Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, March 31, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
A class-action lawsuit filed by Columbia Legal Services demands COVID-19 vaccines be made immediately available for all people incarcerated in Washington prisons and seeks an order banning direct contact with incarcerated people by Department of Corrections (DOC) employees and contractors who refuse vaccines. The lawsuit alleges the state’s refusal to promptly vaccinate the approximately 15,000 people living in prisons — where the infection rate is more than eight times higher than in the general population — violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Among the more than 1 million Washingtonians who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, 102 people in 18 counties have tested positive for COVID-19 more than two weeks after their vaccinations, according to the state Department of Health. Those cases include eight people who have been hospitalized. Two deaths are also being investigated as possible “vaccine breakthrough” cases, the department said. The vaccine breakthrough cases, which the department says are expected with any vaccine, represent .01% of the people who have been fully vaccinated and were tallied since Feb. 1
Gov. Jay Inslee has set a press conference today at 3:30 p.m. to discuss the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Johnson & Johnson confirmed vaccine production problems at Baltimore plant
Johnson & Johnson vaccine was contaminated by ingredients from another company’s vaccine at a manufacturing plant in Baltimore, federal officials confirmed Wednesday, ruining a batch of raw vaccine representing millions of doses and prompting a review.
However, Johnson & Johnson said in a statement it was still on track to deliver the 20 million doses it promised the federal government by Wednesday and was on track to deliver another 24 million doses by the end of April.
The mixing of ingredients for coronavirus vaccines for Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca occurred at a plant operated byEmergent, which has not yet been certified by the Food and Drug Administration to produce Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Emergent is a contract manufacturer for bulk vaccine substance for both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca. It also has federal agreements for production of medicines to combat bioterror threats.
State confirms 1,271 new coronavirus cases and 10 new deaths
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,271 new coronavirus cases and 10 new deaths on Wednesday.
The update brings the state's totals to 364,486 cases and 5,247 deaths, meaning that 1.4% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.
In addition, 20,551 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 61 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 90,692 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,465 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 3,325,998 doses and 16.9% 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 55,894 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.
Inslee: All Washingtonians 16 and up will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine starting April 15
All Washingtonians 16 years and older will become eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine on April 15, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday.
The announcement is a dramatic expansion of vaccine eligibility, and it comes the same day that roughly two million Washingtonians, including manufacturing and food service workers, first become eligible for doses of their own.
Wednesday’s announcement would make an additional 1.2 million Washingtonians eligible for a dose by April 15, opening vaccines to all 6.3 million state residents aged 16 years and older.
Already, more than a dozen other states were planning to expand vaccine eligibility to all adults starting this week. California officials announced recently that starting April 15, they, too, would open up doses to people 16 years and older.
Wednesday’s announcement by Inslee comes after the federal government has signaled to state officials that Washington will continue to see an increased supply of vaccine doses in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, a flattening of COVID-19 cases across Washington — and a recent rise in King County — has health officials worried about a possible fourth wave of infections.
Virus variants can infect mice, scientists report
Bats, humans, monkeys, minks, big cats and big apes — the coronavirus can make a home in many animals. But now the list of potential hosts has expanded to include mice, according to an unnerving new study.
Infected rodents pose no immediate risk to people, even in cities like London and New York, where they are ubiquitous and unwelcome occupants of subway stations, basements and backyards.
Still, the finding is worrying. Along with previous work, it suggests that new mutations are giving the virus the ability to replicate in a wider array of animal species, experts said.
“The virus is changing, and unfortunately it’s changing pretty fast,” said Timothy Sheahan, a virus expert at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who was not involved in the new study.
In the study, the researchers introduced the virus into the nasal passages of laboratory mice. The form of the virus first identified in Wuhan, China, cannot infect laboratory mice, nor can B.1.1.7, a variant that has been spreading across much of Europe, the researchers found.
Puerto Rico vaccinates thousands in 15-hour mass event
Thousands of people were vaccinated against COVID-19 on Wednesday as part of a mass inoculation event in Puerto Rico’s capital that was scheduled to last 15 hours.
It was the first event of its kind since the U.S. territory began vaccinating people in mid-December.
Officials hoped to vaccinate 10,000 people with the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot during the event that would run from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. By late Wednesday afternoon, more than 5,000 vaccines were given, according to Health Secretary Carlos Mellado.
For now, Puerto Rico is vaccinating only those 35 to 49 years old with chronic health conditions, and all those 50 years and older, along with all workers in the food and telecommunications industries, among others.
Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine is delayed by a U.S. factory mix-up
Workers at a Baltimore plant manufacturing two coronavirus vaccines accidentally conflated the vaccines’ ingredients several weeks ago, ruining about 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine and forcing regulators to delay authorization of the plant’s production lines.
The plant is run by Emergent BioSolutions, a manufacturing partner to both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca. Federal officials attributed the mistake to human error.
The mixup has halted future shipments of Johnson & Johnson doses in the United States while the Food and Drug Administration investigates. Johnson & Johnson has moved to strengthen its control over Emergent BioSolutions’ work to avoid further quality lapses.
The mistake is a major embarrassment for Johnson & Johnson, whose one-dose vaccine has been credited with speeding up the national immunization program.
It does not affect Johnson & Johnson doses that are currently being delivered and used nationwide. All those doses were produced in the Netherlands, where operations have been fully approved by federal regulators.
COVID-19 pushed total US deaths beyond 3.3 million last year
The COVID-19 pandemic pushed total U.S. deaths last year beyond 3.3 million, the nation’s highest annual death toll, the government reported Wednesday.
The coronavirus caused approximately 375,000 deaths, and was the third leading cause of death in 2020, after heart disease and cancer. COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. now top 550,000 since the start of the pandemic.
COVID-19 displaced suicide as one of the top 10 causes of death, according to the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The data should serve again as a catalyst for each of us to continue to do our part to drive down cases and reduce the spread of COVID-19 and get people vaccinated as quickly as possible,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday.
The U.S. death toll increases most years, but last year’s death rate was up nearly 16% compared to the previous year. That’s the largest one-year leap since 1918, when U.S. soldier deaths in World War I and the flu pandemic pushed deaths up 46% compared with 1917.
France announces 3-week school closure, domestic travel ban
PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron has announced a three-week nationwide school closure and a month-long domestic travel ban in an effort to fight the rapid spread of the virus.
In a televised address to the nation Wednesday night, Macron said efforts are needed as “the epidemic is accelerating.”
“We’re going to close nursery, elementary and high schools for three weeks,” he said, in addition to a nationwide 7 p.m.- 6 a.m. curfew that will remain in place, and domestic travel restrictions.
The move is a departure from the government’s policy in recent months, which has focused on regionalized restrictions. School closures in particular had been seen as a very last resort.
A debate is scheduled in parliament Thursday that will address the virus situation and the new measures.
Seattle opens fourth vaccine site, in North Seattle
Seattle opened its fourth vaccination site in the city, at North Seattle College Wednesday, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced.
The Seattle Visiting Nurse Association will administer 1,170 doses per week — or about 390 each day of operation. At its size and staffing capacity, the nurses are capable of giving 6,400 vaccinations per week. City staffers will assist with language access, logistics and registration services.
The site is designed as a drive-through site, but it can also accommodate walk-ups through the 95th Street entrance off College Way.
Patients may get their shots at the hub three days per week, Wednesday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. As supply increases, the days and hours of operation will increase, the city said in a news release.
North Seattle's site marks the fourth city-affiliated site after sites opened in Rainier Beach, West Seattle and the Lumen Field Event Center.
"This site is all the more important as cases surge across our city, but particularly in the North End," Durkan said in a statement.
Organizations that serve Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities, older adults, and immigrants and refugees will be given advance registration to access at this new site.
Those eligible for vaccines can sign up to be notified about Seattle's available appointments. As more appointments become available, those registered will receive an email notification.
Seattle residents can also contact the Customer Service Bureau at 206-684-2489 from Monday through Saturday, between 8 a.m. — 5 p.m., for assistance completing this form. In-language assistance is available over the phone.
EU says ‘no evidence’ to restrict use of AstraZeneca vaccine
BERLIN (AP) — The head of the European Medicines Agency said Wednesday that there is “no evidence” that would support restricting use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine in any population, as Germany has now done amid concerns over rare blood clots in people who got the shot.
But EMA Executive Director Emer Cooke said her Amsterdam-based agency continues to study reports of new cases as they come in and will provide a further assessment next week.
On Tuesday, an independent vaccine expert panel in Germany said AstraZeneca shots should not routinely be given to people under 60 because of a rise in reported cases of unusual blood clots in the days after vaccination.
The German government followed the recommendation and said the British-Swedish company’s vaccine would be prioritized for people age 60 and older, although exceptions can be made in consultation with doctors.
The move put the spotlight back on the European Medicines Agency, which authorized the AstraZeneca vaccine in January and said earlier this month – after some European countries suspended its use over blood clot fears – that the vaccine’s benefits outweigh the risks.
“According to the current scientific knowledge, there is no evidence that would support restricting the use of this vaccine in any population,” Cooke told reporters.
Holy days arrive for faithful as COVID-19 pandemic eases in U.S.
For Christians across the United States, Easter services on Sunday will reflect an extra measure of joy as the nation experiences rising optimism after a year of pandemic. Even if still observing restrictions, many churches may draw the largest numbers of in-person worshippers in months.
It’s a season of major holy days for other faiths as well, occurring in a brighter mood than a year ago. Jews are observing Passover this week, and Muslims will enter the holy month of Ramadan in about two weeks.
In Houston, the Rev. Meredith Mills is eagerly anticipating a return to in-person worship Sunday in the sanctuary of Westminster United Methodist Church. Except for a few Christmastime services that drew a handful of people, the church has been worshipping on its front lawn since October.
Wisconsin Supreme Court strikes down governor’s mask mandate
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide mask mandate Wednesday, stripping the governor of one of his last remaining tools to curb large-scale spread of COVID-19 as the state stands on the precipice of another surge in infections.
The conservative-leaning court ruled 4-3 that Evers violated state law by unilaterally issuing multiple emergency orders to extend the mandate for months. The court found Evers needed legislative approval to issue more orders after the initial 60-day mandate he issued in August expired.
“The question in this case is not whether the governor acted wisely; it is whether he acted lawfully. We conclude he did not,” Justice Brian Hagedorn wrote for the majority.
The decision marks another legal defeat for Evers. The Supreme Court in May struck down his stay-at-home order, finding that his health secretary lacked the authority to issue such an order. A state appeals court blocked Evers’ attempts to limit capacity in bars, restaurants and other indoor places in October.
Wednesday’s decision comes as COVID-19 cases have been rising in the state. The seven-day average has jumped from fewer than 400 cases in mid-March to 501 on Tuesday. State Department of Health Services Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said the state is seeing “warning signs” that another surge in infections is about to begin.
Trump adviser warned then-president on coronavirus supply shortage, then pursued controversial deals
A top adviser privately urged President Donald Trump to acquire critical medical supplies in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak — and after the warning was ignored, pursued his own ad hoc strategy that committed more than $1 billion in federal funds and has since prompted multiple probes, according to newly released documents from congressional investigators.
Peter Navarro, who served as Trump’s trade adviser, warned the president on March 1, 2020, to “MOVE IN ‘TRUMP TIME'” to invest in ingredients for drugs, handheld coronavirus tests and other supplies to fight the virus, according to a memo obtained by the House’s select subcommittee on the coronavirus outbreak. Navarro also said that he’d been trying to acquire more protective gear like masks, critiquing the administration’s pace.
“There is NO downside risk to taking swift actions as an insurance policy against what may be a very serious public health emergency. If the covid-19 crisis quickly recedes, the only thing we will have been guilty of is prudence,” Navarro wrote to the president. At the time, there were about 100 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States and just two deaths linked to the outbreak.
But after Trump ignored Navarro’s recommendations, the trade adviser embarked on his own strategy to acquire supplies with little oversight, Democrats said. Navarro subsequently steered a $765 million loan to Eastman Kodak to produce ingredients for generic drugs, a $354 million sole-source contract for pharmaceutical ingredients to a startup called Phlow, and a $96 million sole-source contract for powered respirators and filters from AirBoss Defense Group.
Beyond the pandemic: London tourism braces for slow recovery
After three national lockdowns, London’s tourist attractions and other hospitality businesses are making tentative plans to reopen in mid-May — the earliest the government says international travel can resume. But deep uncertainty about COVID-19 remains.
With quarantine requirements and travel restrictions still in place everywhere and Europe battling a new surge of infections, many are bracing for another bleak year.
For London’s tourism industry, which employs one in seven workers in the capital, the pandemic has been a body blow. With hotels, attractions and leisure shopping in a near-total shutdown, the industry’s contribution to London’s economy plunged from 15.7 billion pounds ($21.6 billion) in 2019 to just 3 billion pounds ($4.1 billion) in the past year, according to VisitBritain, the national tourism agency.
Even national treasures like the Tower of London have struggled. Historic Royal Palaces, a charity that runs the Tower and other heritage attractions, has said it expected a 100 million-pound ($137 million) shortfall because of COVID-19.
Many expect a slow recovery, particularly because London always has been reliant on international tourism. Over half of all consumer spending in the West End — home to the city center’s bustling shops, restaurants, pubs and theaters — typically comes from European and other overseas visitors.
China reports COVID-19 outbreak on border with Myanmar
BEIJING — At least nine people have tested positive for COVID-19 in a Chinese city on the border with Myanmar, health officials said Wednesday.
Five are Chinese citizens are four are Myanmar nationals, the Yunnan Province Health Commission said in a report posted online.
The city of Ruili, with a population of about 210,000 people, said all residents would be tested for COVID-19 and would have to home quarantine for one week. The residential compound where the infections were found has been locked down.
The city also ordered a crackdown on people who cross the border illegally, anyone who shelters them and those who organize such border crossings. It wasn’t immediately clear how the outbreak started.
The government has stepped up border control efforts since the coronavirus outbreak to try to stem the flow of people in both directions. Residents told the AP that government workers have been recruited to do monitoring shifts along the border.
Macron to address the nation as France’s epidemic surges
PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to impose new virus restrictions in a televised address to the nation Wednesday night, amid growing pressure to act more boldly to combat surging coronavirus hospitalizations.
Among options he is considering are closing all French schools and banning travel within the country, according to a government official, who was not authorized to be publicly named.
Any such nationwide move would be a departure from the government’s policy in recent months, which has focused on regionalized restrictions. School closures in particular had been seen as a very last resort.
A debate is scheduled in parliament Thursday that will address the virus situation and the new measures.
“The key factor in our decision-making remains the situation in hospitals,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal said Wednesday after Macron hosted his weekly coronavirus strategy meeting and a Cabinet meeting.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Two million more Washingtonians become eligible for COVID-19 vaccines today. Clinics are preparing for an influx of people. But if you meet these qualifications, be patient: Demand is outstripping supply. Here's our guide to getting your vaccine, along with a look at the possible side effects and how to manage them.
Pfizer's vaccine works safely in kids as young as 12, the company announced today, setting the stage for possibly beginning shots before students head back to school in the fall. The study also reported on side effects.
.01% of Washingtonians have tested positive for COVID-19 more than two weeks after vaccination, the state said yesterday. Most of the people with "breakthrough cases" in 18 counties had mild symptoms, but two deaths are being investigated.
No shirt, no shoes, no vax, no service? Vaccine passports are coming and we’re not ready, columnist Danny Westneat writes.
Seattle-area residents who’ve been vaccinated are waiting for the rest of the world to catch up, and some are finding that getting their vaccine hasn't lifted away the anxiety of the pandemic: “Re-entry anxiety is a real thing.” Here’s how their lives have changed, and how they haven’t.