Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Saturday, March 20, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
The United States on Friday cleared President Joe Biden’s goal of injecting 100 million coronavirus shots, paving the way for new goals in the nation’s vaccination effort — possibly a goal of 200 million doses by Biden’s 100th day in office.
In Washington, state officials are reviewing new federal guidelines allowing schools to place students 3 feet apart in elementary school classrooms, but are not planning an immediate change to state guidelines.
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.
Pushing past the pandemic: Samish tribe finds ways to maintain cultural connection
Before “canceled” began popping up across the Samish Indian Nation’s online events calendar in response to the threat of COVID-19 in early 2020, tribe General Manager Leslie Eastwood never envisioned teaching weaving or the tribe’s native language over video conferencing.
Now a year later, she and tribe Chairman Tom Wooten say they can’t imagine taking the online option away, even when the coronavirus pandemic eases.
“Virtual is here,” Wooten said. “I see us continuing this practice in some form well beyond the pandemic. It has taught us to reach out and stay connected, so if there is a silver lining, that would be it.”
After cancellations last March and April of in-person rattle-making, birdwatching and ethnobotany classes, digital offerings for carving and beading lessons began appearing on the tribe’s calendar in May. In June, the first elders meeting and cultural day were held online.
The number and variety of events grew through the remainder of 2020, and now a record 15 events are scheduled to take place this month.
“I’m looking forward to seeing some elders I haven’t seen in quite some time,” Wooten, an elder himself at 62, said before an elders meeting set for March 5. “We’ve been able to bring folks together and share songs and just try to lift their spirits up during these hard times when we can’t gather and be with loved ones outside of our households.”
How friendships thrived in video games during the pandemic
For someone who is hours away from his family, living alone on a college campus without in-person classes, and who infrequently sees a friend in the flesh, Hugh-Jay Yu has an impressively active social life.
Every night between 7 p.m. and 2 a.m., the 19-year old college sophomore in Evanston, Ill., hangs out with a group of friends on the chat and audio app Discord. There are 130 people in the group total, but usually around six to eight are logged in at any given time. Using a combination of audio channels and text chats, they play video games, have movie nights, share inside jokes, vent and laugh. The crew, which grew from people Yu met in college and others he knew in high school, now spans time zones and friend groups. He credits the games they play, from fighting in Super Smash Bros. to showing off geography knowledge in “GeoGuessr,” with helping everyone bond.
“This phenomenon of my friends meeting my other friends and becoming this close wouldn’t have happened, but for the thing ruining the rest of my life,” said Yu.
Building and maintaining friendships can be tricky in the best of non-pandemic times. Months of isolation have limited and changed how people interact with their friends and shifted many relationships online. People have found creative ways to use all types of technology to socialize. They’ve gossiped more in group chats, FaceTimed with family, joined Reddit and Facebook Groups and hosted Zoom happy hours.
New friendships have been born, while others struggled or were put on pause, unable to make the transition from in-person to virtual.
Video games especially have become a necessary tether for people to friends they aren’t able to see as much, or at all, in person.
Biden’s top aides unlikely to qualify for relief payments
WASHINGTON (AP) — At least one group in America is unlikely to get any money from President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic rescue plan — his own top aides.
Most of Biden’s senior West Wing advisers made far more than the threshold that would qualify them for direct payments from the president’s COVID-19 relief bill, according to White House financial disclosure forms released Saturday. The disclosure period runs through 2020.
The documents paint a portrait of advisers whose wealth is dwarfed by those that surrounded President Donald Trump but do not quite line up with Biden’s image of “Middle Class Joe.”
Where the EU went wrong in its vaccine rollout, and why
BRUSSELS — The calls began in December, as the United States prepared to administer its first batches of COVID-19 vaccine. Even then, it was clear that the European Union was a few weeks behind, and its leaders wanted to know what they could learn from their American counterparts.
The questions were the same, from President Emmanuel Macron of France, President Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission, and Alexander De Croo, prime minister of Belgium.
“How did you do it?” Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the U.S. vaccine czar, recalled being asked on the calls. “And what do you think we missed?”
Since then, the rollout gap between Europe and the United States has widened, and some of the countries hardest hit early in the pandemic are facing a deadly third wave of infections. France, large parts of Italy, and other regions are back in lockdown. Roughly 20,000 Europeans die of COVID-19 each week.
The continent was dealt a further setback when a scare over blood clots and brain bleeds led several countries this week to temporarily halt the distribution of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Most of them resumed using it Friday after Europe’s top drug regulator vouched for its safety, but public confidence in the shot has been badly shaken.
Vaccine salvation remains, for now, tantalizingly out of reach. Only about 10% of Europeans have received a first dose, compared with 23% in the U.S. and 39% in Britain.
There is no single culprit. Rather, a cascade of small decisions have led to increasingly long delays.
Half of UK adults have gotten one dose of COVID-19 vaccine
LONDON (AP) — Britain said Saturday that half the country’s adults have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine as the government races to reach everyone over age 18 by the end of July.
The National Health Service has put shots in the arms of 26.9 million people, or 51% of the adult population, according to the latest government statistics. The NHS passed the halfway point by delivering 589,689 first doses on Friday, the highest daily total since the mass vaccination program began in early December.
“It’s a huge success,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in a video celebrating the milestone. “And I want to say many, many thanks to all those involved, including the half of all adults who have come forward. It’s so important because this vaccine is our way out of this pandemic.’’
The announcement followed the news from health authorities earlier this week that Britain would see a “significant reduction” in vaccine supplies next month. The NHS will continue during April to deliver first doses to those most at risk from COVID-19, along with 12 million second jabs, Hancock said Saturday.
Virus bounces VCU from NCAA Tournament; Oregon advances
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — VCU has been pulled from the NCAA Tournament because of COVID-19 protocols.
The NCAA says the 10th-seeded Rams’ first-round game Saturday against Oregon has been declared a no-contest.
The seventh-seeded Ducks will advance to the second round without playing.
The announcement came a little more than three hours before the teams were set to play in the West Region. The NCAA didn’t offer specific details, citing privacy concerns, and said that the decision came after consultation with the Marion County Public Health Department.
Pakistan’s prime minister contracts coronavirus two days after his first vaccine dose
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, tested positive for the coronavirus Saturday, two days after receiving his first dose of a vaccine, raising fears among health professionals that the news could heighten vaccine skepticism in a country already deeply wary of inoculation.
Khan was injected with China’s Sinopharm vaccine on Thursday and was probably infected before then, according to Pakistan’s Health Ministry. The Sinopharm vaccine requires two doses about a month apart and can take up to 21 days after the second injection to become fully effective.
Minutes after the news broke of Khan testing positive, debate about the vaccine’s effectiveness heated up on social media in Pakistan and Sinopharm began trending here on Twitter.
The Health Ministry quickly responded that the prime minister was not fully vaccinated when he contracted the virus.
“He only got the first dose merely two days ago which is too soon for any vaccine to become effective. Antibodies develop two to three weeks after the second dose of two-dose COVID vaccine,” it said in a tweet.
State health officials confirm 1,013 new coronavirus cases in Washington
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,013 new coronavirus cases on Saturday.
The update brings the state's totals to 354,782 cases and 5,174 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. Friday, though the state does not report new death data on weekends or update its data dashboard on Sundays.
In addition, 20,082 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 41 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 87,626 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,449 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 2,621,510 doses and 12.94% 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 43,737 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.
Some NY nursing homes proved helpless in face of virus surge
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — As the coronavirus made an end-of-the-year surge across New York, few nursing homes escaped unscathed. But some proved especially helpless at stopping the spread of COVID-19, despite having nine months to stockpile protective equipment and refine preventative measures.
At least 15 homes each saw at least 30 patients die between November and early February, with most of the deaths occurring in a matter of weeks, recently released public records show. Seven homes had more than 40 patients die, a tally that does not include specialized nursing homes that treat only COVID-19 patients.
The unusually swift and deadly outbreaks stand out in a state where the great majority of nursing homes reported fatalities in the single digits during that time period.
Pandemic shuts down another Seattle business: 100-year-old Borracchini’s Bakery
After 100 years of selling spectacular cakes for weddings and office parties, the landmark Borracchini’s Bakery & Mediterranean Market on Rainier Avenue South announced Saturday it was closed for good.
The pandemic has taken down another business — this one, a destination for generations of Seattleites who couldn’t resist the sweet offerings while immersing themselves in tradition.
“ … we are in the party business. The problem with that is no one has been gathering over the past year to have those parties. Needless to say, it was devastating to our business,” said the family on the bakery’s Facebook page.
In an Aug. 22, 1993, Seattle Times story, Remo Borracchini — now 90 — told of being born eight blocks from the bakery.
Business was good.
“We do up to 150 birthday cakes a day. And around 110 wedding cakes every weekend. Last Saturday we did 125 wedding cakes and I figured it out that on that day 13,780 people were eating our wedding cakes in Seattle,” he told Times restaurant critic John Hinterberger.
The business has more recently been run by his three daughters, Lisa Desimone, Mimi Norris and Nannette Heye.
On Friday evening, Heye said they were still undecided about their options. On Saturday, the closure was announced.
Working from home takes a physical toll — and companies see opportunity
Lindy Burns had every intention of getting a proper desk and chair after the pandemic forced her to start working from home. As a yoga therapy clinic owner, she understands the importance of posture more than most.
A year later, “I tend to work a lot in the bed or on the floor using the bed as a desk,” Burns, 38, said. “I’m basically in a deep hip flexion all the time, and it’s really causing pain and strain at the hamstrings.”
For many who have been working remotely since March 2020, the home office never truly became one — just a makeshift setup meant to suffice for a few weeks or so. At which point life would surely be back to normal, right?
But those less-than-ideal workstations — monitors too small and too low; desks that don’t adjust; chairs without armrests and back support; built-in keyboards and touchpads instead of external ones — combined with sedentary work habits have taken a physical toll as the pandemic has dragged on.
Remote workers report suffering from aches and pain, joint soreness, stiffness, numbness, carpal tunnel and headaches. That’s a concern for employers, especially as many adopt permanent work-from-home policies, and a boon for the businesses that are offering solutions such as pain-relief devices, office equipment and ergonomic consulting.
'We knew we weren't going to be able to contain it': Epidemiologists reflect on a pandemic year
It was a little over a year ago when Anna Halloran woke up in the early hours of March 14, 2020, to a phone call.
A local physician was on the line with grim, albeit anticipated, news: The first positive case of COVID-19 had been confirmed in Spokane County.
It was go-time. Halloran, the on-call epidemiologist at the Spokane Regional Health District, alerted her supervisor and then-Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz, and eventually the whole epidemiology team, to respond.
Epidemiologists are accustomed to disease outbreaks, the unknowns that necessitate investigations. Their very job descriptions and training enable them to detect, connect and identify disease, its vectors and how far it can spread.
And March 14, 2020, was, as Halloran put it "when things started to go bad." After a month and a half of watching outbreaks in Western Washington, the pandemic had arrived for Spokane County.
Puyallup increases high school class size; superintendent responds to COVID numbers
The Puyallup School District announced Friday high school students will be condensed into larger groups even as more COVID-19 cases are reported.
More than 16,000 Puyallup district students, or 72% of students, have returned to the classroom since March 2.
Yet for the third week in a row, the Puyallup School District reported double-digits of staff and students quarantined.
District officials said the district has seen the highest reported staff and students quarantined in Pierce County because contact tracing has been conservative.
"So we err on the side of you were exposed, rather than well, you might not have been exposed, we aren't going to count you. So our quarantine numbers are high, because we're very, very conservative," Superintendent John Polm told The Puyallup Herald.
In the most recent district data, 42 students and staff were directed to quarantine and nine tested positive for the coronavirus the week of March 8.
The highest weekly reported numbers were Feb. 26, when nine people tested positive and 115 staff and students were quarantined.
Read the full story here.
As vaccinations lag, Italy's older adults again pay a price
One year ago, Bergamo’s state-of-the-art Pope John XXIII Hospital verged on collapse as doctors struggled to treat 600 patients, with 100 of them in intensive care.
The picture is much improved now: The hospital is treating fewer than 200 virus patients, just one quarter of whom require intensive care.
But still unchanged as Italy’s death rate pushes upward once again is that the victims remain predominantly older adults, with inoculation drives stumbling in the country and elsewhere in Europe.
“No, this thing, alas, I was not able to protect the elderly, to make clear how important it would be to protect the elderly,’’ said Dr. Luca Lorini, head of intensive care at the hospital named for the mid-20th century pope born in Bergamo. “If I have 10 elderly people over 80 and they get COVID, in their age group, eight out of 10 die.”
Promises to vaccinate all Italians over 80 by the end of March have fallen woefully short, amid well-documented interruptions of vaccine supplies and organizational shortfalls. Just a third of Italy’s 7.3 million doses administered so far have gone to people in that age group, with more than half of those who carry memories of World War II still awaiting their first jab.
“We should have already finished with this,” Lorini told The Associated Press.
Read the full story here
In Seattle as everywhere, hope is ahead — but we haven't hit the 'post' in post-traumatic stress from COVID-19
Even after people are vaccinated, Washingtonians and others will need to grapple with mental health concerns that have arisen during the pandemic, therapists warn.
And as the nation goes through a second March in a pandemic, feelings of grief and hopelessness are heightened over a year that’s been lost, and so are the feelings of anxiety over what a post-pandemic world might look like.
Countless surveys and studies have looked at rates of depression and anxiety that emerged or were exacerbated over the past year, and specific issues affecting populations that have been hit hardest, like young adolescents struggling over Zoom school or octogenarians isolated at home or in nursing-home rooms.
“Trying to pretend that we as a society are going to come out of this unscathed is setting us up for some ‘shoulds’ that will be harmful,” said Katherine Walter, owner of Catalyst Counseling, a Woodinville-based (before everyone moved to working from home) practice with 10 clinicians. “We will be marked, but let’s see how we can be the healthiest we can be as this plays out.”
Research has found that 40% of Americans reported anxiety or depressive disorder during the pandemic, which is four times more than pre-pandemic, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, and higher rates of women, Black and Hispanic Americans and essential workers reported the same symptoms. A national hotline in 2020 received 176,645 more calls asking for referrals for mental or substance abuse disorders than in 2019, an increase of 27%. A Gallup poll found that more Americans rated their mental health worse in 2020 than any year in the past 20.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported a 70% increase in phone calls and other messages compared with 2019, and NAMI Seattle's call volume increased by about 50% in the summer and fall, according to program manager Katie Mahoney. NAMI Seattle has also seen specific upticks in calls and requests from parents of youth and young adults whose families are struggling with mental health challenges.
Read to the complete story here
Tokyo Olympics will be closed to overseas spectators in COVID-19 measure
TOKYO - Overseas spectators will be barred from attending the Tokyo Summer Olympics Games in an attempt to lessen pandemic risks, the Games' organizing committee said Saturday.
Tickets purchased by overseas residents will be refunded, it said in a statement.
"The fact that the spectators are not able to attend the games from abroad, that is very disappointing and it's regrettable," Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, told a news conference.
The move stemmed from the pandemic situation, including concern about overloading Japan's medical system and the need to ensure participants' safety, Hashimoto said.
"It was an unavoidable decision," she said, speaking after an online meeting of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), the Japanese government and the Tokyo government.
"The Tokyo 2020 Games will be completely different from the past, but the essence remains the same," she said. "Athletes will put everything on the line and inspire people with their outstanding performances."
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