More than 28 million Americans have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, but they’ll have to keep waiting for guidance from federal health officials for what they should and shouldn’t do.
In Washington, King County health officials received good news Friday about the availability of the new one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which could help more quickly vaccinate the more than 100,000 elders awaiting doses. And in Snohomish County, a downtown Everett arena has been transformed into the county’s fifth mass vaccination location.
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.
Diaper banks face new challenges during pandemic
Chelesa Presley is deeply familiar with the struggles of young families, first from her years as a social worker and now from running a nonprofit in one of Mississippi’s poorest regions. She’s used to the questions about car seats, nursing and colicky babies, but paying for diapers is always the chronic and most pressing worry.
“I see parents not putting anything on their babies because they don’t have diapers,” she said. “I’ve seen people use shopping bags with some rags in it. I’ve seen T-shirts. I’ve seen people keeping the diapers on longer than necessary, and the diapers sag down when the babies walk.”
As founder and executive director of Diaper Bank of the Delta in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Presley is part of a grassroots support network at the forefront of a crisis: Requests have doubled, tripled and even quadrupled at some locations, social services workers say, with diaper shortages and families lining up for hours in some communities. Meanwhile, the cash and in-kind donations that keep diaper banks afloat have slumped, and their mostly volunteer workforce has shriveled since the pandemic.
—The Washington Post
Oregon remains outlier with no COVID-19 contact tracing app, no firm timetable to launch program
Oregon is one of just four states along or west of the continental divide that has yet to launch smartphone technology to aide in coronavirus contact tracing, leaving the state some two months behind schedule with no explanation from officials about the delay.
Gov. Kate Brown announced Oregon would test the Exposure Notifications Express technology last fall and state officials anticipated a wider rollout in January. The program allows users to opt-in to receive notice if they’ve spent time in close proximity to someone who later tests positive, such as when dining at a restaurant or spending time at a college party.
California launched its notification system Dec. 10, with “millions” now using it. Washington started even earlier, Nov. 30, and more than 1.8 million residents have opted in.
Oregon officials have given only vague statements and shifting timelines. A spokesperson for the Oregon Health Authority in December said the agency was “currently working towards a January 2021 launch.” In early January officials said they were “assessing the results” of a pilot project at Oregon State University and would likely have an update by mid-month.
This week the health authority said those results are still being reviewed – and neither the agency nor Oregon State University responded to public records requests for documentation about the results or recommendations.
Pandemic forces route change, other precautions for Iditarod
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Traveling across the rugged, unforgiving and roadless Alaska terrain is already hard enough, but whatever comforts mushers previously had in the world’s most famous sled dog race will be cast aside this year due to the pandemic.
In years past, mushers would stop in any number of 24 villages that serve as checkpoints, where they could get a hot meal, maybe a shower and sleep — albeit “cheek to jowl” — in a warm building before getting back to the nearly 1,000-mile (1,609-kilometer) Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. When the race starts Sunday north of Anchorage, they will spend the next week or so mostly camping in tents outside towns, and the only source of warmth — for comfort or to heat up frozen food and water — will come from their camp cookers.
“It’s a little bit old school,” said Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach.
This year’s Iditarod will be marked by pandemic precautions, a route change, no spectators, the smallest field of competitors in decades, the return of one former champion and the swan song of a fan favorite, all against the backdrop of pressure on the race and sponsors by an animal rights group.
The most noticeable change this year will be no spectators. The fan-friendly ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage, which draws thousands of people, has been canceled, and the actual start in Willow of the race is being moved to a boat dock 7 miles (11 kilometers) out to help cutdown on fans who would normally attend the race start just off a main highway. Urbach is encouraging fans to watch the race start and finish live on TV or on the Internet.
—The Associated Press
Hundreds gather in illegal COVID-19 protest in Stockholm
STOCKHOLM (AP) — Swedish police dispersed hundreds of people who had gathered in central Stockholm to protest coronavirus restrictions set by the Swedish government.
Swedish authorities said Saturday’s demonstration was illegal as it was held without permission. The rally was the first major protest against Sweden’s coronavirus restrictions.
Stockholm police said on their website they decided to cut short the gathering just after it started when the number of participants exceeded the limits for public gatherings under Sweden’s pandemic laws.
Video footage on Swedish media showed a sizable group of people without masks gathering in the Medborgarplatsen square in Stockholm not far from the Old Town. Local media estimated 300 to 500 people attended.
Swedish tabloids Aftonbladet and Expressen reported that the demonstration was dispersed largely peacefully but six police officers were injured after scuffles broke out between police and some protesters who didn’t want to leave.
—The Associated Press
Tennessee panel deemed vaccinating inmates a ‘PR nightmare’
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee advisory panel tasked with deciding in what order residents should receive the COVID-19 vaccine acknowledged that prison inmates in the state were high-risk, but concluded that prioritizing them for inoculation could be a “public relations nightmare.”
The result: Prisoners are in the last group scheduled for vaccines in the state, even though the Pandemic Vaccine Planning Stakeholder group concluded that “if untreated they will be a vector of general population transmission,” according to records of the panel’s closed-door meetings obtained by The Associated Press. To date, there is no firm timeline for prison vaccine rollouts.
The Tennessee debate reflects an issue facing states nationwide as they roll out life-saving vaccines: whether to prioritize a population seen by many at best as an afterthought, separate from the public, and at worst as non-deserving. The resistance comes even though medical experts have argued since the beginning of the pandemic that prisoners were at extremely high risk for infection given that they live in extremely close contact with each other and have little ability to social distance.
—The Associated Press
What’s in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill?
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate approved a sweeping pandemic relief package over Republican opposition on Saturday, moving President Joe Biden closer to a milestone political victory that would provide $1,400 checks for most American and direct billions of dollars to schools, state and local governments, and businesses.
The bill cleared by a party-line vote of 50-49 after a marathon overnight voting session and now heads back to the House for final passage, which could come early next week.
Democrats said their “American Rescue Plan” would help the country defeat the virus and nurse the economy back to health. Republicans criticized the $1.9 trillion package as more expensive than necessary. The measure follows five earlier virus bills totaling about $4 trillion that Congress has enacted since last spring.
Here’s a look at some highlights of the legislation.
—The Associated Press
Senate passes $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package
The U.S. Senate on Saturday passed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.
The plan includes stimulus checks of up to $1,400 for people making $75,000 or less, $350 billion for cities and states and $130 billion for schools, the Washington Post reports. The package authorizes $300 per week in additional unemployment payments until September.
The proposal now returns to the House.
Washington Sen. Patty Murray said in a statement the package “acknowledges just how much people across this country are hurting right now, and provides them with relief that begins to meet this moment.”
Labeling several areas of the bill “Washington State Priorities,” Murray’s office praised assistance for local governments, $12 billion for food programs like SNAP and WIC, $30 billion for transit agencies and $14 billion in “payroll support” for airline employees.
The package was scaled back from President Joe Biden’s original proposal after pushback from moderate Democrats. The plan includes more narrow eligibility for stimulus checks and does not include a $15 federal minimum wage.
Dalai Lama gets vaccine shot
DHARMSALA, India (AP) — The Dalai Lama, the 85-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader, was administered the first shot of the coronavirus vaccine on Saturday at a hospital in the north Indian hill town of Dharmsala.
After receiving the injection, he urged people to come forward, be brave and get vaccinated.
“In order to prevent some serious problems, this injection is very, very helpful,” he said.
Dr. G.D. Gupta of Zonal Hospital, where the shot was administered, told reporters that the Dalai Lama was observed for 30 minutes afterward. “He offered to come to the hospital like a common man to get himself vaccinated,” he said.
—The Associated Press
As British companies move to mandate coronavirus vaccines for employees, discrimination fears mount
Some British companies are planning to give their workers a stark choice this year: Accept the coronavirus vaccine or lose your job.
Labor rights groups have come out against the policy, dubbed “jabs for jobs,” arguing that mandatory vaccines would not stop the spread of the virus but could lead to discrimination on socio-economic and ethnic grounds.
“A ‘no jab, no job’ approach will be counterproductive,” said Christy Hoffman, general secretary of UNI Global Union, a Swiss-based group that represents more than 2 million service workers worldwide. “To make workplaces safer, employers cannot take shortcuts, and that is what these proposals are.”
In Britain, two private elderly care home companies, employing more than 20,000 people between them, have said they will require vaccinations for staff, citing concerns about the spread of the virus in a sector that has seen a large proportion of covid-19 deaths.
Care UK announced last week that vaccinations would be required for any new staffers. Another firm, Barchester, announced shortly before that it expect all workers to be vaccinated by April 23, though it said that there would likely be an exemptions for pregnant staff.
Supporters of the “jabs for jobs” policies in care homes have pointed to the reports of low uptake of the vaccine among elderly care home staff, which stood at around 52% in London last week, according to government officials.
—The Washington Post
Open spaces, no pharmacies: rural US confronts vaccine void
SURRY, Va. (AP) — When Charlome Pierce searched where her 96-year-old father could get a COVID-19 vaccine in January, she found zero options anywhere near their home in Virginia. The lone medical clinic in Surry County had none, and the last pharmacy in an area with roughly 6,500 residents and more land mass than Chicago closed years ago.
To get their shots, some residents took a ferry across the sprawling James River to cities such as Williamsburg. Others drove more than an hour past farms and woodlands – the county got its first stoplight in 2007 – to reach a medical facility offering the vaccine.
At one point, Pierce heard about a state-run vaccination event 45 minutes away, No more appointments were available, which perhaps was for the best: the wait there reportedly could last up to seven hours.
“That would have been a daunting task,” she said, citing her father’s health conditions and frequent need to use the bathroom. “I could not have had him sit in a car and wait for something that might happen. We’re not in a Third World country.”
As the nation’s campaign against the coronavirus moves from mass inoculation sites to drugstores and doctors’ offices, getting vaccinated remains a challenge for residents of “pharmacy deserts,” communities without pharmacies or well-equipped health clinics. To improve access, the federal government has partnered with 21 companies that run free-standing pharmacies or pharmacy services inside grocery stores and other locations.
—The Associated Press
Catch up on the past 24 hours
The Senate began a “vote-a-thon” shortly before midnight Friday to vote on amendments to a $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package. Democrats are hoping for final passage around midday Saturday to send the bill back to the House then to President Joe Biden.
Black and Latino residents in King County ages 65 and older are the least likely in their age group to be vaccinated as the state continues to grapple with a vaccine shortage. Black, Latino, Native American and Pacific Islanders have been hardest hit by the pandemic, and have the highest levels of hospitalizations and comorbidity.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday reported that counties opening restaurants for on-site dining indoors or outdoors saw a rise in daily infections about six weeks later. The study does not prove cause and effect, but CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Friday “we would advocate for policies, certainly while we’re at this plateau of a high number of cases, that would listen to that public health science.”
Long-term care facilities are facing a question of whether to require their employees to be vaccinated. The federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission has indicated employers can likely require the vaccine with health and religious exemptions.
The spread of coronavirus variants and reopenings are driving an increase in COVID-19 cases across Europe, which recorded 1 million new cases last week, an increase of 9% from the previous week.
7:23 am, Mar. 5, 2021
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Seattle Times staff & news services