Coronavirus daily news updates, February 1: 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 Tuesday, February 1, 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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine was granted full approval from U.S. health regulators Monday, a shot that’s already been given to tens of millions of Americans since its emergency authorization over a year ago.
The Food and Drug Administration reviewed months of follow-up data from Moderna, the vaccine’s effectiveness against COVID-19, serious side effects and the company’s manufacturing process and facilities. The Pfizer vaccine was granted full approval last August.
Concerns over long-term effects from contracting COVID-19 persist. Over an estimated third of COVID-19 survivors are expected to develop lingering problems, such as continuous brain fog, pain and fatigue.
Meanwhile, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against an Illinois-based coronavirus testing company with at least 13 sites in Washington that faked test results and lied to patients.
The company expanded to about 300 U.S. locations and took advantage of residents during a time when frequent testing was in high demand, the lawsuit alleges. The company also failed to properly refrigerate tests and instead stored them in garbage bags for over a week.
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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Missouri senators on Tuesday effectively ousted the new state health director following conservative blowback, despite the health czar’s stances against abortion and mask and vaccine mandates.
Senators on Tuesday adjourned for the week without taking up Department of Health and Senior Services Director Don Kauerauf’s nomination. The deadline to confirm him is Friday, and because Republican Gov. Mike Parson didn’t retract his nomination, Kauerauf will be barred from serving after this week.
“We had an overwhelming outpouring from the people of Missouri from all over the state, and their voices were heard,” said Republican Sen. Mike Moon, Kauerauf’s main opponent in the Senate. “We acted on their will.”
Kauerauf took over as the state’s health director in September after his predecessor, Randall Williams, left the job in April 2021 without publicly citing a reason.
Read the full story here.
Facing staff shortages and a surge in coronavirus cases, and describing inhumane conditions in King County jails, public defenders and corrections officers are asking the county to stop booking people awaiting charges on nonviolent felony offenses.
The proposal, which is opposed by the county prosecutor’s office, is an effort to further reduce jail populations, which have already fallen significantly since the outbreak of the pandemic nearly two years ago.
At that time, in March 2020, County Executive Dow Constantine ordered corrections officials to stop jailing people accused of most misdemeanors. Average jail populations quickly fell from about 1,900 to around 1,350, where they have remained.
But the omicron-fueled surge in COVID cases has had profound impacts on the county’s downtown jail and its jail in Kent, officials said.
Read the full story here.
Disaster-hit Tonga will go into lockdown Wednesday evening after the Pacific island nation reported two port workers who had been helping distribute international aid had become infected with the coronavirus.
The urgent announcement by Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni appeared to confirm fears among Tongan officials that the aid pouring in following a devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami last month could also usher in COVID-19 to a nation that had previously been living virus-free.
Indeed, officials had expressed concerns to relief workers that an outbreak of the virus could represent a bigger danger to Tonga than the tsunami, which killed three people and left dozens homeless. Foreign nations have been lining up to deliver aid, with ships and planes arriving from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Britain and China.
Those nations had promised to drop off their supplies of fresh water and medicine without coming into contact with anybody on the ground in Tonga, which usually requires incoming travelers to spend three weeks in quarantine.
Read the full story here.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark took the European Union lead Tuesday by scrapping most pandemic restrictions as the Scandinavian country no longer considers COVID-19 “a socially critical disease.” European nations elsewhere had a patchwork of different approaches, with some relaxing virus measures while others tightened them.
Officials say the reason for the Danish move is that while the omicron variant is surging in the country, it’s not placing a heavy burden on the health system and Denmark has a high vaccination rate.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told Danish radio it’s too early to know if virus restrictions ever have to make a comeback.
“I dare not say that it is a final goodbye to restrictions,” she said. “We do not know what will happen in the fall, whether there will be a new variant.”
Denmark, a nation of 5.8 million, has in recent weeks seen more than 50,000 new cases a day but the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital intensive care units has dropped.
Read the full story here.
PORTLAND — Oregon health officials fell far short of a goal to get COVID-19 booster shots into the arms of an additional 1 million Oregonians by the end of January, state health data showed Tuesday.
Gov. Kate Brown announced the goal in mid-December as Oregon braced for a surge in cases and hospitalizations from the arrival of the highly contagious omicron variant.
But the state got booster shots into the arms of only 504,081 additional residents, just more than half of the goal, according to data released by the Oregon Health Authority.
Oregon’s booster rates are nevertheless higher than most states, with 48% of fully vaccinated people receiving a booster shot by this week, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.
Read the full story here.
Washington has again run out of its supply of rapid COVID-19 tests available for home delivery after the state relaunched its ordering website this week.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the website — sayyescovidhometest.org — reported that there had been a “overwhelming response to the initiative (that) already exhausted the limited supply available.”
The state Department of Health, which organized the initiative, previously ran out of its initial supply of 1.4 million tests less than 24 hours after the website went live for the first time on Jan. 21. State health officials reassured Washingtonians at the time that another shipment of COVID tests was on its way and that the site would reopen once the test kits landed in the state.
The state relaunched the website on Monday, anticipating it would be able to deliver tests to another 120,000 homes.
Because testing demand remains high in Washington, state officials warned again Monday that the website could close a second time if supplies run out, but that it will reopen once more tests arrive.
It’s unclear when the website will reopen, but in the meantime, state health officials are encouraging residents to order a testing kit from the federal government’s similar home delivery program, buy at-home kits in local pharmacies or find a testing location nearby.
GENEVA — The World Health Organization chief said Tuesday that 90 million cases of coronavirus have been reported since the omicron variant was first identified 10 weeks ago — amounting to more than in all of 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With many countries easing their restrictive measures amid public fatigue about them, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanon Ghebreyeus cautioned that omicron should not be underestimated even though it has shown to bring less severe illness than earlier variants — and cited “a very worrying increase in deaths in most regions of the world.”
“We are concerned that a narrative has taken hold in some countries that because of vaccines — and because of omicron’s high transmissibility and lower severity — preventing transmission is no longer possible and no longer necessary,” he told a regular WHO briefing on the pandemic.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Tedros added. “It’s premature for any country either to surrender or to declare victory. This virus is dangerous and it continues to evolve before our very eyes.”
WHO said four of its six regions worldwide are seeing increasing trends in deaths.
Read the full story here.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The daughter of a former South Florida mayor who recently ran for Congress has been sentenced to prison for lying to obtain $300,000 in COVID-19 relief funds.
Damara Holness on Monday was ordered to report to federal prison by noon on April 25 to serve a 20-month sentence for the Paycheck Protection Program fraud. The program was designed to keep businesses afloat during the pandemic. The judge on Monday also sentenced Holness, daughter of former Broward County Mayor Dale Holness, to five years of supervised release.
She pleaded guilty in November, a day after a Democratic primary for a U.S. House seat that her father ended up losing by five votes.
“The defendant saw this as an opportunity to unjustly enrich herself by defrauding the program designed to help those struggling businesses,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Kaplan wrote in court records.
Damara Holness’ lawyer, Sue-Ann Robinson, said it “was more an act of desperation than greed.” She said some of the money went toward “housing arrangements” and taxes.
Read the full story here.
In addition to other stresses that parents are facing as the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt work, school and family life, some baby formulas are out of stock in parts of the country, causing caregivers to worry about how they will continue to feed their infants.
The shortages are probably driven by a combination of supply chain issues, including a scarcity of certain ingredients used to make formula, as well as staff shortages that make it difficult to get products out of warehouses and onto store shelves, said Erin Moore, a pediatric nurse practitioner and certified lactation counselor in Austin, Texas.
“It’s a very stressful time for new moms,” she said. But, Moore added, there are workarounds available so parents can keep their babies fed and healthy.
Read the full story here.
WASHINGTON — Pfizer on Tuesday asked the U.S. to authorize extra-low doses of its COVID-19 vaccine for children under 5, potentially opening the way for the very youngest Americans to start receiving shots as early as March.
In an extraordinary move, the Food and Drug Administration had urged Pfizer and its partner BioNTech to apply earlier than the companies had planned.
The nation’s 19 million children under 5 are the only group not yet eligible for vaccination against the coronavirus. Many parents have been pushing for an expansion of shots to toddlers and preschoolers, especially as the omicron wave sent record numbers of youngsters to the hospital.
If the FDA agrees, Pfizer shots containing just one-tenth of the dose given to adults could be dispensed to children as young as 6 months. Pfizer said Tuesday it had started submitting its data to the FDA and expects to complete the process in a few days.
Read the full story here.
TORONTO — In a scene at odds with Canadians’ reputation for niceness and rule-following, thousands of protesters railing against vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions descended on the capital over the weekend, deliberately blocking traffic around Parliament Hill.
Some urinated and parked on the National War Memorial. One danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A number carried signs and flags with swastikas.
In the aftermath of Canada’s biggest pandemic protest to date, the demonstrators have found little sympathy in a country where more than 80% are vaccinated. Many people were outraged by some of the crude behavior.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the Ottawa protesters a “fringe minority” and said they reflected the proliferation of “disinformation and misinformation online, conspiracy theorists, about microchips, about God knows what else that go with the tinfoil hats.”
Organizers, including one who has espoused white supremacist views, had raised millions for the cross-country “freedom truck convoy” against vaccine mandates. It attracted support from former U.S. President Donald Trump and Tesla billionaire Elon Musk.
Read the full story here.
Pregnant women who are positive with COVID-19 when they give birth rarely transmit the virus to their newborns, according to a spate of new research. The reason: COVID isn’t often found in a patient’s bloodstream.
As researchers have raced to understand the effects of COVID on pregnancy and infants, these findings offer good news to expecting parents.
“Analyses show that infection among infants born to women with COVID-19 was uncommon,” said Kate Woodworth, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Even so, a pregnant woman with COVID risks serious illness which can also have negative health consequences for her newborn child even if the baby is born COVID-free. Recent studies have linked COVID-19 infection during pregnancy to both preterm labor and stillbirth.
The CDC released a study in September that found the rate of transmission from mother to baby was under 4%. Another study published last February that looked at data from more than 4,000 women in U.S. and U.K. COVID-19 neonatal registries estimates it’s even lower — around just 2%.
Read the full story here.
PRAGUE — The Czech Republic has recorded a significant decline in people dying of COVID-19 despite facing a record number of new cases in January.
Over 560,000 new coronavirus were registered in January, by far the most in one month since the beginning of the pandemic amid a record surge of infections driven by the highly contagious omicron variant.
It was over 150,000 more than the previous record set in November and 250,000 more than in December. Yet, 978 people died of COVID-19 in January, compared to almost 3,000 in December and 2,500 in November when the previous delta variant was dominant in the European Union country.
The Czech Republic has registered 37,243 virus-related deaths in the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the lower house of Parliament was debating Tuesday a plan to amend the pandemic law that gives the coalition government extra powers to impose coronavirus restrictions and extend its reach beyond February.
Read the full story here.
OLYMPIA — Before the pandemic, Washington’s broad and powerful emergency statutes didn’t attract much notice.
As the past two years have shown, Gov. Jay Inslee responded the COVID-19 outbreak with emergency orders to ban crowdsshut down schoolsrequire vaccinations for some employment and require masks to be worn.
Under state law, those powers — given generations ago by the Legislature to the governor — don’t have an expiration date, and they grant the governor broad authority to do things like restrict gatherings and set curfews.
Washington’s statute goes even further, allowing governors authority over “such other activities as he or she reasonably believes should be prohibited to help preserve and maintain life, health, property or the public peace,” according to the law.
Inslee and Democratic leaders have pointed to the success of Washington’s response, with the state having one of the lowest death rates due to COVID in the nation. And since the pandemic’s early days, the emergency-power law has been held up as constitutional in dozens of court challenges.
That’s little balm for Republicans — a minority in the state House and Senate — who have felt largely shut out of the response to the pandemic amid unified Democratic control.
Read the full story here.
Have you traveled internationally during the omicron surge? What was your COVID experience abroad? What was it like flying back to the U.S.?
Seattle Times reporter Paige Cornwell would like to speak with recent travelers for an upcoming story. She can be reached at (206) 464-2530 or pcornwell@seattletimes.com.
BEIJING — Athletes and team officials are testing positive for COVID-19 at much higher rates than other people arriving in China for the Beijing Olympics, organizers said Tuesday.
Figures released by local organizers showed 11 positive tests for COVID-19 among 379 athletes and officials arriving Monday. They have been taken into isolation hotels to limit the spread of the infection and could miss their events.
The positive test rate of 2.9% for athletes and officials compared to 0.66% for Olympic “stakeholders,” a group which includes workers and media, in the same period. There were 1,059 people in that category.
Over a three-day period from Saturday through Monday, the positivity rate for athletes and officials was 40% higher than other Olympic arrivals.
Read the full story here.
GENEVA — The World Health Organization says overuse of gloves, “moon suits” and the use of billions of masks and vaccination syringes to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus have spurred a huge glut of health care waste worldwide.
The U.N. health agency reported Tuesday that tens of thousands of tons of extra medical waste has strained waste management systems and is threatening both health and the environment, pointing to a “dire need” to improve those systems and get a response from both governments and people.
“Part of the message for the public is to become more of a conscious consumer,” said Dr. Margaret Montgomery, technical officer of WHO’s water, sanitation, hygiene and health unit. “In terms of the volume, it’s enormous.”
“We find that people are wearing excessive PPE,” Montgomery said, referring to personal protection equipment.
Read the full story here.
BERLIN — German beer sales dropped another 2.2% last year, with the coronavirus pandemic again weighing on brewers after sales tumbled 5.5% in 2020, official figures showed Tuesday.
Lockdowns that shut restaurants and bars for parts of the past two years have added to a long-term downward trend fueled by health concerns and other factors.
The Federal Statistical Office said that German-based breweries and distributors sold about 8.5 billion liters (2.2 billion gallons) of beer in 2021.
There were particularly steep year-on-year drops of 27% and 19.1% respectively in January and February, when full lockdown measures were in place across the country. Authorities started relaxing restrictions in the spring; blanket nationwide lockdowns haven’t been reimposed, although restrictions remain.
Read the full story here.
A South Korean company has released a new mask designed to help people feel more comfortable dining indoors by covering just their nose while they are eating or drinking. Behold: The “kosk.”
The mask has gone viral on social media and in various online forums, after it was recently unveiled by a South Korean company, Atman. It can be used folded up when eating just to cover the nose, and unfolded to cover the both the nose and the mouth after eating. It is available on an online shopping website for about $8 for a box of 10.
The new mask is called “kosk,” or a nose mask – a portmanteau of “mask” and “ko,” the Korean word for nose. “Kosk” is typically used to describe people who wear their masks over their mouth, with their nose revealed.
Read the full story here.
A COVID testing company with at least 13 sites in Washington faked test results, lied to patients and improperly stored tests in trash bags, the state attorney general says in a lawsuit. A woman who visited one of the sites describes a “sketchy” scene.
Vaccines for young children could be approved as soon as this month. Pfizer may submit its application today for a two-dose regimen while awaiting data on a third dose for ages 6 months to 5 years old. Here’s the thinking and the possible timeline.
Free masks and at-home COVID tests are available at eight King County libraries. And Washington has reopened its website to order free tests, a week after blowing through its supply.
Falsehoods about athletes dying from COVID vaccines spread like wildfire around the world, eventually making their way out of the mouths of a U.S. senator and Gonzaga legend John Stockton, among many others. How did this happen? It has its roots in mysterious Austrian websites with ties to that country’s far-right populist party.

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