Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Tuesday, March 16, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday ordered all public schools in Washington offer students the option to return to a form of in-person learning, hoping to address students’ “alarming” educational inequities during a mental health crisis that has worsened during the pandemic.

But even as the state and country intensify efforts for widespread COVID-19 vaccinations, health officials worry that political preferences will threaten the fight against the virus.

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

Duke COVID-19 cases surge; fraternities blamed for many

RALEIGH, N.C. — Duke University saw nearly as many cases of the coronavirus last week as it did during the entire fall semester, according to data released Tuesday, a spike that school administrators largely blamed on fraternity rush events.

The vast majority of the 231 new cases reported from March 8 through Sunday occurred within the university’s undergraduate student population, which accounts for only about 0.06% of North Carolina’s population of 10.5 million people, but whose cases account for nearly 1.9% of the total number reported statewide last week. A total of 241 cases were reported during the entire fall semester.

The spike at Duke comes as transmission is decreasing across the state and country, though health officials insist it is too early to fully reopen schools and businesses and lift mask mandates.

Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations at Duke, said most of last week’s cases came from recruitment parties held off campus by “unsanctioned fraternities.”

—Associated Press

Experts: Georgia vaccine woes at least partly self-inflicted

ATLANTA — Georgia’s failure to open mass vaccination sites earlier and relatively slow expansion of eligibility for the shots are to blame in part for the state’s dismal COVID-19 inoculation rate, health experts say.

Georgia ranks dead last among states in the percentage of its adult population that has received at least one dose, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Roughly a third of the doses delivered to the state are still awaiting injection.

For weeks after the vaccine became available, Georgia officials blamed limited supply in part for the state’s numbers. But lack of supply has not been the problem for some time now, as evidenced by the amount of vaccine sitting unused in the state, said Sara McCool, a professor in public health at Georgia State University.

McCool said Georgia was slow to open mass vaccination sites, particularly in the Atlanta area, where much of the state’s population resides. In addition to getting the vaccine in more arms, the centralized site could have eased confusion about where to get inoculated, which also hampered the state’s rollout, she said.

—Associated Press

Faith leaders get COVID-19 shot to curb vaccine reluctance

WASHINGTON — More than two dozen clergy members from the capital region rolled up their sleeves inside the Washington National Cathedral and got vaccinated against the coronavirus Tuesday in a camera-friendly event designed to encourage others to get their own COVID-19 shots.

The interfaith “vaccine confidence” event targeted in particular Black, Latino and other communities of color, with the aim of overcoming reluctance among populations disproportionately hit by a pandemic that has killed more than a half-million people in the country.

“Over 50% of all cases and almost half of all deaths are in persons of African American, Latino or Hispanic background, American Indian and Pacific Islanders,” said Dr. Eliseo Pérez-Stable, director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

“Now, much has been said about, ‘Well, the risk is greater because there’s more disease, more diabetes, more obesity, more heart disease,’” Pérez-Stable said. “But the reality is that the infections are more likely because people live in more crowded conditions. They work in jobs that do not allow the privilege of teleworking. They cannot self-isolate at home.”

Melissa Rogers, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said working with faith communities is vital to the vaccination effort because many people are more comfortable getting their shot in a house of worship and religious leaders are among the most trusted leaders in their communities.

—Associated Press

Chicago eyes April return to class for high school students

CHICAGO — Public high school students in Chicago could return to class for limited in-person instruction starting next month under the outline of plan district leaders unveiled Tuesday as negotiations with the teachers union over COVID-19 precautions continued.

It would be the first time high school students in the nation’s third-largest school district have the option to be back in classrooms since going fully remote a year ago amid the coronavirus pandemic. However, the Chicago Teachers Union, which fought the district’s safety plans for younger students and nearly went on strike, said no deal had been reached.

Chicago Public Schools started bringing younger students back last month in phases, offering students in grades K-8 limited in-person instruction with online learning. The union, which said the district’s initial COVID-19 safety plans fell short, eventually agreed to a plan that included teacher vaccinations.

School leaders said they hoped to offer at least two days a week of in-person classes for high school students starting April 19, which is the first day of the fourth quarter.

—Associated Press

Europe’s vaccine suspension may be driven as much by politics as science

ROME — After days of touting the safety of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, Italy’s Health minister, Roberto Speranza, took a call from his German counterpart Monday and learned that Germany was concerned enough about a few cases of serious blood clots among some who had received the vaccine to suspend its use.

For Italy and its neighbors, that call could not have come at a worse time.

Their vaccine rollouts were already lagging because of shortages, and they were encouraging people to get those shots that were available. Only days earlier, Prime Minister Mario Draghi reassured Italians who had become wary of the AstraZeneca vaccine. “There is no clear evidence, clear correlation, that these events are linked to the administration of the vaccine,” he said.

But once Germany hit pause, the pressure mounted on other governments to do the same, lest public opinion punish them if they seemed incautious by comparison, and for the sake of a united European front.

German’s decision set off a domino effect of defections from the vaccine. A cascade of countries — Italy, France and Spain — soon joined the decision to suspend AstraZeneca, dealing a significant blow to Europe’s already shaky inoculation drive despite a lack of clear evidence that the vaccine had caused any harm.

—The New York Times

Australia gives COVID-19 shots to virus-hit Papua New Guinea

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia will send COVID-19 vaccines from its own supply to its near-neighbor Papua New Guinea and will ask AstraZeneca to send more to try to contain a concerning wave of infections, Australia’s prime minister said Wednesday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 8,000 doses would be sent next week for Papua New Guinea’s front-line health workers and he and his Papua New Guinea counterpart James Marape would ask AstraZeneca to send another 1 million doses as soon as possible.

The European Union this month blocked a shipment of more than 250,000 doses to Australia because the need for them was not considered great enough in a country largely successful in containing the coronavirus.

“With the support of the PNG government, we are … making a formal request to AstraZeneca and the European authorities to access 1 million doses of our contracted supplies of AstraZeneca not for Australia, but for PNG, a developing country in desperate need of these vaccines,” Morrison told reporters.

“We’ve contracted them. We’ve paid for them and we want to see those vaccines come here so we can support our nearest neighbor, PNG, to deal with their urgent needs in our region,” Morrison added.

—Associated Press

Brazil needs vaccines. China is benefiting.

RIO DE JANEIRO — China was on the defensive in Brazil.

The Trump administration had been warning allies across the globe to shun Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant, denouncing the company as a dangerous extension of China’s surveillance system.

Brazil, ready to build an ambitious 5G wireless network worth billions of dollars, openly took President Donald Trump’s side, with the Brazilian president’s son — an influential member of Congress, himself — vowing in November to create a secure system “without Chinese espionage.”

Then pandemic politics upended everything.

With COVID-19 deaths rising to their highest levels yet, and a dangerous new virus variant stalking Brazil, the nation’s communications minister went to Beijing in February, met with Huawei executives at their headquarters and made a very unusual request of a telecommunication company.

Two weeks later, the Brazilian government announced the rules for its 5G auction, one of the biggest in the world. Huawei, which the government appeared to have barred just months before, will be allowed to participate.

The about-face is a sign of how politics in the region have been scrambled by the pandemic and Trump’s departure from the White House — and how China has begun to turn the tide.

—The New York Times

State health officials confirm 654 new coronavirus cases in Washington

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 654 new coronavirus cases and 14 new deaths on Tuesday.

The update brings the state's totals to 351,109 cases and 5,149 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. Monday. Tallies may be higher earlier in the week because new state data isn’t reported on Sundays and COVID-19-related deaths aren’t reported on the weekends.

In addition, 19,910 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 19 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 86,655 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,443 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 2,442,206 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 42,542 vaccine shots per day.

DOH noted Tuesday that the number of vaccine doses was reported incorrectly on Monday. It has since been corrected from 2,442,269 to 2,442,206 doses.

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

How arenas work to keep fans safe attending indoor sports

Allen Hershkowitz won’t use the word “safe” because there is no certainty in life sciences. But the 65-year-old Ph.D with decades of environmental science experience says he would feel comfortable going to an socially distanced indoor sporting event with one of his children. “Given the protocols, I would feel OK about it,” he said.

Arena by arena, venue by venue, fans are returning to watch live sports indoors amid encouraging signs in the pandemic. Plenty of safety rules are in place for the NCAA Tournament that opens in Indiana this week with limited attendance in the stands, just like the NBA and NHL. Experts say attending is relatively safe because of how big arenas with high ceilings work to move and mix air — as long as capacity limits allow for physical distancing and masks are still worn properly.

“If we’re talking about reduced capacity, people wearing masks most of the time and making use of that large volume, I think the risks are probably very low,” said Dr. Richard Corsi, dean of Portland State’s college of engineering and computer science. “If you’re sitting with your family and you’re distanced from others and people are wearing masks except for when they’re eating a hot dog or whatever and you’ve got this large volume and you make use of the volume, my guess is that the risk is pretty low. Doesn’t mean it’s zero.”

Read the story here.

—Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press

Echoes of hot spots emerge in Upper Midwest, New York City area

After weeks of declining coronavirus deaths and hospitalizations, new hot spots of infection have emerged, and disease experts warn that the spread of a more dangerous variant and a too-rapid rush to return to normal life could prolong the historic health emergency.

Caseloads are down nationally, and tens of millions of people are fully loaded with antibodies to the virus, with more than 2 million people getting doses of vaccine every day. But the virus continues to pose a real and present threat, with about 55,000 new infections daily.

Michigan has seen a rise in hospitalizations and positive test results. Minnesota’s numbers are creeping up, as are Maryland’s and New Jersey’s. Many places, including New York City and surrounding counties, are no longer seeing steady declines in cases, despite intensive vaccination efforts.

Infectious-disease experts are imploring people to stay cautious and respect the lingering threat of the virus. With the end of the coronavirus pandemic potentially in sight, experts recognize that this is one of the trickiest phases of the crisis — epidemiologically and psychologically.

Read the story here.

—Ariana Eunjung Cha, Joel Achenbach and Jacqueline Dupree, The Washington Post

Extended COVID-19 easing for some after vaccines

Some people who have spent months suffering from long-haul COVID-19 are taking to social media to report their delight at seeing their symptoms disappear after their vaccinations, leaving experts chasing yet another puzzling clinical development surrounding the disease caused by the coronavirus.

“The only thing that we can safely assume is that an unknown proportion of people who acquire SARS-CoV-2 have long-term symptoms,” said Steven Deeks, an infectious-disease physician at the University of California at San Francisco. “We know the questions. We have no answers. Hard stop.”

Those questions include: If long-haulers are suffering from immune systems that went awry and never reset, why would vaccines — which rev up the immune system — help some of them? Are reservoirs of coronavirus hiding in the body? Are some long-haulers experiencing a placebo effect from the vaccine? Or does the disease simply take longer to run its course in some people?

U.S. clinicians and researchers have yet to come to a consensus on even a definition for long-haul COVID-19. They do not know how many people have it, what all the symptoms may be or who tends to develop problems that persist or begin after the virus is cleared.

Read the story here.

—Lenny Bernstein and Ben Guarino, The Washington Post

Naval Academy sets penalties for COVID-19 rules violators

The U.S. Naval Academy has established penalties for midshipmen who violate its COVID-19 restrictions, a move that comes after a proposal to have the mids police themselves failed.

A memo approved March 11 says the first time a midshipman violates the Naval Academy’s rules intended to slow the spread of COVID 19 they face getting demerits, the Capital Gazette reported Tuesday. An offense will also mean the loss of a weekend of liberty when it is restored and an additional seven days of restrictions when they are eased.

For a second offense, another 50 demerits are added, as well as another week of restrictions and another lost chance to get off the Yard for the weekend.

An email from Brigade Executive Officer Ashley Boddiford said leaders of the Brigade of Midshipmen advocated letting the mids themselves stop classmates from breaking the restrictions, but that idea did not work.

“Our blatant disregard for the orders given to us by the Commandant of Midshipmen will stop today,” Boddiford wrote in the email.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Pandemic demanded plastics, but not the recycled kind

Efforts to combat coronavirus spread have produced a tsunami of disposable personal protective equipment, takeout food containers and other pandemic packaging.

While plastic has a role in mitigating the spread of disease, it should be treated as a precious resource, not like a disposable piece of garbage, said Dominique Browning, director and co-founder of Moms Clean Air Force, who advocates for much better recycling.

The marine conservation group OceansAsia estimated in a report that more than 1.5 billion masks, many with plastic, entered the oceans in 2020.

Read the story here.


As Uber, Lyft avoided paying into unemployment, federal government helped thousands of drivers weather the pandemic

Tens of thousands of Uber and Lyft drivers received at least $80 million in government assistance during the coronavirus pandemic — making them among the largest groups of beneficiaries of a little-known government grant and loan program established to help small businesses weather severe economic disruptions.

The drivers benefited from the Economic Injury Disaster Loans program of the U.S. Small Business Administration, money intended to help struggling businesses, entrepreneurs and other workers stay afloat during the pandemic. Policy experts said it was unusual for such a vast pool of workers under the umbrella of multibillion-dollar corporations to tap into that money. But gig workers qualified because they are classified as independent contractors under the law, a designation companies such as Uber, Lyft and DoorDash fought last year to maintain.

When the pandemic hit U.S. soil roughly a year ago, tens of thousands of gig workers were left without employer support as work opportunities dried up and the risk of contracting the coronavirus kept many off the road. Ride-hailing trips dropped as much as 80% in major cities, according to data released in the companies’ earnings calls and quarterly reports.

A Washington Post analysis of SBA data showed “Uber” and “Lyft” were the two most common business names in both the EIDL loan program and the EIDL Advance program. Those programs offered grants of up to $10,000, as well as much larger loans, with little scrutiny, making them widely accessible to gig workers.

Read the story here.

—Andrew Van Dam and Faiz Siddiqui, The Washington Post

Anxiety, confusion, terror, relief: Giving birth in pandemic

Pregnancy, birth and life with a newborn in the middle of a pandemic has brought on high anxiety, ever-shifting hospital protocols and intense isolation for many of the millions of women who have done it around the world.

As the pandemic stretches into a second year and economic worry persists, demographers are studying the reasons for an anticipated pandemic baby bust.

Women, meanwhile, have learned to go through labor in masks and to introduce fresh arrivals to loved ones through windows.

Read the story here.

—Leanne Italie, The Associated Press

6 officials out of NCAA Tournament after 1 tests positive

Six officials won’t be working the NCAA Tournament because one tested positive for COVID-19 and five others were deemed close contacts after arriving in Indianapolis.

NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt confirmed the details Tuesday. CBS Sports first reported that the officials received permission to leave for dinner together when their rooms weren’t ready and no food was available as they arrived at their hotel.

They later returned to the hotel and one of the officials tested positive. The amount of time they would have to quarantine meant they wouldn’t be available for the entirety of the tournament, which begins Thursday with four games before 16 more on Friday.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

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

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.”

Adoption in the past year has been swiftest by first responders needing sustenance on the go, she said.

Read the story here.

—Laura Reiley, The Washington Post

Schools weighing whether to seat students closer together

U.S. guidelines that say students should be kept 6 feet apart in schools are receiving new scrutiny from federal health experts, state governments and education officials working to return as many children as possible to the classroom.

Even as more teachers receive vaccinations, the distancing guidelines have remained a major hurdle for schools as they aim to open with limited space.

But amid new evidence that it may be safe to seat students closer together, states including Illinois, Indiana and Massachusetts are allowing 3 feet of distance, and others including Oregon are considering it.

Read the story here.

—Collin Binkley, The Associated Press

Thai PM gets AstraZeneca jab, 1 Asian country suspends

Thailand’s prime minister received a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by AstraZeneca on Tuesday, as much of Asia shrugged off concerns about reports of blood clots in some recipients in Europe, saying that so far there is no evidence to link the two.

Many countries using the vaccine also said the benefits from inoculation far outweighed possible risks, even as parts of Europe suspended it pending investigation of potential side effects.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

U.S. air travel rises to highest levels since pandemic hit

Across the United States, air travel is recovering more quickly from the depths of the pandemic, and it is showing up in longer airport security lines and busier traffic on airline websites.

The Transportation Security Administration screened more than 1.3 million people both Friday and Sunday, setting a new high since the coronavirus outbreak devastated travel a year ago. Airlines say they believe the numbers are heading up, with more people booking flights for spring and summer.

“Our last three weeks have been the best three weeks since the pandemic hit, and each week has been better than the one prior,” American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said Monday.

Airline stocks rose across the board. Shares of the four biggest U.S. carriers hit their highest prices in more than a year.

However, the airlines still have far to go before travel fully returns to pre-pandemic levels.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

EU regulator ‘convinced’ AstraZeneca benefit outweighs risk

With coronavirus cases rising in many places, governments faced the grimmest of dilemmas Tuesday: push on with a vaccine that is known to save lives or suspend use of AstraZeneca over reports of dangerous blood clots in a few recipients, even as the European regulator said there was “no indication” the shot was responsible.

It has created a jagged divide across the globe, forcing politicians to assess the health risks of halting the shots at a time when many countries, especially in Europe, are already struggling to overcome logistical hurdles and vaccine hesitancy among their populations.

Sweden was the latest to join a swelling group of European Union nations choosing caution over speed, even as the head of the European Medicines Agency said the agency is “firmly convinced” that the benefits of the AstraZeneca shot outweigh the risks.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Somalia starts first inoculations with AstraZeneca vaccines

Somalia launched COVID-19 vaccinations Tuesday with the inoculation of the health minister, who received the jab publicly to reassure the nation about its safety.

The Horn of Africa nation, which has recently experienced a surge of cases, on Monday received its first shipment of 300,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the international COVAX intiative to ensure that low- and middle-income countries receive vaccines.

Somalia’s first vaccinations happened in a small ceremony at the Martini hospital in the capital Mogadishu where Health Minister Fawziya Abikar Nur urged the public to embrace the vaccines to stem infections in the country of 15 million people and one of the continent’s weakest health systems.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Iran starts trial of new homegrown vaccine as campaign lags

Iran’s campaign to inoculate its population against the coronavirus and promote itself as an emerging vaccine manufacturer inched on as health authorities announced Tuesday that the country’s third homegrown vaccine has reached the phase of clinical trials.

Details about its production, however, remained slim.

Although Iran, with a population of more than 80 million, has so far imported foreign vaccines from Russia, China, India and Cuba to cover over 1.2 million people, concerns over its lagging pace of vaccinations have animated Iran’s drive to develop locally produced vaccines as wealthier nations snap up the lion’s share of vaccine doses worldwide.

Iranian scientists, like elsewhere in the world, are rushing to condense the typically yearslong process to develop vaccines into a few months — a task that has acquired urgency as the country struggles to stem the worst virus outbreak in the Middle East and its economy reels from harsh American sanctions.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

China approves another COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

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 a fifth shot 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 fifth coronavirus vaccine approved in China and the fourth to be given emergency use approval. Three of those given emergency approval have since been approved for general use. All were developed by Chinese companies.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Moderna begins testing COVID vaccine in babies and young children

The drug company Moderna has begun a study that will test its COVID vaccine in children younger than 12, including babies as young as 6 months, the company said Tuesday.

The study is expected to enroll 6,750 healthy children in the United States and Canada.

In a separate study, Moderna is testing its vaccine in 3,000 children ages 12-17.

Many parents want protection for their children, and vaccinating children should help to produce the herd immunity considered crucial to stopping the pandemic. The American Academy of Pediatrics has called for expansion of vaccine trials to include children.

Red the story here.

—Denise Grady, The New York Times

Catch up on the past 24 hours

People in the Seattle area are spending much more on groceries since the pandemic began, and a few items stand out. FYI Guy digs into what’s behind the increase, and looks at the stores where shoppers are paying the most — and least.

The furor over AstraZeneca's vaccine is growing, with at least a dozen countries hitting pause amid concerns about blood clotting. But key health agencies say people should keep getting the shots. Here's what is known, and what isn't.

The pandemic's political divide: Far more Republicans than Democrats say they probably or definitely won't get a vaccine, according to a new poll that has public health officials worried. Meanwhile, the CDC says it's identified several chunks of Trump-era pandemic guidance that don't reflect scientific evidence. 

"The third wave has already begun." Cases are spiking across Europe, where some leaders fear this will be the toughest week of the pandemic. Rome's streets emptied yesterday as Italy locked down again, a year after the first time.

The pandemic "is going to change education forever." Educators are rethinking everything from technology and testing to the "butt-in-desk" model of education.

How many cancers were missed or not treated quickly enough because of the pandemic? Researchers are seeing signs of trouble.

—Kris Higginson

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