The U.S. will soon run out of money to make sure Americans without health insurance have access to coronavirus treatments at no cost and to cover COVID-19 testing kits unless Congress approves more funding, White House officials warned.

Meanwhile, the nation’s surgeon general formally requested that the major tech platforms submit information about the scope of COVID-19 misinformation on social networks, instant messaging, search engines, crowdsourced and e-commerce platforms.

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 the rest of our coronavirus coverage and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington.

Why American mask makers are going out of business

Mike Bowen has spent much of the pandemic saying, “I told you so” — and you can hardly blame him. In 2005, just as low-cost Chinese manufacturers were taking over the personal protective equipment industry, Bowen joined a friend who had started a small surgical-mask company called Prestige Ameritech.

The plan was to market his company’s masks to American hospitals and distributors as a way to provide resilience — a means of ensuring domestic supply if the supply chain ever broke down.

“Every company had left America,” he recalled recently. “The entire U.S. mask supply was under foreign control.” He remembers warning customers, “If there’s a pandemic, we’re going to be in trouble.”

At first, Bowen’s sales pitch wasn’t very successful. But in 2009, the swine flu virus caused a mask shortage in the United States. Suddenly, Prestige Ameritech had a lot of customers. “We went from 80 employees to 250,” Bowen said. “The phones were ringing off the hook. We thought, ‘People finally get it. We’re going to fix this problem.’”

He was wrong. As soon as the swine flu pandemic ended, the company’s new customers went right back to buying inexpensive masks from China; Chinese manufacturers soon controlled 90% of the U.S. market. “The cost savings was like crack cocaine for American hospitals,” Bowen said.

Read the full story here.

—Joe Nocera, The New York Times
Advertising

Truckers protesting COVID mandates are amassing outside Washington, DC

At least one group of truckers called the People’s Convoy that left California more than a week ago made it to the East Coast and was stationed Saturday in Hagerstown, Maryland, about 70 miles northwest of the capital — opening up the possibility that the drivers and their supporters could move into Washington to hold protests against pandemic restrictions in the next few days.

It was not clear what the convoy’s exact travel plans were. A Facebook post Saturday afternoon noted that a rally would be taking place Saturday evening at the Hagerstown Speedway where the trucks were amassing, and several people commented that the group would be leaving Sunday for the Capital Beltway, a highway that surrounds Washington.

There were reports Saturday of at least 1,000 trucks, recreational vehicles and cars gathered at the racetrack. One man who described himself as the lead trucker in the group told the crowd Friday night that he would be driving his truck into the heart of the capital.

“D.C., the government, whomever, can claim that they have all this opposition for us waiting in D.C.,” the man said, according to Reuters. “But that flag on the back of my truck will go down to Constitution Avenue between the White House and the Washington Monument.”

Read the full story here.

—Esha Ray, The New York Times

High demand for drug to prevent COVID-19 in the vulnerable, yet doses go unused

Sasha Mallett, Sue Taylor and Kimberly Cooley all have immune deficiencies that make them especially vulnerable to COVID-19, and all have tried to get the same thing: a new treatment that can prevent the disease in people who either cannot produce antibodies after receiving a coronavirus vaccine or cannot get vaccinated at all.

Cooley, a liver transplant recipient in Duck Hill, Mississippi, got the antibody drug, called Evusheld, from her transplant team at the University of Mississippi Medical Center with no trouble. But Taylor, of Cincinnati, was denied the treatment by two hospitals near her home. And Mallett, a physician in Portland, Oregon, had to drive five hours to a hospital willing to give her a dose.

As much of the nation unmasks amid plummeting caseloads and fresh hope that the pandemic is fading, the Biden administration has insisted it will continue protecting the more than 7 million Americans with weakened immune systems who remain vulnerable to COVID-19. Evusheld, which was developed by AstraZeneca with financial support from the federal government, is essential to its strategy.

But there is so much confusion about the drug among health care providers that roughly 80% of the available doses are sitting unused in warehouses and on pharmacy and hospital shelves — even as patients like Taylor, 67, and Mallett, 38, go to great lengths, often without success, to get them.

Read the full story here.

—Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Amanda Morris, The New York Times

Demonstrators rally against WA’s COVID mandates at Capitol

OLYMPIA — Opponents of Gov. Jay Inslee’s public-health restrictions to curb COVID-19 descended upon the Washington Capitol campus Saturday with flags, signs and vehicle convoys.

Saturday’s demonstration was titled “Government Resistance Impedes Tyranny” and comes as some of Inslee’s mandates are gradually being lifted.

Estimates earlier in the week projected that up to 2,500 people could show up at Saturday’s demonstration, which received a permit from state officials.

But at its peak, a Washington State Patrol spokesperson estimated the crowd at about 700 people.

A related and unpermitted event Saturday was expected to bring multiple vehicle convoys to protest Inslee’s mandates. But those were made up of “small groups of vehicles,” according to State Patrol Sgt. Darren Wright, and “no significant traffic issues” popped up.

Still, an energetic crowd Saturday held signs that read “Mandates are illegal” and “You are fired Jay Inslee.”

Read the full story here.

—Joseph O'Sullivan
Advertising

How 6 women’s lives have changed in the pandemic

It was the start of a typical girls’ night out for Flor Zamorano.

Wearing light-wash jeans and a yellow crop top, she snapped a selfie as she beamed in the streaky mirror of a Safeway bathroom. Zamorano and her friends had stopped at the grocery store in Burlington, Skagit County, to pick up wine. To feel a little buzzed, she said, they each chugged a can before they entered a club later that night.

That was back in February 2020, Zamorano said, before the coronavirus was more than a faint blip on her radar. It was shortly after her state reported the first confirmed case of the virus in the country, but before the ensuing outbreak was declared a pandemic.

“A lot has changed” since then, said Zamorano, now 24. As stay-at-home orders began taking effect, her final semester at Western Washington University moved completely online, followed by a commencement held virtually in June 2020. Not long after that, Zamorano said, she found out she and her husband were expecting.

“When I graduated at Western, I just decided to get off birth control and whatever happens happens,” she said. “But it did catch me off guard, because I got pregnant like two weeks after that.”

Read the full story here.

—Janay Kingsberry, The Washington Post

LA County wakes up to ‘low’ COVID-19 era, but many aren’t taking masks off just yet

Welcome to “post-surge” L.A. County, where overnight many mask requirements went from required to optional under the county’s revised health order.

But if you were expecting a world in which masks would instantly come off … well, not exactly.

The county’s residents and businesses no doubt woke up to a new era — now firmly in a community of “low” transmission under the federal government’s benchmarks. But the revised health order came with a loud caveat: Masks remain “strongly recommended.”

Read the full story here.

—Ryan Carter, Los Angeles Daily News

Boise mayor announces end of city’s COVID mask mandate after new CDC guidance

Visitors of Boise city buildings and events will no longer be required to wear a face mask starting Monday.

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean announced Friday she will lift the requirement after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a new map showing counties in the Treasure Valley have moved down from “high” community risk of COVID-19 spread to the “medium” risk category.

“COVID-19 numbers are down and staying down, which means I can make this change,” McLean said in a news release. “We didn’t get here by accident."

Read the full story here.

—Paul Schwedelson, The Idaho Statesman
Advertising

Oregon: The unvaxxed get COVID 3 times more than the boosted

A new report shows the rate of COVID-19 in unvaccinated people is twice the rate as in vaccinated people, and three times higher than in people who are fully vaccinated and boosted, according to Oregon Health Authority.

That’s the news from a Thursday report that showed of 5,589 cases during the week of Feb. 20 to Feb. 26, 2,950 (52.8%) were in unvaccinated people and 2,632 (47.1%) were vaccine breakthrough cases. Among the breakthrough cases, 1,119, or 42.5%, were fully vaccinated and boosted.

OHA said the median age of breakthrough cases during the period was 54. Twenty-two breakthrough cases involved residents of care facilities, senior living communities or other congregate care settings. There were 110 cases in people ages 12 to 17.

Read the full story here.

—Cody Mann, Albany Democrat-Herald, Ore.

Boston’s indoor mask mandate for businesses is lifted

A city order that required people to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces in Boston, including restaurants, shops, museums and entertainment venues, was lifted Saturday.

Boston follows New York, Los Angeles and other major U.S. cities that are relaxing pandemic restrictions as officials push for more normalcy after two grueling years of the pandemic.

City public health Commissioner Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, in conjunction with the city health board, made the decision earlier this week citing a steep decline in new coronavirus infections and hospitalizations as well as high vaccination rates.

“All of our key metrics are moving in the right direction,” Ojikutu said

Read the full story here.

—Michael Casey, The Associated Press

COVID outbreak eases at WA prison

The number of active COVID-19 cases has dropped to 20 among incarcerated individuals at Larch Corrections Center, according to a Friday bulletin from the Washington Department of Corrections.

The DOC reported three active cases among staff at the minimum-security prison near Yacolt, which was placed on facilitywide outbreak status Feb. 7 after four inmates in the living unit tested positive.

Read the full story here.

—Jessica Prokop, The Columbian
Advertising

WA nurse-to-patient ratio bill likely dead in state Legislature

After a monthslong debate between hospitals and nursing unions, a bill that would have required hospitals to implement nurse-to-patient ratios died this week in the Legislature.

“I’m definitely disappointed that we’re not stepping up for our frontline workers and our nurses,” Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane said.

The original bill would have required hospital staffing plans to follow nurse-to-patient ratios, such as eight patients for every one nurse in emergency departments. Hospitals that failed to follow the ratios would have received daily fines by the state Labor and Industries department.

Read the full story here.

—Laurel Demkovich, The Spokesman-Review

Learning to live with COVID-19

When can we breathe a collective sigh of relief?

There is no precise epidemiological definition for living normally with COVID-19 — it’s not measurable by case counts or number of deaths. Living with COVID-19 means that we as a society cope with the virus using countermeasures to allow a return to “normative” behavior. Does Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement to lift the statewide mask mandate requirement on March 12 answer this question? Does normalcy mean attending a sports event without a mask? Or is it feeling that if I do get COVID-19, it’s no big deal?

Normalcy is each of us knowing that the effectiveness of available tools no longer pales in comparison to the risk of infection and its consequences.

Read the full story here.

—Larry Corey, Special to The Times

New offices for the hybrid era? Many companies are on board

If you build a shiny new office building, will your employees show up to work in it?

Many U.S. companies are banking on it because they believe working in person is better for collaboration and training young employees. So even though most employees are still working from home offices and dining room tables today, some companies are willing to spend big on showplace headquarters.

Businesses recognize there is a place for offices despite the fact that they plan to give workers more flexibility to work from home and might see cost savings from limiting their real estate holdings.

Read the full story here.

—Josh Funk, The Associated Press
Advertising

Do masks for young children impede their language development?

Research has shown babies who pay attention to people’s mouths as they talk have better language skills when they’re older. Plus, we know babies learn by modeling their caregivers’ behaviors, such as smiling, laughing and talking.

Because mask-wearing is a relatively new part of our daily lives, there isn’t much research on this topic yet. But the few studies that do exist suggest masks do not inhibit child language development.

“Babies and young children are far more adaptable to their changing conditions in the world than we are as adults,” David Lewkowicz, a senior scientist at Haskins Laboratories, said.

Read the full story here.

—Jamie Friedlander Serrano, The Washington Post

The pandemic proved ‘shock therapy’ is an essential treatment. Will Washington improve its availability?

Scientific studies suggest electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a lifesaving procedure for those who need it. But the treatment’s long history of stigma has created significant barriers to getting care. And Washington psychiatrists and ECT patients say the pandemic only further limited access.

During the pandemic, the number of ECT procedures that could be performed were cut in half, in part due to exposure risks and a lack of staffing. This had severe and detrimental implications for many patients, doctors said.

“The decisions I’m making are like I’m in a war where you decide between two people who are actively dying,” Dr. Anna Borisovskaya said. “Who do you save?” 

Read the full story here.

—Hannah Furfaro, Seattle Times Mental Health Project reporter