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 It is no longer being updated.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

A year ago today, the World Health Organization declared the spread of the coronavirus a pandemic. Now, after months of rationing vaccine shots, states are preparing for a surge in doses — hopefully enough for every adult by the end of May.

Congress on Wednesday approved the massive $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, sending it to President Joe Biden to sign, which he has said he’ll do Friday. The legislation will send direct payments to many Americans and extend weekly emergency unemployment benefits — among other actions — though Republicans have argued the bill is crammed with liberal policies and heedless of signs the crises are easing. Here’s what the package means for Washingtonians.

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.

Gov. Jay Inslee held a press conference Thursday to discuss the 2021 legislative session and the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Watch here:

Want a bike this summer? Expect a wait as COVID-19 cycling boom continues in Seattle

Remember last spring when grocery store shelves were emptied of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies?

“That’s kind of what bike shops are like today,” said Marty Pluth, the general manager of Gregg’s Cycle in Green Lake. “Every bike that comes in is sold right away, so we never get to a point where we refill the tank.”

Last February and March, as the coronavirus emerged in the United States, manufacturers canceled bike orders, predicting an economic slow down for the industry.

But by late spring, demand had skyrocketed, brought on largely on by stay-at-home orders that stopped most travel and nixed gym visits but permitted distanced outdoor activities like bicycle riding. Bike shops across the country saw a record year for sales.

Now retail shops, including those around Seattle, are still playing catch-up with last year’s orders as demand remains high and supply is limited due to the pandemic’s impacts on bicycle production and distribution.

Read the full story here.

—Michelle Baruchman

Faith leaders’ year of pandemic: grief, solace, resilience

In a pandemic-wracked year, religious leaders and spiritual counselors across the U.S. ministered to the ill, fed the hungry, consoled the bereaved. Some did so while recovering from COVID-19 themselves or mourning the loss of their own family members and friends.

At times, they despaired. So many people got sick, so many died, and these faith leaders couldn’t hug the ailing and the grieving, or hold their hands.

For safety’s sake, their congregations were kept away from in-person services for months, but the need to minister to them only intensified.

Amid the grief and anxiety, these faith leaders showed resilience and found reasons for hope as they re-imagined their mission.

Here are some of their reflections on a trying year.

—Associated Press

State health officials confirm 949 new coronavirus cases in Washington

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 949 new coronavirus cases and seven new deaths Thursday.

The update brings the state's totals to 347,884 cases and 5,107 deaths, meaning that 1.5% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

In addition, 19,747 people have been hospitalized in the state because of the virus — 18 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 85,824 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,435 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 2,140,418 doses and 10.26% of Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to vaccination data, which the state updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Providers are now giving an average of about 46,119 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.

—Elise Takahama

Amazon quietly began building a grocery chain during pandemic

As many businesses struggled to survive the pandemic, Amazon.com was quietly building a national grocery chain.

The first Amazon Fresh store opened to the public in Los Angeles in September. Store No. 11 opened Thursday, and Amazon is working on at least 28 more, from Seattle to Philadelphia. The company is also testing the “Just Walk Out” cashierless shopping technology created for its Go convenience stores at an Amazon Fresh location in Illinois.

More than a decade after it started selling groceries, Amazon has a tiny sliver of the $900 billion U.S. grocery market and has watched traditional chains finally start figuring out how to sell food online. Amazon Fresh, industry watchers say, is a way for the company to become even stickier with devoted Prime members, as well as appeal to a broad cross-section of America — from lower-income shoppers who frequent discounters like Walmart to wealthier customers looking to pick up online orders.

An Amazon spokesperson confirmed the location of five future stores but declined to comment on the rest of the locations identified by Bloomberg from planning and permitting documents, state-licensing rolls and news reports.


Companies are scaling back layoffs because of Biden’s stimulus package

WASHINGTON – Two airline giants said that they would cancel tens of thousands of planned layoffs because of aid earmarked for them in the $1.9 trillion stimulus measure passed by Congress this week, an early sign of job losses averted by the landmark package.

Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines, which had warned employees about 14,000 layoffs last month, said in a social media post that Congress’s new funding for airlines would allow the workers to receive their paychecks and health care through September.

American Airlines said it planned to rescind notices it sent last month to 13,000 employees about coming layoffs.

“Those are happily canceled – you can tear them up!” Doug Parker, American’s CEO, and Robert Isom, its president, wrote in a note to employees. “We are grateful for the support of our government leaders and their continued acknowledgment of all you do.”

—The Washington Post

Iditarod officials contact tracing after positive virus test

JUNEAU, Alaska — A musher taken out of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race after testing positive for COVID-19 at a checkpoint is believed to have been exposed by a person who had been in his quarantine bubble before the race started, a doctor working on the race said Thursday.

Dr. Jodie Guest, an epidemiologist working on the race, told reporters musher Gunnar Johnson and all other mushers tested negative on March 4 and all were also tested on Sunday, before the race start. On March 5, Johnson was in a vehicle with a person “who was part of two people in his bubble that he was quarantining with prior to the race, between his 14-day-before-the-race and his three-day-before-the-race test,” she said.

The person was exposed outside the bubble with Johnson and tested positive on March 6, she said. Johnson tested negative on Sunday, when he began the race, Guest said. It wasn’t immediately clear if officials were aware of the March 6 test result when the race started. A message seeking comment was sent to the race’s media contact.


Biden faces pressure to distribute vaccines worldwide, while Americans still need them at home

Nations from Lebanon to Uzbekistan are receiving free or subsidized coronavirus vaccines from U.S. adversaries China and Russia, but the Biden administration, facing urgent demand for the shots at home, has not responded with a global vaccine effort that could earn significant goodwill for the United States.

Despite concern that the nation is losing a vaccine largesse arms race, President Joe Biden has resisted actions that would appear to draw resources away from Americans. That leaves U.S. adversaries — who worry far less about domestic opinion — a largely free field. It also has sparked a debate within the administration about how to balance national security, humanitarian needs and political concerns.

China’s “vaccine diplomacy” campaign is on the agenda for an unusual virtual summit Friday among Biden and leaders of Australia, India and Japan. One possibility is that the four democracies agree in principle to pass out vaccine surpluses after their home populations’ needs essentially have been met.

But activists and experts warn that the United States could be missing a unique opportunity to regain worldwide influence after the isolationism of the Trump years.

—The Washington Post

What causes reactions to COVID-19 vaccines

As coronavirus vaccines are rolled out across the world, more recipients are complaining of being flattened by side effects, especially after a second dose.

Recipients describe symptoms from fever to fatigue that are more profound than the jolt some get from a seasonal flu shot. Although the post-vaccination malaise is generally innocuous and fades after a day or two, some hospitals and medical centers are staggering immunizations of health workers to avoid a brief cluster of absenteeism.

Read the full Q&A here.


Another coronavirus variant found in King County, health department says

A new variant of the coronavirus that is more contagious and could evade vaccine-generated antibodies has been found in King County.

The state’s first case of the variant that first emerged in Brazil was confirmed, Dr. Umair Shah, the state’s secretary of health, said during a Thursday news briefing.

“We need to watch this one very, very closely,” he said.

In addition to the variant discovered this week, the state now has 99 confirmed cases of the variant first identified in the United Kingdom and the variant that was initially found in South Africa.

Read the full story here.

—Ryan Blethen

UN chief blasts vaccine nationalism, hoarding, side deals

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief criticized the “many examples of vaccine nationalism and vaccine hoarding” as well as side deals with COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers that undermine access to all people in the world.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement marking one year since the U.N. World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic that “the global vaccination campaign represents the greatest moral test of our times.”

Ensuring that all people are vaccinated — and “many low-income countries have not yet received a single dose” — is essential to restart the global economy “and help the world move from locking down societies to locking down the virus,” he said.

Guterres reiterated his call for COVID-19 vaccines to be seen as “a global public good.”

“The world needs to unite to produce and distribute sufficient vaccines for all, which means at least doubling manufacturing capacity around the world,” he said. “That effort must start now.”

—Associated Press

Novavax coronavirus vaccine completely prevents severe illness, but was less effective at preventing infections by variants

A coronavirus vaccine developed by Maryland biotechnology company Novavax was effective, particularly in preventing severe cases of illness, in two trials conducted in areas of the world overrun by concerning variants of the virus, the company announced Thursday. The vaccine was markedly less effective in stopping mild or moderate cases in South Africa, where a variant capable of dodging immunity emerged late last year.

The results back up an interim analysis released in January and provide a window into the challenges presented by the variants — but also underscore the largely robust protection offered by vaccination. The vaccine appeared 96% effective against the original strain of the virus, on par with the most effective authorized vaccines, and protected completely against severe illness caused by variants — even as its ability to prevent milder symptoms eroded.

“Our take on this is this is a very good result. It is important to prevent severe disease; it would be ideal to prevent all disease,” said Gregory Glenn, president of research and development at Novavax.

Read the full story here.

—Carolyn Y. Johnson, The Washington Post

Gov. Inslee: Mariners will have opening day fans, restaurants to go to 50% capacity amid COVID-19 restrictions

OLYMPIA — The Seattle Mariners will have real-life opening day fans, restrictions will begin to lift on other outdoor sports events and Washington’s 39 counties will soon move to a new third phase in Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 reopening plan.

Inslee’s announcement Thursday to changes in his Healthy Washington reopening plan will allow restaurants, retailers, fitness centers and other indoor spaces to open up to 50% capacity. The changes — most of which kick in on March 22 — will automatically take effect across the state.

The announcement arrives as cases of the new coronavirus have been declining in Washington state and vaccinations against COVID-19 continue to be distributed.

Starting March 22, every county in Washington will automatically move to the new third phase.

This is a developing story.

—Joseph O'Sullivan

Masks now available on all King County Metro buses

All 1,404 King County Metro buses have been equipped with on-board mask dispensers.

King County Metro began installing mask dispensers in its highest-ridership routes in September -- six months ago -- and increased the number of dispensers as materials became available.

The agency called it a “layered approach” to safety.
If passengers don’t have a mask available when they board, they are welcome to grab one near the front door, just past the operator’s seat.

“Why did this take so long?,” user knlranch asked on Twitter. “ … WA state locked down ~March 23, nearly 1 year ago.

"Seems long overdue -- since masks are required to ride the bus -- but better late than never.”

—Nicole Brodeur

Austria targets hard-hit area with shots to battle variant

Austria embarked on an ambitious drive Thursday to inoculate residents of a district that has been particularly hard-hit by the virus variant first found in South Africa, a move that is part of a research project into vaccinations.

Around 48,500 of the 64,000 people eligible for vaccinations in Tyrol province’s Schwaz district have signed up to get shots and the goal is to have them all done by Monday, Schwaz Mayor Hand Lintner told reporters.

The district has seen the majority of the cases of the more transmissible variant in the province, peaking at 193 active confirmed cases of it, before dropping down to a current 47, authorities said.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Judge: CDC exceeded authority in issuing eviction moratorium

A federal judge in Ohio has ruled that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lacked the authority to issue a nationwide moratorium on rental evictions, the second such ruling issued by a federal judge in two weeks.

U.S. District Judge J. Philip Calabrese, sitting in Cleveland, ruled Wednesday that the CDC went beyond what the federal Public Health Service Act allows it to do in ordering a halt to evictions. However, he did not grant an injunction that would have stopped the agency from enforcing the moratorium. The Justice Department is appealing that order.

The National Association of Homebuilders and a group of property owners from across northern Ohio had filed a federal lawsuit last October, claiming the CDC’s order was overreaching and arbitrary.

“Saddling landlords with the responsibility to provide free rent during this pandemic ignores their financial obligations and ability to provide safe, decent and affordable housing,” Chuck Fowke said in a statement.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Job openings rise, layoffs fall as pandemic economy mends

Companies posted more open jobs in January while layoffs decreased as the economy heals slowly from the pandemic.

There were 6.9 million jobs available on the last day in January, up from 6.7 million in December, the Labor Department said Thursday. That suggests employers are getting ready to hire in the coming months.

Hiring actually began to pick up in February, according to last Friday’s jobs report, which showed that employers added 379,000 jobs, the most since October, while the unemployment rate fell to 6.2%, from 6.3%. While the economy still has 9.5 million fewer jobs than before the pandemic, February’s job gain was much higher than January’s and came after a sharp job loss in December, suggesting the economy, after stalling out late last year, is mending.

Read the story here.

—Christopher Rugaber, The Associated Press

One Good Thing: In Kosovo, virus lets humanity shine through

Helping her elderly father beat back his coronavirus infection on her own taught Arta Jashari how the power of one can offer hope to others and change things for the better.

The 32-year-old soprano took it upon herself to treat her father, Baki Jashari — the Kosovo Philharmonic’s maestro who suffers from diabetes and a heart ailment — after she discharged him last June from the country’s overwhelmed Pulmonological Clinic.

Under quarantine, the job was difficult. It was with the kindness of neighbors who provided Jashari with food and other essentials that she was able to cope. Her father recovered a month later, but it was the compassion of strangers that made her understand the world is in this together and that kindness should be paid forward.

Jashari, a famous artist at home without medical training, resolved to help by donning protective gear and heading back to the Pulmonological Clinic to offer whatever assistance she could.

“You give them hope when you are around. They know that you are here to help,” she told The Associated Press.

Read the story here.

—Llazar Semini and Florent Bajrami, The Associated Press

Denmark pauses AstraZeneca vaccine jabs to probe blood clots

Denmark has temporarily suspended use of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine after reports of blood clots in some people, but its health authority said Thursday it has no evidence the vaccine was responsible.

Other experts pointed out that of the millions of AstraZeneca vaccine shots administered elsewhere, including in Britain, there have been no reported cases of the vaccine causing blood clots or related problems.

Denmark’s Health Authority said its decision was “based on a precautionary principle” and that one person who developed a blood clot after vaccination had died.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Brazil hospitals buckle in absence of national virus plan

Brazil’s hospitals are faltering as a highly contagious coronavirus variant tears through the country, the president insists on unproven treatments and the only attempt to create a national plan to contain COVID-19 has just fallen short.

For the last week, Brazilian governors sought to do something President Jair Bolsonaro obstinately rejects: cobble together a proposal for states to help curb the nation’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak yet. But the final product is a one-page document with general support for restricting activity but no specific measures.

Piaui state’s Gov. Wellington Dias told The Associated Press that unless pressure on hospitals is eased, growing numbers of patients will have to endure the disease without a hospital bed or any hope of treatment in an intensive care unit.

The deaths have already started. In Brazil’s wealthiest state, Sao Paulo, at least 30 patients died this month while waiting for ICU beds, according to a tally published Wednesday by the news site G1. In southern Santa Catarina state, 419 people are waiting for transfer to ICU beds. In neighboring Rio Grande do Sul, ICU capacity is at 106%.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Cambodia reports first COVID-19 death, 1 year into pandemic

 Cambodia on Thursday confirmed its first death from COVID-19 since the pandemic began more than a year ago as it battles a new local outbreak that has infected hundreds of people.

The 50-year-old man was confirmed infected last month and died Thursday morning, the Health Ministry said.

Cambodia has confirmed only 1,163 cases of infection with the coronavirus since the pandemic began, but it is battling a new local outbreak traced to a foreign resident who broke quarantine in a hotel and went to a nightclub in early February.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Former presidents, first ladies urge Americans to get shots

Four former presidents are urging Americans to get vaccinated as soon as COVID-19 doses are available to them, as part of a campaign to overcome hesitancy about the shots.

Two public service announcements from the Ad Council and the business-supported COVID Collaborative feature Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter as well as first ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Rosalynn Carter. All of them have received doses of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Former President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, do not appear in the campaign. A Trump adviser revealed last week that the Trumps were vaccinated in private before leaving the White House on Inauguration Day.

Read the story here.

—Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

EU regulator recommends using J&J’s one-shot vaccine

The European Medicines Agency on Thursday gave the green light to Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose coronavirus vaccine, handing the European Union’s 27 nations a fourth vaccine to try to speed up the bloc’s much-criticized vaccination rollout.

The EU medicines regulator advised that the vaccine be cleared for use in all adults over 18 “after a thorough evaluation” of J&J’s data found the vaccine met the criteria for efficacy, safety and quality.

The EMA has already recommended COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca — but all of those vaccines require two doses, several weeks apart. Production delays have also plagued all three vaccine manufacturers.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Why easing COVID-19 restrictions too soon could be a boon for coronavirus variants

COVID-19 vaccine rollout has accelerated to more than 2 million shots per day in the United States. A more transmissible coronavirus variant from the U.K. is muscling its way across the country. And governors from Texas to Massachusetts are racing to loosen mask mandates and strictures on gatherings and reopen gyms, restaurants, workplaces and schools.

For a virus in search of new ways to spread and sicken, this convergence of events is a moment of unique opportunity, and new research underscores the peril.

Two studies published this week in the journal Science explore some of the circumstances that are known to give rise to new genetic variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

In both a mathematical modeling exercise and a genetic deep dive into 1,313 coronavirus samples, researchers show that worrisome genetic changes to the virus are most likely to take root and spread when infection rates surge, when many people have only partial immunity, and when the virus is made to work harder to find its next victim.

The findings suggest the coming months could bring new challenges to a country already battered and exhausted by pandemic and eager for life return to normal.

Read the story here.

—Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times

Will the coronavirus ever go away?

Will the coronavirus ever go away?

No one knows for sure. Scientists think the virus that causes COVID-19 may be with us for decades or longer, but that doesn’t mean it will keep posing the same threat.

The virus emerged in late 2019 and it’s difficult to predict how it will behave over the long term. But many experts believe it’s likely the disease will eventually ease from a crisis to a nuisance like the common cold.

That would happen as people build up immunity over time, either through infection or vaccination. Other viruses have followed a similar path.

The 1918 flu pandemic could also offer clues about the course of COVID-19.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that a third of the world’s population became infected with that virus, which originated in birds. Eventually, after infected people either died or developed immunity, the virus stopped spreading quickly. It later mutated into a less virulent form, which experts say continues to circulate seasonally.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

AP-NORC poll: 1 in 5 in US lost someone close in pandemic

 About 1 in 5 Americans say they lost a relative or close friend to the coronavirus, highlighting the division between heartache and hope as the country itches to get back to normal a year into the pandemic.

A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research illustrates how the stage is set for a two-tiered recovery. The public’s worry about the virus has dropped to its lowest point since the fall, before the holidays brought skyrocketing cases into the new year.

But people still in mourning express frustration at the continued struggle to stay safe.

“We didn’t have a chance to grieve. It’s almost like it happened yesterday for us. It’s still fresh,” said Nettie Parks of Volusia County, Florida, whose only brother died of COVID-19 last April. Because of travel restrictions, Parks and her five sisters have yet to hold a memorial.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Washington state will get billions of dollars for schools, child care, local governments and more after Congress yesterday approved a vast expansion of the nation’s social safety net. Here's where the money will go in our state, along with key highlights of the $1.9 trillion package. It's interesting to compare it with what other countries are spending on pandemic relief.

"There is real reason for hope," President Joe Biden will tell Americans as he delivers his first prime-time speech at 5 p.m. Pacific time tonight, a year to the day after the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. Expect to hear about his pandemic plans for the next few months and a renewed call to take precautions against COVID-19. 

Nursing-home residents can get hugs again, the U.S. government says, but that's not the case in Washington state yet. Changes are in the works, a state official explains.

Will you cuddle your grandkids, now that the CDC has released new guidance on what vaccinated people can do? For one woman, it was doctor’s orders. Read her prescription and watch the sweet moment that followed.

Biden is doubling the U.S. order of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine, meaning the nation would have more than what's needed to vaccinate every American. States could soon see their shipments grow as much as 50%, bringing new challenges.

How will Washington's cities get vaccines to homeless people? As advocates and officials grapple with that question, some hope J&J's vaccine will be a game-changer.

Parents in Idaho are organizing their own prom with a bold slogan that's painfully inaccurate these days.

—Kris Higginson

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