Live: Coronavirus daily news updates, January 28: 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, January 28: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world

As infection and hospitalization numbers gradually improve in parts of the country, states are loosening their coronavirus restrictions on many restaurants and businesses. But, despite rising vaccine distribution, concerns remain — federal health experts on Wednesday projected that as many as 90,000 more in the United States will die from the virus in the next four weeks.

The discovery of highly contagious virus variants also has public health experts worried, and they’re now urging Americans to upgrade our simple cloth masks and start either wearing two masks or donning a fabric mask over a surgical one.

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 give an update on the 2021 legislative session and the state’s response to the ongoing pandemic, including Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery.
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NY nursing home virus deaths were undercounted, AG says

FILE – In this Aug. 6, 2020, file photo, New York State Attorney General Letitia James adjusts her glasses as she announces that the state is suing the National Rifle Association during a press conference, in New York. New York may have undercounted COVID-19 deaths of nursing home residents by as much as 50%, the state’s attorney general said in a report released Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021.  James has, for months, been examining discrepancies between the number of deaths being reported by the state’s Department of Health, and the number of deaths reported by the homes themselves. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

FILE – In this Aug. 6, 2020, file photo, New York State Attorney General Letitia James adjusts her glasses as she announces that the state is suing the National Rifle Association during a press conference, in New York. New York may have undercounted COVID-19 deaths of nursing home residents by as much as 50%, the state’s attorney general said in a report released Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. James has, for months, been examining discrepancies between the number of deaths being reported by the state’s Department of Health, and the number of deaths reported by the homes themselves. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

New York may have undercounted COVID-19 deaths of nursing home residents by as much as 50%, the state’s attorney general said in a report released Thursday.

Attorney General Letitia James has, for months, been examining discrepancies between the number of deaths being reported by the state’s Department of Health, and the number of deaths reported by the homes themselves.

Her investigators looked at a sample of 62 of the state’s roughly 600 nursing homes. They reported 1,914 deaths of residents from COVID-19, while the state Department of Health logged only 1,229 deaths at those same facilities.

If that same pattern exists statewide, James’ report said, it would mean the state is underreporting deaths by nearly 56%.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

9:36 am

Biden to reopen federal ACA insurance marketplace for three months

President Joe Biden plans to sign an executive order Thursday to reopen the Affordable Care Act’s federal insurance marketplaces for three months to give Americans who need coverage during the coronavirus pandemic an extended chance to buy health plans.

A Biden White House official said Thursday morning that consumers will be allowed to sign up from Feb. 15 to May 15 through HealthCare.gov, the online federal insurance exchange for people who cannot get affordable health benefits through a job.

The actions represent the first steps the new administration is taking to fulfill a major part of the president’s campaign agenda to make health insurance and health care more accessible and affordable — goals that have taken on more urgency as 25 million have been infected with the coronavirus and millions of others have lost jobs.

Read the story here.

—Amy Goldstein, The Washington Post

9:35 am

Africa secures another 400 million COVID-19 vaccine doses

Another 400 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca-19 vaccine have been secured for the African continent through the Serum Institute of India, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

With the new doses, on top of the 270 million doses announced earlier this month from Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, “I think we’re beginning to make very good progress,” Africa CDC director John Nkengasong said.

Parts of the African continent are seeing a strong resurgence in coronavirus infections, which Nkengasong called “very aggressive.” He warned that the wave has not yet peaked.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

8:51 am

Virus variant from South Africa detected in US for 1st time

 A new coronavirus variant identified in South Africa has been found in the United States for the first time, with two cases diagnosed in South Carolina, state health officials said Thursday.

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. Viruses are constantly mutating, with coronavirus variants circulating around the globe. (NIAID-RML via AP)

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. Viruses are constantly mutating, with coronavirus variants circulating around the globe. (NIAID-RML via AP)

The two cases don’t appear to be connected, nor do the people have a history of recent travel, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said.

“That’s frightening,” because it means there could be more undetected cases within the state, said Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious diseases physician at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. “It’s probably more widespread.”

The arrival of this variant now surging in other countries shows that “the fight against this deadly virus is far from over,” Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC Interim Public Health Director, said in a statement. “While more COVID-19 vaccines are on the way, supplies are still limited. Every one of us must recommit to the fight by recognizing that we are all on the front lines now. We are all in this together.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

8:22 am

Coronavirus variant sweeps South Africa, exhibiting ‘terrifying’ dominance

People pass a sign at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, indicating a COVID testing station Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. A new, more transmissible variant of the virus has swept South Africa causing an enormous spike of new cases and deaths that far surpasses previous waves of the pandemic. (AP Photo/Nardus Engelbrecht)

People pass a sign at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, indicating a COVID testing station Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. A new, more transmissible variant of the virus has swept South Africa causing an enormous spike of new cases and deaths that far surpasses previous waves of the pandemic. (AP Photo/Nardus Engelbrecht)

South Africa was already one of the countries worst hit by the coronavirus, but in the six weeks since a new, more transmissible variant was first publicly announced here, an enormous spike of new cases and deaths has far surpassed previous waves of the pandemic.

The variant has now been found in at least 31 countries, sparking fears its unmitigated spread could usher in new waves of contagion just as the long slog of global vaccine rollout gets underway.

“Of the cases we’ve [DNA-]sequenced in South Africa, more than 90 percent are the new variant,” said Richard Lessells, a lead researcher at the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform. “It’s amazing and terrifying how quickly it came to dominate, and it does feel like we’re in the beginning stages of watching this variant, and the other new ones, become more dominant around the world.”

American vaccine producer Moderna has said the antibodies its vaccine creates were less effective at neutralizing it than previously dominant coronavirus variants but it’s working on a booster shot against the variant.

Read the story here.

—Max Bearak and Lesley Wroughton, The Washington Post

8:15 am

How many variants of the coronavirus are there?

How many variants of the coronavirus are there?

There are many circulating around the world, but health experts are primarily concerned with the emergence of three.

How many variants are there of the COVID-19 virus? AP Illustration/Peter Hamlin

How many variants are there of the COVID-19 virus? AP Illustration/Peter Hamlin

One of the three main variants experts are watching was discovered in the United Kingdom late last year and has been detected in dozens of countries since. Other concerning variants were first detected in South Africa and in Brazil.

All three are more contagious than the original — with the South African variant sweeping the globe. It was identified for the first time in the U.S. on Thursday.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

8:09 am

Inslee expected to announce ‘additional flexibility’ for COVID-19 reopenings

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks during a news conference, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Inslee is expected to announce some “additional flexibility” for reopenings on Thursday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks during a news conference, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Inslee is expected to announce some “additional flexibility” for reopenings on Thursday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is set Thursday to announce adjustments to public-health metrics that will allow some reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig said Wednesday night.

Billig, a Democrat from Spokane, made the remarks Wednesday night in a virtual town hall streamed on Facebook.

“For those that are on this call, you’re going to get a little special early news, which is there is going to be an announcement tomorrow by the governor to adjust the metrics,” said Billig during the town hall. “And there will be some additional flexibility.”

Billig didn’t discuss any of the details, saying he thinks Inslee is still working on the adjustments.

“But I think for those that are looking for just a little bit more opening, and to do it safely, I think you’ll be glad with what you hear tomorrow,” he said later.

Read the story here.

—Joseph O’Sullivan

7:50 am

Oregon health workers, stuck in snow, administer COVID-19 vaccine to stranded drivers

When a team of Oregon health-care workers stuck in traffic during a snowstorm was running out of time to administer leftover doses of the Moderna vaccine, one local public health official had an idea: Vaccinate strangers in the middle of the highway. (Josephine County Public Health).

When a team of Oregon health-care workers stuck in traffic during a snowstorm was running out of time to administer leftover doses of the Moderna vaccine, one local public health official had an idea: Vaccinate strangers in the middle of the highway. (Josephine County Public Health).

The public health workers were driving back from a vaccination site in rural Cave Junction, Oregon, on Tuesday when they got stuck in a snowstorm on the highway.

They knew they had only six hours to get the remaining doses of coronavirus vaccine back to people who were waiting for their shots in Grants Pass, about 30 miles away. Normally, the trip takes about 45 minutes.

But with a jackknifed tractor-trailer ahead of them, the crew realized they could be stuck for hours and the doses would expire.

So the workers made the decision to walk from car to car asking stranded drivers if they wanted to be vaccinated, right there on the spot.

“We had one individual who was so happy, he took his shirt off and jumped out of the car,” said Michael Weber, the public health director in Josephine County.

Read the story here.

—Michael Levenson, The New York Times

7:44 am

French police face sanction for Macarena party amid virus

At least two dozen French police officials are facing internal punishment for holding a party inside a police station where they were filmed dancing the Macarena and violating multiple virus protection rules.

A police headquarters spokesperson said Thursday that those involved in the party in the Paris suburb of Aubervilliers were ordered to file reports on their actions and that “sanctions are planned.” He wouldn’t detail the planned punishments.

Parties and other “convivial gatherings” are banned in all police facilities, while masks and social distancing are required and the number of people allowed in any room is limited to keep the virus at bay, the spokesperson said.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

6:27 am

Time to double mask or upgrade masks as coronavirus variants emerge, experts say

Wear your mask is becoming wear your masks.

The discovery of highly contagious coronavirus variants in the United States has public health experts urging Americans to upgrade the simple cloth masks that have become a staple shield during the pandemic.

The change can be as simple as slapping a second mask over the one you already wear, or better yet, donning a fabric mask on top of a surgical mask. Some experts say it’s time to buy the highest-quality KN95 or N95 masks that officials have long discouraged Americans from purchasing to reserve supply for health care workers.

As with other parts of the pandemic response, the U.S. lags behind other parts of the world when it comes to masks. Several Asian countries, including Singapore and South Korea, have mass-produced high quality masks to send directly to residents. In recent weeks, European countries have begun mandating medical grade masks in public settings as the B.1.1.7 strain first identified in the United Kingdom threatens to ravage communities; British scientists estimate it could be as much as 70% more transmissible.

“The existence of more transmissible viruses emphasizes the important of us upping our game and doing not more of the same, but better of the same,” said Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Frieden has called for people to wear higher quality masks. “Yes, that is confusing to people, but the key is to share what we know when we know it and be frank about what we don’t know.”

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, touted double masking during a Monday appearance on the “Today” show, saying two layers “just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective.”

Click here to read the full story.

—By Fenit Nirappil, The Washington Post

6:26 am

Ford Motor Company, local nonprofits to distribute free disposable face masks in Washington on Thursday

Ford Motor Company is teaming up with local nonprofits to distribute nearly 550,000 face masks to residents throughout the state Thursday, according to the auto company.

The Thursday event is part of a regional initiative that will also deliver hundreds of thousands of masks to neighborhoods in Oregon, Alaska, Idaho and Montana, said Ford spokesperson Kristin Ford. In our state, masks will be available from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at food-assistance nonprofit Emergency Feeding Program in Renton (851 Houser Way N., Suite A) and at 19 Ford dealerships throughout Washington including Everett, Issaquah, Kirkland, Tacoma, Olympia and Spokane. Click here for a full list.

Click here to read more about the event.

—By Elise Takahama, The Seattle Times

6:07 am

Catch up on the past 24 hours

—Kris Higginson


Seattle Times staff & news services