Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Monday, March 15, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 teachers in the Seattle area and beyond get vaccinated against COVID-19, some are still anxious about how schools will manage a partial return to in-person instruction by April 19. While Seattle Public Schools aims to space students six feet apart, a new study suggests that schools could safely reopen as long as children maintain three feet of distance, wear masks and take other precautions.

Staying vigilant against the virus remains a challenge at universities like Duke, which ordered 14,000 of its students to quarantine following an outbreak linked to fraternity events.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, appearing on Sunday news shows, called on former President Donald Trump to urge his followers to get vaccinated.

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.

(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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China approves a fourth COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

TAIPEI, Taiwan — China has approved a new COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, one that was developed by the head of its Center for Disease Control, adding to its arsenal.

Gao Fu, the head of China’s CDC, led the development of a protein subunit vaccine that was approved by regulators last week for emergency use, the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Microbiology said in a statement Monday.

It is the fourth such vaccine to be given emergency use approval. China has approved four vaccines developed by three Chinese companies for general use.

The vaccine was developed jointly by Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical Co. Ltd. and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The team finished phase 1 and phase 2 clinical trials in October of last year and is currently conducting the last phase of trials in Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Indonesia, according to the statement.

The vaccine was approved for use in Uzbekistan on March 1.

—Associated Press
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How the pandemic is reshaping education

The coronavirus pandemic upended almost every aspect of school at once. It was not just the move from classrooms to computer screens. It tested basic ideas about instruction, attendance, testing, funding, the role of technology and the human connections that hold it all together.

A year later, a rethinking is underway, with a growing sense that some changes may last.

“There may be an opportunity to reimagine what schools will look like,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told The Washington Post. “It’s always important we continue to think about how to evolve schooling so the kids get the most out of it.”

Others in education see a similar opening. The pandemic pointed anew to glaring inequities of race, disability and income. Learning loss is getting new attention. Schools with poor ventilation systems are being slotted for upgrades. Teachers who made it through a crash course in teaching virtually are finding lessons that endure.

“There are a lot of positives that will happen because we’ve been forced into this uncomfortable situation,” said Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, the school superintendents association. “The reality is that this is going to change education forever.”

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post

Cannoli kits and prime aged steaks: Here’s how the pandemic has revolutionized vending machines

A vending machine stocks frozen pizza, pasta and sauces. (Rey Lopez / For The Washington Post)
A vending machine stocks frozen pizza, pasta and sauces. (Rey Lopez / For The Washington Post)

The pandemic has rocketed vending machines into new territory. Light-years beyond dispensers of Funyuns and Snickers, vending machines, robotic kiosks and other grab-and-go technology now broadly called “unattended retail” are putting artisanal pizza, hot bowls of ramen and prime cuts of beef into the hands of consumers 24/7.

Carla Balakgie, chief executive of the National Automatic Merchandising Association, the trade group representing the vending machine industry, said coronavirus pandemic fears and social distancing have accelerated vending machine adoption.

“It’s touchless, it’s considered safe and it’s prepackaged so products haven’t been fondled and breathed on,” she said. “And technology has made it even safer: Some machines have a hover feature so you don’t have to touch the buttons and you can use an app on your phone or use mobile ordering.”

She said adoption in the past year has been swiftest by first responders needing sustenance on the go, but what might have previously been novelty “stunt” vending machines at trade shows are becoming normalized as regular avenues of commerce: bread-baking machines, customize-your-yogurt machines, even machines that dispense slippers, mascara and sundries at airports.

She said that, just a few years ago, the technology to take something frozen and cook it on the spot was nascent. New technology that monitors stock with sensors and cameras has been instrumental in expediting reordering.

—The Washington Post

Pandemic demanded plastics, but not the recycled kind

Efforts to combat coronavirus spread have produced a plastics surge.

That ramped-up plastic production provides fresh impetus to proposals aimed at curbing how much of that material gets dumped into the environment.

Manufacturers have been working overtime to supply disposable personal protective equipment, takeout food containers and packaging required for all those home deliveries.

Officials in some areas last year also delayed or rolled back restrictions on single-use plastic bags.

At the same time plastic usage increased, pandemic-depressed oil demand lowered the production cost of new “virgin” plastic. That further undermined the already shaky economic fundamentals of plastic recycling.

The marine conservation group OceansAsia estimated in a report that more than 1.5 billion masks entered the oceans in 2020, based on a global production estimate of 52 billion and a loss rate of 3%.

—CQ-Roll Call
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Estonia’s prime minister tests positive for COVID-19

HELSINKI — Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas has tested positive for COVID-19 and says she will self-quarantine until she has recovered from the virus.

The 43-year-old Kallas, who became the Baltic nation’s first female head of government in January, said late Monday she was feeling well apart from a small fever and hasn’t developed any other symptoms.

“I am closely monitoring my health and staying at home until I recover,” Kallas said in a Facebook post, adding that she would continue performing prime minister’s duties from home including holding remote Cabinet and other meetings.

Estonia, a nation of 1.3 million people, has seen a substantially worsened coronavirus situation in the past few weeks and the country’s health care system and hospitals are having increasing problems in accommodating COVID-19 patients with current resources.

—Associated Press

Washington state to get estimated $454M for housing relief, but it could take months to arrive

A year into the pandemic, an estimated 136,300 households in Washington, or 9.5% of renters, are behind on rent, according to a late February survey by the U.S. Census Bureau. Above, an apartment building in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)
A year into the pandemic, an estimated 136,300 households in Washington, or 9.5% of renters, are behind on rent, according to a late February survey by the U.S. Census Bureau. Above, an apartment building in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

The $1.9 trillion federal stimulus bill that President Joe Biden signed last week includes billions of dollars to help renters and homeowners nationwide who are behind on their monthly payments.

State officials estimate Washington will get about $404 million in rental assistance and $50 million for homeowners behind on their mortgages.

But it could take several months for Washingtonians to see that money. Federal agencies still have to dole out the money to states, and state and local lawmakers have to make decisions about how to get the funding to the public.

Still, renters may get some aid sooner. Local governments are preparing to distribute federal rental assistance from the stimulus Congress passed in December.

Across Washington, the need for help is significant. A year into the pandemic, an estimated 136,300 households in Washington, or 9.6% of renters, are behind on rent, according to a late February survey by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Read the full story here.

—Heidi Groover

UConn coach Geno Auriemma tests positive for coronavirus

STORRS, Conn. — UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma has tested positive for the coronavirus and is isolating at home, the school announced Monday, hours before it was expected to be named the top seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The Hall of Famer received a positive result from a COVID-19 test taken on Sunday and is not experiencing any symptoms, the school said.

The team’s head physician said contact tracing protocols revealed that Auriemma did not have close contact with any other team member since Friday. All other Tier 1 members of the team and staff tested negative for the virus on Sunday and Monday, the school said.

“Only household close contacts were identified,” Dr. Deena Casiero said. “Given the fact that we have been doing daily testing for the past seven days, we feel confident that we were able to catch this very early on in the disease process.”

—Associated Press
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Inslee signs emergency proclamation ordering schools to offer some in-person learning

After announcing his plan for reopening the state's K-12 schools from coronavirus closures last week, Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday signed an emergency proclamation that orders Washington public schools to offer options for both remote and in-person learning by early- to mid-April.

The proclamation directs schools to offer all students in kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade — depending on the district — a hybrid option by April 5. All remaining students must have opportunities for hybrid learning by April 19, the order says.

According to the proclamation, which Inslee has said aims to address the "alarming educational inequities and mental health concerns among students," schools must also offer at least two days per week of on-campus, in-person instruction.

"Our educators have been creative and have worked diligently to provide the very best for all their students, including remote learning, but it is clear that there is no substitute for in-classroom learning," Inslee tweeted Monday. "It is time to return to the classroom."

His proclamation also orders the state Health Care Authority and the Department of Health to begin working on recommendations for how to support students' behavioral health needs this year.

"Under Inslee’s emergency proclamation, there is still the option for families who want or need to leave their child in fully remote learning to do so," according to a Monday blog post from the governor's office. "Some families and students prefer this option, or will still need it because the student, or a member of the family is at high risk for severe COVID. Additionally, there are students who prefer remote learning for mental health reasons."

—Elise Takahama

‘I don’t need the vaccine’: GOP worries threaten virus fight

FRONT ROYAL, Virginia — In this rural swath of Virginia’s Shenandoah valley, former President Donald Trump remains deeply admired, with lawn signs and campaign flags still dotting the landscape. The vaccines aimed at taming the coronavirus, however, aren’t so popular.

Laura Biggs, a 56-year-old who has already recovered from the virus, is wary of taking the vaccine. Reassurances from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration have done little to ease her alarm that the vaccine could lead to death.

“The way I feel about it is: I don’t need the vaccine at this point,” she said. “And I’m not going to get the vaccine until it is well established.”

That sentiment demonstrates the challenge ahead for public health officials as the U.S. intensifies its efforts for widespread vaccinations that could put an end to a devastating pandemic that has left more than 530,000 dead. The campaign could falter if it becomes another litmus test in America’s raging culture wars, just as mandates for mask-wearing were a point of polarization at the onset of the virus.

While polls have found vaccine hesitancy falling overall, opposition among Republicans remains stubbornly strong. A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 42% of Republicans say they probably or definitely will not get the shot, compared with 17% of Democrats — a 25-point split.

—Associated Press

Georgia Tech honors Fauci with annual social courage prize

ATLANTA — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the public face of the nation’s fight against COVID-19, has accepted an award that honors his courage in leading Americans through an exceptionally partisan pandemic.

Fauci, who appeared via video call, wore a Georgia Institute of Technology lapel pin during the Monday afternoon ceremony hosted by the university. He ​called the outbreak, which has raged for more than a year, the most polarizing public health crisis he’s yet endured.

“I have never in my decades-long experience seen the level of divisive that exists in the country today,” he said.

The leading infectious disease expert’s public disagreements with then-President Donald Trump as Fauci headed the White House virus task force sparked threats and vitriol. Still, he stuck to the science and told the truth even when inconvenient, making him the top choice for the award, said Georgia Tech President Ángel Cabrera.

“Thank you for a lifetime of social courage from which we have all benefited,” Cabrera added.

—Associated Press
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State health officials confirm 451 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 451 new coronavirus cases and 12 new deaths on Monday.

The update brings the state's totals to 350,506 cases and 5,135 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. Sunday. Tallies may be higher earlier in the week because new state data isn’t reported on Sundays and COVID-related deaths aren’t reported on the weekends.

In addition, 19,891 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 61 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 86,540 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,440 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 2,442,269 doses and 11.94% 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 42,551 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

Brazil’s Bolsonaro picks 4th health minister as COVID rages

SAO PAULO — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Monday picked his fourth health minister since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, amid the worst throes of the disease in the country yet and after a series of errors decried by public health experts.

Marcelo Queiroga, the president of the Brazilian Society of Cardiology, will replace Eduardo Pazuello, an active-duty army general with expertise in logistics who landed the position last May despite having no prior health experience.

Earlier Monday, Pazuello acknowledged in a press conference that Bolsonaro aimed to replace him. The first candidate for the job, cardiologist Ludhmila Hajjar, rejected it.

Pazuello’s departure means ushering in Brazil’s fourth health minister during the pandemic, although he has presided over the ministry for the longest period of the three to date. The revolving door signals the challenges for the government of Latin America’s largest nation to implement effective measures to control the virus’ spread — or even agreeing which measures are necessary.

—Associated Press

COVID-19 especially lethal to younger Latinos

Maria Agnes Sanchez, center, and most of her family have contracted COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. (Photo for The Washington post by Allison Zaucha)
Maria Agnes Sanchez, center, and most of her family have contracted COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. (Photo for The Washington post by Allison Zaucha)

THERMAL, Calif. — Her lungs aching with each breath, Blanca Quintero, a 53-year-old cancer survivor, sought care for the coronavirus from physicians almost two hours away in Mexicali, Mexico, because her calls to doctors here went unanswered.

Was she being overlooked in the flurry of the winter surge or simply ignored, another instance of the mistreatment she and other Latino patients have faced as Spanish-speaking immigrants, she wondered.

Was the risk of venturing across the border worth it? Yes.

Even as the virus tried claiming Quintero as a casualty, it infected her son, husband and grandson — infections Quintero believes she carried into their home. At last count, 15 friends and family members have been taken from Quintero’s life by the coronavirus.

“People get to the point of where my uncle was. He waited until he couldn’t breathe any longer,” she said. “That’s when they want to look for help.”

Throughout the pandemic, the coronavirus has disproportionately carved a path through the nation’s Latino neighborhoods, as it has in African American, Native American and Pacific Islander communities. The death rate in those communities of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, is at least double that of whites and Asian Americans, federal data shows.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post
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Extent of COVID-19 vaccine waste remains largely unknown

As millions continue to wait their turn for the COVID-19 vaccine, small but steady amounts of the precious doses have gone to waste across the country.

It’s a heartbreaking reality that experts acknowledged was always likely to occur. Thousands of shots have been wasted in Tennessee, Florida, Ohio and many other states. The reasons vary from shoddy record-keeping to accidentally trashing hundreds of shots. However, pinning down just how many of the life-saving vials have been tossed remains largely unknown despite assurance from many local officials the number remains low.

To be sure, waste is common in global inoculation campaigns, with millions of doses of flu shots trashed each year. By one World Health Organization estimate, as many as half of vaccines in previous campaigns worldwide have been thrown away because they were mishandled, unclaimed or expired.

By comparison, waste of the COVID-19 vaccine appears to be quite small, though the U.S. government has yet to release numbers shedding insight on its extent. Officials have promised that may change soon as more data is collected from the states.

Read the story here.

—Kimberlee Kruesi, The Associated Press

WHO: Vaccine rollout unaffected by concerns over AstraZeneca

Boxes of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India and provided through the global COVAX initiative arrive at the airport in Mogadishu, Somalia Monday, March 15, 2021. The first shipment of 300,000 doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine will target the country’s frontline workers, elderly and people with chronic health conditions, according to Somalia’s Ministry of Health. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)
Boxes of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India and provided through the global COVAX initiative arrive at the airport in Mogadishu, Somalia Monday, March 15, 2021. The first shipment of 300,000 doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine will target the country’s frontline workers, elderly and people with chronic health conditions, according to Somalia’s Ministry of Health. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)

GENEVA — The U.N. health agency said its global rollout of coronavirus vaccines remains unaffected even as a growing number of countries, especially in Europe, suspended use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine on Monday amid concerns about blood clots in some people who received it.

The World Health Organization says the AstraZeneca vaccines for its COVAX program, which is shipping vaccines mostly to low- and middle-income countries, are being produced in India and South Korea — and the suspensions have been ordered over batches made in Europe.

“We understand these are precautionary measures,” WHO assistant director-general Mariangela Simao said. “I would like to say this to countries from other regions that are not Europe: That the vaccines (at issue) so far are from European manufacturing not vaccines that are provided through the COVAX facility.”

Germany, France, Italy and Spain joined the growing list of mostly European countries — starting with Denmark last week — that temporarily halted use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in recent days to investigate cases of blood clots that occurred after vaccination. Others include Thailand and Congo.

“This does not necessarily mean these events are linked to vaccination,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference. “But it is routine practice to investigate them and it shows that the surveillance system works and that effective controls are in place.”

While the AstraZeneca product is just one of several vaccines being deployed in Europe, the vaccine has a huge role so far in COVAX. The program began shipments in late February and has plans to ship more than 200 million doses by the end of May — nearly all of them versions of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

An Asian American chef slammed Texas for lifting its mask mandate. Then racist graffiti hit his shop.

When Mike Nguyen found the racist slurs covering his restaurant’s windows and patio tables on Sunday, he said he immediately knew the cause. One message spray painted on the front door of his San Antonio ramen shop particularly stood out: “No masks.”

Ever since Nguyen, 33, went on national TV last week to condemn Gov. Greg Abbott, R, for lifting the state’s mask mandate, the Asian American chef and owner was flooded with death threats, one-star online reviews and harassing messages, Nguyen told The Washington Post.

“I definitely know 100 percent it had something to do with the interview,” Nguyen said. “When you first see it, you’re kind of shocked, and then you realize this is real. Then, anger took over. I was so mad I ended up pacing back and forth trying to wrap my head around this.”

The incident appears to combine two disturbing national trends: A backlash to mask mandates that has often turned violent and destructive, and a surge of racist attacks and threats against Asian Americans, which some advocates tie to former president Donald Trump’s anti-China rhetoric over the pandemic.

Among the terms spray painted in red on Nguyen’s windows on Sunday was the phrase “Kung flu,” a racist slur that Trump helped popularize during his campaign rallies and other appearances.

Local officials swiftly denounced the vandalism, while police have opened an investigation.

Read the full story here.

—The Washington Post
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How well do COVID vaccines protect after organ transplant?

FILE – In this Dec. 29, 2020 file photo, Penny Cracas, with the Chester County, Pa., Health Department, fills a syringe with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in West Chester, Pa. A new study raised questions about how well COVID-19 vaccines protect organ transplant recipients — and what precautions people with suppressed immune systems should take after the shots. On Monday, March 15, 2021 researchers at Johns Hopkins University reported a first attempt to find out. They tested 436 people who had received new organs in recent years and were getting the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)
FILE – In this Dec. 29, 2020 file photo, Penny Cracas, with the Chester County, Pa., Health Department, fills a syringe with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in West Chester, Pa. A new study raised questions about how well COVID-19 vaccines protect organ transplant recipients — and what precautions people with suppressed immune systems should take after the shots. On Monday, March 15, 2021 researchers at Johns Hopkins University reported a first attempt to find out. They tested 436 people who had received new organs in recent years and were getting the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

A new study raised questions about how well COVID-19 vaccines protect organ transplant recipients — and what precautions people with suppressed immune systems should take after the shots.

Vaccines rev up the immune system to recognize the virus, something that’s harder to do if someone’s immune cells aren’t in good working order. Transplant recipients take powerful immune-suppressing drugs to prevent organ rejection, which also increases their risk from the coronavirus — but excluded them from vaccine studies.

Specialists say the shots appear safe for transplant recipients and any protection is better than none. But how much protection do they get?

On Monday, researchers at Johns Hopkins University reported a first attempt to find out. They tested 436 people who had received new organs in recent years and were getting the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. A few weeks after the first dose, 17% of the transplant recipients had developed antibodies against the coronavirus, said Dr. Dorry Segev, a Hopkins transplant surgeon who co-authored the study.

Segev acknowledged transplant recipients may fare better after the needed second dose — he’ll also check that — but prior studies show the first shot is enough to kickstart antibody production in just about everybody with a well-functioning immune system.

Of most concern, people whose transplant medications include a type called an anti-metabolite were far less likely to respond to the shot than those who don’t require that kind of drug, the team reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Much of Europe tightens anti-pandemic rules as virus surges

People walk in an empty street in downtown Rome, Monday, March 15, 2021. Half of Italy’s regions have gone into the strictest form of lockdown in a bid to curb the latest spike in coronavirus infections that have brought COVID-19 hospital admissions beyond manageable thresholds. (Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse via AP)
People walk in an empty street in downtown Rome, Monday, March 15, 2021. Half of Italy’s regions have gone into the strictest form of lockdown in a bid to curb the latest spike in coronavirus infections that have brought COVID-19 hospital admissions beyond manageable thresholds. (Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse via AP)

Tighter restrictions aimed at reining in surging coronavirus infections took hold in much of Italy and parts of Poland on Monday, while in France, Paris risks being slapped with a weekend lockdown as ICUs near saturation with COVID-19 patients.

In line with an Italian government decision late last week, 80% of schoolchildren, from nursery through high schools, were locked out of classroom starting on Monday.

Ever-mounting numbers of ICU beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, steadily rising daily caseloads and infection transmission predominantly driven by a virus variant first discovered in Britain have combined to make Italian Premier Mario Draghi’s new government apply “red zone” designation on more regions, including, for the first time since the color-tiered system was created last fall, on Lazio, the region including Rome.

Read the story here.

—Frances D'Emilio, The Associated Press

CDC review identifies health guidance authored under Trump administration that downplayed severity of pandemic

Federal health officials have identified several controversial recommendations about coronavirus testing and school reopenings released during the Trump administration that it says were “not primarily authored” by staff of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and don’t reflect the best scientific evidence, based on a review ordered by its new director.

The review identified three documents that had already been removed from the agency’s site: One, released in July, delivered a strong argument for school reopenings and downplayed health risks. A second set of guidelines about the country’s reopening was released last April by the White House, and was far less detailed than what was drafted by CDC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. A third guidance issued in August discouraged the testing of people without COVID-19 symptoms even when they had contact with infected individuals. That was replaced last September after experts inside and outside the agency raised alarms.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky ordered the review as part of her pledge to restore public trust in the beleaguered agency, which had seen its recommendations watered down or ignored during the Trump administration to align with the former president’s efforts to downplay the severity of the pandemic.

Read the story here.

—Lena H. Sun, The Washington Post
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‘My legs were shaking’: elderly Spaniards thrilled to go out

A resident of a nursing home takes her first excursion outside her care home with other residents after being vaccinated, in Madrid, Spain, Monday, March 15, 2021. The group are now fully protected from the deadly COVID-19 virus having received their vaccination a few weeks ago. The care home managers thought that it was time for them to enjoy a trip into central Madrid to take in the sights and stretch their legs. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
A resident of a nursing home takes her first excursion outside her care home with other residents after being vaccinated, in Madrid, Spain, Monday, March 15, 2021. The group are now fully protected from the deadly COVID-19 virus having received their vaccination a few weeks ago. The care home managers thought that it was time for them to enjoy a trip into central Madrid to take in the sights and stretch their legs. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

A group of older Spaniards got a long-awaited treat Monday: a trip out of their care homes for the first time in many months amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The surprise destination for their outing left them gaping at breath-taking views over Madrid from a glass bridge 100 meters (330 feet) above the city street.

Recent vaccinations against the virus meant the group of 20 could finally leave the confines of their care homes, though they were under supervision and had to disinfect their hands and check their temperature before setting off. All wore masks.

The residents from several homes in the Madrid region run by the religious organization Messengers for Peace knew they were going for a trip. They just didn’t know where, and their excitement was palpable.

Benedict Garcia, 85, said that when he left the home, “my legs were shaking because it’s been so long.”

Read the story here.

—Iain Sullivan, The Associated Press

Hope that South Africa’s COVID-19 corruption inspires action

There’s some hope in South Africa that this time the outrage against corruption inspires effective action.

Public anger over suspect government contracts worth nearly $900 million for the purchase of supplies to fight COVID-19 may finally bring the South African government to take more decisive steps against corruption, say experts.

Africa’s most developed economy is already deeply mired in corruption with a commission of inquiry hearing allegations of widespread graft during the tenure of former president Jacob Zuma. The new charges of the misuse of public money earmarked to fight the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to be a turning point, say those experts.

FILE — In this Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020 file photo, former South African President, Jacob Zuma, appears at a hearing of the Zondo Commission of Enquiry into State Capture. A special unit in the country is now investigating nearly $900 million worth of possible corruption in the procurement of COVID-19 contracts at the same time that allegations of widespread government graft continues. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, file)
FILE — In this Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020 file photo, former South African President, Jacob Zuma, appears at a hearing of the Zondo Commission of Enquiry into State Capture. A special unit in the country is now investigating nearly $900 million worth of possible corruption in the procurement of COVID-19 contracts at the same time that allegations of widespread government graft continues. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, file)

In a report last month, the government’s Special Investigative Unit outlined how the procurement of personal protective equipment for hospitals and clinics and other supplies in the early months of the pandemic last year was abused by local, provincial, and national officials.

As South Africa’s virus cases multiplied rapidly, making it Africa’s worst affected country, those officials were signing off on more than 2,500 emergency contracts that were identified for investigation for corruption and mismanagement. More allegations are still coming in, investigators say, and their probe is ongoing.

Read the story here.

—Gerald Imray, The Associated Press

‘We want to be educated, not indoctrinated,’ say Trump voters wary of COVID shots

Be honest that scientists don’t have all the answers. Tout the number of people who got the vaccines in trials. And don’t show pro-vaccine ads with politicians — not even ones with Donald Trump.

That’s what a focus group of vaccine-hesitant Trump voters insisted to politicians and pollsters this weekend, as public health leaders rush to win over the tens of millions of Republicans who say they don’t plan to get a coronavirus shot. If those voters follow through, it would imperil efforts to achieve the high levels of immunity needed to stop the virus’s spread in the United States, experts fear.

“These people represent 30 million Americans. And without these people, you’re not getting herd immunity,” said Frank Luntz, the longtime GOP pollster who convened Saturday’s focus group over Zoom. The group followed what Luntz characterized as a remarkable arc: By the end of the two-hour-plus session, all 19 participants (one dropped out early) said they were more likely to get vaccinated, and Luntz said he had begun nationwide polling to see which messages resonated with a broader population.

“I think by Wednesday next week, we’ll have tested messages that folks can use to help Republicans become more vaccine-confident,” said Brian Castrucci, CEO of the Bethesda, Md.-based de Beaumont Foundation, the public health organization that funded the ongoing effort.

Read the story here.

—Dan Diamond, The Washington Post
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Group reports health facilities looted in Ethiopia’s Tigray

In this photo released by Medecins Sans Frontieres, a corridor in a vandalized health center in May Kuhli, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, in this undated photo taken in 2021. Health facilities in Ethiopia’s embattled region of Tigray have been “looted, vandalized and destroyed in a deliberate and widespread attack on health care,” the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders said Monday, March 15, 2021. (Medecins Sans Frontieres via AP)
In this photo released by Medecins Sans Frontieres, a corridor in a vandalized health center in May Kuhli, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, in this undated photo taken in 2021. Health facilities in Ethiopia’s embattled region of Tigray have been “looted, vandalized and destroyed in a deliberate and widespread attack on health care,” the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders said Monday, March 15, 2021. (Medecins Sans Frontieres via AP)

Health facilities in Ethiopia’s embattled region of Tigray have been “looted, vandalized and destroyed in a deliberate and widespread attack on health care,” the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders said Monday.

Nearly 70% of 106 health facilities surveyed from mid-December to early March had been looted and more than 30% had been damaged. Only 13% were functioning normally, the group said, citing destroyed equipment and smashed doors.

“The attacks on Tigray’s health facilities are having a devastating impact on the population,” said Oliver Behn, Doctors Without Borders general director. “Health facilities and health staff need to be protected during a conflict, in accordance with international humanitarian law. This is clearly not happening in Tigray.”

The findings deepen concern for the wellbeing of Tigray’s 6 million people. Ethiopia’s federal government and regional officials in Tigray both maintain that each other’s governments are illegitimate after the pandemic disrupted elections.

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—Rodney Muhumuza, The Associated Press

Hungarian far-right party protests lockdown

Hungarians hold flags during a protest in Budapest, Hungary, Monday, March 15, 2021. Hungarians gathered on the country’s national day to protest against the current lockdown measures after new restrictive measures were introduced by the Hungarian government last week aiming to slow a record-breaking wave of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. (AP Photo/Laszlo Balogh)
Hungarians hold flags during a protest in Budapest, Hungary, Monday, March 15, 2021. Hungarians gathered on the country’s national day to protest against the current lockdown measures after new restrictive measures were introduced by the Hungarian government last week aiming to slow a record-breaking wave of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. (AP Photo/Laszlo Balogh)

Demonstrators in Hungary’s capital broke a ban on public gatherings on Monday to demand an end to the country’s lockdown restrictions, even as a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations sweeps the country.

The demonstration was organized by a far-right party, Mi Hazank Mozgalom (Our Homeland Movement), and joined by some 1,000 people.

The group broke through a police cordon and marched to Hungary’s parliament in central Budapest. They demanded an end to pandemic restrictions that have been in effect for more than four months and have placed a heavy burden on the country’s economy.

Read the story here.

—Justin Spike, The Associated Press

Germany, France, Italy suspend use of AstraZeneca vaccine

 Italy’s medicines regulator on Monday announced the precautionary, temporary ban on using AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine amid new reports of people developing dangerous blood clots after taking the shot.

Italy’s Aifa said the decision “was taken in line with similar measures adopted by other European countries.”

It added that “further looking into the matter is currently underway.” The announcement followed by a day the latest known death of a person in Italy shortly after receiving the vaccine. A 57-year-old clarinet teacher, who received the vaccine in the northern Piedmont region on Saturday evening, as part of a national rollout for teachers, died at home early Sunday morning.

Autopsies have been ordered for that death, as well as to a handful of other deaths last week of others in Italy who had received the vaccine.

France and Germany also suspended the vaccine’s use on Monday. AstraZeneca and global health authorities insist the shot is safe.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Arrest warrant issued after woman rejects mask at Texas bank

An arrest warrant was issued for a woman who refused to wear a mask at a Texas bank, saying to a police officer: “What are you going to do, arrest me?”

Police have issued a warrant for the arrest of Terry Wright, 65, of Grants Pass, Oregon. The incident on Thursday at a Bank of America in Galveston was captured by the officer’s body camera, The Galveston County Daily News reported.

Police say they’ve obtained an arrest warrant on resisting arrest and criminal trespassing charges.

This frame grab from police body-cam video provided by the Galveston Police Department in Texas shows Terry Wright, 65, of Grants Pass, Oregon, arguing with an officer inside a bank branch on March 11. She was told she needed to leave the bank because she was not wearing a face mask. (Galveston Police Department via AP)
This frame grab from police body-cam video provided by the Galveston Police Department in Texas shows Terry Wright, 65, of Grants Pass, Oregon, arguing with an officer inside a bank branch on March 11. She was told she needed to leave the bank because she was not wearing a face mask. (Galveston Police Department via AP)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday ended statewide orders requiring people to wear face masks in public places, declaring that businesses should decide for themselves what COVID-19 precautions to take on their properties. Many businesses have kept their own mask rules in place.

Police said a bank manager called police after Wright refused to wear a mask while inside, and then refused to leave the building when asked.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Biden to name Sperling to oversee COVID-19 relief package

FILE – In this Jan. 31, 2014 file photo, Gene Sperling, Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Director of National Economic Council, left, listens as Vice President Joe Biden speaks during Biden’s meeting with CEO’s in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington. Sperling, a veteran of the Clinton and Obama administrations, will lead the oversight for distributing funds from President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package, a White House official said Monday.(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
FILE – In this Jan. 31, 2014 file photo, Gene Sperling, Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Director of National Economic Council, left, listens as Vice President Joe Biden speaks during Biden’s meeting with CEO’s in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington. Sperling, a veteran of the Clinton and Obama administrations, will lead the oversight for distributing funds from President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package, a White House official said Monday.(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Gene Sperling, a veteran of the Clinton and Obama administrations, will lead the oversight for distributing funds from President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package, a White House official said Monday.

Sperling will take a role similar to the one Biden himself had as vice president in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. He will work with the heads of the White House policy councils and key leaders at federal agencies to get funds out quickly and optimize their effectiveness, said the official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss private conversations.

The package, signed into law Thursday, follows more than $4 trillion in pandemic relief. It seeks to fund mass vaccinations, speed hiring, reopen schools, stabilize state and local government finances and halve child poverty. Promised direct payments of $1,400 began to be issued this weekend, but Sperling’s task will involve sums that sprawl across governments as firms such as Goldman Sachs estimate that total growth this year could be 7%.

Read the story here.

—Josh Boak, The Associated Press

Facebook to label vaccine posts to combat COVID-19 misinformation

Facebook is adding informational labels to posts about vaccines as it expands efforts to counter COVID-19-related misinformation flourishing on its platforms.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a blog post Monday that labels will contain “credible information” about the vaccines from the World Health Organization. They will be in English and five other languages, with more languages added in coming weeks.

The social network is also adding a tool to help get users vaccinated by connecting them to information about where and when they can get their shot.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Alaska reports one-third vaccinated 1 year after 1st case

Exactly one year after Alaska announced its first case of the coronavirus, the state reported that over one-third of its residents over the age of 16 have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The figures were reported last Friday just days after the state dropped restrictions on who could get coronavirus vaccinations, opening eligibility to anyone 16 or older living or working in the state.

Alaska was the first state in the U.S. to remove vaccine eligibility requirements.

About 187,000 people, about 33.1% of all state residents over 16, had received at least one dose of the vaccine as of Friday. About 69% of residents aged 65 or older had received at least one vaccine dose.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

US prison guards refusing vaccine despite COVID-19 outbreaks

Kareen Troitino stands outside the Federal Corrections Institution, Friday, March 12, 2021, in Miami. Troitino, a local correction’s officer union president, said that fewer than half of the facility’s 240 employees have been fully vaccinated as of March 11. Many of the workers who refused had expressed concerns about the vaccine’s efficacy and side effects, Troitino said. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)
Kareen Troitino stands outside the Federal Corrections Institution, Friday, March 12, 2021, in Miami. Troitino, a local correction’s officer union president, said that fewer than half of the facility’s 240 employees have been fully vaccinated as of March 11. Many of the workers who refused had expressed concerns about the vaccine’s efficacy and side effects, Troitino said. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

A Florida correctional officer polled his colleagues earlier this year in a private Facebook group: “Will you take the COVID-19 vaccine if offered?”

The answer from more than half: “Hell no.” Only 40 of the 475 respondents said yes.

In Massachusetts, more than half the people employed by the Department of Correction declined to be immunized. A statewide survey in California showed that half of all correction employees will wait to be vaccinated. In Rhode Island, prison staff have refused the vaccine at higher rates than the incarcerated, according to medical director Dr. Justin Berk. And in Iowa, early polling among employees showed a little more than half the staff said they’d get vaccinated.

As states have begun COVID-19 inoculations at prisons across the country, corrections employees are refusing vaccines at alarming rates, causing some public health experts to worry about the prospect of controlling the pandemic both inside and outside. Infection rates in prisons are more than three times as high as in the general public. Prison staff helped accelerate outbreaks by refusing to wear masks, downplaying people’s symptoms, and haphazardly enforcing social distancing and hygiene protocols in confined, poorly ventilated spaces ripe for viral spread.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Another COVID-19 vaccine could be on the way next month from Novavax. But more nations just slammed the brakes on AstraZeneca's vaccine amid health concerns. Here's who is eligible for vaccines now in Washington state, who's next and how to get your shot(s).

The pandemic may affect your tax bill. Here's a Q&A on the most significant changes. And while many people took financial hits, this has been a boom time for billionaires. Some of the tech barons who benefited most are in Seattle's back yard.

 A year ago, we embarked on a journey none of us chose as COVID-19 changed our lives forever. This special project tells the Seattle area's stories of our year, marked in words, photos, graphics and videos. 

COVID-19 precautions shut down flu this season. What will next winter bring? It could be especially nasty, researchers say — although perhaps what we've learned in the pandemic will help us.

The vaccination clinic was bustling, then a world-renowned musician showed up for his shot. He began to play, and everyone went quiet in a moment that was "so healing." Watch it happen.

—Kris Higginson