Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, February 9, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added seven more countries to its high-risk travel list, including Japan, Armenia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo due to concerns over COVID-19. The list has grown to include 134 destinations.

Across the northern border, Canadian lawmakers expressed worries that protests over COVID-19 restrictions could affect border trade. Truckers protesting vaccine mandates and restrictions partially blocked a major border crossing between Canada and the U.S., which accounts for 25% of all trade between the two countries.

Closer to home, Washington health officials said that COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state are falling as reported cases of the omicron variant subside. But officials warn that the positive update does not mean the concern over the virus is gone.

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.

Gov. Jay Inslee has set a press conference today at 2 p.m. to discuss the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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WA Gov. Inslee’s office having talks about when to lift state mask requirements

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday that he expects next week to announce some details for when the state will end COVID-19 emergency mask requirements.

“That time is coming soon, hopefully in the next few weeks,” Inslee said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

The discussion comes after states such as New Jersey, New YorkOregon and California have begun announcing the end of various mask requirements.

“It’s a question of when the change happens, not if it will happen,” Inslee spokesperson Mike Faulk wrote earlier Wednesday in an email. “We’ve been talking to agencies and stakeholders about the rates declining and when the right time would be to lift additional mitigation measures like masks.”

Read the full story here.

—Joseph O'Sullivan
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Trudeau defends COVID restrictions amid truck blockades

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood firm against an easing of the country’s COVID-19 restrictions Wednesday in the face of mounting pressure from protesters using trucks to blockade the capital and U.S. border crossings, including the economically vital bridge to Detroit.

A growing number of Canadian provinces have moved to lift some of their precautions as the omicron surge levels off, but Trudeau defended the measures the federal government is responsible for, including the one that has angered many truck drivers: a rule that took effect Jan. 15 requiring truckers entering Canada to be fully vaccinated.

“The reality is that vaccine mandates, and the fact that Canadians stepped up to get vaccinated to almost 90%, ensured that this pandemic didn’t hit as hard here in Canada as elsewhere in the world,” Trudeau said in Parliament.

The country has been beset in recent weeks by protests against COVID-19 restrictions and against Trudeau himself.

Read the full story here.

—Rob Gillies, The Associated Press

Locals weigh school mask rules as statewide mandates end

As some of the last statewide school mask mandates near an end, responsibility is shifting back to local leaders, who are caught in the middle of one of the most divisive issues of the pandemic.

In the hours after Connecticut’s governor announced its mandate would end later this month, the school superintendent in Cheshire was peppered Monday with messages from families who feel masks are critical for protecting students and others who have long been opposed.

“Unfortunately, this is an issue where you are not going to make everybody happy,” Superintendent Jeffrey Solan said. “We can’t allow those individual passions to decide the debate.”

Some school officials around the country welcomed the state-imposed mandates to spare them from having to make unpopular decisions, especially early in the pandemic. But many superintendents say they now have the tools to decide whether masks should be required, and they welcome the ability to adapt as needed.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

BEIJING DIARY: Testing positive at the no-COVID Olympics

The phone call comes in the early afternoon, six hours or so after the mandatory morning test. The number is immediately recognizable because it’s so strange: a U.S. dialing code when the Chinese health official on the line is, in fact, calling from Beijing and bearing bad news.

“Sorry to bother,” he says.

Uh-oh.

“Your test this morning was positive.”

Sigh.

Again?

Like laundering with gasoline or hiking naked, traveling three weeks after a bout of COVID-19 to cover the Winter Olympics in China for The Associated Press is proving to have been not the brightest of ideas. Because here the coronavirus is Public Enemy No. 1 — hunted, tracked, isolated and zapped with no-nonsense rigor and militaristic zeal.

Lurking at the back of my throat are infinitesimal remnants of virus DNA that hitched along for the ride, and which the Olympic testers in top-to-toe hazmat suits are annoyingly adept at digging out with their cotton swabs.

“Say ‘Ahhh,’” they say.

And that’s how I ended up back here, in Isolation Room 2. For the second time in four days.

Read the story here.

—John Leicester, The Associated Press
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State health officials confirm new coronavirus cases, deaths

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 4,313 new coronavirus cases on Monday and 7,703 on Tuesday. It also reported 95 more deaths over those days.

The update brings the state's totals to 1,391,026 cases and 11,194 deaths, meaning that 0.8% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. New state data is reported on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

In addition, 56,214 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 101 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 357,250 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,393 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in late 2020, the state and health care providers have administered 12,843,614 doses and 66.2% of Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to vaccination data, which the state updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Providers are currently giving an average of about 16,409 vaccine shots per day.

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. State health officials recommend reviewing the dashboard's epidemiologic curves tab for the most accurate representation of the state's COVID-19 spread.

—Amanda Zhou

Hospitals begin to limp out of the latest COVID-19 surge

As omicron numbers drop at Denver Health, Dr. Anuj Mehta is reminded of the scene in the 1980 comedy “The Blues Brothers” when John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd pile out of a battered car after a police chase.

Suddenly, all the doors pop off the hinges, the front wheels fall off and smoke pours from the engine.

“And that’s my fear,” said Mehta, a pulmonary and critical care physician. “I’m worried that as soon as we stop, everything’s just going to fall apart.”

Across the U.S., the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 has tumbled more than 28% over the past three weeks to about 105,000 on average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But the ebbing of the omicron surge has left in its wake postponed surgeries, exhausted staff members and uncertainty over whether this is the last big wave or whether another one lies ahead.

Read the storyhere.

—The Associated Press

Hochul to announce decision on broad New York mask mandate

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul will announce Wednesday whether the state will extend a COVID-19 mask mandate requiring face coverings in most indoor public settings, like grocery stores, shops and offices.

The mandate, put in place in mid-December, is set to expire Thursday unless the Democrat’s administration extends it. Hochul has been hinting for several days that she would let the mandate lapse as the state emerges from a deadly wave of cases, fueled by the omicron variant.

It isn’t clear, though, when the state might ease other masking mandates, like the one requiring face coverings in all schools.

Hochul said this week that she would like to see vaccination rates for children improve before she does away with that statewide mandate, which has been in place since August.

Read the story here.

—Marina Villanueve, The Associated Press
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Hong Kongers rush for haircuts, produce ahead of new curbs

Hong Kong residents lined up outside hair salons and snapped up fresh vegetables on Wednesday, a day before tightened coronavirus restrictions go into effect, as new daily cases in the city ballooned to more than 1,100.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced on Tuesday that places of worship and hair salons must close from Thursday until at least Feb. 24, when a “vaccine pass” will be rolled out that permits only vaccinated people to visit venues such as shopping malls and supermarkets.

In an unprecedented move, she also said private gatherings will be limited to no more than two households.

Hong Kong has aligned itself with mainland China’s “zero-COVID” policy, which aims to totally stamp out outbreaks, even as many other countries are shifting their approach to living with the virus.

The strategy means that authorities often take drastic measures such as locking down residential estates for mass testing when positive cases are detected, imposing strict quarantine requirements on travelers and ordering the shuttering of businesses.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Not just humans: Study finds NYC omicron spike hit deer too

When New York City’s COVID-19 rates spiked last December due to the emerging omicron variant, humans weren’t the only mammals affected.

The highly infectious variant also hit the white-tailed deer population on Staten Island, the most suburban of the city’s five boroughs, according to a study led by Penn State University scientists.

The omicron variant was detected in nasal swabs from seven of 68 Staten Island deer tested between Dec. 13 and Jan. 31, according to the study, which was funded by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

It was already known that deer can catch COVID-19, after earlier variants were found in white-tailed deer in New York and several other states. But the Staten Island study is the first to find evidence of the omicron variant in deer or any wild animal population, Suresh Kuchipudi, a professor of virology at Penn State who led the research team, said Tuesday.

Read the story here.

—Karen Matthews, The Associated Press

Mask restrictions are lifting, but scientists are split on whether that’s wise

As the omicron surge begins to recede in many regions of the country, the governors of New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware have announced that they will lift school mask mandates in the coming weeks.

But the move to loosen these politically charged restrictions has divided scientists and public health experts. Some cheered the change.

“I think it’s entirely appropriate that we start lifting school mask mandates now,” said Joseph Allen, a Harvard University researcher who studies indoor environmental quality, including in schools. “We’re in a much better place than we were before, and it’s time to update our strategies to reflect the moment.”

Others noted that the virus was still exacting a significant toll on the country, with cases about as high as during last winter’s peak and more than 2,500 Americans dying each day. Lifting school mask mandates too early could jeopardize the progress that the country has made over the last few weeks, some health experts said.

“We’re just starting to get it back under control,” said Seema Lakdawala, a respiratory virus researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, noting that many young children remain unvaccinated. “I don’t think we should be abandoning the interventions we have that are still helpful.”

Experts agreed that mask mandates should not last forever and that officials needed to clearly explain what criteria would be used in deciding when to lift them. But there is still debate over what those metrics should be and whether certain places in the country had met them.

Read the story here.

—Emily Anthes, The New York Times
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Musk helping restore Tongan internet; virus outbreak growing

Entrepreneur Elon Musk is helping reconnect Tonga to the internet after a volcanic eruption and tsunami cut off the South Pacific nation more than three weeks ago, according to officials, while repairs on an undersea cable are proving more difficult than first thought.

The tsunami severed the sole fiber-optic cable that connects Tonga to the rest of the world and most people remain without reliable connections.

Three people were confirmed killed in the Jan. 15 eruption of the massive undersea volcano and the resulting tsunami, and several small settlements in outlying islands were wiped out and a thick layer of volcanic ash that blanketed the main island tainted much of the drinking water.

Tonga had avoided the COVID-19 pandemic for more than two years, but it is now in the midst of an outbreak with new infections growing rapidly after the virus was apparently brought in by foreign military crews aboard ships and planes delivering critical aid after the volcanic eruption.

Read the story here.

—David Rising and Nick Perry, The Associated Press

UK’s Johnson signals early end to COVID isolation rules

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday that laws requiring people in England with COVID-19 to self-isolate could be lifted by the end of the month, bringing an end to all domestic coronavirus restrictions.

“Provided the current encouraging trends in the data continue, it is my expectation that we will be able to end the last domestic restrictions –- including the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive -– a full month early,” Johnson told Parliament.

People who test positive now have to isolate for five full days. That rule is to expire on March 24.

Johnson added he plans to present his plan for living with the virus when Parliament returns from a short break on Feb. 21.

Read the story here.

—Sylvia Hui, The Associated Press

A 10-year-old girl died of COVID after teacher appointed her ‘class nurse.’ Her parents want answers

Teresa Sperry beamed with pride in September when she told her father about the job she’d been assigned by her fifth-grade teacher.

Days earlier, the teacher had made Teresa the “class nurse,” putting the Virginia girl in charge of walking sick classmates to the nurse’s office, waiting for them to be treated and, at times, going back to the classroom to pick up their backpacks if Hillpoint Elementary School officials sent them home, her father, Jeff Sperry, told The Washington Post.

“I asked her, ‘So is this your job?’ ” Sperry recounted. “And she gave me several examples of people that day she took to the nurse’s office.”

Sperry, who was driving Teresa and her brothers home from school, was infuriated. The Suffolk, Virginia, school never asked for her parents’ consent, he said, and he feared for his unvaccinated daughter’s health as the delta variant spread across the country in the global pandemic’s second year.

Those worries mounted when, days later, Teresa returned home from school with a 102-degree fever and a headache. Within a week, she was dead.

Read the story here.

—Andrea Salcedo, The Washington Post
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‘Freedom Convoy’ protests disrupt another U.S.-Canada border crossing as more arrests are made

A second U.S.-Canada land crossing was disrupted by protesters from the self-described “Freedom Convoy” demonstrating against coronavirus restrictions including vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers, further paralyzing crucial trade routes connecting the United States and its northern neighbor.

Both north- and southbound lanes at the Coutts border crossing, which links Canada’s Alberta with Montana, were shut down by protesters, the provincial Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Tuesday.

The blockage came as the Ambassador Bridge, the busiest international crossing in North America, linking Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit, was temporarily closed on the same day for passengers and commercial traffic, though local police said “limited traffic” was being allowed into the United States late Tuesday.

The protests, which began in late January against vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers, have snowballed into a broader movement against Canada’s pandemic-related measures and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of big-rig truckers and their supporters have jammed key roads, where some protesters defaced national monuments and waved flags featuring swastikas while calling on Trudeau to resign.

Read the story here.

—Jennifer Hassan and Amy Cheng, The Washington Post

Fauci says U.S. exiting ‘full-blown pandemic phase’ as cases drop

While half a million people around the world have died of COVID-19 since the omicron variant of the coronavirus was first detected in November, President Joe Biden’s top medical adviser says the United States is exiting “the full-blown pandemic phase” of the coronavirus crisis.

It’s a sobering statistic — and a reminder of the pandemic’s ongoing toll even as cases start to decline in nearly every U.S. state.

About 100,000 of the deaths since omicron was declared a “variant of concern” occurred in the United States, the World Health Organization said Tuesday. WHO incident manager Abdi Mahamud said in an online Q&A session said the death toll is “tragic” given the availability of “effective vaccines.” He said there have been 130 million reported cases of the coronavirus globally since omicron.

Anthony Fauci told the Financial Times that decisions on coronavirus restrictions in the United States will be increasingly made on a local level, “as we get out of the full-blown pandemic phase of COVID-19, which we are certainly heading out of.”

Read the story here.

—Annabelle Timsit, The Washington Post

New COVID surge batters Afghanistan’s crumbling health care

Only five hospitals in Afghanistan still offer COVID-19 treatment, with 33 others having been forced to close in recent months for lack of doctors, medicines and even heating. This comes as the economically devastated nation is hit by a steep rise in the number of reported coronavirus cases.

Afghanistan’s health care system, which survived for nearly two decades almost entirely on international donor funding, has been devastated since the Taliban returned to power in mid-August, amid the chaotic end to the 20-year U.S.-led intervention. Afghanistan’s economy crashed after nearly $10 billion in assets abroad were frozen and financial aid to the government was largely halted.

The health system’s collapse has only worsened the humanitarian crisis in the country. Roughly 90% of the population has fallen below the poverty level, and with families barely able to afford food, at least a million children are threatened with starvation.

Reaad the story here.

—Kathy Gannon, The Associated Press
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Denmark’s queen and Spain’s king test positive for virus

The queen of Denmark and the king of Spain both tested positive for the coronavirus despite being vaccinated, their respective royal houses announced Wednesday.

Denmark’s Queen Margrethe, 82, has mild COVID-19 symptoms and has isolated herself in the Copenhagen palace where she lives, the palace said.

Margrethe tested positive for the virus on Tuesday evening and canceled a planned vacation in Norway that was set to begin Wednesday, the royal household said.

Like Margrethe, Spain’s King Felipe VI was vaccinated against the coronavirus. The 54-year-old monarch was tested for the virus after he developed “mild symptoms” of COVID-19, the royal house said.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Hawaii in talks to drop COVID travel restrictions by spring

Hawaii’s strict travel program for domestic visitors may be a piece of pandemic history by the spring, the state’s lieutenant governor said Tuesday.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said in a phone interview that discussions are ongoing about eliminating all restrictions on travel in the coming months — barring any more COVID surges.

“I would expect those restrictions to begin to fall away in the spring,” he said. “But one thing we’ve learned about COVID is it does sometimes throw one a curveball. People didn’t really predict a highly, highly contagious omicron variant; otherwise we would have already been there.”

To fly to Hawaii today — as more than 23,000 people did on Saturday — travelers must show proof of vaccination or a negative test if they want to avoid a five-day quarantine. Officials in Hawaii said last year that once the state was 70% vaccinated, restrictions on travel would be lifted. The surge from the highly contagious omicron variant foiled that plan.

Like for the rest of the United States, Americans returning from abroad will still need to present a negative coronavirus test taken no earlier than 24 hours before departure for Hawaii. Foreign travelers will need to provide proof of vaccination and a negative test result.

Read the story here.

—Hannah Sampson, The Washington Post

Japan to extend virus measures in Tokyo and other areas

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday announced plans to keep COVID-19 restrictions for Tokyo and 12 other areas for three more weeks until early March, as omicron infections show little signs of slowing and most Japanese still lack booster shots.

The current measures covering Tokyo and neighboring areas, Aichi in central Japan and Nagasaki in the south were initially scheduled to end Sunday but will remain until March 6, Kishida said.

The cases are still expanding, although the pace is not as steep as weeks ago, he said.

Nationwide, Japan on Tuesday logged more than 92,000 confirmed cases. Tokyo on Wednesday reported 18,287, while Osaka had 15,264.

Read the story here/

—Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press
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Catch up on the past 24 hours

One of the world's richest countries, overflowing with COVID, is embracing a "bring it on" attitude after dropping all restrictions. Another has halted testing even for people who have COVID symptoms, and some experts say that could become the norm.

Let's try this again: Washington state has reopened the website that allows residents to order free home COVID tests, although it still doesn't expect to have enough kits to reach everyone.

COVID cases are dropping sharply in Washington, and hospitalizations are falling, too. But people shouldn't "rip off their masks or go to big parties quite yet," the hospital association's leader says. Cases are also falling across the globe, with a few big exceptions.

The busiest link between the U.S. and Canada was cut off yesterday as truckers and their supporters decried coronavirus restrictions, and plans for a similar protest convoy inside the U.S. appear to be gaining steam.

—Kris Higginson