Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, March 2, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine equipped children 5 and older with strong protection against death or hospitalization.

The report comes a day after New York health officials suggested the vaccine may not be as effective in 5 to 11-year-olds as in older kids.

The Food and Drug Administration is warning people against using unauthorized COVID-19 tests by companies Celltrion, ACON Laboratories and SD Biosensor due to the high risk of false test results.

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

Turkey relaxes mask mandate amid drop in COVID-19 cases

Turkey relaxed its mask mandate on Wednesday, allowing people to ditch them in open-air spaces and in places with sufficient ventilation and where social distancing can be maintained.

In a news conference following a meeting of the country’s COVID-19 advisory council, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said people would be required to continue wearing masks in planes, buses, theatres, cinemas, hospitals and classrooms.

In other steps, Turkey will no longer close down classes where two or more students have tested positive for the virus, the minister said.

The country is also scrapping the use of codes assigned to citizens that allowed authorities to track those who have been in contact with infected people, Koca told reporters. Meanwhile, only those displaying symptoms would be tested, he said.

The easing of the mask mandate and other restrictions comes amid a drop in officially recorded COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, although some physicians have warned that cases in Turkey are still high and not enough people have been fully vaccinated.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Rainier Beach boys coach Mike Bethea was told he ‘might not make it’ after getting COVID-19, but he made it to Tacoma Dome

Mike Bethea has won a record eight state titles as the longtime Rainier Beach boys basketball coach, and he is grateful he has an opportunity to win a ninth after spending 12 days in the hospital at midseason with severe COVID-19 symptoms.

Bethea, who coached Rainier Beach to a 58-45 Class 3A win over Ferris on Wednesday, was hospitalized after returning from a New Year’s trip to Las Vegas. He spent five of the 12 days in intensive care because of breathing issues.

“It went from being in the hospital and not even knowing if I was going to live to being down here (at the Tacoma Dome), doing what I love doing,” said Bethea, who was fully vaccinated and got his booster just before the New Year’s trip. “I am just blessed. God blessed me.”

Bethea, who is diabetic, said he was told during his first day in the hospital “that I might not make it.”

Read the full story here.

—Scott Hanson

Australia fully open to travel as last state reopens border

Australia was fully open to vaccinated travelers after Western Australia on Thursday became the last state to lift border restrictions.

Western Australia, which covers one third of the nation’s land area, closed its borders to most international and interstate travelers in 2020 to slow the spread of COVID-19.

But the state lifted restrictions on Thursday four months after Sydney began its staged reopening of quarantine-free travel and more than week after all vaccinated tourists became eligible for visas.

Perth’s airport was the scene of emotional reunions as the first of a scheduled 22 domestic flights and five international flights began arriving on Thursday.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

Should you unmask in WA? Check the COVID risk level where you live

Washingtonians can start dropping their masks inside schools and many businesses on March 12, under Gov. Jay Inslee’s accelerated plan. But “can” doesn’t necessarily mean “should.”

Inslee sped up the timeline on Monday after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines that focus less on test results and more on what’s happening at hospitals. The new federal approach is intended to allow people in communities where COVID-19 is easing to take a “break” from masking.

Not every community in Washington state falls into that category, though. The state has a wide range of risk levels, and residents of a high-risk county might work and shop in the low-risk county next door. The CDC is offering an interactive map to help you understand the risk level in each place and make decisions accordingly.

A county’s color depends on its rate of new COVID-19 hospital admissions, how many hospital beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients, and the rate of new cases.

Read the full story here.

— Kris Gilroy Higginson

WA households can now order 2 free COVID test kits monthly — while supplies last

Washington public health officials on Wednesday announced an expansion of their program to distribute free COVID-19 tests throughout the state, continuing to push testing, masking and vaccinations as infection and hospitalization rates fall.

As of Wednesday, the site that allows Washingtonians to order COVID test kits to their homes — sayyescovidhometest.org — will allow up to two orders per household every month while supplies last, said Lacy Fehrenbach, the state’s deputy secretary of COVID-19 response.

“Home tests are an excellent public health tool that help us know quickly and conveniently if we have COVID-19 so that we can take action to care for ourselves,” she said.

When the state Department of Health launched the site in January, each household could only order one kit, which contains up to five tests, due to limited supply.

Read the full story here.

—Elise Takahama

State health officials confirm new coronavirus cases, deaths

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,438 new coronavirus cases on Monday and 1,876 on Tuesday. It also reported 88 more deaths over those days.

The update brings the state's totals to 1,427,013 cases and 11,954 deaths, meaning that 0.8% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. New state data is reported on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

In addition, 57,914 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 80 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 366,534 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,544 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in late 2020, the state and health care providers have administered 13,059,014 doses and 66.9% 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 8,461 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.

—Amanda Zhou

White House unveils new plan to move America past COVID crisis, says shutdowns, school closures no longer necessary

The White House unveiled a new pandemic road map on Wednesday that calls for continuing the fight against COVID-19 without disrupting people’s lives with school or business closures.

The plan comes after President Joe Biden sought to reassure Americans in his State of the Union address that the wide availability of vaccines, booster shots, testing and new therapeutics had made the pandemic more manageable, while taking pains to avoid last summer’s premature victory lap just before the delta variant’s deadly stampede.

The plan laid out on Wednesday is part of a broader White House strategy to convince Americans that life can return to normal amid the president’s tanking approval ratings and Democratic anxiety that nose-diving cases and school reopenings have not buoyed a dyspeptic public.

Biden and his administration said they are “clear-eyed that new variants might arise,” but that they have prepared for such a scenario by amassing vaccine doses, antivirals, masks and tests.

Read the story here.

—The Washington Post

EXPLAINER: Why Pfizer needs time to make COVID-19 treatment

Pfizer’s new COVID-19 treatment came with a catch when it debuted late last year: Supplies were limited, and it can take months to make the tablets.

Why is that?

The short answer: It’s a complex drug that involves chemical reactions that need time to develop.

Pfizer’s manufacturing experts compare Paxlovid to a complicated Lego model where key parts are made at different locations and then brought together and combined.

The initial building blocks can take up to three months to make. Some chemical reactions need days to develop at a controlled temperature and pressure.

“If you put it all in together very quickly, it can all go wrong,” said Charlotte Allerton, Pfizer’s head of medicine design.

Those initial building blocks are shipped to another location that makes the main part of the drug, the active ingredient. Tack on another three months for that process.

Then the ingredient heads to an additional location that turns it into tablets and packages the medicine. That can take six weeks. Add another week for quality checks and testing.

Read the story here.

—Tom Murphy, The Associated Press

Florida governor admonishes students for wearing face masks

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a fierce opponent of coronavirus mask and vaccine mandates, grew visibly annoyed and admonished a group of students for wearing face masks at a news conference Wednesday.

DeSantis, a Republican, approached the students and asked them to remove their masks as they waited for him at the news conference at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

“You do not have to wear those masks. I mean, please take them off. Honestly, it’s not doing anything. We’ve got to stop with this COVID theater. So if you wanna wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous,” he said, letting out an audible sigh and shaking his head.

DeSantis is running for reelection and is considered to be a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate. His oppoosition to masks and vaccines has drawn national attention, and his administration has banned mask mandates in schools.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

COVID cases, deaths continue to fall globally, WHO reports

The number of new coronavirus cases reported globally dropped by 16% last week, marking a month-long decline in COVID-19 infections, according to figures from the World Health Organization.

In its weekly report on the pandemic issued late Tuesday, the U.N. health agency also said that deaths fell by 10%, continuing a drop in fatalities first seen last week. There were still more than 10 million new cases and about 60,000 deaths globally. however, WHO said. .

WHO said the omicron variant remains overwhelmingly dominant worldwide; among virus sequences shared with the world’s largest publicly accessible database, more than 99.5% were omicron while only 0.3% were delta. In the last month, none of the other worrying variants — including beta, gamma, lambda or mu — have been reported, although WHO said there were surveillance challenges in many countries.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Vaccine protection waned in adolescents after 5 months, CDC finds

Five months after immunization, two doses of the Pfizer vaccine appeared to offer virtually no defense against moderate illness caused by the omicron variant — as measured by visits to emergency departments and urgent care clinics — among adolescents ages 12 to 17, according to data published Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But booster shots dramatically increased the protection, lending support to the agency’s recommendation of booster shots for everyone 12 and older.

The findings must be interpreted with caution. The agency’s study did not exclude unvaccinated adolescents who had some immunity from a prior infection, which may have made vaccination seem less effective than it was.

Read the story here.

—Apoorva Mandavilli, The New York Times

Biden outlines COVID plans, says it’s time to return to work

President Joe Biden declared Tuesday that “it’s time for Americans to get back to work” as he announced new efforts to allow people to return to normal activities safely after two years of pandemic disruptions.

Biden used his State of the Union address to announce that his administration was launching a “test-to-treat” initiative to provide free antiviral pills at pharmacies to those who test positive for the virus.

He also highlighted the progress made on the pandemic since last year, with a dramatic reduction in cases, readily-available vaccines and tests, and new therapeutics soon becoming more accessible.

“Tonight, I can say we are moving forward safely, back to more normal routines,” Biden said. “It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again.”

His comments come ahead of the White House release of a new “National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan” on Wednesday. The White House said it would be “a roadmap that will enable us to move forward safely, and sustain and build on the progress we’ve made over the past 13 months.”

Read the story here.

—Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

Germany wipes its list of COVID ‘high-risk areas’ clean

Germany is removing all countries currently on its list of “high-risk areas” as part of a rethink of its coronavirus travel rules that will take effect on Thursday.

The country’s disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, said that from now on Germany’s list will only include places where high infection rates are linked to variants of COVID-19 that are more virulent than the currently dominant omicron variant, which in many cases leads to relatively mild illness.

That change will result in the current list of “high-risk areas,” which contains dozens of countries and territories, being wiped clean from Thursday on. Health Ministry spokesman Andreas Deffner said Wednesday, however, that Germany will still require people to show proof of vaccination, recent recovery or a negative test to enter the country.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

New Zealand protesters set fires as police break up camp

Thick black smoke billowed across the grounds of New Zealand’s Parliament and sirens blared on Wednesday as retreating protesters against coronavirus vaccine mandates set fire to tents, mattresses and chairs.

It appeared to be a final act of defiance as police broke up the camp that protesters first set up more than three weeks ago. Police retook control of the Parliament grounds although dozens of protesters remained in nearby streets, some hurling objects at officers. Parliament’s once carefully manicured grounds were left scarred, a children’s slide in ruins.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that in planning the operation, police had expected hostility, resistance and violence — but it was another thing entirely to witness it.

Earlier, police wearing riot gear and using pepper spray had moved in on hundreds of people who had been occupying the grounds and surrounding streets. Police efforts in the morning focused on the periphery of the protest before turning to the main camp in the afternoon.

It was the most significant use of force to date by authorities against the demonstrators. As they retreated in the afternoon, they tossed objects onto several fires, which police doused with water hoses.

Read the story here.

—Nick Perry, The Associated Press

Coronavirus invades penis and testicles of monkeys, causing ED, researchers discover

The coronavirus may infect tissue within the male genital tract, new research on rhesus macaques shows. The finding suggests that symptoms like erectile dysfunction reported by some COVID-19 patients may be caused directly by the virus, not by inflammation or fever that often accompany the disease.

The research demonstrated that the coronavirus infected the prostate, penis, testicles and surrounding blood vessels in three male rhesus macaques. The monkeys were examined with whole body scans specially designed to detect sites of infection.

Scientists — who expected to find the coronavirus in spots like the lungs but did not know where else they would find it — were somewhat surprised by the discovery.

“The signal that jumped out at us was the complete spread through the male genital tract,” said Thomas Hope, the paper’s senior author and a professor of cell and developmental biology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “We had no idea we would find it there.”

Read the story here.

—Roni Caryn Rabin, The New York Times

Catch up on the past 24 hours

The pandemic culture wars were never about the pandemic, columnist Danny Westneat writes. You can tell because there's a protest and trucker convoy planned in Olympia this weekend against COVID-19 restrictions — even though the state is ending most of them.

Should you unmask in Washington state? It depends on where you live. Here’s how to check the COVID risk level in your county. Plus, as local hospital officials express concerns about unmasking, experts share recommendations for navigating everyday mask decisions after our state’s key mandates lift on March 12.

Don’t use these three unauthorized COVID tests, the FDA warns, because you might get a false result.

Hawaii is easing COVID rules for travelers, starting this month. Here's what will change.

—Kris Higginson