Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Monday, March 23, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 the COVID-19 vaccine effort continues to gain momentum, Washington’s 39 counties will move into the third phase of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan today. That means the state will allow restaurants, retailers, fitness centers and other indoor spaces to open with up to 50% capacity. The move is being met with cautious optimism.
People are “just tired of being locked in,” said Sean Brewer, 34, a sales associate at the Moon Valley Organics stall at the Pike Place Market, which thronged with visitors on Saturday. “People are seeing that light at the end of the tunnel — and they’re sprinting towards it.”
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.
King County to spend $5M in federal COVID money to battle anti-Asian hate
King County Executive Dow Constantine announced Monday his plans to fight anti-Asian racism with money from the “American Rescue Plan,” the pandemic relief legislation that granted billions of federal dollars to Washington state, including $437 million to King County.
The first part of the funding, Constantine said, will be $5 million for community organizations, including multicultural media and a coalition of eight organizations battling hate and bias.
“King County is using this opportunity, this moment to invest more deeply in community,” Constantine said, adding that he will be announcing more details about the American Rescue Plan this week.
Read the story here.
More than 2.8 million vaccination doses administered so far in Washington
Confirmed new cases of the coronavirus rose by 577, bringing the state's total cases to 355,986, according to data posted online Monday by the state Department of Health (DOH).
A note included in Monday's post says total case counts may include up to 160 duplicates.
Deaths rose by 9, bringing total deaths to 5,183 deaths since the pandemic began, according to DOH.
In King County, there were 179 new cases and two deaths, the data shows.
To date, more than 2.8 million vaccine doses have been given while more than 5.7 million molecular tests for the virus have been administered, according to DOH.
The seven-day average for vaccinations given per day now stands at 46,103, exceeding DOH's goal of 45,000 vaccination doses per day, says the DOH data.
Federal mass vaccination site to open in Yakima
Yakima will host the state's first federal mass vaccination site, in addition to mobile vaccination units.
The White House announced Monday that 1,200 daily doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are expected to be administered over a six-week period starting on March 31. In addition to the mobile units, there will be a fixed, drive-thru vaccination site at Central Washington State Fair Park.
The additional vaccine doses will be provided directly by the federal government and will not be taken from the state or county’s regular allotments.
Read the story here.
If COVID-19 makes everything smell bad, you’re not alone
Samantha LaLiberte, a social worker in Nashville, Tennessee, thought she had made a full recovery from COVID-19. But in mid-November, about seven months after she’d been sick, a takeout order smelled so foul that she threw it away. When she stopped by the house of a friend who was cooking, she ran outside and vomited on the front lawn.
“I stopped going places, even to my mom’s house or to dinner with friends, because anything from food to candles smelled so terrible,” LaLiberte, 35, said. “My relationships are strained.”
She is dealing with parosmia, a distortion of smell such that previously enjoyable aromas — like that of fresh coffee or a romantic partner — may become unpleasant and even intolerable. Along with anosmia, or diminished sense of smell, it is a symptom that has lingered with some people who have recovered from COVID-19.
The exact number of people experiencing parosmia is unknown. One recent review found that 47% of people with COVID-19 had smell and taste changes; of those, about half reported developing parosmia.
“That means that a rose might smell like feces,” said Dr. Richard Doty, director of the Smell and Taste Center at the University of Pennsylvania. He noted that people typically recover their smell within months.
How Much Weight Did We Gain During Lockdowns? 2 Pounds a Month, Study Hints
Soon after the pandemic started over a year ago, Americans started joking about the dreaded “quarantine 15,” worried they might gain weight while shut in homes with stockpiles of food, glued to computer screens and binge-watching Netflix.
The concern is real, but assessing the problem’s scope has been a challenge. Surveys that simply ask people about their weight are notoriously unreliable, and many medical visits have been virtual.
Now a very small study using objective measures — weight measurements from Bluetooth-connected smart scales — suggests that adults under shelter-in-place orders gained more than half a pound every 10 days.
That translates to nearly 2 pounds a month, said Dr. Gregory M. Marcus, senior author of the research letter, published Monday in the peer-reviewed JAMA Network Open. Americans who kept up their lockdown habits could easily have gained 20 pounds over the course of a year, he added.
“We know that weight gain is a public health problem in the U.S. already, so anything making it worse is definitely concerning, and shelter-in-place orders are so ubiquitous that the sheer number of people affected by this makes it extremely relevant,” said Marcus, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco.
Taiwan gives health workers island’s 1st AstraZeneca doses
Health care workers received the first shots in Taiwan’s COVID-19 vaccination drive Monday, beginning a campaign that won’t use supplies from China amid uneven distribution of the vaccines globally.
Taiwan has on hand 117,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which it is distributing to healthcare workers across 57 hospitals.
Taiwan has signed contracts securing 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, 5.05 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, and 4.76 million doses of vaccines through COVAX.
Learning apps have boomed in the pandemic. Now comes the real test
After a tough year of toggling between remote and in-person schooling, many students, teachers and their families feel burned out from pandemic learning. But companies that market digital learning tools to schools are enjoying a coronavirus windfall.
Venture and equity financing for education technology startups has more than doubled, surging to $12.58 billion worldwide last year from $4.81 billion in 2019, according to a report from CB Insights, a firm that tracks startups and venture capital.
During the same period, the number of laptops and tablets shipped to U.S. primary and secondary schools nearly doubled to 26.7 million, from 14 million, according to data from Futuresource Consulting, a market research company in Britain.
But as more districts reopen for in-person instruction, the billions of dollars that schools and venture capitalists have sunk into education technology are about to get tested. Some remote learning services, like videoconferencing, may see their student audiences plummet.
“There’s definitely going to be a shakeout over the next year,” said Matthew Gross, chief executive of Newsela, a popular reading lesson app for schools. “I’ve been calling it ‘The Great Ed Tech Crunch.’”
Americans start buying real clothes again to replace ‘old college T-shirts and sweatpants’
Daniel Stokes breathed a sigh of relief when he got his first coronavirus vaccine. Then he panicked: After a year in loungewear and pajamas, what would he wear when life resumed?
He went online and spent $450 on jeans, shirts, cardigans and boots to tide him over until he figures out what else he’ll need. Aside from a few pandemic splurges — including a sweatsuit and sweatshirt from Beyoncé’s athleisure line Ivy Park that set him back $700 — it was his first shopping spree in more than a year.
“It was like a switch went off and I realized, oh my goodness, I have to go back into the world,” said Stokes, 31, a senior manager for an upscale luggage company, who has been working out of his Brooklyn apartment for the past year. “I can’t keep wearing this rotation of old college T-shirts and sweatpants.”
Consumers are buying — or at least browsing for — clothing and shoes again, signaling growing optimism as life begins inching toward normal.
First COVID, then psychosis: Bainbridge Island man faces ‘most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced’
Ivan Agerton pulled his wife, Emily, into their bedroom closet, telling her not to bring her cellphone.
“I believe people are following me,” he said, his eyes flaring with fear.
He described the paranoid delusions haunting him: that people in cars driving into their Bainbridge Island cul-de-sac were spying on him, that a SWAT officer was crouching in a bush in their yard.
It was a drastic change for Agerton, 49, a usually unflappable former Marine and risk-taking documentary photographer whose most recent adventure involved exploring the Red Sea for two months in a submarine. He was accustomed to stress and said that neither he nor his family had previously experienced mental health issues.
But in mid-December, after a mild case of COVID-19, he was seized by a kind of psychosis that turned life into a nightmare. He couldn’t sleep, worried he had somehow done something wrong, suspected ordinary people of sinister motives and eventually was hospitalized in a psychiatric ward twice.
“Like a light switch — it happened this fast — this intense paranoia hit me,” Ivan Agerton said in interviews over two months. “It was really single-handedly the most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.”
Microsoft will allow Seattle-area workers to return to the office
For the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic more than a year ago, Microsoft is allowing its Seattle-area workforce back into the office.
Microsoft’s roughly 57,000 employees in Redmond, Bellevue and Seattle will have the option to return to the office March 29, the company announced Monday in a blog post written by Microsoft executive vice president Kurt DelBene.
“We’ve been closely monitoring local health data for months and have determined that the campus can safely accommodate more employees on-site while staying aligned to Washington state capacity limits,” DelBene said in the blog post. Washington relaxed coronavirus restrictions Monday, allowing indoor spaces to increase capacity from 25% to 50%.
Microsoft is the first major local employer to announce a general return to the office. The Redmond tech giant has for months been allowing a limited number of employees to work from the office.
Redmond employees are still encouraged to work remotely, DelBene said, and the company has capped the number of people allowed in shared spaces at any one time.
Facebook will reopen its Seattle-area offices at 10% capacity next month for employees struggling to work effectively from home, spokesperson Tracy Clayton confirmed Monday. But the social media network and other big tech employers, including Amazon, say they don’t foresee a broader return to the office until this summer.
Vaccine battle heats up with EU ready to halt U.K. shipments
The European Union is ready to start withholding COVID-19 shots from the U.K., risking a sharp deterioration in relations with London in a bid to turn around its lackluster vaccination campaign.
The EU will likely reject authorizations to export AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccines and their ingredients to the U.K. until the drugmaker fulfills its delivery obligations to the 27-nation bloc, according to a senior EU official.
The conflict between the EU and the U.K. has been growing since Astra informed Brussels it wouldn’t deliver the number of shots it had promised for the first quarter. Both sides have blamed each other for export curbs and nationalism, posing a risk to the fragile post-Brexit trade relationship agreed on in December. Astra has been at the center of the EU’s vaccination problems since production issues emerged in January. Most recently, its shot was temporarily suspended in much of Europe over blood-clot fears.
New SBA head plans changes at agency; focus now is COVID-19
The new head of the Small Business Administration says she expects to make changes at the agency that she says will enable it to further help small companies devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, two days after she was sworn in, Isabella Casillas Guzman said her immediate focus is implementing the small business provisions in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package President Joseph Biden signed into law last week.
The country has lost 400,000 businesses since the start of the pandemic, Guzman said, warning that “many more are at risk.”
Hungary approves 2 more vaccines from outside EU amid spike
Hungary has issued initial approval to two more COVID-19 vaccines from outside the European Union’s common procurement program, officials said Monday, further expanding the national supply of jabs that has given the country one of the highest vaccination rates in the 27-member bloc.
The Hungarian medicines regulator gave emergency approval to Convidecia, a vaccine produced by Chinese company CanSino Biologics, and to India’s Covishield vaccine, Chief Medical Officer Cecilia Muller said. The actions brings the number of vaccines authorized in Hungary to seven; shots developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca and China’s Sinopharm, as well as Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, are already in use.
Microsoft to start bringing workers back to headquarters
Microsoft will begin bringing workers back to its suburban Seattle global headquarters on March 29 as the tech giant starts to reopen more facilities it largely shuttered during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a post Monday on the company’s corporate blog, Executive Vice President Kurt DelBene said Microsoft has been monitoring local health data and decided it can bring more employees back to its Redmond campus.
DelBene said workers will have the choice to return to headquarters, continue working remotely or do a combination of both.
More than 50,000 people work at the company’s headquarters campus in Redmond, 15 miles east of Seattle.
Putin to get coronavirus vaccine shot in Russia on Tuesday
President Vladimir Putin said he will get a coronavirus vaccine shot on Tuesday, several months after widespread vaccination has started in Russia.
Kremlin opponents have criticized Putin for not getting vaccinated amid a comparatively slow rollout of the shot in Russia, arguing that his reluctance is fueling the already extensive hesitance about the vaccine.
Putin told a meeting with government officials on Monday that he will get his shot “tomorrow,” without specifying which coronavirus vaccine out of the three approved for use in Russia he will take.
Republic of Congo candidate Kolelas dies of COVID-19
Republic of Congo’s top presidential opposition candidate Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas, who was hospitalized with COVID-19 complications on election day, has died, a spokesman said Monday.
The 61-year-old politician was last seen in a video circulating Saturday on social media in which he told supporters he was “fighting death.” Aides later said he was been flown to France for further treatment. Spokesman Justin Nzoloufoua confirmed his death Monday to The Associated Press.
Teachers lament ‘chaotic’ virus rules in German schools
Under pressure to ease Germany’s virus restrictions, officials last month agreed to gradually reopen schools. Confirmed COVID-19 cases started climbing again, leading some states to backtrack while others pressed on and insisted that in-class teaching must be the rule.
Caught in the middle are students, parents and teachers such as Michael Gromotka, whose plans to teach art to his year 7-9 students were upended last week when the state of Berlin nixed their return to school after months of remote learning.
“It was all very chaotic,” Gromotka said. “We got less than a week’s notice.”
At a South Seattle long-term care facility, a lobby fills with reunions as COVID-19 restrictions lift
Two little boys walked into The Lakeshore, smiling under their Pokémon masks and eyeing the “welcome back” balloons that were floating in the South Seattle senior residence’s lobby.
Their great-grandparents, George and Mary Kozu, waited as family members had their temperatures taken and signed forms stating they didn’t have COVID-19 symptoms. Finally, Mary Kozu walked toward her two great-grandsons, 6-year-old Jyler and 2-year-old Rysic.
The boys hesitated, suddenly shy around the great-grandparents whom Rysic only knew from a distance when they had back patio visits, and Jyler had vague memories of being inside with. But Mary Kozu, 89, asked Jyler if he remembered playing with the toys in their apartment, and a sign of recognition came over his face.
The Lakeshore’s lobby on Sunday afternoon was filled with reunions, as visitors came inside for the first time in a year. A grandmother and granddaughter embraced for a full minute, both crying happy tears. “That felt good after a year,” the granddaughter said. A son brought takeout for his dad and marveled at how quiet it was inside compared to when he was here in March 2020.
Visits at some of Washington’s long-term care facilities resumed this weekend following Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement last week that residents at nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and other care sites could have indoor visits, as long as the resident or visitor is vaccinated.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
The rules change today for restaurants, retailers, fitness centers and other indoor spaces as Washington enters the third phase of reopening. (Here's what you can and can't do now.) It's a key moment for the state's economy, but mixed with the hope is plenty of anxiety for business owners and residents. Many restaurants aren't reopening yet, because their owners say more changes need to happen first.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine provided strong protection in a U.S. trial, the company announced today. AstraZeneca said its experts identified no safety concerns despite rare blood clots that occurred in Europe. Here are the next steps.
"A spring break like no other" has gone awfully wrong in Miami Beach, which declared a state of emergency and extended its 8 p.m. curfew to clear crowds and chaos from its streets. City leaders are blaming pent-up demand for travel as people flock to Florida, where coronavirus restrictions are looser than in many other states.
Fully vaccinated and time to party … if you're 70: The world is suddenly upside-down, with many older Americans partying more than millennials these days. “This is my just due,” one says. “Seniors gave up more than anybody else.”
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