Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Tuesday, February 8, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Lawmakers in California passed a bill Monday requiring many companies to give employees up to two weeks of paid sick leave if they become ill with coronavirus, making it the fourth state to do so. Massachusetts, Colorado and New York have passed similar mandates.
The bill is retroactive to January 1, 2022, meaning that people who took time off without pay from then until the bill goes into effect are eligible for backpay.
Meanwhile, Canada’s public safety minister criticized U.S. officials saying they should stay out of Canadian domestic affairs after prominent Republicans offered support for protests against COVID-19 restrictions.
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.
Florida’s top doctor refuses to say if he’s vaccinated
Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo on Tuesday declined to disclose whether he has received a coronavirus vaccine during a contentious confirmation hearing where Democrats pressed the state’s top doctor to promote the shots.
Ladapo, appointed in September by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, has attracted national scrutiny over his close alignment with the governor in opposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other health policies embraced by the federal government.
On Tuesday, Democrats grew visibly frustrated with Ladapo, accusing him of evading questions and endangering public health through what they described as a laissez-faire approach to vaccines.
“It certainly seems like there has been a lot of questions about vaccines and there is some equivocation on your part. Is there a reason why you just can’t come out and say that you believe vaccines are a very important step for prevention,” asked Sen. Tina Polsky, a Democrat, pushing Ladapo to reveal his own vaccination status.
Florida surgeon general defends support of fringe group that touted false COVID ‘cure’
Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo defended his involvement Tuesday with a group of doctors that touted a false and unproven COVID-19 “cure” favored by former President Donald Trump.
Ladapo faced scrutiny from Democrats during his second confirmation hearing over his support of America’s Frontline Doctors, which held a controversial news conference in July 2020 in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building.
Questioning by the Senate’s Ethics and Elections Committee will resume Tuesday night. If it approves him, the full Senate will take up Ladapo’s nomination next.
Ladapo stood with other doctors in white coats at the event, which promoted zinc and the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 cure and blasted lockdowns and other COVID-19 restrictions.
Bill Gates writes book on how to make COVID-19 the last pandemic
Bill Gates, the billionaire philanthropist whose foundation has focused on efforts to fight the coronavirus, is planning a May 3 release of a book on how to ensure that the COVID-19 pandemic is the last great global plague.
“Whenever I see the suffering that COVID has created — every time I read about the latest death toll or hear about someone who lost their job or drive by a school that is closed — I can’t help but think: We don’t have to do this again,” he wrote in a blog post announcing the publication of “How to Prevent the Next Pandemic.”
The book will cover lessons learned from the pandemic, as well as tools and innovations needed to save lives and stop pathogens early. It will discuss his views on vaccines and on what it has felt like to become the target of conspiracy theories.
In January 2021, the Microsoft Corp. co-founder outlined an ambitious plan to stop the next pandemic, calling for a global alert system, massive testing, a cadre of 3,000 “first responders” ready to spring into action and tens of billions of dollars of annual spending.
COVID hospitalizations now falling throughout WA
COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are falling throughout Washington state as the surge of the omicron variant subsides.
But in a Tuesday morning news briefing, Cassie Sauer, president of the Washington State Hospital Association, said the tail end of the omicron wave will likely persist for at least a few more weeks and hospital leaders remain worried about the recent wave’s lasting effects on their staffers and supply of equipment.
“Better does not mean it’s over. … We really don’t want people to rip off their masks or go to big parties quite yet — COVID activity remains a threat,” Sauer said.
In King County, public health officials are counting about 1,428 infections per day, about a 50% drop from the past seven days, and 30 hospitalizations per day, about a 33% drop since the prior week.
Mask orders easing across U.S., from California to Connecticut
Connecticut will permit students and staff members to stop wearing masks in schools by no later than Feb. 28, after Gov. Ned Lamont recommended Monday that the statewide mask mandate end on that date.
His remarks came after a move by New Jersey officials earlier Monday to lift that state’s mask mandate for schools.
The governors of Delaware and Oregon also made announcements Monday about relaxing mask mandates at the end of March. And California officials said that state’s universal mask mandate for indoor public places would be lifted next week.
“Now is the time for us to say, the statewide mask mandate is no longer at our level,” Lamont said. “Each and every mayor, each and every superintendent can make that call themselves. I recommend the date Feb. 28.”
Texan pleads guilty to threatening Maryland vaccine advocate
A Texas man has pleaded guilty to threatening a Maryland doctor who has been a prominent advocate for COVID-19 vaccines, a federal prosecutor said.
Scott Eli Harris, 51, of Aubrey, Texas, pleaded guilty Monday to threats transmitted by interstate communication, U.S. Attorney for Maryland Erek L. Barron announced in a news release.
According to his plea agreement and statements made in connection with the plea hearing, Harris sent a threatening message from his cellphone to the doctor. Court documents identify the doctor only as “Dr. L. W., who had been a vocal proponent of the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Harris’ message included violent statements that included: “Never going to take your wonder drug. My 12 gauge promises I won’t. .… I can’t wait for the shooting to start.” Harris’ message also made reference to the doctor’s Asian American background and national origin.
Harris faces a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison at sentencing on April 21.
Denmark, overflowing with virus cases, embraces a ‘bring it on’ attitude
Aboard a ferry heading to Denmark’s second-largest city Friday, Allan Hjorth stood out. He was one of just a few passengers to wear a mask, while hundreds of others left their faces uncovered, enjoying the end of COVID-19 restrictions announced a few days earlier.
“The mere fact of wearing a mask makes people feel that something is wrong,” Hjorth said. He took his own off after a few seconds and added, “And we, in Denmark, want to believe that we are going back to normal.”
Nearly two years into the pandemic, “normal” looks like this in one of the world’s most prosperous nations: 5.8 million people live free of COVID restrictions, even though nearly 1% of them tested positive for the coronavirus in a single day last week. The country is reporting one of the world’s highest COVID-19 cases per capita, and hospitalizations have reached an all-time high.
But the government declared that as of Feb. 1, it would no longer consider COVID a “socially critical disease” and dropped all restrictions, including a mask mandate in closed spaces and on public transportation.
With the current surge of infections, it may seem counterintuitive to lift restrictions, but the country’s authorities say that deaths and hospitalizations are rising much more slowly than COVID cases and that the number of patients in intensive care units is at its lowest level in months.
Air Force approves 9 religious exemptions for COVID vaccine
The Air Force became the second military service to approve religious exemptions to the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine, granting requests from nine airmen to avoid the shots, officials said Tuesday.
The nine approved so far represent just a tiny fraction of the more than 6,400 requested by Air Force troops, and they come as other service members are challenging the lack of religious exemptions in court cases. The Marine Corps is the only other military service to grant any religious accommodations, allowing three so far. The Army and Navy have not approved any.
The services have come under criticism for their failure to grant religious exemptions, with members of Congress, the military and the public questioning if the review processes have been fair. All together, the services have received more than 14,000 requests for religious exemptions.
Military leaders have argued that religious exemptions to any of the many vaccines troops are required to get have been very rare over the years. Service members are required to get as many as 17 different vaccines, depending on where they deploy.
Anti-vax, pro-ivermectin measures advance in Kansas Senate
Fellow Republican conservatives rallied Tuesday behind a Kansas physician-legislator who’s under investigation by the state medical board, advancing his measures to protect doctors pursuing potentially dangerous treatments for COVID-19 and to weaken childhood vaccination requirements.
As a Senate health committee member, state Sen. Mark Steffen successfully pushed a proposal that would require pharmacists to fill prescriptions of the anti-worm medication ivermectin, the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and other drugs for off-label uses as COVID-19 treatments. Steffen is among the Republican-controlled Legislature’s biggest vaccine skeptics and a critic of how the federal government and Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly have handled the coronavirus pandemic.
Steffen also successfully persuaded the Republican-dominated committee to add a proposal to make it easy for parents to claim religious exemptions from vaccine requirements at schools and day cares. Kansas requires children to be vaccinated against more than a dozen diseases — including polio and measles.
The bill goes next to the Senate. The health committee’s actions showed that fringe anti-vaccine activists have gained significant influence with GOP lawmakers.
State Department of Health reopens its free COVID test website for the third time
The Washington state Department of Health has again reopened its website that allows residents to order free, at-home COVID-19 tests to their homes.
The website, sayyescovidhometest.org, has now reopened for the third time since its initial launch in January after restocking with another 1.45 million kits. The new shipment of tests should reach about another 290,000 households, DOH said Tuesday.
To date, the state has served about 470,000 households through the online ordering system, according to DOH.
The kits, which contain up to five tests, are expected to arrived within a few days of the order.
DOH warned on Tuesday that it will likely not have enough supplies to reach the entire state in the third launch, but that if it runs out, it'll reopen once it receives more kits.
COVID protest blocks major U.S.-Canada bridge, threatens border trade
Canadian lawmakers expressed increasing worry Tuesday about the economic effects of disruptive demonstrations after the busiest border crossing between the U.S. and Canada became partially blocked by truckers protesting vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions.
The blockade at the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, prevented traffic from entering Canada while some U.S.-bound traffic was still moving, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said, calling the bridge “one of the most important border crossings in the world.” It carries 25% of all trade between Canada and the United States.
Canadian Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said such blockades will have serious implications on the economy and supply chains. “I’ve already heard from automakers and food grocers. This is really a serious cause for concern,” he said in Ottawa, the capital.
Added Mendicino: “Most Canadians understand there is a difference between being tired and fatigued with the pandemic and crossing into some other universe.”
Speaking in an emergency debate late Monday in Parliament, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the protesters are “trying to blockade our economy, our democracy,” and it has to stop.
The daily demonstrations staged by the so-called Freedom Truck Convoy began in Ottawa, where demonstrators have used hundreds of parked trucks to paralyze parts of the capital for more than 10 days. The protests have infuriated people who live around downtown, including neighborhoods near Parliament Hill, the seat of the federal government.
Protesters have said they will not leave until all vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
Spain ends mask mandate outdoors as coronavirus surge ebbs
Spain is scrapping a mandate to wear masks outdoors, as COVID-19 infection rates drop and hospitals report lower admissions.
Mask-wearing will not be necessary outside beginning Thursday, government spokeswoman Isabel Rodríguez said Tuesday after a weekly Cabinet meeting.
The rule change includes children at school during their breaks outside between classes.
However, masks remain mandatory in indoor public spaces, including public transportation, and when people are unable to keep a safe distance of 1.5 meters (4 feet) between them.
The measure reverses a step taken last December amid an unprecedented surge of infections fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant.
Official health ministry data showed how the spread of the virus gathered speed in November and peaked on Jan. 21 at 3,418 new infections per 100,000 residents over two weeks, a pandemic record. Contagion has since slowed down, with the 14-day figure dropping to just under 2,000.
Germany argues over vaccine mandate for health workers
Germany’s health minister on Tuesday decried calls from the main opposition party to suspend the implementation of a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for health workers, saying this would send a dangerous signal that authorities are caving to anti-vaccine protests.
Parliament in December approved the legislation that will require staff at hospitals and nursing homes to get immunized against the coronavirus, with the main center-right opposition Union bloc among those supporting it. Under the new law, those workers will need to show they are fully vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 by mid-March.
But in recent weeks, some local officials have complained that they lack the resources to implement it and the rules are unclear. On Monday, Bavaria’s conservative governor said he plans not to implement the requirement at least for now, citing concerns about worker shortages.
The Union bloc’s health policy spokesman, Tino Sorge, told Tuesday’s edition of the daily Bild the federal government should accept the new rules are “barely practicable at the moment.” He argued that the mandate should be suspended nationwide “until central legal and practical questions are answered.”
N. Korea increases virus budget after partial border opening
North Korea plans to increase its government spending on pandemic measures by one-third this year to carry out leader Kim Jong Un’s calls for a more “advanced and people-oriented” virus response, state media said Tuesday.
The budget plans were passed during a session of Pyongyang’s rubber-stamp parliament on Sunday and Monday, which came weeks after the North tentatively restarted its railroad freight traffic with China following two years of extreme border closures and economic decay.
Kim had hinted at broader changes to the country’s pandemic response during a political conference in December, when he called for a transition toward advanced anti-virus measures based on a “scientific foundation.”
The Korean Central News Agency said North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly passed plans to increase spending on anti-virus measures by 33.3% compared to last year. The report didn’t describe those spending plans in monetary terms.
Hong Kong limits private gatherings to fight COVID-19
Hong Kong’s leader announced on Tuesday the city’s toughest social-distancing restrictions yet, including unprecedented limits on private gatherings, as new daily cases surge above 600.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam said gatherings in private premises of more than two families will be banned starting Thursday.
Public gatherings will be restricted to two people, and hair salons and places of worship will be closed until Feb. 24, when the city launches a “vaccine pass” that will require people to show proof of vaccination to enter shopping malls, markets and eateries.
The tightened measures come as the city grapples with a new wave of the coronavirus driven by the omicron variant. Over 600 local cases were reported on Tuesday.
With proposed legislation, Uganda tries to mandate vaccines
Ugandan authorities are seeking to legally mandate vaccines in draft legislation aimed at boosting the East African country’s drive to inoculate more people against COVID-19.
The proposed bill, which is subject to changes as it faces scrutiny by a parliamentary health committee, calls for a six-month jail term for failure to comply with vaccination requirements during disease outbreaks.
“It is the right thing to do,” said Alfred Driwale, a public official who leads Uganda’s vaccination efforts, speaking of the proposed changes to the country’s public health law.
Attempts by Ugandan officials in recent months to enforce limited mandates have been unsuccessful. A vaccine requirement for people using public transport faced opposition from operators, and bars have returned to business after an extended lockdown without strict adherence to pandemic-era rules.
China locks down southern city as omicron variant surges
China has ordered inhabitants of the southern city of Baise to stay home and suspended transportation links amid a surge in COVID-19 cases at least partly linked to the omicron variant.
Classes have been suspended, non-essential businesses closed and mass testing of residents ordered. Restaurants are only permitted to serve take-out. Traffic lights have been switched to red only to remind drivers to stay home.
As of Tuesday, 135 cases had been reported in the city — at least two of them found to be omicron, health authorities said.
Where not to travel: CDC’s no-go list encompasses more than half the world’s destinations
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has moved seven more countries to its highest-risk category for travel — a list that has grown to include 134 destinations, with many added since the World Health Organization declared omicron a “variant of concern” on Nov. 26.
The CDC on Monday gave the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Oman, Libya, Japan, Israel, Cuba and Armenia a “Level 4″ warning, which means it is recommending that Americans avoid traveling there, even if vaccinated.
The CDC’s four levels — which start at “low” risk and escalate to “moderate,” “high” and “very high” — are designed to help Americans navigate travel in the pandemic as case levels continue to fluctuate. The public health agency recommends that all travelers should be fully vaccinated, regardless of their destination’s designation. For countries deemed “very high” risk, the CDC guidance is to “avoid travel.”
Countries and territories marked as “Level 4″ have an infection incidence rate of more than 500 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people over the past 28 days (or, in places with fewer than 100,000 residents, more than 500 cases cumulatively over the past 28 days). The CDC also takes into account a country or territory’s capacity to test for the coronavirus.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
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