Live: Coronavirus daily news updates, February 5: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world

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Live: Coronavirus daily news updates, February 5: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world

Despite falling infections and multiple vaccines in the United States, virus deaths in the country surpassed 450,000 on Thursday, and daily deaths remain stubbornly high at more than 3,000 a day. But in Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee gave some good news: The state has now administered 770,000 vaccine doses for the coronavirus, and is ready to give many more shots once the federal government can deliver more supplies.

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.

Reopening debate testing Biden’s ties with teachers unions

The increasingly heated school reopening debate is forcing President Joe Biden to balance two priorities: getting children back into the classroom and preserving the support of powerful labor groups that helped him get elected.

Following weeks of standoff in some cities and states where teachers unions are demanding vaccines as a condition of reopening, the issue came to a head Wednesday when Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said vaccination of teachers “is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools.”

But in a juggling of positions, the White House declined to back Walensky, saying she was speaking “in her personal capacity.” Asked Friday about her earlier comments, Walensky punted. Read the story here.

—Collin Binkley, The Associated Press

2:47 pm

Coronavirus cases drop at U.S. homes for elderly and infirm

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Coronavirus cases have dropped at U.S. nursing homes and other long-term care facilities over the past few weeks, offering a glimmer of hope that health officials attribute to the start of vaccinations, an easing of the post-holiday surge and better prevention, among other reasons.

More than 153,000 residents of the country’s nursing homes and assisted living centers have died of COVID-19, accounting for 36% of the U.S. pandemic death toll, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Many of the roughly 2 million people who live at such facilities remain cut off from loved ones because of the risk of infection. The virus still kills thousands of them weekly.

The overall trend for long-term care residents is improving, though, with fewer new cases recorded and fewer facilities reporting outbreaks. Coupled with better figures for the country overall, it’s cause for optimism even if it’s too early to declare victory. Read the story here.

—Jay Reeves, The Associated Press

2:32 pm

COVID-19 variants add more variables to playing in pandemic

Playing college sports during the pandemic has potentially become more problematic as more contagious variants of the coronavirus start to show up across the U.S., including one that prompted the University of Michigan to shut down its athletics department for two weeks.

It was not clear this week how many athletic departments are testing for the mutations, either. The Wolverines put all their programs on pause Jan. 23 after the variant was linked to several people within the athletic department.

“Obviously, Michigan going on pause with the variant is of concern,” Wisconsin basketball coach Greg Gard said. “That’s obviously something that everybody’s watching really closely to see what the impact of that, along with the normal strain, has as we continue to walk forward.”

Cancellations, postponements and millions in lost revenue have hit sports worldwide over the past year and the blow fell particularly hard on U.S. colleges, where some seasons were canceled outright or pushed to winter or spring in hopes the pandemic would ease. More than 100 major college football games were disrupted last fall, but that number pales in comparison to the sheer volume of schedule shuffling for college basketball.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

1:35 pm

Bronx Boosters: Yankee Stadium becomes mass vaccination site

 Yankee Stadium was opened as a COVID-19 mass vaccination site Friday by officials trying to boost inoculation rates in surrounding Bronx neighborhoods hard hit by the pandemic.

People line up outside a Covid-19 vaccination hub inside Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York on Feb. 5. Photographer: Angus Mordant/Bloomberg (Bloomberg)

People line up outside a Covid-19 vaccination hub inside Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York on Feb. 5. Photographer: Angus Mordant/Bloomberg (Bloomberg)

The megasite is being restricted to residents of the New York City borough with the highest percentage of positive coronavirus test results. Mayor Bill de Blasio called it “a different kind of opening day” hours after a long line formed outside the stadium on a damp morning.

“This is about protecting people who need the most protection because the Bronx is one of the places that bore the brunt of this crisis of the coronavirus,” he said at a stadium-side news conference. “The Bronx has suffered.”

De Blasio, a Red Sox fan, donned a Yankees cap in gratitude to the team and declared himself a fan of Boston’s archrival “for one day only.”

The site established with help from the city and state has registered about 13,000 of the 15,000 appointments available in its first week, officials said. It will initially be open seven days a week, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

1:30 pm

Its borders shut, New Zealand prods local tourists to ‘Do Something New’

FILE — The town of Wanaka on New Zealand’s South Island, Sept. 3, 2013. The country, which has largely stamped out the coronavirus, unfurled a cheeky “Do Something New” video campaign designed to encourage domestic tourism that has gained a lot of attention on social media, and applause for its call to travel more imaginatively. (Andrew Quilty/The New York Times)

FILE — The town of Wanaka on New Zealand’s South Island, Sept. 3, 2013. The country, which has largely stamped out the coronavirus, unfurled a cheeky “Do Something New” video campaign designed to encourage domestic tourism that has gained a lot of attention on social media, and applause for its call to travel more imaginatively. (Andrew Quilty/The New York Times)

In the world envisioned by a recent Tourism New Zealand advertisement, a khaki-clad employee of the fictional Social Observation Squad rescues wayward travelers from the clichés of Kiwi tourism.

The lighthearted ad, intended for a domestic audience, went viral internationally last week for its tongue-in-cheek call to action: Stop posting unimaginative photos on social media, please — enough with the hot-tub shots and images of glossy beachside legs.

But behind the irreverent slogan, “Please don’t travel under the social influence,” is a serious intent. Though the country has seen its pandemic-hit economy come surging back, regions that depend on foreign tourism remain devastated.

About 3.8 million foreign tourists visited New Zealand between 2018 and 2019, with the majority coming from Australia. Despite everyone’s best efforts, the domestic market simply can’t make up the losses. International tourists spend about three times as much per person as their domestic peers.

The New Zealand tourism board is, therefore, asking New Zealanders to do something quite difficult. Its “Do Something New” campaign — the Social Observation Squad video is the latest installment — encourages locals to travel in their homeland as visitor.

Read the story here.

—The New York Times

12:40 pm

New Orleans to shut down bars during Mardi Gras weekend

New Orleans bars will be shut down, even for takeout service, throughout next week’s Mardi Gras weekend — usually among their busiest times of the year — in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Friday.

Many bars already were closed to indoor service. Cantrell’s Friday announcement means they won’t be able to sell drinks to go — a popular option year-round and especially during Mardi Gras. And, she said the city is expanding the closure order to include bars that have “conditional” food permits that allowed them to operate as restaurants during various pandemic shutdowns.

Stepped up crowd control begins this weekend, Cantrell said. The bar shutdown begins next Friday and runs through Mardi Gras — also known as Fat Tuesday — on Feb. 16.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

12:05 pm

China granted WHO team full access in Wuhan

A member of the World Health Organization expert team investigating the origins of the coronavirus in Wuhan says the Chinese side granted full access to all sites and personnel they requested — a level of openness that even he hadn’t expected.

A member of a World Health Organization team is seen wearing protective gear during a field visit to the Hubei Animal Disease Control and Prevention Center for another day of field visit in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. The WHO team is investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic has visited two disease control centers in the province. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

A member of a World Health Organization team is seen wearing protective gear during a field visit to the Hubei Animal Disease Control and Prevention Center for another day of field visit in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. The WHO team is investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic has visited two disease control centers in the province. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Peter Daszak told The Associated Press on Friday that team members had submitted a deeply considered list of places and people to include in their investigation and that no objections were raised.

“We were asked where we wanted to go. We gave our hosts a list … and you can see from where we’ve been, we’ve been to all the key places,” Daszak said.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

11:31 am

Trudeau tries to reassure Canadians vaccines are coming

 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tried Friday to reassure Canadians his plan to vaccinate them is working despite mounting criticism his government is not getting vaccines soon enough.

Trudeau said there is “a lot of anxiety and a lot of noise,” but said Canada is still on track to get 6 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by the end of March and 20 million in the spring.

“We are very much on track,” Trudeau said.

Canada, like most countries around the world, has been struggling to vaccinate people quickly.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have cut the number of doses Canada expected to get thus far, but Trudeau says he still expects to get 4 million doses from Pfizer and 2 million from Moderna by the end of March.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

10:45 am

Pentagon deploys troops to fuel COVID-19 vaccine drive

The Pentagon will deploy more than 1,100 troops to five vaccination centers in what will be the first wave of increased military support for the White House campaign to get more Americans vaccinated against COVID-19.

President Joe Biden has called for setting up 100 mass vaccination centers around the country within a month. Two of the five new military teams will go to vaccination centers opening in California. Coronavirus senior adviser Andy Slavitt said military personnel will arrive at those centers in a little over a week. Three additional centers are expected to be announced soon.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has asked the Pentagon to supply as many as 10,000 service members to staff 100 centers.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

10:02 am

Travelers who refuse to wear masks could face fines of more than $1,000, TSA says

The Transportation Security Administration is beefing up its enforcement of a federal mask mandate, announcing Friday that people who refuse to comply could face fines of more than $1,000.

The agency announced that it is recommending fines ranging from $250 for a first offense and up to $1,500 for repeat offenders. “Aggravating” or “mitigating” factors could result in higher penalties, the TSA said.

President Biden last month signed an executive order requiring that travelers wear face masks when in airports, at bus, ferry and rail stations, and when flying commercially or riding buses and trains. The order went into effect Feb. 2 and will stay in place until May 11.

While the TSA strongly encouraged people to wear masks when going through airport security checkpoints, under the previous administration, the agency had no authority to sanction those who refused. Biden’s executive order changes that, giving the TSA and other agencies more tools to enforce the requirement.

Read the story here.

—Lori Aratani and Michael Laris, The Washington Post

8:54 am

Virus outbreaks stoke tensions in some state capitols

After only their first few weeks of work, tensions already are high among lawmakers meeting in-person at some state capitols — not because of testy debates over taxes, guns or abortion, but because of a disregard for coronavirus precautions.

In Georgia, a Republican lawmaker recently was booted from the House floor for refusing to get tested for the coronavirus. In Missouri, numerous lawmakers and staff scrambled to get vaccinated at a pop-up clinic before legislative leaders warned that the shots weren’t actually meant for them.

House Democratic leader Crystal Quade, who got the shot, blamed the lax policies of the Republican-led Legislature for fostering angst.

“We are essentially a super-spreader just waiting to happen,” she said.

More than 350 state legislators have gotten COVID-19 since the pandemic began, including seven who died after contracting it. Republican lawmakers have had a disproportionate share of the cases, according to the AP’s data.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

8:05 am

‘Hug tent’ provides safe embraces at Colorado elderly home

Lynda Hartman, 75, embraces her 77-year-old husband, Len Hartman, who suffers from dementia in a “hug tent” set up outside the Juniper Village assisted living center in Louisville, Colo., Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. The tent includes a construction-grade plastic barrier with built-in plastic sleeves to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. He has been living at the center for about a year, and the couple had not had any physical contact for at least eight months. (AP Photo/Thomas Peipert)

Lynda Hartman, 75, embraces her 77-year-old husband, Len Hartman, who suffers from dementia in a “hug tent” set up outside the Juniper Village assisted living center in Louisville, Colo., Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. The tent includes a construction-grade plastic barrier with built-in plastic sleeves to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. He has been living at the center for about a year, and the couple had not had any physical contact for at least eight months. (AP Photo/Thomas Peipert)

LOUISVILLE, Colo. (AP) — Lynda Hartman needed a hug.

It had been at least eight months since she touched her 77-year-old husband, Len, who has dementia and has been at an assisted living center in suburban Denver for the last year.

On Wednesday, she got a small taste of what life was like before the coronavirus pandemic.

Sort of.

Thanks to a “hug tent” set up outside Juniper Village at Louisville, Hartman got to squeeze her husband — albeit while wearing plastic sleeves and separated by a 4-millimeter-thick clear plastic barrier.

“I really needed it. I really needed it,” the 75-year-old said after her brief visit. “It meant a lot to me, and it’s been a long, long time.”

Read the story here.

—Thomas Peipert, The Associated Press

7:45 am

Officer hugged, taunted coworker despite COVID fears

A central Florida police officer has been fired following a coworker’s complaint that he mocked her concerns about the coronavirus, hugged her against her wishes and misled investigators who probed the allegations against him, according to records.

An internal investigation by the Longwood Police Department found Cpl. David Hernandez lied about the July interaction and could have faced battery charges.

The co-worker “told you not to touch her and physically backed away from you and crossed her arms,” police Chief David Dowda wrote in his review. “… however you ignored her comments and moments later embraced her,” the chief wrote.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

7:26 am

Employers can require the coronavirus vaccine, but most major Seattle businesses are holding off for now

At Google and Amazon, it’s “strongly encouraged.” At Trader Joe’s, it will earn employees extra pay. At the downtown Seattle law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, it will be a condition of returning to the office. Aegis senior living facilities will require it once vaccines are widely available.  

Laurae McIntyre is a courtesy clerk at the Fremont PCC who got her vaccine from a recent UFCW 21 vaccine clinic. 
(Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

Laurae McIntyre is a courtesy clerk at the Fremont PCC who got her vaccine from a recent UFCW 21 vaccine clinic.
(Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

As the coronavirus vaccine gradually becomes more accessible, businesses big and small are weighing whether to require their employees to get the shot.

For office employees and front-line workers, a vaccine requirement could mean safety and peace of mind as the economy starts to return to pre-pandemic levels. But a mandate could also turn off some workers who are skeptical of the vaccine and introduce new headaches as long the vaccine is in short supply.

For a middle ground, some businesses are turning to incentives like extra pay to nudge employees to get vaccinated as soon as they’re able.

In the Seattle area, most big-name employers are so far holding off on a vaccine requirement.

Read the story here.

—Heidi Groover

7:25 am

Biden to head to Delaware as CDC recommends avoiding travel

President Joe Biden is scheduled to travel to Delaware over the weekend, his first out-of-town trip since taking office. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that Americans forgo travel as the coronavirus pandemic rages.

The White House, which announced Biden’s plans for travel Thursday evening, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about why the president planned to travel.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

6:34 am

Catch up on the past 24 hours

—Kris Higginson


Seattle Times staff & news services