Coronavirus daily news updates, February 24: 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 Friday, February 18, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
The World Health Organization will create a global training center in South Korea aimed at helping poorer countries develop vaccines, antibody and cancer treatments using RNA technology that has proved vital to making COVID-19 vaccines.
Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech declined to share their COVID-19 vaccine development know-how with the agency and its partners. The training center will reverse-engineer commercially-sold COVID-19 vaccines that pharmaceutical companies have made more accessible in rich countries.
Meanwhile, a dozen U.S. Air Force officers filed a lawsuit against the government after they were denied religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The lawsuit alleges that the Air Force allowed over 3,000 medical and administrative exemptions, but only granted nine religious exemptions.
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.
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With more businesses now returning to the office, the use — and especially the reuse — of N95 and KN95 masks is set to be a popular choice for many.
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its mask guidance to recommend the use of these respirators after previous supply shortages recovered. The government also began distributing free N95 masks along with free at-home tests to combat the omicron surge.
Masking is a critical public health tool for preventing spread of the coronavirus, and while all masks and respirators provide some level of protection, properly fitting respirators provide the highest level of protection, the CDC said. The center recently released a new study that found respirators are significantly more effective than cloth or surgical masks.
There is no time limit to wearing a respirator, says N95 manufacturer 3M. They are designed for multiple uses and can be worn until they are dirty, damaged or difficult to breathe through.
In fact, the N95/KN95 respirator is more likely to be physically damaged or worn out before it needs to be replaced because of a COVID-19 exposure, said Marisa Baker, assistant professor at the University of Washington’s Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences.
“You’ll need to toss it because the strap broke, or it got wet in the rain, well before it would be overloaded and lose its filtration efficiency,” Baker said.
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo on Thursday announced new coronavirus policy recommendations that discourage mask wearing and push physicians to use off-label medications to treat the virus.
The guidance, titled “Buck the CDC,” is the Republican governor’s latest break with federal officials over COVID-19 rules, a feud that has boosted his prominence in the GOP as he eyes a 2024 presidential bid.
“People want to live freely in Florida, without corporate masking creating a two-tier society and without overbearing isolation for children,” DeSantis said in a statement. “We are empowering health care practitioners to follow science, not (Dr. Anthony) Fauci’s status quo.”
Florida’s new policy advises businesses to stop requiring masks for workers, as the state’s health guidance does not rely on wearing masks in a community setting. It also suggests that adults and children who test positive for COVID-19 should isolate for five days.
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More than 80% of the billions of dollars in federal rental assistance aimed at keeping families in their homes during the pandemic went to low-income tenants, the Treasury Department said Thursday.
It also concluded that the largest percentage of tenants receiving pandemic aid were Black followed by households. In the fourth quarter of 2021, Treasury found that more than 40% of tenants getting help were Black and two-thirds of recipients were female-headed households. The data was consistent with what Treasury saw throughout the year.
“This is money that flows from Treasury to every state and territory in the country, and we really have seen a real focus on delivering these dollars,” said Noel Andrés Poyo, the deputy assistant secretary for Community Economic Development at Treasury. “It has been encouraging from my point of view to see states that are very diverse and to see these agencies lean into something really hard, it was really tough to stand up these programs, this data reflects where the need was.”
According to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, those most likely to face eviction are low-income women, especially women of color. Domestic violence victims and families with children are also at high risk for eviction.

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Canada has become the first country to authorize use of a plant-based COVID-19 vaccine.
Canadian regulators said Thursday Medicago’s two-dose vaccine can be given to adults ages 18 to 64, but said there’s too little data on the shots in people 65 and older.
The decision was based on a study of 24,000 adults that found the vaccine was 71% effective at preventing COVID-19 — although that was before the omicron variant emerged. Side effects were mild, including fever and fatigue.
Medicago uses plants as living factories to grow virus-like particles, which mimic the spike protein that coats the coronavirus. The particles are removed from the plants’ leaves and purified. Another ingredient, an immune-boosting chemical called an adjuvant that is made by British partner GlaxoSmithKline, is added to the shots.

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The Biden administration will significantly loosen federal mask-wearing guidelines to protect against COVID-19 transmission on Friday, according to two people familiar with the matter, meaning most Americans will no longer be advised to wear masks in indoor public settings.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday will announce a change to the metrics it uses to determine whether to recommend face coverings, shifting from looking at COVID-19 case counts to a more holistic view of risk from the coronavirus to a community. Under current guidelines, masks are recommended for people residing in communities of substantial or high transmission — roughly 95% of U.S. counties, according to the latest data.
The new metrics will still consider caseloads, but also take into account hospitalizations and local hospital capacity, which have been markedly improved during the emergence of the omicron variant. That strain is highly transmissible, but indications are that it is less severe than earlier strains, particularly for people who are fully vaccinated and boosted. Under the new guidelines, the vast majority of Americans will no longer live in areas where indoor masking in public is recommended, based on current data.
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Mardi Gras revelers, accustomed to catching beads, small toys or other trinkets tossed by parade float riders during Carnival season, were able to snag a new parade favor Thursday: rapid COVID-19 tests.
As Carnival season nears its raucous pre-Lenten climax on Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) next week, the handing out of tests during the Krewe of Muses parade is emblematic of the city’s effort to avoid a surge of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths while reviving cherished, and economically vital, Carnival events. Those events were largely silenced in 2021 after officials realized the 2020 celebration had been a “superspreader” event that made Louisiana an early Southern hot spot for the disease.
The city health department said Wednesday that staff and volunteers would be parading at the head of Thursday night’s Muses procession, some in the back of a pickup truck and some walking alongside, to hand out test kits.
Parade watchers who receive a kit will be encouraged to test themselves and use a special QR code on the package to anonymously report the results to help the health department study the effects of Carnival season on the city’s health.

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The coronavirus mutant widely known as “stealth omicron” is now causing more than a third of new omicron cases around the world, but scientists still don’t know how it could affect the future of the pandemic.
Researchers are slowly revealing clues about the strain, a descendant of omicron known as BA.2, while warily watching it become ever more prevalent.
“We’re all keeping an eye on BA.2 just because it has done particularly well in some parts of the world,” including parts of Asia, Africa and Europe, said Dr. Wesley Long, a pathologist at Houston Methodist in Texas.
This week, a technical advisory group for the World Health Organization advised public health authorities to monitor it as a distinct omicron strain.
Early research suggests it spreads faster than the original omicron and in rare cases can sicken people even if they’ve already had an omicron infection. There’s mixed research on whether it causes more severe disease, but vaccines appear just as effective against it.
Overall cases are falling in some places where the variant is becoming more prevalent, offering some hope that the latest troubling version of the virus won’t send cases skyrocketing again as experts try to learn more.

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For the first time in over two decades, the energizing Show Brazil! Carnaval will be postponed entirely this year. 
The celebration’s co-founder, Eduardo Mendonça of Kent, decided to postpone the event, scheduled for Feb. 26 at the Crocodile, due to the rise in coronavirus cases led by the omicron variant. 
“It’s not the same playing virtually when you get to dance, sweat and interact with the audience,” he said. “We did not feel the same connection and emotion” last year, Mendonça said, when Show Brazil! hosted a virtual event. The year prior, the 2020 Carnaval managed to eke out its party just as the pandemic was making the news. 
Leading up to the 2022 celebration, Mendonça kept an eye on other Seattle-area performance venues to follow their lead, ultimately deciding to postpone given the communal nature of the event. 
Read the story here.

Hong Kong launched a vaccination requirement to enter shopping malls, restaurants and a host of other places on Thursday as it battles an expanding omicron outbreak and tries to overcome vaccine hesitancy in parts of its population.
Businesses posted a QR code at their entrances for people to scan with a smartphone app to check their vaccine status before entering.
Everyone aged 12 and over must have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to enter these places. Beginning April 30, those aged 18 and above will be required to have two doses. Booster shots will be required for some starting June 30.

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Queen Elizabeth II postponed her daily virtual engagements Thursday, Buckingham Palace said, the second time she has taken such a step since she tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday.
The palace did not specify why the meetings were called off, so it was unclear whether her absence reflected lingering COVID-19 symptoms. On Tuesday, the palace said she had canceled virtual events because she was “still experiencing mild coldlike symptoms.”
The palace said the 95-year-old queen would be “continuing with light duties,” and that she had no other engagements scheduled this week. It did not say when Thursday’s virtual engagements would be rescheduled.

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The number of Americans collecting unemployment benefits fell to a 52-year low after another decline in jobless aid applications last week.
Jobless claims fell by 17,000, from 249,000 to 232,000 for the week ending Feb. 19, the Labor Department reported Thursday.
The four-week average for claims, which compensates for weekly volatility, fell by 7,250 to 236,250. It was the third straight week of declines after rising for five straight weeks as the omicron variant of the coronavirus spread, disrupting business in many parts of the U.S.
In total, 1,476,000 Americans were collecting jobless aid the week that ended Feb. 5, a decrease of about 112,000 from the previous week and the lowest level since March 14, 1970, the government said.
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Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine brought in nearly $7 billion in the final quarter of 2021, and the drugmaker says it has signed purchase agreements for another $19 billion in sales this year.
The vaccine maker’s COVID-19 shots, which are now available in more than 70 countries, totaled $17.7 billion in sales last year, their first full year on the market.
Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine is the only product the drugmaker has on the market.
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All government-mandated coronavirus restrictions in England were lifted Thursday, including the legal requirement for people who test positive for COVID-19 to isolate at home.
Officials say that those who tested positive will still be advised to stay at home for at least five days. But from Thursday they are not legally obliged to do so, and those on lower incomes will no longer get extra financial support to make up for a loss of income due to isolation. The routine tracing of infected people’s contacts has also been scrapped.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday set out his Conservative government’s strategy for “living with COVID” in the longer term. He said Britain is moving “from legal restrictions to personal responsibility,” and that the end of all domestic legal measures marked the end of two of the darkest years in the country’s peacetime history.

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Some people should wait longer to get a second COVID-19 shot, according to CDC officials who quietly changed their guidance yesterday.
Demand for vaccines has all but collapsed in many parts of the U.S.

Florida is expected to confirm a surgeon general who has come out strongly against mask mandates and lockdowns and will not say whether he has been vaccinated.

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