Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Monday, March 21, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Two years ago on March 21, not even a hundred people had died from COVID-19 in Washington state. Now, more than 12,300 people have died statewide. Two years ago, limited medical masks and protective equipment were being routed to the counties and hospitals with the most COVID-19 cases. Now, masks are readily accessible and Washington’s indoor mask mandate is no more. Two years ago, most workers in the Seattle area were still adjusting to working from home; now, many are returning to the office.
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.
It was already hard to find Evusheld COVID prevention therapy. Now it’s harder
As immunocompromised people across the country work to get Evusheld, a potentially lifesaving COVID-19 therapy, several hundred providers of the injections were removed from a federal dataset on Wednesday night, making the therapy even harder to locate.
White House officials had announced March 15 that a planned purchase of more doses would have to be scaled back without new federal funding.
And federal and state health departments aren’t making it easy to find, leaving patients whose hospitals say they don’t have enough of the drug to write desperate tweets and Facebook posts seeking the shots while unused vials sit in the refrigerators of other providers. Few states list on their websites where residents can find Evusheld — most provide no information or link to an incomplete federal map.
The therapy is a pair of monoclonal antibody injections designed to prevent COVID-19 infection. It received emergency use authorization in December for people 12 and older who are moderately to severely immunocompromised or unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons, more than 7 million people. For people who haven’t responded to a COVID-19 vaccine, it could offer lifesaving protection.
Biden aides to Congress: Fund COVID aid, don’t cut budget
Congress should provide the $22.5 billion President Joe Biden wants for continuing the battle against COVID-19 without cutting other programs to pay for it, senior administration officials said Monday.
And if Republicans continue to insist that additional federal efforts to combat the pandemic must be paid for by culling spending elsewhere, the GOP should specify what it wants to cut, the officials said.
The remarks came nearly two weeks after a new round of COVID-19 funding was pulled out of a $1.5 trillion government-wide measure after rank-and-file Democrats rejected cuts that party leaders had negotiated with Republicans to pay for it. Though Biden signed the overall bill into law, the deletion of the COVID-19 funds was a major setback for Biden and Democrats.
“Our concern right now is that we are going to run out of money to provide the types of vaccines, boosters, treatments to the immunocompromised, and others free of charge that will help to continue to battle” the pandemic, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.
Building on anti-mask activism, far-right groups pivot from mandates to midterms
Melanie Gabriel became the teen idol of Washington state’s anti-masking movement last fall when she showed up to school and, claiming a medical exemption, marched barefaced to class.
As Gabriel’s protest continued and she was barred from campus, she drew support from self-styled militia groups and other far-right extremists who saw the anti-mandate movement as a chance to rally conservatives toward more-militant stances. Members of the Proud Boys offered to escort Gabriel to class, prompting a security lockdown of three schools.
Now, with the lifting of most mask and vaccine requirements, Gabriel and her far-right backers are mobilizing the networks they’ve built over the past two years toward a new goal: November’s midterm elections.
Gabriel spoke this month at a gathering that was emblematic of the increasingly blurry lines on the right — it was organized by the far-right Washington Three Percent and sponsored by a conservative student group, Turning Point USA. With the state Capitol dome in the background, speaker after speaker told supporters not to get complacent with mandates gone.
Extremism trackers say the past two years of fighting pandemic restrictions have given far-right groups a new generation of recruits and a blueprint for taking the lead in conservative organizing. The midterm season, they warn, brings a heightened risk of political violence, as armed groups build on those gains to push deeper into the mainstream.
“In Olympia today, we saw paramilitary groups and a range of other anti-democracy activists aggressively working to recruit young people and making pledges of unity against what they see as their common enemies,” Eric K. Ward, executive director of Western States Center, a regional extremism watchdog, said in a statement after the event where Gabriel spoke.
Samoa detects scores of COVID cases within days of outbreak
Samoa has reported scores of new COVID-19 cases each day since detecting its first case of community transmission last week.
The South Pacific island nation of 200,000 people has been in lockdown since Saturday as it deals with its first outbreak of the pandemic.
The outbreak was discovered when a woman who was about to travel tested positive for the virus last Thursday and indicates the virus likely had been spreading undetected for days or even weeks.
Samoa reported another 95 new cases in 24 hours to Saturday and another 85 on Sunday.
Will more virulent COVID-19 spring from hamsters, deer, mink?
It was a death sentence for thousands of hamsters.
A worker at the Little Boss pet shop in Hong Kong came down with COVID-19. Testing revealed that hamsters, too, were infected. Government workers in hazmat suits raided the shop and the cull began in January.
A chilling theory is that COVID-19 was transmitted to the hamsters, incubated in them for multiple generations, then jumped back to humans and spread amongst them — perhaps explaining the genesis of new variants, said Dr. George Rutherford, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UC San Francisco.
“The molecular epidemiology of this virus is much more complicated than I think anyone realized,” he said. “Why that is, and what role co-evolution with other species plays, is a huge open question.”
Doctors finding hurdles to using pills to treat COVID-19
High-risk COVID-19 patients now have new treatments they can take at home to stay out of the hospital — if doctors get the pills to them fast enough.
Health systems around the country are rushing out same-day prescription deliveries. Some clinics have started testing and treating patients in one visit, an initiative that President Joe Biden’s administration recently touted.
The goal is to get patients started on either Pfizer’s Paxlovid tablets or Merck’s molnupiravir capsules within five days of symptoms appearing. That can prevent people with big health risks from growing sicker and filling up hospitals if another surge develops.
But the tight deadline has highlighted several challenges. Some patients are delaying testing, thinking they just had a cold. Others have been unwilling or unable to try the new drugs.
State health officials confirm new coronavirus cases, deaths
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,012 new coronavirus cases on Friday, 451 on Saturday and 214 cases on Sunday. It also reported 22 more deaths over those days.
The update brings the state's totals to 1,446,845 cases and 12,355 deaths, meaning that 0.85% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Sunday. New state data is reported on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
DOH is still working to clear backlogged cases, hospitalizations and deaths, the agency said.
In addition, 58,919 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 84 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 371,186 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,629 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in late 2020, the state and health care providers have administered 13,168,049 doses and 67% 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 4,744 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.
Indonesia set to lift quarantine rules for overseas tourists
Indonesia will lift all quarantine requirements for overseas visitors entering the country, its tourism minister said Monday, two years after it imposed border restrictions due to COVID-19.
Tourism and Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno told reporters that foreign tourists will still be required to have a negative PCR test before entering the country. Quarantine requirements will be lifted from Tuesday, he added.
Indonesia had already implemented a two-week trial of quarantine-free travel in Bali, Batam and Bintan islands, where coronavirus numbers have been falling.
Seattle students walk out of school, demand mask mandates be reinstated
More than 100 Seattle Public Schools students walked out of class Monday morning to protest the district’s decision to end the requirement that students and staff wear masks.
Many of those students rallied at district headquarters, the John Stanford Center, to ask Superintendent Brent Jones to reinstate the mask mandate districtwide. Mask requirements for Seattle and most other districts in the state ended a week ago.
The newly formed Seattle Student Union, a group of student activists who organized the rally, have been demanding stronger safety protocols since January, including that the district provide higher quality masks. The student union has been threatening a walkout since Gov. Jay Inslee announced plans to end mask requirements in schools, child care facilities and most other businesses.
The student union sent the school board and Jones a letter last week asking for mask requirements to continue.
Shanghai Disneyland closes as virus rises, Shenzhen reopens
Shanghai Disneyland closed Monday as China’s most populous city tried to contain its biggest coronavirus flareup in two years, while the southern business center of Shenzhen allowed shops and offices to reopen after a weeklong closure.
Meanwhile, the cities of Changchun and Jilin in the northeast began another round of citywide virus testing following a surge in infections. Jilin tightened anti-disease curbs, ordering its 2 million residents to stay home.
China’s case numbers in its latest infection wave are low compared with other major countries, but authorities are enforcing a “zero tolerance” strategy that has suspended access to some major cities.
The government reported 2,027 new cases on the Chinese mainland on Sunday, up from the previous day’s 1,737. That included 1,542 infections in Jilin province, where Changchun and Jilin are located.
Justice Clarence Thomas hospitalized, not with COVID
Justice Clarence Thomas remains hospitalized in Washington after being diagnosed with an infection but does not have COVID-19, the Supreme Court said Monday.
The high court announced Sunday evening that the 73-year-old justice had entered the hospital Friday after experiencing “flu-like symptoms” and underwent tests. The court said that Thomas was diagnosed with an infection and was being treated with intravenous antibiotics. The court said at the time that “his symptoms are abating,” but it did not say that Thomas had tested negative for the virus.
At arguments at the court Monday, Thomas’ chair to the right of Chief Justice John Roberts was empty and Roberts took note of Thomas’ absence without explaining why. He said Thomas would take part in the cases based on written briefs and recordings of the in-court arguments. Thomas, who has been on the court since 1991, is currently its longest-serving justice.
News of Thomas’ hospitalization came just before the Senate Judiciary Committee opened hearings Monday on the nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson, whom President Joe Biden has named to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. If confirmed, she would be the first Black woman on the court, but her confirmation would not change the ideological balance on the court. Thomas is the court’s second Black justice ever and one of six conservatives now on the court.
Mask mandate returns to six Chicago Public Schools classrooms amid COVID-19 spike
Six Coonley classrooms have reverted to universal masking, a Chicago Public Schools spokesperson confirmed, amid a spike in cases at the school.
The pivot back to required masking in the Coonley classrooms is apparently the first in CPS since it dropped its universal mask mandate a week ago, though it continues to recommend masks. After announcing that shift, CPS later clarified that masks would still be required in certain circumstances, such as when someone is exposed to a person with COVID-19.
There are 448 students in quarantine districtwide as of Sunday, including 29 students at Coonley Elementary, per the CPS COVID data tracker. The school has had 40 positive cases since the start of March.
“It’s such an easy thing to wear a mask on your face and the benefit is so great. We’re trying to stop a pandemic,” said Brenna O’Brien, a parent of a second grader and a fourth grader at Chicago’s John C. Coonley Elementary School. “Take it off when you get home. Take it off when you’re at the park. Why are we fighting so hard for our children who are like 30 a room to not wear masks? It does not make sense to me.”
The Chicago Teachers Union has also fought the end of universal masking, saying it’s a breach of a safety agreement forged after a January standoff that prompted the cancellation of five days of classes. The state’s Educational Labor Relations Board last week narrowly declined the CTU’s request for an emergency injunction as the union’s complaint is considered.
But many parents had pushed for and have welcomed the end of CPS’ mask mandate; some participated in a lawsuit that prompted school systems around the state to ditch the requirement.
WSU survey finds 16% of couples disagree on the COVID vaccine
Nearly 16% of couples differentiate when it comes to COVID-19 vaccination status, according to a recent study from Washington State University.
“The first thing is to try to estimate how common this is, and the next is to figure out why,” Schmaling said. “If it looks like there’s a disagreement, it would be fascinating to find out from some of these couples what their conversations have been like and how have they tried to resolve it.”
Some unvaccinated respondents wrote in other reasons for not getting the jab, including “already had COVID” and “I have natural immunity.”
A few of the vaccinated participants detailed why they thought their partners didn’t want the shot, including “anti-vaxxer,” “he’s stubborn” and “the government is overstepping its bounds.”
Hospitalizations of young children with the virus surged during the U.S. omicron wave
Babies and children younger than 5 were hospitalized with coronavirus at much higher rates during the latest U.S. surge, when the highly transmissible omicron variant was dominant, compared with earlier periods in the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hospitalizations of these children were about five times higher during the omicron surge, between Dec. 19 and Feb. 19, than during the period when the delta variant was dominant, between June 27 and Dec. 18.
Rates of admission to intensive care also rose dramatically among young children, reaching a peak Jan. 8.
Children of color younger than 5 wound up in hospitals at disproportionate rates. Only one-third of the children were white, while 28% were Hispanic, and 23% were Black. Hispanic people represent 18% of the population, and Black Americans make up 13%. (Six percent of the hospitalizations of children younger than 5 of were among Asian or other Pacific Islander children, about the same as their representation in the population.)
Experts say children of color are infected at higher rates because they are more likely to have parents who work in public-facing jobs and more likely to live in poverty and in multigenerational households.
Another COVID surge may be coming. Are we ready for it?
Scarcely two months after the omicron variant drove coronavirus case numbers to frightening heights in the United States, scientists and health officials are bracing for another swell in the pandemic and, with it, the first major test of the country’s strategy of living with the virus while limiting its impact.
But scientists are warning that the U.S. isn’t doing enough to prevent a new surge from endangering vulnerable Americans and potentially upending life again.
The clearest warnings that the brief period of quiet may soon be over have come, as they often have in the past two years, from Western Europe. In a number of countries, including Britain, France and Germany, case numbers are climbing as an even more contagious subvariant of omicron, known as BA.2, takes hold.
Hong Kong to lift flight bans, cut quarantine for arrivals
Hong Kong’s leader Monday said that the city would lift flight bans on countries including Britain and the U.S., as well as reduce quarantine time for travelers arriving in the city as coronavirus infections in its latest outbreak plateaus.
The city’s chief executive Carrie Lam announced during a press conference Monday that a ban on flights from nine countries — Australia, Canada, France, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Britain and the U.S. — would be lifted from April 1. A flight ban on most these countries has been in place since January, as authorities sought to stem the outbreak of the highly transmissible omicron variant in Hong Kong.
Travelers entering the city can also quarantine for as little as seven days in quarantine hotels — down from 14 days — if they test negative for the virus on the sixth and seventh days of their quarantine. Such travelers must also be fully vaccinated and test negative for the coronavirus before entering the city.
Lam also said that plans for a citywide mass-testing exercise, which was first announced in February, would be suspended.
“The experts are of the opinion that it’s not appropriate for us to devote finite resources to the universal mass-testing,” said Lam. “The SAR government will continue to monitor the situation. When the conditions are right, we will consider whether we will be implementing the compulsory universal testing.”
The changes announced Monday signal a shift in Hong Kong’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as authorities sought to provide a direction for Hong Kong businesses and its residents after two years of aligning with mainland China’s “zero COVID” policy.
Can this man bridge America's political divide on COVID-19
For the past two years, as the coronavirus has wreaked havoc on American lives and the world at large, Dr. Ashish K. Jha has been there to make sense of it all. He has been hard to miss.
You could find him on MSNBC, before vaccines arrived, bluntly acknowledging that “it’s hard to overemphasize how bad things are.” Or on CNN, upbraiding maskless lawmakers for spreading COVID-19, or Fox News, proclaiming remote schooling “a disaster.” The Museum of Science in Boston went so far as to create a hologram of Jha last year, using artificial intelligence and sound clips, to answer coronavirus questions.
Now Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health in Rhode Island, a respected academic and a practicing internist with minimal government experience, is about to join the White House as President Joe Biden’s new coronavirus response coordinator. A preternaturally calm 51-year-old whom health news site Stat once described as “network TV’s Everyman expert on COVID,” he is going to take charge of the most complicated federal response to a crisis in modern history.
While his communication skills will help, there is much more to the job than talking to the public. It requires coordinating across government agencies and the private sector — from the Food and Drug Administration, which considers which drugs and vaccines to approve; and the State Department, which works to get vaccines overseas; to drugmakers and pharmacies.
“Probably his biggest challenge is that he doesn’t know government, he doesn’t have experience, and it does take a while to know who you should call, who you can’t and how you get through the hierarchy,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s top medical adviser for the pandemic, who will work closely with Jha. “But he’s a smart guy. He’ll figure it out.”
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