Live: Coronavirus daily news updates, March 2: 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 2: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world

While states eager to reopen for business are easing coronavirus restrictions following news that a third vaccine has been approved in the U.S., a senior World Health Organization official said Monday it was “premature” and “unrealistic” to think the pandemic might be stopped by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the Senate prepares to move forward on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, and Biden on Monday launched a lobbying effort targeting fellow Democrats to unify them on the legislation.

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 ceremony to sign House Bill 1121 relating to the waiver of certain high school graduation requirements during COVID, and House Bill No. 1131 relating to the emergency waiver of instructional hours and days at private schools.
Watch here:

We may not have to wear masks on planes forever. But should we?

Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon remembers flying back to the United States from Belize on March 10 last year and seeing a fellow passenger wearing gloves and a mask cleaning her tray table. She rolled her eyes at what seemed like an overreaction.

“Of course by later that week, everything had changed,” she said. “I wasn’t one of those people, but I have turned into one of those people.”

Greaves-Gabbadon, a Miami-based travel writer and on-screen host who goes by “JetSetSarah,” has taken several flights for work since late last year and now wears two masks and a face shield that goes “higher than my hairline to underneath my chin.”

Once the pandemic is over, she said, she expects to keep her in-flight mask habit.

Read the story here.

— Hannah Sampson, The Washington Post

12:52 pm

Algerian students restart weekly protests cut off by virus

Algerian students demonstrate, one with a poster reading “The right to defend our rights” in Algiers, Tuesday, March 2, 2021. Protesters took to the streets of Algiers and other cities around Algeria last Friday in a bid to restart weekly pro-democracy demonstrations that were paused due to the pandemic. (AP Photo/Fateh Guidoum)

Algerian students demonstrate, one with a poster reading “The right to defend our rights” in Algiers, Tuesday, March 2, 2021. Protesters took to the streets of Algiers and other cities around Algeria last Friday in a bid to restart weekly pro-democracy demonstrations that were paused due to the pandemic. (AP Photo/Fateh Guidoum)

Hundreds of students restarted their weekly Tuesday protest marches that were called off last spring because of the coronavirus.

The march came eight days after the Hirak pro-democracy movement reappeared in streets around the country to mark its second anniversary and days after the weekly Friday marches restarted.

Hirak’s peaceful protests helped force long-time President Abdelaziz Bouteflika from office in 2019. His successor, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, has promised reform of the system marked by corruption under Bouteflika and with the shadow of the army ever-present.

“Civilian state and not a military state,” one group of students cried out, hoisting high a banner reading “We don’t go home until the demands of Hirak are met.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

12:30 pm

Bosnia receives jabs from Serbia amid COVAX dispute

Bosnia on Tuesday received 10,000 vaccines from neighboring Serbia amid a dispute with the international COVAX mechanism over a delay in planned shipments.

The Balkan nation has threatened to sue the program unless the vaccines arrive as agreed. It has asked for 1.2 million vaccines that would cover about one third of its population.

Serbia’s populist president, Aleksandar Vucic, flew to Bosnian capital Sarajevo to deliver the AstraZeneca vaccines to the authorities there. The delivery is enough for 5,000 people to receive both required doses.

Vucic described the move as an act of solidarity and urged closer cooperation among the Balkan countries.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

12:08 pm

Texas becomes biggest US state to lift COVID-19 mask mandate

A mask required sign is displayed on the entrance to a business Tuesday, March 2, 2021, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

A mask required sign is displayed on the entrance to a business Tuesday, March 2, 2021, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Texas is lifting its mask mandate, Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday, making it the largest state to end an order intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that has killed more than 42,000 Texans.

The Republican governor has faced sharp criticism from his party over the mandate, which was imposed eight months ago, and other COVID-19 restrictions. Texas will also do away with limits on the number of diners that businesses can serve indoors, said Abbott.

The decision comes as governors across the U.S. have been easing coronavirus restrictions, despite warnings from health experts that the pandemic is far from over. Like the rest of the country, Texas has seen the number of cases and deaths plunge. Hospitalizations are at the lowest levels since October, and the seven-day rolling average of positive tests has dropped to about 7,600 cases, down from more than 10,000 in mid-February.

Read the story here.

—Paul J. Weber, The Associated Press

12:05 pm

Floral hearts comfort grieving families of pandemic dead

From left, Michelle Pepe, Jill Federman and Lisa Post Mazerolle place photos of their fathers onto an array of heart-shaped roses, Monday, March 1, 2021, in Lynnfield, Mass. When artist Kristina Libby started the Floral Heart Project to give the survivors of COVID-19 victims places to mourn, she was thinking of people like these three woman who lost their fathers in April, 2020 and who were unable to see them in their last moments or have proper funerals. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

From left, Michelle Pepe, Jill Federman and Lisa Post Mazerolle place photos of their fathers onto an array of heart-shaped roses, Monday, March 1, 2021, in Lynnfield, Mass. When artist Kristina Libby started the Floral Heart Project to give the survivors of COVID-19 victims places to mourn, she was thinking of people like these three woman who lost their fathers in April, 2020 and who were unable to see them in their last moments or have proper funerals. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

When artist Kristina Libby started the Floral Heart Project to give the survivors of COVID-19 victims places to mourn, she was thinking of people like Michelle Pepe.

The last time Pepe saw her father was just before she went into quarantine after contracting the coronavirus — and unwittingly infecting both parents. Her last goodbye to him came by phone.

Family members were unable to visit him at the hospital, nor could they hold a funeral service for him after he died in Delray Beach, Florida. Instead, they held a socially distanced, 15-minute graveside burial in Boston. Pepe watched via video conference call as she continued to care for her mother, who has multiple sclerosis and was recovering from COVID-19.

“We never had any closure. … He was treated, as they were back then, as diseased,” she said, “a body that nobody wanted to touch.”

Living in New York in the early days of pandemic, Libby was saddened that the families of the 500,000 lost to the disease had no public memorials, so she decided to act.

Each week she would construct and lay large floral hearts around New York City.

“I would watch people kneel down and pray. I would watch people sort of kiss their fingers and then kiss the heart,” Libby said. “It was allowing them to feel like it was OK to admit our sadness in this moment.”

Libby expanded her efforts outside of New York with the help of volunteers and donations from large floral companies like 1-800-Flowers and Bloom Studios. So, on Monday, floral hearts were laid in 75 locations nationwide in remembrance of the victims of COVID-19.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

11:30 am

Dutch bar owners, sex workers protest against virus lockdown

Bar owners and sex workers are among those protesting amid growing lockdown fatigue not only in the Netherlands but across the European Union, where 531,000 people have died in the pandemic and governments are still attempting to rein in new infections while slowly ramping up the pace of vaccinations.

In Delfshaven, bar owner Peter Bender placed a cup of coffee and slice of apple pie in front of one of his white inflatable dummy guests as part of a protest that saw an unknown number of cafes across the country symbolically open their terraces in opposition to the lockdown from hard-hit businesses.

Elsewhere, stores in one eastern village opened briefly in the morning and a group of sex workers staged a demonstration and set up a peep show outside parliament in the afternoon.

“We also have to pay rent just like any other person who works so why can everybody work except us,” said a sex worker from Arnhem who identified herself as Melissa.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

11:04 am

Israeli attorney general slams Netanyahu’s vaccine diplomacy

Israel’s attorney general has warned Benjamin Netanyahu that he cannot single-handedly share the country’s surplus vaccines with far-flung allies in Africa, Europe and Latin America, and that such an important decision cannot be made by the prime minister alone.

In an official letter, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit argues that Netanyahu should have consulted the Cabinet for such a plan. The justice ministry released the letter, addressed to the national security adviser, Meir Ben Shabbat, on Monday.

Netanyahu’s announcement last week of his decision to share some of Israel’s vaccine stockpile had caused an uproar and was later frozen, due to legal questions in Israel, but not before thousands of vaccine doses were shipped to Honduras and reportedly the Czech Republic as well.

Israel has immunized over half of its population against the coronavirus in one of the world’s most successful vaccination drives since late December.

Read the story here.

—Ilan Ben Zion, The Associated Press

10:35 am

Hong Kong probes death of man who received COVID-19 vaccine

FILE – In this Friday, Feb. 26, 2021 file photo, people line up to receive China’s Sinovac COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at a community vaccination center in Hong Kong. Hong Kong authorities on Tuesday, March 2 reported the death of a chronically ill man, two days after he received a COVID-19 vaccine and said that it is too early to conclude whether the vaccine was related to his death. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, file)

FILE – In this Friday, Feb. 26, 2021 file photo, people line up to receive China’s Sinovac COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at a community vaccination center in Hong Kong. Hong Kong authorities on Tuesday, March 2 reported the death of a chronically ill man, two days after he received a COVID-19 vaccine and said that it is too early to conclude whether the vaccine was related to his death. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, file)

Hong Kong authorities are investigating the death of a chronically ill man who died two days after he received a COVID-19 vaccine but said that it is too early to conclude whether the vaccine was related to his death.

The 63-year-old man was inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 26 and developed shortness of breath two days later and died.

Hong Kong currently only uses shots from Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac. Over 40,000 people in Hong Kong have received the vaccine since Friday, when the vaccination drive began.

Read the story here.

—Zen Soo, The Associated Press

10:03 am

In North Carolina, a pandemic partnership between schools and scientists. What can Washington learn?

Monique Felder, Superintendent of Orange County Schools in North Carolina, chats with kindergartener James Humphries at New Hope Elementary School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Orange County Schools are among 50 or so districts in North Carolina working together to perfect pandemic safety protocols. (Ted Richardson / Special to The Seattle Times)

Monique Felder, Superintendent of Orange County Schools in North Carolina, chats with kindergartener James Humphries at New Hope Elementary School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Orange County Schools are among 50 or so districts in North Carolina working together to perfect pandemic safety protocols. (Ted Richardson / Special to The Seattle Times)

Before the pandemic, lunchtime in the school cafeteria was among the most unremarkable of moments in the average school day.

But now, mindful of the risk of spreading the coronavirus during lunch, some schools in North Carolina — aided by careful work from researchers and physicians — are choreographing the lunch hour down to the smallest detail. It’s work that’s being watched closely by schools and scientists here in Washington, too. 

So long as the temperature is above freezing, children head outside for lunch. With masks on, and at least 6 feet from friends, they cut crusts off sandwiches. Straws plunge into milk cartons. Oranges peel open, chip bags pop. And then, when every child is prepped and ready, their teacher says the magic words. 

Time to take off your mask.

“Then a timer goes on. And they’re not allowed to talk,” said Monique Felder, superintendent of Orange County Schools in North Carolina. “They’ve got 15 minutes to consume their food, and it’s amazing how much kids will eat when they’re not socializing.” 

Time’s up, mask on. Wash your hands. Head to class.

Orange County Schools are among 50 or so districts in North Carolina working together to perfect pandemic safety protocols. Like Washington and states across the U.S., many North Carolina schools began the year remotely. But in this state, a team of researchers and physicians teamed up to help schools draft detailed safety strategies for nearly every moment of the school day and adapt to the evolving nature of the pandemic. 

Read the story here.

—Hannah Furfaro

9:03 am

Austria, Denmark look beyond EU to Israel for future vaccine

Austria and Denmark have further dented the European Union’s already fragile coronavirus vaccine solidarity by announcing plans to team up with Israel to produce second-generation vaccines against COVID-19 variants.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz plans to visit Israel with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen later this week and confer with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on vaccine research and production cooperation. Kurz said Tuesday that his country and Denmark intend to stop relying solely on the European Union for coronavirus vaccines.

As part of its strategy, the EU has six contracts for more than 2 billion doses of vaccines, with Moderna, AstraZeneca, Sanofi-GSK, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer-BioNTech and CureVac. It is in negotiations with two other manufacturers, but only three vaccines have been approved for use so far in the bloc.

According to the EU, almost 33 million doses of vaccine have been given so far, but only 11 million Europeans have been fully vaccinated. Israel, a country of 9.3 million people, has immunized over half of its population since late December.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

8:05 am

Victims of anti-Asian attacks reflect a year into pandemic

Nearly a year after they were almost stabbed to death inside a Midland, Texas, Sam’s Club, Bawi Cung and his two sons all have visible scars.

It’s the unseen ones though that are harder to get over. Cung can’t walk through any store without constantly looking in all directions. His 6-year-old son, who now can’t move one eyebrow, is afraid to sleep alone.

This undated photo provided by Bawi Cung, shows Bawi Cung, right, seated with his children at home, before he and his two sons were stabbed in an anti-Asian attack last March 2020 at Sam’s Club in Midland, Texas. Asian Americans have been facing a dangerous climate since the coronavirus entered the U.S. a year ago. A rash of crimes victimizing elderly Asian Americans in the last two months has renewed outcry for more attention from politicians and the media. (Bawi Cung via AP)

This undated photo provided by Bawi Cung, shows Bawi Cung, right, seated with his children at home, before he and his two sons were stabbed in an anti-Asian attack last March 2020 at Sam’s Club in Midland, Texas. Asian Americans have been facing a dangerous climate since the coronavirus entered the U.S. a year ago. A rash of crimes victimizing elderly Asian Americans in the last two months has renewed outcry for more attention from politicians and the media. (Bawi Cung via AP)

On a Saturday evening in March, when COVID-19 panic shopping gripped the nation, Cung was in search of rice at a cheaper price. The family was in the Sam’s Club meat section when Cung suddenly felt a punch to the back of his head. A man he didn’t know then slashed his face with a knife. The assailant left but soon returned to stab the boys. He wounded the 3-year-old in the back and slashed the 6-year-old from his right eye to a couple of inches past his right ear.

The grisly encounter brought home the dangerous climate Asian Americans have faced since the coronavirus entered the U.S., with racially motivated harassment and assaults occurring from coast to coast.

Now, just over a year and thousands of incidents later, some of the early victims find moving forward has been difficult or, at best, bittersweet. A recent wave of attacks on elderly Asian Americans — including the death of an 84-year-old San Francisco man — has fueled worries that hostilities have only worsened.

Read the story here.

—Terry Tang, The Associated Press

7:07 am

As COVID-19 outbreaks hit gyms, CDC urges stricter precautions

A person in a protective mask exercises in a 24 Hour Fitness gym in San Francisco on Sept. 15, 2020. (Bloomberg photo by David Paul Morris).

A person in a protective mask exercises in a 24 Hour Fitness gym in San Francisco on Sept. 15, 2020. (Bloomberg photo by David Paul Morris).

Public health officials on Wednesday urged gymgoers to wear masks when they work out and to remain 6 feet apart, as new research described the rapid spread of coronavirus infections during high-intensity exercise classes at gyms in Honolulu and Chicago.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised fitness centers to take a variety of measures to prevent outbreaks, including enforcing proper mask use and reminding gym and staff members to stay home if they have symptoms of illness or have tested positive for the virus.

Heavy breathing during intense physical activity in confined indoor spaces increases chances of transmission, and fitness teachers who shouted exercise instructions to members may also have contributed to the spread, the CDC research found. Exercising outdoors or taking virtual fitness classes could help reduce infection risk, the authors noted.

Read the story here.

—Rony Caryn Rabin, The New York Times

7:04 am

Alarm grows in Serbia over virus surge; lockdown urged

People wait in line for a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. Serbia, a country of 7 million, has so far vaccinated some 1 million people, mainly with the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine and Russian Sputnik V, and to a lesser extent with the Pfizer jab. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

People wait in line for a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. Serbia, a country of 7 million, has so far vaccinated some 1 million people, mainly with the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine and Russian Sputnik V, and to a lesser extent with the Pfizer jab. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Serbian health experts urged the government on Tuesday to introduce a state of emergency and a strict lockdown to halt a surge in coronavirus infections that they say threaten the Balkan nation’s health care system.

The numbers of daily new infections have been rising sharply in the nation of 7 million despite a mass inoculation campaign that so far has seen nearly 1 million people receive a first vaccine shot. That rate of vaccinations has made Serbia, a non-European Union nation, one of the best in Europe when it comes to delivering vaccines to its citizens.

Still, the demand for a state of emergency is unlikely to win support from the conservative government, which is hoping that its program of trying to get vaccines from the West, China and Russia will pull Serbia out of the pandemic’s devastating economic and social undertow.

Chief epidemiologist Predrag Kon of the government-appointed coronavirus crisis team told the state RTS television network on Tuesday that there is “no alternative” to ordering a lockdown.

“We must ban contacts or we will break. And then we will realize what it means when the health system collapses,” he said.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

6:01 am

Catch up on the past 24 hours

—Kris Higginson

9:44 pm, Mar. 1, 2021

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Seattle Times staff & news services