department (ESD) or appealing claims the agency has denied.
The filing process still can be complicated, slow and easily stalled, many claimants say. Those with questions often struggle to contact the agency. Its website and computer-generated notifications can be notoriously confusing and even inaccurate.
“It’s incompetence,” grouses Renton resident Kevin Johnsted, 55, one of many Washingtonians who were told by the ESD — incorrectly — that they owe federal taxes on unemployment benefits that were actually paid to criminals in last spring’s $600 million fraud scheme.
Frustrations like these are helping fuel legislative proposals to both fix existing problems and strengthen the unemployment system for the next crisis. Washington “literally failed workers” during the pandemic, says state Rep. Liz Berry, D-Seattle, one of dozens of lawmakers behind a broadly bipartisan effort to upgrade the state unemployment system. “So what can we do now to fix that for the future?”
Health officials confirm 1,166 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,166 new coronavirus cases and 14 new deaths on Friday.
The update brings the state's totals to 338,822 cases and 4,956 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. Thursday.
In addition, 19,275 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 83,801 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,394 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.
Ruling overturning CDC eviction moratorium injects confusion into housing market
In a move that has triggered confusion across the nation’s housing market, a federal judge in Texas issued a ruling on Thursday knocking down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium as unconstitutional.
“Although the covid-19 pandemic persists, so does the Constitution,” Judge J. Campbell Barker of the Eastern District of Texas wrote in his 21-page order filed on behalf of landlords, arguing that the federal government overstepped its authority with the CDC order.
The latest development may complicate — not clarify — the situation for renters. Federal judges in Georgia and Louisiana have previously denied challenges against the protection. More here.
Pandemic leaves non-COVID Romanian patients without critical care
A year ago this week, Romania reported its first case of COVID-19, prompting the country’s strapped medical system to turn its focus to treating COVID-19 patients. As a result, many patients with other conditions — including cancer — have either been denied critical care or have stopped going to their regular appointments, fearful of becoming infected.
Romania’s government is acknowledging the problem and has announced plans to reorganize the country’s hospitals so more non-COVID-19 patients can get access to health care.
The attempts to reform the health care system come as a third virus surge looms and as a vaccine rollout is proceeding slowly across the 27-member European Union, to which Romania belongs.
Best Buy cut 5,000 jobs even as sales soared during pandemic
Best Buy said Thursday that it laid off 5,000 full-time store workers earlier this month, even as the company’s sales soared during the pandemic as homebound people bought laptops, TVs and other gadgets.
The company said it cut the jobs because more shoppers are choosing to buy online instead of coming inside its stores. Best Buy said it will replace the 5,000 full-time employees with 2,000 part-time workers.
Best Buy’s workforce has shrunk in the last year after having to furlough workers when it closed stores during the pandemic. It currently has more than 100,000 workers, down by 21,000, or 17%, from the year before.
US advisers endorse single-shot COVID-19 vaccine from J&J
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. health advisers endorsed a one-dose COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson on Friday, putting the nation on the cusp of adding an easier-to-use option to fight the pandemic.
The Food and Drug Administration is expected to quickly follow the recommendation and make J&J’s shot the third vaccine authorized for emergency use in the U.S. Vaccinations are picking up speed, but new supplies are urgently needed to stay ahead of a mutating virus that has killed more than 500,000 Americans.
After daylong discussions, the FDA panelists voted unanimously that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks for adults. If the FDA agrees, shipments of a few million doses could begin as early as Monday. More here.
Queen says COVID vaccine is quick, painless and helps others
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is encouraging people to be vaccinated against COVID-19, saying the shot is quick, harmless and will help protect others against the disease.
In a video call with the officials responsible for rolling out the vaccine, the 94-year-old monarch compared the effort that’s gone into Britain’s national vaccination campaign to the way people worked together during World War II.
“Well, once you’ve had the vaccine you have a feeling of, you know, you’re protected, which is, I think, very important,” the queen said on a tape of the call broadcast Friday. “And as far as I can make out it was quite harmless, very quick. And I’ve had lots of letters from people who’ve been very surprised by how easy it was to get the vaccine.”
The queen also highlighted the fact that being vaccinated helps protect everyone, not just the person who gets the shot.
Vaccine roll-out gaps a core concern for G-20 countries
The uneven distribution of vaccines between wealthier and poorer countries is a key concern of Group of 20 nations as leaders consider how to create even footing for recovery from the pandemic both in economic and health terms, Italy’s economic minister said Friday.
Daniele Franco told a virtual news conference after the meeting of finance ministers and central bank chiefs of the G-20 economies that a core priority for the group is “to grant equitable access” to safe vaccines.
“We will not get back to our normal lives until the virus is eradicated in all countries,” Franco said. He added that the ministers and governors agreed on the necessity of a “bold and global response aimed at curbing the virus diffusion everywhere.”
UN urges warring parties to halt fighting for vaccinations
The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Friday demanding that all warring parties immediately institute a “sustained humanitarian pause” to enable the unhindered delivery of COVID-19 vaccines and the vaccination of millions of people in conflict areas.
The British-drafted resolution, cosponsored by 112 countries, reiterated the council’s demand last July 1 for “a general and immediate cessation of hostilities” in major conflicts on the Security Council agenda, from Syria and Yemen to Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan and Somalia.
It expressed concern that an appeal for cease-fires in all conflicts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, which was first made by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on March 23, 2020, “was not fully heeded.”
Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward, the current council president, announced the result of the email vote because the council has been meeting virtually, saying the resolution “will help bring vaccines to 160 million people in conflict areas or displaced by conflict.”
Ivory Coast 2nd country to receive COVID vaccines via COVAX
Ivory Coast on Friday became the second country in the world to receive a shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from the global COVAX initiative, with 504,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India.
The vaccines arrived in the commercial capital of the African nation as part of the first wave of COVID-19 vaccines sent by COVAX, which was created to ensure that low- and middle-income countries have fair access to doses.
The first COVAX shipment was sent to Ghana on Wednesday, marking the beginning of the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history, according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF.
The COVAX initiative has been hampered by the severely limited global supply of doses as well as logistical problems that set vaccinations behind globally. Some 24 other countries are expected to start receiving vaccines via COVAX next week, according to WHO Africa.
US urges Tanzania to embrace COVID-19 vaccines, share data
The United States praised Tanzania on Friday for finally acknowledging the resurgence of COVID-19 after claiming for months it had defeated the pandemic through prayer. But the U.S. urged the country to share infection data and accept vaccines.
“It has become clear that the virus variant has arrived in Tanzania,“ U.S. Ambassador Donald Wright, who is also a doctor, said in a statement. “I’ve been encouraged by recent statements from the Ministry of Health acknowledging COVID-19 as a public health priority in Tanzania and urging citizens to take basic precautions.“
Tanzania is one of Africa’s most populous countries, with some 60 million people, and during its long COVID-19 denial the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that if the continent isn’t united, “it’s doomed.”
Could pandemic further erode the New England town meeting?
The town meeting, for centuries, was a staple of New England life — but the coronavirus pandemic could accelerate the departure from the tradition where people gather to debate everything from the purchase of local road equipment to multimillion-dollar budgets to pressing social issues.
The basis of the town meeting is to bring everyone together in the same room — sometimes a literal town hall, sometimes a school gymnasium — where voters will hash out local issues until a decision is made.
The restrictions on in-person gatherings imposed by the pandemic make that impossible and some worry the temporary workarounds could remain even after life returns to normal.
“I’d be very disappointed if people think that this is a new model...” said former Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, who served for 33 years as moderator in his hometown of Middlebury.
Highlights of the COVID-19 relief bill advancing in Congress
The House is expected to pass a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package late Friday that includes $1,400 checks for most Americans and billions of dollars for schools, state and local governments and businesses.
Republicans are overwhelmingly against the bill, raising concerns that the spending is vastly more than necessary and designed to advance policy priorities that go beyond helping Americans get through the pandemic. Democrats and President Joe Biden counter that a robust aid package is necessary to prevent a long and painful recovery from the pandemic.
The Democrats’ goal is to have COVID-19 relief approved by mid-March, when extra unemployment assistance and other pandemic aid expires. The Senate, which Democrats control by a single vote, will consider the bill next.
It’s a smash hit! Chinese return big-time to movie theaters
The thrills and chills of the big screen are back big-time in the world’s largest film market.
With the coronavirus well under control in China and cinemas running at half capacity, moviegoers are smashing China’s box office records, with domestic productions far outpacing their Hollywood competitors.
February marked China’s all-time biggest month for movie ticket sales, which have so far totaled $1.7 billion.
China overtook the U.S. as the world’s biggest market for movie ticket sales last year as the American box office took a massive hit from the closure of cinemas because of the pandemic.
Chinese theaters were able to reopen by midyear and have seen steady audience growth since then. Local movies have also benefited from periodic unofficial “blackout” periods, when only domestic productions are allowed to be screened. A dearth of major Hollywood blockbusters over recent months appears to have also boosted the market for Chinese films.
Belgium prolongs major restrictions as virus cases rise
The Belgian government will not approve new COVID-19 relaxations for at least another week after health authorities warned Friday that the number of coronavirus infections is rising, probably due in part to the fast-spreading variant first found in Britain.
Until a few days ago, expectations were that Belgium would finally start scaling down major virus-control measures. But the uptick in new confirmed cases and especially an increase in hospital admissions persuaded Prime Minister Alexander De Croo to call for at least a one-week delay.
“The figures are rising everywhere,” De Cross said. “We are calling a one-week timeout to avoid taking decisions that would waste our gains of the past weeks."
Japan partly ending pandemic emergency, keeps it for Tokyo
The state of emergency Japan set up to curb the spread of the coronavirus will be lifted in six urban areas this weekend and remain in the Tokyo area for another week, a government minister said Friday.
Partially lifting the emergency, and just a week early, underlines Japan’s eagerness to keep business restrictions to a minimum to keep the economy going.
The emergency, which began in January, centers around asking restaurants, bars and other businesses to close at 8 p.m. Japan has never had a mandatory lockdown, but has managed to keep infections relatively low, with deaths related to COVID-19 at about 7,700 people.
US hospitalizations plunge, but still high
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the U.S. has dropped by 80,000 in six weeks, and nearly 17% of the nation’s adult population has gotten at least one dose of a vaccine.
The U.S. has seen a dramatic turnaround since December and January, when hospitals were teeming with patients after holiday gatherings and pandemic fatigue caused a surge in cases and deaths.
Health officials acknowledge the improvement but point out that hospitalizations are still at about the same level as earlier peaks in April and July and right before the crisis worsened in November.
Deaths are still persistently high, though much lower than the peak in early January, when they sometimes exceeded 4,000 per day.
Canadian regulator authorizes AstraZeneca vaccine
Canadian regulators on Friday authorized AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine.
It is the third COVID-19 vaccine given the green light by Canada, following those from Pfizer and Moderna.
Health Canada approved the vaccine for use in people 18 and over. Some countries, including France, have authorized the AstraZeneca vaccine only for use in people under 65, saying there is not enough evidence to say whether it works in older adults.
Biden marks 50M vaccine doses in first 5 weeks in office
Days after marking a solemn milestone in the pandemic, President Joe Biden is celebrating the pace of his efforts to end it.
On Thursday, Biden marked the administration of the 50 millionth dose of COVID-19 vaccine since his swearing-in. The moment came days after the nation reached the devastating milestone of 500,000 coronavirus deaths and ahead of a meeting with the nation’s governors on plans to speed the distribution even further.
“We’re halfway there: 50 million shots in 37 days,” Biden said. “That’s weeks ahead of schedule.”
Briton jailed for breaking Singapore quarantine order
A British citizen was sentenced to two weeks in jail and fined 1,000 Singapore dollars ($753) on Friday for breaking a coronavirus quarantine order in Singapore.
Nigel Skea is the first Briton to be jailed for flouting coronavirus rules in the city-state. A handful had their work passes revoked and paid fines.
Skea left his room at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore on three occasions last September without a mask. On one of the occasions, he climbed an emergency stairwell and entered a room that his Singaporean fiancée had booked.
Skea, who pleaded guilty to two charges of flouting the rules, arrived at the State Courts on Friday with Agatha Maghesh Eyamalai, whom he has since married.
Seattle creates COVID-19 vaccine standby list for certain residents; here’s who can get on the list and how
The city of Seattle has created a standby list for some residents 65 and older who can spring into action and travel to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
The city said the Seattle Fire Department’s Mobile Vaccination Teams sometimes have one or two doses left after holding daily vaccination events for Seattle’s most vulnerable people.
Those doses left at the end of the day, usually two or three, must be used immediately.
Canada Pension Plan CEO resigns after travelling for vaccine
The chief executive of the fund that manages Canada Pension Plan investments has resigned after it was revealed that he had traveled to the United Arab Emirates, where he was vaccinated against COVID-19.
CPP Investments said Friday Mark Machin tendered his resignation to the board Thursday night.
Canadian officials have advised against all nonssential travel and the vast majority of Canadians have not yet been vaccinated.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
• Washington state expects more than 60,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson's one-dose coronavirus vaccine next week, and the state is working on who should get them and how. This all hangs on the vaccine's federal approval, which may come this weekend. Today, an advisory committee to the FDA is voting on whether the vaccine is safe and effective. So which vaccine should you get? Don’t be too picky, experts say. Here’s our guide to getting your shot.
• Do people with allergies need to worry about reactions to the vaccines? And how safe are the shots, anyway? Our FAQ Friday digs into those questions with experts' help.
• No part of Washington will have to go backward on reopening, Gov. Jay Inslee said yesterday, because "we’ve made incredible progress" against the virus. Here's the latest on what you can and can't do across the state.
• Band practice in bright-green COVID-19 bubbles: This is how bizarre the return to high school looks in Central Washington.
• Millions of Americans would get $1,400 direct payments in a COVID-19 relief package that Democrats are aiming to push through the House today. But a minimum-wage boost looks like a no-go. Here's what made it in, and where to find updates.
• Nobody knew what a Covidiot was, or how to deal with maskne, at this time last year. Look at how dramatically our vocab has changed.
• When the USS Nimitz sailed away from Bremerton 10 months ago, George Floyd was alive, Donald Trump was president and the pandemic's death toll was a fraction of what it is today. In the days ahead, an anxious crew will return to a home country that's become "completely different, and we don’t know what we are coming home to."
How is the pandemic affecting you?What has changed about your daily life? What kinds of discussions are you having with family members and friends? Are you a health care worker who's on the front lines of the response? Are you a COVID-19 patient or do you know one? Whoever you are, we want to hear from you so our news coverage is as complete, accurate and useful as possible. If you're using a mobile device and can't see the form on this page, click here.
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