Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, March 9, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.

U.S. residents can order a second round of four free COVID-19 tests per household through the program President Joe Biden unveiled in January.

Meanwhile, a World Health Organization expert group announced it is recommending urgent and broad access to booster shots, a shift from the U.N. agency’s insistence last year that COVID-19 boosters contributed to vaccine inequity and were not necessary for healthy people.

WHO said it is recommending the use of boosters for countries that have adequate COVID-19 vaccine supplies and have the resources to protect the most vulnerable to the virus.

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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Tacoma Public Schools to lift mask mandate on Monday

Beginning on Monday, students and staff at Tacoma Public Schools can decide whether or not to wear masks, said Superintendent Josh Garcia in an announcement.

Garcia encouraged parents and guardians to speak with students about mask expectations over the weekend and remind them to treat other students who may have differing perspectives with kindness and respect.

"This is a chance to move forward together while respecting others' point of view," he said.

Garcia said parents should also encourage their child to speak to a trusted adult if they are mistreated or bullied for their decision to wear a mask or not.

—Daisy Zavala
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Is it too risky for kids to go maskless at school and day care? What experts say

With mask mandates easing, some parents and schools will have much to think about in the coming weeks.

Here is what experts are saying about the risks and what parents need to consider.

Why masks still make sense for young children

Some parents have been eager for masks to become optional, and there are instances in which that can make sense.

It can be prudent to retain mask-wearing policies in situations where kids are too young to be vaccinated, Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, chief of infectious diseases at Stanford University School of Medicine’s pediatrics department, said in an interview.

Read the full story here.

—Rong-Gong Lin II and Luke Money, Los Angeles Times

Despite stress, many U.S. teachers stayed put during pandemic

Teachers have been working longer hours. They’re more stressed out. And many say they’ve considered quitting. Yet the vast majority of teachers have stayed in the profession throughout the pandemic, according to a Chalkbeat analysis of the latest data from a number of states and large school districts.

Teacher resignation rates actually dipped after COVID first hit schools. As this school year approached, the data shows, departures generally returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Together, the numbers indicate that a feared teacher exodus has not yet come to pass — although concerning signs about the health of the profession remain.

“I still worry,” said Gema Zamarro, a researcher at the University of Arkansas who has studied teacher turnover. “Teachers are stressed and burned out. Even if they don’t leave, that could be bad.”

Read the full story here.

—Matt Barnum, Chalkbeat

Ontario to remove mask mandates on March 21

Canada’s largest province is removing mask mandates on March 21 in most settings, including schools, officials announced Wednesday.

The province of Ontario said improving health indicators such as a stable COVID-19 test positivity rate and declining hospitalizations, as well as Ontario’s high vaccination rates and the availability of antiviral treatments, allow for these steps.

“It’s now a choice, not a mandate. I hope that anyone who remains vulnerable continues to wear masks,” Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said.

The announcement came as 1,974 new COVID-19 cases were reported Wednesday in the province, though Moore has said that limits on testing mean that the true number is likely 10 times that amount, or more than 19,000 cases.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press
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Former Israeli leader Netanyahu tests positive for coronavirus

Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister of Israel, tested positive for the coronavirus Wednesday, according to a statement from his conservative Likud party.

A party spokesperson, Yonatan Ulrich, said in the statement that Netanyahu, 72, “feels well” and that he was acting according to the country’s coronavirus guidelines. The former prime minister was in Parliament on Wednesday morning before being informed that he had tested positive in a routine PCR test, according to Ulrich.

Netanyahu has received four vaccination shots, according to Ulrich. In January, Israel began offering fourth shots to people ages 60 and older as the country braced for a surge of infections from the highly contagious omicron variant.

Read the story here.

—Isabel Kershner, The New York Times

State health officials confirm new coronavirus cases, deaths

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,042 new coronavirus cases on Monday and 1,595 on Tuesday. It also reported 57 more deaths over those days.

The update brings the state's totals to 1,434,783 cases and 12,133 deaths, meaning that 0.85% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. New state data is reported on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Wednesday's case, hospitalization and death data is incomplete due to a data systems interruption, DOH said. A full update will be provided on Friday.

In addition, 58,358 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 368,240 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,576 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in late 2020, the state and health care providers have administered 13,104,539 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 6,825 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.

—Daisy Zavala

WHO issues COVID testing advice, long after critics’ call

The World Health Organization says it has issued guidance advising people on how to test themselves for the coronavirus, months after critics said the lack of recommendations was compromising efforts to stop the pandemic in poor countries.

At a press briefing on Wednesday, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the agency was concerned that some countries are dramatically reducing their COVID-19 testing as the virus appears to recede in some parts of the world. According to WHO figures, COVID-19 cases and deaths have both fallen significantly in recent weeks.

Some activists have long decried the lack of WHO guidance for self-testing as a major obstacle for poor countries, noting that donors are unwilling to buy them in the absence of any WHO recommendations. While people in numerous rich countries have had easy access to rapid tests for months, the self-testing kits have rarely been available in poor countries, hampering attempts to slow the pandemic.

Numerous health officials have repeatedly pleaded with WHO to issue self-testing advice for that reason.

Tedros said the new recommendation for self-testing would hopefully address the inequity in testing.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Dems drop COVID-19 funds, clear way for OK of Ukraine aid

Democratic leaders abruptly abandoned plans for a fresh infusion of $15.6 billion for battling the COVID pandemic on Wednesday, clearing the way for House debate and passage of a vast government spending bill that is anchored by aid for Ukraine and European allies.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced that the COVID-19 spending would be removed from the package after rank-and-file lawmakers objected that it would be paid for, in part, by cutting previously approved pandemic assistance to their states.

“We must proceed” with the government-wide $1.5 trillion legislation because of the urgency of helping Ukraine and the bill’s spending for other programs, Pelosi wrote in a letter to colleagues.

“It is heartbreaking to remove the COVID funding, and we must continue to fight for urgently needed COVID assistance, but unfortunately that will not be included in this bill,” she said.

Read the story here.

—Alan Fram, The Associated Press

Seattle Public Schools to lift mask mandate

Seattle Public Schools students and staff won’t be required to wear masks at school beginning Monday, district officials announced in a statement Wednesday. Masks will also be optional on school buses.

The switch to optional masking comes after Gov. Jay Inslee announced mask mandates would be dropped at schools, child-care facilities and most other businesses, although Seattle interim superintendent Brent Jones says he “strongly encourages” students and staff keep masks on.

“While Public Health is no longer mandating masks, masking is an individual choice,” Jones said in a statement. “We won’t tolerate shaming or judging anyone in our schools for wearing a mask or not wearing a mask.”

The district has to be ready to return to masking or other COVID-19 mitigations if community transitions increase or an outbreak occurs in a classroom, school, or district building, Jones said.

Read the story here.

—Monica Velez

WHO Africa’s 1st woman leader helps continent fight COVID

Small in stature and big in presence, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti is the first woman to lead the the World Health Organization’s Africa, a capstone of her trailblazing career in which she has overcome discrimination in apartheid South Africa to become one of the world’s top health administrators.

As WHO Africa chief, Moeti initiates emergency responses to health crises in 47 of the continent’s 54 countries and recommends policies to strengthen their health care systems.

Since her appointment in 2015, Moeti has grappled with the world’s deadliest Ebola outbreak, in West Africa.

From 2020, the start of her second term, Moeti has faced her toughest professional and personal challenge: helping Africa respond to the coronavirus pandemic as the continent trails the rest of the world in testing and vaccination efforts. She has become one of the world’s most compelling voices urging better consideration of Africa’s people — especially women, who’ve in many ways been hit hardest by COVID.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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WA advisory group recommends against adding COVID vaccine to school-required immunizations

A state advisory group has decided against recommending a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for students in K-12 schools, leaving one more step before a final decision is made on the matter next month.

The question of whether Washington students should be required to get a COVID vaccine has divided many school communities over the past year, with some citing a desire to make schools safer and others concerned about a lack of reliable vaccine data for younger kids.

The state Board of Health began the process of tackling the issue last fall, creating a separate technical advisory group tasked with researching whether a COVID vaccine would meet all the scientific criteria needed to be added to the list of required K-12 immunizations. The volunteer group was made up of doctors, public health officers, state and local education leaders, and community organizers.

The group has met several times since then and late last month finally came to a vote.

Members were split, with six in favor of a COVID vaccine requirement in schools, seven against and four unsure — meaning the group will recommend against adding the COVID vaccine to the state’s administrative code when it presents its findings to the board next month.

Read the story here.

—Elise Takahama and Jim Brunner

German govt produces new legal framework for pandemic rules

The German government introduced a legal framework for pandemic regulations and rules Wednesday. Most of the country’s current coronavirus restrictions are set to end by March 20.

The country’s health and justice ministers said if German lawmakers pass the framework, the country’s 16 state legislatures could adopt the new “hot spot” measures if virus cases rise again in certain regions, if hospitals are at risk of becoming overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients, or if new virus variants start spreading.

The regulations cover matters such as mask requirements, social distancing, and requiring proof of vaccination, recovery of the illness or negative tests to be able to participate in certain parts of public life.

The framework also allows state governments to impose basic protective measures without a special parliamentary resolution, such as making masks mandatory in nursing homes, hospitals or on public transportation.

Nationwide, masks would remain mandatory on long-distance trains and flights.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the country’s state governors last month endorsed a three-step plan to end many remaining virus restrictions by March 20.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Austria suspends vaccine mandate before enforcement starts

Austria’s government said Wednesday it is suspending the country’s coronavirus vaccination mandate for most adults, arguing that there’s no need to implement it at present only a week before its enforcement was due to begin.

The mandate for people age 18 and over became law in early February, 2½ months after the plan was first announced amid a surge of cases that sent the country into a since-lifted lockdown. By the time the legislation was in place, though, much of the sense of urgency had disappeared.

The plan was for police to start checking people’s vaccination status in mid-March, for example during traffic stops. People who can’t produce proof of vaccination would be asked in writing to do so and would be fined up to 600 euros (around $650) if they don’t. Fines could reach 3,600 euros if people contest their punishment.

The government, however, said Wednesday that it was suspending the mandate at least for now following a report from a commission of health and legal experts.

Read the story here.

—Geir Moulson, The Associated Press
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COVID-19 cases, deaths continue to drop globally, WHO says

The number of new coronavirus cases and deaths globally have continued to fall in the past week, the World Health Organization said Wednesday, with only the Western Pacific reporting an increase in COVID-19.

In its latest report on the pandemic issued on Wednesday, the U.N. health agency said new COVID-19 infections dropped by 5% in the last week, continuing a declining trend that started more than a month ago. Deaths were also down by 8% and have been falling globally for the last two weeks.

Only the Western Pacific saw a rise in coronavirus cases, reporting a 46% increase. In the last week, Hong Kong has been recording about 150 deaths per day, giving it the world’s highest death rate per 1 million people, according to data from Oxford University.

The highly infectious omicron variant has recently overwhelmed the semi-autonomous Chinese city, prompting mass quarantines, supermarket panic buying and even the city’s morgues are overflowing, forcing authorities to store bodies in refrigerated shipping containers.

Elsewhere, COVID-19 is falling significantly; the biggest declines were seen in the Middle East and Africa, where cases dropped by 46% and 40%, respectively.

“The mildness of the omicron wave, its low death toll and the fact that it is rapidly disappearing, has created the widespread impression that COVID-19 is over,” said Salim Abdool Karim of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. He said it’s still unclear when the pandemic might end, but said the low death toll during the omicron surge was striking.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Hong Kong puts mass testing on hold as COVID-19 deaths rise

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Wednesday that reducing the skyrocketing number of deaths in the latest coronavirus surge is the city’s priority, putting a plan to test the entire population on hold in the latest flip-flop in the government’s pandemic response.

Lam said there is no time frame for citywide testing, two weeks after she announced it would happen this month. Her earlier announcement, coupled with rumors of an accompanying lockdown of the city, left store shelves bare as residents stockpiled daily necessities.

The city of 7.4 million people is in the grip of a spiraling omicron outbreak that has swamped hospitals and morgues and reduced hours or shut restaurants and other shops in the normally bustling financial hub.

More than 500,000 infections and over 2,600 deaths have been recorded since the fifth wave began at the end of December, with many of the victims among the unvaccinated elderly.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Washington K-12 students shouldn't be required to get vaccines, a state advisory group says. Members are split; here's their reasoning. While we wait for a final answer on that, is it too risky for kids to unmask at school and day care when mandates lift? Experts are sharing their perspectives.

Hawaii is becoming the last to lift its mask mandate.

If you know of a Seattle-area restaurant or bar that's planning to keep COVID rules in place, we'd like to hear from you as we compile a list.

—Kris Higginson