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 It is no longer being updated.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

As Americans worry over coronavirus vaccine availability, the Biden administration said Tuesday it was on the cusp of securing an additional 200 million doses of the two vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States. Biden is also calling up the nation’s top scientists and public health experts to regularly brief the public about the pandemic.

In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee announced this week that the federal government is increasing the weekly allotment of COVID-19 vaccines to states, including ours, by 16% for the coming weeks.

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 previous days’ live updates and all our other coronavirus coverage, and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington and the world.


Navigating the pandemic
(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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Oregon puts debate over race in vaccine rollout to test

PORTLAND, Ore. — The role that race should play in deciding who gets priority for the COVID-19 vaccine in the next phase of the rollout is being put to the test in Oregon as tensions around equity and access to the shots emerge nationwide.

An advisory committee that provides recommendations to Oregon’s governor and public health authorities will vote Thursday on whether to prioritize people of color, target those with chronic medical conditions or focus on some combination of groups at higher risk from the coronavirus. Others, such as essential workers, refugees, inmates and people under 65 living in group settings, are also being considered.

The 27-member committee in Oregon, a Democratic-led state that’s overwhelmingly white, was formed with the goal of keeping fairness at the heart of its vaccine rollout. Its members were selected to include racial minorities and ethnic groups, from Somalian refugees to Pacific Islanders to tribes. The committee’s recommendations are not binding but provide critical input for Gov. Kate Brown and guide health authorities crafting the rollout.

“It’s about revealing the structural racism that remains hidden. It influences the disparities we experienced before the pandemic and exacerbated the disparities we experienced during the pandemic,” said Kelly Gonzales, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and a health disparity expert on the committee.

—Associated Press
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At Sundance, pandemic dramas unfold on screen and off

This image released by the Sundance Institute shows a scene from “Homeroom,” an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. (Sean Havey/Sundance Institute via AP)

NEW YORK — Peter Nicks had for months been documenting the students of Oakland High School, in California, when the pandemic hit. 

“It’s in the Bay,” says one student of the virus as he and others mill together in a classroom, excitedly contemplating the cancellation of school.

Soon, the principal is heard over the loudspeaker — an announcement that would signal not just the scuttling of prom and graduation ceremonies, but, potentially, Nicks’ film. After chronicling other Oakland institutions, Nicks had set out to document a year in the life of the multicultural teenagers of Oakland. “Something like ‘The Breakfast Club’ with kids of color,” he says. 

But how do you make an intimate, observation documentary about school life when the hallways are suddenly emptied, the school musical canceled and your third act turns virtual? 

“Homeroom,” Nicks’ fittingly titled — and ultimately completed — documentary, is one of the 74 feature films that will debut at the Sundance Film Festival beginning Thursday. The pandemic has transformed the annual Park City, Utah, festival into a largely virtual event, but it has also reshaped many of the films that will unspool there.

The majority of films showing this year were shot before the arrival of COVID-19 — many of them edited during quarantine. But there are numerous filmmakers at the festival who managed the seemingly impossible feat of making a movie in 2020, while most of us were worrying about having enough toilet paper.

—Associated Press

State education officials launch new data dashboard to track school reopenings

The state has launched a new dashboard that tracks data on how Washington's schools are reopening during the pandemic, according to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

The dashboard includes self-reported data, which will be updated every Wednesday, from each public school district, state-tribal education compact school and charter school in the state, according to the new website.

"Starting last week, we began collecting data from districts, tribal compact schools, and charter schools weekly (in the fall, this was done monthly)," an OSPI spokesperson wrote in an email Wednesday evening.

She said the state also added "much more detail" to the data and is now asking about differences in reopening status by grade level and student group, as well as the average percentage of students participating in in-person learning.

As of Wednesday, 962,341 students were enrolled in Washington elementary, middle and high schools. Of those, about 18% are learning in-person on a given day, while about 22% are learning in-person on a given week, the dashboard showed.

Trend data will be added to the dashboard after it's been up for about a month, according to OSPI.

—Elise Takahama

Ford Motor Company, local nonprofits to distribute free disposable face masks in Washington on Thursday

Ford Motor Company is teaming up with local nonprofits to distribute nearly 550,000 face masks to residents throughout the state Thursday, according to the auto company. 

The Thursday event is part of a regional initiative that will also deliver hundreds of thousands of masks to neighborhoods in Oregon, Alaska, Idaho and Montana, said Ford spokesperson Kristin Ford. In our state, masks will be available from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at food-assistance nonprofit Emergency Feeding Program in Renton (851 Houser Way N., Suite A) and at 19 Ford dealerships throughout Washington including Everett, Issaquah, Kirkland, Tacoma, Olympia and Spokane. Click here for a full list

While Ford has organized similar mask distribution events in other states, this is the first in the Pacific Northwest, Ford said. Residents are encouraged to stop by any of the distribution sites — many of which have drive-thru options — to get up to 20 disposable face masks while supplies last, she added.

Read the full story here.

—Elise Takahama
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Few states are accurately tracking coronavirus vaccinations by race; some aren’t at all

Most states are not publicly reporting racial data on people receiving coronavirus vaccines, despite disproportionate COVID-19 death rates for Black and Hispanic people and rising concerns about who has access to – and is willing to take – the vaccine.

Seven weeks after the first shots were administered, just 20 states include race and ethnicity data on their vaccine dashboards, even though it is required by the federal government. And even those states have major gaps in their data, with “unknown” being the first or second most-frequent category in almost every state.

Health equity experts say that while they understand public health officials and vaccinators are swamped, the data is essential to make sure the vaccine is distributed equitably, and to find out the reasons if it isn’t.

The information is a matter of life and death, they say, given that Black people are nearly three times more likely than White people to die of COVID-19.

The Washington Post has confirmed an analysis of data from the states that are reporting, which showed that of the 3 percent of Americans who received the vaccine by early January, the doses went disproportionately to White people.

—The Washington Post

With all eyes on COVID-19, drug-resistant infections crept in

As COVID-19 took hold over the past year, hospitals and nursing homes used and reused scarce protective equipment — masks, gloves, gowns. This desperate frugality helped prevent the airborne transfer of the virus.

But it also appears to have helped spread a different set of germs — drug-resistant bacteria and fungi — that have used the chaos of the pandemic to grow opportunistically in health care settings around the globe.

These bacteria and fungi, like COVID-19, prey on older people, the infirm and those with compromised immune systems. They can cling tenaciously to clothing and medical equipment, which is why nursing homes and hospitals before the pandemic were increasingly focused on cleaning rooms and changing gowns to prevent their spread.

That emphasis all but slipped away amid an all-consuming focus on the coronavirus. In fact, experts warn, the changes in hygiene and other practices caused by the COVID-19 fight are likely to have contributed to the spread of these drug-resistant germs.

—The New York Times

Michael Strahan tests positive for COVID-19

Pro Football Hall of Famer and “Good Morning America” host Michael Strahan has tested positive for COVID-19 and is self-quarantining, according to people familiar with the situation.

Strahan is currently not experiencing any severe symptoms from COVID-19. The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Wednesday because of medical restriction issues. 

TMZ first reported about Strahan testing positive.

Strahan, who also provides analysis on the “Fox NFL Sunday” pregame show, appeared remotely during last Sunday’s NFC championship game. Strahan, though, also did remote appearances during much of the season for the network’s Thursday night games to not conflict with his “GMA” schedule.

The 49-year-old Strahan has been absent from the ABC morning show all week and it remains uncertain when he will be on again. 

—Associated Press
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Washington study finds pregnant patients with COVID-19 have a higher risk of death, hospitalization

For the first several months of the pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assured pregnant patients they were in no greater danger from the novel coronavirus than anyone else.

It wasn’t until the agency analyzed national data last summer that they discovered pregnant people with COVID-19 appeared to be at higher risk for serious illness and hospitalization. 

Now, a new study from Washington state confirms those results and also finds a much higher risk of death than previously reported, suggesting the peril to pregnant patients continues to be underestimated across the country.

The analysis found the COVID-19 mortality rate among them was more than 13 times higher than among those of similar ages who were not pregnant. Those pregnant women with COVID-19 were also 3.5 times more likely to be hospitalized due to the disease and had higher rates of preterm birth.

The findings underscore how important it is for pregnant patients to take precautions against getting infected, said Dr. Emily Adhikari, an obstetrician at University of Texas Southwestern who was not involved in the project but has also examined COVID-19’s impacts on pregnant women. 

Read the full story here.

—Sandi Doughton

Health workers stuck in snow give other drivers vaccine

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Oregon health workers who got stuck in a snowstorm on their way back from a COVID-19 vaccination event went car to car injecting stranded drivers before several of the doses expired.

Josephine County Public Health said on Facebook that the “impromptu vaccine clinic” took place after about 20 employees were stopped in traffic on a highway after a vaccination clinic.

Six of the vaccines were getting close to expiring so the workers decided to offer them to other stranded drivers.

The shots were meant for other people, but “the snow meant those doses wouldn’t make it to them before they expired,” the health department said.

Not wanting to waste them, staff walked from vehicle to vehicle, offering people a chance to receive the vaccine. A county ambulance was on hand for safety.

—Associated Press

NBA adjusts schedules for virus-affected teams, like Wizards

Washington Wizards’ Russell Westbrook reacts to a call during the fourth quarter of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Houston. (Carmen Mandato/Pool Photo via AP)

Washington’s second-half schedule might not be as jam-packed as first thought, after the NBA said Wednesday it was rescheduling some Wizards games after a half-dozen of their contests were postponed in recent weeks for virus-related reasons.

Portland will now visit Washington on Tuesday, a game that was originally set for the second half. Washington will play at Charlotte on Feb. 7, a game that was rescheduled from Jan. 20. And that means the Blazers, who were scheduled to visit the Hornets that day, will now go to Charlotte in the second half of the schedule.

The league has postponed 22 games so far this season, 21 of them since Jan. 10. The original intent was to push all those postponed games into the second half, when possible; now, the league said it would move some games into the first-half schedules, “with a specific focus on the teams with the most postponed games to date.”

That would certainly include Washington and Memphis, both of which have seen a league-high six games postponed. 

—Associated Press
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Oregon’s metro region to receive additional vaccine doses

PORTLAND, Ore. — State officials announced Wednesday that an additional 17,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will be allocated to Oregon’s Portland metro region. 

The announcement was made a day after Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington health officials officials said that “tens of thousands” of 1A health care workers in the area have not been vaccinated and likely will not be for weeks, as there are not enough doses to go around for the increasing amount of people eligible for shots. 

“Any additional vaccine is welcome news,” said Dr. Jennifer Vines, the Multnomah County health officer. “And we are ready to keep working with our health system partners over the next year until everyone who wants a vaccine has the chance to get one.” 

Julie Sullivan-Springhetti, the communications director of Multnomah County, said that Gov. Kate Brown told Tri-County health officials that they will receive an additional 17,000 doses — on top of the 15,000 area health officials were expecting — during the week of Feb. 1.

Out of the 32,000 doses, 17,000 are earmarked by the state to be administered to 1A health care workers and 15,000 for educators.

—Associated Press

Chicago principals offer school reopening plan amid pandemic

Pre-kindergarten teacher Sarah McCarthy works with a student at Dawes Elementary in Chicago, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Chicago Public Schools students began their return to the classroom Monday as school doors opened to thousands of pre-kindergarten and some special education students after going remote last March due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP, Pool)

CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools should allow students back into classrooms in no more than 100 facilities and then gradually reopen others, an organization of school principals proposed Wednesday, saying most of them doubt the nation’s third-largest school district can safely handle a mass reopening.

Troy LaRaviere, the president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, said during a news conference that a survey revealed its members don’t believe there will be enough staff at schools to safely reopen, or enough safety supplies to guard against the spread of COVID-19. And, he said, the members haven’t received adequate guidance from the district on how to reopen the schools that have been closed since March. 

“We salute the district’s goals,” LaRaviere said in a statement. “However, their plans are not realistic or safe for most of our schools.”

On Tuesday, the city scrapped plans for thousands of teachers to report to schools this week after the teachers union overwhelmingly voted to reject in-person learning due to coronavirus safety concerns. 

—Associated Press

131 arrested on ‘calmer’ night during Dutch virus curfew

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Dutch police said Wednesday that the fourth night of the Netherlands’ coronavirus curfew passed more peacefully than the previous three nights marred by rioting. Even so, officers arrested 131 people, mainly for public order offenses and incitement.

“It was calmer around the curfew on Tuesday night than the days before,” police said in a statement.

Underscoring the role of young people, who have been forced to stay home from school for weeks due to the country’s tough lockdown, police said that most suspects arrested for inciting riots through social media were under age 18.

The rioting has rocked the Netherlands, which has a caretaker government after Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s ruling coalition resigned earlier this month over a scandal involving child welfare benefit fraud investigations. The pandemic is expected to be a key campaign issue before a general election scheduled for March 17.

—Associated Press
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State health officials confirm 1,825 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,825 new coronavirus cases and 44 new deaths on Wednesday.

The update brings the state's totals to 305,289 cases and 4,211 deaths, meaning that 1.4% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.

The new cases may include up to 480 duplicates, according to DOH.

In addition, 17,449 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 95 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 76,559 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,230 deaths.

On Dec. 16, DOH’s case, hospitalization and death counts started including both confirmed cases and probable cases in its total count. According to DOH, probable cases refer to people who received a positive antigen test result but not a positive molecular test result, while confirmed cases refer to those who have received a positive molecular test result.

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.

—Elise Takahama

Fire captain accused of stealing vaccine turns himself in

 A Florida fire captain accused of stealing COVID-19 vaccines meant for first responders turned himself in Wednesday afternoon, sheriff’s officials said.

Polk County Fire Rescue Capt. Anthony Damiano, 55, faces a felony charge of falsifying an official record as a public servant and misdemeanor petit theft, according to a Polk County Sheriff’s Office news release. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said at a news conference Tuesday that paramedic Joshua Colon, 31, was arrested Monday for covering up Damiano’s theft.

Read the rest of the story here.

—The Associated Press

Millions of federal dollars for health emergencies were diverted to unrelated projects, watchdog says

Federal officials repeatedly raided a fund earmarked for biomedical research in the years leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, spending millions of dollars to pay for unrelated salaries, administrative expenses and even the cost of removing office furniture, according to the findings from an investigation into a whistleblower complaint shared with The Washington Post.

The investigation, conducted by the Health and Human Services Department’s inspector general and overseen by the Office of Special Counsel, focused on hundreds of millions of dollars intended for the development of vaccines, drugs and therapies by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, an arm of the federal health department.

The unidentified whistleblower alleged that officials in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at HHS, which oversaw the biomedical agency, wrongly dipped into the money set aside by Congress for development of lifesaving medicines, beginning in fiscal year 2010 and continuing through at least fiscal year 2019, spanning the Obama and Trump administrations.

The inspector general substantiated some of the whistleblower’s claims, finding that staffers referred to the agency as the “bank of BARDA” and told investigators that research and development funds were regularly used for unrelated projects, sometimes at “exorbitant” rates.

“I am deeply concerned about [the] apparent misuse of millions of dollars in funding meant for public health emergencies like the one our country is currently facing with the covid-19 pandemic,” special counsel Henry Kerner wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden on Wednesday. “Equally concerning is how widespread and well-known this practice appeared to be for nearly a decade.”

Read the full story here.

—Lisa Rein and Dan Diamond, The Washington Post
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Time to double mask or upgrade masks as coronavirus variants emerge, experts say

Danny Ryan, 27, is pictured wearing two masks on Wednesday near his home in Washington, D.C. Double masks are becoming a real possibility as a new virus variant makes its way from England, South Africa, and Brazil into the U.S. (Washington Post photo by Sarah L. Voisin)

Wear your mask is becoming wear your masks.

The discovery of highly contagious coronavirus variants in the United States has public health experts urging Americans to upgrade the simple cloth masks that have become a staple shield during the pandemic.

The change can be as simple as slapping a second mask over the one you already wear, or better yet, donning a fabric mask on top of a surgical mask. Some experts say it’s time to buy the highest-quality KN95 or N95 masks that officials have long discouraged Americans from purchasing to reserve supply for health care workers.

As with other parts of the pandemic response, the U.S. lags behind other parts of the world when it comes to masks. Several Asian countries, including Singapore and South Korea, have mass-produced high quality masks to send directly to residents. In recent weeks, European countries have begun mandating medical grade masks in public settings as the B.1.1.7 strain first identified in the United Kingdom threatens to ravage communities; British scientists estimate it could be as much as 70% more transmissible.

“The existence of more transmissible viruses emphasizes the important of us upping our game and doing not more of the same, but better of the same,” said Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Frieden has called for people to wear higher quality masks. “Yes, that is confusing to people, but the key is to share what we know when we know it and be frank about what we don’t know.”

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, touted double masking during a Monday appearance on the “Today” show, saying two layers “just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective.”

Read the full story here.

—Fenit Nirappil, The Washington Post

Florida man guilty of laundering stolen COVID relief funds

A Florida man who received more than $1.9 million in coronavirus relief funds faces up to 20 years in federal prison for laundering most of the money through a fake business and purchasing a luxury car and a pickup truck, federal prosecutors said.

Keith William Nicoletta, 48, of Dade City, pleaded guilty Monday to a conspiracy to launder stolen COVID relief funds, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Tampa. He also agreed to forfeit more than $1.9 million, along with vehicles and other items he bought with the stolen money. A sentencing date wasn’t immediately set.

Last May, Nicoletta falsely claimed on a loan application that he had a scrap metal business with 69 employees and a monthly payroll of more than $760,000, prosecutors said.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Protesters in Lebanon clash with police over virus lockdown

Lebanese army soldiers take cover from stones that were thrown at them, during a protest against strict lockdown measures in Tripoli, north Lebanon, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021.  Lebanon has hit a new daily record for COVID-19 fatalities, registering 73 deaths as protesters took to the streets for a second day to denounce strict lockdown measures put in place to curb an exhausting surge in infections.  (AP Photo)

Lebanese security forces opened fire in violent clashes Wednesday with dozens of protesters who took to the street in the country’s north for a third consecutive day to denounce deteriorating living conditions amid a strict lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

At least one protester was hit by live ammunition and fell to the ground, blood pouring from his thigh. Police said they were responding to hand grenades thrown by the protesters that injured nine policemen, including three officers.

The violence marked a sharp escalation in confrontations in the northern city of Tripoli that began on Monday and continued for three straight days into Wednesday night. The city is the second largest in Lebanon, and the most impoverished.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Do you live in a multigenerational household?

Here’s a question that a lot of folks in Washington have suddenly found themselves wondering about, probably for the first time: “Do I live in a multigenerational household?”

The reason behind the question, of course, is the state’s eligibility requirements for the COVID-19 vaccine. In the current stage of the Washington Department of Health (DOH) rollout — Phase B1 — all people who are 65 and older are eligible. But some younger than that (ages 50-64) also qualify provided they live in a multigenerational home.

So what exactly does that mean?

One reader asked me if he qualified because, at a little over 50 years old, he belongs to the Gen-X generation, while his partner, who is 30-something, is a millennial.

He is, understandably, thinking of the pop-culture definition of the word “generation.” But when demographers (and the DOH) refer to a multigenerational household, that isn’t what they mean.

Read FYI Guy's column here.

—Gene Balk / FYI Guy

No Mardi Gras parades, so thousands make ‘house floats’

You just can’t keep a good city down, especially when Mardi Gras is coming.

All around New Orleans, thousands of houses are being decorated as floats because the coronavirus outbreak canceled the elaborate parades mobbed by crowds during the Carnival season leading to Fat Tuesday.

Some smaller groups announced no-parade plans before the city did. Pandemic replacements include scavenger hunts for signature trinkets that normally would be thrown from floats or handed out from a streetcar, as well as outdoor art and drive-thru or virtual parades. The prominent Krewe of Bacchus has an app where people can catch and trade virtual trinkets during Carnival and watch a virtual parade Feb. 14, when the parade had been scheduled.

But the “house float” movement started almost as soon as a New Orleans spokesman announced Nov. 17 that parades were off.

That morning, Megan Joy Boudreaux posted what she later called a silly Twitter joke: “We’re doing this. Turn your house into a float and throw all the beads from your attic at your neighbors walking by.”

Read the story here.

—Janet McConnaughey, The Associated Press

Virus will kill many more, says WH as briefings resume

As many as 90,000 Americans are projected to die from the coronavirus in the next four weeks, the Biden administration warned in its first science briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic, as experts outlined efforts to improve the delivery and injection of COVID-19 vaccines.

The hourlong briefing Wednesday by the team charged by President Joe Biden with ending the pandemic, was meant to deliver on his promise of “leveling” with the American people about the state of the outbreak that has already claimed more than 425,000 U.S. lives.

It marked a sharp contrast from the last administration when public health officials were repeatedly undermined by a president who shared his unproven ideas without hesitation.

The striking deaths projection wasn’t much different from what Biden himself has said, but nonetheless served as a stark reminder of the brutal road ahead.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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In CDC’s backyard, school reopening debate divides experts

Just down the road from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a community flush with resident health professionals, the Decatur, Georgia, school system had no shortage of expert input on whether to resume in-person classes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Scores of public health and medical professionals from the affluent, politically liberal Atlanta suburb have weighed in about what’s best for their own kids’ schools.

One emergency medicine doctor said initial reopening plans for the district’s 5,000-plus students weren’t safe enough. A pediatrician doing epidemiology work for the CDC advocated delaying. Others, including a leader of the CDC’s COVID-19 vaccine efforts, argued the district could get students back in classrooms safely — and that not doing so jeopardized their development and mental health.

A sign that reads “our children deserve better safe choice now” is seen on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Decatur, Ga.  Just down the road from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a community flush with resident health professionals, the Decatur school system had no shortage of expert input on whether to resume in-person classes amid the coronavirus pandemic. Scores of public health and medical professionals from the affluent, politically liberal Atlanta suburb have weighed in about what’s best for their own kids’ schools.(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Each side argued data and science supported their view in a debate over reopening schools that sometimes veered into vitriol. The division in Decatur illustrates the challenges U.S. schools — many in communities without so much expertise — have faced in evaluating what’s safe.

Read the story here.

—Kantele Franko, The Associated Press

Battling COVID-19, South Africa prepares for first vaccines

A woman wearing a face mask as a precaution against coronavirus outbreak, walks on the street in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. Battling a COVID-19 resurgence driven by a more infectious variant, South Africa is preparing to roll out its first vaccines to frontline healthcare workers. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

Battling a COVID-19 resurgence driven by a more infectious variant, South Africa is preparing to roll out its first vaccines to frontline healthcare workers.

A delivery of 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to arrive imminently at Johannesburg’s international airport and there are plans for jabs to be given to doctors and nurses starting next week.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has said South Africa intends to vaccinate 67% of its 60 million people in 2021, starting with the most vulnerable health workers, especially those performing intubations in intensive care units.

The start of South Africa’s vaccination drive, one of the first in Africa, comes as the country has the continent’s highest numbers of confirmed cases and deaths. South Africa’s 1.4 million cumulative cases, including 41,797 deaths, represent about 40% of the cases reported by all of Africa’s 54 countries.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Oklahoma seeking to return $2M worth of hydroxychloroquine

FILE – In this Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, file photo, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks during a news conference in Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma attorney general’s office is attempting to return $2 million worth of hydroxychloroquine,  once touted by former President Donald Trump as an effective treatment for COVID-19. The purchase was defended by
Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt  who called the drug promising and said he didn’t want to miss the opportunity to acquire it. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

The Oklahoma attorney general’s office is attempting to return $2 million worth of a malaria drug once touted by former President Donald Trump as an effective treatment for COVID-19, a spokesman said Wednesday.

Alex Gerszewski, a spokesman for Attorney General Mike Hunter, said Hunter is attempting to negotiate a return of the 1.2 million hydroxychloroquine pills Oklahoma acquired in April from a California-based supplier, FFF Enterprises. He said the office was acting on a request from the Oklahoma State Department of Health, which authorized the purchase.

A spokeswoman for FFF Enterprises didn’t immediately return a message Wednesday seeking comment.

Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt defended the purchase last year, saying the drug was showing some promise as a treatment in early March and he didn’t want to miss an opportunity to acquire it.

—The Associated Press
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Canadian couple condemned for allegedly jumping vaccine line

Public condemnation grew Wednesday over a wealthy Vancouver couple who allegedly flew to a remote Indigenous community in Yukon Territory to get vaccinated for the coronavirus.

Marc Miller, Canada’s federal Indigenous services minister, said he was “disgusted” by the purported actions of Rodney Baker and his wife, Ekaterina, who have been issued tickets under Yukon’s Emergency Measures Act and face fines of up to $1,000 Canadian plus fees.

Baker resigned on Sunday as Great Canadian Gaming Corp.’s president and chief executive after a media report of his actions. Baker earned a total of about $6.7 million Canadian (US$5.2 million) in compensation from the company in 2019.

Tickets filed in a Yukon court indicate that Miller, 55, and his wife, 32, were each charged with one count of failing to self-isolate for 14 days and one count of failing to act in a manner consistent with their declarations upon arriving in Yukon.

“That is maybe the dumbest thing I’ve seen in a long while,” Miller said. “I don’t know what went through those people’s minds. There is extreme scarcity of the doses and for some reason people tried to game the system. It’s unfair. It’s wrong. They need personal reflection.”

The couple flew last week in a chartered plane to Beaver Creek, where they allegedly posed as visiting hotel workers and received shots of a coronavirus vaccine at a mobile clinic.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Spain running short of vaccines due to delivery delays

Health authorities in Spain say they are running out of COVID-19 vaccines and will have to postpone giving shots to health workers and nursing home residents due to delays in deliveries by pharmaceutical companies.

Catalonia’s public health chief Josep Argimon said Wednesday that the northeast region that is home to Barcelona will have used up all its available vaccines by Friday, when its “refrigerators will be empty.”

Argimon said this will mean that 10,000 people who had received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine won’t be able to get their required second dose as planned 21 days later. Argimon said “in theory this should not be a problem” because the guidelines approved by the European Union indicate the second dose can be administered 21 to 45 days after the first shot.

Spain, along with the rest of the European Union, has suffered inoculation delays since Pfizer announced two weeks ago that it would have a temporary reduction in deliveries so it could upgrade its plant in Puurs, Belgium.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Cyprus to start loosening COVID-19 lockdown next month

A man wears a face mask on his bicycle in central capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. Cyprus’ health minister Constantinos Ioannou said that the first to re-open as of Feb. 1st will be hair and beauty salons followed a week later by retail stores, shopping malls and elementary schools. Students in their final year of high school will also go back to classes on Feb. 8. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

 A steady decrease in new coronavirus infections three weeks into Cyprus’ nationwide lockdown is allowing for the start of the gradual, targeted lifting of closures and restrictions, the country’s health minister said Wednesday.

Constantinos Ioannou said that the first places to reopen as of Feb. 1 will be hair and beauty salons followed a week later by retail stores, shopping malls and elementary schools. Students in their final year of high school will also go back to classes on Feb. 8, while places of worship will again permit a maximum attendance of 50 faithful. The number of people allowed to visit family at home is capped at four people as of Feb. 8

Ioannou said twice-a-day excursions requiring text message approval remain in effect for now because authorities want to avoid “hasty, high-risk actions” that would undermine efforts for a speedy return to normality.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Cantwell to ask for vaccine priority for those who get food moving

With the nomination of Pete Buttigieg for transportation secretary now headed to the full Senate, after passing the Commerce Committee with a bipartisan 21-3 vote, Washington's Sen. Maria Cantwell is planning to ask President Joe Biden and Buttigieg, if confirmed, to prioritize vaccines for workers helping to move food products.

In a statement released Wednesday, Cantwell said, I plan on asking President Biden, and hopefully Secretary Buttigieg, what they are going to do to help prioritize vaccines to those critical transportation workers who are moving food product."

She said the world is now seeing significant challenges getting food from its sources to markets and tables.

"I want to make sure that our transportation infrastructure workers are prioritized to get those vaccines, and we can continue to move product through the United States," Cantwell said.

—Christine Clarridge

States lift restrictions gradually amid fears of new variant

Several states are loosening their coronavirus restrictions on restaurants and other businesses because of improved infection and hospitalization numbers but are moving gradually and cautiously, in part because of the more contagious variant taking hold in the U.S.

While the easing could cause case rates to rise, health experts say it can work if done in a measured way and if the public remains vigilant about masks and social distancing.

FILE – In this Nov. 24, 2020, file photo, Debbie Biga, center, and her husband Joe, both of Port Huron, enjoy a meal together while keeping social distance from other customers at Woodchips BBQ in Lapeer, Mich. Several states are loosening their coronavirus restrictions on restaurants and other businesses because of improved infection and hospitalization numbers but are moving cautiously, in part because of the more contagious variant taking hold in the U.S. (Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP, File)

“If the frequency goes up, you tighten it up. If the frequency goes down, you loosen up. Getting it just right is almost impossible,” said Dr. Arnold Monto, a public health professor at the University of Michigan. “There’s no perfect way to do this.”

As Michigan’s coronavirus rate dropped to the nation’s fifth-lowest over the last two weeks, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said bars and restaurants can welcome indoor customers next week for the first time in 2 1/2 months. But they will be under a 10 p.m. curfew and will be limited to 25% of capacity, or half of what was allowed the last time she loosened their restrictions, in June.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Health workers become 1st to get COVID-19 vaccine in Nepal

Nepalese health workers observe a minute of silence in memory of people who died due to COVID-19 before administering vaccine at Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. Thousands of health workers lined up across Nepal to get the coronavirus vaccine Wednesday as the Himalayan nation began its campaign to get the population vaccinated within three months. Neighboring India gifted Nepal 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine manufactured under license by the Serum Institute of India. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

Thousands of health workers lined up across Nepal to get the coronavirus vaccine Wednesday as the Himalayan nation began a three-month vaccination campaign.

At the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu, doctors were encouraging hesitant colleagues to get the vaccine.

Nepal received as a gift from neighboring India 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine manufactured under license by the Serum Institute of India.

It’s aiming to get 72% of its 30 million people vaccinated within three months and is making the two-dose vaccine free to citizens.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Shoah survivors to get vaccine on Auschwitz liberation day

File – In this Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019 file photo, a man walks through the gate of the Sachsenhausen Nazi death camp with the phrase ‘Arbeit macht frei’ (work sets you free) during International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Oranienburg, about 30 kilometers (18 miles), north of Berlin, Germany. Hundreds of Holocaust survivors in Austria and Slovakia are getting vaccinated against the coronavirus exactly 76 years after the liberation of the Nazi’s Auschwitz death camp. More than 400 Austrian survivors were invited to get the vaccine at Vienna’s biggest mass vaccination center on International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday Jan. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, file)

 Hundreds of Holocaust survivors in Austria and Slovakia were poised to get their first coronavirus vaccination Wednesday, acknowledging their past suffering with a special tribute 76 years after the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, where the Nazis killed more than 1 million Jews and others.

“We owe this to them,” said Erika Jakubovits, the Jewish Community of Vienna organizer of the vaccination drive. “They have suffered so much trauma and have felt even more insecure during this pandemic.”

More than 400 Austrian survivors, most in their 80s or 90s, were expected to get their first coronavirus shot at Vienna’s largest vaccination center set up in the Austrian capital’s convention center.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Tensions rise as AstraZeneca, EU hold vaccine delivery talks

FILE  – In this Monday, Jan. 4, 2021 file photo, 82-year-old Brian Pinker receives the Oxford University/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine from nurse Sam Foster at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, England. The European Union’s dispute with AstraZeneca has intensified with the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker denying the EU’s assertion that it had pulled out of talks on vaccine supplies. AstraZeneca said that it still planned to meet with EU officials in Brussels later in the day.  The talks will be the third in as many days. AstraZeneca says the figures in its contract with the EU were targets that couldn’t be met because of problems in rapidly expanding production capacity.  (Steve Parsons/Pool Photo via AP, File)

The European Union’s dispute with AstraZeneca over vaccine supplies intensified Wednesday as the drugmaker defended itself against claims that it had reneged on contractual commitments and the two sides sparred over plans for further talks.

AstraZeneca Chief Executive Pascal Soriot addressed the dispute for the first time, rejecting the EU’s assertion that the company was failing to honor its commitments to deliver coronavirus vaccines. Soriot said delivery figures in AstraZeneca’s contract with the EU were targets, not firm commitments, and they couldn’t be met because of problems in rapidly expanding production capacity.

“Our contract is not a contractual commitment,’’ Soriot said in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. “It’s a best effort. Basically we said we’re going to try our best, but we can’t guarantee we’re going to succeed. In fact, getting there, we are a little bit delayed.”

After the interview was published, an EU spokeswoman said AstraZeneca had pulled out of talks Wednesday about problems with vaccine supplies, which AstraZeneca immediately denied. Hours later, the EU said talks were back on.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Quarantine corner: Diversions to get you through the day

Where to romp with your dog: These three Seattle parks will make you and your furry friend happy.

We dare you to keep a straight face during a virtual session of laughter yoga, which is helping people breathe away the stress even when things don't feel funny. 

Curl up in your coziest chair with one of these three new memoirs — including the heart-rending "Dog Flowers" — or check out our top streaming picks.

—Kris Higginson
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Help us find answers

Some coronavirus vaccine sites offer a wait list. Some don’t. Online scheduling tools differ among sites. Hospitals are struggling to manage a wave of phone calls. The state’s own hotline couldn’t keep up on Monday.

There has been widespread confusion, and state officials have acknowledged that some appointments will have to be canceled due to spotty supply.

Help The Seattle Times answer questions about the vaccine rollout by filling out the form below if you or someone you know has gotten the vaccine, or if you're still trying.

—The Seattle Times

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Can't find a vaccine? Many more are on the way, according to President-elect Joe Biden. He says he's boosting the flow of vaccines next week, which is "really great news" for Washington's ability to vaccinate residents, Gov. Jay Inslee says. Here's our guide to getting your vaccine, but pack your patience: The coming weeks are still expected to hold plenty of disappointments.

Overlake Medical Center's major donors got a special invitation for vaccine appointments, even though the public-facing registration site was fully booked. The appearance of favoritism was a mistake, an Overlake leader says, but it's raising questions about who gets a better shot at the vaccine under the state's messy system. Read the Times Watchdog story.

Who's doing the vaccines right, Washington or Oregon? You be the judge in this clash over who's really essential in a society, writes columnist Danny Westneat — who sees a possible way around the dilemma.

Schools should return kids to classrooms as soon as possible, CDC researchers said yesterday, explaining that it can be safe if proper precautions are taken — and if those measures extend beyond school walls. This came on the same day some Bellevue students headed back to buildings after a week of feuding between the district and teachers union.

Bill Gates says we must prepare for the next pandemic like we prepare for war. He's mapped out what he sees as a better battle plan for next time, but it won't be cheap.

An outbreak is hitting a Seattle-based company's seafood processing plant hard. Workers have been evacuated by ship and air from Trident Seafoods' plant in remote Akutan, Alaska, where 135 have tested positive.

—Kris Higginson

How is the pandemic affecting you?

What has changed about your daily life? What kinds of discussions are you having with family members and friends? Are you a health care worker who's on the front lines of the response? Are you a COVID-19 patient or do you know one? Whoever you are, we want to hear from you so our news coverage is as complete, accurate and useful as possible. If you're using a mobile device and can't see the form on this page, click here.