Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, January 27, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

Around 21 million weekly COVID-19 cases were reported across the globe last week, marking the highest weekly case count since the pandemic began, the World Health Organization said. The previous high was reported earlier this month at 9.5 million cases.

Meanwhile, health care workers in half of the states in the U.S. face a Thursday deadline to get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine under the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for workers in health care systems that participate in Medicaid and Medicare programs.

The health care worker vaccine mandate will be rolled out across the country in the coming weeks, but will take effect first in jurisdictions that did not challenge the requirement in court, such as California, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania. These states have some of the largest senior populations in the country.

In Germany, lawmakers began debating a possible wide-ranging COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The parliament is considering three proposals.

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 2:30 p.m.
Watch here:

Hong Kong cuts foreign arrival quarantine from 21 to 14 days

Hong Kong is cutting the length of mandatory quarantine for people arriving from overseas from 21 to 14 days, even as the southern Chinese city battles a new surge in COVID-19 cases.

Hong Kong is a major hub for business and finance and the tight restrictions on foreign travel had drawn complaints, especially from the large expatriate community.

The relaxation of rules doesn’t satisfy calls for a lowering of almost all quarantine requirements, as some countries have done, but represents a break with China and its “zero tolerance” policy toward the virus that still requires all foreign arrivals to isolate for 21 days, has cut key domestic travel links and placed millions under lockdown.

After leaving their quarantine hotels, travelers will still need to remain at home for an additional seven days for self-monitoring.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Free N95 masks coming to WA pharmacies and grocery stores

Free N95 masks will be soon be available at multiple pharmacies and grocery stores in Washington, with some locations receiving masks as soon as Thursday.

The free masks are a part of federal effort to give away 400 million N95 masks through pharmacies and community-health centers that have partnered with the federal government’s vaccination campaign.

In Washington, partners include Albertsons, Bartell Drugs, Costco, CVS, Fred Meyer, Rite Aid, Safeway, Walgreens and Walmart, among others. A full list of partners can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Local pharmacies should start receiving the masks “in the coming days,” the Washington state Department of Health said Thursday.

Read the full story here.

—Amanda Zhou

Anthony Fauci is up against more than a virus

The doctor opens the front door. Never mind introductions. “I know who you are. Do you think these guys would let you get this close to me, if we didn’t know who you are?” Across the street is a security agent in Nikes, a badge on his belt. He’s not the only one watching.

“I mean, isn’t it amazing?” the doctor says. “Here I am, with cameras around my house.”

The house is modest for Washington: stucco and brick, cozy and cramped. No obvious tokens of celebrity or esteem. Icicles on the dormant hot tub out back. Bottles of red wine and olive oil on the kitchen counter.

“It’s messy because, as you know, in COVID times, nobody comes over. So nobody cares.”

Read the full story here.

—Dan Zak and Roxanne Roberts, The Washington Post

Pharmacies participating in federal retail program to have free N95 masks

Federal health officials are encouraging the use of N95 or KN95 masks, which are better equipped at protecting against the coronavirus.

Pharmacies across Washington participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program should have free N95 masks available to the public in the coming days, according to the Washington state Department of Health.

Check this website for a list of pharmacy locations.

Follow this guide to know where to get free COVID-19 tests and masks in King County and across the state.

—Daisy Zavala

EU regulator recommends Pfizer’s COVID pill be authorized

The European Medicines Agency has recommended that Pfizer’s coronavirus antiviral drug be authorized for use in the 27-nation European Union, the first time the agency has recommended a pill for treating COVID-19.

In a statement on Thursday, the EU drug regulator said giving the green light to Pfizer’s Paxlovoid could help people infected with COVID-19 avoid more serious disease and being hospitalized. EMA’s expert committee recommended the pill be given to adults who don’t require oxygen and who are at higher risk of severe disease.

The drug was cleared by regulators in the U.S. and Britain in late December, although authorities noted that supplies would be extremely limited.

An antiviral pill from Merck also is expected to soon be authorized. But Pfizer’s drug is all but certain to be the preferred option because of its mild side effects and superior effectiveness as suggested by studies, including a nearly 90% reduction in hospitalizations and deaths among patients most likely to get severely ill.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Crowd in Toronto cheers on anti-vaccine trucker convoy

A large crowd gathered outside a mall north of Toronto on Thursday to cheer a group of local truckers preparing to join a convoy to Ottawa protesting Canada’s coronavirus vaccine mandate for cross-border drivers.

Some in the crowd threw cash and food up to drivers inside their truck cabs at the Vaughan Mills mall while others waved Canadian flags and signs protesting the government as the truckers gradually rolled out. Some people harassed journalists covering the rally.

The convoy of truckers set to descend on Canada’s capital has prompted police to prepare for the possibility of violence and politicians to warn against escalating rhetoric linked to the demonstration.

The truckers are protesting a new rule that took effect Jan. 15 requiring truckers entering Canada be fully immunized against the coronavirus. The United States has imposed the same requirement on truckers entering that country Jan, 22.

“Canadian truckers rule,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted in support of the convoy.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Florida sheriff fires deputy union head after COVID-19 fight

A Florida sheriff fired the president of his department’s deputies union Thursday, capping a three-year battle that escalated when the union chief accused the sheriff of not providing deputies with adequate protective gear against COVID-19.

Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony said in a press release that he fired Deputy Jeff Bell for engaging in “corrupt practices” and “conduct unbecoming” of a deputy, saying Bell had lied about him to local news reporters in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent his election to a full term in November 2020. He said the office’s professional standards board had unanimously recommended the firing.

“The evidence shows Bell used corrupt practices to try to prevent me from being elected sheriff by providing misinformation and lies to the media to create fear and distrust among (Broward Sheriff’s Office) employees and within the community during a global pandemic,” Tony said. “This type of behavior is egregious at any time but even more harmful and shameful during an unprecedented health crisis.”

No one answered the phone Thursday afternoon at the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association offices and Bell did not immediately respond to a text message from The Associated Press. He told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that he would fight his firing in court. A 26-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, Bell has been president of the 1,400-member union since 2015.

Read the story here.

—Terry Spencer, The Associated Press

Dolly Parton is now pushing harder on masks than vaccinations

Music legend Dolly Parton has been a staunch advocate for vaccination against COVID-19 — even helping to fund the Moderna shot through a $1 million donation to Vanderbilt University Medical Center for coronavirus research.

Still, the iconic singer, songwriter and philanthropist says she won’t implore people to get themselves or their children vaccinated if they’re opposed — but she will tell them to mask up.

“When I got my vaccination and showed people, ‘don’t be a chicken squat, get on out and get your shot,’ I just assumed everybody was in line waiting to get the shot. And then I found out a lot of people, for religious reasons, personal reasons, health reasons, did not want to get it, so I’m not one to tell people to do that,” she said in an interview with Bloomberg.

Currently, 62.8% of Americans — and only 51.9% in Parton’s home state of Tennessee — are fully vaccinated in the U.S., according to Bloomberg data.

“But I will tell you, you need to wear your mask, because we’ve gotta be as safe as we can.”

Read the story here.

—Deena Shanker, Bloomberg

Americans’ trust in science now deeply polarized, poll shows

Republicans’ faith in science is falling as Democrats rely on it even more, with a trust gap in science and medicine widening substantially during the COVID-19 pandemic, new survey data shows.

It’s the largest gap in nearly five decades of polling by the General Social Survey, a widely respected trend survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago that has been measuring confidence in institutions since 1972.

That is unsurprising to more than a dozen scientists reached for comment by The Associated Press, but it concerns many of them.

“We are living at a time when people would rather put urine or cleaning chemicals in their body than scientifically vetted vaccines,” University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd told the AP in an email. “That is a clear convergence of fear, lack of critical thinking, confirmation bias and political tribalism.”

Read the story here.

—Seth Borenstein and Hannah Fingerhut, The Associated Press

COVID-positive Sarah Palin again dines at restaurant, flouting N.Y. health measures

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who is unvaccinated and revealed this week that she tested positive for coronavirus, dined again at a New York City restaurant Wednesday night, flouting local health and safety measures calling for positive cases to isolate.

Elio’s, an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side, has faced blowback after Palin dined indoors at the establishment on Saturday, in violation of the city’s dining mandate for people to show proof of vaccination. The Manhattan judge in Palin’s defamation trial against The New York Times revealed Monday that the proceedings would be delayed because the Republican tested positive for the virus. It’s unclear when Palin first tested positive.

Even though local guidelines advise people who test positive to be in isolation for five days after their positive test, Palin returned to the restaurant on Wednesday night. In photos posted to Mediaite, the first to report the news, the former Republican vice-presidential nominee, who has said she would only get vaccinated against COVID-19 “over my dead body,” was seen dining at a heated outdoor area of the restaurant. The city’s vaccine requirement does not apply for outdoor dining.

Read the story here.

—Timothy Bella, The Washington Post

Entering Beijing’s Olympics bubble is a surreal experience

For the thousands of athletes, journalists and others descending on Beijing for the Winter Olympics, China’s strict pandemic measures are creating a surreal and at times anxious experience.

China is isolating everyone coming from abroad from any contact with the general public for the duration of the Games, which open next week. That means being taken from the Beijing airport in special vehicles to a hotel surrounded by temporary barricades that keep participants in and the public out.

The experiences of AP journalists who have arrived or are preparing to depart offers a glimpse into life inside the bubble.

Photographer Jae Hong said he had been warned about the bubble but seeing it in effect in Beijing was still a shock. He described seeing passengers met by workers in white, full-body protective gear. Everyone is tested for COVID-19 at the airport before being transported to their barricaded hotels, the entrances protected by round-the-clock guards.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Alaska, Texas governors sue over National Guard vaccine rule

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has joined Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in seeking to block the U.S. Department of Defense from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for National Guard members who are under state command.

The Pentagon has required COVID-19 vaccination for all service members, including the National Guard and Reserve. Attorneys for the two governors, in an amended lawsuit dated Tuesday, say that when National Guard members are serving the state, the federal government has no command authority. The lawsuit said the mandate is an unconstitutional overstepping of bounds.

The case dealing with Alaska and Texas guard members is an amended version of the challenge filed by Texas earlier this month.

More than 220 members of the Texas Air National Guard and about 40% of Texas Army National Guard members are refusing to be vaccinated for “either religious accommodation needs or otherwise,” according to the lawsuit. About 8% of Alaska Air and Army National Guard members have not received a first dose of any COVID-19 vaccine and of these members, “more than 90% have requested a medical or religious exemption, yet no such exemptions have been granted.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

New Mexico governor signs on as a substitute teacher amid staff shortages

For students across the country, staffing shortages caused by the omicron coronavirus variant have been upending the school year. To help fill the void, some people are finding new ways to pitch in — including the governor of New Mexico.

Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, who has no previous experience in education, plans to work double duty: She recently registered to become a licensed volunteer substitute teacher and will begin in an elementary classroom on Wednesday morning.

The news came after the governor last week called on state workers and National Guard troops to become licensed substitute teachers and child care workers. The goal, according to the governor’s office, is to keep in-person school and child care services from shutting down amid the latest pandemic surge, as the virus infects educators and others in record numbers.

Read the story here.

—Sydney Page, The Washington Post

Will virus be ‘over’? Most Americans think not: AP-NORC poll

Early in the pandemic, Ryan Wilson was careful to take precautions — wearing a mask, not really socializing, doing more of his shopping online.

The 38-year-old father and seafood butcher from Casselberry, Florida, says he relaxed a bit after getting vaccinated last year. He had a few friends over and saw his parents more, while making sure to still mask up at places like the grocery store. The recent virus surge hasn’t caused him to change his behavior much, because he’s vaccinated and has read that the variant causes less severe illness.

And, like many, Wilson has come to believe COVID-19 is probably never fully going away.

“It’ll become endemic and we’ll be stuck with it forever,” he says. “It’s frustrating, but what can you do about it?”

Many Americans agree that they’re going to “be stuck with it forever” — or, at the least, for a long time. A poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that few — just 15% — say they’ll consider the pandemic over only when COVID-19 is largely eliminated. By contrast, 83% say they’ll feel the pandemic is over when it’s largely a mild illness.

The poll shows that 59% of Americans think it’s essential that they personally be vaccinated against COVID-19 to feel safe participating in public activities.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

N. Korea, after harsh 2-year lockdown, slowly reopens border

After spending two years in a strict lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, North Korea may finally be opening up — slowly. The reason could reflect a growing sense of recognition by the leadership that the nation badly needs to win outside economic relief.

The North’s tentative reopening is seen in the apparent resumption of North Korean freight train traffic into neighboring China. But it comes even as Pyongyang has staged several weapons tests, the latest being two suspected ballistic missiles on Thursday, and issued a veiled threat about resuming tests of nuclear explosives and long-range missiles targeting the American homeland.

The apparently divided message — opening the border, slightly, on one hand, while also militarily pressuring Washington over a prolonged freeze in nuclear negotiations — likely signals a realization that the pandemic has worsened an economy already damaged by decades of mismanagement and crippling U.S.-led sanctions over North Korean nuclear weapons and missiles.

According to South Korean estimates, North Korea’s crucial trade with its ally China shrank by about 80% in 2020 before plunging again by two-thirds in the first nine months of 2021 as it sealed its borders.

Read the story here.

—Kim Tong-Hyung, The Associated Press

Virus-ravaged Iran finds brief respite with mass vaccination

As much of the world sees vaccination slowing and infections soaring with the spread of omicron, Iran has found a rare, if fleeting, respite from the anxiety and trauma of the pandemic.

After successive virus waves pummeled the country for nearly two years, belated mass vaccination under a new, hard-line president has, for a brief moment, left the stricken nation with a feeling of apparent safety.

Now, the specter of an omicron-fueled surge looms large. Hospitals are preparing for the worst as infections tick upward after a monthslong lull. But so far, the variant has not battered the Islamic Republic as it has many Western countries where most adults got jabs a year ago.

Drastic infection surges among the inoculated from the United States to Russia have revealed the vaccine’s declining defenses against infection even as its protection against hospitalization and death remains strong.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Omicron keeps kicking new dilemmas at all of us. Which masks are best, and how often can you reuse yours? How can you travel safely? What should you do if you test positive? We've updated our page on how to navigate the pandemic with guidance on a wide range of topics to help you stay healthy. We'll keep adding to it, so bookmark the link.

An unvaccinated hospital patient was denied a new heart, his family says. The Boston hospital is defending its policy.

If you got a COVID test through a Seattle school, it may have been expired. But that's OK, the district and health officials say, because some expiration dates have been extended. Know how to make sure a home COVID test is still good to use, and how to store yours so it lasts longer.

As omicron loosens its hold, is normalcy around the corner? "This is a choose-your-own-adventure story," scientists say as they peer down the path ahead. The best-case scenario hinges on smarts, risk tolerance and luck.

—Kris Higginson