Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, Jan. 29, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 the state continues to roll out its coronavirus vaccination initiative, several Washington counties, including King, Pierce, Snohomish and Thurston, will be able to relax some COVID-19 restrictions on businesses starting next week, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday. The change will reopen indoor service at restaurants at 25% capacity, as well as indoor fitness centers and live entertainment venues.

Meanwhile, World Health Organization experts will begin face-to-face meetings with their Chinese counterparts Friday in Wuhan — an attempt to answer questions about the origins of the virus.

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.

Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal and Susan Mullaney, president, Kaiser Permanente, will hold a virtual press conference at 11 a.m. to share a plan to vaccinate Washington’s educators and school staff.

WHO team visits 2nd Wuhan hospital in virus investigation

WUHAN, China — Members of a World Health Organization team investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic visited another Wuhan hospital that had treated early COVID-19 patients on their second full day of work on Saturday.

Jinyantan Hospital was one of the city’s first to deal with patients in early 2020 suffering from a then-unknown virus and is a key part of the epidemiological history of the disease. 

The team’s first face-to-face meetings with Chinese scientists took place on Friday, before the experts who specialize in animal health, virology, food safety and epidemiology visited another early site of the outbreak, the Hubei Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine Hospital.

The Geneva-based WHO said late Thursday on Twitter that its team plans to visit hospitals, markets like the Huanan Seafood Market that was linked to many of the first cases, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and laboratories at facilities including the Wuhan Center for Disease Control.

The mission has become politically charged, as China seeks to avoid blame for alleged missteps in its early response to the outbreak.

—Associated Press

Oregon school in remote town closes after virus cases found

SALEM, Ore. — A high school in a remote Oregon town ordered a halt to in-person classes Friday after eight people there tested positive for COVID-19, and Republican lawmakers accused the Democratic governor of prioritizing urban over rural residents for vaccine distribution.

The development in the high school in Vale, a town of 2,000 residents in eastern Oregon, comes as Gov. Kate Brown has faced criticism over prioritizing educators over senior citizens for vaccine eligibility in her effort to get schools across the state to reopen. All teachers became eligible to receive scarce vaccines on Monday, even though eligible health care workers, who were prioritized first, haven’t all been vaccinated yet.

Alisha McBride, superintendent of the Vale School District, said all in-person instruction and activities at Vale High School would be paused from Monday through Feb. 11. The eight individuals who had been in the building tested positive for COVID-19 this week.

McBride would not say if the eight were students or teachers, but that they apparently became infected outside the school.

—Associated Press

OSHA offers new virus safety guidance for employers

President Joe Biden’s administration released new workplace guidelines Friday that signaled a more proactive approach to protecting workers from the coronavirus. 

The new guidance from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration seeks to protect all types of workers, not just ones who are deemed to be at higher risk of contracting the virus depending on where they work. 

It also asks employers to shield workers from retaliation if they complain about conditions and sets up ways for them to voice complaints anonymously. And it wants employers to give workers a bigger say in developing safety protocols. 

“Workers are the people who know what they’re exposed to and can help develop ways that will help them ameliorate that exposure and still allow them to do their jobs,” said Ann Rosenthal, a senior advisor at OSHA. 

Much of the guidelines released Friday are similar to ones from the Trump administration. And many workplaces have already adopted the guidelines, such as keeping workers at least 6 feet away from each other and having them wear face masks. 

—Associated Press

In Biden’s White House, masks, closed doors and empty halls

WASHINGTON — Senior staff members limit interactions with each other in most offices to a total of 15 minutes in a day. No more than six people are allowed to gather in the Oval Office at a time, and a maximum of five staff members are allowed to meet together in the spacious office of the chief of staff, Ron Klain. In the Roosevelt Room, where staff meet every afternoon for a planning meeting on the coronavirus rescue plan, gatherings are limited to 10 people.

The West Wing of the White House has become a much different place under its new occupants — quieter, more disciplined and far more conscious of the pandemic that is the new administration’s priority. Partly, it reflects the way President Joe Biden’s team wants to work, but mostly it is a product of the strict rules it has put in place to reduce the risk of a widespread infection if someone on the president’s team gets sick.

Both the morning and afternoon senior staff meetings are conducted on Zoom, even though many of the participants are logging in from offices next to one another. When staff members eat lunch at their desks, which requires removing their masks, they are required to close their doors.

The restrictive rules stand in stark contrast to the freewheeling way in which the Trump White House operated in its final months, when masks remained optional and the few aides who chose to wear them were mocked by their colleagues and even told to remove them by President Donald Trump. While some meetings were held remotely, former Trump officials said, many officials still met in person.

Read the full story here.

—The New York Times

Airline pilots making in-flight errors say they’re ‘rusty’ because of pandemic

A pilot preparing to pull a passenger jet away from an airport gate forgot to disengage the parking brake, damaging a part of a towing vehicle that was trying to pull the plane to the runway.

Another pilot had so much trouble landing a passenger jet on a windy day that it took three tries before the plane touched down successfully.

In another incident, the first officer forgot to turn on the anti-icing mechanism that ensures the altitude and airspeed sensors on the outside of the plane are not blocked by ice. Luckily for the passengers, the plane completed its flight without problems.

These incidents are among at least a dozen flying errors and mishaps since May that pilots and first officers have attributed, at least in part, to being out of practice because the COVID-19 pandemic — which pushed air travel demand to the lowest levels in decades — had kept them away from flying for a while.

Aviation experts and airline representatives acknowledge that when pilots are inactive for several months, their skills and proficiency deteriorate.

—Los Angeles Times

New coronavirus variant detected in King County on Friday

The new coronavirus variant, first identified in the U.K. and recently found in Snohomish and Pierce counties, has been detected in a King County test sample, health officials announced Friday.

University of Washington Medicine on Friday notified King County public health officials, who said the news was “worrisome, but not surprising,” according to a blog post from Public Health — Seattle & King County

The variant, known as the B117 strain, spreads more easily than others and quickly became the dominant strain in the U.K., King County health officials said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicted in a study last week that the strain will likely become the predominant one in the United States by March.

No further information about the King County case was immediately available.

As of Friday morning, the new variant had been detected in 24 states, including in two people in Snohomish County and one in Pierce County.

Read the full story here.

—Elise Takahama

Kitsap County health district to temporarily close vaccine clinic, citing lack of doses from the state

A Kitsap County community health clinic that recently started offering COVID-19 vaccinations will be closed until at least the second week of February because it hasn't received any more doses from the state, health officials said Friday.

The clinic, which is run by the Kitsap Public Health District and the Kitsap County Emergency Operations Center, vaccinated more than 2,000 people in its opening week, using all the doses it had available, according to a statement from the health district.

County health officials said the state notified them Friday evening that it did not allocate any doses to the Kitsap County health district for Jan. 31 to Feb. 6.

"After building positive momentum with a successful first week of operations, we are disappointed to announce that we are not able to reopen the clinic next week," the statement said, adding that the county plans to continue requesting doses from the state.

Kitsap Public Health will announce additional clinic openings as soon as it receives more doses, the statement said.

—Elise Takahama

Alaska advocates say severe child abuse rose in pandemic

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Severe child abuse cases in Alaska have increased significantly at times during the coronavirus pandemic, experts said.

As students return to classrooms, child welfare advocates are assessing the impact of the pandemic on child abuse, Alaska Public Media reported Wednesday.

Visits by one clinic to children in need of hospitalization for severe injuries because of suspected abuse skyrocketed by 173% in the last year. The number was initially reported as 220% but didn’t include four cases that were added later to the 2019 count, Mike Canfield, a spokesperson for Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, said Friday.

“This absolutely reflects an increase in serious physical abuse and neglect cases,” said Barbara Knox, the medical director of the clinic, Alaska Child Abuse Response and Evaluation Services.

Reports to the state Office of Children’s Services decreased by up to 30% in some months of 2020, while evaluations by Alaska CARES slightly decreased compared to 2019.

The lower reporting rate and the spike in severe cases is likely because of a combination of factors — including increased isolation, stress from family financial instability and school closures, Knox said.

—Associated Press

State health officials confirm 2,048 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 2,048 new coronavirus cases and 42 new deaths on Friday.

The update brings the state's totals to 309,801 cases and 4,285 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. Thursday.

The new cases may include up to 670 duplicates, according to DOH.

In addition, 17,543 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 26 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 77,691 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,242 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

Seattle mayor calls on state to ban special vaccine access to donors, route vaccines to community clinics

Following reports of three large local hospital systems giving special vaccine access to donors, board members or other community members with connections, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is calling on the state Department of Health to put a stop to the practice.

Durkan further called for the state to reallocate vaccines to community health clinics that serve low-income communities of color amid rising concerns that a limited vaccine supply is not reaching people who are higher risk than others.

In a series of stories this week, The Seattle Times revealed that three medical systems in the region — Providence Regional Medical Center, Overlake Medical Center & Clinics and EvergreenHealth — gave special access to their major donors or foundation board members.

Hospital officials have said they were trying to fill vaccine appointments quickly or test software as efficiently as possible using familiar contacts, but two of the organizations acknowledged they erred by creating an appearance of favoritism toward wealthy or connected individuals.

Read the story here.

—Sydney Brownstone and Mike Reicher

Why America is ‘flying blind’ to the coronavirus mutations racing across the globe

America currently has so little of the genetic sequencing needed to detect new variants of the coronavirus — like the ones first identified in Great Britain and South Africa — that such mutations are likely proliferating quickly, undetected, experts said.

The lack of widespread genetic sequencing means the window is closing to find and slow the spread of variants such as the one first spotted in Britain, which appears to be much more transmissible, and those initially detected in Brazil and South Africa. All have been discovered in small numbers in the United States.

Now is when genetic sequencing — a process that maps out the genetic code of the particular virus that infected someone so it can be compared to others — would do the most good, while such variants are less prevalent in the U.S. population and action can be taken against them.

“We are in a race against time because of these mutations. And in that race, we are falling behind,” said Mara Aspinall, a biomedical diagnostics professor at Arizona State University.

Read the story here.

—William Wan and Ben Guarino, The Washington Post

USDA expands pandemic EBT food benefits to children 0-6, makes aid retroactive

The Biden administration announced Friday it will expand Pandemic EBT benefits to infants and young children as part of a package to get more food aid to young families who have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus-induced recession.

The measures follows President Joe Biden’s executive order last week to expand food assistance programs. This new initiative aimed at the 12 million families receiving Pandemic EBT (which is meant to replace free or subsidized meals for kids now learning online) will also give states added flexibility to swiftly distribute the benefits.

“Within one week, the USDA is executing on the president’s directive and getting more money into the hands of kids and families who need it,” Stacy Dean, who last week was named Deputy Undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, told The Washington Post.

The initiative increases by 16% pandemic food assistance benefits intended for those children who would have qualified for subsidized school meals were schools in session. Children 0-6 will now also be eligible.

Read the story here.

—The Washington Post

Dangerous liaison: New Zealand virus quarantine flaw exposed

The woman who took a flight back to New Zealand was supposed to avoid all physical contact with others for 14 days as she went into mandatory quarantine. The man working at the quarantine hotel was supposed to be the last line of defense.

But the two started passing notes to each other, including one written on the back of a face mask. Then she ordered a bottle of wine, which he delivered to her room. When he didn’t return 20 minutes later, a security manager sent to investigate found the pair together in what authorities are describing as an inappropriate encounter, one in which physical distancing wasn’t maintained.

The incident earlier this month, which came to light Friday, has highlighted a very human weak point in New Zealand’s coronavirus elimination procedures, in a country which has stamped out community spread of the virus. It is similar to lapses in Australia that may have contributed to a major outbreak last year in Melbourne.

“We’re dealing with human beings,” said COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. “We ask everybody to adhere to the standards that we put in place. I cannot control the actions of every individual.”

Read the story here.

—Nick Perry, The Associated Press

Coronavirus mass-vaccination sites opening in South King County

Two coronavirus mass-vaccination sites will open Monday in South King County, a region disproportionately affected during the pandemic.

The two sites, at the ShoWare Center in Kent and the General Services Administration (GSA) Complex in Auburn, will have the supply and capacity to administer 500 shots a day, Public Health – Seattle & King County said in a news release.

An appointment will be required to receive a shot. Because of limited supply, vaccine appointments are for south county residents 75 and older; caregivers or home care workers of any age taking care of someone 50 and older who can’t live independently are also eligible.

Caregivers 50 and older living with and caring for family such as grandchildren and nieces and nephews can also be vaccinated at the two sites. Parents living with their children are not included.

Appointments can be made through King County’s website or by calling the state’s COVID-19 Assistance Hotline at 1-800-525-0127.

Read the story here.

—Ryan Blethen

Get Ready’ won't move teachers up the line, but aims to vaccinate quickly

The state is laying the groundwork to quickly vaccinate school employees against the coronavirus when their turn comes in Washington’s distribution plan, thanks to a partnership with a major health care provider, officials said Friday.

Kaiser Permanente Washington, an insurance and health care provider, and the state superintendent’s office are currently developing the “Get Ready” plan, which would utilize 14 to 20 Kaiser locations — and potentially school sites in areas where there are none — to vaccinate teachers and school staff.

The “Get Ready” plan doesn’t change the place in the queue for educators. Vaccines are still only available largely based on a patient’s age, living conditions or status as a high-risk health care worker.

Many of the details — such as how sites would verify that patients are indeed teachers or staff — are still being worked out.

The goal, said state schools Superintendent Chris Reykdal, is to get all eligible teachers and staff vaccinated as soon as they’re eligible.

Read the story here.

—Joy Resmovits and Hannah Furfaro

Indian economy shrinks 7.7% in fiscal 2020-21 amid pandemic

India’s economy contracted by 7.7% in the 2020-21 financial year, battered by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report released Friday.

The government survey estimates the economy, previously one of the fastest growing among major economies, will bounce back, growing 11% in the fiscal year that begins in April.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented the report to Parliament on Friday. She will present the national budget for 2021-22 on Monday.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

WHO airs concerns about EU measure to curb vaccine exports

World Health Organization officials warned Friday that new European Union moves to tighten rules on the export of COVID-19 shots were “not helpful,” and said restrictions mustn’t get in the way of beating the disease worldwide.

Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and other WHO officials warned of supply-chain disruptions that could result and ripple through the world — and potentially stall the fight against the pandemic.

The EU’s executive Commission on Friday introduced measures to tighten rules on exports of shots produced in its 27-member countries. The measures will be used until the end of March to control shipments outside the bloc.

The idea is to ensure EU nations get shots they bought from vaccine makers at a time when supplies are limited and production hiccups have emerged.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Fauci sees vaccination for kids by late spring or the summer

The government’s top infectious disease expert said Friday he hopes to see children being vaccinated starting in the next few months. It’s a needed step to securing widespread immunity to the coronavirus.

“Hopefully by the time we get to the late spring and early summer we will have children being able to be vaccinated,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said during the White House coronavirus briefing.

Children represent about one-fourth of the population, and for the U.S. to reach “herd immunity,” or widespread resistance, about 70% to 85% of the population must be vaccinated. As of Thursday, only about 1.3% of Americans had been fully vaccinated with the required two doses of the currently available vaccines.

The Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved vaccines for children, due to insufficient testing data on safety and effectiveness for young people. But Fauci said data is being gathered now.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Canada to quarantine travelers, suspend flights south

 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday announced stricter restrictions on travelers in response to new, likely more contagious variants of the novel coronavirus — including making it mandatory for travelers to quarantine in a hotel at their own expense when they arrive in Canada and suspending airline service to Mexico and all Caribbean destinations until April 30.

Trudeau said in addition to the pre-boarding test Canada already requires, the government will be introducing mandatory PCR testing at the airport for people returning to Canada.

“Travelers will then have to wait for up to three days at an approved hotel for their test results, at their own expense, which is expected to be more than $2000,” Trudeau said.

“Those with negative test results will then be able to quarantine at home under significantly increased surveillance and enforcement.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

EU regulator authorizes AstraZeneca vaccine for all adults

Regulators authorized AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine for use in adults throughout the European Union on Friday, amid criticism the bloc is not moving fast enough to vaccinate its population.

The European Medicines Agency’s expert committee unanimously recommended the vaccine to be used in people 18 and over, though concerns had been raised this week that not enough data exist to prove it works in older people, and some countries indicated they may not give it to the elderly.

The shot is the third COVID-19 vaccine given the green light by the European Medicines Agency after ones by Pfizer and Moderna. The EMA’s decision requires final approval from the European Commission, a process that occurred swiftly with the other vaccines.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Out of sight, cleaners perform critical work in COVID ICUs

ATHENS, Greece — Clad head to toe in protective gear, doctors and nurses cluster around the patient, fighting to keep the coronavirus-stricken man alive.

Just behind them, unnoticed and unheard, a worker in the same protective gear goes about an entirely different task: disinfecting surfaces, collecting waste in biohazard bags, unobtrusively inching past beds and life-support machinery to mop the floor.

The cleaners of coronavirus intensive care units run a daily gauntlet of infection risks to ensure that ICUs run smoothly, and they are critical to preventing the spread of disease in hospitals. But their status as unskilled laborers in a behind-the-scenes role has left them out of the public eye.

While medical staffers are lauded worldwide for their lifesaving work during the pandemic, cleaners are rarely mentioned though their work is as critical.

They feel “like the smallest cog in the wheel, like nobody considers us,” one said shortly before donning protective gear to enter an ICU at the Sotiria Thoracic Diseases Hospital in Athens, Greece’s main COVID-19 treatment center.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

33-year-old Bucks exec Alex Lasry gets COVID vaccine early

Alex Lasry, a 33-year-old Milwaukee Bucks executive and son of a billionaire, received the coronavirus vaccine this week at a senior living center in Milwaukee despite not being part of a group currently eligible for the shots in Wisconsin.

Lasry told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he “just got lucky” and didn’t receive any favoritism. Lasry, a New York City native who is a hedge fund manager, is considering running for the U.S. Senate in Wisconsin in 2022. He was also host committee chair for the 2020 Democratic National Convention, which was awarded to Milwaukee but moved online due to the pandemic.

Lasry, the son of Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry, said his wife, Lauren, got a call Monday from her uncle, who is rabbi at Ovation Chai Point Senior Living, saying the senior living center had some extra, unused vaccine doses.

Lasry’s wife, who is pregnant, chose not to get the shot, Lasry told the newspaper. Lasry said he stepped forward so the vaccine wouldn’t go to waste.

Gov. Tony Evers said during a Friday update on Wisconsin’s vaccination efforts that state health officials are encouraging providers to use all the vaccine they have.

“They should just get it in somebody’s arm,” Evers said.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

With no chance to show their skills, high-school football players having tough time getting recruited

Fog masked the view of Mount St. Helens, but Silver Lake’s rippling water dotted with lily pads and sounds of birds chirping still created a picturesque setting for Corey Sampson’s first fishing trip in Cowlitz County earlier this month.

If only Sampson could forget he shouldn’t be there.

Typically “drop a line” is the Rainier Beach football coach helping his players reach out to college scouts. This year it was for crappie.

“Normally it would be busy right now,” Sampson said. “At least 100 schools would have been through already — small schools, big schools — checking out all the players and the players that are next up in line. Transcripts, grades, building relationships with everybody. Busy.”

The impact of the state’s delayed fall season because of the COVID-19 pandemic will likely be visible on national signing day Wednesday. While the local talent pool is regarded as the best senior class in Washington’s history, the traditional gauge — the lineup of players signing with FBS schools — isn’t expected to be as long as projected, according to area scouts and coaches. Reasons range from a lack of game film to splice for college coaches to missed opportunities to improve from playing against top competition.

Read the story here.

—Jayda Evans

Hungary first in EU to approve Chinese COVID-19 vaccine

Hungary’s medicine and food safety regulator on Friday approved China’s Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, making it the first country in the European Union to do so.

The decision followed a government decree on Thursday that streamlined Hungary’s vaccine approval procedure. Any vaccine that has been administered to at least one million people worldwide may now be approved for use in Hungary — without being assessed by the country’s medicines regulator.

Hungary has now approved the Sinopharm vaccine as well as those of Pfizer, Moderna, Sputnik and AstraZeneca, Chief Medical Officer Cecila Muller told a virtual press conference.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Tanzania’s leader denies COVID-19, and countrymen push back.

Tanzania’s president says God has eliminated COVID-19 in his country. His own church now begs to differ.

From the local Catholic authority warning this week of a new wave of coronavirus infections, to government institutions now requiring staffers to take precautions, populist President John Magufuli is being openly questioned as the African continent fights a strong resurgence in cases and deaths.

“We are not an island,” the Catholic secretariat of the Tanzania Episcopal Conference said in a widely shared statement this week. It urged followers, which include the president, to pray but also to adopt measures long practiced in the rest of the world, including avoiding public gatherings and close personal contact. The church’s newspaper on Friday stressed in a large front-page headline: “There is corona.”

Tanzania has tried to be an island since April, when the East African country of 60 million people stopped updating its number of virus infections at 509 cases. Some health officials who questioned Magufuli’s stance that COVID-19 had been defeated were fired. The government promoted international tourism, eager to avoid the economic pain of neighbors who imposed lockdowns and curfews.

The president even praised Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi for not wearing a face mask during a visit this month, calling it another sign that Tanzania is free of the virus.

But pandemic concerns have returned to the spotlight in Tanzania. As the rest of the world focuses on the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, Magufuli accused people who had been vaccinated overseas of bringing the virus back into Tanzania.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Japan prime minister says he’s determined to hold Olympics

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, despite growing uncertainty as coronavirus cases rise at home, renewed his determination Friday to host the postponed Tokyo Olympics this summer as a symbol of human victory over the pandemic.

Suga, speaking from Tokyo at a virtual meeting of the World Economic Forum, also called for a transparent investigation by the World Health Organization into the pandemic, saying it is key to learning lessons to prepare for future pandemics. He also promised to expand an initial $130 million contribution to a fund to help developing countries acquire coronavirus vaccines.

Olympic officials have repeatedly said the games will be held in July as planned after a one-year postponement, though various scenarios including the holding of events without spectators are being considered.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

South Africa OKs limited use of parasite drug for COVID-19

South Africa is allowing the limited use of a medicine to treat COVID-19 even though regulators acknowledge there’s not enough evidence that it works or is safe for this purpose.

The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority this week announced the drug ivermectin could be used in exceptional circumstances. Neighboring Zimbabwe also has apparently quietly allowed use of the drug.

Ivermectin has long been used elsewhere for parasites, and interest grew when a report suggested it might inhibit the coronavirus in a lab dish. But large, definitive experiments have not been done to establish whether it’s safe or effective for treating COVID-19.

The South African agency said it took the action in an effort “to curb the current widespread uncontrolled use of ivermectin” and meet doctors’ appeals for access to the drug. In South Africa, the drug is only registered for use in animals to fight lice and worms. The agency said doctors were using the veterinary product or illegally imported versions for people.

“This widespread unregulated use of ivermectin has meant that the quality and content of the ivermectin being prescribed cannot be guaranteed,” the agency said in a statement.

The agency said it would allow “controlled and compassionate use” for COVID-19 and provide clear guidance on its use and monitoring. Its statement noted that other regulators haven’t acted on the drug because of insufficient proof it helps COVID-19 patients.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Seattle-area travel industry workers predict what travel will look like in 2021 and beyond

Ask a few people in the travel business how their industry is doing, and you’ll start to hear some common refrains: Travel took a beating in 2020. The market is bursting with pent-up demand. Great deals are everywhere, but the terrain keeps shifting, so consider the help of travel agents. Beaches and parks are in — so, apparently, is littering. Between vaccine distribution hiccups and the new coronavirus variants, nobody knows when the floodgates will truly open.

Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association (a nonprofit trade group) says his go-to analysts at Tourism Economics predict gradual leisure-travel growth until June, then a spike in July, with corporate travel coming back in the fall.

Mike Estill of the Western Association of Travel Agencies (or WESTA, a profit-sharing cooperative of 150 travel agencies in five states) suspects 2021 will be the year of booking travel, “but 2022 is going to be when we get healthy.”

How have businesses survived this turbulence? How are they planning and positioning themselves for the year ahead? Have these tides fundamentally shifted anything in the industry? That all depends on who’s talking. So here are four postcards from travel industry people in slightly different positions: Europe travel legend Rick Steves, Hawaii travel specialist Gail Stringer, outdoor tour guide Tommy Farris and industry observer Estill.

Read the story here.

—Brendan Kiley, Seattle Times arts and culture reporter

Should people with cancer, dementia or multiple sclerosis get the COVID-19 vaccine?

As public demand grows for limited supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, questions remain about the vaccines’ appropriateness for older adults with various illnesses. Among them are cancer patients receiving active treatment, dementia patients near the end of their lives and people with autoimmune conditions.

Recently, a number of readers have asked whether older relatives with these conditions should be immunized. This is a matter for medical experts, who strongly suggest that people with questions contact their doctors and discuss their individual medical circumstances.

Experts’ advice may be helpful, though, since states are beginning to offer vaccines to adults over age 65, 70 or 75, including those with serious underlying medical conditions. Twenty-eight states are doing so, according to the latest survey by The New York Times.

For answers, read the story here.

—Judith Graham, Kaiser Health News

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Restaurant dining, fitness centers, museums and more can reopen in the Puget Sound area and one other region, under a new plan that Gov. Jay Inslee laid out yesterday. Here's the latest on what you can and can't do in each county.

As a flood of older adults seek COVID-19 vaccinations, “where are all these appointments going?” a 71-year-old woman wonders. “Somebody’s getting them.” One answer: Influential people. Several medical centers in the Puget Sound region are quietly giving special access to hospital foundation board members, donors and other VIPs. The invitations "made me nauseated," an EvergreenHealth physician says. Read the Times Watchdog story. 

Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine appears to prevent COVID-19, but not as well as its two-shot rivals, the company said today. This raises a big question: Is less protection an acceptable trade-off to get more shots in arms? 

How to protect yourself from the more contagious strain of the virus: Now that it's popped up in Western Washington, our FAQ breaks down what's known about the variant, double-masking and more. 

A vaccine plan for Washington teachers is coming today, after an apparent change in vaccination guidelines. (You can watch schools chief Chris Reykdal's announcement at 11 a.m. in our live updates). Here's our guide to the current vaccine phases and how to get your dose, along with guidance on whether people with cancer, dementia or multiple sclerosis should be vaccinated.

Amazon is a hotbed for anti-vaccination conspiracy theories, according to a new study by UW researchers. A simple search will show how the company's algorithms are messing with shoppers' minds.

For an exhausted nurse, one small, bright-yellow kindness had outsize meaning. This is the story of how hundreds of health workers are getting "a pat on the back at the perfect time," thanks to four women who didn't want them to feel forgotten.  

—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.