Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, March 25, 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 It is no longer being updated.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 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. In Seattle, the city plans to stop providing free coronavirus testing at facilities in West Seattle and Rainier Beach on March 31, as it seeks to increase distribution of vaccines at those sites. Transitioning both sites to vaccination-only will allow each site to vaccinate 1,500 people a day, up from 1,000 a day currently, according to city officials.
A coronavirus outbreak inside the King County Jail 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.
Gov. Jay Inslee has set a press conference today at 3:15 p.m. to discuss the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Washington state’s COVID-19 case count flattening, increasing in some counties
Two important numbers relating to the coronavirus pandemic are going in different directions, one positive and one negative.
The good number shows that more people continue to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. The bad number shows the confirmed cases of people who have contracted the coronavirus has flattened statewide.
As Washington comes off its third surge in cases, daily case counts have flattened to 654 per day as of March 11, which is worrisome because that number is comparable to the state’s count in mid-October during the state’s second surge, said Dr. Umair Shah, the state’s secretary of health.
At DOH’s weekly press briefing, Shah said that the state was making “incredible progress” in coming off the surge but cautioned that the flattening of the case count was “very concerning to all of us in public health.”
As the third wave of COVID-19 infections began receding in the past couple of weeks, Dr. Scott Lindquist, acting state health officer, was “cautiously optimistic.”
Alaska health department floats idea of airport vaccinations
JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska’s state health department is floating the idea of providing coronavirus vaccinations to travelers at the state’s busiest airports with the summer tourism and fishing seasons looming.
The department on Wednesday released a request for informatio n to determine interest among potential contractors to provide a one-dose vaccine to interested travelers in a secure section of the airports in Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks and Ketchikan.
Implementing strategies to reduce the spread of COVID-19 through Alaska communities is critical with the levels of travel activity expected between May and October, the document said.
The state health department request asks interested contractors to provide staffing plans and estimates for what they think it would cost to administer the program.
Mexico tops 200,000 COVID-19 deaths, but real toll is higher
MEXICO CITY — As Mexico surpassed 200,000 test-confirmed deaths from COVID-19 Thursday, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador framed ramped up vaccination efforts as a race against time.
The president prepared to call out more military, state and local personnel to spur the vaccination effort as more doses arrive, including a shipment of 1.7 million AstraZeneca shots the United States has “loaned” Mexico.
Mexico’s total 200,211 confirmed COVID-19 deaths announced Thursday trail only the United States and Brazil, countries with larger populations. The real death toll is believed to be drawing closer to 300,000, due to the country’s extremely low rate of testing.
“I think it is more. I think, for example, that the numbers on the news are not correct, I think it is higher,” funeral home worker Benigno Clemente Zarate said of the death toll.
The Mexican government stopped publishing numbers on excess deaths at the end of 2020; the last time the numbers were reported was at the start of January, before the worst of the second wave of deaths hit.
Michigan sees virus surge, but tighter restrictions unlikely
LANSING, Mich. — Michigan, which not long ago had one of the country’s lowest COVID-19 infection rates, is confronting an alarming spike that some experts worry could be a harbinger nationally.
In what public health authorities across the U.S. have been warning for months might happen around the country, the resurgence is being fueled by loosened restrictions, a more infectious variant and pandemic fatigue.
While vaccinations in Michigan are helping to protect senior citizens and other vulnerable people, the upswing is driving up hospitalizations among younger adults and forcing a halt to in-person instruction at some schools.
“It’s a stark reminder that this virus is still very real. It can come roaring back if we drop our guard,” said Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who does not plan to tighten restrictions on indoor dining, sports and other activities that were eased in recent months.
Michigan last year saw some of the nation’s fiercest resistance to lockdowns, including armed demonstrations at the state Capitol and an alleged right-wing plot to kidnap the governor.
Washington Senate Democrats propose new, $59.2 billion budget with COVID-19 funds and a 7% capital-gains tax
OLYMPIA — Flush with rebounding tax collections and a windfall in federal aid, Washington Senate Democrats on Thursday released a new budget plan that funds public health amid COVID-19, provides relief for immigrants and renters, gives new aid for businesses, child care programs and funds a tax exemption for low-income families.
The new, proposed $59.2 billion state operating budget for 2021-23 doesn’t even reflect the magnitude. Lawmakers are spending an additional roughly $7 billion from the federal government’s COVID-19 relief package on programs.
In short: it’s a big proposal.
“This budget spends a lot of money … to stabilize our economy, to stabilize our health care system, to stabilize our schools, to stabilize our environment,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, during a news conference. “And just to stabilize the working families of our state.”
Romania OKs holding Easter celebrations despite virus surge
BUCHAREST — Romanian authorities announced Thursday that Easter celebrations in the deeply Christian country will go ahead in person this year, even though Romania is battling a surge of COVID-19 infections that is threatening to overwhelm its hospitals.
The announcement came after Prime Minister Florin Citu of the National Liberal Party met with religious representatives to discuss potential solutions for worshipers to observe Easter celebrations and attend church during the pandemic.
“The solution that we are going with is to adapt the timeframe of restrictions so believers can physically attend the Resurrection Service or the holidays of each religious group and still respect health and safety rules,” Citu said.
Romania is one of Europe’s most religious countries. About 85% of its more than 19 million people identify as Orthodox and around 4.5% are Catholic. Easter this year falls on May 2 for the Orthodox and April 4 for Catholics.
Gov. Inslee: Washington’s K-12 schools can reduce COVID-19 physical distancing to 3 feet
OLYMPIA — Washington will allow K-12 schools to reduce the physical distance between students amid the COVID-19 pandemic down to 3 feet from the current 6 feet, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday.
That move, which aligns with revised guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), takes effect immediately and is expected to help get students back into classrooms.
“We think it’s time to get back to school, the kids deserve it,” said Inslee during a news conference. “We’re suffering a mental-health crisis in our state, and it’s time to get them back in school.”
Inslee said more than 200 school districts in the state have now returned to some kind of in-person instruction, but it remains to be seen how much Thursday’s announcement would accelerate that.
The change for now is optional, and school districts still can have students remain at 6-feet spacing. But by sometime during the summer, no school district should be using the 6-feet minimum, according to Inslee’s office.
Some people are lying to get the vaccine, and it’s testing friendships
As soon as she tapped the link, Kristin Thornburg knew something was amiss.
It was earlier this month, and Thornburg, 31, had been strategizing with a friend via text to try to get leftover doses of the coronavirus vaccine. Neither woman was technically eligible yet in the Bay Area, so Thornburg figured the garbage-bound extras were their best hope. Ideally, Thornburg said, they would get on a list to receive a phone call if a local pharmacy or vaccination site had unused doses from no-show appointments.
The friend sent over a link to an unfamiliar page and said she had signed up there. An acquaintance had gotten a vaccine that way, the friend said. Perhaps Thornburg should sign up, too.
But it was not just a way to get leftovers. “At first I thought I had gotten it wrong, because it was obviously an appointment sign-up page,” said Thornburg, a business manager at a startup. After her name, the form asked her to identify which qualifying condition or occupation she had.
Thornburg asked her friend if she’d sent the wrong link. She dodged. “She was like, ‘Well, I don’t know. I just did it. I’ll see what happens.'” When Thornburg pressed her for details about what exactly she had written into the form, she got a shrug emoji in response.
A week later, Thornburg’s friend texted her again, excitedly announcing she had gotten her first vaccine dose. “She said, ‘It was fine, they didn’t even ask me about my job when I got there!'” Thornburg said.
Thornburg was shaken. “I was surprised at how immediate and negative my reaction was,” she said. When a close friend “just acts in a way that I wouldn’t and feel is strongly wrong in this kind of life-or-death moment or pandemic, it just — it felt almost like a betrayal.”
State reports 1,117 new coronavirus cases and 13 new deaths
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,117 new coronavirus cases and 13 new deaths on Thursday.
The update brings the state's totals to 358,606 cases and 5,213 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. Wednesday.
In addition, 20,239 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — six new hospitalizations — though DOH noted Thursday's hospitalization data was incomplete due to data reporting issues.
In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 86,359 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,460 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 940,354 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.
U.S. on pace to clear Biden’s new goal: 200M coronavirus shots in his first 100 days
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s first vaccine promise — 100 million shots in his first 100 days — was met 42 days early. So on Thursday he doubled it, saying 200 million doses will have been administered under his presidency by April 30.
The nation is already poised to meet the revised target, as the seven-day average of daily vaccinations surpasses 2.5 million. Vaccine supply is also expected to expand in April, prompting numerous states to throw open eligibility to everyone 16 and older.
The new goal, then, is similar to the original. It sounds ambitious but is premised only on the United States keeping pace with its current rate of immunizations. The approach is consistent with the president’s strategy of under-promising and overdelivering after the previous administration tied itself in knots with unrealistic estimates of vaccine availability.
“I know it’s ambitious — twice our original goal — but no other country in the world has even come close, not even close, to what we’re doing,” Biden said as part of introductory remarks before his first formal news conference. “I believe we can do it.”
New York City launches push to vaccinate theater workers
New York City is taking steps toward reopening of the city’s theaters, creating vaccination and testing sites for stage workers in a bid to restore a key part of New York’s draw.
“It’s time to raise the curtain and bring Broadway back,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said during a virtual press conference Thursday. “The work we have to do now to get the theater community ready to make sure that this extraordinarily wonderful and important industry is good to go for the fall, we’ve got to do that now.”
The mayor said the city will set up dedicated vaccination sites specifically for the theater community and the theater industry. It’ll be staffed by workers from the theater industry. The city also plans for a mobile unit that will serve off-Broadway theaters and pop-up testing sites at or near theaters.
California to open vaccinations to everyone 16 and older
California is expanding its vaccine eligibility to anyone 50 and over starting in April and anyone 16 and over on April 15.
California expects to receive 2.5 million doses a week in the first half of April and more than 3 million a week in the second half of the month. It is currently getting 1.8 million doses a week.
UN-backed vaccine delivery program warns of supply delays
The U.N.-backed program to ship COVID-19 vaccines worldwide has announced supply delays for up to 90 million doses from an Indian manufacturer, in a major setback for the ambitious rollout aimed to help low- and middle-income countries fight the pandemic.
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said Thursday that the delays come as India is facing a surge of coronavirus infections that will increase domestic demands on the Serum Institute of India, a pivotal vaccine maker behind the COVAX program.
The move will affect up to 40 million doses of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccines being manufactured by the Serum Institute that were to be delivered for COVAX this month, as well as 50 million expected next month. Gavi said it has notified recipient countries.
Weaned on Hollywood endings, Americans now face a messy one
There will come a day — maybe even a day in the next few months — when Americans wake up, emerge from their homes, cast away their masks and resume their lives. On that day, the Great Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020-21 will be over.
Ridiculous, right? A consummation devoutly to be wished, but highly unlikely.
Here’s the problem with anticipating the end of the pandemic: No one is sure just what that ending will look like or when it will arrive — or even if we’ll know it when we see it.
Will it be when most of the country is vaccinated? When schools all reconvene safely? When hospitals’ COVID beds are empty? When American ballparks are full for a summer baseball game? When Disneyland reopens? When wearing a mask seems weird again?
The kind of finish that the coronavirus has in store for weary Americans has no distinct ending. That’s a hard pill to swallow for a nation long trained by Hollywood to expect well-defined and often optimistic conclusions to tortuous sagas.
Vaccination race enlists grassroots aides to fight mistrust
His last job was selling cars, but in his new gig, working to turn the tide against a pandemic, Herman Simmons knows not to be too pushy or overbearing.
He’s one of more than 50 outreach workers a Chicago hospital has enlisted to promote vaccination against COVID-19 in hard-hit Black and brown neighborhoods.
Their job is approaching strangers at laundromats, grocery stores and churches, handing out educational material and making vaccination appointments for those who are willing.
Top U.S. health officials say they’re in a race to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible as COVID-19 variants spread, mask and distancing rules are relaxed, and Americans crave a return to normalcy.
As part of these efforts, the Biden administration announced Thursday it will invest nearly $10 billion to expand vaccine access in communities of color, rural areas, low-income populations and other underserved communities.
For many Black people, mistrust of medical institutions is deep-seated. Their reasons are varied, vehement and often valid. And they don’t even start with Tuskegee, the U.S. government study that began in 1932 and withheld treatment for Black men with syphilis.
Mistrust stems from surgeries on enslaved women to the absence of Black people in studies that guide modern-day medical decisions. It includes mistaken assumptions claiming race-based biological differences, disrespect in the doctor’s office, fear of needles and a lack of transportation.
While some U.S. polls and statistics show vaccine hesitancy falling in communities of color, Hispanic people and Black people still have lower vaccination rates than white people and Simmons is on a mission to change that.
The World Happiness Report is out, with a surprising picture of global resilience
In a conclusion that even surprised its editors, the 2021 World Happiness Report found that, amid global hardship, self-reported life satisfaction across 95 countries on average remained steady in 2020 from the previous year.
The United States saw the same trend — despite societal tumult that yielded a national drop in positive emotions and a rise in negative ones. The country fell one spot, to 19th, in the annual rankings of the report, released Saturday.
The report is good news regarding global resilience, experts say.
“I don’t want to leave an impression that all was well, because it’s not,” said one of the report’s editors, Jeffrey Sachs, an economics professor at Columbia University. But while the use of national averages masks individual well-being disparities, Sachs said, the data suggests that “people have not thrown up their hands about their lives.”
The happiness report relies on the Gallup World Poll and aligns with what other polling has found during the pandemic.
AstraZeneca says its COVID vaccine is 76% effective in updated company analysis
An updated company analysis of the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford showed that the two-shot regimen was robustly effective — 76% at preventing symptomatic illness — according to a news release from the drugmaker late Wednesday.
The finding, only slightly lower than results announced days earlier, underscores that the vaccine being widely used by many countries appears to be a powerful tool to help end the pandemic. No severe cases of illness were reported in study volunteers who received the vaccine. Among people 65 and older, the vaccine was 85% effective, the company reported.
The new data may not resolve challenges that the vaccine and the company face in the United States, because repeated missteps have sown confusion and distrust that may result in slower and closer scrutiny of the data.
Bolsonaro under fire as Brazil hits 300,000 virus deaths
Brazil is in political disarray as it surpassed 300,000 deaths from the virus Wednesday evening. Foes and allies alike are pleading with President Jair Bolsonaro to change course to stem a recent surge of daily deaths accounting for almost one-third of the total worldwide.
Bolsonaro, who has rejected vaccine offers and last year called coronavirus a "little flu," has began shifting his rhetoric on the value of vaccines but continues to promote unproven COVID-19 cures to refuses restrictions, calling them an infringement on personal freedom.
“We must fight against the virus, not against the president," he said Tuesday after Brazil posted a single-day coronavirus record.
His address was met with pot-banging protests in major cities.
Iceland introduces restrictions after UK variant is detected
Gym classes, happy hours and the near-normal life enjoyed so far by the people of Iceland ended abruptly on Thursday, when the government ordered new restrictions after detecting six coronavirus cases believed to be the variant first found in Britain.
Authorities ordered all schools closed, as well as gyms, pools, theaters, cinemas and bars. Restaurants, shops and hairdressers can remain open in a limited capacity. Gatherings of more than 10 people will be banned for three weeks.
“We need to hit the brake,” Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir said Thursday.
Iceland has had just 5,384 cases and 29 deaths from COVID-19, according to official figures. But in the past week, six people were infected with the British variant, which authorities say is more transmissible.
With no COVID-19 patients, immunized Gibraltar drops curfew
With its hospital free of COVID-19 patients and only one new coronavirus infection reported in a full week, the tiny British overseas territory of Gibraltar is allowing itself some prudent celebration.
The territory of 33,000, located in the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, is ending a night-time curfew imposed three months ago to contain a surge of infections. Masks will also no longer be mandatory in all outdoor areas starting at midnight Saturday, the government announced.
“The global pandemic isn’t entirely behind us and we must all move forward carefully to safeguard this incredible progress in the weeks and months ahead,” Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said in a statement. But, he said, “We are at last leaving behind us our deadliest winter and entering our most hopeful spring.”
Poland orders stricter pandemic measures for Easter period
Poland’s government ordered stricter pandemic measures for the two-week period surrounding Easter, describing the new rules Thursday as an attempt to limit human contacts amid a deadly surge in the coronavirus pandemic.
Details of the new restrictions — which include the closure of nursery schools, furniture stores and beauty salons — come as Poland registered a record for daily coronavirus cases for a second consecutive day.
The new restrictions come as the nation recorded 520 new deaths on Thursday and more than 34,000 new daily cases, 4,000 more than the 30,000 that set a bleak record on Wednesday.
Cuomo’s family is said to have received special access to COVID-19 tests
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration arranged special access to government-run coronavirus testing for members of his family and other influential people as the pandemic descended on New York last year, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter.
The move to make testing of people closely tied to Cuomo a priority was carried out by high-ranking state health officials, one of the people said. It mostly happened in March 2020, as the seriousness of the virus was still becoming clear to the broader public and testing was not widely available.
Among those who benefited from the special treatment was the governor’s brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, and his family, who were tested several times in the pandemic’s early phase, this person said. The governor’s mother, Matilda Cuomo, and at least one of his sisters were also able to take advantage of the state-administered tests, the two people said.
The revelation comes as Cuomo confronts the most significant crisis of his political career, with many of his fellow elected New York Democrats calling for him to resign in the face of multiple sexual harassment allegations and questions about his administration’s handling of the virus-related deaths of nursing home residents.
1 report, 4 theories: Scientists mull clues on virus’ origin
A team of international and Chinese scientists is poised to report on its joint search for the origins of the coronavirus that sparked a pandemic after it was first detected in China over a year ago — with four theories being considered, and one the clear frontrunner, according to experts.
Team member Vladimir Dedkov, an epidemiologist and deputy director of research at the St. Petersburg Pasteur Institute in Russia, summarized the four main leads first laid out at a marathon news conference in China last month about the suspected origins of the first infection in humans. They were, in order of likelihood: from a bat through an intermediary animal; straight from a bat; via contaminated frozen food products; from a leak from a laboratory like the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Officials in China, as well as Chinese team leader Liang Wannian, have promoted the third theory — the cold-chain one — while the U.S. administration under President Donald Trump played up the fourth one, of the lab leak. But Dedkov said those two hypothesis were far down the list of likely sources.
He suggested an already infected person probably brought and spread the virus at the Wuhan market associated with the outbreak, where some contaminated frozen products were later found.
With a police raid and the threat of export curbs on vaccines, the EU plays tough
Tipped off by European authorities, a team of Italian police inspectors descended on a vaccine-manufacturing facility outside Rome over the weekend. They discovered 29 million doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, feeding suspicions that the company was trying to spirit them overseas instead of distributing them in the European Union.
Four days later, Italian officials accepted AstraZeneca’s explanation that the doses were going through quality control before being shipped to the developing world, and to European countries.
The cinematic raid — intended to put a little muscle behind European Union threats to make the company stop exporting doses — now stands as a vivid example of just how desperate the hunt for vaccines is getting. It was also a sign of continuing tension between the bloc and those it suspects might be cheating.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
All Washingtonians older than age 16 will be eligible for vaccines by May 1, the state says — but brace for frustrations, because the supply won't meet the demand. Here’s the path ahead, and our updated guide to getting your vaccine. As this unfolds, Seattle is halting its free coronavirus testing at two sites so they can focus on vaccinations.
Can you take painkillers when you get your vaccine? It depends, doctors and the CDC say. Here are their recommendations, along with other steps you can take to ease side effects.
Some widely available hand sanitizers that Americans snapped up last year contain high levels of a chemical known to cause cancer, tests found. Know what to check for.
King County would spend $600 million on COVID-19 recovery under County Executive Dow Constantine's blueprint for "the largest supplemental budget in county history."
How does a kid wear a mask, a football helmet and a mouth guard? It took time, but Washington's high-school teams have finally tackled this and other safety measures.
Free with your vaccine: beer, doughnuts, marijuana … the list of swag is growing.
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