Coronavirus daily news updates, February 18: 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
An estimated 73% of U.S. residents have become immune to the omicron variant, health officials and experts said. Despite the hopeful outlook, they reminded people that on average, 2,000 deaths are being reported each day across the country.
Meanwhile, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that COVID-19 mask requirements will be lifted on March 21 for schools, child care facilities, grocery stores, bars, gyms and other indoor settings. The news came one day after King County announced restaurants, bars, theaters and gyms will no longer be required to check the vaccination status of their patrons beginning March 1.
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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During the pandemic, emergency rooms across the country reported an increase in visits from teenage girls dealing with eating and other disorders, including anxiety, depression and stress, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The report provides new detail about the kinds of mental health issues affecting a generation of adolescents.
Mental health experts hypothesize that the pandemic prompted some youth to feel isolated, lonely and out-of-control. Some coped by seeking to have control over their own behavior, said Emily Pluhar, a pediatric psychologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and instructor at Harvard Medical School.
“You take a very vulnerable group and put on a global pandemic,” she said. “The eating disorders are out of control.”
Read the full story here.
Here’s one thing the pandemic has made easier for the young stars of the Beijing Olympics: juggling the demands of elite athletic competition with college life.
Remote schooling, now a fact of life for students everywhere, also comes in handy when you’re a world away from campus for weeks at a time. And the technology has been battle tested for two years now.
Nathan Smith, a student at Minnesota State University and one of 15 college players on the U.S. men’s hockey team, has been able to keep up with his school work and even talk with his teachers.
“I wasn’t sure what kind of connection and everything I’d have over here,” Smith said. “I’m trying to do my best and keep up with it.”
Read the full story here.
Mask-wearing will be optional for students and staff in Alaska’s largest school district starting Feb. 28, the district superintendent said Friday, citing in part declining COVID-19 cases in the community.
Deena Bishop, in an online message said the transition will occur absent “unforeseen conditions.”
“It’s time to do this for our students,” she wrote, adding later: “I believe that continued mandatory mask wearing is counter-productive and negatively impacts our students’ education, intellectual development, and emotional well-being.”
Bishop said the district is prepared to offer COVID-19 tests through the end of the school year to staff and students who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19.
Read the full story here.
Two more people were arrested Friday in a federal criminal case involving a former Connecticut state representative accused of stealing federal pandemic relief funds from the city of West Haven while he was working as an aide to the city council.
A newly released, six-count federal grand jury indictment accuses former Democratic Rep. Michael DiMassa, his wife Lauren Knox and two others of conspiring to steal more than $1.2 million in COVID-19 relief funds and other money from the city. DiMassa and his former business associate, John Bernardo, had previously been charged with stealing $600,000.
All four, who live in West Haven, face conspiracy and fraud charges.
On Friday, Knox, 37, and John Trasacco, 50, a business owner, were arrested for the first time in connection with the case. They both appeared before a federal magistrate and pleaded not guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud stemming from two separate alleged schemes involving DiMassa, the New Haven Register reported. Both were released on bond pending trial.
Read the full story here.
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy announced Friday that he and his young family have COVID-19 despite their best efforts to avoid infection by getting vaccinated and taking other precautions.
Writing on Twitter, America’s doctor said, “When you’ve been as safe as you can, getting COVID-19 can be frustrating and disappointing. I’ve felt that. It can also be a source of shame. Many people assume you must have been careless to get sick. Our safety measures reduce risk but they can’t eliminate risk. Nothing can.”
As new cases and hospitalizations plummet, and deaths have finally started to decline, the Murthy family’s bout with COVID calls attention to the real risks of a virus that many people assume is finally on the way out.
Murthy, a regular participant at White House COVID task force briefings, said he and his wife, physician and political activist Dr. Alice Chen, have mild symptoms. She has a headache and fatigue, and he said he was dealing with muscle aches, chills, and a sore throat.
Read the full story here.
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 3,347 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday and 2,626 on Thursday. It also reported 93 more deaths over those days.
The update brings the state’s totals to 1,409,253 cases and 11,615 deaths, meaning that .82% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Thursday. New state data is reported on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
DOH data systems are experiencing slowdowns causing delays in reporting cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The agency did not have an estimate of duplicate cases on Friday.
In addition, 57,442 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 297 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state’s most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 361,753 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,473 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in late 2020, the state and health care providers have administered 12,954,260 doses and 67% 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 11,658 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.
The first African countries selected to receive the technology necessary to produce mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 are Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia, a summit meeting of European Union and African Union nations heard on Friday.
The six countries have been chosen to build vaccine production factories as part of a bid the World Health Organization launched last year to replicate what are believed to be the most effective licensed shots against COVID-19.
Africa currently produces just 1% of coronavirus vaccines. According to WHO figures, only 11% of the population in Africa is fully vaccinated, compared with the global average of about 50%.
Read the story here.
The Washington Department of Corrections reported 55 active COVID-19 cases Wednesday among incarcerated individuals at Larch Corrections Center.
The number of active cases among staff — six — has remained the same since Monday, according to Wednesday’s DOC bulletin.
The minimum-security prison near Yacolt was placed on facility-wide outbreak status Feb. 7 after four inmates in the living unit tested positive.

Read the story here.
Moments after the Australian government announced that it would reopen the country’s borders to international travelers later this month, Emily Barrett locked in a fare for a flight to Sydney. The 32-year-old nanny from Palo Alto, California, spent three days researching and talking to Australian friends before she decided to book her trip to the island continent, which for two years had some of the world’s strictest border controls and longest lockdowns aimed at controlling the spread of the coronavirus.
“They all said, ‘if we go back into a lockdown now, people will go into the streets,’” she said. Her two-week trip is scheduled to start a few days after the border opens Monday.
Potential travelers and tourism operators alike are cautiously optimistic about “Fortress Australia’s” reopening, but many wonder if the isolated nation’s ongoing COVID restrictions — such as vaccine and testing requirements, as well as mask mandates — will make the return of international travel more of a trickle than a splash. Australia’s reputation for rigidity and reclusiveness during the pandemic — at odds with the inviting, easygoing nature portrayed by the country’s tourism boards — may also be a hurdle to overcome.

Read the story here.
 Germany has crossed over the peak of new daily infections with the omicron variant of COVID-19 in decline, the country’s health minister said on Friday.
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said government measures to curb infection numbers have been effective, but he warned against relaxing the public health rules too hastily.

Read the story here.

This winter’s mild flu season has faded to a trickle of cases in much of the U.S., but health officials aren’t ready to call it over.
Since the beginning of the year, positive flu test results and doctor’s office visits for flu-like illness are down. But second waves of influenza are not unusual, and some experts said it’s possible a late winter or spring surge could be coming.
COVID-19 cases have been falling, leading to a decline in mask wearing and behaviors that may have been keeping flu down this winter and some indicators show flu activity inching up.
Read the story here.

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For many in the Seattle area, Monday’s back-to-back back-to-office announcements by Microsoft and Expedia seemed to confirm a real momentum in the region’s recovery from COVID.
Since then, politicians and business leaders have talked of “tipping points” and have predicted more back-to-office announcements — along with the welcome prospect of more workers returning to still-moribund downtowns and commercial districts. Almost on cue, a day after Monday’s news, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell used his first State of the City address to announce that many city workers currently working remotely will come back to the office next month.
“What it signals is that there’s relative confidence in the safety of bringing the workforce back together,” Patrick Bannon, president of the Bellevue Downtown Association, said of Microsoft’s announcement. “I can’t wait to see more people back in downtown, especially in this area where the office towers have been really quiet during the pandemic.”
But, in a way, the flurry of announcements also showed how far the region’s office-based economy remains from its pre-pandemic glory. 
Read the story here.
The omicron surge seems to be slowing in much of the world, but a subvariant that scientists believe is even more contagious is on the rise, and a decline in testing has muddled the global picture, the World Health Organization said.
New cases worldwide dropped 19% from Feb. 7-13, compared with the week before, according to the agency. But the omicron subvariant, BA.2, appeared to be “steadily increasing” in prevalence and that BA.2 had now become dominant in several Asian countries, including China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines, WHO said.
BA.2 now accounts for roughly 1 in 5 new omicron cases recorded across the world, according to the WHO.

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South Korea will extend restaurant dining hours but maintain a six-person limit on private social gatherings as it wrestles with a massive coronavirus wave driven by the highly infectious omicron variant.
The 109,831 new cases reported on Friday was another record and about a 25-fold increase from the levels seen in mid-January, when omicron became the country’s dominant strain. The more than 516,000 infections counted in the past seven days alone raised South Korea’s caseload to over 1.75 million.
Long lines snaked around public health offices and testing stations in the densely populated capital Seoul, where health workers in hazmat suits distributed rapid antigen test kits and collected throat and nasal samples from senior citizens and other high-risk groups.
Read the story here.
Hong Kong’s Fung Shing Restaurant was bustling this week as customers came for one last taste of the traditional Cantonese dim sum that has made it famous.
With COVID-19 restrictions cutting too deeply into its bottom line, the restaurant will shut its doors for good on Sunday, another economic victim of the pandemic.
Many fear the worst is yet to come with Hong Kong experiencing its most severe outbreak, and fret the authorities’ determination to stick to mainland China’s “zero-tolerance” strategy may prevent it from recovering as a financial and travel hub.
“Even though maybe zero-COVID can be reached, there is still uncertainty on how long it can be maintained and what the cost is of maintaining it,” said Natixis senior economist Gary Ng.
“The biggest risk of Hong Kong in 2022 is that it may be entering the path of basically, if not recession, at least a downward drag in economic growth again while the world begins to normalize,” Ng said.
Hong Kong has seen banks close branches and movie theaters have shut down. The streets of popular shopping and dining districts are lined with shops displaying “for rent” signs. Its international airport is nearly devoid of travelers.

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Police began arresting protesters Friday in a bid to break the three-week, traffic-snarling siege of Canada’s capital by hundreds of truckers angry over the country’s COVID-19 restrictions.
Officers were seen going door to door along a line of trucks, campers and other vehicles parked on Ottawa’s snow-covered streets.
Some protesters surrendered and were taken into custody, police said. Some were led away in handcuffs. One person being taken away carried a sign that read “Mandate Freedom.”
Many of the truckers remained defiant.
“Freedom was never free,” said trucker Kevin Homaund, of Montreal. “So what if they put the handcuffs on us and they put us in jail?”
Police made their first move to end the occupation late Thursday with the arrest of two key protest leaders. They also sealed off much of the downtown area to outsiders to prevent them from coming to the aid of the self-styled Freedom Convoy protesters.

Read the story here.
COVID-19 mask requirements will be lifted on March 21 for schools, child care facilities, grocery stores, bars, gyms and other indoor settings, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday. The news came one day after King County announced restaurants, bars, theaters and gyms will no longer be required to check the vaccination status of their patrons beginning March 1. Our Q&A dives into what you need to know about the recent announcements.
California became the first state to formally shift to an “endemic” approach to the coronavirus with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement Thursday of a plan that emphasizes prevention and quick reaction to outbreaks over mandated masking and business shutdowns.
The omicron surge seems to be slowing in much of the world, but a subvariant that scientists believe is even more contagious is on the rise, and a decline in testing has muddled the global picture, the World Health Organization said.

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