Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, March 24, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 Olympic torch relay, which begins Thursday in northeastern Japan, could be the “canary in the coalmine” for the effort to hold the Olympics in four months despite the pandemic, the Associated Press reports. It was at the start of the relay a year ago that the Olympics were postponed — for the first time since the modern Olympics began in 1896 — because of the coronavirus pandemic. If the relay has problems, if COVID-19 cases pop up and if there are delays, it could send up red flags about the feasibility of holding the Tokyo Olympics.
A temporary emergency order issued Tuesday bans insurers from using credit scores to set rates for personal property insurance amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Washington. The order applies to personal insurance on private automobiles, as well as renter and homeowner’s coverage, according to the rule, and prohibits insurers from using credit history to determine premiums, rates or eligibility for personal insurance coverage. The ban kicks in on all new policies or policy renewals processed on June 20 or later.
Play ball! Mariners getting ready for socially-distanced season opener
Using blue painter’s tape and large black zip ties, crews at Seattle's T-Mobile Park are stitching together seating pod configurations throughout the ballpark that, team officials say, will maintain social-distance requirements and keep fans safe when they return for the Mariners’ 2021 season opener next week.
Earlier this month, state and county officials approved the reopening of local venues, with no more than 25% capacity. The Mariners are allowed to host 9,000 fans inside T-Mobile for the team’s first 11 games of the season, and the club announced it has already sold all 9,000 for the April 1 season opener against the San Francisco Giants.
Coronavirus outbreak reported in Seattle's King County Jail
A significant coronavirus outbreak is occurring inside the King County Jail, with 19 cases detected on Monday alone.
The outbreak accounts for most of the 46 total cases among the in-custody population at the downtown Seattle facility and inside the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent as of Wednesday, according to the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention.
Additionally, seven department employees — all of them assigned to the jail in downtown Seattle — have tested positive since March 9, spokesperson Noah Hagland said in a Wednesday email.
State health officials confirm 960 new coronavirus cases in Washington
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 960 new coronavirus cases and 14 new deaths on Wednesday.
The update brings the state's totals to 357,499 cases and 5,200 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. Tuesday.
In addition, 20,233 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 38 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 88,465 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,458 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 2,882,195 doses and 14.12% 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 45,841 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.
Washingtonians 16 and up will be eligible for COVID vaccines by May 1, state says; here’s how we get there
The anxious wait for COVID-19 vaccine eligibility will end by May 1 for all adult Washingtonians, when everyone 16 and older can get in line for a shot, state officials confirmed Wednesday.
The state Department of Health (DOH) has accelerated its tiered approach to vaccine eligibility after President Joseph Biden earlier this month directed states to make the vaccine available to all adults in America come May Day.
The state’s vaccine prioritization guidance, which has opened vaccines to health-care workers, long-term care residents, people 65 and older and others, hadn’t clarified whether Washington would comply.
But now those who have been waiting can at least plan to hunt for appointments in a little more than a month.
“We will follow the president’s directive that everyone 16 and older will be eligible for vaccine May 1,” DOH spokesperson Shelby Anderson confirmed in an email.
There are now 3 million people who are eligible for a vaccine in Washington, and another 2 million will be cleared Wednesday when the state adds Phase 1B tiers three and four, which includes all people 60 and older. Further expansion by May 1, to comply with Biden’s directive, would add another 1.2 million Washingtonians to the pool, according to state estimates.
Carcinogen found in hand sanitizers that plugged COVID gap
Some widely available hand sanitizers that American consumers snapped up last year to ward off coronavirus infection contain high levels of a chemical known to cause cancer, a testing firm’s analysis found.
An assortment of hand cleaners that flooded into the market after mainstays disappeared from retail outlets contain high levels of benzene, according to Valisure, a New Haven, Connecticut-based online pharmacy that tests products for quality and consistency.
Benzene causes cancer, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The World Health Organization’s cancer research arm puts it in the highest risk category, on par with asbestos.
Valisure analyzed 260 bottles from 168 brands and found 17% of the samples contained detectable levels of benzene. Twenty-one bottles, or 8%, contained benzene above two parts per million, a temporary limit the FDA set for liquid hand sanitizers to ease the supply squeeze.
That level “can be tolerated for a relatively short period of time,” the FDA said in June. Fifteen brands were represented among the 21 bottles with the highest levels of contamination. The samples came from the shelves of stores nearby its headquarters and online outlets, Valisure said.
Hong Kong halts use of Pfizer vaccine, cites defective lids
Hong Kong suspended use of the Pfizer vaccine Wednesday after its Chinese distributor informed the city that one batch had defective bottle lids.
The city’s government said the suspension was immediate while the matter is investigated by distributor Fosun Pharma and BioNTech, the German company that created the vaccine with American pharmaceutical firm Pfizer.
BioNTech and Fosun Pharma have not found any reason to believe the product is unsafe, according to the statement. However, vaccinations will be halted as a preventive and safety measure.
The defective lids were found on vaccines from batch number 210102 with a total of 585,000 doses. A separate batch of vaccines, 210104, with 758,000 doses, will also be not be administered.
Spaniards line up for AstraZeneca despite concerns over vaccine
Desperate to finally put the coronavirus pandemic behind them, thousands of Spaniards lined up to get shots of AstraZeneca on Wednesday as the European country became the latest to restart use of the vaccine whose credibility has suffered a series of setbacks recently.
Like neighboring countries that had halted use of the vaccine while examining possible adverse effects, Spain’s health officials are now trying to restore confidence in the shot, one of three currently available in the European Union. That is particularly critical at a time when many countries on the continent are struggling to ramp up slow vaccinations while they see infections spike again.
AstraZeneca, which is cheaper and easier to store than many of its rivals, has recently suffered several blows including criticism over data reporting and a temporary suspension following reports of rare blood clots in some recipients.
EU moves toward stricter export controls for COVID vaccines
The European Union moved Wednesday toward imposing stricter export controls for coronavirus vaccines, seeking to make sure there are more COVID-19 shots to boost the bloc’s flagging vaccine campaign as new infections surge.
The EU’s executive body said on the eve of a summit of the EU’s 27 leaders that it has a plan to guarantee that more vaccines produced in the bloc are available for its own citizens even if it comes at the cost of helping nations outside the bloc.
EU Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis, said since the end of January, “some 10 million doses have been exported from the EU to the U.K. and zero doses have been exported from U.K. to the EU.”
The EU move is expected to be a blow to Britain, whose speedy vaccination rollout has been eyed with envy by many EU nations, especially since it came as the U.K. formally completed its Brexit divorce from the bloc. The latest figures show that 45% of British adults have had at least one vaccine shot, compared to less than 14% for the bloc.
‘Nice to be touched’: Boutique stretching thrives amid COVID
Pandemic-weary Americans starved for human interaction and physical touch are taking advantage of a growing wellness option once reserved for Hollywood actors, rock stars and elite athletes: boutique stretching.
“It’s like a workout, but you feel way more flexible,” a masked Kelly O’Neal, 51, said as her leg was being pulled across her body during a recent session at a newly opened StretchLab studio in Centerville.
Others cite some intangibles offered by assisted stretching during the coronavirus.
“It’s really nice to be touched. It is,” said Laura Collins, 39, who visits a StretchLab near her home in White Plains, New York, twice a week.
Even before the pandemic, assisted stretching studios — with names such as Stretch Zone, Stretch Pro, LYMBR and Stretch(asterisk)d — often featured just eight or 10 widely spaced tables in a shared area they say is conducive to good air circulation.
Kory Floyd, a professor of communication and psychology at the University of Arizona, said activities that provide social interaction and some relief for “skin hunger” can help people manage stress better. A lack of casual touch — holding hands, hugging, putting one’s arm around somebody, shaking hands — can have a significant negative impact, Floyd said.
Beyond the pandemic: London’s Tube battles to stay on track
When London came to a stop as a nationwide coronavirus lockdown was imposed a year ago, the Underground kept running as an essential service. But it was a strange and unnerving experience for its workers.
Joseph Cocks, a driver on the subway’s Circle Line that loops around the city center, said he could “count the number of people who got on the train on one hand.”
“To see it on a Monday morning peak, to see hardly anyone about, was shocking and surprising,” he said of the system that opened in 1863 and is known colloquially as the Tube.
Its continued operation was a sign that even in a pandemic, London’s heart was still beating.
Central Europe’s hospitals slammed, can’t treat all in need
Poland recorded its highest daily number of new coronavirus infections Wednesday as hospitals buckle under a new surge. Hungary has the highest per capita death rate in the world. And Romanian doctors are working around the clock and having to decide who does — and doesn’t — get a bed in an intensive care unit.
The coronavirus pandemic is unleashing enormous suffering as infection rates rise across central Europe even as the Czech Republic and Slovakia — recently among the worst-hit areas in the world — are finally seeing some improvements following tight lockdowns.
In Poland, officials say this “third wave” of the pandemic is driven by the highly contagious virus variant first detected in Britain, which now makes up most of the new cases. The country’s vaccine rollout is happening far too slowly to hold back this powerful wave of illness and deaths.
Homeschooling doubled from pandemic’s start to last fall
The rate of households homeschooling their children doubled from the start of the pandemic last spring to the start of the new school year last September, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report released this week.
Last spring, about 5.4% of all U.S. households with school-aged children were homeschooling them, but that figure rose to 11% by last fall, according to the bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.
The survey purposefully asked the question in a way to clarify that it was inquiring about genuine homeschooling and not virtual learning through a public or private school, the Census Bureau said.
Before the pandemic, household homeschooling rates had remained steady at around 3.3% through the past several years.
“It’s clear that in an unprecedented environment, families are seeking solutions that will reliably meet their health and safety needs, their childcare needs and the learning and socio-emotional needs of their children,” the report said.
New virus variant detected in India; experts urge caution
A new and potentially troublesome variant of the coronavirus has been detected in India, as have variants first detected in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil, health officials said Wednesday.
Health Ministry officials and experts, however, cautioned against linking the variants with an ongoing surge in new infections in India. Cases in India had been plummeting since September but spiked again last month and more than 47,000 new infections in one day and the highest one-day death toll in more than four month.
The new variant found in India has two mutations in the spiky protein that the virus uses to fasten itself to cells, said the director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology.
Merkel drops Easter shutdown plan for Germany, apologizes
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday dropped plans for a five-day shutdown over Easter, which had prompted confusion and criticism. She called the idea a mistake and apologized to Germans.
Merkel announced the decision after a hastily arranged videoconference with Germany’s 16 state governors, who are responsible for imposing and lifting restrictions. The same group, faced with rising coronavirus infections, had come up early Tuesday with the unexpected plan for tighter restrictions over Easter.
The plan, which was to begin next Thursday, raised legal issues as well as questions about whether it could be implemented well in the short time.
National Guard troops ambushed at gunpoint while transporting coronavirus vaccine, police say
It was before 9 a.m. Monday on the edge of Lubbock, Texas, when a man, armed with a loaded pistol, allegedly barreled down the highway in hot pursuit of Texas National Guard members.
The soldiers were transporting coronavirus vaccine to a town 80 miles away, authorities said. But Larry Harris, a 66-year-old Arizona man, later told police he thought the three unmarked white vans were involved in the kidnapping of a woman and child.
Harris tried to run the vans off the road, then swerved into oncoming traffic to stop them before ordering 11 soldiers out at gunpoint, culminating in a bizarre moment that left them shaken on the side of a small-town highway road, said Idalou Police Chief Eric C. Williams.
Harris was arrested soon after police arrived and charged with several offenses, including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and an obscure law that makes it a crime to interfere with Texas military forces, Williams said. The soldiers were not harmed in the incident.
Belgium reverts to strict lockdown amid spike in virus cases
Belgium is reintroducing strict lockdown measures in response to a worrying surge of new COVID-19 infections, with the government saying Wednesday that schools would close and residents would have limited access to non-essential businesses.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said the virus variant first identified in Britain is taking a heavy toll on the health of the country’s people: confirmed cases increased 40% over the last week, and hospital admissions rose 28% following a long stable period.
“The largest number of infections is in the 10 to 19 age group,” De Croo said.
Alternatives to nursing homes get $12B boost in COVID-19 law
With the memory of the pandemic’s toll in nursing homes still raw, the COVID-19 relief law is offering states a generous funding boost for home- and community-based care as an alternative to institutionalizing disabled people.
Advocates hope the estimated $12.7 billion will accelerate what has been a steady shift to supporting elderly and disabled people and their overwhelmed families in everyday settings. But the money for state Medicaid programs, long in coming, will only be available over four calendar quarters this year and next. That’s raising concerns it will have just fleeting impact, and prompting calls for permanent legislation.
The coronavirus pandemic starkly exposed the vulnerability of nursing home residents. Only about 1% of the U.S. population lives in long-term care facilities, but they accounted for about one-third of COVID-19 deaths as of early March, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
France hit by 3rd virus surge; culture minister in hospital
France’s high-profile culture minister has been hospitalized for COVID-19, the latest senior official to become ill as the nation faces a third surge of coronavirus infections, this one propelled by a highly contagious variant first found in Britain.
Roselyne Bachelot, 74, announced last weekend that she tested positive and her hospitalization was made public Wednesday. The virus has been gaining steam in France, with ICUs in the Paris region, the north and southeast France bursting at the seams.
In the Paris region the rate of infection for 20- to 50-year-olds is above 700 for 100,000 inhabitants, and higher yet in other regions, according to Paris area health system chief Aurelien Rousseau. Doctors are reporting an increasing number of young people without other health issues entering ICUs, he tweeted.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Spend an afternoon with Seattle's COVID-19 "vaccine chasers": People who don't yet qualify for vaccination — or do but can't get an appointment — are flocking to vaccine hubs each day in the hope of scoring a leftover dose. There are rules about how this works, and sometimes your eligibility comes down to the smallest detail. Here's our updated guide to getting your vaccine.
Yes, vaccinated people can still get COVID-19, one doctor learned firsthand with a "huge shock" when he fell ill. Breakthrough infections are likely very rare, new research indicates, but they're a sharp reminder that vaccines don't make everyone invincible.
Nearly half of U.S. public schools are open for full-time, face-to-face classes. But there's a strikingly wide racial gap in which children are attending class in person, according to new data released today.
Say "vaccine!" Bellevue ninth-grader Andy Mereckis wanted to do something positive, so he picked up his phone and started capturing history. The result, he hopes, will "show that there’s a light at the end of this dark time."
More COVID-19 relief money will flood into King County after its council yesterday approved a $94.3 million round of funding. Here's where the money will go.
Washington state was not amused when one city's council members went maskless. They've been slapped with a fine and stern words.
Indiana is lifting its mask mandate and business restrictions. "I don't think we're ready for that," health officials there are fretting.
If you're working from home, are you itching to return to the office, or hoping you can keep wearing pajama pants and commuting downstairs forever? As more employers reopen offices, we'd like to hear from you.
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