Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, February 5, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
COVID-19 deaths reported in the U.S. hit 900,000 on Friday, a tragic milestone that’s greater than the population of San Francisco or Indianapolis.
Most deaths occurred after officials authorized the vaccine. At the same time, misinformation and politicized remarks about the vaccine and the virus stalled substantial progress in vaccinating people in many regions across the country and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that wearing a surgical mask in indoor public spaces reduces the chances of contracting and testing positive for COVID-19 by 66%. The agency also said that N95 and KN95 masks were even more effective cutting the odds of infection by 83%.
We’re updating this page with the latest news about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the Seattle area, the U.S. and the world. Click here to see the rest of our coronavirus coverage and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington.
COVID-19 robs Olympic curlers of beloved social culture
SYDNEY — There is a photograph from the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics that captured curling fans’ hearts worldwide. In it, Canadian curler John Morris and American rival Matt Hamilton sit side by side, arms draped around each others’ shoulders, grinning faces inches apart, beer cans mid-clink.
It was a moment that perfectly captured the spirit of curling, a sport best known for its sweeping but perhaps best loved for its socializing. Yet it is a moment that will likely be impossible to repeat in the socially distanced world of the Beijing Games.
“One of the things I love about curling is being able to curl against my friends and then enjoy a weekend or a week around them, as well as playing cards and having a beer,” said Morris, who won the gold medal in mixed doubles in Pyeongchang and is hoping to do the same in Beijing. “That’s the best part of curling. On the ice is great, and that accomplishes my competitive drive, but the actual going to cool places, playing with and against your friends — that’s been really hard.”
Of all of COVID-19’s cruelties, the necessity of distance has caused particular angst throughout the curling community. This is a sport built around closeness, from the pre-game handshakes between opponents, to the post-game drinking sessions, in which the winners typically buy the losers a round. That tradition, dubbed “broomstacking” for the original practice of opponents stacking their brooms in front of a fire after a game and sharing a drink, all but vanished after the coronavirus emerged.
DC bar closed after defying vaccination rule has new life as conservative rallying point
Days before the first phase of Washington, D.C.’s, vaccination entry requirement went into effect Jan. 15, The Big Board, a family-owned bar in the popular H Street Corridor, tweeted that it would “always” be open to everyone.
The Big Board’s owners kept their promise, at a high cost. This past week, the bar, a mile from the U.S. Capitol, was shut down after refusing to abide by Mayor Muriel Bowser’s order to check that patrons older than 12 had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
But the bar already seems to have another life, at least in conservative circles.
After a city health inspector posted a closure notice on The Big Board’s door Tuesday saying that the bar “presents an imminent health hazard to the public,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., dined at the bar with staffers, according to the Washington Examiner and the Daily Caller, two conservative news outlets. But since then, the bar has remained closed to the public.
Paul has introduced a bill before Congress to overturn Washington’s vaccination requirements. He also previously claimed that “masks don’t work,” despite the consensus among public health officials that they do limit the spread of the virus. A California study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this past week also showed that consistent use of high-quality masks offers strong protection to wearers. Read the full story here.
Protests against COVID-19 measures spread across Canada
OTTAWA, Ontario — Protesters opposed to vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions held rallies in cities across Canada on Saturday in a show of solidarity with a weeklong demonstration in the national capital.
Officials in Ottawa and numerous provincial capitals worked to ensure that escalating protests against pandemic-related public health measures remained peaceful Saturday.
By midday Saturday in Ottawa, thousands of demonstrators mingled near open fires on the snow-plastered lawn in front Parliament Hill. Participants roasted hot dogs and doled out baked goods under tarps, while two men on horseback traipsed through the town, one carrying a flag in support of former U.S. president Donald Trump.
The “freedom truck convoy” has attracted support from Trump and other Republicans.
In Toronto, several hundred protesters gathered on the south side of the Ontario legislature, chanting “liberte″ overtop reggae issuing from loudspeakers and sporting signs that stated, “Freedom”
Nearby, a couple hundred health-care workers and supporters marched from the University of Toronto to hospital row just south of the legislature. They held placards reading, “free-dumb” and “N95 masks for all.”
Toronto police set up road blocks throughout downtown, preventing any protesters in trucks or cars from getting near the provincial legislature which is near where five major hospitals are located.
Demonstrators also gathered in Quebec City, Fredericton and Winnipeg, with rallies also planned for Regina, Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria and the U.S. border crossing in Coutts, Alta. Read the full story here.
Despite omicron surge, businesses desperate to find and keep workers
Omicron was supposed to wreak havoc on the labor market. But it didn’t.
The jump in January hiring has underscored the economy’s growing capacity to weather renewed waves of surging coronavirus cases, suggesting a tight job market is forcing companies to retain workers now that hiring new ones has become costlier and more difficult.
Unlike previous waves of the virus, when businesses were quick to pause operations and lay off workers, many are now going to greater lengths to hang on to their employees. Overall, U.S. employers added 467,000 jobs in January, with much of those gains concentrated in hotels, restaurants, retailers and other services. Read the full story here.
School lunch rules updated to help ease pandemic disruptions
Low-fat chocolate milk instead of only non-fat. Fewer whole-grain offerings. Less severe salt limits.
The Biden administration issued transitional standards for school lunches Friday that are meant to ease the path for cafeterias to get back on a more healthful course as they recover from pandemic and supply chain disruptions.
Schools have struggled to meet the government’s nutrition benchmarks through the pandemic but have not been punished for falling short. The “bridge” rule announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture extends emergency flexibilities for the next two school years as schools gradually transition back to normal. Read the full story here.
Illinois judge blocks school mask mandate, state to appeal
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — A central Illinois judge has issued a temporary restraining order that prevents school districts statewide from requiring students to wear masks in classrooms, saying Gov. J.B. Pritzker overstepped his legal authority with a mask mandate that has angered many parents and teachers alike.
In a ruling issued Friday in response to a lawsuit filed by a group of parents and teachers, Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow also determined that several more of Pritzker’s emergency orders to combat the spread of COVID-19, including one issued last year that mandates vaccinations for school employees, are “null and void.” Read the full story here.
Turkey’s Erdogan says he tested positive for COVID-19
ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has tested positive for COVID-19, he tweeted Saturday.
“Today my wife and I tested positive for COVID-19 with mild symptoms. Thankfully, we’re experiencing slight symptoms that we have learned is the omicron variant,” he wrote. “We are on duty. We will continue to work at home. We look forward to your prayers.”
Erdogan, 67, sent the message after appearing via videolink at a tunnel-opening ceremony from Istanbul, having canceled his appearance in person. Read the full story here.
Alaska’s plateauing trend continues with another 3,830 COVID-19 cases reported over 2 days
Alaska’s surge in COVID-19 cases may be plateauing, but the next week and a half will determine whether that trend continues after weeks of pandemic-high case counts, the state’s top health official said this week.
“Here in Alaska, you can see that we’re starting to maybe plateau-ish,” Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, told reporters Thursday while she pointed to a graph of new cases in the state. Cases are not rising sharply the way they have for the past few weeks as the highly contagious omicron variant fueled the current virus surge.
Oregon touted 6 million rapid test kits to fight omicron. It’s distributed less than 1.4 million.
The Oregon Health Authority has distributed less than 1.4 million rapid COVID-19 test kits from the 6 million ordered in December, missing its window to provide widespread access during the peak of the omicron wave.
State officials touted the order as a critical step to identify infections from the highly contagious variant and said they expected to have all test kits in Oregon by early February, if not the end of January.
Oregon’s test kits are separate from the federal initiative that mails tests to residents nationwide. The state planned to distribute its test kits — which contain two tests each, for a total of 12 million tests — for health care workers, schools, farmworkers, county public health agencies, homeless shelters and community groups.
But as of Wednesday, the state had received just 3.6 million kits. Read the full story here.
Demographic shift: White Californians accounted for more COVID deaths in 2021
Last year, as the vaccines against COVID-19 rolled out to the public, a startling demographic shift went completely unnoticed in California, according to new research from Stanford University and the University of California: More than a third of middle-age Californians who died from the respiratory disease were white, a greater share than for any other racial or ethnic group in that age range.
“The dominant narrative in the media at the time was about how much success vaccination was having with creating large declines in overall mortality, but this research shows that it’s also important to pay close attention to proportional changes within racial and ethnic groups,” said Alicia Riley, an assistant professor of sociology at UC Santa Cruz and one of the leaders of the research.
By July 2021, middle-aged whites represented 36% of the people in their age range who died from COVID-19, Riley said, a figure virtually equal to the overall percentage of whites in the state population. Read the full story here.
Younger Americans benefited less from booster shots than older people
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday night published new data on the risks of hospitalization and death from COVID-19 among people who are unvaccinated and vaccinated, with or without booster doses.
The agency recommends booster shots for Americans 12 and older. This is the first comprehensive data on the effectiveness of boosters by age in the United States.
The figures confirm that booster doses are most beneficial to older adults, as the CDC has previously reported. But the new numbers for younger Americans were less compelling. Read full story here.
Little of the Paycheck Protection Program’s $800 billion protected paychecks
Hanging over the $800 billion Paycheck Protection Program, one of the government’s most expensive pandemic relief efforts, is a simple question.
Did it work?
New research, drawing on millions of wage and payroll records, suggests a complicated answer: Yes, but at an extraordinarily high cost.
Pandemic’s culture war rolls on, ignoring WA state trooper’s death
In the week since a Washington state trooper died after a battle with COVID-19, I’d been wondering whether those who’d lionized him for refusing to take the vaccine might engage in a little introspection.
Maybe some doubts would get expressed. Some regret? Or at least some pause to reflect on how two years in, COVID remains a terrible scourge.
There was none. Read the full column here.
Ottawa braces for ‘increasingly dangerous’ COVID mandate protests as ‘Freedom Convoy’ blockades leave city on edge
OTTAWA – Canada’s capital on Saturday was bracing for a surge of demonstrators to join a week-long protest against public health measures and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that has blockaded much of the downtown core, unnerved residents and been described by officials as an “occupation” and a “siege.”
Local police said Friday that they expected as many as 400 additional trucks and up to 2,000 people to join the self-described “Freedom Convoy” over the weekend. They said that some 1,000 people could also be planning a counterprotest.
Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly, under fire for what critics have called a lenient response to the blockades, said police would be “hardening” the perimeter around the protests and deploying 150 more officers to “deliver a clear message” that “the lawlessness must end.” Read the full story here.
UW, WA hospital association say Texas company sold them $4 million in fake masks
The Washington State Hospital Association and the University of Washington are suing a Texas company for allegedly selling them millions of dollars’ worth of counterfeit N95 masks early in the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a lawsuit filed Thursday in King County Superior Court, the first year of the pandemic left hospitals and health care organizations scrambling to get their hands on enough personal protective equipment for staffers, including medical masks, gowns and gloves that had fallen into short supply at a critical time.
In fall 2020, the hospital association and UW Medicine learned that a Dallas company called CJFS Corp. was selling 3M-brand N95 masks, the complaint says. WSHA bought about 600 cases of 3M’s 1860-model N95 masks for $1.4 million, while UW Medicine bought about 4,700 cases of 1860-model and 1860S-model N95 masks for $2.6 million, according to the complaint. Read the full story here.
CDC plans to let people with weakened immune systems get a booster earlier
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is planning to update its guidance for some people with weakened immune systems to receive a booster dose of the coronavirus vaccine three months after completing the initial series of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine rather than at the current interval of five months.
Agency officials presented the anticipated changes Friday during a meeting of the CDC’s outside vaccine experts on the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. The updated guidance is expected to be released Monday.
Recommendations for some immunocompromised people are already different from guidance for the general population, because those with frail immune systems are at increased risk for severe COVID-19 complications and more likely to be infected even after they are fully vaccinated. Once infected, they can also potentially harbor mutations that could lead to more virulent new variants, experts say.
CDC recommends people with weak immune systems receive three primary shots plus a booster for a total of four doses. Read the full story here.
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