Gov. Jay Inslee warned Thursday of “strong evidence” of a possible fourth COVID-19 wave in Washington, noting daily case counts have grown to over 1,000, up from 700 per day in February. As coronavirus cases again trend up, Inslee last week ordered three counties — Pierce, Cowlitz and Whitman — to tighten restrictions by moving back to the second phase of his “Healthy Washington” plan. If cases and hospitalizations continue to increase, more counties now in Phase 3 could roll back to the second phase in May.

The United States opened more distance between itself and much of the rest of the world on Thursday, nearing the 200 millionth vaccine administered in a months-long race to protect the population against COVID-19, even as other countries, rich and poor, struggle with stubbornly high infection rates and deaths. The Associated Press reports that nearly half of American adults have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, and about 30% of adults in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the picture is still relentlessly grim in parts of Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia as variants of the virus fuel an increase in new cases and the worldwide death toll closes in on 3 million.

France has become the third country in Europe after the U.K. and Italy to reach the unwanted milestone of 100,000 COVID-19-related deaths as new infections and deaths surged due to virus variants. But experts told The Associated Press the 100,000 mark is an underestimate by thousands: An analysis of death certificates shows that some COVID-19 cases were not reported or patients were not tested when people died at home, or in psychiatric units or chronic care facilities. France has reported the most confirmed coronavirus infections in Europe, more than 5.2 million.

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.

China ramps up vaccination drive with free eggs, other goods

People wait in line outside a Covid-19 vaccination center in Beijing, China, on Wednesday, March 17, 2021. The Chinese capital city is offering Covid vaccine shots to people aged 60 and above who are in good heath, Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control said in a statement. Photographer: Yan Cong/Bloomberg (Bloomberg)

People wait in line outside a Covid-19 vaccination center in Beijing, China, on Wednesday, March 17, 2021. The Chinese capital city is offering Covid vaccine shots to people aged 60 and above who are in good heath, Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control said in a statement. Photographer: Yan Cong/Bloomberg (Bloomberg)

China’s success at controlling the coronavirus outbreak has resulted in a population that has seemed almost reluctant to get vaccinated. So it is accelerating its inoculation campaign by offering incentives — free eggs, store coupons and discounts on groceries and merchandise — to those getting a shot.

After a slow start, China is now giving millions of shots a day. On March 26 alone, it administered 6.1 million shots. A top government doctor, Zhong Nanshan, has announced a June goal of vaccinating 560 million of the country’s 1.4 billion people.

The challenge lies partly in the sheer scale of the effort and the need to convince a population that currently feels safe from infections.

Read the story here.

—Huizong Wu, The Associated Press

US setting up $1.7B national network to track virus variants

The U.S. is setting up a $1.7 billion national network to identify and track worrisome coronavirus mutations whose spread could trigger another pandemic wave, the Biden administration announced Friday.

White House officials unveiled a strategy that features three components: a major funding boost for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health departments to ramp up gene-mapping of coronavirus samples; the creation of six “centers of excellence” partnerships with universities to conduct research and develop technologies for gene-based surveillance of pathogens; and building a data system to better share and analyze information on emerging disease threats, so the knowledge can be turned into action.

The new effort, which relies on money approved by Congress as part of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief package, aims to break what experts say is a feast-or-famine cycle in which the government scrambles to counter a potential threat, but funding dries up when it recedes.

Read the story here.

—Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

Germany’s Merkel urges lawmakers to support pandemic bill

German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged parliament Friday to pass a bill that would mandate a nationwide “emergency brake” when the spread of the coronavirus becomes too rapid, saying that it was needed to prevent the health care system from becoming overwhelmed.

“There is no way around it. We need to stop this third wave of the pandemic… and to achieve this we need to better combine the strengths of the federal, state and local governments than we have been," she told lawmakers.

Passing the bill is an uphill battle for Merkel, with state governments reluctant to cede any authority over health care to the federal government.

The speech to parliament came as the country recorded 25,831 new daily cases of COVID-19 and 247 additional deaths.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Senators to Biden: Waive vaccine intellectual property rules

Ten liberal senators are urging President Joe Biden to back India and South Africa’s appeal to the World Trade Organization to temporarily relax intellectual property rules so coronavirus vaccines can be manufactured by nations that are struggling to inoculate their populations.

The lawmakers, in a letter delivered to the White House on Thursday evening, wrote that Biden should “prioritize people over pharmaceutical company profits” and support the temporary waiver of the rules. A waiver could pave the way for generic or other manufacturers to make more vaccines.

The letter was led by independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, along with Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Raphael Warnock of Georgia also signed the letter.

“Simply put, we must make vaccines, testing, and treatments accessible everywhere if we are going to crush the virus anywhere,” the lawmakers say in the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press.

More than 100 nations support a temporary waiver, which could help vaccine manufacturing ramp up in poorer countries that are struggling to acquire vaccine supplies. The Biden administration has said it is studying the issue.

Opponents, including pharmaceutical companies, worry that it would set dangerous precedent in allowing scientists around the globe to copy American and European companies’ research — some of which was funded by the U.S. government — long before patents expire. The Trump administration had opposed calls for the waiver.

Read the story here.

—Aamer Madhani, The Associated Press

Amid hesitancy, Louisiana gets creative in vaccine outreach

FILE – In this April 13, 2021, file photo, Brent Houzenga receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from volunteer RN Maggie Baker, during a vaccine event hosted by Nola Ready, where people received a free drink at the bar if they received a COVID-19 vaccine, at The Howling Wolf, a music venue and bar, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

FILE – In this April 13, 2021, file photo, Brent Houzenga receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from volunteer RN Maggie Baker, during a vaccine event hosted by Nola Ready, where people received a free drink at the bar if they received a COVID-19 vaccine, at The Howling Wolf, a music venue and bar, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

Brass bands playing at a 24-hour drive-thru coronavirus vaccine event. Doses delivered to commercial fishermen minutes from the docks. Pop-up immunization clinics at a Buddhist temple, homeless shelters, truck stops and casinos, with shots available at night or on weekends.

And now, door-to-door outreach getting underway in neighborhoods where few people have gotten vaccinated.

Louisiana is making a full-court press to get shots in arms, with aggressive — and sometimes creative — outreach to make it as easy as possible to get vaccinated. The effort comes as vaccine supplies are surging but demand is not.

The state has enlisted health care workers, colleges, community groups and church pastors to help cajole the hesitant and set up vaccination events. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has thrown open vaccine access to anyone age 16 or older. The health department has launched a call center to answer vaccine questions and set up appointments for those without internet access or limited tech skills.

Civic organizations and faith-based groups working with the state have started using get-out-the-vote tactics, knocking on doors and making phone calls, to pitch the vaccine.

But even with widespread ease of access, Louisiana officials struggle with a problem almost as vexing as COVID-19 itself: How to persuade those who are iffy about the shot to roll up their sleeves.

Read the story here.

— Melinda Deslatte, The Associated Press

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—Kris Higginson



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