Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, Feb. 4, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday encouraged Democratic lawmakers to “act fast” on his $1.9 trillion COVID rescue plan but also signaled he’s open to changes in the first test of the administration’s ability to work with Congress to deliver.

Meanwhile, Americans are looking toward the weekend in anticipation of Super Bowl Sunday, though Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said Wednesday that he’s concerned that watch parties could turn into super-spreader events.

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.

Gov. Jay Inslee will hold a press conference at 2:30 p.m. today to discuss the 2021 legislative session and the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Watch here:

(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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Turkey Uighurs fear sellout to China in exchange for vaccine

BEIJING — Abdullah Metseydi, a Uighur in Turkey, was readying for bed last month when he heard commotion, then pounding on the door. “Police! Open the door!”

A dozen or more officers poured in, many bearing guns and wearing the camouflage of Turkey’s anti-terror force. They asked if Metseydi had participated in any movements against China and threatened to deport him and his wife. They took him to a deportation facility, where he now sits at the center of a brewing political controversy.

Opposition legislators in Turkey are accusing Ankara’s leaders of secretly selling out Uighurs to China in exchange for coronavirus vaccines. Tens of millions of vials of promised Chinese vaccines have not yet been delivered. Meanwhile, in recent months, Turkish police have raided and detained around 50 Uighurs in deportation centers, lawyers say — a sharp uptick from last year. 

Although no hard evidence has yet emerged for a quid pro quo, these legislators and the Uighurs fear that Beijing is using the vaccines as leverage to win passage of an extradition treaty.

—Associated Press
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Anti-vaccine rabbi dismissed by Jewish organization

BOSTON — A prominent Jewish organization is cutting ties with a longtime Massachusetts rabbi for actively promoting anti-vaccine views and strident opposition to public health efforts to rein in the coronavirus pandemic. 

Central Massachusetts Chabad said Thursday it dismissed Rabbi Michoel Green as a representative of the organization, which oversees Jewish community centers in the region, on Jan. 27.

Green has run the Chabad house in Westborough, which is a suburb of Worcester, New England’s second-largest city, for nearly 20 years.

Rabbi Mendel Fogelman, director of the Central Massachusetts Chabad, said in a statement that Green has been warned multiple times that his activities, statements and other personal pursuits are “contrary to the organization’s mission” of providing meaningful ways for Jews to learn about and celebrate their heritage. 

In a lengthy statement to supporters Thursday, Green called the decision “ill-advised” and expected it would be reversed.

—Associated Press

2 nurses: Her mom battled 1918 pandemic, she fights this one

Nurse practitioner Sigrid Stokes, 76, holds a photograph of her mother talking to Shirley Temple, at the Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital in Salinas, Calif., Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. Stokes is following in her family’s footsteps during the pandemic. In 1918, Stokes’ mother Kristine Berg Mueller was a 14-year-old hospital volunteer in Norway during the Spanish Flu pandemic, putting her in regular contact with the deadly disease. (AP Photo/Haven Daley)
Nurse practitioner Sigrid Stokes, 76, holds a photograph of her mother talking to Shirley Temple, at the Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital in Salinas, Calif., Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. Stokes is following in her family’s footsteps during the pandemic. In 1918, Stokes’ mother Kristine Berg Mueller was a 14-year-old hospital volunteer in Norway during the Spanish Flu pandemic, putting her in regular contact with the deadly disease. (AP Photo/Haven Daley)

SALINAS, Calif. — She’s 76 years old but nurse practitioner Sigrid Stokes is in no mood to retire. 

Stokes is too busy working to save lives during a deadly pandemic, just as her mother did more than a century ago. 

While the late Kristine Berg Mueller tended to those stricken by the deadly flu pandemic that swept around the world in 1918, Stokes is giving vaccinations to health care workers battling the coronavirus. 

Mueller was a 14-year-old student in her native Norway when the flu pandemic hit. It eventually killed an estimated 50 million people, including some 675,000 in the United States, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

Decades after the flu pandemic passed, Stokes’ mother would tell her that was what had inspired her to become a nurse. Among the many photos of her mother, Stokes has one that she displays proudly of her in her uniform talking to child star Shirley Temple as both smile broadly. 

It’s that same sense of joy at helping people that Stokes, her white hair framed by purple-tinted bangs and black-framed glasses, brings to her own work. 

Read the full story here.

—Associated Press

Rested or rusted? Analytics have helped WSU men’s basketball gauge performance following COVID-19 layoffs

Most of the time, the advanced analytics used by Washington State’s coaching staff measure how a basketball team performs when it’s on the court, finding value in various aspects of the game that tend to go underappreciated by others.

In some cases, though, the Cougars can gauge how teams fare when they’ve been away from the floor.

Those findings could come in handy this week as WSU travels to Oregon, preparing to face the Ducks, who have been impacted by COVID-19 interruptions more than any team in the Pac-12 Conference this season.

Dana Altman’s team has played once since Jan. 9 and will have gone 12 days without playing when Thursday’s game (tentatively) tips off at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene. Although Oregon’s been on COVID-19 hiatus for the better part of the past month, it appears likely the Ducks will return to the floor on Thursday.

Read the full story here.

—The Spokesman-Review
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Banning pets from bill hearings? All in favor say meow.

In this Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2020, image, members of New Hampshire’s House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee participate in a livestream video meeting. After her cat, Yoshi, showed up on screen, at left on second row from the top, Rep. Anita Burroughs, a Democrat from Glen, said she was told lawmakers are no longer allowed to have pets in the room during such meetings. (State of New Hampshire via AP)
In this Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2020, image, members of New Hampshire’s House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee participate in a livestream video meeting. After her cat, Yoshi, showed up on screen, at left on second row from the top, Rep. Anita Burroughs, a Democrat from Glen, said she was told lawmakers are no longer allowed to have pets in the room during such meetings. (State of New Hampshire via AP)

CONCORD, N.H. — Politically active pets are out of luck in New Hampshire, where some lawmakers say they have been told to keep their cats and dogs out of the room when they log on for remote hearings.

Rep. Anita Burroughs, a Democrat from Glen, said her cats, Yoshi and Jack, have made appearances during several recent House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee hearings — including Wednesday, when Yoshi’s fluffy black-and-white face partially obscured her own as he moved in for some attention. No one objected at the time, but a colleague later passed along a message from the committee chair, Republican Rep. John Hunt of Rindge.

Hunt, however, denied issuing a ban.

Lawmakers have been conducting much of their business remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic. The House speaker’s office did not respond to a request for comment on whether other committees have prohibited pets.

—Associated Press

Desperation grows as Mexico runs out of vaccines

A life-size cutout of Deputy Health Secretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell is displayed on the patio of an outdoor restaurant in Mexico City, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. The city government has eased restrictions amid the COVID-19 “red alert” shutdown, allowing eateries to serve diners in socially distanced, preferably outdoor spaces. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
A life-size cutout of Deputy Health Secretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell is displayed on the patio of an outdoor restaurant in Mexico City, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. The city government has eased restrictions amid the COVID-19 “red alert” shutdown, allowing eateries to serve diners in socially distanced, preferably outdoor spaces. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

MEXICO CITY — Desperation mounted in Mexico Thursday as the country runs out of coronavirus vaccines, a government registration website crashed for a third straight day and restaurant workers protested virus restrictions they say are driving them into poverty. 

Hundreds of cooks, waiters and other restaurant employees gathered at Mexico City’s Revolution Monument in their uniforms Thursday, banging cooking pots and chanting “Either we open, or we die!”

The city — where hospitals are over 80% full — allows only take-out service, with open air-dining allowed at some restaurants that have outside space. But employees say that business isn’t enough to keep them going.

The country posted a near-record daily death toll of 1,682 Thursday, bringing the total to 162,922. Authorities also announced that about five cases of the U.K. variant had been found in Mexico, some apparently through local transmission.

Read the full story here.

—Associated Press

Merkel says Germany past ‘crest of 2nd wave,’ urges patience

BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that Germany is over the peak of its latest surge in coronavirus cases but she wants to wait for data on the spread of new variants before deciding on lifting restrictions.

In an interview with German broadcaster RTL, Merkel said she warned months ago that the country faced a hard winter.

“And still we can say, the crest of the second wave has been passed,” she said, adding that Germans need to “hold out a little longer” until vaccinations start having an effect on hospitalizations and the number of older people becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.

“I can see a light shining at the end of the tunnel,” Merkel said. However, the chancellor also cautioned against “false hopes.” 

As Germany nears 60,000 confirmed deaths in the pandemic, Merkel said she wanted to wait for fresh data on the prevalence of new coronavirus variants in the country before deciding whether to discuss easing restrictions at a meeting with state governors Wednesday.

—Associated Press
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Restaurant’s liquor license suspended over COVID-19 rules

CANBY, Ore. — Route 99 Roadhouse south of Portland in Canby has had its liquor license suspended for “not following public health social distancing and face covering requirements,” according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. 

Commission officials said in a news release that enforcement staff spoke with Route 99′s licensee in its “education first” approach, then visited after receiving complaints that the bar and restaurant was not following public health requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

Indoor dining is currently prohibited in Clackamas County, currently one of Oregon’s “extreme risk” counties for COVID-19 spread.

Route 99′s license was suspended on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the restaurant said on Facebook it would be “closed for a few weeks” and that renovations would be done in that time.

—Associated Press

COVID-19 vaccine equity group to meet secretly again

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon’s coronavirus vaccine equity group is meeting in secret Thursday after a different closed-door session in which some members questioned how health officials will put the group’s recommendations into practice.

State health officials created the Vaccine Advisory Committee to help decide who should be inoculated next against the coronavirus after health care workers, senior care residents and workers, teachers and seniors.

The group’s meetings were public until this week, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. State officials say the committee finished its official work last Thursday, sending recommendations to the Oregon Health Authority, and the latest sessions are not subject to public meetings law.

State officials said Tuesday’s meeting would be to “discuss implementation issues” but later changed the agenda to list only “debrief and evaluation.” The group on Tuesday discussed vaccine access, information access and the need to combat disinformation

—Associated Press

Gov. Inslee touts vaccine progress and defends criticism from Democratic lawmakers on his reopening plan

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee talks to reporters, Tuesday during a visit to Elk Ridge Elementary School in Buckley, Wash.  Inslee said Thursday that the state has given 770,000 COVID-19 vaccinations. (Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press)
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee talks to reporters, Tuesday during a visit to Elk Ridge Elementary School in Buckley, Wash. Inslee said Thursday that the state has given 770,000 COVID-19 vaccinations. (Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press)

Washington has now administered 770,000 vaccine doses for the new coronavirus, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday, and the state is ready to give many more shots once the federal government can deliver more supplies. The city of Seattle is making plans to do the same.

In a news conference, Inslee said Washington is now averaging about 28,000 vaccinations per day, nearly double the average of two weeks ago.

“We are capable of meeting our goal today, we can easily do 45,000 vaccinations today,” said Inslee. “We have the vaccinators, we have the logistics, we have the pop-up tents, we have the hospitals … it’s just that we’ve got to have the vaccines.”

The governor Thursday also defended his latest reopening plan after criticism — including from some Democratic officials — on the state’s new approach, which is based on regions rather than on counties.

Read the full story here.

—Joseph O’Sullivan and David Gutman
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No. 2 Baylor on pause again because of COVID-19 protocols

No. 2 Baylor has had its season interrupted again because of COVID-19 protocols, with the Big 12 Conference postponing the Bears’ next two scheduled games. 

The Big 12 announced the postponements on Thursday. The Bears, who at 17-0 have matched the best start in school history, were supposed to host TCU on Saturday and play at No. 9 Oklahoma next Wednesday.

Neither the conference or Baylor provided specifics, saying only that the postponements were in accordance with the league’s interruption guidelines for men’s basketball.

That would indicate that the Bears wouldn’t have the required six scholarship players for the games, either because of positive tests or contact tracing. Their next scheduled game is now at home Feb. 13 against No. 13 Texas Tech.

—Associated Press

Seattle cruise season in doubt after Canada extends COVID-19 related ban through early 2022

A cruise ship dwarfs a pleasure boat, as well as some of the Seattle skyline, in this view from Alki Beach. Cruise ships normally bound for Alaska via Canada will have to wait longer to sail.  (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)
A cruise ship dwarfs a pleasure boat, as well as some of the Seattle skyline, in this view from Alki Beach. Cruise ships normally bound for Alaska via Canada will have to wait longer to sail. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

Seattle’s 2021 cruise season was in question after Canadian authorities on Thursday extended a COVID-19-related ban on cruise ships with 100 or more passengers in “all Canadian waters” through February 2022. 

Passage through Canadian waters is key for much of the Seattle-based cruise business, which has been largely on hold since last spring due to U.S. and Canadian restrictions.

In November, Transport Canada extended its ban on most cruise ships through Feb. 28, 2021. 

On Thursday, that was extended again.

Read the full story here.

—Paul Roberts

Coming soon: The ‘vaccine passport’

Among governments and those in the travel industry, a new term has entered the vocabulary: vaccine passport.

One of President Joe Biden’s executive orders aimed at curbing the pandemic asks government agencies to “assess the feasibility” of linking coronavirus vaccine certificates with other vaccination documents, and producing digital versions of them.

Denmark’s government said Wednesday that in the next three to four months, it will roll out a digital passport that will allow citizens to show they have been vaccinated.

It isn’t just governments that are suggesting vaccine passports. In a few weeks, Etihad Airways and Emirates will start using a digital travel pass, developed by the International Air Transport Association, to help passengers manage their travel plans and provide airlines and governments documentation that they have been vaccinated or tested for COVID-19.

Read the full story here.

—Tariro Mzezewa, The New York Times
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State confirms 1,624 new coronavirus cases and 28 new deaths

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,624 new coronavirus cases and 28 new deaths on Wednesday.

The update brings the state's totals to 317,878 cases and 4,416 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. Wednesday.

In addition, 18,071 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 84 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 79,340 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,268 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.

—Nicole Brodeur

J&J asks US regulators to OK its one-shot COVID-19 vaccine

This July 2020 photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows a vial of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine. On Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, Johnson & Johnson has asked U.S. regulators to clear the world’s first single-dose COVID-19 vaccine, an easier-to-use option that could boost scarce supplies. (Johnson & Johnson via AP)
This July 2020 photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows a vial of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine. On Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, Johnson & Johnson has asked U.S. regulators to clear the world’s first single-dose COVID-19 vaccine, an easier-to-use option that could boost scarce supplies. (Johnson & Johnson via AP)

Johnson & Johnson asked U.S. regulators Thursday to clear the world’s first single-dose COVID-19 vaccine, an easier-to-use option that could boost scarce supplies.

J&J’s vaccine was safe and offered strong protection against moderate to severe COVID-19, according to preliminary results from a massive international study.

It didn’t appear quite as strong as two-dose competitors made by Pfizer and Moderna — a finding that may be more perception than reality, given differences in how each was tested.

But the Food and Drug Administration is asking its independent advisers to publicly debate all the data behind the single-dose shot — just like its competitors were put under the microscope — before it decides whether to green light a third vaccine option in the U.S.

Dr. Peter Marks, FDA’s vaccine chief, has cautioned against making comparisons before the evidence is all in.

Read the full story here.

—Lauran Neergaard, The Associated Press

Medical drone startup to begin COVID-19 vaccine delivery in April

Vials of Covishield, the local name for the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, move along a conveyor on the production line at the Serum Institute of India Ltd. Hadaspar plant in Pune, Maharashtra, India, on Jan. 22, 2021. (Bloomberg photo by Dhiraj Singh)
Vials of Covishield, the local name for the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, move along a conveyor on the production line at the Serum Institute of India Ltd. Hadaspar plant in Pune, Maharashtra, India, on Jan. 22, 2021. (Bloomberg photo by Dhiraj Singh)

Zipline Inc., a drone delivery service that specializes in medical supplies, announced Thursday that it plans to begin transporting COVID-19 vaccines in April.

The South San Francisco-based startup said in a release that it is partnering with “a leading manufacturer of covid-19 vaccines” in all of the markets where its drones currently operate. Zipline has been delivering medicine and supplies to rural clinics in Rwanda and Ghana since 2016 and, last year, began delivering personal protective equipment to hospitals and clinics in North Carolina. It plans to add operations in Nigeria later this year.

Zipline declined to specify its vaccine partner but said it has built a system that can deliver ultra-low temperature medical supplies, including “all leading covid-19 vaccines.” The vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech must be stored in extreme cold at temperatures of negative 70 degrees Celsius, requiring special freezers. Zipline plans to add these ultra cold refrigerators at all of its distribution centers.

Read the full story here.

—Ira Boudway, Bloomberg
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US virus deaths surpass 450K; daily toll is stubbornly high

FILE – In this Jan. 9, 2021, file photo, a hospital worker places a “COVID Patient” sticker on a body bag holding a deceased patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles. Coronavirus hospitalizations are falling across the United States, but deaths have remained stubbornly high. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File) NYAG401 NYAG401
FILE – In this Jan. 9, 2021, file photo, a hospital worker places a “COVID Patient” sticker on a body bag holding a deceased patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles. Coronavirus hospitalizations are falling across the United States, but deaths have remained stubbornly high. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File) NYAG401 NYAG401

Coronavirus deaths in the United States surpassed 450,000 on Thursday, and daily deaths remain stubbornly high at more than 3,000 a day, despite falling infections and the arrival of multiple vaccines.

Infectious disease specialists expect deaths to start dropping soon, after new cases hit a peak right around the beginning of the year. New COVID-19 deaths could ebb as early as next week, said the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But there’s also the risk that improving trends in infections and hospitalizations could be offset by people relaxing and coming together — including this Sunday, to watch football, she added.

“I’m worried about Super Bowl Sunday, quite honestly,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press.

Walensky said one reason cases and hospitalizations are not rising as dramatically as they were weeks ago is because the effect of holiday gatherings has faded.

The effect on deaths is delayed. The daily toll amounts to 50,000 new fatalities in the last two weeks alone.

Read the full story here.

—Amy Taxin, Michelle R. Smith, The Associated Press

U.K. landlords want banks to share pain of $5.5 billion debt

British businesses ravaged by the pandemic skipped more than $5.5 billion in rent last year. With the bill coming due, a battle over sharing the pain is heating up.

Landlords, acknowledging the damage wrought by almost a year of enforced closures and depleted foot traffic, are demanding lenders bear some burden as about one-fifth of commercial rent is behind. Regulators are urging banks to avoid taking a hard line. Retailers and restaurateurs, hammered by the deepest recession in three centuries, say the pile of debt isn’t their fault.

The debate about who ultimately pays for lockdowns is playing out globally.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Wisconsin governor issues new mask mandate after GOP repeal

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers issued a new statewide mask order on Thursday, an hour after the Republican-controlled Legislature voted to repeal his previous mandate saying he didn’t have authority to make such a decree.

The Democratic governor said in a video message that his priority is keeping people safe and that wearing a mask is the most basic way to do that.

“If the Legislature keeps playing politics and we don’t keep wearing masks, we’re going to see more preventable deaths, and it’s going to take even longer to get our state and our economy back on track,” Evers said.

The Assembly vote to repeal the mask order came a week after the Senate voted to kill the mandate. Republicans, who control both chambers, argued that Evers exceeded his authority by repeatedly extending the mask mandate without legislative approval. The repeal hadn’t even taken effect before Evers issued a new one.

Read the full story here.

—Scott Bauer, The Associated Press
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With boats, ferries, planes and snowmobiles, Alaska leads nation in vaccinating

An all-female medical crew from Alaska’s Maniilaq Health Center took a sled to deliver vaccine to the isolated village of Shungnak in December. (Katrina Bengaard).
An all-female medical crew from Alaska’s Maniilaq Health Center took a sled to deliver vaccine to the isolated village of Shungnak in December. (Katrina Bengaard).

Alaska, the state with the largest land mass in the nation, is leading the country in a critical coronavirus measure: per capita vaccinations.

About 13% of the people who live in Alaska have already gotten a shot. That’s higher than states such as West Virginia, which has received a lot of attention for a successful vaccine rollout and has inoculated 11% of its people.

But the challenge for Alaska has been how to get vaccines to people across difficult, frigid terrain — often in remote slivers of the state.

“Boats, ferries, planes, snowmobiles — Alaskans will find a way to get it there,” said the state’s chief medical officer, Anne Zink, 43.

Alaskans are being vaccinated on fishing boats, inside 10-seater planes and on frozen landing strips. Doctors and nurses are taking white-knuckle trips to towns and villages across the state to ensure residents are protected from the coronavirus.

Contributing to Alaska’s quick speed in getting the vaccine to its residents is a federal partnership that allows the state, which has more than 200 Indigenous tribes, to receive additional vaccines to distribute through the Indian Health Service.

Read the story here.

—Cathy Free, The Washington Post

German army medics arrive in Portugal to help fight pandemic

FILE – In this Jan. 22, 2021, file photo, more than a dozen ambulances queue waiting to hand over their COVID-19 patients to medics at the Santa Maria hospital in Lisbon. In its fight against COVID-19, Portugal lifted restrictions on gatherings and movements for four days over Christmas so that people could spend the festive season with family and friends. Soon after the holiday, the pandemic quickly got out of hand. (AP Photo/Armando Franca, File)
FILE – In this Jan. 22, 2021, file photo, more than a dozen ambulances queue waiting to hand over their COVID-19 patients to medics at the Santa Maria hospital in Lisbon. In its fight against COVID-19, Portugal lifted restrictions on gatherings and movements for four days over Christmas so that people could spend the festive season with family and friends. Soon after the holiday, the pandemic quickly got out of hand. (AP Photo/Armando Franca, File)

A German army medical team flew into Lisbon on Wednesday to help Portugal cope with a pandemic surge that has made it the world’s worst-hit country by size of population.

The eight doctors and 18 nurses arrived at the Figo Maduro military airport in the Portuguese capital aboard a Luftwaffe transport plane.

Portuguese Health Minister Marta Temido said the deployment addresses an acute problem in Portugal: a shortage of human resources in the public health system, which has been stretched to the limit after a January spike fueled by a fast-spreading COVID-19 variant first identified in England.

Almost 7,000 people are currently in hospital with the virus, with almost 900 in intensive care. Hospital wards and ICUs were on average at 94% of capacity at the start of this week, according to Portuguese health officials.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Florida police search for car stolen while carrying vaccine

Florida police are investigating after a car carrying $10,000 worth of COVID-19 vaccine was stolen while the driver stopped to ask for directions.

The Plant City Police Department said Thursday that it is searching for a man suspected of having stolen the vehicle with 30 vials inside that had parked near a vaccination site.

The police incident report says the gray Hyundai Accent had been left with the engine running and unlocked by a driver who worked for a contractor that had been providing vaccination scheduling and COVID-19 testing.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Nicaragua approves Russian COVID-19 vaccine

Nicaragua’s government said Wednesday that it had approved Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use.

It was the first vaccine approved in Nicaragua, which still awaits its first doses.

Nicaragua’s approval of Sputnik V follows Mexico’s on Tuesday. Argentina, Bolivia and Venezuela are among other left-leaning governments in the hemisphere that have approved the vaccine.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Chicago mayor demands, again, that teachers return to class

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot demanded Thursday that the city’s teacher’s union reach agreement on COVID-19 safety protocols by the end of the day and bring students back to the classroom, but did not say what she would do if that doesn’t happen.

Lightfoot said it is safe for children and teachers to return to schools after Chicago Public Schools spent roughly $100 million on its safety plan, including purchasing air purifiers, deep cleaning schools and offering COVID-19 testing for teachers.

But the union, which last went on strike in 2019, says infections continue and the safest option is online learning. They also argue few students are interested in returning. Less than 20% of pre-K and special education students eligible to return to class last month, or about 3,200 of 17,000, attended.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

‘Eye of the storm’: Diverse east London grapples with virus

Police officers speak to a busker as they patrol to enforce lockdown measures in the town centre of Ilford in London, Friday, Jan. 29, 2021. In parts of east London, the pandemic is hitting much harder than most places in the U.K. The borough of Redbridge had the nation’s second worst infection rate in January, with an estimated 1 in 15 residents thought to be infected. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Police officers speak to a busker as they patrol to enforce lockdown measures in the town centre of Ilford in London, Friday, Jan. 29, 2021. In parts of east London, the pandemic is hitting much harder than most places in the U.K. The borough of Redbridge had the nation’s second worst infection rate in January, with an estimated 1 in 15 residents thought to be infected. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Taxicab driver Gary Nerden knows colleagues who got seriously ill from COVID-19. He knows the area of east London where he lives and works has among the highest infection rates in the whole of England. But since he can’t afford not to work, he drives around picking up strangers for up to 12 hours a day, relying on a flimsy plastic screen to keep him safe.

“I’ve got people telling me they won’t wear a mask, saying they’re exempt,” said Nerden, 57. “I’ve got diabetes, I have to look after myself. I wipe the handles, the seat belt, after every customer, but that’s all I can do, really.”

Nerden and his wife, a hospital administrative worker, live in the outer London borough of Redbridge, which in mid-January had the country’s second-highest rate of residents testing positive for the coronavirus.

His dilemma is an example of why the virus has hit much harder in neighborhoods with large numbers of essential workers in public-facing jobs, dense housing and high levels of poverty.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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US rushes to catch up in the race to detect mutant viruses

Despite its world-class medical system and its vaunted Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. fell behind in the race to detect dangerous coronavirus mutations. And it’s only now beginning to catch up.

The problem has not been a shortage of technology or expertise. Rather, scientists say, it’s an absence of national leadership and coordination, plus a lack of funding and supplies for overburdened laboratories trying to juggle diagnostic testing with the hunt for genetic changes.

Viruses mutate constantly. To stay ahead of the threat, scientists analyze samples, watching closely for mutations that might make the coronavirus more infectious or more deadly.

But such testing has been scattershot.

Less than 1% of positive specimens in the U.S. are being sequenced to determine whether they have worrisome mutations. Other countries do better — Britain sequences about 10% — meaning they can more quickly see threats coming at them. That gives them greater opportunity to slow or stop the problem, whether through more targeted contact tracing, possible adjustments to the vaccine, or public warnings.

CDC officials say variants have not driven recent surges in overall U.S. cases. But experts worry that what’s happening with variants is not clear and say the nation should have been more aggressive about sequencing earlier in the epidemic that has now killed over 450,000 Americans.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Kitsap County says regional approach unfair, asks to go back to county-by-county reopenings

Kitsap County wants to return to county-by-county COVID-19 rules and is asking Gov. Jay Inslee to reconsider the regional approach.

In a letter to Inslee this week, the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners said case rates are dropping in their county, but they can’t advance to Phase 2 because of what’s happening in their region's other counties.

The metric, which uses the decrease in cases and hospitalizations as a reopening criteria, is unfair to counties that have never had COVID-19 surges.

The regional approach "may inappropriately penalize the counties succeeding in combating the virus based on the condition of others," commissioners say in the letter.

As of this week, Kitsap County had reported a total of 5,176 cases and 71 deaths.

If the state retains the regional approach, the commissioners ask that Kitsap County be added to the Puget Sound region, which includes Snohomish, King and Pierce counties, instead of the Northwest region with Clallam, Jefferson and Mason counties.

Kitsap County has stronger economic and regional ties to King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, the commissioners said.

"Yet we have been grouped separately and are now left out of near-term reopening," they wrote. "This decision seems arbitrary and unfair to Kitsap's governments, citizens and businesses."

—Christine Clarridge

WHO team in Wuhan says discussions open, meetings frank

World Health Organization investigators looking for clues into the origin of the coronavirus in the central Chinese city of Wuhan said that the Chinese side has provided a high level of cooperation, but cautioned against expecting immediate results from the visit.

Zoologist and team member Peter Daszak praised Wednesday’s meetings with staff at the key Wuhan Institute of Virology, including with Deputy Director is Shi Zhengli, a virologist who worked with Daszak to track down the origins of SARS that originated in China and led to the 2003 outbreak.

“Extremely important meeting today with staff at WIV including Dr Shi Zhengli. Frank, open discussion. Key questions asked & answered.,” Daszak tweeted.

—The Associated Press
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Protect yourself from scammers: Don’t post your COVID-19 vaccine card online

Don’t post your vaccination card on social media, no matter how thrilled you are to be inoculated, the Better Business Bureau is warning.

The caution from the consumer protection nonprofit comes amid encouragement from health care providers and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to share personal vaccination news as a means to encourage others.

“Got your COVID-19 vaccine? Great job! But don’t share a photo of your vaccination card on social media. The self-identifying information on it makes you vulnerable to identity theft and can help scammers create phony versions,” the bureau said on its website last week.

Read the story here.

—Christine Clarridge

Trident Seafoods had one medical professional on duty at its massive Akutan plant when COVID-19 broke out

The urgent job posting from a company contracted to provide medical care at the Trident Seafoods plant in the tiny Alaska village of Akutan on a hard-to-reach island appealed to the wilderness lover:

“Are you interested in an Alaskan ADVENTURE? Seasonal positions available! If you are energetic, professional and would be interested in a remote setting, this assignment might be the spot for you!”

In reality, the job involved serving as the sole nurse practitioner for North America’s largest seafood processing facility, idled since mid-January amid a coronavirus outbreak that has infected nearly half its 700 workers. Trident officials say they had nothing to do with the ad.

As of Tuesday, 307 of the 706 workers from the Aleutian Islands plant had tested positive for COVID-19, Trident officials say. They declined to say how many required hospitalization as of this week. At least three infected employees needed medical evacuations last month.

An employee died at the plant last weekend, Trident confirmed Tuesday. No additional information was available.

Read the story here.

—Zaz Hollander, Anchorage Daily News

An airlift, 50 days in a Seattle hospital and an "incredible" COVID-19 recovery

Nastasia Xavier contracted the coronavirus in her small hometown in Alaska around the Thanksgiving holiday, and has been in hospitals in Alaska and Seattle ever since.   (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
Nastasia Xavier contracted the coronavirus in her small hometown in Alaska around the Thanksgiving holiday, and has been in hospitals in Alaska and Seattle ever since. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

Nastasia Xavier, a 33-year-old mother of two, fell ill in her small Alaska town in November. She was hospitalized the day after COVID-19 killed her brother, and soon her organs were failing.

Doctors put Xavier in a medically induced coma for weeks. When she finally opened her eyes on Jan. 7, she thought she was still in Alaska: “When they told me I was in Seattle, I was like, ‘Holy cow,'” she said, laughing. “I’ve never been to Seattle before.”

Today, she's finally leaving the hospital.

—Elise Takahama
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Catch up on the past 24 hours

Is any Super Bowl gathering safe? What if you’ve had the vaccine, or if it's outside? As Dr. Anthony Fauci warns Americans not to turn it into the Super Spreader Bowl, health experts are describing what choices they'd make and why.

Can you take painkillers before or after getting a vaccine? Some might interfere with the very thing the vaccine is trying to do. 

Trying to score vaccines for your parents can be a full-time job. Sons and daughters across the U.S. are skipping sleep, frantically clicking and scrolling at all hours, and all of that is for the first dose. Then there's the problem of finding another. Here's our updating guide to getting a vaccine in Washington state.

Teachers don’t need vaccines to open schools, the CDC's chief said yesterday as the Biden administration faces pressure from all sides on the issue.

“Imagine if we were in a war that had killed 400,000 Americans.” Lawrence Wright, Pulitzer-winning author of “The Plague Year,” is talking about the mistakes made in the battle against COVID-19 and what we can do to prevent another pandemic.

—Kris Higginson

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.