Coronavirus daily news updates, February 14: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world – The Seattle Times

Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Monday, February 14, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated. Click here to see all the most recent news about the pandemic, and click here to find additional resources.
A bill passed out of the Washington House in a 92-6 vote Saturday aims to extend outdoor school programs to all fifth and sixth graders in the state. It now heads to the Senate. The statewide outdoor education initiative comes after almost two years of virtual learning, and as test scores are dropping and young people are experiencing record rates of burnout and mental health issues.
“COVID has certainly shown us that students, among others, need outlets. They need to get outdoors, they need to have some recreation, they need to smell the fresh air,” said Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, the prime sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, SB 5925.
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 the rest of our coronavirus coverage and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington.
Sweden is recommending a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose to people over age 80 and those living in nursing homes or getting home care, authorities said Monday, adding it must be administered no earlier than four months after the previous shot.
The Scandinavian country’s chief epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, said in a statement from the Swedish Public Health Agency that a fourth dose ”strengthens the protection” against severe disease.
For most of the pandemic, Sweden has stood out among European nations for its comparatively hands-off response. It never went into lockdown or closed businesses, largely relying instead on individual responsibility to control infections. While coronavirus deaths were high compared with other Nordic countries, they were lower than many other places in Europe that did implement lockdowns.
Earlier this month in neighboring Denmark, health authorities there said that they were considering “winding down” the country’s coronavirus vaccination program in the spring and saw no reason to administer a booster dose to children or a fourth shot to anymore residents at risk of severe COVID-19.
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The fundraising website used to raise millions of dollars for a trucker-led “Freedom Convoy” protest against coronavirus restrictions in Canada is offline after reports of a possible hack that exposed donor information.
On Monday, a screenshot of the GiveSendGo site featured an image from the Disney film “Frozen,” along with a ticker purporting to show the names, donation amounts and email addresses of people who helped support the cause. The image bore the words “GiveSendGo is now frozen,” along with a link describing raw donation data.
A video captured by Canadian Broadcasting Corp. News reporter Travis Dhanraj shows scrolling text addressed to “GiveSendGo Grifters and Hatriots.”
“GiveSendGo has a history of providing a platform for individuals and organized groups to fund hate groups, promote disinformation and insurrection disguised as ‘protests,’” the video text read, an apparent reference to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. “Most of their larger campaigns are, in some way, a continuing threat to democracy.”
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More than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic the U.S. is still grappling with its coronavirus tests: how to improve them and how to make more of them.
Dr. Bruce Tromberg of the National Institutes of Health is the top government scientist tasked with solving the nation’s testing woes. He’s in charge of $1.5 billion in congressional funding provided to scale up testing under the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics, or RadX, initiative.
In addition to funding dozens of companies and researchers, the program is trying to answer knotty testing technology questions. One of the most pressing for employers is whether to require a negative test before infected staffers return to work.
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention faced criticism for not endorsing a negative rapid antigen test before people exit their five-day isolation period.
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New York City fired more than a thousand workers who failed to comply with the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, the mayor’s office said Monday.
The 1,430 workers who lost their jobs represent less than 1% of the 370,000-person city workforce and are far fewer terminations than expected before a Friday deadline to get the shots.
The city sent notices in late January to up to 4,000 workers, saying they had to show proof they got at least two doses of the vaccine or else they’d lose their jobs. Three-quarters of those workers had already been on leave without pay for months, having missed an earlier deadline for getting vaccinated in order to stay on the job.
Mayor Eric Adams’ office said hundreds of workers produced proof of their vaccines or got the shots after being notified they would be fired.
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The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 5,485 new coronavirus cases on Friday, 2,333 on Saturday and 2,073 cases on Sunday. It also reported 57 more deaths over those days.
The update brings the state’s totals to 1,410,658 cases and 11,373 deaths, meaning that 0.8% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Sunday. New state data is reported on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
In addition, 57,153 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 353 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state’s most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 361,584 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,427 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in late 2020, the state and health care providers have administered 12,913,666 doses and 66.4% of Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to vaccination data, which the state updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Providers are currently giving an average of about 13,547 vaccine shots per day.
The DOH says its daily case reports may also include duplicate test results, results assigned to the wrong county, results that are reported for today but are actually from a previous day, occasional false positive tests and other data discrepancies. Because of this, the previous day’s total number of cases plus the number of new daily cases does not add up to the new day’s total number of cases. State health officials recommend reviewing the dashboard’s epidemiologic curves tab for the most accurate representation of the state’s COVID-19 spread.
Gov. Brian Kemp’s plan to let Georgia parents opt their children out of public school mask mandates would only run through June 30, 2023, and he took repeated shots at Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams as he discussed it Monday, underlining the political basis of the move.
The measure, which is being introduced by Republican Sen. Clint Dixon of Buford, would say that school districts couldn’t require face coverings unless parents could opt their children out without giving a reason. The bill also says no student can be disciplined or get a worse grade if their parent says they don’t have to wear a mask.
“We got to continue to move back to more normal operations,” Kemp said. “We’re trusting our parents every day on whether to send their kids to school or not, if they’re not feeling well, if they have a fever. We can certainly do that in terms of masks at this point in the pandemic.”
Kemp made the move after GOP primary rival David Perdue attacked Kemp for not doing more to end masking in schools.

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Dr. Deborah Birx has a memoir coming out this spring that will focus on her contentious time as White House coronavirus task force coordinator in the administration of President Donald Trump.
“Silent Invasion: The Untold Story of The Trump Administration, COVID-19, and Preventing the Next Pandemic Before It’s Too Late,” will be published April 26. The book exposes the true cost of mistakes but also clarifies the things that went right yet remained largely unseen, she said.
The 65-year-old Birx, currently a senior fellow at the George W. Bush Institute, had been a highly regarded public health expert before she became the controversial White House coronavirus response coordinator.

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Taking a long, brisk walk, jog or bike ride after your next COVID-19 or flu vaccine might amplify the benefits of the shot, according to a new study of exercise and immunization.
The study, which involved 70 people and about 80 mice, looked at antibody responses after a jab with the influenza vaccine or both rounds of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. It found that people who exercised for 90 minutes right after their shot subsequently produced more antibodies than people who did not. The extra immune boost, which should help reduce their risk of falling seriously ill from those diseases, did not seem to trigger an increase in side effects.
The study’s results are preliminary and need to be tested in larger numbers of people. But the findings add to mounting evidence that being fit and physically active may prime our bodies to respond with extra robustness to flu and COVID-19 vaccines.

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When nurse Julia Buffo was told by her Montana hospital that she had to be vaccinated against COVID-19, she responded by filling out paperwork declaring that the shots run afoul of her religious beliefs.
She cited various Old and New Testament verses including a passage from Revelations that vaccine opponents often quote to liken the shots to the “Mark of the Beast.” She told her managers that God is the “ultimate guardian of health” and that accepting the vaccine would make her “complicit with evil.”
Religious exemptions like the one Buffo obtained are increasingly becoming a workaround for unvaccinated hospital and nursing home workers who want to keep their jobs in the face of federal mandates that are going into effect nationwide this week.
In some institutions, religious exemptions are being invoked by staff and approved by managers in large numbers. It’s a tricky issue for hospital administrators, who are struggling to maintain adequate staff levels and are often reticent to question the legitimacy of the requests.
“We’re not going to have a Spanish inquisition with Torquemada deciding if your religious exemption is granted or not by the Grand Inquisitor,” said Dr. Randy Tobler, CEO of Scotland County Hospital in Missouri, where about 25% of the 145 employees remain unvaccinated and 30 of them have been granted exemptions.
Tobler, who is vaccinated, said some employees threatened to quit if they were required to get the shot.
“For people that want to judge what we’re doing in rural America, I’d love them to come and walk in our shoes for a little while, just come and sit in the desk and try to staff the place,” Tobler said.

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Walmart said Friday that fully vaccinated employees would no longer have to wear masks unless state or local rules required it. The change is effective immediately, the giant retailer said in a memo to its staff.
Unvaccinated employees must continue to wear masks in its stores and offices until further notice, the memo said.
Walmart said it had made the decision after closely monitoring COVID trends across the country.

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Microsoft is reopening its Washington work sites this month.
The Redmond-based company is moving its offices in Washington state to the final stage of its phased reopening plan, effective Feb. 28.
Microsoft will fully open its facilities to employees, visitors and guests and resume campus services, executive vice president and chief marketing officer Chris Capossela announced Monday.
But the reopening doesn’t guarantee all workers will come back full-time. Microsoft said Monday its approach “embraces schedule flexibility as standard for most roles” and that it is allowing managers to approve employee requests to adjust their work site, location or hours.

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South Korea’s parliament on Monday approved plans to provide a special time for COVID-19 patients to vote during the March 9 presidential election as the country grapples with a record-breaking omicron surge.
The proposed revision of an election-related law will take effect if it is endorsed by the Cabinet Council and signed by the president — steps widely considered a formality since the governing and opposition parties have already agreed on the measure.
Voters diagnosed with highly infectious diseases such as COVID-19 and others placed in quarantine would be allowed to visit polling stations and cast ballots after regular voting closes at 6 p.m., according to a copy of the legislation on the website of the National Assembly. The special voting time would close at 7:30 p.m.
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For nearly two years, homebuyers have been shopping in conditions ripe for regret.
Prices have soared, inventory has plunged and competition has been brutal in markets across the country. With fixer-uppers fetching multiple offers, buyers must make snap decisions about what is often the biggest financial investment of their lives.
Invariably, someone makes a choice they wish they hadn’t.
“There are all kinds of craziness happening,” said Marilyn Wilson, a founding partner of the WAV Group, a consumer research company, who described open houses so crowded they felt like nightclubs, with buyers getting 15 minutes to tour a home. “Sometimes people don’t remember, did it have three bedrooms or four? You might get the house, but it might not be the house you want because you’re just in this desperate state.”
The pandemic has turned out to be a historically miserable time to buy a home. Many buyers entered the market looking for a home to solve some of the problems the pandemic created. They wanted more space for Zoom rooms and home gyms. They wanted bigger and better backyards to entertain outdoors.
These expectations ran headlong into the reality of shopping in a frenzied sellers’ market where the pickings were slim and the prices astronomical. Surveys by the WAV Group and Zillow found about three-quarters of recent buyers expressed some regret. In the Zillow survey, released Friday, the findings paint a picture of homeowners second-guessing the choices they made and wishing they’d had more time, more patience or considered living somewhere else. About a third of respondents regret buying a house that needed more work than they anticipated, 31% wish the home they bought was bigger and 21% thought they overpaid.
“Pandemic-era buyers faced unprecedented conditions. They had far fewer homes to choose from; they had far more competition for the homes that were for sale,” said Amanda Pendleton, Zillow’s home trends expert. “A lot of buyers ended up in this home that was maybe not what they expected.”

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Hong Kong plans to offer COVID-19 vaccines to children as young as 3 as infections rage through the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
The announcement late Sunday came ahead of another surge in cases. The city reported a record 2,071 new cases on Monday, with that number expected to double the next day with more than 4,500 preliminary positives identified.
Hong Kong schools extended a suspension of in-class teaching for two weeks to March 6,
The wave blamed on the omicron variant has already prompted new restrictions limiting in-person gatherings to no more than two households. Hong Kong residents have been rushing to grocery stories to stock up on vegetables and to hair salons to get haircuts.
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Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall has tested positive for COVID-19 four days after her husband Prince Charles was confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus, the couple’s office said Monday.
Clarence House said Camilla was self-isolating. Charles has been isolating since he tested positive on Thursday, but Camilla had continued with public engagements while taking daily tests.
Both Charles, 73, and 74-year-old Camilla are triple-vaccinated.
Charles, who is heir to the British throne, previously contracted the coronavirus in March 2020, during the first wave of the pandemic.
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New Zealand’s prime minister on Monday said protesters who oppose coronavirus mandates were using “intimidation and harassment,” as authorities appeared to take a harsher stance toward the convoy of demonstrators that has disrupted the capital of Wellington for nearly a week.
Police initially let the protesters set up tents and camp on the grounds of New Zealand’s Parliament before arresting 122 people on Thursday and then backing off again. The size of the protest dropped to a few hundred last week but increased again to around 3,000 over the weekend.
Speaking with reporters, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern signaled the thinning patience of authorities.
“I very clearly have a view on the protesters and the way that they’ve conducted their protest because it has moved beyond sharing a view to intimidation and harassment of the people around central Wellington,” she said. “That cannot be tolerated.”

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The busiest U.S.-Canada border crossing was open Monday after protesters demonstrating against COVID-19 measures blocked it for nearly a week, but a larger protest in the capital, Ottawa, persisted as city residents seethed over authorities’ inability to reclaim the streets.
Hong Kong plans to offer COVID-19 vaccines to children as young as 3 as infections rage through the city. With a population of about 7.5 million, Hong Kong currently has more than 7,000 people being treated for COVID-19 or awaiting admission to hospitals.
Sweden is recommending a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose to people over age 80 and those living in nursing homes or getting home care, authorities said Monday.
Oregon is now on track to become one of the last states in the nation to scrap its mandatory mask rules by the end of March. And that’s sparking complaints from a growing portion of the pandemic-weary public that it’s not soon enough.
Determining when to abandon mask requirements is the subject of fierce debate, with disagreement among big names in the epidemiological and medical communities. But it’s clear the country is at a tipping point.
Despite plummeting omicron infections, federal officials insist now is not the time even though many states long ago abandoned required masking.
Oregon officials say its wiser to blunt omicron spread and dramatically reduce hospitalizations before easing up, even if it requires a few extra weeks of vigilance.

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