Canada’s largest province, Ontario, announced that a slew of COVID-related restrictions would be lifted at the end of the month. The soon-to-be-lifted restrictions affect restaurant dining rooms, gyms and movie theaters.

The global effort to increase vaccination has been complicated by expiration dates. At least 2.8 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines donated to African countries, making up about 0.5% of total donations, have expired, prompting the Africa Centers for Disease Control to request donations of vaccines with a shelf life of at least at least three to six months.

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.

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Washington confirmed the country’s first COVID patient 2 years ago. What have we learned?

Infectious diseases were all Everett physician Dr. George Diaz had ever wanted to study.

The specialized area of medicine is demanding, he said, but after more than 15 years in the field, the Providence Regional Medical Center doctor can’t imagine doing anything else.

“I feel like this is what I was supposed to do in my life,” he said in an interview Thursday.

A renewed appreciation for his years of training became apparent almost exactly two years ago, when Diaz received a call that confirmed a Snohomish County man in his 30s had tested positive for the mysterious new virus that had emerged from Wuhan, China.

Before he knew it, Diaz had become the doctor in charge of treatment for the first COVID-19 patient in the United States.

Read the full story here.

—Elise Takahama
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Mask-makers look to wildfires, pollution as post-COVID strategy

Mask-makers are searching for new markets to sell their products as countries start easing the pandemic restrictions that transformed their businesses overnight.

U.K.-based Cambridge Mask Co., which saw monthly sales surge from 15,000 units in January 2020 to 500,000 eight months later, is starting to push the benefits of masks in places ravaged by wildfires or with high levels of air pollution. Other companies are targeting medical professionals and new export markets.

Even if those efforts pan out, mask companies are still bracing for a slump in sales over the coming months as the pandemic ebbs. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson foreshadowed the shift this week, announcing an end to mask requirements in stores and public transportation as infections recede.

Read the full story here.

—Irina Anghel, Bloomberg

State bill would criminalize use or sale of fake COVID vaccine cards in Washington

A lawmaker in Washington state wants to make it a crime to use or sell a fake COVID-19 vaccination card.

The measure, sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Jesse Salomon of Shoreline, would make it a misdemeanor to use a forged or falsified COVID-19 vaccination document, Northwest News Network reports. Selling or transferring fake COVID vaccine cards would become a class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

State health officials confirm 17,908 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 17,908 new coronavirus cases and 66 new deaths on Friday.

The update brings the state's totals to 1,151,835 cases and 10,405 deaths, meaning that 0.9% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Thursday.

In addition, 50,760 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 204 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 300,503 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,244 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 12,489,204 doses and 63.3% 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 28,634 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
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Arizona sues Biden to keep school anti-mask rules

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey sued the Biden administration on Friday over its demand that the state stop sending millions in federal COVID-19 relief money to schools that don’t have mask requirements or that close due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Phoenix comes a week after the U.S. Treasury Department demanded that Ducey either restructure the $163 million program to eliminate restrictions it says undermine public health recommendations or face a repayment demand. The Treasury Department also wants changes to a $10 million program Ducey created that gives private school tuition money to parents if their children’s schools have mask mandates.

Ducey’s lawsuit said the Treasury Department created restrictions on spending the money Arizona receives under President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act on its own and without legal authority. It asks a court to declare that the Treasury Department’s rules are illegal and permanently block enforcement and any demands that it pay back the $173 million it is spending on the two programs.

Read the story here.

—Bob Christie, The Associated Press

Biden plan to ship 500 million coronavirus test kits transforms Postal Service to relief agency

The U.S. Postal Service’s mission to deliver 500 million coronavirus test kits has cast it in an unprecedented role in the nation’s pandemic response just as COVID-19 infections have peaked within its own ranks and its network is under immense strain.

Online orders began rolling in this week for the free rapid tests, which are scheduled to ship by the end of the month. The agency has hired thousands of seasonal workers and converted more than 40 facilities into ad hoc fulfillment centers in what experts have called the largest disaster-relief mobilization in its 247-year history.

The stakes for country — and Postal Service — could hardly be higher. Americans are still struggling to access at-home coronavirus tests as the omicron variant is driving caseloads near record highs in parts of the country.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy hopes the test kit assignment will relieve political heat on the agency caused by his controversial 10-year cost-cutting plan and its tumultuous performance during the 2020 presidential election — which was heavily reliant on mail-in ballots — according to four people familiar with his thinking. A good outcome could help the Postal Service win funding for a much-needed fleet of delivery trucks and restructure its massive debt burden.

Read the story here.

—Jacob Bogage, The Washington Post

Virginia parent threatens to ‘bring every single gun loaded and ready’ if school board doesn’t make masks optional

Just before the Page County School Board voted Thursday night on whether to keep requiring masks in schools — as dozens of school districts throughout Virginia grappled this week with a hotly contested executive order from Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin declaring masks optional — parent Amelia King stepped to the microphone.

King said she had decided, against her normal custom, not to prepare a written statement for the evening’s public comment session, which was recorded on video and posted to YouTube. She warned that, “when I go off the cuff, I get really passionate.” Then she threatened the board with a promise to show up with guns if it did not make masking optional for the rural Virginia district of 3,000.

“My children will not come to school on Monday with a mask on,” she said. “That’s not happening, and I will bring every single gun loaded and ready to, I will call every—”

A board member interjected that King had run over her allotted three minutes of speaking time. King replied: “Mm-hm. I’ll see y’all on Monday” and stalked from the room.

School officials later contacted police, who launched an investigation, and raised the alarm to federal and state officials, including the commonwealth’s attorney.

Read the story here.

—Hannah Natanson, The Washington Post
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Poland’s ex-president Solidarity leader Walesa has COVID

Poland’s former president and former Solidarity pro-democracy movement leader, Lech Walesa, said Friday that he has COVID-19.

The 78-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate said on Facebook that he was surprised to find out he is infected despite the three vaccination doses he has received.

“I can’t believe it: I received 3 shots, …. (but) I’m infected. (I have a) headache, I can’t warm up my body. I feel like my flesh is tearing away from the bones,” Walesa wrote.

“After this painful lesson I will never separate from my mask,” Walesa wrote.

In the 1980s, Walesa led the nationwide Solidarity movement that eventually toppled Poland’s communist leaders through an election in 1989. He received the Nobel Prize in 1983.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Washington state launches website to order free at-home COVID-19 tests

Washington state has officially launched its website where people can order free, rapid COVID-19 tests to be sent to their homes, the state Department of Health said Friday morning.

Washingtonians can order up to five tests per household at sayyescovidhometest.org, though supply will be limited at first, according to a DOH statement. The website, available in English and Spanish, went live as the state continues to face a high demand for tests.

The Friday launch, accomplished in partnership with health care technology company CareEvolution and Amazon, reflects an expansion of a pilot program that has already delivered 800,000 tests in parts of Eastern Washington, the state said. The tests are approved under the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization for those ages 2 and up.

Read the story here.

—Elise Takahama

China holds the line on ‘zero COVID,’ but some wonder for how long

China, which has largely kept the coronavirus at bay since 2020, is going to ever more extreme lengths to quell outbreaks that have proliferated around the country in recent weeks, and a growing number of people are finding their lives suddenly upended as a result.

At least 20 million people in three cities were under full lockdown as recently as last week, and many more cities across the country have been subjected to partial lockdowns and mass testing. During the past month, at least 30 major Chinese cities have reported locally transmitted COVID cases.

The case numbers themselves are minuscule by global standards, and no COVID deaths have been reported in China’s current wave. On Friday, health authorities reported a total of 23 new locally transmitted cases in five cities.

But many cases have involved the highly transmissible omicron variant, and with each passing day, the government’s dogged pursuit of “zero COVID” is looking harder to achieve. Many wonder how long it can be maintained without causing widespread, lasting disruptions to China’s economy and society.

“At this point, it’s really almost like a last-ditch, or certainly very stubborn and persistent, effort to stave off the virus,” said Dali Yang, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago. “They are really stuck.”

Read the story here.

—Amy Qin and Amy Chang Chien The New York Times
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Trump appointee blocks Biden federal worker vaccine mandate

A U.S. judge in Texas issued a nationwide injunction on Friday barring the federal government from enforcing President Joe Biden’s requirement that federal workers without qualifying medical or religious exemptions be vaccinated for COVID-19.

Judge Jeffrey Brown, who was appointed to the District Court for the Southern District of Texas by then-President Donald Trump, ruled that opponents of Biden’s vaccination mandate for federal employees were likely to succeed at trial and blocked the government from enforcing the requirement.

Brown wrote that at issue was whether the president “can, with the stroke of a pen and without the input of Congress, require millions of federal employees to undergo a medical procedure as a condition of their employment.” He added, “That, under the current state of the law as just recently expressed by the Supreme Court, is a bridge too far.”

The Justice Department said it would appeal the ruling.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Italian doctors, dentists not fully vaccinated are suspended

Some 1,900 Italian doctors and dentists have been suspended from the country’s professional association because they haven’t complied with a law requiring them to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, including having a booster shot.

That amounts to 0.4% of total membership, but the federation says some 30,000 other members still haven’t completed their vaccinations. The federation noted that some of them might not be violating the law since they might have tested positive and can’t now receive the vaccine yet or might have health reasons they can’t be vaccinated. Still others are waiting until they are eligible to receive a booster dose at least four months after their last vaccine shot.

That’s a rough number that doesn’t photograph the real situation of non-compliant health workers,” Filippo Anelli, federation president, said in a statement.

Health care workers must receive the booster in order to be fully compliant, according to a law decreed by the Italian government last month.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Where you’re most likely to catch COVID: New study highlights high-risk locations

What are the odds of catching COVID-19 after a night at the movie theater? How about an afternoon at the gym, unmasked? Or an early morning jog in a neighborhood park?

It’s well known that certain places and activities carry varying risks of coronavirus exposure, but a new study published in the peer-reviewed Environmental Science & Technology journal takes away much of the guesswork, offering clear estimates instead.

Researchers behind the paper analyzed outbreaks and superspreader events and studied factors that hinder and aid the virus’ spread, to design a mathematical model that takes many factors into account before giving a percentage risk of infection.

Go into a crowded movie theater with poor ventilation and a mostly unmasked audience, and there’s a 14% chance of being infected, assuming everyone in the room is silent before, during and after the movie, according to the study data.

But if there are people talking throughout — potentially launching viral particles into the air as they do — the odds of infection when unmasked jump to 54%.

If the crowd is masked, the risk of infection drops to 5.3% without talking and 24% with talking.

Also critical is what’s happening around someone. Heavy exercise poses the most risk, followed by shouting and singing, then normal speaking. Least worrisome is the “silent” category.

Read the story here.

—Mitchell Willetts, The Charlotte Observer
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Booster shots needed against omicron, CDC studies show

Three studies released Friday offered more evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are standing up to the omicron variant, at least among people who received booster shots.

They are the first large U.S. studies to look at vaccine protection against omicron, health officials said.

The papers echo previous research — including studies in Germany, South Africa and the U.K. — indicating available vaccines are less effective against omicron than earlier versions of the coronavirus, but also that boosters significantly improve protection.

The first study looked at hospitalizations and emergency room and urgent care center visits in 10 states, from August to this month.

It found vaccine effectiveness was best after three doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines in preventing COVID-associated emergency department and urgent care visits. Protection dropped from 94% during the delta wave to 82% during the omicron wave. Protection from just two doses was lower, especially if six months had passed since the second dose.

Read the story here.

—Mike Stobbe, The Associated Press

Why are men more likely to die of COVID? It’s complicated

It’s one of the most well-known takeaways of the pandemic: Men die of COVID-19 more often than women do.

Early on, some scientists suspected the reason was primarily biological, and that sex-based treatments for men — like estrogen injections or androgen blockers — could help reduce their risk of dying.

But a new study analyzing sex differences in COVID-19 deaths over time in the United States suggests that the picture is much more complicated.

While men overall died at a higher rate than women, the trends varied widely over time and by state, the study found. That suggests that social factors — like job types, behavioral patterns and underlying health issues — played a big role in the apparent sex differences, researchers said.

Read the story here.

—Azeen Ghorayshi, The New York Times

Preteens may be vaxed without parents under California bill

California would allow children age 12 and up to be vaccinated without their parents’ consent, the youngest age of any state, under a proposal late Thursday by a state senator.

Alabama allows such decisions at age 14, Oregon at 15, Rhode Island and South Carolina at 16, according to Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco who is proposing the change. Only Washington, D.C., has a lower limit, at age 11.

Wiener argued that California already allows those 12 and up to consent to the Hepatitis B and Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines, and to treatment for sexually transmitted infections, substance abuse and mental health disorders.

“Giving young people the autonomy to receive life-saving vaccines, regardless of their parents’ beliefs or work schedules, is essential for their physical and mental health,” he said. “It’s unconscionable for teens to be blocked from the vaccine because a parent either refuses or cannot take their child to a vaccination site.”

Currently in California, minors ages 12 to 17 cannot be vaccinated without permission from their parents or guardian, unless the vaccine is specifically to prevent a sexually transmitted disease.

Read the story here.

—Don Thompson, The Associated Press
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Czech singer Hanka Horká dies after intentionally getting infected by the coronavirus

A popular Czech folk singer has died after deliberately getting infected with the coronavirus, in an apparent move to skirt restrictions limiting access to some venues to people who have been immunized or recently recovered from infection, her family said.

Two days before she died, 57-year-old Hanka Horká, who was reportedly unvaccinated, wrote on social media that she had “survived” the virus and was looking forward to trips to the theater, the sauna, concerts and the sea.

“I’ll tell you my secret, yes, I endured, and I survived . . . however, it was very colorful,” she said. “Life is here for me and for you too.”

Horká’s son, Jan Rek told the British Broadcasting Corp. his mother had been seeking a recovery pass, which can be used like a vaccine pass to enter dining and leisure spaces.

Rek said his mother was more OK with the idea of catching covid than getting vaccinated. He went public with the story in the hope of convincing others to get vaccinated. “If you have living examples from real life, it’s more powerful than just graphs and numbers.”

Read the story here.

—Rachel Pannett, The Washington Post

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Two years ago today, The Seattle Times wrote about an event that would change life in ways none of us could have imagined: The nation's first known COVID-19 case had arrived, and it was in Snohomish County. Fast-forward to today, when our state has surpassed a million confirmed cases. "Having more patients than ever in our hospital is pretty disheartening," says Dr. George Diaz, who treated the first one. But there are signs of hope on the horizon, he says, as he talks about what our region has learned.

What can vaccinated kids safely do? Can a baby take an at-home test? Five experts with different backgrounds tackled these and other pandemic parenting questions for the omicron era.

Where you're most likely to catch COVID-19: A new study pinpoints the chances at high-risk locations and looks at how changing just one factor can often mean the difference between being sick and relatively safe.

No, COVID vaccines don't hurt fertility, another study says — but catching the coronavirus might.

—Kris Higginson

Trucker vaccine rule is making freight and fruit pricier

New rules requiring truckers to show proof of vaccination when crossing the Canada-U.S. border are cutting into shipping capacity and boosting the cost of hauling everything from broccoli to tomatoes.

Shipping is expected to get disrupted in both directions, with the U.S. set to impose its own vaccine mandate on foreign travelers on Saturday. Only 50% to 60% of U.S. truckers are vaccinated, according to an estimate from the American Trucking Associations.

The cost of transporting produce out of California and Arizona to Canada jumped 25% last week as fewer trucks are available to cross the border, according to George Pitsikoulis, president and chief executive officer of Montreal-based distributor Canadawide Fruits.

Read the full story here.

—Jen Skerritt and Derek Decloet, Bloomberg