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

The United States is poised to hit President Joe Biden’s goal of injecting 100 million coronavirus vaccinations on Friday, weeks ahead of his target date — a milestone that means the country is now in a position to help supply Canada and Mexico with millions of shots.

In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee has announced an additional 2 million Washingtonians — including restaurant workers and people between 60 and 64 years old — will become eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine on March 31.

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.

No immediate change in school reopening plans based on new CDC guidelines, Washington state officials say

Washington state officials in Gov. Jay Inslee’s office say they are reviewing new federal guidelines allowing schools to place students 3 feet apart in elementary school classrooms, a change that could give schools leeway to open up to more in-person learning.

Federal health officials had previously recommended 6 feet of physical distance.

The state’s top education official Chris Reykdal told districts Friday that there was no immediate change to in-school distancing guidance, but that Inslee and health officials were expected to make a statement on the federal guidance later in the day.

The state Department of Health has its own guidance that requires students and staff to stay 6 feet apart in classrooms and hallways, in addition to a host of other safety measures such as universal masking.

The guidance has kept many schools from operating at full capacity.

Read the story here.

—Hannah Furfaro and Dahlia Bazzaz

1:35 pm

Vaccine delay in Britain stirs equity debate in India

A health worker administers the Covishield vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca Plc. and the University of Oxford and manufactured by Serum Institute of India Ltd., to a senior citizens at Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital in New Delhi, India. Photographer: T.Narayan/Bloomberg (Photographer: T.Narayan/Bloomberg)

A health worker administers the Covishield vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca Plc. and the University of Oxford and manufactured by Serum Institute of India Ltd., to a senior citizens at Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital in New Delhi, India. Photographer: T.Narayan/Bloomberg (Photographer: T.Narayan/Bloomberg)

Indian health experts and activists on Friday said it was hypocritical for Britain to blame vaccine delays on India’s Serum Institute, amid a debate over equitable access stirred by comments from top officials in London.

Activists are saying the Serum Institute wasn’t meant to make vaccines for wealthy countries like Britain, and that after hoarding vaccines, London is now trying to get at supply chains meant for poorer nations. However, the exact details of the licensing agreements between the Serum Institute and AstraZeneca aren’t known.

“A deep level of hypocrisy and self-serving behavior is on display,” said Malini Aisola of the All India Drug Action Network, a health watchdog.

Read the story here.

—Aniruddha Ghosal and Krutika Pathi, The Associated Press

12:56 pm

Belgium pauses re-opening plans as virus infections mount

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Friday that the country faces a few “crucial weeks” as the number of coronavirus infections rise, and that the government has decided to pause its plans to gradually ease restrictions.

The plan had been to offer some relief to long-suffering citizens by resuming some outdoor activities from April 1.

A carpet seller sits outside his store on a nearly empty shopping street in Antwerp, Belgium, Friday, March 18, 2021. Belgian health authorities are urging residents to limit their social contacts to a bare minimum and to massively opt for remote working to avoid another wave of COVID-19 infections. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

A carpet seller sits outside his store on a nearly empty shopping street in Antwerp, Belgium, Friday, March 18, 2021. Belgian health authorities are urging residents to limit their social contacts to a bare minimum and to massively opt for remote working to avoid another wave of COVID-19 infections. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Earlier Friday, health authorities said the number of confirmed new daily infections had risen by a third over the past seven days with COVID-19 hospitalizations up by 27%.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

12:17 pm

Happiness Report: World shows resilience in face of COVID19

People enjoy hot summer day in a lake in Espoo, Finland, on June 26, 2020.  In a year of untimely deaths from the coronavirus, economic decline and social loneliness, The World Happiness Report revealing the world’s happiest countries shows Friday March 19, 2021, Nordic countries topped the index, with Finland leading for the fourth consecutive year. (Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva via AP)

People enjoy hot summer day in a lake in Espoo, Finland, on June 26, 2020. In a year of untimely deaths from the coronavirus, economic decline and social loneliness, The World Happiness Report revealing the world’s happiest countries shows Friday March 19, 2021, Nordic countries topped the index, with Finland leading for the fourth consecutive year. (Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva via AP)

The coronavirus brought a year of fear and anxiety, loneliness and lockdown, and illness and death, but an annual report on happiness around the world released Friday suggests the pandemic has not crushed people’s spirits.

The editors of the 2021 World Happiness Report found that while emotions changed as the pandemic set in, longer-term satisfaction with life was less affected.

“What we have found is that when people take the long view, they’ve shown a lot of resilience in this past year,” Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs, one of the report’s co-author, said from New York.

The annual report, produced by the U.N Sustainable Development Solutions Network, ranks 149 countries based on gross domestic product per person, healthy life expectancy and the opinions of residents.

Finland was the happiest country for the fourth year in a row. The United States, which was at No. 13 five years ago, slipped from 18th to 19th place.

Read the story here.

—David Keyton, The Associated Press

11:45 am

Idaho Legislature shuts down due to COVID-19 outbreak

The Idaho Legislature voted Friday to shut down for several weeks due to an outbreak of COVID-19.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate made the unprecedented move with significant unfinished business, including setting budgets and pushing through a huge income tax cut.

At least five of the 70 House members tested positive for the illness in the last week, and there are fears a highly contagious variant of COVID-19 is in the Statehouse.

Four of those who tested positive are Republicans and one is Democrat. Another Republican lawmaker is self-isolating. The chamber has a super-majority of 58 Republicans, most of whom rarely or never wear masks. All the Democratic lawmakers typically wear masks.

Read the story here.

—Keith Ridler, The Associated Press

11:18 am

Biden eyes new goal after US clears 100M shots since Jan. 20

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during an event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, March 10, 2021. (Bloomberg)

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during an event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, March 10, 2021. (Bloomberg)

The U.S. on Friday cleared President Joe Biden’s goal of injecting 100 million coronavirus shots, more than a month before his target date of his 100th day in office, as the president prepared to set his sights higher in the nationwide vaccination effort.

With the nation now administering about 2.5 million shots per day, Biden, who promised to set a new goal for vaccinations next week, teased the possibility of setting a 200 million dose goal by his 100th day in office.

“We may be able to double it,” he told reporters before leaving the White House for Atlanta. His comments come as the U.S. is on pace to have enough of the three currently authorized vaccines to cover the entire adult population just 10 weeks from now.

As the pace of U.S. vaccinations and supply improves, the White House said the nation is now in position to help supply neighbors Canada and Mexico with millions of lifesaving shots.

The Biden administration on Thursday revealed the outlines of a plan to “loan” a limited number of vaccines to Canada and Mexico as the president announced the U.S. was on the cusp of meeting his 100-day injection goal “way ahead” of schedule.

Read the story here.

—Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

11:15 am

Indonesian Muslim body clears AstraZeneca use in emergency

In this photo released by Indonesian Presidential Palace, a worker attaches a sticker on a container containing AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine upon its arrival at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia March 8, 2021 . Indonesia on Friday, March 19, 2021 cleared the AstraZeneca vaccine for use again after the European Union’s drug regulator said the vaccine didn’t increase the overall incidence of blood clots. (Indonesian President Palace via AP)

In this photo released by Indonesian Presidential Palace, a worker attaches a sticker on a container containing AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine upon its arrival at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia March 8, 2021 . Indonesia on Friday, March 19, 2021 cleared the AstraZeneca vaccine for use again after the European Union’s drug regulator said the vaccine didn’t increase the overall incidence of blood clots. (Indonesian President Palace via AP)

AstraZeneca’s vaccine against COVID-19 was cleared Friday for use in Indonesia after the drug regulator declared it safe and clerics in the world’s most populous Muslim nation said a pig-derived element was acceptable in a pandemic.

Southeast Asia’s biggest economy had delayed using AstraZeneca’s product after more than a dozen countries in Europe suspended the vaccine due to concerns of some people who received the vaccine developing blood clots. The World Health Organization said it saw no evidence the vaccine was to blame for the clots, and some European countries were resuming its use.

“The benefits of using the COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca outweigh the possible risks, so that we can start to use it,” Indonesia’s Food and Drug Authority said in its announcement.

The Indonesian agency said the risk of death from COVID-19 was much greater, “Therefore, the community still has to get vaccination against COVID-19 according to the designated schedule.”

At the same news conference, an official from Indonesia’s highest Islamic body declared the AstraZeneca vaccine “haram,” or forbidden in Islam, for containing materials derived from pigs but still approved its use by Muslims given the emergency situation.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

10:04 am

Tokyo Olympics ready to announce ban on fans from abroad

Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee are poised to finally make it official that most fans from abroad will be prohibited from attending the postponed Olympics when they open in four months.

The announcement is expected to come after “five-party” talks on Saturday with the IOC, local organizers, the Japanese government, the Tokyo metropolitan government and the International Paralympic Committee.

Despite some calls to delay it, officials have promised a decision before the torch relay opens on Thursday from the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima.

Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the organizing committee, said Friday in a news briefing that all five parties will have to agree on the decision. But she said two have more influence than others: the IOC and the Japanese national government.

“All decisions will be made by the IOC in the end,” Hashimoto said. “When it comes to immigration, this is a matter for the national government at the border.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

9:09 am

Michigan restaurant owner defying virus orders is arrested

A western Michigan woman who has defied coronavirus restrictions while operating her restaurant was stopped in her car and arrested before dawn Friday, authorities said.

Marlena Pavlos-Hackney, 55, was operating a restaurant without a license and had refused to surrender by Thursday, Attorney General Dana Nessel said.

State investigators said the owner had ignored caps on restaurant capacity at Marlena’s Bistro and Pizzeria and wasn’t enforcing mask rules. Her food license was suspended Jan. 20, but the eatery remained open.

“We don’t want this country to be a communist regime that’s going to dictate what we can do and what we cannot do,” Pavlos-Hackney, a native of Poland, told WOOD-TV as she served customers Thursday.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

8:30 am

CDC changes school guidance, allowing desks to be closer

FILE – In this March 18, 2021, file photo, students in teacher Christopher Duggan’s science class clean their work areas at the end of class at Windsor Locks High School in Windsor Locks, Conn. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed its social distancing guidelines for schools Friday, March 19, saying students can now sit 3 feet apart in classrooms. The new guidelines also remove recommendations for plastic shields or other barriers between desks. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

FILE – In this March 18, 2021, file photo, students in teacher Christopher Duggan’s science class clean their work areas at the end of class at Windsor Locks High School in Windsor Locks, Conn. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed its social distancing guidelines for schools Friday, March 19, saying students can now sit 3 feet apart in classrooms. The new guidelines also remove recommendations for plastic shields or other barriers between desks. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed its social distancing guidelines for schools Friday, saying students can now sit 3 feet apart in classrooms.

The revised COVID-19 recommendations represent a turn away from the 6-foot standard that has forced some schools to remove desks, stagger scheduling and take other steps to keep children away from one another.

Three feet “gives school districts greater flexibility to have more students in for a prolonged period of time,” said Kevin Quinn, director of maintenance and facilities at Mundelein High School in suburban Chicago.

In recent months, schools in some states have been disregarding the CDC guidelines, using 3 feet as their standard. Studies of what happened in some of them helped sway the agency, said Greta Massetti, who leads the CDC’s community interventions task force.

Read the story here.

—Mike Stobbe, The Associated Press

8:08 am

AstraZeneca vaccinations resume in Germany after clot scare

Germany resumed vaccinations with the coronavirus vaccine made by AstraZeneca on Friday, following a recommendation by European regulators that the benefits of the shot outweigh the risks.

The European Medicines Agency said Thursday that the vaccine is safe but it can’t rule out a link to a small number of rare blood clots reported on the continent, and patients should be told to look out for any warning signs.

The move paved the way for more than a dozen European countries, which had suspended use of the shot over the past week, to begin using it again.

Authorities in Berlin said two large vaccination centers that offer the AstraZeneca shot to people in the German capital will reopen Friday, and people whose appointments were canceled this week will be able to get the vaccine over the weekend without making a new one.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

7:24 am

England explores proof of vaccine, negative test for sports fans

Model fans made of plumbing supplies seen in the stands before the English Premier League soccer match between Burnley and Arsenal at Turf Moor stadium in Burnley, England, Saturday, March 6, 2021. (Peter Powell/Pool via AP)

Model fans made of plumbing supplies seen in the stands before the English Premier League soccer match between Burnley and Arsenal at Turf Moor stadium in Burnley, England, Saturday, March 6, 2021. (Peter Powell/Pool via AP)

England is considering the introduction of coronavirus certificates as a way of getting fans back into large sports events in significant numbers as pandemic restrictions are eased.

The government is exploring asking supporters to provide proof they have been vaccinated or have tested negative, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said Friday.

“From June 21, if all goes to plan … we hope to get people back in significant numbers,” Dowden told Sky News. “We’re piloting the different things that will enable that to happen. Clearly it will have to be done in a COVID-secure way.”

One of the pilot events is due to be the FA Cup final on May 15, with the government hoping for more than 10,000 fans at the Wembley Stadium game after they have been tested or vaccinated.

The government already has plans to relax coronavirus curbs from May 17 to allow up to 10,000 fans at stadiums but with social distancing. June 21 is the final stage on a road map to remove most restrictions, paving the way to a return to full stadiums for the first time since March 2020.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

6:37 am

Catch up on the past 24 hours

—Kris Higginson

9:46 pm, Mar. 18, 2021

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Seattle Times staff & news services