Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, March 11, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

House Democrats prepared a $15.6 billion COVID-19 funds package Wednesday, but it is unlikely to pass within the divided Senate. Republicans hold that they are unwilling to provide more funding unless cuts are made elsewhere or the Biden administration provides a full accounting of previous COVID-19 response funds.

Meanwhile, China is responding to a recent COVID-19 spike with selective lockdowns and other safety measures that are less restrictive than the previous “zero tolerance” approach.

We’re updating this page with the latest news about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the Seattle area, the U.S. and the world. Click here to see the rest of our coronavirus coverage and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington.

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With state mask mandate lifting, Saturday marks a new normal for Sounders and Seattle sports

In following local health and safety protocols, starting Saturday, fans will no longer be required to wear masks for outdoor and indoor settings at Lumen Field for Sounders matches.

A caveat is those seated at field level and field-level club seats will still be required to wear masks and provide proof of vaccination due to the proximity to players. Gov. Jay Inslee announced last month plans to lift Washington’s COVID-19 mask mandate beginning March 12.

Seattle (0-2) hosts the Los Angeles Galaxy (2-0) Saturday. The date is also exactly two years from when MLS — and the sports world — shut down in an effort to help slow the spread of the virus. MLS’s suspension was initially for 30 days and eventually stretched four months, with the Sounders returning to action in July 2020 with an MLS tournament played in a bubble in Orlando.

But, with COVID cases and deaths sharply declining from their January peaks, the country begins to shift into a new normal with fewer masks and mandates. Among those embracing that shift is Sounders keeper Stefan Frei, who says, “It’ll be nice to see people’s faces.”

Read the full story here.

—Jayda Evans
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AP PHOTOS: 2 years of images tell the story of the pandemic

It has been two years since families who were happily planning futures or settling into their golden years had everything cruelly yanked away by an enemy they could not prepare for: COVID-19.

A 24-year-old first-time mother in Lima, Peru, sobbing because the baby girl she just delivered would never meet her father. A 64-year-old California woman embracing her husband through tears and his last breaths in a hospital COVID-19 unit. Then there were the dead who had to be temporarily buried in a trench in New York City’s Hart Island, with only workers clad in protective gear nearby.

Friday marks the two-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring the coronavirus a full-on pandemic, a pivotal moment in an outbreak that would go on to kill more than 6 million people around the globe.

Images taken by Associated Press photographers since then capture the devastation and disruption from the pandemic in every corner of the world.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

China shuts Shanghai schools, builds hospitals as COVID returns

China is experiencing its most significant COVID-19 outbreak since the early days of the pandemic, igniting a flurry of new restrictions and mitigation measures as the country’s zero-tolerance approach to the virus is challenged like never before.

Daily domestic infections topped 1,000 for the first time since the peak of the original Wuhan outbreak on Friday, a tally that has ballooned from just over 300 cases a day in less than a week.

The country responded by locking down a city of 9 million people in the northeast and ordering the construction of makeshift hospitals there and in the eastern port city of Qingdao. An outbreak of the omicron variant in Shanghai saw schools in there shuttered again, while officials are said to be looking at diverting all international flights away from the financial center to ease pressure on quarantine hotels. China isolates all virus cases, including those in the community, as part of its COVID Zero policy.

In a move that may signal Beijing is expecting a further spike in cases, authorities said they would allow the use of rapid antigen tests for the first time late Friday. While used widely in other parts of the world, rapid tests were previously restricted in China.

Read the full story here.

—Bloomberg

King County health officials shift COVID response to ‘next phase of coexistence’

As King County emerges from the recent wave of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, fueled by the omicron variant, public health leaders are refocusing their attention on bolstering long-term strategies for fighting the virus, particularly ones targeting air ventilation.

The shift in priorities comes as Washingtonians prepare for the end of the statewide indoor mask mandate at the end of Friday, though face coverings will still be required in some settings, like hospitals, dentist offices, nursing homes and on public transit.

King County health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said Friday that while he thinks it’s generally safe to be maskless outdoors, he reminded residents it’s “very reasonable” for people to continue masking up inside, particularly in crowded, poorly ventilated spaces.

“COVID-19 is still circulating and some risk remains, especially for people with weakened immune systems from disease or medications, people with certain underlying health conditions that place them at increased risk for severe disease, advanced age and those who are unvaccinated and unboosted,” Duchin said.

He also asked residents not to throw masks away once the statewide mandate lifts, in case the region sees another surge.

Read the full story here.

—Elise Takahama
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Cherry Blossom Festival marks DC’s pandemic comeback

The National Cherry Blossom Festival is returning with all its pageantry, Washington’s unofficial re-emergence from two years of pandemic limits and closures.

“This year, more than ever, you really understand why the festival is so important,” said Festival President Diana Mayhew. “We recognize that it’s more than just a festival. It’s about spring and renewal and a sense of new beginnings.”

This year’s cherry blossom trees will reach peak bloom between March 22 and 25, according to National Park Service estimates. The festival kicks off with a March 20 opening ceremony and runs through April 17, with concerts and other events, including a big parade on Saturday April 9.

The weather isn’t exactly cooperating this weekend. Snow and freezing rain are expected. But that shouldn’t hurt, said Mike Litterst, Park Service spokesman for the National Mall. Temperatures below 27 degrees can damage the blooms — something that happened in 2017, when a late frost killed about half the blossoms.

Read the full story here.

— Ashraf Khalil, The Associated Press

State health officials confirm new coronavirus cases, deaths

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,657 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday and 1,530 on Thursday. It also reported 50 more deaths over those days.

The update brings the state's totals to 1,437,914 cases and 12,183 deaths, meaning that 0.85% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Thursday. New state data is reported on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

In addition, 58,482 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 124 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 368,827 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,588 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in late 2020, the state and health care providers have administered 13,116,299 doses and 67% of Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to vaccination data, which the state updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Providers are currently giving an average of about 6,238 vaccine shots per day.

The DOH says its daily case reports may also include duplicate test results, results assigned to the wrong county, results that are reported for today but are actually from a previous day, occasional false positive tests and other data discrepancies. Because of this, the previous day’s total number of cases plus the number of new daily cases does not add up to the new day’s total number of cases. State health officials recommend reviewing the dashboard's epidemiologic curves tab for the most accurate representation of the state's COVID-19 spread.

—Daisy Zavala

2 years into pandemic, world takes cautious steps forward

With COVID-19 case numbers plummeting, Emily Safrin did something she hadn’t done since the pandemic began two years ago: She put her fears aside and went to a concert.

The fully vaccinated and boosted restaurant server planned to keep her mask on, but as the reggaeton star Bad Bunny took the stage and the energy in the crowd soared, she ripped it off. Soon after, she was strolling unmasked in a trendy Portland neighborhood with friends.

Two years after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, changing the world overnight, relief and hope are creeping back in after a long, dark period of loss, fear and deep uncertainty about the future.

“Everyone was supposed to be vaccinated or have a negative test, and I said, ‘What the heck, I’m just gonna live my life,’” Safrin said of her concert experience. “It was overwhelming, to be honest, but it also felt great to be able to just feel a little bit normal again.”

The world is finally emerging from a brutal stretch of winter dominated by the highly contagious omicron variant, bringing a sense of relief on the two-year anniversary of the start of the pandemic.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Biden relief plan: Major victory gets mixed one-year reviews

It’s not often that a president gets everything he asks for, but that’s what happened.

President Joe Biden wanted $1.9 trillion to help the country climb out of the coronavirus crisis last year, and Democrats in Congress delivered.

The American Rescue Plan was stuffed with rental assistance, tax rebates, direct payments and money to distribute vaccines that had just become available. Less than two months after Biden took office, it was a hopeful sign that he could fulfill his campaign promise to get Washington’s often lumbering machinery working again.

“Thank God you did it,” Biden told House Democrats during a caucus retreat Friday in Philadelphia. “Few pieces of legislation, no hyperbole, in American history have done more to lift this country out of a crisis than what you did.”

But the legislation’s legacy is more complicated than it originally appeared. Depending on who’s telling the story, it’s either Biden’s first success or a trap that he set for himself.

It may well prove to have been a bit of both.

Read the story here.

—Chris Megerian and Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

Unvaccinated MLB players can’t travel to Canada to play Jays

Major League Baseball players who are not vaccinated against the coronavirus won’t be allowed to travel into Canada to face the Blue Jays in Canada and won’t be paid for those games.

Canada’s government requires a person must have received a second vaccine dose — or one dose of Johnson & Johnson — at least 14 days prior to entry.

“The parties have agreed that any player who, as a result of such a governmental regulation is unable or ineligible to play in a championship season game (or games) due to his vaccination status will be ineligible for placement on the COVID-19 IL, but rather may be placed on the restricted list … without pay or the accrual of credited major league service, during such period of unavailability,” according to a letter from union deputy general counsel Matt Nussbaum to MLB senior vice president Patrick Houlihan, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.

Read the story here.

—Ronald Blum, The Associated Press

Man finally back home after 197-day COVID hospitalization: ‘Why was I the one chosen to survive?’

A hodgepodge of holiday decorations still adorned the Welch family’s Plano home in mid-February.

A Christmas tree covered in homemade ornaments sat in a corner just outside the living room. Valentine’s Day garland hung on the opposite wall, and pink and red hearts were placed throughout the home.

At first glance, it seemed like seasonal chores had been put off.

But Emily Welch, 48, had purposefully left the decorations up. She wanted to give her husband a chance to experience the milestones he had missed over the last six months. Josh Welch, her husband of 18 years, was diagnosed in July 2021 with COVID-19. He battled the worst effects of the disease over a 197-day hospital stay, most of which he doesn’t remember.

“I lost a year of my life dealing with this, a year of my kid’s lives,” the 47-year-old father of four said over the hum of his oxygen machine.

Josh spoke from a wheelchair in his living room on Feb. 24, less than three weeks after he had been released from the hospital. At 6-4 and about 225 pounds, he’s 65 pounds lighter than when he was first admitted to Baylor Scott & White Medical Center in Plano. Even now, he gets winded when he speaks.

He’s finally home, but has a long recovery ahead.

“When I see the videos, I’m like, ‘Why me? Why was I the one chosen to survive COVID?’” Josh said about images his wife took to document his treatment. “I’m still looking for those answers.”

Read the story here.

—Catherine Marfin, The Dallas Morning News
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Pandemic side effect: Patients now flooding health clinics with long-neglected conditions, many dire

Now that COVID-19 surges have subsided in South Florida, patients are arriving at local clinics with neglected medical conditions that have advanced into dangerous stages.

For Floridians lacking insurance or easy access to care, forgoing doctor follow-ups and preventative screenings has had particularly harsh consequences. With diabetes, heart disease and other diseases out of control, patients must navigate the high costs of medication and limited access to care amid a rush of people finally seeking treatment.

“As the country opens up again, people are getting back to seeing their providers and they are being identified with breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and some of the other things that early detection could have prevented,” said Yolette Bonet, newly retired founding CEO of FoundCare, the Federally Qualified Health Center, which just opened its seventh clinic in Palm Beach County.

Shevie Brown, 35, felt a lump in her right breast several years before the pandemic. But as coronavirus swept through the state, Brown said she felt afraid to seek care. Her lump grew larger.

Finally, in the spring of 2021, when the lump grew so large it became noticeable through clothing, Brown went to a FoundCare clinic in Palm Springs to get re-examined. “I got scared because I realized this was my health,” Brown said.

The clinic arranged for her to see an oncologist who diagnosed her with stage 3 breast cancer.

Brown, who has now undergone surgery and chemotherapy, encourages others who delayed care to get checked out as soon as possible. “If I hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Read the story here.

—Cindy Krischer Goodman, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

United Airlines to bring back workers idled over vaccination

United Airlines will bring back employees who were placed on unpaid leave last year because they refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The airline told employees in a memo Thursday that workers who avoided vaccination by claiming a medical or religious exemption will be allowed back starting March 28.

The company’s vice president of human relations, Kirk Limacher, said in the memo that United was taking the step because it expects coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths to continue to drop over the next few weeks.

Last year, CEO Scott Kirby pushed the mandate as a critical safety measure, and United became one of the most visible U.S. corporations to impose a vaccine requirement. The company said that about 97% of its 67,000 U.S. workers got the shots, and only about 200 were terminated.

More than 2,000 workers claimed a medical or religious exemption from vaccination. They were not fired, but were placed on unpaid leave, and several sued the Chicago-based company.

A United spokeswoman said Thursday that the company still requires new employees to be vaccinated.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

German health minister still sees ‘critical’ COVID situation

 Germany’s health minister pleaded with his compatriots Friday not to assume that the coronavirus pandemic is over as the country sees a steady rise in new cases, warning that it is still in a “critical” situation.

Germany had seen COVID-19 cases decline last month, but official figures have now shown the infection rate increasing for nine consecutive days. Officials point to the spread of an even more contagious version of the omicron variant known as BA.2, which by this week accounted for half of cases in Germany, and to the relaxation of restrictions.

On Friday, the national disease control center said more than 250,000 new cases had been reported in the past 24 hours, along with 249 deaths. The infection rate stood at 1,439 new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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China locks down city of 9 million amid new spike in cases

China on Friday ordered a lockdown of the 9 million residents of the northeastern city of Changchun amid a new spike in COVID-19 cases in the area attributed to the highly contagious omicron variant.

Residents are required to remain at home, with one family member permitted to venture out to buy food and other necessities every two days. All residents must undergo three rounds of mass testing, while non-essential businesses have been closed and transport links suspended.

The latest lockdowns, which also include Yucheng with 500,000 people in the eastern province of Shandong, show China is sticking to the draconian approach to the pandemic it has enforced for most of the past two years, despite some earlier indications that authorities would be implementing more targeted measures.

China reported another 397 cases of local transmission nationwide on Friday, 98 of them in Jilin province that surrounds Changchun, a center of the country’s auto industry. In the entire province, cases have exceeded 1,100 since the latest outbreak first struck late last week.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

For parents of young children, the newest vaccine findings are posing unnerving questions at the same time much of the nation unmasks. But the coming weeks should bring some clarity. 

Today is the last day masks are required at many Washington businesses and schools, exactly two years after COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic. You'll need masks a bit longer on planes, trains and buses as the government works out how to wind down the rules.

In China, a city of 9 million people locked down today against a new spike.

“I lost a year of my life … a year of my kids' lives.” Josh Welch is finally home after 197 days in the hospital, most of which he doesn't remember. But for his wife and four children, there are the moments they'll never forget.

—Kris Higginson