Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, March 18, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 Washington’s economy starts to brighten and recover from coronavirus closures and shutdowns, the state is projected to get $3.2 billion more in taxes through 2023, the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council announced Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the European Union on Wednesday launched a closely watched effort to create a joint vaccination passport for its more than 440 million citizens and residents, which could help to salvage the European summer tourism season and potentially serve as a model for the United States and other countries.
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’s press conference to discuss the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vaccine withheld from hospital that gave Trump Tower shots
CHICAGO — The city of Chicago on Thursday decided to withhold first doses of COVID-19 vaccines from a hospital that improperly administered vaccinations to Trump Tower workers.
The withholding of vaccines comes as the city conducts a review of actions by Loretto Hospital, whose president said in a memo to hospital staff this week that 72 mostly Black and brown restaurant, hospital and other support personnel at Trump International Chicago were vaccinated earlier this month by hospital workers. It has also admitted improperly vaccinating Cook County Circuit Court judges.
In a statement, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she was concerned about the reports involving the hospital, noting the city’s vaccination plans have been focused around equity and reaching those who need it first.
“Unfortunately, in recent days, stories have surfaced alleging providers who had an obligation to follow (Chicago Department of Public Health) guidelines, ignored those restrictions and instead allowed well-connected individuals to jump the line to receive the vaccine instead of using it to service people who were more in need,” Lightfoot said in a statement.
Newsom admits mistakes in 1st reopening
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom acknowledged mistakes in communicating with the public last year before the first loosening of coronavirus restrictions led to an early summer spike in cases, a harsh lesson “that we reflect upon all the time” as the nation’s most populous state again embarks on a broad reopening.
The Democratic governor also said he expects to soon expand the list of people eligible for vaccinations and asserted he was right to call the organizers of a recall effort against him partisan extremists.
Newsom spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday, a day before the one-year anniversary of his first-in-the-nation stay-at-home order that required California’s nearly 40 million people to lock down except for essential work. The state has recorded more than 3.5 million virus cases and nearly 56,000 deaths, both the largest totals in the country.
California’s initial order lasted about seven weeks before Newsom began loosening the rules as the state avoided a huge surge in cases. What began as limited reopenings quickly snowballed, with counties given the go-ahead to allow restaurant dining, church services and other indoor activities and businesses. Even bars were given the go-ahead by mid-June, around the time Newsom imposed a mask mandate.
NYC strip clubs sue New York state over COVID shutdown
NEW YORK — A group of New York City exotic dancing clubs sued New York state Thursday, saying it’s not fair that they’re being kept closed when everything from axe-throwing venues to bars with live music and casinos can open up.
The lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court claimed that thousands of employees are forced out of work by the state’s ban because of the coronavirus. Defendants included Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state’s liquor licensing authority.
Exotic dancing clubs including “Starlet’s,” “Sugar Daddy’s” and “Gallagher’s 2000” in the borough of Queens asked the court to declare it a violation of the First and 14th Amendments to keep their clubs closed while letting other enclosed establishments open up.
The lawsuit comes as the state’s widening of rules for bars and restaurants have led many to open this week.
Mariners team up with UW Medicine to promote COVID-19 vaccines to underserved communities
The Mariners are making a pitch, and it has nothing to do with baseball.
UW Medicine and the Mariners are working together to help COVID-19 vaccines reach underserved communities in the region, they announced Thursday morning.
The Mariners are giving $2 million to support UW Medicine’s community outreach strategies and mobile vaccination efforts.
“These programs aim to raise awareness for the safety and importance of the vaccine and make the vaccine easily accessible, particularly in those communities that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, historically marginalized by health care systems and in which vaccine hesitancy and skepticism have been documented,” the Mariners said in a news release.
Mariners players and team personnel will encourage vaccine acceptance in a campaign titled, “This is our shot to strike out COVID-19.”
Lonely chimps at Czech zoos take to Zoom to connect during lockdown
Two groups of chimpanzees plunged into loneliness and boredom amid the coronavirus pandemic have found a new way to stay entertained thanks to an idea from concerned staff: daily Zoom calls.
The animals, in the Czech Republic’s Dvur Kralove Safari Park and at another zoo in the city of Brno, have suffered as a result of the country’s lockdowns, because of a lack of visitors. Staff say that for such intelligent creatures, stimulation and interaction is vital to their happiness and well-being.
But with the coronavirus showing no signs of slowing down in the country, staff are faced with the challenge of trying to keep the animals entertained inside enclosures without any people walking past to engage with them.
Zoos were ordered to close in December last year, and it is not known when they will be allowed to reopen.
Federal judge dismisses grocery industry suit against Seattle’s $4-an-hour hazard pay law
A federal judge has dismissed a grocery industry lawsuit that sought to block Seattle’s new law granting $4-an-hour raises to grocery store workers for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.
The law applies to large grocers, those with more than 500 employees worldwide and stores larger than 10,000 square feet, in Seattle. It mandates a $4-an-hour pay boost for all workers in retail locations. And that pay boost must remain in effect for as long as Seattle remains in a declared civil emergency.
The City Council passed the wage hike law unanimously in late January, after advocacy from the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21.
“…[G]iven the City’s findings that large grocery businesses have earned record profits during COVID-19 … and that grocery store employees are at significantly heightened risk of contracting COVID-19,” U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour wrote, “[t]his is a reasonable grounds for the distinctions drawn in the Ordinance.”
“This is a big win for grocery store employees who have been critical and vulnerable frontline workers since the start of the pandemic,” Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, whose office defended the law, said in a prepared statement.
Washington state to expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility, allow indoor visits to long-term care facilities
OLYMPIA — An additional 2 million Washingtonians will become eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine beginning March 31, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday, including restaurant workers and people between 60 and 64 years old.
Thursday’s expansion adds to the 3 million people eligible right now for the vaccine, Inslee said in a news conference, and will include construction and manufacturing workers, and anyone with two or more comorbidities.
Additionally, people experiencing homelessness, in correctional facilities or those with disabilities living in group homes will become eligible March 31.
The governor Thursday also announced that the state will allow the resumption of indoors, in-person visits to long-term care facilities, and, that Washington’s temporary moratorium on evictions would be extended through June 30.
The indoors, in-person visits to long-term care facilities would be allowed in scenarios where residents or visitors have been vaccinated.
Inslee says long-term care facilities can reopen for indoor visits
Citing increasing vaccination rates, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday that the state’s nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and other long-term care sites can reopen their doors for visits.
Indoor visits are now allowed if a resident or visitor is fully vaccinated, Inslee announced at a briefing in Olympia.
“If your mother is in a facility and she is vaccinated and you are not, you still will be able to visit with her indoors,” Inslee said. “If you are vaccinated and she is not, you will be able to visit with her indoors.”
The announcement was welcome news for the state’s 70,000 residents of 4,000 long-term care facilities, which have been the hardest hit – and locked down the tightest – since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Facilities banned visitors soon after outbreaks were reported in the Seattle area, and residents in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities largely remained confined to their rooms for most of the year.
“It’s long overdue,” said Deb Murphy, president and CEO of LeadingAge Washington, an advocacy organization that represents nonprofit nursing homes.
State reports 937 new coronavirus cases and 12 new deaths
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 937 new coronavirus cases and 12 new deaths on Thursday.
The update brings the state's totals to 352,907 cases and 5,168 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, 19,999 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 42 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 87,138 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,449 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 2,517,506 doses and 12.37% 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 44,165 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.
IRS warns of potential delays for major child poverty initiative in $1.9 trillion stimulus
WASHINGTON — A program authorized under the $1.9 trillion stimulus to combat child poverty is at risk of early delays, as the Internal Revenue Service grapples with its massive tax backlog and recent decision to extend the tax-filing deadline until May 17.
The agency’s commissioner, Chuck Rettig, raised the potential for hiccups at a hearing Thursday in front of the House Ways and Means Committee — though he pledged the IRS would “do our best” to get the highly touted coronavirus aid effort up in running by July as Congress had intended.
Under the law, known as the American Rescue Plan, lawmakers with the backing of President Biden approved a sweeping yet temporary expansion of the country’s child tax credit. The government aims to pay parents $3,000 per year for kids between ages 6 to 17, and $3,600 for those under age 6, on a periodic basis — replacing the smaller, annual credit that families typically claim on their yearly tax returns.
Democrats have hailed the benefits as historic, predicting it could cut child poverty sharply, especially if lawmakers make the program permanent before it is set to expire at the end of the year. But the Biden administration must first set up and administer the temporary aid, a task that Rettig signaled may be no easy lift for the agency.
With a massive backlog of 24 million taxes over the past few years — and other stimulus responsibilities on the horizon — Rettig raised the possibility that the IRS may not have the personnel to stand up an online “portal” for the new program. The digital hub is supposed to allow Americans to communicate key information with the government, such as changes to their income or marital status, that the IRS would not otherwise know as it determines families that are eligible for payment.
At the same time, the agency’s information-technology teams are also assisting the IRS during tax-filing season, which it opted on Wednesday to extend another month.
WHO expert: Virus study to have unanimity despite pressure
The head of a World Health Organization team working with Chinese colleagues to finish a long-awaited report into the origins of the coronavirus acknowledged its authors could face political “pressures” but insisted the final product will have a unanimous green light from all of the team’s science-minded members.
Peter Ben Embarek, an expert on food safety and diseases that jump from animals to humans, said in interviews on Wednesday and Thursday that the team hopes the report — now totaling some 280 pages and complete with graphs, dates and annexes — will be ready for release next week.
The report is a first-phase study that is expected to be followed by a more in-depth look as part of guidelines set by Chinese officials and the WHO team.
“What we can guarantee is that everyone will be on board” and “unanimous” in their backing of the report once that the text is completed, Ben Embarek said.
Envoy protests mandated virus tests for foreigners in Seoul
Britain’s ambassador to South Korea on Thursday criticized South Korean health authorities for mandating coronavirus tests on all foreign workers in Seoul and a nearby province in a mass testing campaign that has triggered complaints about racial discrimination.
In video message posted on Twitter, Ambassador Simon Smith said his embassy has made it clear to South Korea’s national government that the measures in the greater capital area “are not fair, they’re not proportionate, nor are they likely to be effective.”
“However, my strong advice to all British workers in Seoul and the other areas affected is to follow the authorities’ requirements to take a test,” Smith said.
Long lines have snaked around designated testing centers in Seoul since Wednesday when the city government began necessitating tests for all foreign nationals employed in the city, regardless of their visa status or recent travel history. They could face fines of up to 2 million won ($1,770) if they fail to be tested until the end of March.
UK regulator: People should keep getting AstraZeneca shots
British regulators said Thursday that people should keep getting AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine following its review of data on patients who suffered from blood clots after getting the shot.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said there’s no evidence that the vaccine causes blood clots in veins. A further review of five reports in the U.K. of a rare type of clot in the brain is continuing, but the condition, which can occur naturally, has been reported in less than 1 in a million people vaccinated so far and no causal link has been established, the agency said.
“The MHRA’s advice remains that the benefits of the vaccines against COVID-19 continue to outweigh any risks and that the public should continue to get their vaccine when invited to do so,” the agency said.
‘A moving moment.’ Grandma prescribed a post-vaccine hug
NEW YORK — For Laura Shaw Frank, seeing her mother hug her daughter for the first time since the onset of the pandemic was a light at the end of the tunnel.
“It just felt like all this love was pouring out and also that there was like this feeling of hope, like maybe there’s a future, maybe we’re going to get out of this,” Frank said Tuesday about her mother and daughter embracing for the first time after becoming vaccinated.
Evelyn Shaw, who lives about a mile from Frank’s home in the Bronx and lives alone, spent a lot of time with her four grandchildren before the pandemic. She moved there four years ago to be closer to them. But when it hit, the family made the difficult decision to stay as distant as possible in order to keep her safe.
It was a note from the family doctor that cleared Shaw to hug her 23-year-old granddaughter Ateret once they had been fully vaccinated.
“We were all just bawling,” Frank told The Associated Press. “She hadn’t been touched in a year. It was such a moving moment.”
Biden highlights vaccine success as US nears 100 millionth shot
President Joe Biden highlighted his administration’s push to dramatically expand distribution of COVID-19 vaccines Thursday, with the nation on the cusp of meeting his goal of injecting 100 million doses in his first 100 days in office — on Day 58 of his presidency.
From his first days in office, Biden has set clear metrics for success, whether it be vaccinations or school reopenings, as part of a deliberate strategy of underpromising, then overdelivering. Aides believe that exceeding his goals breeds trust in government after the prior administration’s fanciful rhetoric on the virus, while also creating regular opportunities to proclaim success.
The 100 million dose goal was met with some skepticism when it was first announced on Dec. 8, days before the U.S. had even one authorized vaccine for COVID-19, let alone the three that have now received emergency use authorization. Still, it was generally seen within reach, if optimistic.
By the time Biden was inaugurated on Jan. 20, the U.S. had already administered 20 million shots at a rate of about 1 million doses per day, sparking complaints at the time that Biden’s goal was not ambitious enough. Biden quickly revised it upward to 150 million doses in his first 100 days.
Now the U.S. is injecting an average of about 2.2 million doses each day — and the pace of vaccination is likely to dramatically expand later this month in conjunction with an expected surge in supply of the vaccines.
Critics: Doctor’s note for vaccine unfairly penalizing poor
Claes Bell repeatedly called his doctor, leaving multiple messages and emails, desperate to get him to sign a state form to allow Bell to get a COVID-19 vaccine before traveling to be at his father’s bedside after heart surgery.
But the 39-year-old, who suffers from hypertension, said he couldn’t get through to his doctor and eventually called a private, 24-hour emergency doctors network where he paid $45 for a virtual consult with a doctor who signed the form.
“I wasn’t able to get anyone on the phone. I wasn’t able to get an appointment. I’m privileged. I have the money to pay for that,” said Bell, a father of three. “It just sets up a scenario where your outcomes are going to be different depending on your income and employment.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis recently said younger people with health conditions can get the jab at other vaccination sites, but they’re required to have their doctor fill out a standard state form.
The form requires little more than a doctor’s signature and is aimed at preventing healthy younger people from jumping the line ahead of people who need the vaccine more urgently. But critics say it’s an onerous added barrier for minorities and low-income residents without health insurance or access to a doctor.
Florida couple offers free beer as way to meet the neighbors
A Florida couple came up with a great way to meet their new neighbors after moving into their home during the coronavirus pandemic. They offered free beer.
Amanda and Thomas Evans decided to move from Fort Myers to nearby Cape Coral just before the pandemic started last year.
They were not sure when they would get to meet their new neighbors, so they created a flyer:
“Hi, we’re new to the neighborhood and would like to meet our lovely neighbors. We will be in our driveway with drinks, ready to meet any neighbors who would like to stop by. We can’t wait to meet you.”
Her husband wasn’t sure anyone would show up. But once the “Free Beer” sign was placed outside, the neighbors started venturing over.
U.S. will send Mexico surplus vaccines as it seeks help on immigration enforcement
The Biden administration has agreed to supply Mexico with excess doses of the coronavirus vaccine, and Mexico is moving to help the United States contain a migration surge along their shared border, according to senior officials from both countries involved in the conversations.
The decision to send AstraZeneca vaccine to Mexico, and to Canada, is expected to be announced Friday. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently asked President Joe Biden to help them fill vaccine shortfalls.
Mexican and U.S. officials who described the agreement said it was not a quid pro quo conditioning the delivery of vaccines on an enforcement crackdown. Rather, the United States made clear that it sought help from Mexico in managing a record influx of Central American teenagers and children. Mexico pledged to take back more Central American families “expelled” under a U.S. emergency health order while urging Biden to share the U.S. vaccine supply, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the conversations.
Mexico seizes fake Sputnik vaccine bound for Honduras
Mexican customs officials have seized purported vials of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine en route to Honduras that the Russian entity that bankrolled the vaccine’s development said Thursday were fake.
The seizure came aboard a private plane in the Gulf coast state of Campeche, according to a statement from Mexico’s tax agency late Wednesday.
Customs agents and soldiers found 1,155 vials containing more than 5,700 doses inside two coolers packed with ice and sodas. The crew and Honduran passengers were turned over to the Attorney General’s Office.
Mexican officials did not identify the doses as fake, but the Russian Direct Investment Fund said in a statement Thursday that after reviewing photographs of the packaging, they determined the vaccine to be fake.
Italy honors COVID dead with living monument on anniversary
Italy inaugurated a living monument to its COVID-19 dead Thursday as it marked the anniversary of one of the most haunting moments of the pandemic: when Bergamo’s death toll reached such heights that an army convoy had to transport coffins out because its cemeteries and crematoriums were full.
Premier Mario Draghi visited the northern city on Thursday to commemorate a national day of mourning for Italy’s coronavirus victims. Flags flew at half-staff around the country and public authorities observed a minute of silence.
Draghi laid a wreath at Bergamo’s cemetery and inaugurated a forest named in honor of the more than 100,000 victims in Italy, the first country in the West to be hit by the outbreak.
“This wood doesn’t only contain only the memory of the many victims,” Draghi said. “This place is a symbol of the pain of an entire nation.”
At the Wood of Memory, Bergamo Mayor Giorgio Gori said the city had decided against a memorial or a piece of artwork to commemorate its dead.
“We decided to honor victims with a work that is alive, with a monument that breathes,” he told the handful of dignitaries gathered on a windy lawn surrounded by the first 100 freshly planted saplings.
EU agency: AstraZeneca vaccine safe, will add clot warning
The European Union’s drug regulatory agency said Thursday that the AstraZeneca vaccine is not linked to an overall increase in the risk of blood clots and that the benefits of use outweigh the risks, paving the way for European countries to resume administering the shots.
Several European countries had suspended the use of the vaccine over the past week following reports of rare types of blood clots occurring in a small number of the millions of people who had received the shot across the continent.
Germany, France and others had said they wanted to wait for the European Medicines Agency’s determination before deciding whether to resume using the vaccine.
“Our scientific position is that this vaccine is a safe and effective option to protect citizens against COVID-19,” said the head of the EMA, Emer Cooke.
She added: “If it were me, I would be vaccinated tomorrow.”
However, she said the agency “cannot rule out definitively a link” between the rare types of blood clots and the vaccine. The EMA recommended adding a description of these cases to the vaccine leaflets so health workers and patients would be aware.
UK: Shortfall in vaccine deliveries will delay jabs
British health authorities say COVID-19 vaccinations for people under age 50 may be delayed for up to a month amid a shortfall in supply, partly due to reduced deliveries from the Serum Institute of India.
Britain’s National Health Service told public health officials Thursday that vaccine supplies available for first doses would be “significantly constrained” beginning March 29. As a result, people under 50 shouldn’t get shots unless they have underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk, according to a letter from Emily Lawson, the NHS’s chief commercial officer, and Dr. Nikita Kanani, medical director for primary care.
Doctors had expected to begin vaccinating younger people next month, but that will have to be pushed back until May, said Dr. Martin Marshall, the chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners and a GP in east London.
“It was disappointing news when we heard yesterday that the supplies weren’t going to be available during April,” he told the BBC. “It’s a massively successful program overall, and this is a bit of a setback.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said the delay won’t prevent the government from meeting its target of delivering a first dose of vaccine to everyone over 50 by mid-April and to all adults by July 31.
Pregnant people become eligible for vaccine in Washington
Anna Leonetti, a 28-year-old Seattle woman due in early June with a baby boy, said she was “excited” to get a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at University of Washington Medical Center – Northwest on Wednesday. Pregnant women became eligible for vaccination on Wednesday under Washington state eligibility guidelines.
Leonetti said being pregnant during the pandemic has been isolating at times.
“You’re alone 10 hours a day and going through this major life event and people aren’t there to experience it with you,” Leonetti said. “I haven’t hugged my parents in over a year.”
Leonetti, who works in human resources, said she’s excited to visit with vaccinated family and friends soon.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
People with disabilities are now eligible for vaccines. But the definition of a disability isn't simple, and state officials are explaining the thinking on that. Here's a full look at who is eligible now, who's next and what it's safe to do after you're vaccinated.
The race to vaccinate Washington's teachers is getting a critical boost as local tribes step in with shots, even for those who aren't tribal members. "It’s our moral obligation to take care of each other," one tribal official explained as teachers cried tears of gratitude.
The world is awaiting a decision today on whether evidence links the AstraZeneca vaccine to blood clots. With every day of delay, Europe is falling farther behind in its darkening race to outrun the virus' third wave. Find updates on the investigation by Europe’s top medical regulator.
The Oregon woman who refused to wear a mask and taunted an officer in a widely seen video landed in more trouble yesterday and wound up in jail.
People showing up for vaccines got a surprise as Seattle's sports power couple showed up to help out at Lumen Field Event Center yesterday. Take a look and enjoy the happy scenes.
Kauai, one of the globe’s most treasured vacation places, has been nearly impossible to visit for most of the past year. Now that's changing.
Do you have questions about the coronavirus that causes COVID-19?Ask in the form below and we'll dig for answers. If you're using a mobile device and can't see the form on this page, ask your question here. If you have specific medical questions, please contact your doctor.
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