Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, March 4, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

More than 5,000 people have now died from COVID-19 in Washington state, health officials reported Wednesday, an announcement that comes a few days after the one-year anniversary of the country’s first COVID-19 death.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden has agreed to narrow eligibility for a new round of $1,400 stimulus payments in his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, conceding to moderate Senate Democrats.

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 previous days’ live updates and all our other coronavirus coverage, and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington and the world.

Gov. Jay Inslee will hold a press conference at 2:30 p.m. today to discuss the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Watch here:

(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)


What a difference a year makes: California poised to reopen

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — This April should look very different than the last for California’s nearly 40 million residents, with a new plan from the governor that will speed up reopening a year after he imposed the nation’s first statewide coronavirus shutdown.

Next month, nearly the entire state could see a return of inside restaurant dining, the reopening of movie theaters and other indoor businesses, far more children back in classrooms and competing in sports — maybe even fans in the stands for Opening Day of Major League Baseball.

“It’s important that we start getting back to work and recovery,” said Emilie Clarke, district affairs and development director at the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, which represents businesses in California’s capital city.

The quicker pace of reopening is tied to a new plan to vaccinate California’s most vulnerable residents. Once 2 million people across 400 ZIP codes in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods receive at least one vaccine dose, it will be easier for counties to exit the state’s most restrictive tier.

—Associated Press

Japan to extend virus emergency for 2 weeks for Tokyo area

TOKYO — Japan’s government will extend a state of emergency in the Tokyo region for another two weeks because its medical systems are still strained by COVID-19 patients, the minister in charge of virus response said Friday.

“For two more weeks, we will keep the measure in place … so that we can firmly ease strains on hospitals” to meet conditions for lifting the emergency measures, economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters.

Nishimura said the government has received preliminary approval from experts to extend the emergency through March 21 for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is to formally announce the plan Friday night after parliament approval.

He said medical systems in the region are still burdened with COVID-19 patients and more hospital beds have to be freed.

—Associated Press

Boston Marathon plan to hand out 70,000 medals roils runners

BOSTON — Distance running, traditionally one of the world’s most genteel sports, has been roiled by an ugly mid-pandemic squabble over who should get a shot at a coveted Boston Marathon medal.

Rival camps in the running world began snapping at each other’s heels this week. It began after the Boston Athletic Association, which still hopes to hold a truncated in-person edition of the planet’s most prestigious footrace in October, said it will award medals to up to 70,000 athletes if they go the distance wherever they are.

Practically within minutes of the BAA’s announcement greatly expanding its virtual version of the race, a boisterous social media maelstrom ensued.

On one side: Runners who’ve spent years training to qualify to run the real thing, including some who complain that mailing medals to people who run the 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometers) in Dallas or Denver will cheapen the iconic Boston experience.

“A dagger through the heart to someone who has worked hard to finally earn the qualifying standard,” one runner, Mark Howard of Salisbury, North Carolina, groused on Twitter.

—Associated Press

Catholic leaders in Washington state, Idaho say to avoid Johnson & Johnson vaccine made with fetal cell lines if possible, but health experts disagree

The Catholic Dioceses of Spokane and Boise are both recommending local Catholics avoid the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine unless it’s the only shot available, because the vaccine’s manufacture involves cells derived from an aborted fetus in 1985.

Some vaccines — including those for hepatitis A, rubella and rabies — use historical cell lines in their design or manufacturing process, as viruses that infect humans grow best in human rather than animal cells, according to a report from the North Dakota Department of Health.

Cell lines are grown from a sample of a single fetus’s cells. In the case of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, cells came from a retinal cell line from a single aborted fetus in 1985, the result of an elective abortion, the report said.

Vaccines made this way do not require or solicit new abortions, and the vaccines themselves do not contain any aborted fetal cells, according to the report.

Fetal cells have become commonplace in research labs, partly because they can replicate indefinitely, said Dr. Francisco Velázquez, interim health officer for Spokane Regional Health District, in an emailed statement.

—The Spokesman-Review

Italy blocks export of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine to Australia, amid EU anger over delivery shortfalls

Italy has blocked the export to Australia of 250,000 AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine doses, amid a dispute with the drug manufacturer over delivery shortfalls inside the European Union, the Italian foreign ministry said Thursday.

The move was the first time an EU country deployed new powers introduced in January, after AstraZeneca announced it would deliver sharply fewer doses to the EU than promised for the first months of the year.

Italian leaders proposed the block on the Australian shipment, and EU policymakers in Brussels signed off on it, the Italian foreign ministry said in a statement.

The decision to block the doses was because of “the lingering shortage of vaccines in the EU and in Italy, and the delays in the supply of AstraZeneca vaccines to the EU and Italy,” among other reasons, the statement said.

—The Washington Post

WH says relief checks to go to most who got December payment

Roughly 98% of U.S. households that received a COVID-19 relief check in December will also qualify for the next round of payments being championed by President Joe Biden, according to a White House official.

Biden has said that Americans were promised $2,000 in direct checks, but only $600 was approved in December. The president views that promise as a cornerstone of his $1.9 trillion relief package pending in the Senate. His proposal offers $1,400 in additional payments that would quickly phase out based on income, so that money is better aimed at the middle class and poor.

Under the current Senate bill, the Biden administration estimates that 158.5 million households will receive direct payments, according to the White House official who insisted on anonymity to discuss private conversations. The official stressed that almost everyone gets a check twice as large as in December, although 3.5 million households that received some payment from the $900 billion December package would no longer qualify.

The decrease is due to tighter limits in the Senate bill on who can receive checks. The Biden administration has wanted to honor the promise made to voters, but it also does not want to be viewed as sending money to the affluent.

—Associated Press

Seattle teachers union votes to continue teaching remotely as some educators are called back to classrooms next week

Seattle Education Association (SEA) union leaders voted Wednesday to continue teaching remotely, a show of opposition to the school district’s move to summon 700 Seattle Public Schools (SPS) educators back to their school buildings on Monday. The two sides have not yet reached an agreement to expand in-person learning.

On Wednesday, a group of around 250 educatorswho represent the union’s 6,000 members voted to keep teaching under the district’s current instructional model, where only a small number of students and staff are teaching in-person. The group also took a vote of “no confidence” in Superintendent Denise Juneau. Juneau announced in December that she would resign at the end of June.

It’s unclear how many educators or students will return next week. Julie Popper, a spokesperson for the statewide teachers union, the Washington Education Association (WEA), said, “Educators can choose to go in but we expect it will be minimal if at all.” Early estimates from the district put the number at 1,100 preschool and students with disabilities who would return, but aspokesperson said that number could change.

Asked via email if there is an alternative plan should educators not appear, Tim Robinson, a district spokesperson, said, “It is too early to address that type of ‘what if’ question.”

Read the full story here.

—Dahlia Bazzaz

Washington state won’t receive more Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine until end of March

The good news about regulatory approval of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine means more doses are on the way to Washington state. The bad news is that not much — so far — is coming our way.

After this week’s initial shipment of 60,900 Johnson & Johnson doses, Washington won’t receive any more of the third vaccine to gain federal emergency use authorization for another three weeks, officials from the state Department of Health (DOH) said during a Thursday briefing.

The Johnson & Johnson doses in hand will go to counties that haven’t received a proportional share of vaccine, said Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary of health.

Four counties — Snohomish, Pierce, Thurston and Whatcom — have already received 12,300 doses of the vaccine in total. The remaining vaccine doses will be assigned by Saturday and delivered Monday, said DOH spokesperson Shelby Anderson.

Read the full story here.

—Ryan Blethen

Why people are eager for Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine

Since Johnson & Johnson revealed data showing that its vaccine, while highly protective, had a slightly lower efficacy rate than the first shots produced by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, health officials have feared the new shot might be viewed by some Americans as the inferior choice.

But the early days of its rollout suggest something different: Some people are eager to get it because they want the convenience of a single shot. And public health officials are enthusiastic about how much faster they could get a single shot distributed, particularly in vulnerable communities that might not otherwise have access to a vaccine.

“This is a potential breakthrough,” said Dr. Joseph Kanter, the top health official in Louisiana. With its first allotted doses, the state is holding a dozen large Johnson & Johnson vaccination events at civic centers and other public places, modeled after what has worked for flu vaccines.

As Johnson & Johnson’s production ramps up over the next few months, Kanter said, the shot will allow his state to slash costs for staffing and operations related to the second doses: “The J&J vaccine brings a lot to the table.”

—The New York Times

Brown pauses rollbacks to COVID-19 extreme risk level

SALEM, Ore. — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Thursday that starting next week counties that have moved out of the COVID-19 extreme risk level will not be moved back into it without giving them two weeks to improve their case numbers.

The temporary freeze also will allow businesses to avoid abrupt closures and major changes in how they do business. If case numbers don’t improve in those two weeks, however, the county will move backward.

“Recognizing the challenges businesses encounter when facing a switch back and forth between Extreme Risk and other risk levels, this two-week extension will alleviate some of these challenges and give counties a bit more time to bring case rates down,” she said in an emailed statement. “As always, businesses and community members should continue to make smart choices and follow statewide and county-specific health and safety guidance.”

—Associated Press

Costco profits rise, helped by pandemic shopping habits

ISSAQUAH — Warehouse retail chain Costco Wholesale said its fiscal second-quarter profit rose slightly from a year earlier, weighed by wage premiums paid to employees during the pandemic.

In the three-month period ended Feb. 14, a quarter during which Costco saw a surge of online shopping, the company said it earned $951 million, or $2.14 per share. That compares with a profit of $931 million, or $2.10 per share, in the same period a year earlier.

But the results were below analysts’ expectations, pushing Costco’s stock down about 2% in after-hours trading. Shares closed Thursday at $319.04, down 1.5%.

The average estimate of 13 analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of $2.42 per share in the latest quarter.

Costco said the premium COVID-19 pay for its employees trimmed its profits by 41 cents per share. CEO Craig Jelinek said last week that it would roll back the extra $2 an hour but at the same time boost its minimum wage to $16 an hour, starting this week.

—Associated Press

Gov. Inslee: Law enforcement, firefighters, grocery workers to get COVID-19 vaccines in March

OLYMPIA — With federal COVID-19 vaccine shipments on the rise, Gov. Jay Inslee Thursday expanded the list of Washingtonians eligible for doses in the coming weeks to law enforcement, public transit and grocery workers, and to people incarcerated, people experiencing homelessness and people with underlying medical conditions.

The new timelines — which are still tentative — nonetheless put some specifics to a vaccination plan that is picking up speed after a slow start.

The new schedule is based on estimates given by the Biden administration and companies producing the three authorized vaccines authorized for what is expected to be coming available, Inslee said in a news conference.

“I feel pretty confident that the supply chain will remain as we have estimated,” said Inslee.

The governor pointed to the quickening pace of vaccinations in Washington, saying more than 1.7 million doses have so far been administered. That includes two recent days where more than 60,000 doses were administered each day, he said, calling it “a remarkable acceleration of our vaccination program.”

Read the full story here.

—Joseph O'Sullivan

State reports 866 new coronavirus cases, and 20 new deaths

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 866 new coronavirus cases and 20 new deaths on Wednesday.

The update brings the state's totals to 323,839 cases and 5,032 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,19,500 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 34 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 84,714 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,413 deaths.

On Dec. 16, DOH’s case, hospitalization and death counts started including both confirmed cases and probable cases in its total count. According to DOH, probable cases refer to people who received a positive antigen test result but not a positive molecular test result, while confirmed cases refer to those who have received a positive molecular test result.

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.

—Nicole Brodeur

Americans are getting fewer coronavirus tests. Here’s why that’s bad.

A health worker hands over a coronavirus saliva test to an Ector County resident on Feb. 23 in Odessa, Texas. (Eli Hartman / The Associated Press)

Coronavirus testing sites in Los Angeles County were overrun in January. Within minutes of opening online, appointments for the entire day would be fully booked. The lines outside testing sites stretched for blocks.

But demand for testing has dropped so dramatically that anyone walking off the street nowadays can almost instantly get a test.

“It’s crazy how fast and far the drop in testing has been,” said Clemens Hong, a physician leading the county’s testing efforts. “It’s worrisome.”

The average number of tests being conducted every day in America has plummeted by 33.6% since January, according to the COVID Tracking Project. That statistic has many experts deeply concerned because it comes just as America’s recent decrease in infections and deaths is stalling at a worrisome high level. Testing is a key tool to stopping coronavirus transmission; without it, the virus has the potential to spread unchecked.

Read the full story here.

—William Wan, The Washington Post

Bucking GOP trend, Alabama governor extends mask order

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey holds a sit down interview with reporters in the Governor’s office at the Alabama State Capitol Building in Montgomery, Ala., on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. (Jake Crandall/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)

Breaking from other Southern GOP governors, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey extended her state’s mask order for another month Thursday but said the requirement will end for good in April.

Following the recommendations of medical officials, Ivey said she will keep the mask order that was set to expire Friday in place until April 9. The Republican governor said before lifting the order that she wants to get past Easter and get as much vaccine distributed as possible.

“The bottom line is we have kept the mask mandate in place for more than a generous period of time because it has helped,” Ivey said at a news conference.

Medical officials welcomed Ivey’s decision after recommending an extension, arguing that easing restrictions before more people were vaccinated could reverse recent improvements. Alabama’s rolling seven-day average of daily cases has dropped from 3,000 in early January to below 1,000 and hospitalizations are at their lowest point since summer.

Read the story here.

—Kim Chandler, The Associated Press

Israel, Denmark and Austria join forces against COVID-19

Israel, Denmark and Austria agreed on Thursday to join forces in the fight against COVID-19 with an investment in research and roll-out of vaccines to protect people against new surges and mutations of the coronavirus.

The leaders of the three countries said their alliance will set up a foundation and vaccine distribution plants in Europe and Israel, based on Israel’s world-leading inoculation drive. The effort is aimed at getting ahead of another expected surge of COVID-19 and the uncertainty of how long inoculations will remain effective.

“We think that by joining the resources of three small but very able and gifted countries, we can better meet these challenges,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. He added that other countries have also expressed interest in the effort.

Read the story here.

—Laurie Kellman, The Associated Press

Florida governor faces growing charges of vaccine favoritism

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions Jan. 4 in Longwood, Fla. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP, File)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and state health officials came under deeper scrutiny amid revelations that seniors in a wealthy enclave in Key Largo received hundreds of life-saving vaccinations as early as mid -January, giving ammunition to critics who say the Republican governor is favoring wealthy constituents over ordinary Floridians.

The revelations were the latest example of wealthy Floridians getting earlier access to coronavirus vaccines, even as the state has lagged in efforts to get poorer residents vaccinated.

Officials from Monroe County, home to Key Largo, said the affluent club’s medical center, which is an affiliate of Baptist Health Hospital, received the vaccines through the hospital as part of the governor’s program to vaccinate communities with a populations of people 65 and older. County spokeswoman Kristen Livengood said the allocations were coordinated through Baptist and the state of Florida.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Children’s hospitals grapple with young COVID-19 ‘long haulers’

Delaney DePue tested positive for the coronavirus in June, shortly after her 15th birthday. DePue, who used to train up to 20 hours a week for dance, suspects her continued fatigue and shortness of breath is related to the coronavirus. (Sara DePue / TNS)

A slumber party to celebrate Delaney DePue’s 15th birthday last summer marked a new chapter — one defined by illness and uncertainty.

The teen from Fort Walton Beach, Florida, tested positive for COVID-19 about a week later, said her mother, Sara, leaving her bedridden with flu-like symptoms. Her expected recovery, however, never came.

Delaney — who used to train 20 hours a week for competitive dance and had no diagnosed underlying conditions — now struggles to get through two classes in a row, she said.

While statistics indicate that children have largely been spared from the worst effects of COVID-19, little is known about what causes a small percentage of them to develop serious illness. Doctors are now reporting the emergence of downstream complications that mimic what’s seen in adult “long haulers.”

Read the story here.

—Carmen Heredia Rodriguez, Kaiser Health News

Famed Madrid flamenco venue closes amid virus restrictions

Spanish Flamenco dancer Anabel Moreno, left, is given a rose outside the Villa Rosa Tablao flamenco venue during a protest in Madrid, Spain, Thursday March 4, 2021. The National Association of Tablaos protested outside the mythical Villa Rosa Tablao which has been forced to close permanently due to the covid pandemic. (AP Photo/Paul White)

Artists at one of Madrid’s best-known flamenco bars put on a final outdoor show Thursday, marking its closure after 140 years because of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions that have shuttered entertainment venues.

A female flamenco dancer dressed in black performed in the street outside Villa-Rosa, while others threw flamenco costumes from balconies into the street and male singer Juañarito performed a flamenco song.

Others laid flowers at the venue’s entrance, lit candles and put up handwritten signs saying “R.I.P.”

The Villa-Rosa, with its distinctive tiled facade, is a landmark of the Madrid neighborhood called Las Letras, known for its nightlife.

“The situation is now unsustainable, with so many overheads for a year with the bar closed without any (financial) assistance,” the flamenco show’s director, Rebeca Garcia, said. “It has forced us to take the drastic decision to shut down.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

‘Falling through cracks’: Vaccine bypasses some older adults

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Jean Andrade, an 88-year-old who lives alone, has been waiting for her COVID-19 vaccine since she became eligible under state guidelines nearly a month ago. She assumed her caseworker would contact her about getting one, especially after she spent nearly two days stuck in an electric recliner during a recent power outage.

It was only after she saw a TV news report about competition for the limited supply of shots in Portland, Oregon, that she realized no one was scheduling her dose. A grocery delivery service for homebound older people eventually provided a flyer with vaccine information, and Andrade asked a helper who comes by for four hours a week to try to snag her an appointment.

“I thought it would be a priority when you’re 88 years old and that someone would inform me,” said Andrade, who has lived in the same house for 40 years and has no family members able to assist her. “You ask anybody else who’s 88, 89, and don’t have anybody to help them, ask them what to do. Well, I’ve still got my brain, thank God. But I am very angry.”

Older adults have top priority in COVID-19 immunization drives the world over right now, and hundreds of thousands of them are spending hours online, enlisting their children’s help and traveling hours to far-flung pharmacies in a desperate bid to secure a COVID-19 vaccine. But an untold number like Andrade are getting left behind, unseen, because they are too overwhelmed, too frail or too poor to fend for themselves.

With the clock ticking and many states extending shots to people as young as 55, nonprofits, churches and advocacy groups are scrambling to find isolated elders and get them inoculated before they have to compete with an even bigger pool — and are potentially forgotten about as vaccination campaigns move on.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Heart problems may be rare in pro athletes after COVID-19

Heart inflammation is uncommon in pro athletes who’ve had mostly mild COVID-19 and most don’t need to be sidelined, a study conducted by major professional sports leagues suggests.

The results are not definitive, outside experts say, and more independent research is needed. But the study published Thursday in JAMA Cardiology is the largest to examine the potential problem. The coronavirus can cause inflammation in many organs, including the heart.

Two previous smaller studies in college athletes recovering from the virus suggested heart inflammation might be more common.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Hungary tightens pandemic restrictions amid rising deaths

People rest and are monitored for the possibility of side effects after receiving a dose of Chinese Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. China is providing the vaccine to countries such as Serbia and Hungary — a significant geopolitical victory in Central Europe and the Balkans, where the West, China and Russia are competing for political and economic influence. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Authorities in Hungary are tightening pandemic restrictions in an effort to mitigate a rapid rise in deaths and hospitalizations caused by COVID-19.

Businesses will be required to close their doors for two weeks beginning Monday, with only grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations permitted to remain open. Kindergartens and primary schools will also be closed until April 7. Sporting events may only be held without spectators, and businesses are urged to allow employees to work from home.

The decision comes as another surge of the virus races across Hungary, with new daily cases and hospitalizations rapidly approaching their previous peaks set in December. On Thursday, one year to the day after the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Hungary, 6,278 new infections were reported alongside 152 deaths, the deadliest day since Dec. 23.

“The third wave is very strong, stronger than the second wave,” said Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas.

Read the story here.

—Justin Spike, The Associated Press

In big shift, Germany to give AstraZeneca shots to people over 65

Germany’s independent vaccine committee has formally approved giving the AstraZeneca shot to people age 65 and over, and recommended waiting 12 weeks between giving the first and second doses, the health minister said Thursday.

The decision is “good news for older people who are waiting for a vaccination,” said the minister, Jens Spahn. “They will get vaccinated faster.”

The vaccine made by British-Swedish company AstraZeneca is one of three authorized for use in the 27-nation European Union. Yet several countries, including Germany, initially restricted it to people under 65, or in some cases under 55, citing a lack of data on its effectiveness in older people.

But the publication of new data on its effectiveness and pressure to speed up the EU’s slow vaccine rollout has prompted authorities across the bloc to revise their stances.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Fake coronavirus vaccine seizures in several countries are ‘tip of the iceberg,’ Interpol warns

A medic prepares to administer a dose of an AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to a Ukrainian serviceman in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, on Tuesday. Interpol said Wednesday that police in China and South Africa have seized thousands of doses of fake vaccines – a cache it said was just the “tip of the iceberg.” (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

First came the fake medical-grade masks and coronavirus tests. Now, a new threat has emerged, global police organization Interpol warns: fake doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

Interpol said Wednesday that police in China and South Africa have seized thousands of doses of fake vaccines — a cache it said was just the “tip of the iceberg.”

South African authorities recently seized 400 vials, which held around 2,400 doses, of counterfeit vaccines from a warehouse outside Johannesburg, Interpol said in a report Wednesday. The illicit stash also included fake 3M masks. South African officers apprehended three Chinese citizens and one Zambian national in relation to the raid.

In December, Interpol warned of a likely growing threat of crime related to coronavirus vaccines, “with the pandemic having already triggered unprecedented opportunistic and predatory criminal behavior,” the statement said.

Read the story here.

—Miriam Berger, The Washington Post

UK, 4 nations fast-track review of modified COVID vaccines

Regulators in the U.K. and four other countries have announced new rules to fast-track the development of modified COVID-19 vaccines to ensure drugmakers can move swiftly to target emerging variants of the disease.

Previously authorized vaccines that are modified to combat new variants “will not need a brand new approval or ‘lengthy’ clinical studies,” Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said Thursday.

“The clear goal is that future vaccine modifications that respond to the new variants of coronavirus can be made available in the shortest possible time to U.K. recipients without compromising at any stage on safety, quality or effectiveness,” said Dr. June Raine, the head of the agency.

Read the story here.

—Danica Kirka, The Associated Press

Veterans of all ages can now get COVID-19 vaccine at VA clinics in Washington state

The VA Medical Center in Seattle will offer coronavirus vaccines to veterans of all ages. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

Attention veterans of the Puget Sound! All of you, no matter your age, health or living situation, can now get a COVID-19 shot at any of the Veterans Affairs Puget Sound facilities.

The health care system is offering the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to any veteran enrolled with the VA system. Shots will be available at the American Lake and Seattle medical centers, as well as the Silverdale and Mount Vernon clinics.

The vaccine is offered to veterans who already receive care from the VA. Veterans who aren’t enrolled can check their eligibility on the VA website. 

Appointments are necessary. Eligible veterans can call 206-716-5716 to sign up or may contact their primary care team. (Patience may be required as the line was experiencing a high volume of calls on Wednesday.)

The VA said on it’s website that it is continuing to prioritize veterans who are at higher risk for COVID-19 and, therefore, younger and healthier individuals may be scheduled further out.

“We continue to proactively contact Veterans to make vaccine appointments and prioritize Veterans at high risk, who are older, have existing health problems, those living in nursing homes or other group living facilities,” the VA said on its website.

Read more here.

—Christine Clarridge

EU regulator starts review of Sputnik V, which appears 91% effective

Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine arrives at Kosice Airport, Slovakia, on Monday March 1, 2021.  In a statement Thursday March 4, 2021, the European Medicines Agency regulator says it has started a rolling review of the Sputnik V vaccine that appears to be safe and effective, months after the vaccine was first approved for use in Russia and after dozens of countries around the world have authorized it. (Frantisek Ivan/TASR via AP)

The European Medicines Agency has started a rolling review of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, many months after it was first approved for use in Russia and after dozens of countries around the world have authorized it.

Despite skepticism about Russia’s hasty introduction of the vaccine, which was rolled out before it had completed late-stage trials, the vaccine appears to be safe and effective. According to a study published last month in the journal Lancet, Sputnik V is 91% effective and appears to prevent inoculated individuals from becoming severely ill with COVID-19, although it’s still unclear if the vaccine can prevent the spread of the disease.

With a global shortage of COVID-19 vaccines, some experts say boosting the use of vaccines made by China and Russia — which have not been as in demand as those made by Western companies — could offer a quicker way to increase the global supply. T

The EMA has so far approved three COVID-19 vaccines for use across the 27-nation European Union: shots made by Pfizer-BioNtech, Moderna and AstraZeneca. It could license a fourth shot made by Johnson & Johnson at an expert meeting next Thursday.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

US traffic deaths spike even as pandemic cuts miles traveled

An Oregon man crashed a Tesla while going about 100 mph in October in Corvallis, destroying the vehicle, a power pole and starting a fire when some of the hundreds of batteries from the vehicle broke windows and landed in residences. Pandemic lockdowns and stay-at-home orders kept many drivers off U.S. roads and highways in 2020. But those who did venture out found open lanes that only invited reckless driving, leading to a sharp increase in traffic-crash deaths across the country. (Corvallis Police Department via AP, file)

Pandemic lockdowns and stay-at-home orders kept many drivers off U.S. roads and highways last year. But those who did venture out found open lanes that only invited reckless driving, leading to a sharp increase in traffic-crash deaths across the country.

The nonprofit National Safety Council estimates in a report issued Thursday that 42,060 people died in vehicle crashes in 2020, an 8% increase over 2019 and the first jump in four years.

Plus, the fatality rate per 100 million miles driven spiked 24%, the largest annual percentage increase since the council began collecting data in 1923.

And even though traffic is now getting close to pre-coronavirus levels, the bad behavior on the roads is continuing, authorities say.

“It’s kind of terrifying what were seeing on our roads,” said Michael Hanson, director of the Minnesota Public Safety Department’s Office of Traffic Safety. “We’re seeing a huge increase in the amount of risk-taking behavior.”

Last year’s deaths were the most since 2007 when 43,945 people were killed in vehicle crashes.

Read the story here.

—Tom Krisher, The Associated Press

Questions about vaccines? Get answers at our free Zoom event

Have questions about the coronavirus vaccines?

Join Seattle Times journalists and Dr. Helen Chu, a University of Washington infectious disease expert, for a free online event March 15. The panelists will discuss the latest on vaccine distribution and take your questions.

In the meantime, here's some of what you need to know about getting a COVID-19 vaccine in Washington state.

—Seattle Times staff

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Teachers and child-care workers are in a mad dash for vaccines as local schools inch back open. How much will their new eligibility speed up reopenings? Finding a shot is still "tremendously difficult," and that's not the only sticking point. (Here's our guide to finding your vaccine.) Meanwhile, the timeline for vaccinating kids is getting a bit clearer.

More than 5,000 people have now died from COVID-19 in Washington. Each was more than a number — but the numbers are telling, when you see these graphics of the deaths broken down by age, sex, race and ethnicity, and location. Our Lives Remembered series tells the stories of some of those we've lost.

When can we stop wearing masks? Certainly not yet, President Joe Biden said as he slammed the "Neanderthal thinking" of two governors who suddenly zapped their states' rules. In Dr. Anthony Fauci's eyes, the right moment to drop masks may not come for another year.

“Big smiles shining through their thick masks”: Rant & Rave readers have been lavishing love on the workers who are giving out vaccines.

—Kris Higginson

Do you have questions about the coronavirus that causes COVID-19?

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