Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, Feb. 3, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
While President Joe Biden has panned a Republican alternative to his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 rescue plan as insufficient, Senate Democrats are pushing ahead, possibly looking to approve his plan on their own.
Meanwhile, World Health Organization investigators on Wednesday visited a research center in the Chinese city of Wuhan, hoping to gather data on where the virus originated and how it spread.
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.
Biden flexible on who gets aid, tells lawmakers to ‘go big’
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden encouraged Democratic lawmakers to “act fast” on his $1.9 trillion COVID rescue plan but also signaled he’s open to changes, including limiting the proposed $1,400 direct payments to Americans with lower income levels, which could draw Republican support.
Biden told lawmakers in private comments Wednesday that he’s “not married” to an absolute number for the overall package but wants them to “go big” on pandemic relief and “restore the soul of the country.”
“Look, we got a lot of people hurting in our country today,” Biden said on a private call with House Democrats. “We need to act. We need to act fast.”
On the direct payments, Biden said he doesn’t want to budge from the $1,400 promised to Americans. But he said he is willing to “target” the aid, which would mean lowering the income threshold to qualify.
“I’m not going to start my administration by breaking a promise to the American people,” he said.
Securing vaccine appointments for parents can be ‘full-time job’
Bethany Hamilton was working in the early hours of the morning when she stumbled upon the announcement.
Registration for coronavirus vaccination appointments would open on the Publix grocery store’s website at 6 a.m. She lives in Takoma Park, Md., but she’d been clicking through pages of the Georgia public health services website, hoping to secure vaccine appointments for her septuagenarian parents, who live in Gwinnett County, Ga., but every page she came upon said there were no more shots.
Hamilton’s experience has been a common one as the federal government struggles to distribute the vaccine throughout the country. People are attempting to help parents and grandparents who are not digital natives book vaccination appointments. But finding one from afar and navigating the various vaccine sites’ online systems can be exasperating.
That morning‚ Hamilton’s fourth alarm went off at 5:55 a.m. The Publix website was already open on her laptop. She fired up a second page, this one in incognito mode. Then she pulled up two more browsers on her phone.
“I just can’t comprehend how this rat race is supposed to be humane," she said.
Alaska Senate OKs remote voting if needed during pandemic
JUNEAU, Alaska — The Alaska Senate passed a resolution Wednesday intended to allow for remote voting if necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The measure next goes to the House, which hasn’t organized a majority. The legislative session began Jan. 19.
Senate Rules Chair Gary Stevens, a Kodiak Republican, said the measure would provide another tool to allow for legislative work to continue.
“Nobody hopes we have to do it. … But we needed to have something in place just in case that should happen,” he said.
Legislative leaders before the start of the new session approved moving forward with plans to set up such a system. The project timeline called for 30 days to develop and up to one week to prepare the system for use.
Oregon nears 2,000 COVID-19 deaths since start of pandemic
PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon nears 2,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic, with the Health Authority reporting 10 additional people who died from COVID-19 on Wednesday.
The most recent deaths, include four men and six women, people ranging from 59 to 99 years old and residents of Clackamas, Multnomah and Umatilla.
On Wednesday the health authority reported 649 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19, bringing the state total to 144,605. The death toll is 1,991.
Most of Wednesday’s cases were in Marion, Washington and Multnomah counties.
Grocery industry sues Seattle over new $4 hazard-pay law
Two Northwest grocery industry trade groups are suing Seattle over the city’s new law mandating $4-an-hour pay raises for grocery stores.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, alleges the city’s law interferes with the collective-bargaining process between grocery stores and unions and also “picks winners and losers” by singling out large grocery companies.
Seattle’s law, passed last week, went into effect Wednesday. The Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Food Industry Association (WFIA) filed their lawsuit the same day.
The law applies to large grocers, those with more than 500 employees worldwide and stores larger than 10,000 square feet, in Seattle. It mandates a $4-an-hour pay boost for all workers in retail locations. And that pay boost must remain in effect for as long as Seattle remains in a declared civil emergency.
The lawsuit claims the new law is “invalid and unconstitutional” for two reasons. First, it says, it is preempted by federal law governing collective bargaining and labor practices. And, second, the lawsuit says, the law violates the equal protection clauses of the U.S. and Washington constitutions by treating large grocers differently “without providing any reasonable justification for the exclusion of other employers or frontline retail workers.”
NBA: Zero new players tested positive for virus in past week
No additional NBA players have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last week, the league said Wednesday, after nearly two dozen games had to be called off in the past month because of virus-related issues.
That continued a good two-week trend: After 27 players were positive in results released between Jan. 6 and Jan. 19, only one player has been positive since.
“Baby steps,” Washington coach Scott Brooks said after the league announced Wednesday’s weekly number of zero. “We want the world to not test positive for a week. That’s what’s we need. We all need it, not just NBA players, coaches, families. The planet needs it.”
The NBA has called off 23 games this season for virus issues, 22 since Jan. 10. But starting with the games on Jan. 26, the league has been able to play 68 of its last 70 games. All 10 of Wednesday’s games started as scheduled.
Springfield restaurant fined over COVID-19 rules
SALEM, Ore. — Oregon Occupational Safety and Health has fined a Springfield restaurant $9,215 for two COVID-19-related violations.
OSHA issued the fine to Along Came Trudy following weeks of the business remaining open against statewide rules, KEZI-TV reported.
Multiple complaints about the restaurant were reportedly made to the agency.
State officials say the fine was issued following an inspection in December. By allowing indoor dining, OSHA said the restaurant willfully disregarded the ban on indoor dining in extreme risk areas like Lane County. The second violation regards a failure to make sure customers inside the restaurant wear a face covering.
OSHA said armed people outside the business threatened regulatory agencies and their staff members.
Judge orders Oregon inmates to be prioritized for vaccine
PORTLAND, Ore. — A judge has ordered all inmates in the Oregon prison system to be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations — a move that should make prisoners immediately eligible for inoculation.
The Oregonian/OregonLive reports the preliminary injunction issued Tuesday orders all Oregon Department of Corrections inmates be offered a vaccine as part of phase 1A, group 2, of Oregon’s COVID-19 vaccination plan — putting prison inmates in the same category as people living in nursing homes and other congregate care settings.
The order should make prisoners eligible for vaccines now, but it’s not clear if they’ll move ahead of teachers or the elderly. But given that the Oregon Health Authority dictates where vaccines are shipped, the state has the ability to redirect doses for prisons.
“This will save an incredible amount of lives,” said Juan Chavez, an Oregon Justice Resource Center attorney who is representing a group of seven inmates.
Chicago schools, union continue talks over virus safety plan
CHICAGO — Negotiations between Chicago Public Schools and the teachers’ union over COVID-19 safety protocols stretched into Wednesday evening, days after district officials threatened a lockout and teachers entertained a strike.
The fight to reopen city schools, which went remote last March, has brewed for months. The nation’s third-largest district pitched a gradual return for pre-K to 8th grade with no definitive plans for high school. But the Chicago Teachers Union said the district’s safety plan falls short.
Earlier in the week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said teachers who didn’t report for duty would be locked out of online teaching systems, as was the case for pre-K and special education teachers who defied orders last month. The 25,000-member union countered by saying it would picket if teachers were booted out. But district officials scrapped the threat and called “cooling off period,” extending remote learning through Wednesday.
The status of Thursday classes, the end of the quarter, was unclear. Students have Friday off.
Britain to test mixing and matching of COVID-19 vaccines
British scientists are starting a study Thursday to find out if it’s OK to mix and match COVID-19 vaccines.
The vaccines being rolled out now require two doses, and people are supposed to get two shots of the same kind, weeks apart.
Guidelines in Britain and the U.S. say the vaccines aren’t interchangeable, but can be mixed if the same kind isn’t available for the second dose or if it’s not known what was given for the first shot.
Participants in the government-funded study will get one shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine followed by a dose from Pfizer, or vice versa.
“This study will give us greater insight into how we can use vaccines to stay on top of this nasty disease,” said Jonathan Van Tam, the U.K.’s deputy chief medical officer.
He said that given the challenges of immunizing millions of people amid a global vaccine shortage, there would be advantages to having data that could support more “flexible” immunization campaigns.
State health officials confirm 1,645 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,645 new coronavirus cases and 72 new deaths on Wednesday.
The update brings the state's totals to 316,294 cases and 4,388 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. Tuesday.
The new cases may include up to 560 duplicates, according to DOH. The number of new deaths includes those from a data processing backlog yesterday.
In addition, 17,987 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 95 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 79,061 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,264 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.
China to send 10 million coronavirus vaccine doses abroad
China on Wednesday announced a plan to provide 10 million coronavirus vaccine doses to developing nations through the global COVAX initiative as part of its ambitious diplomatic and business efforts to distribute Chinese vaccines around the world.
China has already shipped large numbers of doses of its own vaccines, mainly to developing countries. It has pursued deals or donations with more than 30 nations far exceeding the 10 million doses it is providing to COVAX. In Turkey alone, Chinese company Sinovac Biotech Ltd. has struck a deal to sell 50 million doses.
Its global efforts are seen by many as an attempt to boost China’s reputation.
COVAX seeks to ensure that low- and middle-income countries have enough vaccines as wealthy nations have snapped up a large part of the billions of upcoming doses from mostly Western vaccine makers.
Leader says Serbia is proud to give citizens Chinese vaccine
Serbia’s leader expressed his gratitude to Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday for 1 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, saying he is proud Serbia became the first European country to give its population the shots made in China.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said after meeting with the Chinese ambassador in Belgrade that by receiving the Sinopharm vaccine, “the citizens of our country expressed deep trust in the Chinese vaccine and with that also in the Chinese state and Chinese experts.”
This was not the first time the populist president publicly praised China and its Communist Party leader. Vucic kissed the Chinese flag when China delivered masks and other protective equipment in March 2020, and he criticized the European Union for an alleged lack of solidarity at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Vucic has said that he “felt sick” when he learned that some unnamed member nations secured vaccine doses multiple times above the number needed to inoculate their populations while holding back on deliveries to poorer countries.
Although Serbia is formally seeking EU membership, it has at the same time turned to both China and Russia which has also promised to supply large quantities of the Russian-developed Sputnik V vaccine.
Calls grow in Germany to punish queue-jumping for vaccines
Calls are growing in Germany to punish people who squeeze to the front of the line for COVID-19 vaccines after several cases in which officials allegedly queue-jumped and received shots while millions of people wait for their turn.
The head of a trust that operates three hospitals in northwestern Germany apologized to staff members Wednesday for getting vaccinated ahead of doctors and nurses at the facilities.
Germany’s Foundation for Patient Protection said it was aware of cases in which the priority list had been ignored and complained that there are no penalties for skipping ahead.
CDC director says teachers don’t need vaccines to reopen schools
Vaccinating teachers isn’t a prerequisite for the safe reopening of U.S. schools, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said at a Wednesday briefing.
“There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen,” she said, adding that “safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated in order to reopen safely.”
Walensky’s remarks come as the Biden administration faces pressure to reopen schools, caught between its pledge to safely do so and demands from teachers’ unions about their working environments.
Last week, the CDC released a paper as part of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that concluded that with precautions such as masking and keeping students in small group cohorts, transmission risk within schools appeared low.
UN-backed program seeks rollout of 100M vaccine doses
A U.N.-backed program to deploy COVID-19 vaccines to the neediest people worldwide, especially in poor countries, announced plans Wednesday for an initial distribution of 100 million doses by the end of March and 200 million more by July — hoping to catch up with rich countries that are already deep into rollouts.
Leaders of the COVAX Facility, which seeks a fair distribution of vaccines at a time of short supply, said nearly all of the doses expected for the initial-phase rollout are to come from British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca and its partner, the Serum Institute of India.
Frederik Kristensen, deputy CEO for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation, a co-leader of the program, told a video news conference that the plans come at a “critical moment” in the fight against the virus as new variants emerged and a lopsided vaccine rollout so far — favoring rich countries.
San Francisco sues its own school district to reopen classes
The city of San Francisco took a dramatic step Wednesday in its effort to get children back into public school classrooms, suing its own school district to try to force open the doors amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The lawsuit was the first of its kind in California and possibly the country, as school systems come under increasing pressure from parents and politicians to end virtual learning. Teachers unions in many large school districts, including San Francisco, say they won’t go back to classrooms until they are vaccinated.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera, with the backing of Mayor London Breed, announced he had sued the San Francisco Board of Education and the San Francisco Unified School District in a statement.
The lawsuit says school administrators are violating a state requirement that districts adopt a clear plan during the pandemic “to offer classroom-based instruction whenever possible.” The state says the plan has to be in place, particularly for students who have experienced significant learning loss due to school closures.
Fauci warns against Super Bowl parties to avoid virus spread
The nation’s top infectious disease expert doesn’t want the Super Bowl to turn into a super spreader.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, says when it comes to Super Bowl parties during the pandemic, people should “just lay low and cool it.”
He said during TV interviews Wednesday that now isn’t the time to invite people over for watch parties because of the possibility that they’re infected with the coronavirus and could sicken others.
Big events like Sunday’s game in Tampa, Florida, between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are always a cause for concern over the potential for virus spread, Fauci said.
Hard-hit Czech Republic reaches 1 million confirmed cases
The Czech Republic has reached 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases, health authorities said Wednesday.
The battle against the pandemic is far from over in the hard-hit European Union country, which hopes to learn from previous mistakes that repeatedly allowed soaring infections to almost bring down the struggling health system.
The Czech Republic is by far the smallest of the 21 countries to surpass the milestone, with the U.S. leading the global table with more than 26 million confirmed cases.
Political storms swirl around California’s Newsom amid virus
In the year since California saw its first coronavirus case, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has gone from a governor in command to one lurching from one political crisis to the next.
Just in recent weeks, he drew surprise and pushback for abruptly lifting stay-at-home orders; he overhauled the state’s vaccine system as California lags behind smaller states in getting shots out; his effort to reopen schools foundered; and state audits revealed missteps that contributed to at least $10 billion in unemployment fraud.
It all provided fresh fodder for a recall petition that’s circulating — started by Republicans before the pandemic.
Newsom’s slide from the early days of the pandemic points to the pain facing leaders, particularly Democrats who avoided early political backlash, as virus fatigue takes hold, vaccines remain elusive and voters stop blaming the Trump administration for their trouble.
Wu-Tang Clan or Wuhan? T-shirt ignites new China-Canada tiff
China has made a formal complaint to Canada over T-shirts ordered by a Canadian Embassy staffer in Beijing that allegedly mocked China’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, in an apparent mix-up between the city of Wuhan and the hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters Tuesday that China called on Canada to “thoroughly investigate the incident and give China a clear explanation.”
The incident arose after a T-shirt maker posted on the Chinese internet that a staff member from the Canadian Embassy had ordered T-shirts with a bat print. That appeared to reference allegations that the virus originated in bats and then spread to people in the city of Wuhan, where illnesses were first reported in late 2019.
But Canadian media reported the logo was a W in homage to the New York hip-hop group the Wu-Tang Clan and that Ottawa had apologized for any misunderstanding.
China’s government is extremely sensitive to accusations it was the source of the pandemic and failed to respond quickly enough when cases were first reported in Wuhan.
AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine drastically cuts virus transmission, new study finds
The vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca not only protects people from serious illness and death but also substantially slows the transmission of the virus, according to a new study — a finding that underscores the importance of mass vaccination as a path out of the pandemic.
The study by researchers at the University of Oxford is the first to document evidence that any coronavirus vaccine can reduce transmission of the virus.
Researchers measured the impact on transmission by swabbing participants every week seeking to detect signs of the virus. If there is no virus present, even if someone is infected, it cannot be spread. And they found a 67% reduction in positive swabs among those vaccinated.
The results, detailed by Oxford and AstraZeneca researchers in a manuscript that has not been peer-reviewed, found that the vaccine could cut transmission by nearly two-thirds.
Dolly Parton gave $1 million for coronavirus research but is waiting her turn for the vaccine
Country singing legend Dolly Parton donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University for coronavirus research, but isn't going to get her vaccine until others have had their chance, she said in an interview with The Associated Press.
"I don’t want it to look like I’m jumping the line just because I donated money. I’m very funny about that," she said.
She said she could have gotten the vaccine last week because she's 75, but didn't want to look like she was "just doing a show."
She said she will get the vaccine, though, and will do it publicly if that would encourage public trust.
GSK, CureVac to make COVID-19 vaccines aimed at new variants
Drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline said Wednesday it will work with a German biopharmaceutical company to develop new vaccines targeting emerging variants of COVID-19 amid concerns that some mutations are making the virus harder to combat.
GSK plans to invest 150 million euros ($181 million) to support the research of the Tubingen, Germany-based CureVac, which is developing vaccines that use messenger RNA to attack the disease. GSK also said it will help make up to 100 million doses of the company’s existing COVID-19 vaccine candidate this year.
“The increase in emerging variants with the potential to reduce the efficacy of first generation COVID-19 vaccines requires acceleration of efforts to develop vaccines against new variants to keep one step ahead of the pandemic,’’ the companies said in a statement.
The announcement comes as public health officials around the world raise concerns about new virus variants that are more contagious or resistant to existing vaccines. While viruses mutate constantly, most of the changes cause little concern. But scientists are closely tracking these mutations to make sure they quickly identify variants of concern.
UK says new study vindicates delaying 2nd virus vaccine shot
Britain’s health chief has hailed a new study suggesting that a single dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine provides a high level of protection for 12 weeks, saying it supports the government’s contentious strategy of delaying the second shot so it can protect more people quickly with a first dose.
Britain’s decision has been criticized as risky by other European countries, but Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Wednesday that the study “backs the strategy that we’ve taken and it shows the world that the Oxford vaccine works effectively.”
Hancock’s comments came after Oxford University released a study showing the vaccine cut transmission of the virus by two-thirds and prevented severe disease.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
• On the front lines of vaccine favoritism in Seattle: Vaccine line-jumping has become a hushed sort of sport around here, columnist Danny Westneat writes, and the state's haphazard honor-code system isn't helping. Across the nation, even in poorer neighborhoods, the wealthy are flooding vaccine centers.
• Vaccine supplies could soon get a big boost thanks to a flurry of developments, including one maker's simple idea and a deal to send doses to more retail pharmacies. Here's what to expect and how to find a vaccine in the Seattle area when it's your turn.
• A worrisome mutation that appears to limit vaccines' protection has appeared in the U.K., where infectious-disease experts have nicknamed it "Eeek." The new variants have drugmakers scrambling to create next-generation vaccines.
• No, COVID-19 vaccines don't cause infertility, as social media posts are claiming. Vaccine experts are busting the myth.
• Obituary: Capt. Sir Tom Moore, the centenarian hero who raised $45 million for British health workers and cheered up people around the world by shuffling laps across his garden with a walker last year, has died of COVID-19. The last year of his life "was nothing short of remarkable," the Moore family wrote. "He … experienced things he'd only ever dreamed of."
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