Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Monday, March 7, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

With Washington indoor masks mandates are scheduled to end on March 12, state infectious-disease experts share their thoughts about this “natural experiment.”

The official global death toll from COVID-19 eclipsed 6 million on Monday — underscoring that the pandemic, now entering its third year, is far from over.

Meanwhile, U.S. mask makers are going out of business. The small U.S. mask manufacturers are in dire straits — if they haven’t gone out of business already. 

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.

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Leading organizer of Canada COVID-19 protests gets bail

A judge on Monday granted bail to one of the leading organizers of the three-week convoy protest against coronavirus measures in Ottawa.

Tamara Lich was initially denied bail Feb. 22 after Ontario Court Justice Julie Bourgeois deemed her detention was necessary to protect the public.

Lich’s lawyer launched a bail review, arguing that decision may have been tainted by the fact that Bourgeois ran as a candidate for the govenring Liberal party in the 2011 election and said that her own community had been affected by the protest.

On Monday, Superior Court Justice John M. Johnston found no merit to those arguments.

But he said he did find several other errors of law in Bourgeois’ decision and added that the risk of releasing Lich could be addressed by new measures proposed by the defense. Lich must abide by several conditions, including having no contact with fellow convoy organizers and obeying an order to leave Ottawa within 24 hours.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press
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Moderna signs with Kenya for first mRNA facility in Africa

Moderna signed a memorandum of understanding with Kenya’s government on Monday for the drugmaker’s first mRNA vaccine manufacturing facility in Africa, the company said.

The goal is to produce up to 500 million doses of vaccines a year for the African continent, Moderna said in a statement. The focus is on drug substance manufacturing, it said, though the facility could be expanded to include fill-and-finish work.

“In parallel, Moderna is also working on plans to allow it to fill doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in Africa as early as 2023, subject to demand,” the company said.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the huge need for vaccine manufacturing on the African continent, which remains the least-vaccinated region in the world against the coronavirus. The continent relies on imports for about 99% of its vaccine needs, the World Health Organization has said.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

How far-right militia groups found a foothold in deep-blue California

The far right is rising in the ranchland of Northern California, using special elections and veiled intimidation to spread political influence across a historically conservative region of this deeply liberal state.

The movement is rooted here in Shasta County and includes the support of a roughly decade-old militia. The gains it has achieved have come at the expense of moderate Republicans, who for generations fit the small-government, light-regulation ethic that guided political life here.

No longer.

The combination of California’s pandemic-prompted mask regulations and President Donald Trump’s reelection loss have fused together a conservative group of angry mothers, militia leaders and disaffected Republicans adrift in a blue state. Trumpists are voting out Trumpists. Veteran Republican politicians are seeing their terms cut short.

Read the full story here.

—Scott Wilson, The Washington Post

This treatment can protect vulnerable people from COVID. They might not know about it

Leanne Cook was glum but unsurprised when the tests confirmed what she and her doctors had expected: Even after three shots of a vaccine, she had no antibodies to protect her against COVID-19.

Her immune system had been hampered by the drugs she takes for her condition, a rare disease affecting her kidneys. As other vaccinated people began to let down their guard last year, Cook continued to minimize trips outside her home in Mission Viejo.

Then Cook heard about something that could plug those missing antibodies into her system — a preventive pair of injections called Evusheld. But health officials cautioned that there was only so much to go around.

Cook said that one medical provider told her, “‘We didn’t get any of this,'” she recalled. “And I’m like, ‘No, no, you guys got doses — I can see it on this website.’ “

Read the full story here.

— Emily Alpert Reyes, Los Angeles Times
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State health officials confirm new coronavirus cases, deaths

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,423 new coronavirus cases on Friday, 698 on Saturday and 131 cases on Sunday. It also reported 51 more deaths over those days.

The update brings the state's totals to 1,432,321 cases and 12,076 deaths, meaning that 0.8% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Sunday. New state data is reported on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Monday's case counts are low due to a data processing interruption that occurred on Sunday and will have a full update on Wednesday, according to the health agency. DOH is still working to clear backlogged cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

In addition, 58,269 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 147 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 367,762 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,561 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in late 2020, the state and health care providers have administered 13,096,096 doses and 67% 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 7,349 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.

Puerto Rico to lift mask mandate as COVID-19 cases ease

Puerto Rico’s governor announced Monday that he is ending a requirement for mask use indoors for the second time since the pandemic began as the number of cases and hospitalizations ease.

The change will take effect Thursday with a few exceptions. Face masks will still be required in health facilities and nursing homes.

In addition, starting March 10, domestic travelers will no longer have to present proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test or fill out a currently required form.

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi also will lift all capacity restrictions at public and private businesses and said proof of vaccination to enter will no longer be required. He added that vaccination requirements for people including public school students, restaurant employees and health workers will be lifted.

Read the full story here.

— Danica Coto, The Associated Press

Mask mandates go away in schools, but parent worries persist

Major school districts around the country are allowing students into classrooms without masks for the first time in nearly two years, eliminating rules that stirred up intense fights among educators, school boards and parents throughout the pandemic.

New York City became the latest school district to do away with its mask requirement Monday and Philadelphia is poised to lift its mandate Wednesday, joining big cities such as Houston and Dallas and a number of a states that made similar moves in the last week. Chicago schools will end their mask mandate next Monday.

Parents, teachers and principals face a complicated balancing act in navigating the new rules. Some families are thrilled that their children no longer have to wear masks, while others say they’re still tentative and urging their kids to keep wearing face coverings for now. Teachers and principals are caught in the middle.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Florida to recommend against COVID vaccines for healthy kids

Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo said Monday that the state will formally recommend against COVID-19 vaccinations for healthy children.

Ladapo made the announcement at a roundtable event organized by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis that featured a group of doctors who criticized coronavirus lockdowns and mandate policies. It was not immediately clear when the state would release its health guidance.

“The Florida Department of Health is going to be the first state to officially recommend against the COVID-19 vaccines for healthy children,” Ladapo said at the end of the roundtable discussion.

“We’re kind of scraping at the bottom of the barrel, particularly with healthy kids, in terms of actually being able to quantify with any accuracy and any confidence the even potential of benefit,” he added.

The move was Florida’s latest break from White House coronavirus policy, as U.S. health officials and approved of and encourage the use of a COVID-19 vaccine in children as young as 5. Vaccines have not been authorized for children under 5.

Read the story here.

—Anthony Izaguirre, The Associated Press

COVID may cause changes in the brain, new study finds

COVID-19 may cause greater loss of gray matter and tissue damage in the brain than naturally occurs in people who have not been infected with the virus, a large new study finds.

The study, published Monday in the journal Nature, is believed to be the first involving people who underwent brain scans both before they contracted COVID and months after. Neurological experts who were not involved in the research said it was valuable and unique, but they cautioned that the implications of the changes were unclear and did not necessarily suggest that people might have lasting damage or that the changes might profoundly affect thinking, memory or other functions.

The study, involving people 51 to 81 years old, found shrinkage and tissue damage primarily in brain areas related to sense of smell; some of those areas are also involved in other brain functions, the researchers said.

“To me, this is pretty convincing evidence that something changes in brains of this overall group of people with COVID,” said Dr. Serena Spudich, chief of neurological infections and global neurology at the Yale School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study.

Read the story here.

—Pam Belluck, The New York Times

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. But as soon as the swine flu pandemic ended, the company’s new customers went right back to buying inexpensive masks from China.

Just weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the supply chain for protective equipment had broken down, creating severe shortages that cost lives. A handful of U.S. entrepreneurs decided they would do their part by manufacturing masks.

Virtually all experienced the same boom-and-bust phenomenon that Bowen experienced in 2009. At first, customers who could no longer obtain masks through their normal supply channels were beating down their doors. The same was true during the delta and omicron waves, when masks were also scarce.

But as soon as the waves crested, and Chinese companies, determined to regain their market share, began exporting masks below cost, the customers disappeared.

Today, these small U.S. mask manufacturers are in dire straits — if they haven’t gone out of business already. 

Read the story here.

—Joe Nocera, The New York Times
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Spring break travel is back, and so are high prices: ‘like bears coming out of hibernation’

As COVID-19 cases drop, mask protocols ease and more Americans venture out to beaches, theme parks and other tourist destinations, travel is bouncing back to levels not seen since the pandemic took hold, industry experts say.

The bad news: Airfares and gasoline prices are also reaching highs not seen in years.

Eric Oh, a freelance writer from Thousand Oaks, is already feeling the pinch. He’s paying about $600 for a round-trip flight to Orlando, Florida, to visit Universal Orlando, SeaWorld and other theme parks — about $200 more than he paid a few months ago for a similar flight.

“It both surprised me and made me a little upset,” Oh said of the increase.

Jay Johnson, president of Coastline Travel Group in Garden Grove, called prices “shocking.”

“I’m seeing hotel rates at over $1,000 a night for rooms that were less than $300 in 2019, and people are paying it,” he said.

Read the story here.

—Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times

Death toll nears 6 million as pandemic enters its 3rd year

The official global death toll from COVID-19 is on the verge of eclipsing 6 million — underscoring that the pandemic, now entering its third year, is far from over.

The milestone is the latest tragic reminder of the unrelenting nature of the pandemic even as people are shedding masks, travel is resuming and businesses are reopening around the globe. The death toll, compiled by Johns Hopkins University, stood at 5,999,158 as of Monday midday.

Remote Pacific islands, whose isolation had protected them for more than two years, are just now grappling with their first outbreaks and deaths, fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant.

Hong Kong, which is seeing deaths soar, is testing its entire population of 7.5 million three times this month as it clings to mainland China’s “zero-COVID” strategy.

As death rates remain high in Poland, Hungary, Romania and other Eastern European countries, the region has seen more than 1 million refugees arrive from war-torn Ukraine, a country with poor vaccination coverage and high rates of cases and deaths.

And despite its wealth and vaccine availability, the United States is nearing 1 million reported deaths on its own.

Read the story here.

—David Rising, The Associated Press

Belgium scraps almost all COVID-19 measures as crisis eases

Belgium began easing most COVID-19 restrictions Monday in the biggest move to relax measures since the onset of the crisis some two years ago.

Gone are the coronavirus passport that allows entry into bars, restaurants, theater and cinemas as well as capacity limits.

Facemasks, long the symbol of the pandemic, will no longer be mandatory except on public transport and in the healthcare sector.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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China seeing new surge in cases despite ‘zero tolerance’

China is seeing a new surge in COVID-19 cases across the vast country, despite its draconian “zero tolerance” approach to dealing with outbreaks.

The mainland on Monday reported 214 new cases of infection over the previous 24 hours, with the most, 69, in the southern province of Guangdong bordering on Hong Kong, which has been recording tens of thousands of cases per day.

Another 54 cases were reported in the Jilin province, more than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) to the north, and 46 in the eastern province Shandong.

In his annual report to the national legislature Saturday, Premier Li Keqiang said China needs to “constantly refine epidemic containment” but gave no indication Beijing might ease the highly touted “zero tolerance” strategy.

Li called for accelerating vaccine development and “strengthening epidemic controls” in cities where travelers and goods arrive from abroad.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

The COVID-19 death toll surpassed 6 million people today as we enter the pandemic's third year. Those are officially reported deaths; the true toll may be nearly four times higher. And some places are just now experiencing their first outbreaks. Here are some of the lives we've lost in Washington state.

Don't chuck your mask — many places will still require them. Washington state and Puget Sound-area counties are dropping mask and vaccine rules this month, but many local arts organizations aren't. Here's what you need to know about the requirements to get into movie theaters, museums, bookstores and music events this spring.

A preventive treatment can protect vulnerable people from COVID-19, but many of those people — and even their doctors — don't know it exists.

Meet Mask Nerd, a COVID superhero who uses science and silliness to rescue you from bad masks. Aaron Collins has catapulted to fame from his laughably humble lab with witty videos on the results of his more than 500 experiments.

—Kris Higginson